10 Things I’ve Done That You Probably Haven’t

One of my favorite bloggers, John Scalzi, posted a list of his 10 this morning and invited readers to follow suit. I enjoy cards, so here ya go:

  1. Moved to Germany twice and to Oklahoma twice.
  2. Crossed the Atlantic in an airplane 58 times.
  3. Sang a capella on the streets of Zurich, Switzerland, and on the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic..
  4. Petted a tarantula in spite of severe arachnophobia.
  5. Fractured my tailbone twice.
  6. Completed more than 80 oil paintings.
  7. Learned English and German fluently and achieved proficiency in French and Koine Greek.
  8. Stood atop a scaffolding to paint a church building.
  9. Viewed Dead Sea Scrolls: Psalms 31 and 33 from Cave 4, A.D. 50.
  10. Accidentally went mountain-climbing in the Alps without any gear.

________________

How ’bout y’all? What snippets of your life make your unique top ten list?

Insomnia + Twitter = Random

This post is really for those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter and, therefore, don’t get the pleasure of perusing the oddities that spew from my thumbs when I can’t sleep (which is happening more and more often of late). But those of you who do follow me might appreciate having the recent randomness collected in one place, so here it is. Enjoy. ; )

Two Whats of Twitter

1. RT = retweet

When someone tweets something I want to share with my followers, I “retweet” that person’s tweet. This means that my followers will then see the tweet with “RT” and the original Twitterer’s handle attached to it.

2. Hashtags

A “hashtag” marks keywords in a tweet and is preceded by a #. So if I tweet about writing and tag the tweet with #amwriting, my tweet will appear listed with other #amwriting tweets if someone clicks on #amwriting. Hashtags help categorize tweets and make it easier to find information on a certain subject.

Just for fun, some of us like to make up hashtags that no one is going to be searching for. A popular, “legit” hashtag is #firstworldproblems ( = frustrations with luxuries available only in First World countries). In one of my recent tweets, I made up the hashtag #literaturenerdproblems, which no one will be searching for, but it made me giggle as a play on #firstworldproblems.

So. There, dear inklings, is your brief “Twitter 101” for the day. Now you’re ready for the #tweetsomniac weirdness!

@courtcan’s Insomniac Tweets

Oh. Hi, insomnia. Fancy meeting you here. #donotfancyatall #goaway

Hi, I’m Courtney, and I’m a tweetsomniac. #Twitter #insomnia

That sad moment when you have a new interaction on Twitter and realize that you tweeted at yourself. #firstworldproblems

.@JoshuaUnruh “Holy cats” is “heilige Katzen” in German. In case you wanted to start using that.

When you’ve gestated 37.5 weeks, random contractions that just peter out into nothing (instead of turning into true labor) are #notfair.

Tweeting isn’t helping the insomnia. #amwriting wouldn’t help either, but I am sorely tempted to get out of bed and do some.
(For the record, I didn’t.)

Yesterday on Facebook, my dumb phone autocorrected “rood” to “roof.” #literaturenerdproblems

I think The Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me” is one of the most beautiful songs ever. #music

Aw, now that’s just sad. RT @val_q: Things He Says to Hurt Me #2: “Claire Danes and Jared Leto? What show was that?”

I used to want to be an archaeologist too! RT @YMinisterswife Today I shall embark on an adventure I call “toy box excavation”.

Someday, I really want to throw a surprise birthday party for the next #random person to enter the public restroom.

Also of a good story. RT @CHRISVOSS One very important ingredient of success is a good, wide-awake, persistent, tireless enemy. -F Shutts

RE previous RT: Your story is only as strong as your antagonist. Discuss. #amwriting

I have gephyrophobia. #abouttheauthor #random

#insomnia has taught me that my usual suspects on Twitter are not awake at 5:30am CST. #firstworldproblems

With reservations as delineated by @barryeisler in comments, I added my name to NoSockPuppets. http://nosockpuppets.wordpress.com #NSPHP #amwriting

Look, Ma — no sleeps. #insomnia *sigh again*

‏Are u one of my family members who posts awkwardly personal updates about ur romantic life on Facebook? Please don’t tell anyone.
–@ApiarySociety, retweeted by @courtcan

#insomnia #frustrations #feelingpitiful #readytohavealegitreasonforsleeplessness #legitreasonequalsbaby *sigh*

I cannot describe the depth of my disappointment the day I discovered that #fantasyfootball has naught to do w/ elves, trolls, and dragons.

I grew up as an American in Germany. We weren’t military. Pretty sure our phones were tapped during the ’80s. #TCK #adventures

If you didn’t know: #TCK = #ThirdCultureKid = originates in one culture, grows up in another, assimilates them into 1 unique culture.

#TCK advantages: extreme cultural adaptability, flexible personality, independence, broadened horizons, heightened empathy.

#TCK disadvantages: adjustment difficulties, commitment issues, rootlessness, frustration w country of origin, never fitting in anywhere.

For me, #TCK advantages far outweigh disadvantages. I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

I should blog about this. #TCK

Being pregnant is like having eaten the biggest meal of your life & feeling crazy stretched & bloated, but w empty tummy. Also, epic boobs.

#insomnia = #lackoffilters #tweetinginappropriatethingsatsixam

I’ve been reading “Night of the Iguana” by T. Williams. So far: Nymphos = 1, nubiles = 2, lechers = 1, natives = 2, iguanas = 0.

So many blogs with headlines like “This Is Why Your _________ Is a Failure.” <-- Define failure?! Maybe the struggle is just part of growth. Also a spiffy scarf. RT @LukeRomyn: Don't buy roses or chocolate, get her a tank of gas. My phone is dying. Probably a sign I should try sleeping again. Later, y'all. #insomnia

In Which Pregnancy and Car Wrecks Don’t Mix

A little less than two days ago, I had what was probably the scariest experience of my life: At 36 weeks pregnant, I was involved in a car accident.

My car. Click to biggify and behold.

I won’t say much about the details, because I’m not certain of what legalities I need to be aware of in discussing this in public (before all insurance claims are settled, that is). But the bare bones of it is that I was driving on a city street and another driver pulled out of a parking lot in front of me. My car collided with the other driver’s.

As far as I know, the other driver was not injured. Both vehicles sustained damage. The other driver received a citation.

Me, I went on my first ride as a patient* in an ambulance. By the time the EMTs were loading me up, the husband had arrived. I asked if he could ride in the ambulance with me, but the EMT said, “No, the police need him to stay right here and take possession of your car. He can come to the hospital afterward.”

Having witnessed the understandably reckless manner in which the husband had arrived at the scene in his pickup, I asked, “Is he okay to drive?”

The EMT shrugged and grinned. “Well, he drove here.”

And that was that. In the ambulance, the EMT checked my vitals and stuck an IV and some saline in the back of my hand. Over the next 15 hours, I would come to hate that IV. But in the meantime, I lay there on the gurney, watching the highway recede between my outstretched feet, wondering what would happen if one of the cars following close behind us plowed into the back of the ambulance.

The EMT talked to me in a soothing voice, especially as he explained (after I asked) that hearing a fetal heartbeat through a stethoscope in a moving ambulance was practically impossible. I took the opportunity to practice my yogic breathing.

When we reached the emergency room, the EMTs took me straight up to labor & delivery triage. On the way there, we passed through multiple winding corridors and rode two different elevators. The EMT who had driven the ambulance looked at me said said, “After this elevator, there’s a set of stairs.”

I looked at him, looked down at myself strapped to the gurney, and looked back up. “You guys have fun with that.”

He grinned. “Oh, no. We’re riding. You’re carrying.”

I motioned at my belly. “I’m already carrying!” And I was even able to chuckle through my tears as I said it.

Once I was in a room, a nurse came in and started doing things. A fetal monitor was involved, strapped to my belly. When I said something about Braxton-Hicks contractions, the nurse said, “Oh no, these aren’t Braxton-Hicks. These are the real thing.”

I managed an askance look and a shaky, “Oh.”

The most beautiful sound in the world was our baby’s steady, strong heartbeat, loud and clear over the fetal monitor. The most beautiful sight was her snub nose and plump cheeks on the ultrasound. (This was when I finally truly stopped crying.) The best feeling was her regular, healthy movement inside of me.

From triage, they moved me up one floor to labor & delivery, where the husband and I spent the (restless but as restful as could be expected) night. Tuesday morning, my doctor came in, pronounced the baby’s condition “excellent” and my lessening contractions “normal for anyone who’s 36 weeks pregnant,” and sent me home to relax for the remainder of the week.

I see the providential hand of God in every moment of this entire, terrifying experience. I see his protection of the baby and of me. I see his kindness and gentleness in the ministrations and the humor of the EMTs. I see his knowledgeability, his efficiency, and his loving care in my nurses and in my doctor.

In the story of my life, God is always present — but in this particular chapter, he’s obvious.

Have a good day, dearies. And tell someone you love them. : )

___________

*When I was 7, my grandparents came to visit us in Germany. Parents, grandparents, and I took a trip to Berlin. On the way there, we were involved in a 10-car pile-up on the Autobahn (which word, by the way, is nothing more than the German version of “interstate”). My dad had to stay with the car and talk with the Polizei. As the only other German-speaker among us, I had to ride in the ambulance with my grandma. At age 7. But that’s another story and shall be told another time.

I Was a Weird Kid, and Here’s Proof

Or: My Parallel of Trout Fishing in America.

 

Or: Snail Hunting in Germany

Once upon a time, my parents and I moved to Darmstadt, Germany, two weeks before my 3rd birthday, and that’s where I grew up.

From ages 3-6, I attended Kindergarten. (In my early 1980s Germany, “kindergarden” was basically the American equivalent of daycare. We played, we did crafts, we had field trips, and at least one of us acquired a foreign language from her fellows and from her teacher, Frau Apfelrock [Mrs. Appleskirt {I swear I am not making this up.}].)

At age 6, I started Grundschule, German elementary school.

Grandpa: She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time.

The Grandson: What?

Grandpa: The eel doesn’t get her. I’m explaining to you because you look nervous.

While in elementary school, I attended an afterschool “daycare” called Kinderhort. Kinderhort was within walking distance from school, and it was designed for kids whose parents worked fulltime. This way, we didn’t have to go home to empty apartments and get ourselves into trouble. ; ) At Kinderhort, they fed us lunch, we had extensive playtime indoors and out, and we had to sit down every afternoon and do our homework. After late afternoon snacktime, parents arrived to pick us up.

The Plot Thickens

One day, probably in 3rd grade, it was time for our first overnight Kinderhort trip. If I recall correctly, it wasn’t just overnight, it was several overnights. I remember feeling vaguely apprehensive over being away from my parents for most of a week, but I don’t remember saying anything about this out loud.

My parents, however, perceptive people that they are, must have known which jig was up, because they sent this note along in my suitcase:

Yes.

You read it correctly.

To bribe me into participating fully in a fun-filled field trip, my parents promised that we would go snail hunting once I got home.

Because that was what I liked to do.

Snail Hunter Extraordinaire

Even as a kid, I hated spiders. Bugs held no fascination for me. I did enjoy the roly-polies (amusingly known as Kellerasseln in German) we occasionally found beneath rocks and rotten branches, but it’s not like I wanted to take them home with me.

Snails were a different matter.

Forget the “sugar and spice and everything nice.” I had the spice, all right, but other than that, I was “snips, snails, and puppy dogs’ tails all the way.”

I HEARTED SNAILS ALMOST BEYOND COMPREHENSION.

I found them, and I brought them home. Pink shells, yellow shells, striped shells, big, little, medium. I made homes for them in terrariums (terraria?): potting soil in the bottom, sticks and stones to crawl over, shallow containers for water, and all the lettuce and cucumbers they wanted. Once a day, I misted them with water from a spray bottle. The top of each terrarium I covered with mesh held in place by rubber bands.

Do please click to embiggen cuteness.

I read books about snails. Like, the educational kind of books. I learned about how they eat, how they sleep, how they mate, how they repair damage to their shells. When some of my snails inevitably got frisky with each other, I watched the whole process and felt amazed. When the snails laid eggs, I researched carefully how best to care for them. When the eggs hatched, I suddenly had tiny escapees all over my bedroom and had to find a tighter mesh with which to cover the terrariums/a.

Me with my pets, ca. 1985. Click to embiggen.

When my friends came over, I couldn’t understand why they didn’t just want to sit there and watch the snails.

Hmm.

Most of my snails hailed from the large courtyard between our apartment building and the surrounding buildings. They were fairly common garden snails, common enough that the parents frequently had to make me set some of them free. And, of course, there was the occasional death in the snail family, which generated space for the occasional new addition. (Yes, I mourned the death of each gastropod.)

The one snail that lived with us consistently for several years, though, was The Big One.

In German, she’s called a Weinbergschnecke: literally, a wine mountain snail. Extrapolating from the “Berg” (mountain) part of her nomenclature, I named her “Bergie.” Why did I decide that this snail was female? No clue. Except that she looked like a girl. And like a Bergie. (Snails are actually hermaphrodites.)

Bergie was a helix pomatia, also known as “escargot snail.” That’s right, she was one of the edible ones, and I kept her as a pet. I always felt right courageous for having rescued her from a terrible culinary fate. Besides, she had a damaged spot on the top of her shell when I found her. Though she’d already repaired it, I knew she needed a little extra TLC.

At some point — I don’t remember why — it came time for me to set all of my snails loose, and I knew I wouldn’t be acquiring more. When I placed them carefully into the damp underbrush in the big courtyard, they slimed happily away without a clue that they now found themselves in a bigger, more dangerous, and yet more variegated world. I said goodbye to them all: pink, yellow, striped, big, little, medium.

But the only one I truly regretted was Bergie. She poked her head out, unrolled her eye stalks, and looked around as though she knew exactly what was going on. I was sad, but I thought she might be excited about this new adventure. I watched her for a few minutes as she got acclimated. Once she was well on her slow, meticulous way into the grand expanse of Untamed Flowerbeds Plot Next To Stone Wall, I went home.

Some time later — it might’ve been a few months, it might’ve been a year — we moved away. A few days before we left for good, I went hunting in the courtyard one last time. Sure enough: There, under the well-drenched leaves of a stinging nettle, sat a Weinbergschnecke with a telltale scar on the top of its shell. Bergie! Weird kid that I was, I grinned like an idiot.

But I didn’t bother her. If she had forgotten me, I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by making her remember.

Bergie

(Click for what’s pretty much life size!)

We Must Disenthrall Ourselves

Have I ever discussed politics on this blog? Doubtful. I don’t enjoy discussing politics; I find most other people’s political opinions to be misinformed to the point of annoying; and especially online, I find that political “discussion” is nothing more than people yelling at each other for no reason.

That said, this interview with Capitol Hill insider Mike Lofgren is well worth the read. Even though I don’t read political nonfiction (kind of on principle), Lofgren almost makes me want to read his book. Almost.

Here is what I consider the most telling quote from the Lofgren interview:

“We can devise all the clever schemes imaginable to clean up politics and get money out of campaigns, but it won’t work until the American people collectively give up on certain fond illusions: the Horatio Alger myth, American Exceptionalism, and the whole mass of magical thinking that boils down to the belief that God loves America because we’re so virtuous, handsome, and smart, and that we, too, could win the lottery. Well, we’re not necessarily any of those things. The truth is that we lucked into adverse possession of a mostly empty continent in a temperate zone with lots of resources, and straddled east and west by two huge moats. We had firearms and resistance to smallpox, and the original owners didn’t. Virtue had very little to do with it.

“And now, thanks to globalization, our original advantages matter less. Go to certain areas of the once-industrial Midwest. Some of the places look like Dresden after the bombing. We are in a tough, competitive global environment, and we simply cannot afford to squander our potential by playing the world’s policeman abroad and running a healthcare/service economy at home where half the population empties the bedpans of the other half. And plutocracy is not a stable political basis for a successful nation-state. As Lincoln said, we must disenthrall ourselves.”

~Mike Lofgren
in “An Interview With Mike Lofgren, Author of ‘The Party Is Over'” by Leslie Thatcher

Now, before anyone is tempted to skewer me for quoting something so “unpatriotic,” please keep in mind where I’m coming from: I was raised in a country in which any hint patriotism was, at one point, a reason for ostracism if not incarceration. When I hear Americans complain about how Europeans — and Germans specifically — tend toward pacifism and lack of patriotism, my response is: “You can’t blame the Germans; we made them that way.” When the Allies occupy your country for 50 years and, at the beginning of the occupation, arrest you for showing a smidgen of love for your country, you tend to get patriotism trained out of you.

Thus, if anyone chooses to call me unpatriotic, so be it. But our definitions of patriotism probably differ quite wildly.

(And by the way: Lofgren’s comparisons of portions of the Midwest to bombed-out Dresden? Accurate.)

Anyway — Lofgren’s statements. I particularly appreciate his Lincoln reference; in today’s mass hysterical political climate, the voices of dead presidents seem to be the only ones of reason. That said, I don’t think any of us can know their true political or personal motivations in any of the “reasonable” things they said (that history chose to preserve; and, lest we forget by whom histoy is written…). Me, I’ve long believed that at least in the last 75 years, there’s no way any higher-up political candidate can rise to the rank of higher-up candidate without having compromised on morals, ethics, and personal principles.

Think your candidate is a moral, ethical person as compared to the other guy? Don’t count on it. Call me a jaded cynic (no, really, go ahead), but I cannot believe that anyone who aspires to political office can stick to their guns throughout a political race of any sort — whether it’s a race for presidency, senate, mayorship, or prom queen. Someone, somewhere, at some point is going to ask that candidate to sacrifice a principle for the sake of winning. And unless the candidate has dropped out of the race specifically in order to preserve that principle, you can pretty much bet on that candidate having given in to the compromise.

And so, we the People cling to our illusions and continue to throw money at these candidates who can never give us a straight answer as to what they’re doing with our money, what they’ve done with our money, or what they’re going to do with our money. They plump up their rhetoric, put on the nice suits and the high heels, and invite our cameras into their home so we can see what a lovely family life they lead. The compare us to the People of other nations and pat us on the backs for being so much more giving, loving, and compassionate than the rest of the world.

What we refuse to see is that the pats on the pack are really just pats on the head. We’ve gotten our wires so crossed and our nerve endings so numbed that we can’t feel the difference anymore.

Some of you might be trying to guess my political affiliation or leanings based on what I’m writing here. Well, I’ll take the guesswork out: I’m registered independent. Why? Well, honestly, because I think aligning myself Democrat or Republican would be silly. Forty years ago, many of my opinions would have gotten me labeled “Republican.” Today, many of those same opinions would get me labeled “Democrat.” Parties change, people. Staunchly affiliating myself with one would probably mean having to run like heck over to the other a couple of decades down the line. Who has enough energy for that kind of hither and yon? I have a life to live, and it’s more important to me than keeping up with the political Joneses.

And on top of that, neither of our two major parties reflects my worldview. What am I going to do come November 2012? I honestly have no idea. I am sick of being asked to choose between the lesser of two evils. I am sick of being required to choose between two people who have proven, over the course of their candidacy, that they are manipulators, liars, backbiters, backstabbers, people who ingratiate themselves, wasters of money, wasters of time, and wasters of energy. I have no interest in seeing either of them in the White House — and by “them,” I really mean any two Dem/Rep candidates who have been up for election since I started voting.

As Lofgren states in his interview, “One party goes for the cerebral cortex (with minimal success), while the other goes for the solar plexus.” If somebody, ANYBODY would put forward a candidate who could engage both brain and heart in a reasonable, unbiased, non-manipulative manner, as well as prove to me that they didn’t throw other people’s money on the fire of their own selfish ambition, I *might* be persuaded to listen.

As it is, anytime I see a political ad on my TV screen — “approved by” ANY candidate — I change the channel.

I’ve heard all of that drivel before.

THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN.

TEDTalks and Learning Through Doodling

“In the 17th century, a doodle was a simpleton or a fool.”

~ Sunni Brown
of The Doodle Revolution

Sunni Brown and The Doodle Revolution

I have no idea where I ran across this video; I only know it was a long time ago, because it’s been sitting in an unfinished draft on my WordPress dashboard for ages. So it’s about time I did something with it and shared it with y’all.

In a TEDTalk, speaker, author, and creative director Sunni Brown had the following cramazingness to say about doodling:

The main definition I’ve always heard of “doodle” is even less flattering than the one Ms. Brown considers most offensive.

The definition I’ve heard is: “doodle” = “piece of poop.”

Especially after you’ve watched / listened to Ms. Brown’s Talk, don’t you think this is majorly unfortunate?!?

Permission to Poop ENGAGE EVERY BRAINY LEARNING MODE

Dearest inklings, if you’ve been paying attention (and I know you have been, because that’s just the sort of studious darlings you are), you know that I grew up in Germany and attended German schools until I was 19 years old. At some point this month, I shall be blogging about said schooling in more depth; here are posts where I’ve at least mentioned it before.

For now, suffice it to say that I can best describe my 7th – 13th grade (yes, 13th grade) education as rigorous, strict, exhausting, intensive, demanding, terrifying, thorough, and comprehensive. It was seven years of high stress…and though it resulted in my breezing right through university and graduating summa cum laude, it didn’t exactly foster an artistic mindset.

(OH HOW I LOVED MY ART CLASSES.)

(That said, it’s worth noting that I am grateful for my German education, rigorous and heart-wrenching as it was, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything easier.)

I didn’t get to doodle. There wasn’t time. My attention had to be riveted on the day’s lessons to the exclusion of all else. Teachers expected us students to take copious notes; and indeed, if you didn’t write down every word, you missed something that was bound to be on the test later. Take a few seconds to doodle in the margins or on an extra sheet of paper? Risk that, and you risk a “letter grade.” (The German school system uses numbers: from 1st – 10th grade, 1 = highest score and 6 = lowest score; from 11th – 13th grade, 15 = highest score, 0 = lowest score.)

So. I didn’t get to doodle. I am convinced that this is a major part of why I struggled in many of my classes: I wasn’t allowed to engage every learning mode of my brain.

I doodled at home. I doodled in church. I doodled everywhere and anywhere I could. When I was 14, I convinced my parents to let me draw on my bedroom walls. I COVERED THEM IN DOODLES. Somewhere, there are photographs of this; alas, I have them not in my possession.

In school, I constantly resisted the urge to add my vandalistic artwork to that already besmirching the surfaces of our classroom tables.
(Okay, sometimes I didn’t resist at all.)

When I could doodle, I did. But I didn’t get to do it regularly until college, when academics finally slowed down. The margins of my class notes drowned in doodles. I acquired a ginormous sketchbook that I hauled with me all over the place.

Finally, my pen had permission to do something other than jot down someone else’s words. And suddenly, I was retaining all sorts of information in ways I’d never been able to do in high school.

Huh. Imagine that.

The Adult Doodlebug

What I learned to do in college, I’ve continued on in adulthood. Everything’s a canvas, especially when I’m sitting and listening to something that I know is important. I illustrate whatever notes I’m taking. My pen wanders over to blank notebook pages and before I know it, there’s an entire scene of weird somethings sketched out on the paper, and I have no clue how any of them got there.

But they make things stick in my brain.

When I don’t doodle, the stuff I listen to fades to hazy in my memory.
When I doodle, what I listen to acquires crystalline clarity…and it affects how I see the world.

For me, doodling is essential to positive paradigm-shifting. Doodling changes how I view the universe.

It’s that important.

To wrap things up, here are some of my doodles. Please click to embiggen and enjoy! : )

New Fantasy Novel Out: Rethana’s Surrender

Nightmares and Dreamscapes

 

When I was 15 years old, I had a dream about a yellow telephone booth.

No, that’s not a Dr. Who reference. ; ) In the dream, I was standing inside the phone booth, holding the handset. (Yes, this was a rotary phone. Let me know if you don’t know what that is. *grin*) Outside, it was dusk, and fog was rolling in. I couldn’t see any farther than about twenty feet from the phone booth. And as I watched, dozens of yellow eyes with slitted black pupils appeared in the fog.

That dream gave birth to the universe in which I set my latest novel, Rethana’s Surrender (Legends of the Light-Walkers, #1).

What’s the Because?!

If you’ve already read Rethana’s story, you’re probably wondering how in the name of all that’s good and writerly I got from {fog + yellow eyes + relatively modern phone booth} to {epic fantasy universe + magic-wielding heroine + semi-political love triangle}. Well, my dear inklings, that story is a rather long one, and tell you it would take a series of novels in which I invite you to explore this whole universe I have built and am building….

Oh. Wait. I guess that invitation would be what Legends of the Light-Walkers (LLW) is all about. ; )

So, the books themselves are the long explanation. The short version is that the phone booth dream turned into a scene in my LLW novel Legend’s Heir (working title). Chronologically, that one takes place before Rethana’s story. But I finished Legend’s Heir (working title) more than ten years ago…and, perhaps needless to say, it needs quite a bit of work before it sees the light of day. Thus, you get Rethana’s story first. Y’all seem like you’re okay with that, though.

And What’s the Big Idea?

The big idea for Rethana’s story grew from a cold, snowy visit to a small town in eastern Germany back around Christmas of 2002. The husband and I were living in Chemnitz, Saxony, then. Some friends took us to the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) in a little town called Annaberg-Buchholz.

I could wax nostalgic on how much I miss the German Christmas markets, but that’s not why you dear people are here, and it would make me cry besides, so let’s just skip that part and move on.

Belltower of St. Annenkirche

On that cold, snowy evening so many years ago, our friends insisted that we visit St. Annenkirche (St. Anna’s Church; please note that I’ve linked to the German Wikipedia article because it has more pictures than the English version). Thus, we traipsed up the hill — there was much slipping, sliding, and sniggering — and entered the church building, where we proceeded to get an unexpected tour.

We ended up climbing the belltower.

If you’ve read Rethana’s story, you know where I’m going with this.

Near the top of the tower, we stepped from the wooden staircase onto a wide, circular platform spanning the width of the tower. About thirty feet above our heads was a wooden ceiling. Another staircase led up to it. The tour guide explained that we were looking at the underside of the apartment housing the bellringer and his family. And above that apartment hung the bells.

These people lived in the top of the belltower. They hauled household goods up to their apartment via lifts that had been operational for hundreds of years. They were in charge of the bells, the largest of which was named Anna.

Images flooded my mind. Characters, scenes, plots, dialogue. In my head, I saw a bellringer family in medieval dress, and I knew they were hiding from something. I saw soldiers and magic-users in the town below, and I knew they were hunting this family. I saw a mischievous young girl using her magic to tease her friends, who were sneaking up the tower staircase to play a prank on her.

All of this flashed through my head within the space of about 20 seconds. In the meantime, the tour guide was still talking. I had no idea what he was saying — but the next thing I knew, he was handing out earplugs. I stuffed them into my ears just in time.

Somebody rang Anna.

Anna of St. Annenkirche is a big girl. Even through earplugs, the noise was deafening. Without really thinking about what I was doing, I wandered over to the stone wall of the tower and laid my hand on it. The wall was vibrating with Anna’s song, and I could feel the reverberation all the way up into my shoulder. And I knew what my next story would be.

Writing Rethana’s Surrender

The mischievous bellringer girl became Rethana Chosardal. Anna became the sacriligiously-named Lirrenae. Annaberg turned into Saemnoth. I started writing the story for NaNoWriMo 2003.

It would take me more than 4 years to finish the first draft. By the time I was done, I had close to 230,000 words. I knew very good and well that no publisher would consider reading an unpublished author’s 200+k words, so I spent the second draft trimming. My mom read it. Another beta reader read it. Both made suggestions, and I trimmed some more. When I hit 210,000, I knew I couldn’t do anything more with the story, so I shelved it and moved on to the next project.

By now, I was living in Oklahoma again and had recently re-met Aaron Pogue, a college acquaintance and fellow writer. We fell to talking of fantasy (because really, why wouldn’t we?), and he asked to read my fantasy novel. I let him.

Aaron had feedback. Part of that feedback was that I should split the book in half so as to achieve a manageable word count. The moment he said it, I knew where: right after the fight scene in Terllach Caverns. Right after Rethana almost admits to Allasin that–

Well, I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t read it. ; )

Aaron said, “That’s a doozy of a cliffhanger. Your readers will hate you for it. Or they might love you.”

Aaron might or might not have actually used the word “doozy.” Either way, I decided to take the risk. And, once he got his indie publishing company, Consortium Books, up and running, he decided to take the risk of publishing it.

So far, so good.

Rethana’s Surrender (Legends of the Light-Walkers, #1), is now available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

If you’ve read the novel, you can post your review at those two links as well as at Goodreads.

Weak Strengths or Strong Weaknesses?

Yeah, I wish this were my biceps. But it isn't.

Hey, inkling loves,

This week, I read this post by Becca J. Campbell. You really should click through and read, because Becca makes a great case for being honest with ourselves and with each other about our weaknesses…

…but especially telling ourselves the truth about our strengths.

One of my weaknesses is that I tend to be really hard on myself about my weaknesses, enough so that I’ll quietly beat myself up about them while presenting an everything’s-okay face to the people around me.

I work constantly at developing a level of transparency that will prevent me from hiding my self-doubt. It’s a lifelong growth process.

Along with that, I try to infuse into my heart a particular principle I read a few years back (sadly, I don’t remember where):

Focus on improving your weaknesses, and all you’ll end up with are strong weaknesses and weakened strengths.

Focus on building your strengths, and you’ll end up with strengths solid enough to carry you through the weaknesses.

 

My Solid Strengths

Becca’s post concerned our writing strengths specifically. So, in the interest of not beating myself up about my writing weaknesses, here are a few things I consider my writing strengths:

1. I have a good feel for language. This is one part innate talent, one part intensive training, and one part life experience. Although I don’t believe for a second that a person has to be born with a certain set of skills in order to be a writer, I did start writing when I was 8 years old. So I suspect there’s something inherited there. I am also the child of two teachers, one of whom taught English for 30 years. She sent me to school but also taught me at home, so I got it from all sides. And on top of that, I learned a foreign language (German) at age 3, which did all sorts of interesting and odd things to the way my brain processes and produces words. I bring all of that to bear on every sentence when I sit down to write.

2. I see scenes, characters, and actions as picture sequences in my head. If you read Becca’s post (which I think you should), you’ll see that I share this in common with her, and she calls it being a “visual writer.” When I’m crafting a story, I feel as though I’m watching a movie inside my head and simply writing down everything I see, hear, feel, and taste. Sometimes, a scene is blurry, and that’s when I know not to force too much detail into a scene. When it’s clear with crisp edges, I know it’s time to divulge more of what I’m seeing. I rarely have to rack my brains to figure out what something looks like.

3. I’ve experienced Not Writing. If you’ve read my posts tagged “confessions”, you know that there was a period of years during which I forgot that I was created to create. I forgot that I was allowed to be a writer. I sank into horrid darkness and turned bitter, sorrow-filled, and hostile. But now that I’m out of that, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the gifts of creativity, freedom, time, and support. I know where I’ve been; I know I never want to go back; and I know that the best way to give thanks for the gifts (and to declare the One who gave them to me) is to apply myself to writerdom with uncompromising passion.

4. I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” Strength #3 pretty much takes care of this for me. I practice gratitude and passion by not allowing “writer’s block” to stop me. When I experience the I-don’t-wanna lassitude or the words-just-aren’t-there frustration, I know that my reaction cannot be simply to stop writing. When “writer’s block” hits, I know it’s a challenge to think and work harder. Is my attitude the problem? Is the story broken somewhere? Do I need to change writing locations? (For more on writing locations, read this post.)
“Writer’s block” never means that I can’t write. It only means I need to rethink, review, revise, or relocate.

5. I have a keen awareness of cause-and-effect (aka “what’s the because?).
Cause: My mom did not go with my dad when his quartet, The Four Naturals, made a recording in Nashville in 1966.
Effect: The Four Naturals didn’t get my mom’s “managerial” advice while in Nashville, so they never went pop, and my family ended up moving to Germany in 1980.
Cause: In 1940, Frances Hair eloped with Wilborn Weger instead of going to college.
Effect: I exist.
Cause: Aaron and I played Rockband together at a church party in May 2009.
Effect: I’m published.
Cause: In my WIP (Elevator People), side character Joplin giggles when main character Went says the word “pickpocket.”
Effect: Ten chapters later, they end up battling a psychopath and a vampire on a planet in another dimension.
And so forth.
Cause-and-effect are what you might call “essential” to life. And to a story’s development. ; )

_______________________
So! There are a few of my writing strengths. What are some of yours? Share in the comments! Or, even better, write your own blog post about your writing strengths and share the link with us!

Making this list required some clear thinking and deep analysis on my part: honest reflection and a stern refusal to let myself slip into self-deprecation mode. Yes, this was all focused on writing…but it was also an act of kindness toward myself as a person. If you’re reading this, and you’re not a writer, I encourage you to make a list of your own strengths in whatever area you like. Let yourself accentuate the positive; show your Self some love.

If you can demonstrate compassion toward You in this way, you’ll be able to do the same for people around you. And blessing others with compassion is a strength worth solidifying in each of us.

Growing Up in Bowel Town: Marauders

From Ghosts of Bloggings Past:

I grew up in the German city of Darmstadt, which literally translates to “Bowel City,” which I choose to render as “Bowel Town” because it sounds funnier. My first home in Darmstadt was an apartment building at Roßdörferstraße 55 (which loosely translates to “Horse-Village Street” — I swear I am not making this up). We lived for eight years in a two-bedroom apartment on what Americans would call the third floor but Germans call the second.

The building’s first floor housed a “Konditorei,” which I guess would be a pastry shop or confectioner’s shop to those of the English-speaking persuasion. The presence of said pastry shop resulted in the most amazing scents that drifted daily up the stairwell and into all the apartments, making everyone in the building crave Butterhörnchen a whole lot more often than fortnightly, lemme tell ya.

The baker’s names was Herr Gibis, and before I started 1st grade, he took to wife a younger woman with two children. Their names were Marcus and Sylvie. Marcus was my age, and Sylvie was a year younger, and they lived with Herr and Frau Gibis in the only apartment on the first floor, behind the pastry shop.

Marcus and Sylvie and I became fast and great friends. I could tell oodles of stories of our many outside adventures, including the ones about how Marcus chased me and his sister with daddy longlegs. But that is another story and shall be told another time.

The story on my mind right now is The One Where We Got Into The Bug Spray. You see, adjacent to the back of our apartment complex and beyond a low chainlink fence brooded this squat, square, white building with a fire escape. (The fire escape figures into yet another tale, as does the chainlink fence, but again, that is neither here nor there right now.)

In this squat, square, white building lived an old woman. I suppose now that she must not have been very old at all — probably between 40 and 50 years of age — but to us children (we were now 10, 10, and 9, respectively), she seemed ancient. I only ever caught a couple of glimpses of her, and my only memory of her is long, dark hair in a bun, and shoulders wrapped in a fringed shawl. But Marcus and Sylvie must have seen her more often than I did, because they said her name was Maria and she didn’t like children.

It quite possible that Marcus and Sylvie were making this up.

Anyway, we were fascinated and terrified. Maria didn’t like children; ergo, we qualified as unlikeable. There was a chainlink fence — obviously, a barrier we were not meant to cross. Mystery, darkness, and danger lurked at this far end of the apartment complex. The lure of the squat, square, white building was irresistible.

I don’t know where Sylvie was on that fateful day, but she wasn’t with us when Marcus and I climbed over the chainlink fence, our hearts thudding wildly in our small chests, our eyes darting over our shoulders again and again in case A Parent should suddenly appear. But, undaunted by fear or threat of parental disapproval, Marcus and I scaled the fence (it was all of four feet high) and found ourselves on terra incognita: Maria’s backyard.

Eerie light filtered down through leaves overhead. An unnatural hush descended, as though even the birds were shocked into silence by our audacity. We were shocked into silence by our audacity. The air felt heavy.

The shed beckoned.

It was squat, square, and wooden, with a tin roof and all sorts of gardening implements leaning against its rickety frame. My memories progress as though I’m flipping through photographs, and the next picture shows Marcus and me, not entering the shed, but inside the shed, and Marcus is holding a sort of pressurized pump can, and we’re deep in the fantasy of marauders surrounding us, barring our escape, shouting for us to give up and come out, there’s nowhere left to run, and Marcus and I are looking at each other with huge, excited eyes, and we know that this moment is The Grandest Adventure EVER.

Meanwhile, the marauders were advancing. They were at the door. They were breaking in. We defended ourselves with the only weapons available: magic sleep-dust spray guns — what else?

Of course, when we got back to our side of the backyard universe (not having had the guts to approach the squat, square, white building proper, defeated marauders notwithstanding), the fantasy quickly broke into smithereens when The Parents smelled not magic sleep-dust on our clothes but insecticide, with which we had sprayed not only the imaginary marauders, but also each other, and generously. Because, as anyone with half a brain can tell you, magic sleep-dust magically turns into a restorative and palliative powder when used on a friend instead of against a slavering, primitive marauder.

I don’t remember what happened to Marcus, but I got a spanking and an afternoon in the bathtub, being scrubbed down with great vigor by my mother, who was not impressed.

That was our first adventure centered around Maria’s squat, square, white house…but it was not to be our last.