Five Ways to Chill When You're Feeling Overwhelmed

Photo by Alex E. Proimos (CC Attribution 2.0 Generic ).

Sometimes life likes to throw everything at you at once. Sometimes you like to add to the pile by throwing things at yourself. Work, family, life, the universe, and everything adds up into a big knotted ball of overwhelmed — which is pretty much where I’m at right now. Not all of it is bad, in fact a lot of it is many kinds of awesome, but it’s still mentally, emotionally, and physically tiring.

Looking forward into the next year, I know it’s probably not going to lighten up anytime soon — my day job will remain hectic, my creative work will still need to get done, community in the form of family, friends, and social activities will still call for my presence. Life will likely remain packed over the foreseeable future, so I need to have strategies to maintain my physical and mental health.

As with my usual doling of advice, these items are representative of things that I am doing or am going to try to do in order to help myself. Results may vary.

Continue reading “Five Ways to Chill When You're Feeling Overwhelmed”

Five More Poems and Poets for National Poetry Month

As with my previous list, here five poems (with a few teaser first lines) I’ve read and enjoyed in honor of National Poetry Month.

1. Local Monsters, by Laura Madeline Wiseman, published by Nonbinary Review

“I see them sometimes, monsters—monsters running down
the upstairs hall, monsters stepping into shadows of the
darker room, monsters peeking around corners, their
colorful eyes blinking….”

2. After a Mid-December Wedding, by Helen Losse, published by Then and If

“Snow glitters on the edge of the pond
in a scene that could be but isn’t
from a Victorian Christmas Card.
Soft light falls from an early moon.
Recorded carols play
from a lean-to crèche,
where the Holy Family shivers….”

3. Two Poems by Daniel Reinhold, published in H_NGM_N

“What if I carried the moon in my back pocket?
Could I dance in my sleep?
Swallow your soul whole?”

4. Moving by Sara Backer, published in Pedestal Magazine

“We confront accumulation. No room
is exempt from the purge; no cupboard
can be left for later….”

5. Art History Kirun Kapur, published in Jam Tarts Magazine

“I’d even smoke the angels,
that’s what he liked to say,
…”

* * *

And a quick reminder, I’m hosting a Poetry Giveaway on my blog, which any poetry lovers here are welcome to take part in.

So far, only one person has commented, so your chances of winning are rather good.

Five Poems and Poets for National Poetry Month

I’m trying to actively read more poetry and lit journals from around the web in honor of National Poetry Month. Here are five that I’ve particularly enjoyed this week.

1. A series of six poems inspired by classic works of literature, including “Wuthering Heights 2” and “Fahrenheit 451 (3)” by Denise Duhamel & Maureen Seaton, published in Coconut Magazine 19

2. Two poems from Big Brown Bag by Marisa Crawford, published in So and So, No. 8

3. The Unicorn of Renée d’Orléans-Longueville by Janna Layton, published in Goblin Fruit, Fall 2014

4. Next Time Ask More Questions by Naomi Shihab Nye, published at Poets.org (which has a Poem-a-Day newsletter)

5. A series of poems, called CATCHING THE BUS, by Margie Shaheed, published in Linden Avenue, Issue 35

* * *

And a quick reminder, I’m hosting a Poetry Giveaway on my blog, which any poetry lovers here are welcome to take part in.

So far, only one person has commented, so your chances of winning are rather good.

Five Writers to Check Out for Women in Horror Month

As a fan of horror (and someone who hopes to write it), I’m stoked that Women in Horror Month exists to promote women in the genre, from filmmakers to artists to novelists. In that vein, here are a five women writers of horror or horror influenced fiction, whose work I’ve loved.

Shirley Jackson

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within.” – from The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House is one of the best ghost stories I’ve ever read. The way the characters bond together and simultaneously become hostile to one another in the face of the horrors of the house is quite compelling. The story is creepy and weird and nothing is every quite resolved.

She’s also well known for the short story, “The Lottery,” which is often taught in high school English classes and for good reason. It’s frightening in a dystopian sort of way. I need to get around to reading more of her short stories sometime.

Mira Grant

“Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot — in this case, my brother, Shaun — deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens.”— from Feed

Mira Grant is the dark alias of fantasy writer, Seanan McGuire. As Grant, her novels delve into the scientific thrillers with lots of death and mayhem, causing them to overlap with horror.

Her Newsflesh trilogy explores a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies, in which humanity has clutched a fragile foothold of society. Overlapping the constant threat of being chewed up by or turning into the infected, are dark governmental conspiracies.

I’ve also read Parasite, the start of her Parasitology series, which is thus far proving to be fantastic as well.

Caitlin R. Kiernan

“Hauntings are memes, especially pernicious thought contagions, social contagions that need no viral or bacterial host and are transmitted in a thousand different ways. A book, a poem, a song, a bedtime story, a grandmother’s suicide, the choreography of a dance, a few frames of film, a diagnosis of schizophrenia, a deadly tumble from a horse, a faded photograph, or a story you tell your daughter.” ― from The Drowning Girl

The Drowning Girl tends toward psychological horror, explorations of the psyche more than physical danger. That is certainly the case with The Drowning Girl, in which is told from the point of view of a schizophrenic young woman named India. I almost wouldn’t consider this horror, although there are hauntings and werewolves and mermaids that play their parts and some of the elements are deeply unsettling. The Drowning Girl was a favorite read for me.

Kiernan’s work has been listed on several horror lists and her novels certainly play with the genre.

Gemma Files

“The rustling peaked, became a chitinous clicking, and Morrow fought hard to stay still while the whole wheel-scarred road suddenly swarmed with insects — not locusts, but ants the size of bull-mice, their jaws yawning open. Neatly avoiding both Chess and Rook’s boots, they broke in a denuding wave over the corpses, paring them boneward in a mere matter of moments.” – from A Book of Tongues

I was introduced to Files’ writing with the Hexslinger series, a re-imagining of the Wild West in which a violent and dangerous preacher turned sorcerer and some of his fellow outlaws is drawn into a deadly game with the gods. These novels take you uncomfortable and visceral places. Not just gore (though if you like that, there’s plenty), but also in terms of sex, psychology, and emotion.

Writing this reminds me that I still need to buy and read A Tree of Bones. Also, I was excited to learn that her new short story collection, We Will All Go Down Together, was recently be released in late 2014.

Kelly Link

“You have to salvage what you can, even if you’re the one who buried it in the first place.” – from “The Wrong Grave”

“The Wrong Grave,” featured in Link’s Pretty Monsters: Stories is wonderfully creepy and strange, involving a boy who goes grave robbing in order to recover the drafts of poetry he left in the casket of a friend — only the discover it’s wrong grave and the dead girl inside is rather annoyed to be disturbed.

While many of the stories in Pretty Monsters are more fantasy than horror (and this collection is more YA), she definitely has a knack for darker fantasy as well. Her collection of adult stories, Get in Trouble, is also supposed to have some horror stories.

* * *

Here are a couple more lists that I’ve found:

Who are your favorite female horror writers?

_________

My Top Five Christmas Movies

There are a zillion lists of favorite/top Christmas movies out there, so creating my own is probably just adding to the chatter (and it’s even possible I’ve done this before). Yet, here I am adding my own personal list, and it is just that — personal. These are movies that I either grew up with or have a connection to, that I get eager to watch every year, and that (along with friends and family and decorations) make it feel as thought the season is really here, as I cuddle up with my sisters in big fluffy blankets to watch.

My list focuses on movies about Christmas, instead of movies about other events that just happen to be set at Christmas time, such as Die Hard, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Home Alone.

So, here are my favorite Christmas movies, in no particular order.

The-Muppet-Christmas-Carol

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Numerous as the “best of” Christmas movie lists are the adaptations of Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol, but the muppets version is by far my favorite, gently incorporating the zany antics of the muppets characters, while also holding true to the sentiment of the original story.

Gonzo makes for a surprisingly great Charles Dickens and Michael Cain is fantastic as scrooge. Each of the ghosts hit the perfect notes: The Ghost of Christmas Past is ethereal and wispy, the Ghost of Christmas Present is joyful and solid, and the Ghost of Christmas Future is a kid=friendly level of grim and frightening.

Elf

Elf (2003)

A orphan crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and ends up being raised by an elf at the North Pole. It’s not until he’s an awkward, ginormous adult that he figures out he’s not really an elf and goes in search of his father, a Scrooge-like character who has been on the naughty list for years. His reunion with his long lost father does not go smoothly.

One of the things that makes this movie fantastic is Will Ferrel’s ability to pull off a level of childlike innocence and glee that reminds me of the shrill, ridiculous joy of being young at Christmas. Just seeing him scream “SANTA!” at the top of his lungs makes me think, Oh, yeah, I remember that feeling.

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story (1983)

All Ralphie wants for Christmas is a a Red Ryder B.B. gun, but all any adult, — from teachers to his parents and even Santa Claus — has to say on the matter is “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”

I know people who hate this movie (my sister is one), but I can’t go through the Christmas season without watching it at least once. The dark humor appeals to me. Also, the adventures of this family struggling through Christmas — the kids dealing with bullies, over-sized snow suits, and horrible gifts, the parents trying to offer as much joy as they can while strapped for cash — resonates with me. It reminds me on a small level of the chaos that surrounded my own family around the holidays, my parents doing the best they could with what they had. Somehow it all came together into a fabulous holiday event in the end.

the-santa-clause

The Santa Claus (1994)

When advertising executive Scott Calvin accidentally kills Santa Claus by causing him to fall off the roof, he finds himself whisked off to the North Pole with his son, where he learns he has to take Santa’s place as the deliverer of presents and joy to the children of the world. Though he tries to deny it, his transformation into Santa begins to take place regardless.

I’m not really a fan of Tim Allen, but I love this movie. It’s funny and sweet and magical, and I will sit and watch it anytime it comes on.

the-nightmare-before-christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Feeling depressed and disenchanted with his work as the Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington wanders away from Halloween Town and discovers a doorway into the North Pole with snow and elves and joyful feelings. So enamored is he with the discovery of Christmas that he takes over the holiday, taking on the role of Santa Clause.

While I feel this is almost as much of a Halloween movie as a Christmas movie, I love this animated tale, which puts a creepy spin on the genre. It fills the dark little heart of my goth/horror-loving shadow self.

Honorable Mention: Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

And the rest of the ’60s Christmas cartoons, really. Each of these movies, especially Rudolph holds a special place in my heart. Rudolph as the outcastand, all of the misfit toys, and the abominable snowman — I love them all.

What are your favorite holiday movies?

Five Thoughts about Rain

Fog at the Farmhouse

1.

The rain has come at last. The parched, drought ridden earth is slippery with heavy rainfall, stirring up mud and sludge. Every morning this week, I have awoke in the dark to the sound water splattering outside my window. I step outside my front door and listen to the thrumming rhythms on my umbrella and feel happy.

2.

When I was a little girl I used to run out into the rain in shorts and a tank top. I rode bicycles over the slick streets. I kicked puddles. I jumped in the mud. Gutters would gush water and I would stand under them as though I were a tourist under a waterfall in Hawaii. The water would soak through my clothes and drip down my hair. My shoes sloshed. I never shivered. I never shook. I danced in the rain and felt clean and free.

3.

My niece has turned two and has evolved into a delightful princess monster (and all that that implies). We have to convince her to wear a coat in the rain (she wishes to escape wearing only a frilly dress). After the rain, she prances out to the driveway to stomp in puddles, little insignificant ones, with a smile like the first beam of sunlight through the clouds.

Later I tromp through the mud, following my niece to the tree swings. I pull her onto my lap and we swing together, while large drops fall on us from the tree above. We twist back and forth, the word rocking to and fro, just sitting together enjoying the quiet day as we watch the post-rain fog gather around the farmhouse.

4.

Driving in California is the only thing I hate about the rainy season. Otherwise knowledgeable people forget how to drive as soon as the roads grow wet. It can take a week or more for them to grow used to it and for the level of car accidents to lessen, and by then the rains have gone.

5.

I could live some place where the rain was rampant through many seasons. Seattle, maybe. Or perhaps a rain forest. The sound and rhythms of water emptied from the sky has always soothed me, and I find myself longing for rain after months and months of sun and heat.

Then again, maybe it’s the contrast, the absences of rain followed by its sudden heavy presence that confers the joy.

Five Friday Goodies

This past couple of weeks have been of the beat-my-head-up-against-a-wall variety, particularly in regard to accomplishing the mountainous tasks that had piled up at my day job. So, I figured it would be nice to be able to share a few of the things that have made me smile lately (above and beyond my niece and nephew, that is, who always make me smile no matter what’s happening).

1. I’ve just learned that Ursula K. Le Guin is the 2014 recipient of the Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. I have read a handful of books by her and have loved each and every one, though I have a particular soft spot for the Earthsea series.

2. The Beyoncelogues – Actress Nina Millin takes Beyonce songs and performs them as dramatic monologues. The results are utterly fantastic. I particularly like her rendition of “Single Ladies,” but the whole five part series is great.

Seeing Millin perform and bring new depth to these songs is deeply inspiring to me. I love seeing popular works redefined in inventive ways and seeing her perform makes me want to try to write a short film script, or even a feature film script, for Millin to star in.

3. I’m currently reading Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older (ETA: to include Older). These fantasy stories are exactly what I need right now. They’re not exactly lite, or not all of them, but they’re interesting and thought provoking and bite-sized. It’s good reading, which makes me happy.

4. This video of Terry Crews playing music by flexing his muscles, each one attached to an electrode attached to an instrument, is old to the nets, but new to me. Jaw-dropping, head exploding levels of awesome.

5. Running with Zombies is a 5K fun run in San Jose, in which the zombies don’t chase the survivors, but run alongside them. It’s kind of like a zombie walk, but with running instead. And, while I tend to prefer walkers instead of runners at the cinema, I’m happy to say that my sister and I will be shifting into zombie mode this October in order to join the run – zombie make up, torn clothes, and all. I’m so excited!

Note that I avoided putting my recent download of Minecraft Pocket Edition on this list, because it’s not so much making me smile as it’s consuming my life. If this no sleeping, no eating thing keeps up I might be more of a zombie than I expected by the time the fun run roles around.

Five Things Make a Post

1. Last Thursday (July 17), I rolled down to Iguana’s in San Jose to participate in an open mic with the same group of artists I joined previously. The open mic was filled with a variety of wonderful, creative, inspired performers. The Hella Famous Lindsey Leong was a damn good host, full of energy and joyful humor in the face of the struggle, and of course it was a delight to once again see my favorite dynamic duo Q&A — Alice and Quynh. As I hoped, I managed to finish my new poem in time to read at the open mic. It was a wonderful, supportive environment and such a delight to be a part of.

2. Progress on the novel! The Board spawned new post-its, which has helped me shape out more of the beginning of The Cold Nothing Taste of Winter. I now know where I’m planning to start with Adam’s POV, which is a huge relief.

3. I just learned about #365feministselfie, in which women (and I’m sure some men) have been posting daily or weekly or whenever selfies. I love the idea of using the selfie as a form of personal empowerment, especially for marginalized groups. The challenge started at the beginning of the year (so I’m late to the party). Viva la Feminista is where the challenge started and it has a great explanation as to the why. I’ll be posting my selfies on instagram and tumblr.

4. This really should be number one, but the Monster (my niece) turned two on Monday. She has two new princess dresses and has paraded around shouting, “I’m a princess!” Love her so much!!

5. Tonight the Writing Gang reunited! Even though one of our members has transplanted herself to the East Coast (*sniff*), we will meet by skype to discuss our work.

Five Books or Magazines I Have Read Lately

1. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

The Yiddish Policeman's Union CoverWell, it was more like “listened” since this was the audio book, read by Peter Riegert, who was fantastic. Riegert has the perfect gravelly voice for a hard broiled detective novel and it adds to the mood of the book beautifully.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is first a detective novel, playing off the traditional noir genre with sarcastic, mouthy homicide detective Meyer Landsman looking into the shooting of a former chess prodigy and heroine addict. The investigation leads him through the various seedy realms of Yiddish Sitka, Alaska* and it unfolds like a great chess game in which he finds himself “contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, evil, and salvation that are his heritage.” Like most hard broiled detectives, Landsman finds himself seeking his own salvation as he tries to uncover truths.

The book is also a fascinating alternate history, because Yiddish Sitka never existed. Chabon unfolds a fully realized, multi-layered imagining of what this island and its inhabitants would look like if it did, full of worldwide politics and local eccentricities. The details are rich and I could feel both the cold of Alaska and visualize the inner workings of this Jewish community.

On top of a fantastic, complicated plot and an fascinating litany of character, there’s Chabon’s writing style — poetic and rich and beautiful. When he describes a grimy hotel, you can feel the dirt getting underneath your fingernails. When he speaks of breathing in the cold, your teeth ache in sympathy. Chabon is just so, so good.

When the audio book ended and the last word was read, I sat back with a happy sigh and thought to myself, Well. That was just about perfect.

The audio book also includes an interview with Chabon following the book, in which he provides insight into how he came to write the story and how he approached the writing. I love that kind of thing.

*Yay, Alaska! Including Alaska in a story immediately grabs my attention.

2. Goblin Fruit – Winter 2014

I always mean to read more lit journals, both online and in print, but never seem to get around to actually doing so. Managed it this time, and the experience made it clear why I need to do so more often.

Kristina McDonald’s “Dear Prince“, in particular, gave me chills. The poem is from Cinderella’s point of view and I love how the image of the glass slipper is used and where it’s taken. She does a wonderful audio reading of the poem, too.

Each poem in this edition of Goblin Fruit is fascinating and expansive and compelling in its own unique way. This is a must read for poetry lovers. Continue reading “Five Books or Magazines I Have Read Lately”

Things

1. Thanksgiving yesterday was great, family and food filled fun. Lots of laughing and eating. Turkey and stuffing and salad and twice baked potatoes and candied yams and green beans with bacon, not to mention pecan pies and apple pie and pumpkin cheesecake — all homemade, by the way. Plus lots and lots of champagne.

20131129-153704.jpg

2. I received a rejection for a poetry chapbook submission, called The Letterbox, sent out many months ago. The rejection included a personal note, thanking me for submitting. The editor said I had a nice narrative arc to my poems and suggested that I submit again. I never take rejections to heart, because they are a part of the process of being a writer, but it’s always great to see that personal touch and get a bit of encouragement.

3. I have no motivation to do anything at all, even though I’m supposed to pull off 18,000 words before midnight tomorrow. *sigh*

4. I’m am enjoying reading Slice of Cheery by Dia Reeves, which has consumed most of my day so far.

5. I’m sure I have enough motivation to seek out more pecan pie, though. Mmmmm, pie. And then a nap.

Three Things I Would Like to See in More Novels

Book of love

As a reader, I can’t help noticing patterns that emerge in the stories I read. Sometimes these stories are spot on, and sometimes I find myself longing for different kinds of stories than what I see on the pages. Here are a few tropes or plots points I would like see occur in more books.*

1. Books That Start with the Characters Already in a Romantic Relationship

So many stories, from romance novels to YA fantasy, begin with two strangers meeting for the first time, having instant attraction, and ultimately finding their way to love. These stories are great, and I enjoy them just as much as the next person.

But these stories seem to stem from the idea the Falling-in-Love aspect is the only interesting or challenging part of a relationship. If our two heroes can just get past these hurdles, then they’ll realize it’s True Love and they’ll be guaranteed their happily ever after.

The reality is that relationships are hard work. It involves day-to-day acts of compassion, understanding, and compromise in order to stay in love.

Staying-in-Love has the potential to be just as compelling and romantic a trope as Falling-in-Love, and would be great to see more stories begin with characters already in a relationship, which they have to hold on to through the storm.

2. Non-Romantic Relationships

Again this is me not so much turning away from romance, but wanting an addendum to it. Many stories, particularly in YA books, focus on the love story to the end that other relationships fade to the background. Sometimes that happens, a person falls in love and is so wrapped up in the feeling, they can’t make the other valuable relationships with friends and family fit in.

But I think life tends to be more multilayered than that and with all the levels of relationships and love — mothers, fathers, siblings, best friends, cousins, etc. — there is a lot of room for emotional complexity. I’m not saying ditch the romance (though I kind of am with my book), but alongside falling in love, lets have some of the other kinds of relationships, too.

3. Quiet Moments

Roger Ebert talked about quiet moments in an interview he did with Hayao Miyazaki:

I told Miyazaki I love the “gratuitous motion” in his films; instead of every movement being dictated by the story, sometimes people will just sit for a moment, or they will sigh, or look in a running stream, or do something extra, not to advance the story but only to give the sense of time and place and who they are.

“We have a word for that in Japanese,” Miyazaki said. “It’s called ma. Emptiness. It’s there intentionally.”

Is that like the “pillow words” that separate phrases in Japanese poetry?

“I don’t think it’s like the pillow word.” He clapped his hands three or four times. “The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness. But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time you just get numb.

Reading this, I thought about how many stories just power through to the ending in one action sequence after another without allowing that space to breathe and feel something.

Placing a quiet, still moment into a story seems easier in a movie, because it’s a visual form. But I think it’s possible to achieve in books, too, and I would like to see more stories, normally rife with action allow a space for the reader to feel about the characters before plunging in again.

What are tropes, plots, ideas that you would like to see appear in more novels?

*And, as I long to see these things, I find myself drawn to writing them in order to fulfill that desire.

 * * *

Since this is supposed to be a Friday Five post, here are two more unrelated Things you may be interested in checking out:

1. An awesome blog post analyzes the concept of the “Man Card”, which basically a way of metaphorically and jokingly measuring a person’s manliness:

“The Man Card concept specifically, however, is insulting to men and women in what it’s saying about our respective roles. Men are supposed be this way, not that way. Do these things, not those things. You’re not a man if you don’t fit society’s (or some section thereof’s) definition of one, and, unfortunately, people who joke this way are denigrating empathy, sympathy, respect for women, honesty, sensitivity, and responsibility. They’re saying real men prize getting their way over cooperating or compromising. Real men don’t care what their girlfriends or wives think. Real men do what they want.

This is dangerous.”

2. Check out Malinda Lo’s Guide to YA. Malinda Lo is the author of a great Cinderella retelling, called Ash, and she’s writing a multitude of posts YA novels, particularly those with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender characters or issues. If you’re a writer at all interested in writing about GBLTQ characters or issues, then I highly recommend working your way through this reading list.

Five Tips and Tricks for Nanowrimo

Since today marks the start of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) — that delightful challenge to complete a ridiculous 50,000 words in a single month — I thought I would pull out an old video for today’s Friday Five.

To summarize:

  1. Don’t Delete Anything
  2. Jump Around
  3. Dares and Prompts
  4. Plot Ninjas Are Your Friends
  5. Be Competitive

While I will be attempting to write 50,000 words this month, I will not technically be doing Nano because I will be working on an old project (the rules of Nano say that it should be a new project). I will be attempting to finish draft one of Under the Midday Moon, so that I can use 2014 to edit it.

The key to Nano, really, is the community and that you are not in this alone. I really appreciate that a lot, especially at moments like now, when I haven’t been feeling very motivated.

For those like me, not technically following the Nano rules, but still wanting to participate in some form, you can do an anti-Nano project. Set your own goal and then post updates on your blog, or if you’re on livejournal join the squidathon and post updates there (they do check-ins on Mondays and Fridays).

I will, however, be updating my progress on the Nano website, under my username blythe025. You are welcome to join me there, if you’d like.


Are you participating in Nano this year? What will you be working on?

An Assortment of Five Things

1. I picked up my sister from the airport on Tuesday. She had just got back from visiting my grandmother in Anchorage, Alaska. She’s 90 years old and my sister and I started talking about how important it is to record her life in some way. I told her that I have photo copies of her homesteading journal (which I’ve been meaning to do something with for a long time) and we both agreed that it would be great to put together a kind of memoir. Likely we wouldn’t try to publish this, though we might put it as an ebook and make some print copies for family through LuLu or something. We just need to make sure we make steady progress on this and not let it be just one of those things we talk about.

2. Speaking of writing, while I was digging through my filing cabinet looking for the copies my grandmother found me, I noticed a stack of paper about an inch thick in one of the files. I couldn’t help but take it out and read it — turned out to be movie script. I started reading some of the pages.

My thought: What is this? Did I write this? I didn’t write this. There’s no way I wrote this. *keeps reading* Oh, my god. I DID write this. I can’t believe I wrote this.

Turns out that stack of paper was the crappy martial arts script I tried to write about a guy and a girl who train and go take part in a tournament in China. It is so, so bad and I’m sure chock full of cultural inaccuracies. This will never ever see the light of day.

3. I saw Pacific Rim and loved it. It was in truth long sequences of robots smashing kaju, which was stunning in its realization, as in jaw-dropped, me-sitting-up-straight-in-my-seat in awe stunning. Beautifully wrought action sequences. It also had characters I like and story that dealt with countries and cultures working together for a common goal (that, importantly, did not revolve around good ol’ US of A saving the day). Rinko Kikuchi is wonderful and I will now be looking to watch every movie she has ever been or will be in. So, yay! I’m so glad I saw this one in theaters.

4. Also, in movies, I recently purchased Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated, a fascinating art project, in which curator Mike Schneider asked artists from around the world to animate sections of George A. Romero’s 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead. All of the sound for the original movie is the same, the only difference is that the visual element has been changed (which can be done because the original movie is in public domain). Every minute or so, a new animation style flashes on the screen. It’s a little confusing at first, but quickly becomes hypnotizing to watch. A very cool art collaboration (with zombies!).

5. I went to a Curvy Girls Fashion Show (Curvy Girls is the name of a store in Santa Clara). It was just so cool to see a dozen women of varying shapes and sizes, bravely sporting lingerie walk down this make shift runway, while everyone in the audience cheered them on. Good feelings. Also some really cute stuff, costumes and some day ware too, so I may have some shopping to do soon.

Five Things to Do Instead of Being Jealous of Your Favorite Author

Writers Block

Or, How I Learned to Stop Lamenting and Enjoy the Process

I managed to get myself into a funk last Friday, I was finding myself despairing over my rarely completed to-do lists and my languishing novel, which is suffering through first draft blues. As much as I keep plugging away at the book, there is a deep, ugly, grumbling that believes I’ll never finish the novel or any novel and even if I do, none of them will be worth reading.All this tied into the fact that I had picked up 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma (my review is here), which was blowing my mind with awesome in terms of both writing style and storyline. Normally, I don’t bother with being jealous of my fellow authors, but on this particularly day, I felt it and it layered onto my anxieties. I began to spiral into doom-gloom with “I’ll never write like this, never this good” and “My writing sucks” and “I’ll never inspire or move someone the way the writing of this author does for me.”

Dwelling on this kind of stuff is less than helpful and can lead to an avoidance of writing and/or feeling blocked when staring at the blank page. At least, I know this can happen for me. So here are a few things I’ve done and that others can do to let go of all the negative gobbledygook.

1. Remember that Every Voice Isn’t the Same

I can thank my mom for reminding me of this when I was despairing on Friday and it’s important. No two voices are the same. Every writer has their own stories to tell and their own way of telling it. Therefore, it’s not necessarily an issue of better or worse, but just about being different.

Just because one author writes an amazing book, doesn’t mean that your own story, words, and thoughts are not valuable in their own right. If you have a story to tell, then tell it. Your words are unique to you, and chances are someone will find them valuable.

2. Keep in Mind that Drafts are Called “Rough” for a Reason

I think Anne Lamott says it best in her essay, “Shitty First Drafts” (link to a pdf). Most drafts suck the first time around, and they many continue to suck after the second or third go throughs, but somehow a good story gets drawn out in the rewriting/editing process.

It doesn’t really how many books an author has published or sold, or how great their writing, chances are that author has been through bouts of despair and flailing over the suckage of their own writing at various stages of the process. For an excellent example, check out Libba Bray’s fantastic post on writing despair.

So, be gentle with yourself. Be forgiving of your early mistakes. Be forgiving of your later mistakes. You have to work through each mistake to learn how to write, and every word you write gets you to the next one. You can’t get to the finished story/book/poem if you don’t walk through the tangled, mangy woods of the first (and sometimes second, third, fourth, etc.) drafts.

3. Do a Writing Analysis on the Book

So you’ve found a book you love, with writing you adore, with delightful worldbuilding, compelling characters, and a smooth plotline. Instead of feeling inadequate in all its glory (as I did), use this as an opportunity to learn something.

Once you’ve finished the book take a look at what it was about it that made you love it. What is the plot structure or how it launched immediately into the fray? What it the eloquent scene descriptions? How about how the characters were portrayed?

Create a list of what worked for you and what didn’t. What techniques can you use to improve your writing? What can you try to avoid?

I don’t tend to get too heavy handed with these sorts of analyses, as I don’t want to overshadow what naturally comes out when I’m writing and it’s important not to try to force your writing to fit a mold that doesn’t work. But I’ll often keep these kinds of lessons sitting in the back of my mind while I write and will draw on them when I’m challenged on how to handle a certain aspect of the story.

4. Practice Celebrating Your Fellow Writer’s Successes

Both Justine Larbalestier and Seanan McGuire have posts about how life, art, and publishing are not a zero sum game. One writer or artists success doesn’t take success away from you.

I’ve heard some people say that books like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey should never have been published and lamenting about how many people were taken in by these horrible books. But my sister hated reading, mostly because high school taught her to, and it wasn’t until she read Twilight that she became a reader. That book series taught her that reading could be fun, and that enjoyment has led her to read a multitude of other books in a variety of genres.

What authors like Stephanie Meyer and E.L. James have done is manage to tap into their enjoyment of their readers in such a way that lots and lots of people wanted to read their books. They may not be perfect books, but I salute both authors for their success. Hats off to them, and I’ll keep writing the stories I feel compelled to write.

It’s even easier to salute the writers you love, because their success means more great books for you to read.

But more importantly, if you’re sending out joy and good wishes, then you’re not bogged down by jealousy. Personally, I find it much harder to write when I’m in a fowl mood, so keeping positive (if I can) helps me.

5. Just. Keep. Writing.

Just that. Keep writing.

There’s a momentum to the writing process. I find the more I write, the easier it is to keep writing. If I stop and let myself fall into a mood, it just makes it that much harder to come back to the blank page.

And whatever else is going on around you, whoever is on the bestsellers list or winning awards, one thing you know you can control is the work you put into your own stories and and effort you put into making them the best they can be. That’s a powerful thing.

How do you handle little writing jealousies? What do you do to keep from despairing about your writing?

Friday Five: Top Tabletop Games

Whenever we’re traveling or on vacation, my family is known to whip out the board and card games, and it’s great. Because, you know, we get to talk and interact and drink beers in a way that doesn’t involve the television, and it’s good (if not always wholesome) fun.

Lately, we’ve starting bringing out the table top games for more than just ‘special occasions,’ and have been turning to this while prepping dinner or hanging out in general. This has led us to start watching Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop video series, which is all board and card games all the time (some of which are the more complex role playing games).

For my family, a level of simplicity is a key with our selection of games, so that we can sit and chat and drink beers and wander off and the afternoon or night is fully relaxed. Here are a few of our favorite games (not including classic games like Sorry or Clue or Monopoly, which we also love), some new and some we’ve been playing for years.

1. Zombie Dice
Zombie Dice

With Zombie Dice, you are playing the part of the zombie on the hunt for tasty, tasty brains. You roll three dice at a time, which will come up either as brains (which you get to eat), a gun shot (three of which kills you), or feet (which you keep chasing by rolling again. There’s a little bit more to the rules, but essentially you win by being the player to nosh down on the most brains.

We like it because it’s easy game play and zombies. We also have the expansion pack, which includes three additional dice that provide variation and complication to the rules above.

(Actually it was this game that causes us to turn on the Tabletop episodes in the first place, because he features it in one episode.)

2. Cards Against Humanity
Cards Against Humanity

Cards Against Humanity is available for purchase, as well as a free download, which allows you to print the cards yourself. Each round a player A asks a question with a black card, which the other players answer by choosing what they think is the funniest white card. The winner of the round is the one who player A thinks has the best/funniest card.

This is a great game to play while sipping on some form of booze. It’s full of foul language, sexual phrases, and politically incorrect statements. Playing this game usually results in one of more of the players falling off their chair in laughter.

If you’re looking for a clean, kid-safe version of this game, there’s Apple to Apples, which is also quite fun.

3. Liar’s Dice
Liar's Dice

Liar’s Dice is a game that’s been around since the 1800s. You can see a version of the game being played aboard Davey Jones’ ship in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.

Each player has five dice and a cup. Players shake the cup, then slam it down on the table. Looking at your own dice, you call out a bid, declaring how many of each number there are (i.e. two 3s, four 5s, etc.) for all the dice on the table (not just your own). The other players either up that bid, or call “liar.” If “liar” is called, the dice are revealed. If your bid is correct, then the person who called “liar” looses a die, if you are wrong, you lose a die. The challenge is to not get caught in a lie and/or to catch others in a lie. The last one with dice left wins.

Where it gets really complicated is that there are dozens of variants to the rules (for example, we play where you can call “spot on,” meaning the number called out is the exact amount, as well as “liar”), thus some preemptive work is recommended, so that you can nail down your house rules before you start playing. This will ward off any shouting matches (and I know this from experience).

It’s not as confusing as it sounds. Also, it’s fun because there’s trickery involved. Sometimes it’s best to lie. Others it’s best to tell the truth and make them think you’re lying.

4. Thirty-One
Thirty-One (card game)

Thirty-One is a long standing holiday tradition with my family, which started at my brother-in-law’s house. Every Christmas, we gather around our entire 10+ group of people, each with our set of three $1 bills and set to playing for the next few hours.

Each player is deal three cards and tries to assemble a hand in the same suite that is as close to 31 as possible. Each player can either take the card on top or select from the deck, then discards one card. After the first round any player can “knock” on their turn, which forces everyone to show their hands. The person(s) with the lowest number put a dollar in the pot. However, if you are dealt 31 at the start of the round, then you have to show your cards automatically and everyone has to put a dollar in a pot. The last person with money in front of them wins the whole game and the pot of cash.

Our group tends to be so large when we play this game that if becomes very time consuming, especially if we’re all drinking and not quite paying attention. It’s a good way to bring the family together and fill the night, while incorporating a bit of betting without having it hurt too much (most people can easily afford to loose $3).

5. Cthulhu Dice
Cthulhu Dice

Created by the same people who made Zombie Dice, this is a new addition to our repertoire, and we’re still trying to figure out what we think about it, as it’s not quite as simple. But, hey, it’s Cthulhu, and the Elder Gods must be appeased.

Cthulhu is at the heart of this game and is represented by the center of the game area. As worshipers with limited sanity (represented by three marble pieces), players will select an opponent to curse and roll a 12-sided die to see the outcome, either stealing sanity from the opponent and taking it from oneself or giving it to Cthulhu at the center, loosing ones own sanity to Cthulhu, or other options. After casting, the victim has a chance to retaliate. If you lose all your sanity pieces, you can still play as an insane worshiper. The only player with sanity left at the end of a round wins.

The game rules say the game is for 2+ players, however, playing it with only two was a little confusing, so I think it’s probably best played with 3+ players.

Still, good fun. All hail the Elder Gods.

Tabletop Games I’m Looking Forward To

I haven’t played either of the following games yet, but I’m hoping to soon. First, there’s The Machine of Death: The Game of Creative Assassination, which I preordered through their kickstarter project.  I love the anthology series, so I’m hoping the game is great.

Then, there’s Tsuro, which we saw Wil Wheaton playing on one of his episodes. It’s a strategy game involving pathways and the placement of cards and you play as dragons that must not run off the board or into each other. It looked quick and simple and cleverly fun. So that’s on my list, too.

If you’re a tabletop game fan, tell me what your favorite games are in the comments.

Friday Five*: Scifi and Fantasy Movies I Can't Wait to See

1. The Philosophers – (view trailer)
The Philosophers

What It’s About: For the final session of his philosophy class, a teacher sets up a thought experiment: If the apocalypse comes and you can only fit so many people in your shelter, who do you let stay and who do you leave to die? (Based on the trailer, I’m guessing they play out the experiment in some sort of simulator.) But what starts as a mere experiment, turns violent and all too real.

Why It Looks Awesome: Gorgeous visuals combined with a complex moral dilemma should make for a captivating story. Also, it plays on the original Greek definition for apocalypse, “a disclosure of knowledge, i.e., a lifting of the veil or revelation,” which is rather refreshing.

2. Pacific Rim – (view trailer)
Pacific Rim

What It’s About: Enormous monsters from beneath the seas have awakened and begin reeking havoc on the world. In response, humanity designs giant mechanical robots to fight back.

Why It Looks Awesome: I have mixed feelings about giant mech stories (though I enjoyed Mobile Suit Gundam Wing), however I like the idea of the mech operators having to share memories. It reminds me of a number of anime stories and Godzilla, and it also includes a number of Asian characters (though I don’t know how sidelined they are). Also, this is directed by Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hell Boy), who is simply amazing at creature design. Not all of his movies are great, but they tend to be fun, and when he hits the right note, his work is fantastic.

3. The World’s End – (view trailer)
The World's End

What It’s About: After many years, five friends return to their hometown to complete the epic pub crawl they failed when they were younger, only to find everyone in the village has been replaced by robots.

Why It Looks Awesome: Simon Peg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, and the same crew that did the fantastic and hilarious Sean of the Dead. There is no doubt in my mind that this will be amazing.

4. Europa Report – (view trailer)
Europa Report

What It’s About: An international crew of astronauts undertakes a privately funded mission to search for extraterrestrial life on Jupiter’s fourth largest moon, Europa. But following a disastrous technical failure and the death of one of the crew, the remaining crew struggle to regain communication with Earth

Why It Looks Awesome: Stunning visuals and a realistic depiction of space travel, plus what looks like intense action. Should be amazing.

5. Upstream Color – (view trailer)
Upstream Color

What It’s About: The IMDB description reads: “A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives.” I’m not sure what that means.

The equally confounding trailer claims notes, “You can force your story’s shape but the color will always bloom upstream.”

Why It Looks Awesome: I don’t know if “awesome” is the right word here, since this is described as an experimental film (and I’m not even sure it’s really science fiction), so “intellectually stimulating” is probably more accurate. It’s directed by Shane Carruth, who created Primer, an extremely low budget time travel movie, which was complex, understated, and presented a realistic view of time travel based on currently known physics (it was also a movie you had to see more than once to really understand). My guess that Upstream Color will be equally understated, intelligent, and complex. Plus I’m quite curious to see if watching the movie is as confounding as reading the description.

Edited to Add: I found out after posting this that Upstream Color is already out on streaming and DVD.

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So that’s my five. I tried to stick to movies that might be lesser known, which is why The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smog, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Carrie didn’t make the list).

For more science fiction and fantasy movies coming out this year, you can also check out IO9’s massive list.

What are the movies that you can’t wait to see in the coming months?

*My plan is to start doing a weekly Friday Five again (on an assortment of random topics), and I’m hoping the ability to schedule posts will help make that happen.