Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Uncle Tommy

This weekend was rough. Actually, I don't think "rough" is an adequate description. I lost someone very dear to me, someone dear to quite a lot of people--some I know and many I don't know. We had no warning. Just a phone call Thursday afternoon that my Uncle Tommy was admitted to the hospital for heart related issues. We were told it was serious but not to worry. Just pray.

So we did.

I went to bed that night like any normal night. But when I woke up, it was to a text message from my mom saying he'd passed away in the early morning hours.

How does one react to such news? It had been a while since I'd lost my grandfathers--my first face-to-face with death--but I am older now. I discovered there is no difference between a 14-year-old's reaction to sudden loss of a loved one and a 25-year-old's. I cried.

Shock. Disbelief. At first, it was just a few tears, but then it devolved into an avalanche of racking sobs as the full enormity of it came crushing into me. He was gone. He is gone. And nothing I or anyone here on Earth can do can bring him back, even for a second.

I tried to comfort myself with the knowledge that he is with the Lord. (And John Wayne, his hero.)

Like any member of the Millenial generation I found an appropriate John Wayne quote and shared it on my Facebook page. Family and friends reacted. But it wasn't enough.

So, I cried a bit more. I went over to my parents' home and cried there with my sister, mother, aunt, and grandmother, standing in the kitchen, hoping the nightmare would end but still being productive--it's bean canning season.

The familiar smell of freshly canned green beans washed over me like a clichéd soothing tide. Uncle Tommy loved to grow things. I knew with certainty that he would approve of the steaming pot on the stove and smell.

Since then, time has been a bit wonky. We were in a state of suspended animation it seems, waiting and yet not waiting, for that moment when we would all gather together, as is custom, to say our goodbyes. We drove from all over to meet, homing in on his location like geese seeking shelter. We found him and, yet, we didn't.

I was supposed to be hosting a house warming party at our first home together. The Husband had been working so hard all week to get the outside of the house ready, while I worked inside to finally unpack all of those miscellaneous boxes.

Instead, my husband drove a Dramamine-d and Klonipan-ed me nearly four hours to Alexander City. I'd never dreaded arriving there before. The place of so many family gatherings and summer excursions to Lake Martin became a place I wished miracles of life could happen spontaneously, and if not, that time would stop and I wouldn't have to see the same look I saw in the mirror reflected on the faces of people I love.

Time didn't stop. Before I knew it, we were there and I was surrounded in a sea of grief. But, because this moment was about my Uncle Tommy, mingled in with the tears were choked laughs as we recalled stories about him. His wish was for a celebration, so we tried, in our weak human way to give him that.

It's easy to be selfish and want to prolong the crying part of a loss. Yet, Uncle Tommy never took the easy way and expected us--no matter what we did in life--to do our best, even if our best took us down the harder, less-traveled path.



So, here I am. Chopping away at the undergrowth of my own mind, reforging that path I traveled eleven years ago. I'm refinishing a cabinet for my fine china. It's calming. Each scraping swipe with refinishing spirits removes the old stain and I imagine it is cleansing me as well.

Soon I'll apply a fresh tint to the wood, making my mark on this piece that once belonged to someone else. I imagine Uncle Tommy smiling and telling me to be sure to go with the grain. Don't ruin the integrity of the wood. Don't rush the process. Do everything with love.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Defending a Creative Thesis

Dear Blog Friends,

The time has come, once again, for me to defend a large body of words in front of a committee of my choosing. The deed will go down this Monday at 4 p.m. Any warm fuzzy thoughts you can send my way at that time will be greatly appreciated. I feel like the past two years have flown by, but I guess that's what happens when you're having fun. I think the best decision I've made in my entire educational career is switching from a literature/critical concentration to a creative writing concentration.

Sure, it would have been easier for me to write another thesis about someone else's work, analyzing it in some "new" way that would bring something else "new" to my field. BUT, and this is a critical one, I think there is enough of that in the academic community right now. What we really need are more creative works (not that I'm placing my thesis among such greats that we study), and I think that the people capable of writing these works need to stop being afraid of doing what we love. That's what it came down to for me. I knew--deep in my gut--that I could write another critical thesis and that it would be good enough for me to get my M.A. in English, another box checked. However, my true desire wasn't that. I wanted to write something of my own, something free from style constraints and works cited pages.

And I had a story inside me. It needed to breathe the fresh air and its characters wanted to be heard. They still do. I've only chiseled away the detritus from a small piece of it, but the support I've received from my mentors and friends is enough to encourage me to continue carving.

As I meditate on the past two years, I am pleased with my progress as a writer and as a perpetual student. If there is one thing that I've taken away from embracing the creative process, it's that learning never ends. There is always something new behind the next door. So, whether I go on to get my Ph.D. in English, my MFA, or simply sit on my master's degree and laugh at the world, I am content.

I thought about making this a post with advice to fellow creative thesis writers about the whole process, but then I decided not to. Each of us has a path and yours won't be like mine. The best advice I can give anyone who is thinking about pursuing a master's degree in creative writing (or who just wants to write a book/short story/poem, etc.) is to listen to your inner voice. Not the one saying you will fail if you try. That's not you. Listen to the other one. The one that says, "I'm here, too. And I want to tell a story. 'Once upon a time...'"

Until next time...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review: WAISTCOATS & WEAPONRY by Gail Carriger

I'm in love with this series. In fact, I think I've said that in at least one other post. The Finishing School series by Gail Carriger is simply divine.

Each character, no matter how minor, is alive with intent and practically pops from the page. Humor is dexterously woven into conversation and circumstances; I always find myself laughing out loud (to the confusion of my fiancé) whenever Sophronia or one of her fellow intelligencer-to-be's says or does something unexpected. Waistcoats & Weaponry (Book the Third, published Nov. 4, 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) only made me fall even more in love with Carriger's writing style.

I'll give you an example:

The dirigible's balloon, along with the top portion of what remained of the gondola, bobbed higher. Sophronia and Dimity stuck their heads out their respective doors; Dimity, pushing Monique carelessly aside as if she were a curtain, craned to look behind. Monique was still screaming, but that might be due to the indignity of being treated like a drapery.
Dimity yelled, "The duke has left Lord Mersey and is trying to collect prototypes--sorry--frequencers. Oh, dear, it's as if he's lost his marbles." 
Sophronia said, "I wager the pickled duke is none too pleased and is going to demand an explanation from his son." (237)
The action is non-stop, packed with punch (literally), and brimming with the intelligent musings of Sophronia--a girl who simply wants to see balance in her world, and uses her vast skills as an intelligencer-in-training to do so.

Another aspect I admire of this series is Carriger's ability to talk about social issues (race relations, women in society, propriety, technology) in a way that neither offends nor bores. Sophronia's world is an interesting blend of Victorian ideals, modern technology, and the supernatural. Throw in a human group of gentlemen called Picklemen who hate supernatural creatures and revere technology, and you have a trifecta of potential disruptive behavior.

Really, I see no reason why this series cannot be read as a rulebook of how to treat your fellow man, regardless of skin color, social standing, or diet.

To sum up: Waistcoats & Weaponry is a delightful paranormal steampunk romp and I recommend it highly to children and adults. Just click the link for more information via Goodreads.

Until next time...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hello, France. Nice to Meet You Too?

Is it strange that I check my blog stats every few weeks despite the undeniable fact that I do not post regularly?

I don't think so. Imagine my surprise then to see 368 visits from somewhere in France. This would be an adequate picture of my face.

Courtesy ifbyyes.wordpress.com

Yes, when I'm intrigued, I look like Joey from Friends. I also share his sentiment about sharing food. I don't do it.

Now, as for the strangely large number of French visitor(s), I'm left with these questions: Are you one person or are you many? I'm assuming here that a) you (the visitor/visitors from France) are actually real and not some fluke of the Internet and b) you are reading this and can answer me. Preferably in English. I understand the gist of some French, but if you (or anyone, really) started speaking to me in French, you or they would see that Joey face followed by a grin and my Spanish reply of "No comprendo francés."

So, here we are. Or here I am, staring awkwardly at this page and Joey's face wondering what to type next. Perhaps a status update on my thesis prospectus? Yes? No? Okay. Yes it is!

My mentor thinks my prospectus is very well-written; however, I used "however" too much. And will likely continue that pattern indefinitely because I could not write that sentence without using it. My fingers just wouldn't let me. As for the prospectus itself, my mentor believes I will soon be ready to defend it, and once that is checked off the list, I can actually finish the thesis in question and in short order defend it as well. Right now I'm focusing on the offense part of my game--actually getting the things written. Defense is something for Future Me to worry about. In a few months.

Until next time...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

News and Such Things

Dear Blog Friends,

I know I've been rather sparse lately in the whole posting-stuff-region, but I have a good reason. I've been really busy. Like, super crazy busy even for me. That paltry excuse said, I do have some good news to share.

I'm engaged! *cue cheering* 

The Boyfriend finally proposed and we're very happy. He has now been renamed The Fiancé. Hope I did that accento mark right....

Anyway, that's not the only news! I'm currently working as an Editorial Intern (which is a confusing title because technically I'm not getting paid, hence Intern, but I'm getting all of the credit of an Editor) at a local independent called Negative Capability Press, located here in Mobile, AL. My mentor is the great poet (and former Poet Laureate of Alabama) Dr. Sue Brannan Walker. I'm learning so much about publishing that I can barely hold all of this new information, and the great thing is, I'm doing a directed studies class titled Publishing and Editing with her in the Fall so the fun will just continue. In addition to that, she is also my creative thesis mentor, so that means I'll be spending more time with her in the next year working on my, you guessed it, creative thesis!

Due to my current sharing mood, here is the premise:
 Found wandering the Grymm Forest at age five and raised by a roving band of gypsies, Eurydice and her chatty sidekick Harly—a scholar turned mule—navigate the criminal underbelly of the Twin Kingdom as assassins for justice. Now seventeen, Eury’s loyalty to justice is tested when she comes face to face with an enemy that she never imagined: her past. Not knowing whom to trust, other than Harly, Eury must discover her origins, save a vagabond prince from almost certain death, and prevent a terrible curse from spreading beyond the Grymm Forest—a place she never anticipated returning, much less remembers having left. Magic, murder, and mayhem abound in this tale about identity and crafting the perfect arrow for every occasion. May the Grymm Fighter watch over us all

By Spring this will be a full-fledged (haha it's punny because the title is Fledgling) novel and I have plans for a trilogy. I'm so excited!  

In order to keep the good news train rolling, here is my final bit of fun! My good friend Kelsey Sutton (whom I've posted about several times) has just won a Gold IPPY for her debut novel Some Quiet Place! More cheers! And Stephen Colbert dancing!

Well, that's all folks! Just look at him dance. Go Stephen, go Stephen, go Stephen!

Until next time...

Friday, June 6, 2014

Review: THE CAMELOT CODE by Mari Mancusi

Courtesy Goodreads
The Camelot Code
by Mari Mancusi
Author site

Goodreads summary:
All fourteen-year-old gamer girl Sophie Sawyer wants to do is defeat Morgan Le Fay in her favorite Arthurian videogame. She has no idea the secret code sent via text message is actually a magical spell that will send her back in time to meet up with a real life King Arthur instead. 

Of course Arthur's not king yet--he hasn't pulled the sword from the stone--and he has no idea of his illustrious destiny. And when a twist of fate sends him forward in time--to modern day high school--history is suddenly in jeopardy. Even more so when Arthur Googles himself and realizes what lies in store for him if he returns to his own time--and decides he'd rather try out for the football team instead. 

Now Sophie and her best friend Stuart find themselves in a race against time--forced to use their 21st century wits to keep history on track, battle a real-life version of their favorite videogame villain, and get the once and future king back where he belongs. Or the world, as they know it, may no longer exist.
The Camelot Code is available in e-book and paperback through Amazon or B&N.    I received a digital copy from the lovely Mari herself and what follows is my honest to goodness review.

As an avid gamer, like the protagonist Sophie Sawyer, I enjoy hacking away at my enemies or casting spells to save the day. It's a wonderful escape from reality. However, if I suddenly found myself sucked back in time to the land of Skyrim, where dragons molested towns and the dead walked as skeletons in crypts, I might actually pass out from the sheer terror of it.

Sophie's handling of the situation is somewhat more along the lines of what I would wish to accomplish. She takes the event in stride and does her best to make things right, no matter how crazy they seem to get as the story goes along. As the Goodreads summary adequately explains, this historical, magical time swap is a romp in the park of fun.

I honestly had a blast reading this book. It's not what I typically read these days; I'm more of a darker YA reader/fantasy fan, but the lighthearted humor mixed with friendship and camaraderie as these friends embark on an adventure to save the world is exactly what kids these days need to read. There is just enough romance for the budding teen to giggle over, but not so much as to make it cross that boundary between middle grade and definitive YA territory.

As a 23-year-old graduate student majoring in creative writing, I found The Camelot Code to not only be enjoyable, but also well-written for its target audience, which somehow includes me as well. When I finally finished it I felt giddy like I did when I was twelve. I put down my iPad and simply relished the joy of the story.

Sometimes in this bustling world of books, that feeling is hard to come by. I applaud Mari Mancusi and wish her all the best with her other books (including the Scorched series, which I also now plan to read).

Until next time...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Review of FIREBLOOD and a look at the newest MMO, Elder Scrolls Online

Hello everyone! This post is probably going to be the nerdiest one I've written in a while. And that's saying something. I once rambled about Skyrim and its sheer awesomeness for at least a page. Like the title says, I will be doing two things in this post: 1) Providing a brief review of Fireblood (Whispers from Mirrowen) by Jeff Wheeler 2) Showcasing some sweet screenshots from the Elder Scrolls Online (now that the NDA is relinquished).

Let's get straight to it then!

Courtesy Goodreads
Fireblood is the first in Jeff Wheeler's Whispers from Mirrowen series. It's set in a fantasy world beset with a devastating plague. There is everything you would want from a fantasy series: magic, lore, evil creatures, quests, danger, intrigue, and so much more that I just can't share because it would spoil some of y'all's fun. The characters are multi-faceted, full of personal twists, and absolutely endearing. Yes, even the evil ones have something attractive about them (maybe they're born with it, maybe it's Maybelline?). 
Courtesy Goodreads

The second book of the series, Dryad Born, was just released (on my birthday!) and I can't wait to start it. Fireblood left me right in the middle of a big reveal and gosh darn it I just can't stand waiting!

Maybe I have the Fireblood and just don't know it? I have always wanted that sort of power. But goodness, the responsibility is daunting.

Anyway, that's all I'm going to say for now. As a fantasy fan, I recommend this series. Wheeler does a fantastic job of weaving a believable tale in a believable environment with believable consequences. Even the book covers are nice! In summary: delicious book.

I now summon the gaming nerd in me. Come forth, thou keyboard and mouse-clicking fanatic! Show yourself!

For a while now, I've had the opportunity to Beta test (long term) the newest Bethesda/Zenimax/Havok creation. I'm talking about the massively multiplayer online (MMO) game Elder Scrolls Online or ESO for short. Until recently, I wasn't allowed to talk about my experiences in Beta or take and share screenshots, videos, etc. There was a really strict nondisclosure agreement (NDA) in place and I, for all intents and purposes, always obey rules.

Besides, silence was a small price to pay for testing the game out before its release, and I like to think that I'm a pretty helpful person. I have helped test the game on a public test server (PTS) (I know, there are SO many acronyms), reporting bugs in quests, providing feedback on the forums, and basically stress-testing the server with my incessant questing.

Herein lie my thoughts and some lovely screengrabs of just a few of the places in ESO. (The graphics are amazing, not going to lie.)

The final chamber in Coldharbour's starting quest.
In ESO, characters start out in a place called Coldharbour, the home plane of daedric prince Molag Bal. It's a really purple place. Like, really purple. I'm sure Prince would like it. The best thing about Coldharbour is all the random loot you can find in containers. I literally walk around in the large chambers and open every jar, chest, or trunk and take whatevers inside. It might be an ingredient, a lockpick (score!), or even a book that teaches me a new crafting style (double score!).

Depending on which Alliance you've chosen to join, you will end up in different places upon exiting this purple dungeon of doom. Albeit, you will leave with slightly less "soul" than when you entered. Actually, you will not have a soul at all. Cool, huh?

My Khajit character collecting a Skyshard. Getting some soul.
To gain back some of your souliness, you will gather Skyshards in Tamriel.  

<-----Doing so will look like this. It's pretty neat.

Part of what makes ESO so awesome is the fact that you are playing with other people. I love Skyrim and other Elder Scrolls single player games and still do, but it's a whole different experience taking down a dungeon with fellow ESO fans.

Now for some gratuitous screenshots of my characters in ESO.

Crafting is one of my favorite things to do when
I'm not killing things or absorbing Skyshards.

There are books EVERYWHERE to read. So I read them. 

This character has a tattoo and a penchant for killing things
that glow red with her bow. 
So, if you feel like joining the ranks of adventurers such as myself, you can starting on April 4. The game is available for preorder now for Mac, PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One, but only Mac and PC will be released in April. Console versions will most likely come out in June. If any of you do become ESO players, drop me a line. We can explore the far reaches of Tamriel together, killing all that glows red and tries to kill us. That's the dream, right?

Until next time...