Friday, October 17, 2014

Writer’s Block: The Truth About My Struggles and Fears

You know, I've been sitting down the last couple days trying to come up with something together and precise and profound to blog about the writing process. What I keep getting is a good idea and a good start, and a whole lot of rambling afterwards. It's not that I don't know what I want to write... its really that I just don't know how to get it written down in an organized manner.

Come to think of it, this is the same problem I have when I'm working on my novel. I have a good idea and a pretty decent beginning... and then it just starts to feel like I'm rambling and everything is being thrown down on the page in a jumbled mess. And often times because it is a jumbled mess and I feel like it needs to be organized and put in an understandable order, I get what many writers refer to as Writer's Block and can't get my story to move forward at all.

There are many many writers who will tell you that there is no such thing as Writer's Block; there is only procrastination. These writers will tell you that the only thing you really need to do is sit your butt down in a chair and just start writing. To a certain point this is true, but for anyone who has actually faced the dreaded Writer's Block, we know that it most certainly is real and very very daunting.

Another, description that I think is more accurate is, "Writer's Block is only fear." Like many before me, when I first read that saying I totally disagreed with it but now, after taking the time to really analyze what it is that mentally paralyzes me so thoroughly, I think Writer's Block may indeed (at least partially) consist of fear. And I think that each writer's fear is different, resulting in a different form of Writer's Block. Some writers may be afraid of judgment, others actually afraid of success, and some might be afraid of failing, but my fear is different. I don't mind the judgment so much, I certainly hope to succeed in writing, and I'm not really afraid of failing because everyone fails sometimes and if you pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and keep going, that's a type of success in itself. So what other kind of paralyzing fear is there?

I had to really think about that. I knew that I had a problem, and I suspected that it came from some deep innate fear that I couldn't overcome easily, but what was it? After mulling the problem over for several hours, I thought I had found the answer. I called it "The fear of going nowhere" and I started writing another blog post about it... but I never finished that post because halfway through it I changed the name of the fear to "The fear of not being sure how to get there" which was perhaps more accurate. This was because it wasn't that my stories were going nowhere: I knew they were going somewhere... I just didn't know how to get my stories from point A to point B.

But now thinking about it, I realize that getter from point A to point B isn't even the hard part. Sitting down and just typing will eventually fix that problem. And so I think that my Writer's Block consists of a different type of fear entirely. I call it "The fear of not making sense"... or maybe "The fear of rambling". Both of these fears, however, are part of something else, a much deeper, darker, and far more sinister force: "The fear of making a fool of yourself". This fear is NOT to be confused with "The fear of being judged" for though they are similar at first glance, they actually have some very different qualities. For example, people will judge you and your art whether you are smart or foolish, simple or complicated, classy or artistically unique. You can't escape the judgement of other people. Why, most of you have already judged me in some way or other after only reading the first couple paragraphs of this post! People can't help judging other people; it's our nature. But as we subconsciously judge everything around us, we put these judged things into mental categories.

And THAT is my fear.

I am not afraid of being judged. I expect you to judge me because I know you will anyway, even without realizing it. My TRUE fear is being judged as a fool or an incompetent despite my very best efforts to come across as the opposite.

Do you know how many times I've rewritten the beginning of my WIP, "Song of the Daystar"?

Neither do I.

I lost track somewhere around the 8th rewrite, when I decided to scrap everything in the original draft except for the character names and start completely over from scratch. I became what I like to refer to as "a bloody-penned perfectionist." I LOVE critiques, and do you know why? Because it gives me a chance to see what others think about my novels, and it gives me the opportunity to rip my literary works apart in order to make them better (or at least that's what I tell myself). I've done this so many times with the beginning of SOTD that I am extremely tired of working on it. But here is the kicker; I've sworn to myself that THIS draft really WILL be the last draft, and so I want it to be perfect. You've heard of perfectionist writers before, right? Well, I'm one of them, and at the core of this perfectionism is my need to not be judged as a fool in the literary world. I can't move forward if it's not perfect because that goes against my promise to myself, and I don't want this draft turning out anything like the original story which will never again see the light or day because then I truly WILL be making a fool of myself.

To some degree this perfectionism with my art is a good thing. It shows that I want it to be the very very best that it can be. However, because my perfectionism is driven by a need to not come across as a fool to my peers, it also terrifies and overwhelms me. And because I am terrified and overwhelmed by it, I procrastinate... which is actually extremely painful and mentally draining because I KNOW I should be writing, but I just can't face my own extremely high expectations for myself. You don't know how painful that can actually be unless you are a writer yourself and have faced the same thing. :P

Being a perfectionist has other unfortunate side effects too. It's not just that I can't move forward unless I feel the story is perfect… It's also that I can't move forward unless I feel like the story is making sense. You remember what I was talking about earlier? How I mentioned that I decided to call my fear "The Fear of Not Making Sense' or "The Fear of Rambling"? Well, this is where it comes into play. When I first started writing, I was a true Pantster. I wrote without any thought about what was really going to happen next and just let the words and the characters pull me forward on the adventure that was their lives and very existence. I allowed them to show me their worlds with no thought about how the big overall picture was supposed to look. I didn't know how the story was going to end back then, and frankly I didn't care. I was more interested in the pure unadulterated pleasure of discovery and exploration.

Now, however, I have had years of study in the art of writing. My art and ability has grown immensely and I understand the mechanics of the art much better than I did back when I only wrote for the feel of writing and the love of words. However, though I still retain a strong, unquenchable passion for wordsmithing, I have lost the free-spirited abandon with which I used to fling myself into the story. I have come to understand that there is actually more to writing a successful novel (in any genre) than just simply writing, and this is where I find myself taking pause. Where before I didn't mind the rambling nature of my story simply because I enjoyed the writing, NOW I see that same rambling nature as confusing and disorganized… a jumbled mess of storylines thrown together in no particular order and ultimately making a mess of the plot. Dialogue that used to seem witty and intelligent to me now feels stilted and choppy; prose and descriptions I once fell in love with for their rhythm and color now feel dull and lack-luster; characters I once felt were believable and emotionally deep now feel shallow and dim-witted.

You see my problem, right?

And yes, I admit that part of this has to do with the process of rewriting. Tearing into a first draft can be quite traumatizing and eye-opening. The emotional journey of a writer doing a rewrite is extreme and hard… like being continually pounded by a sledgehammer while fireworks go off in the background; the fireworks may be beautiful, true, but the constant loud booming of the explosions sets your wits completely on end making you a nervous wreck while the continual pounding of the sledgehammer bruises and beats you flatter and flatter onto the concrete.

Yes, rewriting a first draft is quite a terrifying experience. But what if this isn't the first draft of your book? Or even the second, third, or fourth drafts? What if this isn't even the eighth draft???

I want this story to move forward soooo bad. And not just this story either, but others I have in the making. However, I don't want these stories to end up with good ideas, decent beginnings… and horribly confusing, rambling middles with unsatisfactory endings. This is what I fear will happen, turning me into a total fool. This is what many of my stories consisted of in the past.

How do you fix something you know how to fix, but have almost no experience fixing for yourself???

Give me someone else's story, and I can find the plot holes, the rambling story lines, the shallow characters and stilted dialogue and tell you exactly how to fix it. No problem!

Now shove my own story in my face and watch me turn into a confused and nervous mess. :P

Do any of you have similar problems? Do any of you struggle internally with the need to feel that your story is – if not perfect – at least not rambling in every which direction? Do any of you struggle with the worry that your story is rambling anyway, despite your best efforts? Please don't feel afraid to comment about it down below. Sometimes it's just good to know that you aren't alone in your struggles.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Truth About Homeschooling: A Response to Ignorance, part 1


I just read an article where a man (Matt Walsh, by name) is given what he calls "The Two Absolutely Worst Arguments Against Homeschooling" and defends Homeschooling against them.  Reading through the letter that Mr. Walsh received, I recognized two of some of the most predictable and clich├ęd arguments against Homeschooling and expected an almost ritualistic debunking.  As Homeschooling Alumni, I was not disappointed.  There was even some sarcastic humor involved.  However, I was disappointed that Mr. Walsh failed to point out what I consider to be a few of the biggest flaws in this man's argument. 

 

In the email Mr. Walsh received, the writer says this:

 

1. The flaws in our public school system have to do with PARENTS. Parents send their kids to school and think their job is done, instead of being involved in their child's education. How can the system ever improve if the involved parents pull out and do their own thing? We have a responsibility not just to our own family but to our community. Homeschool parents hurt their communities when they isolate themselves and remove their children from our academic institutions. If we don't help the system, the system will not work.

 

While Mr. Walsh goes on to answer this writer's accusations with how he actually doesn't think all public school teachers are the devil, and challenges the writer to come up with some solid research to support his claim (which the writer obviously doesn't do), and says that actually parents SHOULD be making decisions for the wellbeing of their family (whether or not that means homeschooling their children or putting them in a public school environment) and not just making decisions for the community or "the system" as the writer says they should (which I agree with), Mr. Walsh never actually tackles the accusations brought against Homeschooling parents.  Instead he goes on to point out the flaws permeating the public system, but to me, attacking an enemy's flaws without setting up a solid defense to protect what the enemy is attacking is not only strategically unwise, but almost childish. Sadly, it is still a common reaction that comes with human nature; sort of a "he hit me so I'm going to hit him back" type thing.  And in the moment, with emotions high and the "righteous anger" flowing hot, people often dive right in before seriously thinking about their responses.  As a result, people often make fools of themselves.  

 

(Not that I'm calling Mr. Walsh a fool by any means... in fact, his article was interesting to read and thought provoking.  And maybe even a little fun, as I watched the old Anti-Homeschooling arguments get debunked once more. ;)  Also, I do not think myself exempt of human nature, and therefore admit to often making a fool of myself while high on emotions and righteous anger.) 

 

Bear with me here, friends.  This writer who is coming AGAINST homeschooling, blames the parents for the public system's failure when he says that they send their kids to school and think their job is done instead of being involved in their child's education.

And so follows my corrective response to this obviously ignorant writer. (My response is not meant to be objective of Mr. Walsh's comments, but rather to compliment them.)

*****


 

Well, sir, might I point out to you that "being involved in their child's education" is EXACTLY what a homeschooling parent is doing??? And as you undoubtedly know, having worked in "the system" for so long, being involved in any child's education, be it one child or several children, or even 40 of them, is quite the task.  Many homeschooling parents end up being stay at home parents while their spouses work to support the family financially.  In today's society, this can put a serious strain on family relationships because of the economic situation in America which requires higher and higher income rates in order for families to survive as a unit.  Because of the economic situation, many families require both parents to work full time in order to bring in a high enough income to support their spouses and their children.  For this reason, you can hardly blame parents with children in the public school system for not being heavily involved in their children's schooling, and I would think you would at least appreciate the efforts and sacrifices that Homeschooling parents are making to be involved in the education and bringing up of their young. 

 

Besides that, most homeschooling families that I have met have at least 3 children of varying ages all being taught at their own grade-level.  In fact, homeschooling has taken the "one-room school house" to a whole new level.  Teachers in the public systems may have to worry about the education of 40 kids at a time (which I realize is no small feat, and therefore should be commended), but usually only the middle-school teachers have to worry about teaching 40 kids multiple subjects, and let's face it, these subjects have been toned down to a middle-school level... a level which any teacher is likely to have already mastered.  In a public High School, students start taking multiple classes much like they will eventually do in college.  Each class is taught by a teacher who has mastered the one subject the class revolves around.  Students jump from class to class interacting with different teachers, all of whom teach different singular subjects. It is very likely that some of these teachers may under-appreciate, undervalue, and possibly even extremely dislike certain students, while at the same time favoring others.  Also, one cannot assume that all students learn alike.  Many public school students think differently and learn differently than other students do.  These students may struggle in school, and while some of them are given the help they need and encouraged to do better, other cases are not even realized. 

 

In a Homeschooling setting, the Homeschooling parent is usually faced with the responsibility of educating at least one, if not three or more children of varying ages, grades, different ways of thinking and learning, and/or possible learning disorders. This parent is responsible for teaching each child all of the subjects in his or her respective grade, which means that each parent must either have mastered all levels of the subjects to be taught, must teach themselves the differing levels of the subjects taught, or must teach their children the differing levels of the subjects taught while also learning the subjects along with them.  Yes, this gives the parent a stronger hand in the child's upbringing; it is essentially accomplishing exactly what you say parents should be doing, which is taking an active interest in their child's upbringing and education.  And while public school teachers get to go home at the end of the day, (perhaps going back to a family of their own with its own problems, but STILL getting a break from the many kids they have to chaperon on a daily basis), Homeschooling parents very rarely get a break from the lovable hooligans that make up the focus of their lives.          

 

So, dear sir, at least in one respect you are right; you say that homeschooling parents don't care about the system and they don't.  Why should a homeschooling parent care about the system?  Their main concern at this point in time is the education and the development of their child, and they are seeing to that personally. If, as a parent, your main concern is the welfare, education, and upbringing of your child so that he or she might learn and grow to reach their full potential in being completely themselves while also becoming a respectable, respected and important member of the community and society – and if, in order to obtain these objectives, you decide to take your child's education and upbringing into your own, already too-busy hands – then tell me, why should you make it your business to be concerned with a system that has proven itself over and over again to be rather dysfunctional? To me, this line of thinking makes no sense at all. In fact, in light of all that a homeschooling parent is required to do and give up in order to bring out the best in their child, I would think you should be commending homeschooling parents for their future gift to society, not condemning them for their lack of interest in a system that has incessantly proven itself faulty.

 

*****

Later, my dear friends, I will address the second point in the writer's letter to Mr. Walsh. In the meantime, please tell me your thoughts on the matter.
J I would love to hear from you.

God Bless, from the proud receiver of a homeschool education,


 

Nichole White
   

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Winds of Change

There has been a lot happening in my life lately: good things, bad things, crazy things... about a week ago my good ol' trusty laptop decided to crash, and then my phone stopped working, and our internet died and... well, needless to say, I've been in crazy mode trying to get something working again. lol!

The good news is, I did get something working again, and that something is my phone... or, actually, rather than getting it working again, I simply replaced it with a new and improved version.  This phone allows me to hook up a universal keyboard via bluetooth and so, with the help of an app that allows me to edit and create microsoft word documents (and, of course, with the assistance of the ever useful dropbox) I am able to access some of my more important and recent documents and continue my writings on my phone.  Pretty spiffy, huh? ;)

But honestly, it's just not the same thing as working from a computer console. *le-sigh*  I think my computer can be fixed... I even think I might know how to fix it... the problem is, I don't have the equipment to fix it and so, until I find someone who does (which may be within the next week, if all goes well) I will be doing most everything from my phone. This, of course, means that work on the cover art for Gillian's book must be put on hold... but, not to be deterred, I am looking into a few other options concerning third-party artists.  I have one in mind in particular, and I'm SERIOUSLY looking forward to conversing with him on the subject. :D

With that said, some other interesting things have been going on in my life.  I know some of you already know that I lost my job about a month ago, but now I have an interview lined up for tomorrow (or rather, today, since it's already almost 2:30am... I'm too excited to sleep. :p).  The job is once more in health care, BUT the good news is it is offering everything I was looking for in a health care based job.  Tomorrow is only the first interview, but I'm hoping they are impressed and decide to hire me.  Prayers would be appreciated.

In other news, some interesting winds have been stirring within one of the writing groups I am a member of.  One day, in the hopes of getting some advice about a fairytale retelling I am working on, I posted a question on the page, and from that question sprouted a varitable smorgasboard of ideas from my fellow writers... which resulted in this group deciding to create their own Publishing imprint specializing in anthologies.

The imprint's name?

Paradigm Shift
(curtesy of my good friend, Andy Poole, who suggested the name for the imprint, even though he originally wanted to use it for a band. :))

As some of my friends so aptly said upon hearing of these interesting events, "Well... that escelated quickly!"

Our first anthology won't be released until the end of next year and is to be filled with all sorts of fairytales retold.  Some of the ideas the group is coming up with are simply astounding.  My friend, Andy, plans on doing a rewrite of Snow White in an historical fantasy setting... with possible vampires.  I may be working on a retelling of "The Juniper Tree", a story from the Grimm collection that is rather haunting, to say the least.  Other stories to be retold in this anthology include Red Riding Hood, Rumplestiltskin, and The Princess and the Pea, to name just a few.  Its a very exciting endevour, and similar to what I had hoped Magpie would become at one time: a group-run project in which many authors come together to not only support one another, but to learnrmore about publishing and to hone their craft.

Speaking of Magpie, work is moving forward!  I've already pretty much given you the low-down on Gillian's book... edits were sent out today, so before long, I'm sure, we will be moving on to formatting. :D  The anthology is also coming along, as I was pleasantly surprised the other day to open an obscure folder in dropbox and find ALL of the files I thought were still locked up in my old compaque computer. :)  Now granted, with my computer down, while I can still access some of these files, others require different programs to unlock them which I don't have on my phone.  BUT, not to be detered, I am going through all the files I can access now, and very soon will be sending out contracts again...

ON that note, please, please, PLEASE; if you are reading this and have been informed in the past that you were accepted into the Magpie Eclectic Press Anthology, when I send you a contract I need it to be returned to me SIGNED. Electronic copies are fine.  You may email them to magpie.eclectic.press@gmail.com. I say this here, because last time there were some issues with contracts not being returned at all, and unfortunately I cannot do anything with your story as a publisher until I have your permission to do so, which is what the contract is for.  So please be sure to return it signed if you get one.

In other news, I am glad to announce that a very beautiful cover has been created for the Anthology by my good friend, Ryan Paige Howard.  Unfortunately it is also locked up very securely in my currently nonfunctional computer, but I hope to be able to retrieve it soon and plan to post it here for everyone to see. :)

God bless, my friends!  As life moves forward, so must I.  Hopefully I will be able to blog more in the near future.

Happy writing!

Nichole

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Balance of Loss and Gain

First, before we even get started, I apologize in advance for any typos I don't catch while writing this.  I am typing it up on my phone because my computer crashed earlier today, and trust me, it is no easy task. :p. (And also, there will be spoilers for "How to Train Your Dragon 2" ahead, so if you don't want to find out some key plot points from the movie, you might as well stop reading now.)

 Today I'm going to be talking about consequences (usually resulting in a loss of some kind) within a story.

So the other day my dad and I went to the movies. We chose to watch "How to Train Your Dragon 2" for obvious reasons, and of course I ended up falling in love with the characters all over again.  Hiccup reminds me of my younger brother, how he talks and acts, and generally is as a rule.  Astrid is that typical bad-ass female every girl imagines herself to be while reading books about strong, sword wielding, dragon riding females... And then there is Stoik.

Much like his name suggests, Stoik is very... well, stoic.  A steadfast leader, he loves his son but often doesn't know how to react to Hiccup's feelings.  His expectations of Hiccup are great but he seems to forget to be a father while trying to balance parenting with being the chief of an entire tribe of Vikings.  And then, of course, the writers decided to introduce Hiccup's long-thought-dead mother to this varied cast of eccentric characters.

When Stoik is re-introduced to the wife he thought had been dead for years, we were allowed to see a side of him we didn't get to before: a tender, softer, more caring side of the loud, proud, and strong leader of Burk that we've known up to this point.  We see real regret in him for things he thinks he could have done better, we see longing, we see love, we see joy, and we see passion...

And then the writers kill him.

And of course they don't just kill him in battle, oh no! God forbid this character we have grown so close to in such a short time be given a simplistic and general death.  No... They kill him off while he is protecting Hiccup from (get this...) Toothless.  And not just regular Toothless either, as if this whole scene isn't twisted and heart-rending enough, but Stoik is protecting Hiccup from a Mind-controlled, raging Toothless who wants to kill him.

Yes, you read that right.  Toothless kills Stoik.

As I watched Hiccup grieve over his father and then, with the help of his friends, see Stoik laid in a boat for his final sail as a Viking Chief, and watch as the characters set the boat to flame, I started thinking about all that Hiccup gained in these movies... And all that he had lost.  When he gained his best friend he lost his leg.  When he gained his mother, he lost his father.  And these weren't just minor losses or obstacles set in his way... These were big, life changing losses that completely set his world on end.

Suddenly I realized that THAT was the very thing that made me love these movies so much.  The loss in these stories was real... You knew that Hiccup would never get his leg or his father back... These were things he was going to have to live out the rest of his life with.  These were things that would stay with him and haunt him, even long after he came to terms with them.  And these things... These great and deep losses... Were what made the story of this movie really stick with me.

As I was walking out of the theatre that day, I realized that the reason this stuck with me so fiercely was because that's how it is in real life.  The writers of that movie were able to take an element of real life that is so fundamental to reality that it is all too often overlooked in many of the newer movies, and apply it to just one movie, and move audience after audience with it. (This is the same reason why I love the movie "Up"... And why I end up crying every time I watch it. :p )

And I found myself thinking as I exited that theatre, "if they can do this in movies, then they can do this in books."

Now, I've read many books that make me cry... I've read scores of them.  But what made this experience unique was how the loss was just as strong as what was gained (in my opinion at least... Some of you may argue with me...). It wasn't like in a lot of the Doctor Who episodes I know and love (no matter how heart rending they may be) where one character dies, only to somehow show up later with a whole story about how that could actually work.  It wasn't like the books I've read and cried over, like "Where the Red Fern Grows", where the boy's male dog is sliced clean open by a mountain lion and dies, and the girl dog dies of grief out on the male dog's grave...

This was almost an equal amount of loss and gain... They evened each other out in the end.  And I remember thinking if I could only master that one aspect within my own writing, how much more compelling my stories and their characters would be.

That's something to really think about, too.  All stories (all of the good ones at least) have some small elements of reality in them that make them more believable to the readers, and often writers talk about how important it is to really flesh out a character in order to make them relatable.  We try to make our characters as realistic as possible but all too often we either avoid having truly heart-breaking things happen to our characters in a realistic manner, or we get carried away with piling on life-changing circumstances and revelations and losses and torture and emotional and physical pain to the point that (while being fun to write and often almost unbearably heart-rendingly enjoyable to read) isn't actually realistic anymore.  To this, we speculative fiction writers often say, "but it really doesn't have to be realistic because it is fantasy (or science fiction) after all."  Yet I look at "How to Train Your Dragon" and it's sequel, and the one element that really sticks out to me is the one that is perhaps the most realistic in the whole thing... And that element is what MAKES the entire movie, in my mind.  Oh what wonders it could unearth if only it were carefully, willingly, and lovingly applied to the world of literacy!

Monday, May 19, 2014

"Soul's Gate" by James L. Rubart -- A Review

Hello friends,

I haven't posted in a while... not because I didn't want to, but because I haven't had the time! Ah life! Let me tell you people, Adult-hood is WAY over-rated. :P

But anyway, I have a couple of reviews that I need to post!  The first is for an e-book I received from Booksneeze... Oh... I don't even remember how long ago.  It may have been a year. I know, I know, that's way too long!  But in my defense, I did TRY to read it... I try to read every e-book I own, but I simply prefer paper, hands down.  Ok, enough chit-chat... TO THE REVIEW!  FORWARD THE BRONCS, AND ALL THAT!
“Every now and then we get a break from reality. A glimpse into the other world that is more real than the reality we live in 99 percent of our days. The Bible is about a world of demons and angels and great evil and even greater glory.” 
What if you could travel inside another person’s soul? To battle for them. To be part of Jesus healing their deepest wounds. To help set them free to step boldly into their divinely designed future. 
Thirty years ago that’s exactly what Reece Roth did. Until tragedy shattered his life and ripped away his future. 
Now God has drawn Reece out of the shadows to fulfill a prophecy spoken over him three decades ago. A prophecy about four warriors with the potential to change the world . . . if Reece will face his deepest regret and teach them what he has learned. 
They gather at a secluded and mysterious ranch deep in the mountains of Colorado, where they will learn to see the spiritual world around them with stunning clarity—and how to step into the supernatural. 
Their training is only the beginning. The four have a destiny to pursue a freedom even Reece doesn’t fully fathom. But they have an enemy hell-bent on destroying them and he’ll stop at nothing to keep them from their quest for true freedom and the coming battle of souls.

My Thoughts:
When I saw this book on the Booksneeze list and read the description, I thought, "Sure! Why not! I mean, what's not to like about someone learning to spiritually enter and fight for another person's soul?"  I excitedly downloaded the e-book and... couldn't get through the first couple of pages before I was bored.  So I set the book aside thinking that maybe I could get into it later, or maybe I would just have to write a review explaining how I couldn't get through the first couple of pages and so had to stop.

Now, fast forward a year later and I still hadn't finished the book... and I just didn't want to pick it up again.  This was partially because I didn't have the time, partially because I was worried I would get just as bored as the first time if I tried to force my way through it, and partially because... well, let's face it, e-books just aren't as easy for me to get into as paper-books are.

But I decided that I absolutely HAD to get through the book somehow, because I NEEDED to write this review! So I looked the book up on Audible, and what do you know! The audio book was on sale at the time, so I bought it and downloaded it and decided to listen to it to and from work.

Let me just say now, I AM SO GLAD I DID!!!

This book, for me, was better as an audio book than it was as a regular book.  It could be just because someone was reading it to me, but I think it also might have something to do with the fact that as I was listening to it, I could take the time to really think about what was being said.  And for me, that was life changing.

To be honest, I'm not really sure how to describe this book to you.  The spiritual warfare involved is very... I want to say "realistic", but I'm not sure how many people would understand or agree with that statement.  A lot of the issues that this book addressed in its characters were things I could relate to in my own life, which made it touch me in a way I didn't know a book could.  (And for those of you who know me, that's really saying something...) There were a lot of times when I would feel as if God were speaking directly to me through things that were said in the book, and there were several times when I would break down crying because of a revelation that He revealed to me about my own life and my own way of thinking, even though similar things were happening to the characters in the book.

All in all, I give this book a 5 out of 5... as an audio book it worked better for me than as an e-book, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it, and I learned a lot from it too.  I wish that I could be more specific with the review, but I don't think I would do it justice.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My Last Year in a Nutshell (otherwise known as "A Very Overdue New Years Post"... with explanations.)

Life has been a rollercoaster ride for me this last year.  So many things have happened… and really, there are not many of them that I would call “good”.  At the beginning of the year my mom dropped a bombshell on the family and announced that, after 25 years of marriage, she was divorcing my dad.  He hadn’t realized things were that bad – none of us did – but when the police came to kick him out of the house, things just went from bad to worse.  With the family in shambles and my mom and dad at odds, I could no longer concentrate on anything.  Some of you may remember I had plans in motion for Magpie Eclectic Press’ first list to be released in November… and I was a full time student taking a crazy amount of classes at the local college.  My grades started to decline, and even trying to focus through reading a single article of research for Magpie – or even trying to read through a short story submission – became an arduous task.  I simply couldn’t make my brain stay on target anymore; my thoughts kept bouncing back and forth in my head, always off the topic I needed them to be on, and the stress levels ratcheted up until I felt like a walking time-bomb just waiting for something to make me explode. 

Still, I tried to keep things moving forward; kept attending classes, still tried to put in time each day for Magpie… But things continued to get worse until I was suspended at work (long, difficult story to explain, mostly having to do with my boss GREATLY misunderstanding something I did… we later talked about the issue, and he admitted that what I did was in the right and he had simply not understood the issue at hand… but for me, the damage was already done) and then one day my computer (with all of the information I had organized for Magpie Eclectic Press, including authors and contracts and as of yet unread submissions) died, and my old faithful van decided to finally give up the ghost.   At that point in time, I had to ask my mom for a ride to school and work (which were both close to an hour away from me) and though, of course, I still loved my mom (then, as I do now, and as I always will), each day it became more and more difficult to get in that van with her.  We simply couldn’t see eye to eye on the whole situation at hand, and then one fateful morning after yet another argument on the way to my classes, we both had enough and my mom kicked me out of the house. 

Not sure what to do anymore, I dropped all of my classes but one (which resulted in me owing the school close to $2,000), moved in with my grandparents until I could find an apartment I could afford, started looking for a full-time job to replace the part-time one I had, and started looking for another vehicle.  Magpie officially went on the back burner, because other things became more important for the immediate time being.  It was a decision I hated to make, but I had no choice… It was either put a hold on Magpie, or go half crazy trying to cope with everything and then end up only doing a half-decent job on projects that should have my full attention.  I couldn’t do that to my authors, my company, or my dream.  It would have to wait.  I figured I would wait until the start of 2014, then start in on it all again.  Surely by the beginning of the next year, I would be ready to take up that heavy mantel again and plow forward.

To make matters even worse, I was no longer going to church.  I honestly couldn’t even make myself go.  Earlier in the year I’d been burned pretty badly by the church I had been attending.  And to pour lemon juice on that wound, it wasn’t even just the church that had burned me, but the pastor and his family who had been friends to my family for years and years and years, far back into my childhood and long before they had ever been pastors.  After I was burned, going back to that church was so painful I could barely look people in the eyes.  And going back to the Mother-Church – that is, the church which had started the church that had burned me – didn’t help matters.  For one thing, too many people knew why I had left the new church, and for another thing it all felt like going through motions that no longer meant anything. 

So I stopped going altogether.  It was perhaps a bad decision, but I had visited other churches in the area, and they all felt “dry”… as if the motions were the only things the Christians of the area knew anymore, and they just didn’t care.   And I couldn’t make myself care either… not when I felt there was no point in it anymore.

 I finally did find a place to stay… a friend of the family offered me the economy apartment in the upstairs of her house for a price I could actually afford.  The only problem was, I still had no car.  I found one that I thought I could pay for (with a little help) and my grandpa helped me buy it on a payment plan.  For a happy month I was on my way, moving things back and forth to the new apartment, driving myself to work and to the one class I still had on my schedule, and pretty much ignoring the fact that my family was falling apart around my ears… I was starting a new life on my own.  Things were looking up… and then the car died.  Unfortunately for me, I had purchased a lemon. 

Not to be discouraged, my grandpa came up with a solution.  He would fix up the old blue Oldsmobile parked in the barn and that could be my car.  He was very persistent, and it took him a good month of working on it every day (I helped him as much as I could, but I know so little about cars that all that my help amounted to was handing him the tools he needed as he asked for them) but he finally got it moving.  It was a wonderful car too.  It practically purred when you turned it on, and honestly, I loved everything about it!  I was so happy, and couldn’t believe that my grandpa would do that for me!

Fast forward two weeks, and I did something really stupid; I decided after 48 hours of no sleep and with about 3 cans of redbull in me, that I could manage the 10 mile drive to pick up a friend of mine and go to the local ren-fair.  I fell asleep behind the wheel, ran a stop sign at a T-road, and flew into the deep country ditch on the other side… hitting the T-sign on the way, of course.  My car was totaled, and I was in pretty bad shape myself.  Thankfully for me, the car had a hard metal frame and body instead of one of those half-plastic and aluminum frames most of the new cars have.  If it weren’t for that fact, I don’t think I would be alive today.  I vowed then that I would never be so stupid again; driving tired was no longer an option… if I was not fully awake when I got behind the wheel, I would not drive, end of story.  But in being so stupid in the first place, I had just given up my key to freedom.  I was once more out of a car, and hardly any closer to getting into my apartment than I had been before.

Once again I was blown away by my grandparents’ kindness towards me and my situation.  Not only were they still letting me stay at their house through all of this, but my grandpa decided he would give the whole car issue one more shot.  He still had one old car sitting out by the barn.  It hadn’t been driven in ages – much longer than the other car, in fact – and it hadn’t been in wonderful shape when it was parked years before (the only real issue with the other car had been the break system… this one had had transmission issues as well as break problems when he had stopped driving it) but my brave grandpa decided to give it a go.  It took him a long time, at least double the time it took him to fix up the other car, and of course I was still not much help.  Other than aiding him in changing a tire here and there, I didn’t know anything about the car or what was under that hood.  But he still managed to get it running again, and after warning me that this was my absolute last chance – he didn’t have another car if things went bad with this one (and I wouldn’t have wanted him to try yet again… I felt bad enough about the first car turning out to be a lemon, and then totaling the second car…) – he handed me the keys.

Things started moving forward again.  With the help of my grandpa and my brothers, I managed to get all of my things moved out to the new apartment, and my first official day at the new place was September 1rst.  However, I still needed a full time job.  I could barely afford to live on what I was making from the other job, and I still felt slightly at odds with my boss because of what had happened when I was suspended.  On top of that, things were starting to escalate between my parents and their attorneys, and my mom had decided to put my two youngest sisters in public school.  She and I could still barely hold a conversation together that didn’t end in an argument and at least one of us bursting into tears, and my relationship with my dad was not much better off. 

Then, at the end of October, my brother called me one day with information about a job at a nursing home over in Metamora Illinois.  This nursing home was looking for CNA’s, and as I am a CNA, he thought it would be a good opportunity for me.  I called them right away and had an interview before the phone-call was even finished.  The interview went well, and I started working there October 29th of last year.  This month on the 29th, I will have been there 3 months working a full-time night shift.

Thanksgiving and Christmas were both difficult this last year.  Everything was very different from the 26 years’ worth of holidays that I knew from memory, but with the first of January, I felt like new life came back to me.  This is a new year, with new opportunities and new possibilities.  This is the year that I will pull myself back together and, with God’s help, continue forward.  I started attending church with my brother again, a completely new church with new people whom I had never met.  The first day I walked in there, I felt God move as I haven’t felt in church since I was 15.  I knew then that this was a church I wanted to visit again.  That was almost a month ago, and I keep going back.  Never mind that it’s an hour drive to Bloomington from my new home in Peoria Illinois, the drive is worth it.  And it’s not like I wasn’t used to the drive before, living out so far in the country for most of my life and going to church in Peoria… it’s just a different direction for me.  And I love it.

All this to say, thank you everyone for being so patient with me.  This last year has been one set of hard knocks after another, and I was struggling to cope.  If I acted childish and immature at times, it was because I couldn’t stand trying to be an adult anymore… I needed to unwind.  If I suddenly turned a conversation around to unload my thoughts on you, it was because I couldn’t think straight anymore and felt like I was going crazy.  To my authors – those chosen to be in the anthology, those still waiting for an answer from Magpie as to the status of their submissions, and to Gillian Adams who has waited very patiently for word of the status of her Novella – I apologize for my radio-silence on all things and anything having to do with Magpie Eclectic Press.  I simply couldn’t think about it then, but that has changed now.  With this New Year comes new hope, for me and for Magpie.  With God’s help and your help this will still become a reality.

To my close friends who stuck by me no matter what, seeing me through melt-downs that made me look like an insane person, talking me through situations I just couldn’t handle by myself – and to one friend in particular who went the extra mile and helped me take my mind off things by letting me come over to her house to hang out, and who also helped me financially in a way I never expected far above and beyond anything I could imagine or would have ever asked for (you know who you are, and you are amazing!!!)  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  You can’t know how much it meant to me.  Even my family didn’t realize and couldn’t fathom all that I was going through mentally and by extension physically, and it was you guys who helped keep me sane.

To my grandparents and my extended family, thank you.  Some of you don’t really know what’s been going on or how things have all played out, but your prayers have meant a lot.  And again, to my grandparents who went far above and beyond for me in order to see me on my feet again, Thank you.  I can’t begin to thank you enough for all of your help and support.

This is a New Year, folks.  A new dawn.  I feel like I’ve been through the Valley, dragged through the mud.  Perhaps my situation hasn’t been as bad as it has been for others, but it has been extremely difficult nonetheless.  Now, though, all that happened last year is behind me; all the crazy, and all the cruel.  I feel like I can breathe again, if only for a moment.  And that feeling has emboldened me.  It’s time to move forward again.

            Happy New Year, everyone. :D