Chapter the First,
In Which We Meet Our Courageous Heroine
Alice Carroll could think of a hundred places she’d rather be than staring at an old dead woman on a Sunday afternoon.
Not that she was actually staring. In fact, she was trying to keep her eyes away from the front of the room where the old woman lay in her coffin. She was looking at the bald head of the old man in front of her instead. Until then, she’d never realized that the back of someone’s neck could be so wrinkly.
She shifted her eyes and looked around. Bad idea. Viewing the living at a funeral was almost worse than viewing the dead. The church was full of old people, with their wrinkles and their age spots and their loose skin. They were like skeletons shuffling around. She grimaced as she caught the eye of an old man with whiskers coming out of his nose. He smiled at her with his stained teeth, and Alice shifted closer to her mother.
Her mother gave her a sad smile and patted her hand. Alice glared at her and crossed her arms, covering the bleeding apple on the front of her black t-shirt.
She didn’t know why her mother had dragged her to this stupid funeral to begin with. It’s not like she even knew the dead lady. Nellie Stephens or Simpson or “S” something or other. Alice had only seen the woman a couple of times in her entire life, and her mother hadn’t worked with her for years.
She’d tried to get out of coming. She’d even asked the neighbors if she could babysit their two little blobs that afternoon, but they’d given her a funny look and said they thought she was too young or maybe they were going to be home all weekend. They couldn’t decide which.
Thirteen years old was not too young to babysit; Alice knew for a fact that they’d had sixth graders babysit for them before. The real reason was that they thought she was a bad kid. Just because she wore black clothes and dark eyeshadow didn’t mean she was a juvenile delinquent. It’s not like she did drugs or punched babies; actually, she got straight A’s and had never even had detention. She just happened to like things that were slightly macabre. Except funerals, of course.
She pulled up her black knee socks and admired the pattern of skulls sewn into them.
“We’re going to a funeral, not a Halloween party,” her mother had said when she’d seen them.
Alice thought they went pretty well with the black and blue streaks she’d put in her hair the day before. Plus, she had been hoping the outfit paired with her crazy hair would make her mother so angry she would let Alice stay home. That hadn’t worked either.
She twisted a strand of hair around her finger and noticed that the people in front of them were standing and leaving their seats.
“What’s going on?” she asked her mother.
“It’s time for the viewing,” her mother whispered back.
“The what?” Alice asked.
“Shh. Come on.” Her mother stood, and before Alice could say anything, her mother had pulled her into the line of people moving down the aisle.
Alice looked around, but she had already figured out where they were going. One by one, each person walked by the casket and paid his or her final respects to the dead woman. She noticed a few who actually leaned over the body itself, and although she couldn’t see exactly what they were doing, she had a sneaking suspicion they were kissing the dead woman’s face.
She felt a gag forming in her throat. She clutched her mother’s arm as the line edged closer to the casket.
“Mom,” she hissed. “I don’t want to go up there. I think I’m going to throw up.”
Her mother shook her arm loose and shushed her. “Stop it, Alice. Don’t make a scene.”
“I’m serious, Mom,” Alice insisted. She was beginning to panic. “I want to go home. I don’t feel well.”
Her mother turned impatiently and looked her squarely in the eye. “Stop. It. Right. Now.” She hissed.
Suddenly they were standing right next to the casket, and Alice felt her eyes being drawn to the corpse, like an insect drawn to light. The old woman’s face was peaceful, as if she was asleep. A strand of white pearls lay across her neck, and someone had brushed her eyelids with violet eye shadow. As Alice stared at the corpse’s face, her vision began to waver. She blinked to clear her eyes, but the image continued to flicker. The skin on the woman’s face began to wobble and smooth out, the wrinkles disappearing one by one. A healthy pink glow crept into her skin, a blush entering her cheeks. The woman opened her eyes, which were clear and blue, and then she smiled, revealing shiny white teeth. Suddenly, Alice was looking into the face of a little girl. Then, just as quickly as it had appeared, the color seeped out, the eyes closed, and the youthful image was gone. Once again, Alice was looking at the pale, sunken face of a dead woman.
The vision could not have lasted more than a second, but it was long enough for both Alice and her mother to pass by the coffin. Alice felt her heart skittering in her chest.
“Mom,” she gasped. “I saw…I saw…”
“I know,” her mother cooed and put an arm around her shoulders. “I know it’s hard.”
“No!” Alice exclaimed and shook off her mother’s arm. “Listen, Mom. I saw—“
“What?” Her mother asked testily and grabbed Alice’s arm to steer her out of the church. “What exactly did you see, Alice?”
Alice crossed her arms and kicked a pebble. “Nothing,” she muttered.
“Then, let’s go,” her mother said. She stopped and with a smile pasted on her face, said hello to a woman in a long black dress wearing strappy black heels.
Alice felt like punching somebody, but instead, she just followed her mother to the parking lot and bit a strand of black and blue hair that had fallen across her face.
She refused to talk to her mother during the car ride; she couldn’t get the weird picture of the little girl’s face out of her mind. She was so distracted, she didn’t even notice when her mother passed by the street that led to their house and kept on driving. In fact, she didn’t even know what was going on until her mother put the car in park, and she looked up to find herself in the middle of a cemetery.
“Um, this isn’t our house,” she said.
“I want to go to the graveside service,” her mother answered. “It’s the proper thing to do. After all, I owe my complete livelihood to Nellie, and believe me that you wouldn’t be enjoying the life you have now without her help. The least we can do is see her off to her final resting place.”
“Why?” Alice asked. “It’s not like she’s going to know we’re there. I don’t think she’s sitting up in heaven keeping tabs on who came to her funeral.”
Her mother held up her hand abruptly and hushed her. “All right, Alice, that’s enough. If you don’t want to show your respect and gratitude, then you can just stay in the car.”
“Fine,” Alice shrugged as her mother got out of the car. She didn’t like the idea of sitting by herself in a graveyard, but it was better than standing around a hole in the ground while a bunch of old people blew their noses and cried. Besides, she was still peeved at her mother.
As her mother walked away, Alice cracked the car windows, turned up the radio, and started playing with her phone.
Even with the radio on, she was bored. It was also kind of hot, and her feet hurt. She took off her leather jacket and removed her boots, replacing them with a pair of her mother’s boring brown sandals laying in the back seat.
She watched as elderly people shuffled past the car and stared disapprovingly in at her. She squinted at them and gave them a closed mouth smile, wishing they would mind their own business. She reached over to turn the volume up on the radio and heard a tap at the window. She looked up to see a little girl with curly blonde hair smiling in at her. She was the exact image Alice had seen in the coffin.
“Hey,” Alice said. She fumbled with the car door to roll the window down, and when she looked up again, the little girl was gone.
That was strange, she thought. She wondered if the fumes from the hair dye were making her see things. She scanned the parking lot and saw an old man hobbling along with a cane, but there was no sign of the little girl.
Suddenly, the little girl’s blonde head popped up from behind a blue sedan.
“Hey,” Alice shouted through the open window. “Wait a second.”
The little girl grinned and covered her mouth with her hands. Then, she turned and darted into the graveyard. She stopped and looked back at Alice, motioning for her to follow.
Alice wasn’t keen on chasing a little kid around a graveyard, especially a little kid who looked just like the vision she’d seen in the casket earlier. But, she was pretty sure the little girl was flesh and blood; ghosts didn’t generally knock on windows. Weren’t they more into rattling chains or something? Besides, Alice figured she should probably grab the little brat before she tripped over a headstone or tree root and broke her leg.
She groaned and popped the door open. The little girl was standing on a hill looking at her, and when she spotted Alice climbing out of the car, she turned abruptly and raced down the other side.
“Wait,” Alice yelled after her. “Stop. You’re going to get hurt.”
She slammed the car door in irritation and reluctantly began to jog after the little girl. After a few seconds, she reached the top of the hill, stopped, and looked around. Miles of headstones and trees stretched in every direction. She couldn’t see the little girl anywhere. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of white, and turning her head, she spotted a white ruffled dress disappearing behind a tree.
“Hey,” she yelled. “Stop running. I’m not playing with you.”
She was starting to get angry at the little girl. Little kids could be so annoying.
She was panting a bit by the time she reached the tree where the little girl had disappeared. But when she looked behind the trunk, the child was gone again. That was odd. She’d had a complete view of the tree and the field surrounding it as she’d been running. There was no way the little girl could have snuck away without Alice seeing her.
She heard a giggle a few yards away. It sounded like it was coming from behind a headstone rimmed with weeds. She crept down to the grave marker, and when she reached it, she leaped around it.
“Ha! I’ve got you now, kid,” she said.
But the little girl wasn’t there. Instead, there was a large rectangular hole. Alice was moving too fast to catch herself, and she fell head first into the open grave.
In my last post, I promised to do a sneak peek of what's coming up on my blog over the next several months, so here is the what along with the why.
Alice in Wonderland
Here's the backstory: I wrote this super-funny (I thought) middle grade (say 4th-7th grade) novel-length re-telling of Alice in Wonderland. It's called Glassbreaker Alice and uses a lot of the same tropes and characters from the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland, which is actually a re-telling itself (Basically, then, I've written a re-telling of a re-telling). After pitching it to agents and getting discouraged, I kinda/sorta forgot about it and wrote another book. But a couple of months ago, I decided to put my Alice story out there anyway, and I have been posting it chapter by chapter on Wattpad, where you can read it now (You do have to create an account first, unfortunately).
On my blog, I'm going to do some reflection on the story of Alice in Wonderland. Why does it persist? I'm also going to be doing some visual renditions of my novel and posting them here.
The Pied Piper of...Oklahoma?
I just finished a novel. It's a mashup of "The Pied Piper of Hamlin," the Cold War, and farm life. Weird combination, right? The Pied Piper is an interesting fairy tale with an even more interesting history. I'm going to investigate and share what I find out.
Bad, Bad, Bad Future
I am embarking on a new novel, which will combine the issues of terrorism, climate change, and refugees. Heavy stuff, right? I am in the process of doing research, and I plan to post some of the information I discover in future posts.
When it comes to college, be a Boy Scout!
Since my target reader is considering college or already in college and since I teach college classes, I'm going to do a series of posts on what to expect in college and how to prepare yourself. Included will be interviews with real, live college graduates or students in college right now.
Ah, the college years! Best years of my life...true story.
Of course, I'll probably get distracted by other topics along the way. I'm like a dog who sees a squirrel, that way. In any case, I'm quite sure some topic will come up that I feel a sudden need to blog about. What that will be remains to be seen.
Thanks for sticking with me, dear reader. We're gonna have some fun!
I started this website in 2013. I can't believe it's been three years already. So far, I have done 56 blog posts, and I have focused mainly on this question:
If I could go back in time and talk to myself at the age of 14 or so, what advice would I give?
And so most of my blogs have been in the self-help vein. I'm turning a corner on my blog, however, to explore new territory, but before I do, I'd like to look backward and recap my favorite blog posts so far.
My Top Ten List (in chronological order)
dead dog backwards--"This poem, which I penned rather quickly at DFW Writers Conference and have since revised, was inspired by a contemporary poet who is some-kind-of-wonderful named Joaquin Zihuatanejo."
A Tribute to My Grandparents--"I could say my grandparents were simple people with simple lives, but I don't think anyone's life is actually 'simple.' If they aspired to touch stars or see unicorns, I never knew it. They worked hard all their lives and seemed satisfied with the bit of comfort they had accumulated at the end of their lives."
On Hobgoblins & Roads Not Taken--"The identities we carry as teenagers remain with us throughout life. I still feel like I am the odd girl out of the group."
Becoming Wonder Woman (or how your body language affects your brain)--"Just by standing like Wonder Woman, you can hijack your brain chemistry."
be your best you--"This technique requires you to don a mask. The mask is made of up the characteristics of the personality you want to assume. . . . Yes, that's the secret. Pretend to be the person you want to be."
i was an awkward teenager--"So, yesiree, I was quite the awkward weirdo when I was a teen."
i am that racist white lady--"What I do remember is that guilt gnawed me like little, scrabbling mice. How could I have thought that Greg had had anything to do with the robbery? Was that the idea I had communicated to his mother? Had I bought into the stereotype of melanin rich young males? And more insidious, what did the idea that I had suspected other young men in Greg's peer group, boys he might have been friends with, say about my own notions of race and crime?"
Little Smudges of Greatness--"I told my students they had a little spark of greatness within them. They do. We all do. But if we don't constantly kindle that spark, it will die, and we will be left with regret for what could have been."
Beans and Fried Taters--"Culture isn’t about being fancy, or at least, I don’t think so. It is a much more casual thing. It's the everyday happenings that fill up our lives. My culture is paint-splattered shoes that should have been thrown out months ago and t-shirts with bleach spots. It's a dog with a muddy rear end and a bucket full of kitchen scraps."
Remembering James--"James was a nice guy, a genuinely nice guy. It seems like everyone has some sort of shortcoming, and some people make you wonder if their friendliness is authentic or if it's coming out of some sort of self interest. But not James. He was just a good guy."
I hope you get the chance to go back and read some of these...be sure to leave comments.
In my next blog post, I will use my crystal ball to look into the future. Oooh, anticipation!
Feel free to share this post, but the ones listed above are much more shareable.
What if people who were dead came back to life, but instead of just being normal, they were flesh-eating monsters, you know like zombies?...No, wait, that's been done. Night of the Living Dead and ad infinitum.
But what if these so-called zombies destroyed civilization, and we got to watch the survivors in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse?...Oh, no, that's been done too. The Walking Dead et cetera.
So then what if one of those brain-eating creepers accidentally fell in love with a girl and regained his humanity?...Okay, that's been done, too. Warm Bodies, a zombie romance.
Insofar as zombie-related plots are concerned, it seems like it's all "been there, done that." Hmmm....
Ah, but what about this--The zombie apocalypse has occurred, but the survivors have reversed it with a new miracle drug?
Hey, that hasn't been done before!
And now it has. Welcome to In the Flesh, a post-zombie apocalypse story courtesy of the BBC.
I've only seen about the first 30 minutes of the first episode of this series (okay, so I'm definitely not an expert--I know that), but I am really psyched about the premise. A boy named Kieran is one of the undead...or at least he was, but now he's been identified as actually having Partially Deceased Syndrome (PDS), an ailment that apparently causes people to lose their minds and go cannibal all over people's butts (well, every part of their body, not just their butts). But now, with the help of medication, he's learned the error of his ways and has recovered enough to be returned to his family. The problem is that he's wracked with guilt and suffering flashbacks of the people he's eaten in his zombie state, his home is ground central for a militia that hunted and exterminated "rotters" like him, there is still a lot of simmering anger towards people with PDS, and Kieran's sister Jem was/is a zombie hunter (Her buddy in the Human Volunteer Force (HVF), Billy "Sarge" Macy calls her The Rambo of Roarton). How is Kieran going to navigate this new life as a regular-teenage-boy/recovering-human-flesh-addict?
I can't wait to find out!
Here's what I like about this series so far:
As far as I can see from a rudimentary Google search, In The Flesh originally aired on BBC three and BBC America. It's available now on Hulu Plus. I don't know if it's available anywhere else right now, but if you get the chance, check it out, and please let me know what you think about it in the comments below.
Thanks for reading. If you like this post, hit one of the share buttons below. :-)
This poem, which I penned rather quickly at DFW Writers Conference and have since revised, was inspired by a contemporary poet who is some-kind-of-wonderful named Joaquin Zihuatanejo. He gave us this poem (follow the link!) and asked us to model it in our own writing.
Here is the prompt Zihuatanejo gave us: A young man drunk on whiskey and heartache has just crashed his car into a tree. Well, the image that came to my mind was not a drunk kid but an animal on the side of the road, the victim of a car bumper. I originally imagined a dead moose thanks to my obsession with This American Life stories, but then I thought it would make more sense if the dead animal were a dog. So here it is:
dead dog backwards
The sun knits the worms
of your viscera back
together as the flies
unseal their kisses
and buzz away.
The shovel lifts
your rag doll body
back onto the gravel road
where you unfreeze
just as the bumper
pushes the blood
back into your internal organs,
the headlights spark
across your white eyes,
and the boy spots
your dark outline
against the darker night
and smashes his foot
from the break pad
to undo a smiley
face on his cell phone.
Kinda gross, huh? Don't text and drive! :-P
NOTE: No dogs were harmed in the making of this poem.
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Have you ever seen that tv show about people who hoard the oddest, most random things? Their houses are so full, you can't even see the floor. Boxes and piles of junk are stacked all over the place. Trash is accumulating and slowing being turned into coal under mountains of garbage, kittens are being fossilized in the briefest nooks and crannies, and crumbs are attracting complete civilizations of insects. And you look at those places, and you wonder to yourself, where would you even start cleaning?
Life is like that, really. Stacks and stacks of boxes to be unpacked, sorted, sweated over. Trash to be picked up and thrown out. Order to be made out of chaos. The truth is that if you want to have a happy house, a clean, well-ordered house, the home-sweet-home of your most fervent dreams, then you're going to have to put your back into it, you're going to have to burden yourself with the task, drip salt water and scowls over it, put time into it again and again and again...until finally, somehow you've reached that shiny, happy place you've pinned your star onto. Yes, dreams take hard work.
That's the thing that people don't seem to get. Yes, they might say, I'm really into this, I'm willing to pour my life into accomplishing my dreams. Their eyes are on fire because this time, this time, will be different, this time they're going to turn their wishes into reality. But then, things start getting a little bumpy, there's a pothole in the road to their destiny, so they give up. Oh well, if it's hard, they complain, then I guess it's not worth doing. So they sigh and shrug their shoulders, go eat potato chips and watch reality shows on tv.
What these people don't seem to realize is that the things that are the hardest are usually the ones most worth doing. I remember reading a Dear Abby letter one time in which an older woman was lamenting her age. She wanted to go back to college, but she thought to herself, Imagine how old I will be when I graduate. In turn, Abby replied, "Well, how old will you be if you don't go to college?"
That's how goals are. Imagine how much time, energy, frustration, and mind-breaking work goes into achieving a goal. It's such a pain...so much crap, really. But where will you be if you don't achieve your goal? Well, you'll be nowhere. I mean, you can sit on the couch for five hours watching tv or you can work toward your goal for five hours. Afterward, you're either five hours closer to your goal or you've created a five-hour dent in your couch. Which is worth more to you?
If you're not willing to do the tough work to reach your dreams, you're not going to reach your dreams.
If you don't like the way I wrote it, or if you think that I'm an idiot-nobody who is not worth listening to, then read how the 20th century uber-genius Albert Einstein said it instead: "Genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work."
Yeah, I know it's a drag, and while luck does play some role in fame and fortune, hard work is what separates winners and losers. It's that simple.
So how do you keep at it when something gets hard?
First, make sure you actually know what you really want. If it's something that is really important to you, then it should be worth the hard work...even if nobody ever sees all the time and crap that went into it. So think about it. Do you really want to be a pro-football player? I mean, really? Do you really want to do the work involved to get to that level? Or do you really want to be a doctor? I mean, if you're not putting effort into your science classes, then face reality, compadre--you ain't never going to be a doctor.
So, the first step is just making sure that whatever you're dreaming of is something you really, really want.
For example, I once toyed with the idea of learning to play the fiddle. I thought it would be superCool to be able to play "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" on a fiddle. I could imagine myself at festivals and family get togethers breaking out my fiddle and waxing hard on a country jig. The problem is that I wasn't really dedicated, and I knew I wasn't. I knew it would take hours of practice to learn how to play the fiddle, and I had other goals that were more important to me (like making a living and honing my writing skills). So in the end, I knew it was just a fantasy and that I would never follow through with it.
______________________________________ Don't focus on that far-off goal and how hard it's going to be to get there. Focus on the tiny milestones in the middle.
Also, be realistic. You know, I'd love to be a tall, willowy, sexy bombshell on the cover of fashion magazines, but at 5'3" and 130 pounds, that ain't happening. Likewise, if you've got legs that go on for a miles and no coordination, the chances of your becoming a gymnast are pretty close to zilch. Try looking yourself straight in the eye and seeing if you really have it in you. If you're crap at logic and computers, you're not going to be a hacker, and if you have no sense of rhyme or rhythm, you're not going to be a rapper either.
So after you've asked yourself these questions, if you're still stoked about whatever that awesome goal is that you've been dreaming of, then right on! Just remember, as the proverb by Lao Tzu says, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." So don't focus on that far-off goal and how hard it's going to be to get there. Focus on the tiny milestones in the middle.
Take me, for instance. I really really want to be a published writer, and it's a goal I've nurtured since I was a wee lass in junior high (something you probably know as "middle school"). But it's taken years of reading and writing to even get to the point I am at now, and in that time, I had to work to earn a living and do all the in-between things that are needed to live an okay human life in these modern United States-ian times.
And to finally get a novel written, I couldn't look at the word count and say, "Oh my Chrysanthemum! I have to write 70,000 words to get a YA novel under my belt! That'll never happen." You know, because if I look at the huge amount of work it's going to take, then I'll never even get started. Instead, I've myself a daily goal of about 100 words. That's not only reachable, that's easy peasy, companero.
So remember to think about the end goal sort of abstractly, and focus on the small goals in between instead.
Finally, here are a couple of other tips. Set yourself some deadlines for accomplishing your mini-goals, set manageable goals (i.e. 100 words at a a time instead of 70,000), and reward yourself for your work. I have to grade papers all the time, which is not fun in spite of what you may have thought when you were in 5th grade. So I break down the workload over several days and give myself rewards every few minutes or hours. I'm not talking big rewards--I don't splurge on diamonds or Ferraris every time (just some of the time). I'm talking about rewards like getting up and going to the bathroom or grabbing a glass of water. Chocolate is also a great reward (or whatever kind of food you think of as a treat). In fact, chocolate is a great carrot on the end of the stick no matter what your goal is--even losing weight.
Now you have the information you need to get started. And here's the thing--YOU CAN DO IT! It takes hard work, but you've got enough grease in your elbow to get it done, I guarantee it.
If you need more inspiration and tips for those moments when the going gets tough, try these:
How to Get Going When the Going Gets Tough--Donna M. White, LMHC, CACP, offers tips for getting your head back in the game when things get tough.
7 Ways to Keep Your Dream Alive When the Going Gets Tough--As the title suggests, Sean Kim gives seven ways to frame your thoughts when things don't seem to be going your way.
6 Ways to Keep Yourself Motivated When the Going Gets Tough--Are you noticing a theme in these titles yet? Colleen Kettenhofen offers six strategies for keeping yourself in the race, a couple of which I mentioned in my post above.
When the Going Gets Tough--Christianity is full of biblical scripture to keep you at it when things get tough, and Joe Stowell tells you about it in this article.
If these four articles aren't enough, try googling phrases like "how to persevere," "what to do when the going gets tough," and "how to overcome adversity." Also, try clicking on the purple word "Motivation" in the right-hand menu on this page; here's a post I'm particularly fond of. Or leave me a comment and I'll try to light a firecracker under your posterior (figuratively speaking, of course).
As always, if you think this post is worthwhile, please share it by clicking the Facebook and/or Twitter buttons below.
The person I want to be smiles at everyone, even strangers; is a great teacher who has wonderful rapport with her students and is able to inspire them to do great things; influences people to do the right thing even when it hurts; doesn't care about fashion but always looks put together; has a wonderful relationship with her daughter; mentors young people, who respect and admire her; works fearlessly to make the world a better place; makes the people around her feel happy and enthusiastic; eats right and exercises; and is generally a superlative, super-human type of person.
Have you ever done that? Wrote down the qualities you wish you had? Have you ever looked at someone and said to yourself, "Why can't that be me?"
Here are some words of advice from the great British writer and satirist Oscar Wilde: "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."
Well, that's a a real letdown, isn't it? Why can't I be that other person I admire? Am I really trapped in this body, in this brain? Am I really fated to be the loser that I already am?
No, you're not. Notice Wilde said to be yourself; he didn't say not to imagine yourself as someone else.
So here's my challenge--Imagine yourself as the best version of you. Pretend to be the person you want to be.
Let me give you an example. I work as a teacher, but inside, I don't feel like I am a teacher. Teachers are these people who are in charge, in control. Teachers know what they are talking about and are able to bring out the best in their students. They inspire. They are experts in their field. Well, guess what? I'm not any of those things, or at the least, I don't feel like I am. That's why I wrote that I work as a teacher, not that I am a teacher.
So since I don't feel like I am this paradigm of teacherliness, what can I do? Quit my job? No, I have to make a living. Admit to my students that I am an imposter who doesn't know what she's talking about? Well, maybe, but I don't want to make them lose their respect for me. So what can I do?
I can pretend to be a great teacher. I can think to myself, "Well, what would a great teacher do in this situation?" And then I can do whatever I think a great teacher would do.
Yes, that's the secret. Pretend to be
the person you want to be.
Let me give you another example.
Recently I was at an event put on by an organization I am affiliated with called Dallas Interfaith Power and Light. It was a film screening I had helped organize, and about 65 people showed up. When I got there, I saw people milling around, waiting for the film to start. Well, I felt a bit less than confident. I didn't know most of the other people there, and the people I did know were busy talking to other people. I could have found a seat and hid my face in the screen of my phone. But I decided, no, that is not what a representative of this organization should do. So instead, I decided to mingle. I walked up to a guy I didn't know and started talking to him. I asked him what had inspired him to come to the event. I asked him what kind of work he did. I started a conversation. And the thing that allowed me to break out of my shell and take a chance is that I imagined what a true advocate and exemplary representative of Dallas IPL would do, and I did that.
This technique requires you to don a mask. The mask is made of up the characteristics of the personality you want to assume. Want to be class president? Imagine what a class president would do, would sound like, would look like, and do those things. Want to attract girls? Think about what an attractive guy (or girl) would do, what he would say, what he would look like, and do those things. Want to be an ace student? Think about what an A+ student would do, would sound like, would look like, and do those things. Yes, that's the secret. Pretend to be the person you want to be.
Don't think it works? Don't believe me? This post is partially inspired by a TED talk by Amy Cuddy, who describes how she managed to become a college student even though she knew she didn't belong. Her advice: fake it until you become it. If you do nothing else, please watch this video. It will definitely give you a different view on life and gift with you some techniques to ramp up your brain chemistry.
So that's my advice. Fake it until you are it. Be your best you--the best you that lives in your imagination.
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Definitely high fantasy, with its shape-shifting dragons. Fun, fun read if you like fantasy. It's a wonderful escape from the dreary realism of some YA books.
On her eleventh birthday, Seraphina discovers that she is an aberration--the offspring of a human and a dragon. A band of scales erupts around her waist and on a her arm, and she develops a strange dream world inhabited by partially deformed creatures, whom she must tend to in order to keep her sanity.
In spite of her father's best efforts to keep her anonymous and hidden away, Seraphina becomes the assistant to the royal court's composer, which often puts her in charge of the royal orchestra. She inadvertently ends up drawing unwanted attention to herself when she engages in a particularly moving performance on the flute during a royal funeral.
In this fantasy world, humans and dragons have embarked on a fragile peace, and dragons live amongst humans by morphing themselves into human form. Yet bitterness and hate simmer beneath the surface and sometimes above it as well. Humans do not take well to the dragons among them and want to eliminate them entirely.
In just so happens that the person Seraphina is closest to is her mentor, the dragon Orma, who is actually her uncle. She must keep the fact that they are related secret because the idea of a human-dragon hybrid is an abomination.
After her performance pushes her out of the shadows, Seraphina soon becomes aware of a plot to overthrow the peace treaty. There is a rogue dragon, one closer to Seraphina than she cares to admit, who wants to throw the world back into the chaos of open warfare. Unfortunately, the one she must rely on to bring the plot to light is the guileless and noble captain of the queen's guard, Price Lucian Kiggs, who is engaged to the princess Glisselda and who Seraphina finds herself falling in love with.
This is a lovely book. Seraphina's need to hide her true identity is especially compelling and easy for the reader to identify with. Her emotional state is constantly at issue, and watching her navigate her role in the court and her fear of being discovered is riveting. I have to say I really, really enjoyed this book. It is exactly the sort of thing I crave.
The novel has some particularly clever refrains. I love the idea that the dragons are able to morph into humans. Their natural state is incredibly amusing because they are intensely pragmatic, logical creatures, and they put me in mind of the Vulcans on Star Trek. What is particularly intriguing is the way their biological transformation into humans wreaks havoc on the careful control they have of their emotions. As soon as they transform, they begin to be hit with emotions, and for many, it is difficult to understand and respond to these foreign feelings.
There is one particularly telling scene in which the dragon who brokered the peace treaty between humans and dragons, called the Comonot, is engulfed by a strange feeling he cannot understand. Princess Dionne, whom the Comonot is supposed to be meeting for an illicit assignation, has been poisoned by wine that was intended for both of them. Here is the scene:
"Comonot grabbed my sleeve. 'Help me,' he said. 'I feel something--'
'Guilt,' I snapped, trying to free myself.
'Make it go away!' He looked nakedly terrified."
It is as if a robot was suddenly programmed to have feelings. What I find of particular interest here is the idea that is is the very biology of humans that makes us feel emotions; it is only when the dragons adopt the human form that they begin to experience these feelings.
The other conceit I was particularly struck by was Seraphina's Garden of Grotesques--the dream state she enters peopled with strange half-human creatures she must attend to. It turns out that the beings in this dream place are human-dragon hybrids, just like her. Unknown to her at first, Seraphina is clairvoyant and can reach out to these half breeds. The whole concept of the garden is what intrigues me. It seems to be a physical place that Seraphina travels to, yet it only exists in her mind. The fact that these are people who live independently of her mental space only makes the idea even more alluring.
Overall, two big thumbs up. If you're into fantasy with alternate worlds replete with its own set of rules and conventions, this is the place to go. Hartman does an expert job of creating a universe that is not only believable; it actually seems inevitable.
It's an edict: good writers don't tell; they show. It's probably what your English teachers told you. "Now, now, generic writing pupil. Good writers don't just tell you. They show. Illustrate it with language. Use examples."
It's been my conundrum this past week: how do I show that Meg, the character in my novel, is unsure about her relationship with her boyfriend and that one of the reasons she stays with him is out of gratitude? There, that was easy enough to write out, but, "Uh-uh," says my inner writing teacher. "Not so fast, writing pupil. You can't spell it out so easily for the reader. You have to be more subtle. Your reader will appreciate it." *Sigh* So that means I have to think up anecdotes that will illuminate the dynamics of Meg and Henry's relationship.
Good writers are able to invest these little anecdotes with poignancy. They dream up episodes that will resonate with readers. Really good writers are able to communicate the depths of a person's psyche, the motives behind a person's actions in just a few words. Bare naked descriptions. Unfortunately, I tend to be a bit verbose in my writing. I start out with a scene that I think will cover two pages, and it ends up being twenty. Why write ten words when you could write thirty-five?
But that was not actually my dilemma, not this go around. My problem was thinking up a magical story that would give insight into Meg and how she interacted with Henry.
So I've kept an eye out for examples the past several days, and lucky me, I came up with two.
The Father through the Window
The first came from NPR. I didn't catch the whole story, unfortunately, but I managed to pick up the nuts and bolts. A young black boy is sitting in his classroom, looking through the window, a bit bored by the day's lesson. On the sidewalk outside, he notices a man walking through the snowy, blustery day. It is his father. The boy is inundated with emotion. No one will stop to pick up his father, deliver him the ten miles he must travel to get to work. The boy wants to acknowledge his father, feels guilty that he is sitting in a nice warm classroom while his father battles the elements outside to get to a job that allows the boy to maintain the lifestyle he has. But he knows it is his job to sit in that classroom, to get an education.
I was struck with the poignancy of this story. It communicates a wealth of information with the briefest of snapshots into the boy's life. Mucho impressive!
The Miserable, Limbless Experiment
My second example comes from a novel I just finished, The Diviners by Libba Bray. In it, there is an anecdote describing the past tragedies of one of the characters, named Jericho, and explaining his weird mechanical innards.
The character tells how he suffered from polio as a child and was cured by experimental medicine at a hospital. There were others who took part in the experiment as well. One of them was a man who was missing his legs, an arm, too, if I remember correctly.
Unfortunately, the medicine began to have strange effects. The limbless man began to see things that weren't there. He was going crazy. They had to amputate his remaining arm. Somehow the man was later found dead. He had hanged himself in his room. The hospital staff couldn't figure out how a man with no arms and no legs managed to hang himself. It was a mystery.
Jericho explains that he killed the man, his friend. The man had begged him to put him out of his misery. Jericho took compassion on him and obliged.
This little tidbit tells volumes about Jericho, what he has suffered, why he is such a serious, melancholy figure. And within that story is an even shorter one that reveals the reason why Jericho is able to help his friend kill himself.
His friend tells about the war, World War II, and how he came across a German soldier who had had his insides blown away. "[H]e was just lying there in agony." The two exchange a look, and the man--Jericho's friend--put the man out of his misery. "He didn't do it with anger, as an enemy, but as a fellow man, one soldier helping another."
It is partially because of this miniature story that Jericho is able to help his friend take his own life.
Henry Loves Meg; Does Meg Love Henry?
I did finally come up with a simple story to illustrate Meg's relationship with Henry. Not only that, it reveals a little bit about her past and why she is burdened with her father's death. I hope it works. Maybe it will, but I will continue to look out for these tiny little stories I've described in this post. Is there a name for them other than "anecdotes" and "little stories"?
I have a friend. His name is Roger. He is a six foot tall rabbit, and I seem to be the only one who can see him. Roger the Rabbit--oh, but that won't work. He doesn't come in a frame like a picture, and he doesn't need the Innocence Project. Actually, his name is Basil, and he is not a rabbit. I'm not James Stewart. Pardon my mistake. No, Basil is a porcupine.
He is a most polite porcupine and very careful with his quills. He covers them with a beautiful black cape so as to avoid pricking furniture and companions. As I said, he is a most polite porcupine.
Basil the Porcupine visits on a regular basis. He removes his hat when he comes in and hangs it by the door, which is very convenient considering I don't have a hat rack or peg for him to hang it on. I suppose they are invisible, just as he is.
He always asks after my little one and the "master," as he calls him. He says in his refined, rather British-y voice, "And how is Master David?" I try to match his elegant manners, but it is quite a task because I am an American and uncouth.
Then, we retire to the back deck where we sit around a wrought iron table with perfect posture and sip hot tea from delicate tea cups made of porcelain. Basil prefers Earl Grey. It makes no difference to me. I drink orange pekoe by the gallon but only if doused in sugar and ice cubes. I sacrifice both for Basil though because he sort of looks down his little black nose at me when I go Southern with the refreshments.
Then, we talk about the weather and Basil begins a discourse on one of his favorite topics. Those topics include the British parliament, backgammon, and mollusks. I have to admit that I tend to tune him out a bit, what with the monotone and the soliloquy worthy of a BBC news broadcast.
The sprinklers go off suddenly spraying poop water all over the yard, and Basil is most put out by the foul odor. So we return to the house, Basil puts on his hat and eiderdown scarf (I'm not even sure what eiderdown is), picks up his walking stick (Did I mention the walking stick? No. I suppose I didn't mention the eiderdown scarf either), and bids me farewell. Then, he disappears, leaving his invisible footprints behind him.
That is how my friendship with Basil the Porcupine goes. It is entirely courteous. And incredibly factual.
(This bitty vignette was inspired by too many episodes of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, which is completely age inappropriate for both my two year old and me but that makes me laugh regardless.)
Word and Book Lover.