31 December, 2008

On This Final Day of 2008

From the stroke of midnight the day of Christmas, my mind has been rolling over all of the possibilities that await in the upcoming year. When I was younger, the dawn of a New Year meant little more than having to remember to change the date when filling out homework and tests. It wasn't until the year my daughter was born, just two weeks after New Year's Day, that I started to think differently about each and every new year.

For the last week I have thought long and hard about the things I would like to achieve in the upcoming year. Many of my goals are simple, and those are the ones that often fall by the wayside. For example, I want to spend less time thinking of myself and more time thinking about others, and while this sounds like a very easy task, it can be incredibly difficult to shift one's thoughts away from "my wants, my needs and me, me, me!" Nonetheless, I resolve not to use that as an excuse to be selfish.

Another thing I want to focus on this year is being kinder to myself. For far too long I have allowed the shadows of things past to darken my outlook. Too many times have I said, "So much of my life has been hard, why should I expect it to be easy." This year, I will hold my head up high and brave whatever storms life has in store for me by remembering that the earth itself is always cleaner and more serene in the aftermath of a storm, even if there are pieces to be picked up. I will think of every failure as an opportunity to reinvent, and rise from the ashes like a phoenix.

I will devote more of my time to writing and publishing in the coming year, always bearing in mind not to wait for inspiration or motivation, but to motivate and inspire myself through action instead. I will spend more time reading this year and less time watching television. It's too easy to sit down and tune out, even though I enjoy the comfort of a good book far more.

I forgive all who have done me wrong, and hope that my enemies can find it in their hearts to forgive me as well.

And this year's superficial, but still incredibly important, resolution... I will go away for vacation in 2009.

Now, here is my wish for all of my friends this year:

May you always have walls for the winds,
a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire,
laughter to cheer you, those you love near you,
and all your heart might desire.

28 December, 2008

The Merits of Writing Fanfiction

For years fanfiction has been a dirty word, and anyone who took their writing seriously would never be caught dead writing it. They wouldn't be caught... but you'd be surprised how many writers actually partake in it. Seven years ago, while reading the Harry Potter books with my daughter, I found myself itching to tell a story that took place inside the Potterverse. It was during the Prisoner of Azkaban, when the characters of Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew and Sirius Black were introduced to the storyline. Friends of Harry Potter's parents, I began to imagine what it must have been like for them... the adults of the story, who must have at one point been teenagers. I found it somewhat easier to relate to them all because I was an adult myself and their situations had already been presented. I sat down and began penning a story called In the Shadow of the Future.

In the Shadow of the Future featured a character of my own making named Perpetua McEllis, whose family had been killed by death eaters during her fifth year at Hogwarts. Of course, early on, Perpetua (or Pet as she eventually became known,) was quite a Mary Sue. Not only was she a clairvoyant, she was also best friends with Lily Potter and stuck in the middle of a love triangle between Remus Lupin and Severus Snape. I worked on that story with a vengeance, and about 9 chapters into the story, I began to post my chapters on HPFF.com, a fanfiction site run by adults, that mostly catered to and encouraged teenage writers. My penname there was Llewellyn McEllis, the name of my main characters older sister, a name that sort of stuck to me like glue.

That first story turned into a series that actually saw seven novel-length fanfiction works, six of which were completed over a two year period. Over the span of the story, my character grew into something I am still rather proud of to this day, though I wasn't sure of that until yesterday.

I haven't been writing a lot lately. In fact, I've written so little this last year that I actually started to feel incredibly depressed about it. I started thinking about one of the most productive times in my writerly life. Oddly enough, it was during those couple of years I was writing a lot of fanfiction. Seven novel length fanfiction stories, a couple of novellas, dozens of short stories, not to mention a host of original work as well... during the few years I was on the fanfiction wagon, I was incredibly productive. Of course I branched off into a few other fanfiction areas as well, like Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Heroes and Labyrinth. My Labyrinth fanfiction turned out to be so unique that I actually stripped the fanfiction elements out completely and have been working on completing the second draft of the story. There was a massive part of me that really missed how inspired and excited I was about writing during that time in my life. I dug out three of my favorite fanfictions in the Shadows series last night and started reading.

I'll admit that for a long time I wasn't all that thrilled anymore about how much time I had sunk into writing fanfiction, but when I started reading through the novels I had written something clicked inside of me. I remembered why I had written those stories in the first place, and a familiar sense of passion started to burn inside me again. While writing fanfiction is definitely easier than creating your own stories and universe, I definitely learned a lot about myself as a writer and a storyteller. Through those stories I recognized my voice again and felt an incredible sense of pride in how well I worked at exposing the sensitive side to things considered wholly dark and evil. The most exciting part about it was that it made me want to write again. Fanfiction, my own fiction, whatever. I just wanted to get behind the keyboard again and breathe life into a few souls.

Now back to one of the earlier points I made, people have often looked down on fanfiction writers, saying they aren't creative just because they pick up characters in a preexistent universe but I'll tell you this: I've read fanfiction stories that were far surpassed the work written by the original author. I've been privileged enough to know writers and work with writers who took preexisting characters and gave them voices and personalities that their original creators couldn't have begun to dream up for them.

Maybe you can't make a living writing fanfiction, but then again, maybe you can. I've known dozens of writers who have written their way into the Star Wars universe, Dragonlance, Warhammer, Forgotten Realms, Battlestar Galactica and even the popular comic series, Hellblazer. If you are a good enough writer with a creative idea, chances are you can get permissions to write almost anything. Another thing to consider is the originality of your fanfiction idea. If your idea is really phenomenal, there is a good chance that you can strip away the fanfiction elements and make the story your own. I've done, and I have had friends do it as well. In fact, a very talented friend of mine has a fanfiction story that she stripped all of the fanfiction elements out of getting ready to be published.

If you're a writer always remember that as long as you are writing, you are living as you were meant to live.

27 December, 2008

Belated Holiday Greetings & Getting Back on Track

I know it's days after the holiday, but hey, it's still Hanukkah until Monday, so :p. I've been pretty busy with the holidays, cooking, baking, cleaning, entertaining, so I haven't taken much time to update my blog or twitter. I've appeared on facebook and myspace briefly here and there, but that about sums up my online existence outside of working. I did do some fun things for the holidays, including baking sugar cookies and gingerbread men. I made my first yule log this year with an chocolate orange center frosting that is to die for! We spent Solstice at my parents' home, which was pretty nice. My Dad had gone to visit my estranged brother to take my nieces gifts, and when he came home he actually brought photos of the girls with him. Then on the Monday after Solstice, I actually got a card from my brother and his wife with pictures of my nieces. My parents then went on Christmas day to visit them, and according to my mother, the visit went well. One small step for my brother, one giant step for the entire family.

My in-laws came in to visit Christmas day, and since my mother-in-law went crazy years ago (and no one told her...) I expected chaos. Apparently she hasn't been speaking to my sister-in-law, so again, I expected chaos, but it wasn't really bad at all. Dinner went over well (bows gracefully and hands out plates of leftover scalloped pineapple...) and while she tends to exude negativity, she actually wasn't as hard to be around as she usually is. My daughter was spoiled ridiculously by both sides of the family, and all ended well.

Aside from the holidays, the season has been a little slow. I've spent too much time under the weather, which makes it easy to brush off the important things and sink into a state that seems to recycle one illness after the next. I started out with a major bronchial infection back in November that keeps recurring. The doctor I went to is an obvious moron, who hasn't addressed the issue at all, so even as it occasionally seems to recur, I just go about my normal life until it gets so bad that I can't breathe at all. Then I call and go back.

I haven't written much and I haven't kept myself motivated, but it's time to get things back on track. I sat down last night and did some thinking about what I want to do in the coming year. It always comes down to what is most important to me (aside from my family, that is,) and that is writing. I was doing so well for so long, writing 2000 words or more every day the entire time I was juggling college, work and family. Now that I'm finished with school and spending so much time on the computer working every day to make ends meet, I make very little time for writing at all. It's exhausting to sit back down here and try to meet my creative goals. So, I've made a decision that I hope will remedy that. I am going to start writing longhand again and bring the draft to the computer. I wrote in longhand for years, and found that transferring it to the computer or word processor (back in the day before computers...) was a very refreshing process. The process helped me really put the overall idea into perspective and the transfer from one draft to the other strengthened the story as well. I know I have to do something. Writing is all I have ever cared about and wanted. It's time to start proving that again.

I was also considering applying to Wilkes University's MFA in Creative Writing program this summer. It's a two year program and the degree would allow me to teach creative writing to college students and at seminars. It would also provide an insider's look into active publication, something that despite my own attempts to understand, has never become quite clear to me. I am still considering it, as I feel it would motivate me to write under threat of deadline again and give me a slight edge in publishing that I've been looking for. It really couldn't hurt to go through with it. It's a low residency program, so the majority of it takes place from home, and I would only have to appear on campus for 2 ten day seminars a year. I have quite a bit of time to get my application and packet ready, so I'm going to be doing some serious meditating on that.

I was telling Jason this morning that I noticed I tend to feel more spiritually connected this time of year. While some may say, "Well of course, it's Christmas, everyone feels a little more spiritual then..." I am not a Christian and don't celebrate traditionally. We actually celebrate Winter Solstice and go through the holiday motions with my husband's family. I actually think it has more to do with how tough this time of year can be for us financially. The economy is crap now, but for us it feels a little harder. This is the time of year when my husband's job comes to a lull, but it's been in a lull already for the last three years, so instead of lulling it's come to a complete standstill. There have been years I really couldn't understand how we made it through, and so that strengthens my faith a little and makes me feel closer to my spiritual center.

I hope everyone is thinking about the dawn of a new year, making their resolutions now and getting ready to embrace the old one last time before welcoming the new. Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming holiday photos, and expect to see a lot more of me here than has been appearing in recent weeks.

16 December, 2008

When Families Fall Apart...

It's the holiday season again, the second year that my family has gathered without the presence of my youngest brother, his wife and their two little girls. Truth be told, no one in the family except my dad has actually even seen the youngest of their two girls, who was born last December. As she is opening the presents on her first birthday and exploring this Christmas with a sense of awareness, our family will not be welcome. My brother has not spoken to any of us since last October. He did not even tell his own family that his wife was expecting another baby.

I try not to let it get under my skin, but my brothers and I went through a lot together as children, and I always considered myself to be very close to them. After we were adults, my youngest brother and I grew even closer. He spent a great deal of his time at our apartment after my husband and I got married. He came over to play games with us and have dinner. He brought his girlfriends around. We had a really great relationship. Then he met Tierney, the woman who would one day become his wife.

She and my sister are the same age, about five years younger than my brother. They were in the same grade at school together, and my sister hated her from the start. I, on the other hand, very rarely form an opinion about someone until I meet them myself. Because of her crappy relationship with my sister at school, my brother's wife was afraid to meet our family. She assumed that because my sister and she didn't get along at school that everyone would hate her. That was the first indication that she was a little insecure... So she and my brother dated for nearly a year before she finally found the bravery to come around. Oddly, my mother fell in love with her, but the feeling was never mutual. Tierney obviously harbored a lot of anxiety and insecurity from her relationship with my sister, even after she and my sister set their differences aside and became friends. Tierney always felt like my mom was interfering in her relationship and life, telling her how to live, think, etc... Who knows. Maybe my mom was doing that unconsciously. She's always had a habit of trying to provide solutions to everyone's life, and more often than not she offers that advice without being asked. So began the early tensions between the two of them.

Then while she was pregnant with my niece, my sister began dating Tierney's brother. The four of them became inseparable as far as couples go. After about two years on and off, my sister and her boyfriend broke up and she started seeing someone else. Tierney's brother wasn't ready to let go, so he came over to my parents' home on New Year's Day in 2007, drug my sister out of the basement apartment and basically kicked her down the driveway.

My mother called the police. Within minutes of the police showing up at Tierney's parents' home looking for her brother, they were on the phone to my mother telling her that if she pressed charges she would never see her granddaughter again. My brother told her she would never see him again either. Months later he would tell me that Tierney's brother was his family, and one didn't mess with family, but what about his baby sister? "She got what she deserved..."

I know that my mother and sister aren't perfect. No one is. My brother isn't perfect either. He's got one hell of a temper and a major superiority complex. He's proud and stubborn and will never admit that he is wrong. Two days after my mother apologized to him and tried to make things right, I ran into my brother at the grocery store and he told me that if she would just apologize, he'd let her see her granddaughter again... She had already apologized, but that wasn't good enough for him.

No one in our family talks to him anymore. My dad has sided with my mom, and rightly so. He has always been good when it came to respecting our mother, and he more or less feels like my brother is a lost cause. The thing is, my mother has become a different person since all of this happens. She and I used to talk at least twice a week, but now she will barely even talk for more than a minute if I call her on the phone. The only time she does want to talk to me is in the middle of the night after she's been drinking. Then all she does is cry about how unfair it is that she doesn't even know her own granddaughters.

Now it's coming up on the holidays again. We gather every year at Yule, but last Yule was incredibly depressing. Even though the only people missing were my brother and his wife, it felt so empty. I'm sure this year will be no different.

The worst part is, I miss my brother. He used to be such a good-hearted and loving person, and now any time I've run into him, he seems like someone else. Someone angry, bitter and full of rage. I've tried talking to him, but it always turns into a disagreement about our mother and she deserves.

I very rarely long to go back in time, but sometimes I wish I could go back to the time and place when my brother was still a good person and relive it just so I know I wasn't imagining that time. The worst part is, I used to like my sister-in-law, despite all of her insecurities and paranoid delusions. Now, whenever I think about her it just makes me feel like the Incredible Hulk.

06 December, 2008

Hancock: A View on Relationships

Last night we sat down to watch the movie Hancock about the superhero gone wrong. I am writing this blog for those who have seen the film already and will probably mention things that may be considered spoilers to those who have not yet seen the film. Consider this fair warning not to read on, but feel free to return after you've seen the movie and let know what you think.

The concept of Gods evolving into angels and then becoming superheroes with the times was a fascinating view on mankind's inability to find the extraordinary amidst his own kind, but what really struck me was the commentary on relationships. This is my own personal interpretation, and not something I read elsewhere so it is riddled with speculation and opinion. I am not claiming that what I am about to discuss was in any way intended as a message by the writer or director of the film.

During the film Hancock becomes associated with a PR man named Ray and his family after saving he saves Ray's life. Upon meeting the Ray's wife, Mary, one gets the impression that Mary is somewhat disgusted by Hancock, and rightly so considering the lifestyle he's led. She warns her husband not to get involved with Hancock, but Ray has plans that he is sure will change the superhero's life and image.

After Hancock begins to turn himself around, he tells Mary and Ray his story. He woke up in a hospital with nothing but a pack of bubble gum and two movie tickets in his pocket. He'd had his skull cracked, and amnesia set in. Later the next day he discovers that Mary knew him at that time. She at first claims that she is his sister, but later she tells the truth. They were paired together. All of the gods were paired when they were born, but when drawn together they become mortal and die. Together they had survived more than three thousand years, and Mary had left him in the hospital that day so he could live.

After a showdown with the movie's bad guys, both Mary and Hancock are mortally wounded in the same hospital and the only way to save their lives is if they are separated. With every ounce of his being, Hancock flees the hospital, bringing Mary back to life and restoring both of their powers. They can only be immortal heroes when they are apart. Only by sacrificing their desire to be together can they function as heroes.

This made me think about how heavily many people in today's society rely on relationships. From the minute teenage girls enter into the fifth grade they are already planning out which boys they want to spend the rest of their lives with. Many graduate high school and enter into relationships immediately. Some wait until they finish college and enter the workforce, but it seems as if everyone is searching for their soulmate all the while.

Once the soulmate is found, many set aside dreams they once had and never pick them up again. They sacrifice their wings, or at least he dreams that once inspired their souls to fly, and sink into relationship mode. Soon there's a wedding, a house, possibly kids, a dog, a white picket fence... but no more dreaming. But what if we knew our soulmate was out there. Like a guarantee on the future we could set out to live our lives to the fullest potential unhindered by the restraints and confinements of love. Through sacrificing that bit of time with our soulmates, we would really find out who we are and what we are capable of becoming. We would get in touch with our true selves. There would be no fear of loneliness because we would entrust the universe to bring us together when the time was right.

Imagine if you managed to fulfill your plans and goals before settling into relationship mode. The wanderer would be quelled, the dreamer fulfilled. Wouldn't that time with our soulmates be all the more satisfying? There would be less divorce, less dissatisfaction with our relationships. In knowing ourselves fully, we would take the time to know our soulmates and there would be no strange surprises.

Maybe that's crazy. I know that I wouldn't give up my soulmate for anything. He's been my rock, my support system and my best friend through many long and difficult trials, but I know even he has wondered what wonders we might have achieved in this world if we had met after we'd had time to pursue the dreams that fueled our souls.

There are others who believe that without their soulmate they could not have gotten to the place they are today, or become the wonder they are now, and maybe that's possible too. Some of us need a boost, a little rocket-fuel to shoot us into the stars, and maybe the rocket fuel comes from the love and support of one's soulmate.

There's no way of knowing. If you've taken one path, you can only speculate what the outcome of the other might have been, but in the film the suggestion seemed to implicate that while they were soulmates, they were more valuable to the world if they were apart and focusing their energy on mending the world and its people.

Probably nonsense, but it was a nice bite of food for thought while I was in the bath tonight.

04 December, 2008

Santa Claus is Watching You...

If you don't believe me, ask Ray Stevens. He made an entire video about it back in the day.

Though I have very little to show for it, I am in the holiday mood. I am hoping to have my tree and decorations up this weekend and I've already started baking even though I'm not going to be eating a lot of those nummy cookies this year. There are just sixteen days until Solstice, and twenty until Christmas day. The next two weeks for me and just about everyone else on the planet are going to be incredibly busy!

As many of you know, I am one of the luckiest employed people in the world due to the fact that for the past couple of months I have worked almost exclusively on holiday terms for Mahalo. I was on here digging up crazy costumes and foraging for homemade tombstone how tos before Halloween. Then in the weeks building up to Thanksgiving, I was neck deep in delectable recipes and other turkey-day activities. I am now swimming merrily through the winter holiday season playing dreidel and winning all the Hanukkah gelt. When I'm not prepping for Hanukkah, I'm building snowmen and flipping through the never ending collection of phenomenal holiday baking recipes on Mahalo. I even spent some time learning about Kwanzaa the other day.

I've had the pleasure of creating and updating some pretty phenomenal pages, so I wanted to take a moment to share some of them with you.

For the environmentally conscious, here is a phenomenal page I updated yesterday on having a Green Christmas. If you check the links at the bottom of the left-hand guide note, there are even more fun Green pages.

For the gamer in everyone, here is a page I built today that contains some of the best online Christmas games on the net: Online Christmas Games.

This is only a short stub of a page, but it is by far my favorite page of the week. The Christmas dialer is an online site that you can plug the phone number of your favorite kid into so they can get a free telephone call from Santa Claus before the holidays. I will tell you, I tested this out personally and never have I seen a more excited three year old than I did when my three year old niece was over on Monday and gushing about her personal call from the big guy in the red suit.

After you're done hooking up with Santa, be sure to check out some of the phenomenal bloggers in my sidebar, like Just Nikki, Jae's Rants, Salt and Lemonade, and of course, everyone wants to know what Neil Gaiman and Holly Black are up to, so check out their blogs too.

02 December, 2008