Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Vulnerable Year: Continuing Adventures in Cabin Fever

"Be sure when you STEP
Step with CARE and great TACT.
And remember that life's a great BALANCING ACT."
                                                   ~ Dr. Seuss

A bit over a year ago, I looked down at my feet, realized they were on the wrong path, and set out on an expedition to find my own kind of indie authorship. It was a vulnerable year, full of confessions, voyages, and creative experiments that I still don't fully understand. Having now taken a thorough tour of the brambles, I have opinions. (Note: I don't often have those, so this is worth writing down.)

What I Did, Why I Did it, and What I Learned:

  •  I removed the paywall on all of my material (wherever possible) to sort for myself whether cashflow had a negative impact on my creative mindset. By doing this, I've discovered that I may not be a very good capitalist. Disavowing money feels better than receiving it. Don't get me wrong, I have bills to pay and wolves at the door, but my gentler base nature is appeased in giving without expectation. It also feels defiant in a way that satisfies the sharper side of myself -- the punk rocker who responds to showering demands by stuffing flowers in her hair and telling detractors to suck it.*
Full disclosure: Some weeks, the idea of facing even a single
person was more than I could manage. On those days,
I found a public place to leave "orphaned" books,
where visiting kids might happen upon them. 
  • I promised to personally hand out every copy of the Sons of Masguard I had on hand. This turned out to be around 25 sets of the first two books. The goal was to physically face at least two new people each month, to push my agoraphobic arse out of its comfort zone. And I'm happy to say it had an effect. Peeking at the violence of the world from behind closed curtains, it's sometimes easy to forget that people are generally amazing. No one refused my fumbling attempts at gifting, and very few acted ungraciously. In instances where they did, it was usually a case of my own conversational ineptness getting in the way. Ask any anthropologist how people are inclined to react when offered something without conditions. They grow suspicious, and fast. Were I better at the whole "opening my mouth and making proper words come out" thing, I imagine the slightest explanation would have changed that. As it was, at least one encounter went down like this:**
"Thanks! I'll pass this along to my agent/editor/publisher."
"You're very welcome, but don't worry about passing it along unless you're anxious to get it out of your house. I'm not looking for an agent/editor/publisher."
"I'm really not big on leaving reviews..."
"That's okay, I'm not either."
"I'll buy your next book, I promise."
"Actually, if you want the next one, just let me know. I'll happily send you a copy."
"...Then what do you want?"
"...To give you a book?"
"You're welcome."
"I'm gonna slink away now."
"That's probably best for everyone."

If reincarnation is real and kind, it will bring me back as a butterfly who is never expected to carry conversation.
  • I tried to find new ways of letting creativity breathe without restraint. My particular concoction of disorders often leaves me crippled under manic levels of creative energy. Trying to focus it into a single outlet was hindering my process rather than helping it, as I'd previously groomed myself to believe. It's a general truth among typical writers that you ought to focus on writing even when you aren't in a place for it, and I don't disagree when the matter is one of discipline. But by forcing my brain into a mindset for stringing sentences when it was firmly planted in an area better lent to music or art, I wasn't allowing my atypical self to form the kinds of mental pathways I need in order to write organically. The long and short of this: by doing other artsy things, the art of writing got easier. I'm launching a new website, where those who wish to pay me, can, and those who enjoy reading free have a guaranteed platform to continue doing so. I'm also 50,000 words into the final story draft of a book I wasn't sure my brain or body would ever allow me complete. This is probably still behind what most people would prefer, but to me it's progress and wonderful news.

I'm finding my own way.

Slowly, but surely - my feet growing stronger with every step.

Sometimes being a creative person in a business-minded culture means backlash from people who expect a quid pro quo and a bottom monetary line. Sometimes it means feeling rebuffed for reaching out with raw emotion, which can be an indescribably painful and poorly balanced side of creative living. It means being slapped with the dollars you are or are not making, or the impact you have or have not levied.

But I'm finding I'm okay with those things.

I'm okay with just... making stuff and knowing that my stuff sometimes makes people smile*** -- a feat I can't often accomplish face to face. People are usually confused by me and the way I communicate. People usually look the other way. People usually leave. But when I wrap my mania in an adventure and pour my sadness into a metaphor, people understand.

Art is -- and will forever be -- how I choose to speak.

Thank you for giving me someone to talk to.

Gratitude and affection, people.
Heart and soul.

By the by, did I mention I have one more set of books remaining? If you'd like them, leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter. I'll send them anywhere in the world. Gratefully, and without conditions.

"If it gets me nowhere, I'll go there proud." ~ Jim Croce (I've Got a Name)

*Hyperbolic, and whatnot. I'm a hippie, but a shower-loving one.
**If you're happening upon this post as a recipient of my flailing, please know that it was entirely on my head.
***No Giggity intended.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Keeping Crooked Things

Neglect a closet for a while, and an unfortunate sort of natural order begins to take effect. It starts with an atmosphere of acceptant convenience for a few worthy knickknacks. Before you know it, the shelves are straining under the weight of things you're "only putting here for a minute, really" - and bad things happen to innocent inanimates as a result.

Take, as no particular example beyond the hypothetical, an umbrella you bought on clearance forever ago that you've used maybe twice by generous estimates.

Though the working bits somehow survived closetgeddon*, the spine and handle came out of it somewhat marred. I had little reason to feel sentimental about it, beyond it being one of those things that "I've just had forever." Still, I felt a tad emotional over the idea of throwing it out, of ditching a perfectly functional tool for the offense of looking atypical.

At the time, I couldn't imagine why that might be. Now a few months have passed, and I think I may be onto myself. That, or I'm taking symbolism to super trite levels.**

Crooked Umbrella is a little bit bent.
A little bit broken.
A little bit spent.

Crooked Umbrella doesn’t open quite right.
Gets stuck here and there.
Wants to close herself tight.

She spent a long time in a corner, unused.
Her handle mismatched.
Askew and confused.

Her bones sometimes tremble, her cloth is threadbare.
She looks rather wrong.
But try not to stare.

For when she is open, she functions just fine.
She’ll fend off the storm.
She’ll still keep you dry.

She’s harder to hold. Broken things often are.
A test of your strength.
She’ll lean from your arms.

Most would have thrown the umbrella away.
She’s been through the rain.
She’s seen better days.

But somebody packs her away every night.
Carries her through the street.
Holds her upright.

Umbrella she is.
Just misunderstood.
So Crooked’s okay.
Broken’s still good.

*Really, it was just a few books falling into the wicker basket where the umbrella was stored. So dramatic.
**It's that one.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

10 Reasons to Write About Talking Animals (Backed by Serious Film History)

"What if man were required to educate his children without the help of talking animals?" - Robert Brault

As an author who once tried to turn her piratey, talking animal bonanza into something more human-shaped, I can almost answer that question. 

In my case, the attempt to turn Marshall and McKinley into proper people was spawned by an industry that cautioned "No Talking Animals!" on nearly every submission avenue for children's publishing. The early draft of the story was already written, in all its anthropomorphic glory, and it would be more than fair to say my heart wasn't wholly in the work of altering my first novel into something so far from its original aim. 

I don't think anyone would have argued that the result was anything but disastrous. I couldn't connect with the characters as humans, let alone translate their plight into one worthy of a human teenager's interest. I've since written works of that very sort, but still find myself unable to cram this particular story into that particular box. 

It could be that most of us write from a place of absorbed culture. My childhood (and admittedly, thanks to a death grasp on the epicness of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, my teenagerhood) was a sea of anthropomorphic faces. With Paddingtons and Poohs in my literature; Glow Worms, Care Bears, and Popples in the toy box; and Duck Tales, Donald, and Darkwing on the television... it's really a wonder I can have a human conversation without dumping a critter-like affectation into my voice. 

Lately, I've found a spot of mindfulness in idle sketching and often discover one or more of these influential characters at the end of my pencil. Or... you know... crayon. Whatever. I don't need to be proud. 

I do, however, want to make more of an attempt in 2016 to peek my head from behind the door. Today, I'm doing that with doodles, because I'm almost certain that thing about eyes being the window to the soul was originally regarding sketch pads.

10. The Pirate Cat (The Last Unicorn, 1982)

I admit. I feel obligated to begin the list with a character from The Last Unicorn. You know the movie you watched and re-watched and watched again until your parents begged you to find an interest in just about anything else? But you still watched it anyway, because it never failed to wrap you up in whatever emotion or transported world you needed, whenever you needed it? This was my Toy Story. It was my Frozen. It's still the thing I queue up on Netflix when it's three in the morning and I can't sleep. It's the perfect mix of magic and consequence. At no point does the script talk down to you, skewing a little darker in plot setting and in artistic style than most children's films, which made it the perfect vehicle for lessons of a deeper variety. It's very: Unicorn against Society; Unicorn against Nature; Unicorn against Self. With a healthy side of: Unicorn against Horrifying Red Bull.

The pirate cat has a very short stint on screen, but it's full of sound advice and the woeful gravitas of a weathered sailor. He even gives us a line that would almost certainly be true of every cat who ever lived, should they be granted the ability to talk:

"No cat out of its first fur ever gave anyone a straight answer."

I feel like.. if Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson
had a baby that was a cat, it would be THIS cat.
I don't know why that is.
Also, you know Jim Butcher was all up in this
character's head for Aeronaut's Windlass.

9. Dodger (Oliver & Company, 1988)

"Why should I worry? Why should I CA-A-A-ARE?" 

If you can walk past any reminder of this film without singing that line in your head, I'm not sure you and I can be friends. Billy Joel is to the street-savvy cool of 80s culture as short-legged mixed breeds are to a joyful world -- and this movie poured both of those things into a single character.

That move alone was boss enough for a mic drop, but Disney then went above and beyond by hiring Bette Middler to voice a poodle. 


Just go watch it again. You deserve to spend the rest of the afternoon singing, and this is the perfect excuse.

You would so adopt this dog.

8. Unico (Unico, 1981)

Proof that not all influences are happy and that some lessons are downright miserable, Unico aimed for the same fantastical blend of darkness and magic that turned The Last Unicorn into an instant fairy tale classic.

For any kid (or general human, for that matter) who might be disturbed by minor issues like abandonment and watching those you love devolve into lifeless gingerbread furniture for a homicidal psychopath... it kinda missed the "magic" mark and landed somewhere in evil acid land next to a cadre of kittens acting out the Manson killings. 

If you haven't had the pleasure of viewing it for yourself, you might think that dramatic. But give a read to what Gizmodo said about the glorious care given to Unico by beneficent-looking caretaker/assassin West Wind, who repeatedly "saves" Unico from execution by abandoning her in horrifying places the way a drunk parent "saves" a preschooler from germs by locking them in the cellar with the bubonic rats:

"The Wind disappears... and Unico just starts screaming. Understandable. This is five minutes into the movie. But don't worry, soon enough, Unico meets Melvin the Magnificat, who immediately starts punching the unicorn in the face."

The fun goes on from there. 

So why is this on the list? Suffice it to say, the film made such a mark that I spent the rest of my childhood blocking it out and much of early adulthood believing it was actually just a nightmare I once had BECAUSE NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND PUTS THIS SHIT IN CARTOON FORM. That alone makes it notable enough to merit a mention.

Besides, that is still one ridiculously adorable Kitten... Unicorn... Goat thing.

The cuteness is a lie.
Like the cake in Portal,
or a human kidney in Christmas wrapping.

7. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, 1975)

The not-so-humble humble champion of Kipling's short story, Rikki-Tikki was the most engaging version of David versus Goliath and the definite precursor for Redwall's celebration of honorable home defense. Black and white, hero against villain, we unambiguously supported that mongoose through snake infanticide and beyond because the violence seemed somehow practical, if not downright virtuous. As a parent, I look back on this product of older times with harsher realities and I can't help but find the idea of a pocket-sized protector with Rikki's tenacity rather comforting. 

What that says about me, I'm not entirely sure.

Turning children into bite-riddled squirrel tamers since 1975.

6. Basil of Baker Street (The Great Mouse Detective, 1986)

Basil had kids hooked on Sherlock long before Benedict Cumberbatch ever had a chance at setting the standard for the role. With an exuberance for puzzle solving that wouldn't be rivaled until Bill Nye the Science Guy appeared on screen many years later, The Great Mouse Detective translated the superhuman, deductive genius of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original character into something zany enough to cross the literary divide. Basil had an obsessive dedication to the mystery that made miniature gumshoes of us all. 

The mouse you'd definitely want on your side,
if you were also a mouse.

5. Peg (Lady and the Tramp, 1955)

No disrespect to Lady OR Tramp. But, for me, this film was less about nosing meatballs* and more about the stray queen and cell block lounge singer, Peg (as voiced by timeless treasure, Peggy Lee), crooning the theme song from behind Pound Puppy bars. Like Dodger, she embodied the carefree coolness of someone cast aside by society who has chosen to defiantly revel in it by way of song. 

Singing about serial hookups has never been cooler.

4. Bagheera (The Jungle Book, 1967)

Don't give me that look. You loved Baggy's tough love and helicopter parenting as much as I did. In the whole of the story, he's the only one who consistently had Mowgli's best interests at heart. Even better, in the book, he's basically the Indian Mufasa:

"Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody dared to cross his path; for he was as cunning as [the trickster jackal], as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant. But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree..."

While Baloo acted as a safety blanket, Bagheera was the bona fide safety net who kept their shenanigans from killing them. Not to mention that he put himself on the line as sole protector in guiding Mowgli to a world more suited to his needs. This while an entire pack of wolves said, "Nah, man. Shere Khan's after him. We're not down for anything with the potential of random tiger." 

He was the nanny we all wanted, even if we couldn't reasonably be disappointed when the babysitter invariably showed up without a tail.

Baggy's so stunned by the comparison to Mufasa
that he lost his whiskers, poor guy.

3. The Unicorn / Amalthea (The Last Unicorn, 1982)

Yes, The Last Unicorn deserves two spots on this list. Yes, I My-Little-Ponified the proportions on this sketch after hitting the bottom of the page.

Even so. 

Peter S. Beagle groupie for life, ya'll.

The Last Unicorn: Home of America's best music.

2. Robin Hood (Disney's Robin Hood, 1973)

Robin Hood probably had more influence over the Secoran world state than any film on this list. The wit. The weaponry. The weird regard for clothing... but also, not. Roger Miller as a chicken. 

The Sons of Masguard may be a bit lacking in that last one, but it shares a landscape devoid of human culture, where scale is altered, and all of sentient history belongs to animals designed to eat each other who, for whatever reason, have decided not to eat each other. 

It's jolly good irreverence with super catchy music. Find me a kid who doesn't love Robin Hood and I'll show you a parent who believes in the power of the funectomy. 

The only woodland creature who looks better on a
Wanted poster than McKinley ever could.

1. Mrs. Brisby (The Secret of NIMH, 1982)

Say what you want, but the timid gal had timid grit. 

She was a mom, remember. And a tiny little field mouse mom, at that. But time and again in this film you watch her tackle every obstacle head-on -- often with eyes wide and every limb trembling as though it might fall off. Mrs. Brisby was a champion, not so much for the cause of overcoming fear as that of experiencing fear in its fullest and choosing to take heroic action anyway. 

As far as I'm concerned, she's the bravest of the lot, and earned her position at the top of today's humble list.

Who says you can't cry AND kick ass?

Regarding the Sons of Masguard as it stands today, when the question is asked -- Why did you decide to write them as animals? -- I usually bypass the long form, cultural immersion essay and respond with the more abbreviated story of the absent illustration that started it all; a colored pencil doodle drawn for its own sake, not unlike those pictured above. But the grander truth of why I enjoy writing about talking animals and why talking animals will probably always be a thing, is that they give us a safe way to create a nobler world without having to justify its superhuman decency. Love it or hate it, anthropomorphism is a brilliant medium for eliminating gender biases and cultural walls. Attempt the same with human characters and you may find yourself fielding complaints of activism when all you really want is to show a group of kids a world where superfluous differences are truly superfluous. Where heroic capability isn't determined by socioeconomic status, or even by species. Where the humblest creatures can solve the biggest mysteries and Billy Joel can coax all the dogs in New York into the most objectively awesome flash mob in entertainment history. 

I'm not saying you CAN'T do that with humans. I'm saying a pack of people crawling through the streets on all fours isn't such a welcome visual. 

What do you think? Do you share a particular affection for any of the characters listed here? If not, which talking animals tickle your nostalgia?

*Which sounds impressively dirty, in retrospect.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Today Instead

I don't want to be a person today.
Can I be a bird instead?
I'll perch beneath your eave and sing.
          Even if it rains, I'll sing.

I don't want to wear a face today.
Can I wear the snow instead?
I'll spider on your windowpane,
I'll dance you to your rest.
And you can warm me still, my dear.
          Warm me with your breath.

We don't need the words today.
I'll bake into the dust.
And hold the earth against your feet.
          And that will be enough.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ode to a Squeaky Canal Pump

(Alt. title: The Very Certainly Pathetic Revenge of a Passive-Aggressive, Rhyming Insomniac)

Oh ye, canal, what lies below,
And pump, what lies therein;
Must you howl as though repaying
Me for some grand sin?

Did my dogs e'er leave a mark too crude?
Did my poultry tribe offend?
Did I wrong you in another life?
Will your wailing never end?

My window sits above, you know,
This ruckus echoes there.
It keeps me up! It truly sucks!
I'm pulling out my hair!

Nanny said be patient,
And mother said be kind.
But goodly thoughts are hard to keep
When going from one's mind.

I don't believe I ask too much
To spend my nights in peace.
I understand your work is tough,
But, canal pump, let me be!

For scream tomorrow in that ditch
- I'll teach you how to fly.
You've heard it said that life's a bi$@#,
But, canal pump, so am I!

*Update: The squeaky pump has been fixed! Blessed sleep! Thank you, kindly canal runner!*

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Coming Home

"Roads go ever ever on,
Under cloud and under star.
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar."
                                ~ J. R. R. Tolkein

Schmaltzy? Maybe a bit. But if schmaltzy bothers you, you might want to take this opportunity to avert your eyes, close the tab, and forget you ever clicked on that link mysteriously favorited by Taye Diggs.*

This is a travel post. Ergo, according to the rules of the internet, it's riddled with schmaltz.

Consider yourself warned.

So we went out. We saw the world. And now we've returned home to familiar fences, a welcoming driveway, and a passel of wet and wiggling noses.

I'm not sure what to say about it all. It's a strange feeling, coming back to find the walls aren't nearly as close as they once seemed. For someone who's made it her business in life to avoid the world at large, being forced to face it day in and out, to acknowledge its splendor without turning away, to shake hands with woodworkers and make eye contact with sailors... it challenges your perspective.

Badass gunner, binding sails on The Hawaiian Chieftain.
To me, the world has always seemed a cruel place; a labyrinth of missteps, harsh stares, and sharp edges. I don't take chances because losing seems the most likely outcome. I don't go out on a limb because the ground is twenty feet below and I don't take in nearly enough calcium to survive the fall unscathed. But travel is powerful enough to show even me that boldness has a kinder side, too.

A side with banana slugs, redwood giants, and replica ships. A side that introduces you to badass gunners and warmhearted veterans working to give purpose to soldiers and underprivileged kids. A side that leaves you wandering the Nye Beach book district, where a retired astrologer reads your fortune and a sweet German shopkeeper insists that you "Take the Ishiguro" in exchange for your autographed work.

A side that makes you smile and feel a part of something that matters.

People need to go out on a limb for reasons great and small. To feel the sun. To stretch and lean and see things from every angle. To find the rare fruits and spy the silkiest threads.

Just as walking new paths leaves sand in your shoes, braving new adventures leaves sunlight in your soul. Will it last? Probably not.

But, as with bathing, there's a reason we repeat the process every so often, now isn't there?

“At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before.” ~ Warsan Shire

*Totally never happened.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Immersion Therapy: (HWY) 101

Anyone who is a little bit broken can tell you that phobias have a way of bolstering themselves. Something scary crops up in your day and rather than confronting whatever it is, you kick up your feet like a frightened cottontail and bolt for the nearest briar patch. Once there, your jerkface brain REWARDS you with a big ole dose of feel-better fuzzies for having run away. Trigger. Run. Reward. Trigger. Run. Reward. Over and over until you’ve programmed yourself to feel that flight is always the better option, even when every rational ounce of you knows that it isn’t.

Take travel, for instance. Most wouldn’t consider travel as something to fear, but I’ve hippity-hopped from it nonetheless. Every year we plan a vacation – and every year I find a lame, totally invented, perfectly valid reason why we shouldn’t take it. 

 “Gosh, winter’s a terrible time for travel, isn’t it? Can’t we wait until summer?”

“But look at all these baby chicks I just brought home! You don’t want to leave them here alone, do you? Of course you don’t – because they would die and you’re not a heartless monster.”

“Vacationing in the heat of the summer, are you mad?”

My husband is either sweet enough or fond enough of chickens that these (not to belabor the point) perfectly valid reasons sway him more often than not, and our idea of venturing into the world at large is tabled for another year.


Only… every rational ounce of me knows that it isn’t.

It’s gone on long enough that the excuses are no longer necessary. We still go through the motions, but we both know that the AvPD itinerary of NEVER GOING ANYWHERE EVER is going to win out in the end. And the longer this continues, the harder it is to fight. 

Year by year, my world shrinks. From a town… to a house… to a handful of rooms in which I feel safe. This poses a problem. You know, beyond the miserable isolation part. I couldn’t stop writing if I tried and, as you’ve probably heard it said, you can’t write about a world you’ve never experienced. 

Long story short…

I’m writing this from a hotel room on the coast. 

It’s been a hard few days on the road (Highway 101, to be specific) but my darling husband and his ever-faithful GSD are here too, having both given more than their fair share of emotional support through panic attacks, motion sickness, and at least one attempt (not intentional) to get us so thoroughly lost that we couldn’t continue. We’ve argued and I’ve hyperventilated. We’ve been sunburned, waylaid, and invaded by ants after an unlucky roadside bathroom break. 

We’ve also found sea glass and played cat and mouse with the waves. 

The world is full of experiences, it turns out. Some of them change you for the better, make you stronger. Some of them send you crabwalking away from an anthill mid-stream, swatting at your extremities like they’re on fire WHICH OF COURSE THEY ARE BECAUSE THEY’RE BEING BITTEN BY A BILLION ANTS. 

But you know what? 

It gave me something to write about, didn’t it? 

And I’m hoping that this will widen the boundaries of my briar patch. A little more hopeful than I was yesterday, in fact. Probably more an indication of delirium than of mental and emotional growth, huh?

Maybe it’s all this salty sea air.

Fortune Reads: Time heals all wounds. Keep your chin up.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Truth: On Wattpad, Nim's Island, and "Quitting" my Job as an Independent Author

**2020 Update: Proper evaluation through a PhD-level psychologist revealed my diagnosis to be Complex PTSD, rather than the AvPD discussed in this post. **


Go ahead and say it aloud, if you like. Odds are not in the label's favor for having crossed your lips recently. Maybe it will appreciate the chance to be uttered outside of short stories, delivery service check-boxes, and obituaries about that crotchety old neighbor who was almost certainly eating cats behind his/her corduroy drapes.

I'll join you. Because, though I've made allusions to my particular brand of crazy in the past (through select interviews and guest posts), I've never actually said it, either.

I am a shut-in.

A stock character like a Feral Child or an Occult Detective, only without the hope of landing my own television series.

A: I look awful in a trench coat.
B: Were this me, you know I'd have set the tie on fire.

On the surface, it seems a simple enough thing to be. You don't socialize. You keep the curtains closed. And you pretend nothing is wrong. Predictably, I haven't been capable of working outside of my home in a very long time (we're talking over a decade) and letting my family members know I haven't had an aneurysm in the many weeks since they've heard word one from my sorry face is still on my to-do list.*

Truer words, mate.

I wish -- as fervently as the well-meaning writers of Nim's Island -- that the drawbacks ended there. But the primal fear that, by the end of this post, I'll be weeded from my office chair like a sucker branch from mankind's metaphoric tree says otherwise. No backsies on the "primal" part, either. My chest is tight, my fingers shaking. In writing this post, I feel I'm making myself vulnerable in a way that threatens the health of the other lion cubs and, ought I not just wander into those jackal-shaped bushes to get this over with and give the rest of the pack its strongest chance at survival? Not in so many words, of course. It's an animalistic urge from a portion of my brain that isn't entirely under my control. Still, in any given moment, the little jerk is crowing danger in my ear like a glitched RPG playing boss music over a tavern scene.


(Strangely, neither lion cubs nor RPGs were included in the afore-mentioned film.**)

The damnable thing about agoraphobia is that it rarely stands on its own.
Mine comes courtesy of a rarely-discussed disease called Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD). Feel free to google it, though I can tell you now that the results are not flattering. Like Social Anxiety Disorder driven to its final form, AvPD is characterized by patterns of extreme social inhibition, a preoccupation with lifestyle stability and physical safety, intense feelings of inadequacy, a reduced ability to experience pleasure, and -- for added flavor -- a heavy comorbidity with the fickleness of a depression that can't decide between emotional emptiness or, for whatever reason (read: NO REASON AT ALL), abject anguish.
To describe it in more relatable terms, it's like being slightly autistic with an ever-growing edge of PTSD. You can't relate socially and your neverending list of triggers is only too likely to just keep growing as the years wear on. The American Psychiatric Association sadly admits that some mental health workers would prefer allowing a person with AvPD to develop an addiction to benzodiazepines rather than asking them to suffer the severity of their pychological distress. Articles about my disorder are replete with fatalistic phrases like "has difficulty connecting to others," "lasting treatment is often untenable," and "ultimately abandons even the idea of self." That last one is my favorite, as it is the most upright way of gesturing in the general direction of suicidality you're ever likely to read.

Discouraging, but accurate.

I'd like to point out that it's a weird thing to see yourself laid out like this; in cold, clinical terms that don't seem to have any bearing on reality. The spotlight seems forever focused on the rarest parts of your life: how you relate to people in the outside world; how you fare in situations of small talk; whether or not you employ suitable coping strategies at work. I don't think of my disease in the context of social structure because I so rarely participate in anything social. (Like trying to understand yourself as a Londoner but only ever having access to texts about Nairobi, it doesn't feel like a viable reference point.)

Here behind these four walls, I don't obssess over whether or not the grocery store clerk will react poorly to my weirdly-warm-but-still-inhibited personality -- the one that seems to leave a lot of people believing I'm masking disdain or otherwise acting disingenuous. 
Instead, I worry about whether or not my son can take the strain of failing grades because his mother can't always handle driving him the four miles to the bus stop. I don't scour the internet for how-tos on preventing blushing over coffee or wring my hands over the casual dismissal of the person who cut me off on the freeway. But I do contend daily with the meanest parts of my brain telling me that my husband will ignore for only so long my plainness, my ineffectiveness, before seeing my love as the burden it certainly must be. It feels as much for their sake as for my own (though I know that my feelings can't be trusted) that I've appropriately practiced the varied ways of keeping my illness hidden - with varying levels of success. 

"Hey, we haven't heard from you in a while, is everything alright?"

"Aren't you going to answer your phone?"

"You know, we don't have to go out if you aren't feeling up to it."

An unfortunate handful of people are completely "in" on the family secret. They always react the same way, at first.

"You have a phobia? I never would have guessed that about you."
"But you seem so... together?"

"How can that be? I've always thought you were happy enough."

It's very kind of them to make me feel adept at something, though.

I should explain that people with AvPD are VERY careful to only interract with you when they know they can keep their symptoms under control. That is, only in settings where they feel sheltered from shame, and only on "good" days when the hurt isn't too raw to be tucked away beneath a polite smile.

Inside, we're all doing this:

Pretty much ALL the time, too. Just in greater and lesser degrees.

A few months ago, I had a breakdown featuring this same, ugly cry face. In keeping with the modus operandi of an AvPD postergirl, I withdrew.
Completely and totally. The lovely people of Twitter, Facebook, and (most especially) Wattpad were left with no reason to believe I was still invested in otter pirates, quip exchanges, or working to maintain the small internet platform that (prior to now) I'd worked quite hard to build. Some of those amazing folks have sadly reached the point of apologizing for bothering me with their messages. A painful thought, as the connections I've made on these sites have kept me feeling worthwhile, even when my mind was at its worst, and writing has historically been one of the only ways in which I've really, truly been able to feel heard.

The best boundaries are always arbitrary.

Though I have a pattern of retreating from once-cherished activities the moment my brain labels them as tainted, recognizing the obstacles brought on by AvPD and understanding that the problem is one of chemistry and not of character has allowed me to maintain a fairly
normal relationship with the pitfalls of authorship. Bad reviews sting and criticism is ubiquitous, naturally, but these things are no more unkind to me than they are to other working writers. I've always found it quite easy to excuse negative evaluations of a creative work as being no more personal than a difference in taste or preference of style. So making things up and putting them on paper has been an untouchable refuge these thirty-five years, one that my disease hasn't had much chance of corrupting.

Enter the business end of indie authorship.

As everyone knows, that consists primarily of one thing: marketing yourself along with your work.

Asking someone with AvPD to willfully draw attention to themselves?
Yeah, that'll work out fine.

To avoid getting maudlin, I'll simply say the marketing has gotten... difficult.*** Enduring the spotlight is hard enough on its own, but when your brain frequently lies to you, you have a driving need to know that your efforts aren't wasted. Just as you wouldn't subject yourself to a dentist's drill if you didn't have any cavities that needed the work, my willingness to stand up and shout about the worthiness of my beloved creations is tied to whether or not the shouting produces results. Regrettably, my only gauge for measuring the effectiveness of a marketing attempt is through constant monitoring of income and sales rank. You might imagine that such a thing would be soul-suckingly horrid for a person with ZERO competitiveness, and you'd be right.

But that's what authors do, isn't it? Indie authors in particular. They compete. They vie. Not to say that the community isn't a supportive one -- it absolutely is -- but when the creating is over, there's work to do, and work must be quantified in hard figures or accolades. Following their lead, I assumed that in order to do what I love and not be bound by the impossible pressure of a publishing contract, I had to push my wares and check my sales.

Promotion day.
Promotion ends.
The following week, being dramatic.
Receiving royalties at the end of the month
and realizing you weren't being all that dramatic.

AvPD has one thing to say about hanging your life's work on the swing of a fickle pendulum:

"Better to give up," the little jerk says. "Pack it up. Pack it in. It was only a matter of time before they saw you for the fraud you are, anyway." Were telling stories just a means of making money, it would be only too easy to acquiesce to thoughts like these. But, as everyone I've ever known is quick to point out, even were I homeless I'd be dreaming up songs and scrawling ships on cardboard. So why did I ever allow it to become about the numbers?

I highlight Wattpad in the title of this post because that community has been instrumental in reminding me that a thousand downloads aren't nearly so rewarding as finding that one person who connects with what you're trying to say. The last thing I want from the increased visibility of the Sons of Masguard is to lose those readers in an algorithm that favors not what people are most likely to love but what they are most likely to buy.

All of these long and rambling words are my way of telling you I've come to a conclusion.

Rather than abandoning Secora as she stands, as my disease desperately wants me to do, I'm going to revitalize my love for the pen by excusing it from the rat race. Starting now, I'll be working toward making all of my ebooks completely free on every platform that I can. Those who feel the need to pay me for my work are welcome to buy the paperbacks, if they so desire. (Jerome Jacinto's artwork is certainly worth having in your home.) But I write because I must, not because you pay me to, and it's time that I remember that.

If I'm going to see McKinley and Marshall to the end of their adventures, as they deserve, then I'm going to have to do it on different terms than a traditional indie author.

Maybe others with similar afflictions have already settled on the same path. May it work for them as I hope it works for me. I won't ask that anyone recognize how difficult this level of confession is for my still-shaking fingers, but I do want the waiting people in my life and on those sites to know that:
  1. I am often lonely and very much wish I could reach out to you as you have to me.
  2. For me, panic is a way of life, one that will likely lead to future situations of withdrawal. Please allow me to apologize for those now.
  3. I haven't given up yet. And I don't intend to. 
  4. If, like me, you are burdened with a mental health issue that you fear exposing, maybe it's time to step out of the shadows and live your life on your own terms.

I hope to fare better than the rational predictions. I hope to see the world. Today, I'm settling for the other side of the front door and an honest telling of my current situation.

At least, I hope it was honest. As I said before, my emotions and interpretations are seldom to be trusted. In the end, I probably still tried to gloss it over, pretty it up, make it palatable. But my family has to see all of this in the flesh, on a daily basis. And, "author" or not, that's a hard reality to be putting into words.

*Does blogging about contacting someone count as contacting that someone? It totally counts, right?
**It's almost like they were TRYING to get it wrong.
***Scratch and claw to #1. Experience temporary elation before an algorithm shuffles your work to the bottom of the pile. Rinse. Repeat.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

An Interview With Jerome Jacinto

In the last few months, the promotional and cover art for The Sons of Masguard has been getting a fair amount of notice. Ooohs and ahhs are becoming more and more frequent at signings and afterschool events -- enough so that it's bordering on the bizarre to realize I've yet to properly introduce you to the wizard behind the curtain.

While anyone who has followed the series from the beginning knows that I've been working with my own illustrations for quite some time (and I can't thank you enough for having been so marvelously supportive), it doesn't shame me at all to say that my artistic abilities weren't up to the task of bringing this series to life with the richness of texture and detail that was in my head. I adore these characters and -- regardless of whether or not it might be indicative of a very unlhealthy mental condition -- I wanted more for them than my untrained pen could give.

So I went hunting.

Did you know the internet is full of insanely talented artists? Seriously. FULL of them. And in that digital sea of skill, I found this:

Tea Time and Ale
It was the browsing equivalent of being stopped in your tracks by a mountain of manna from heaven. The artist's name was Jerome Jacinto (known to followers of Deviant Art as Chichapie) and his stunning online gallery had me at upright armored animals

One year later, this master artist has provided the series with some incredible visual appeal, as you can see:

The Rook of Corin (The Sons of Masguard - Book Three)
The Mosque Hill Fortune (The Sons of Masguard - Book One)

So it is an honor and a privilege to have him HERE for an interview. Enjoy, and be sure to check him out on Deviant Art, Twitter, and in the phenomenal game design of Pocketwatch Games' upcoming LEADtoFIRE.

Could you tell us a little bit about you?
Hi, my name is Jerome Jacinto. I'm from the Philippines. Art is my hobby as much as it is my profession. I'm also a parkour practitioner, martial artist, and someone who enjoys videogames.

When did you first realize that art was something you wanted to pursue?
It was around mid high school. I realized that I have what it takes to push it forward to greater heights.

How did you find your style?
Well, to be honest, I went through many different styles in my artistic pursuit. I think it's proper to say that I did not 'find' it like it was an instantaneous moment of realization, but more of a very slow and thorough process of years of experimentation, observation and research.

The styles I decided to go through before was more or less the product of the times. At one point, my art looked incredibly inspired by mainstream anime because it was popular at the time. A year later, I decided to go mainstream western comics, such as marvel/DC because I knew a career in mainstream comics pays well. I came to the point that I wanted a visual style that isn't majorly copied, but more of a product of extensive experimentation as mentioned above, and insiration. That's how I got to where I am now.

What are your preferred mediums?
In no particular order: Watercolor, Gouache, Inks, and Digital.

Is there a particular piece of artwork that you’re most proud of?
Well, these :)

The Goblin Photobomb

Beyond the Western Deep


Contest Entry

What is it like within the artist community? Are your fellow painters supportive, competitive?
I guess that really depends on what part of the community you're in. Where I used to frequent, they are both supportive and competitive to promote challenging yourselves and others. We prefer constructive criticisms above all, but praises can't hurt in small doses, we sometimes need moments of respite after all :) One principle that I follow nowadays that I'm sure other committed artists can understand, is "Don't be the best, be better".

Places like Deviant Art, where your gallery can be found, house an extraordinary level of talent. They also seem to turn the illustrative process into a fairly social experience. Does the constant exposure to feedback help or hinder your process?
It goes both ways actually. Initially, I enjoyed the back pats I receive from viewers, which I do still at present. Most of the time, those are what I recieve. But I realized I needed professional and constructive criticism to move forward faster, and to gain a better understanding at what I'm pursuing.

That's why whenever I receive a good, long and thorough critique of anything I do, I treasure them the most.

Has this changed the way you do things?
It has, in a double edged sword kind of way. Because of it, I'm reliant on others' feedback. But what if there's no one around to give you feedback? That's when I realized I needed to have the quality of being aware of the state of my own work.

Do you think the proliferation of artistic software has made painting more accessible?
Yeah definitely. While it definitely does not compare to the physical feedback you get from actual traditional painting, it does offer convenience when it comes to equipment.

What obstacles have you had to overcome in order to get to where you are?
Lack of time, physical and mental exhaustion. Distractions of course.

Who was your biggest influence when you began?
Too many to count. But I guess the one artist that got me started on this road was the late Frank Frazetta.

Who most impresses you in the field today?
Paul Bonner, Juan Jose Guarnido.

What is it about your job that most excites you/gets you out of bed in the morning?
To put my ideas into a visual treat. :)

A Scone Moment
Any current or upcoming projects that you can share with us?
I'm currently doing majority if the art assets for Pocket Watch Games' upcoming title "LEADtoFIRE" and some card art for League of Geek's "Armello".

If you could work on any project in your field, what would it be?
I haven't put much thought on that really, since I just flow along the tides and take what I can. I do like to get involved in some work involving Magic The Gathering.

And lastly, because this is a required question of all my guests… ninjas or pirates?
Can it be a hybrid of both? I revere the inhuman traversal mechanics of ninjas and adore the thrill seeking life of pirates. :)