Crying Out Loud

I had lunch with a good friend today. (She’s the one who’s always encouraged me and continues to support me during the roller coaster ride of trying to become published and I love her for it. ) We started talking about the fact that we both seem to cry more over fiction (books, movies, tv, commercials) than we do over reality.  I joked that it probably says something horrendous about our psyches, but this afternoon I looked into it and found articles that suggest otherwise.

My friend and I aren’t monsters who fail to care about our loved ones. For one thing, we’re both moms and have had our fair share of being strong for our children and husbands and families. It’s hard to cope with a situation when you’re having to stop and wipe the tears. So, in reality, we suck in our emotions and deal with whatever emotional situation that’s arisen, be it the death of loved ones, or kids in trouble, or financial hardships or exhaustion. Whatever the case, we are present for the moment. Usually the tears will come later.

Tears over fiction are immediate. Earlier today I finished my favorite author Jennifer L. Armentrout’s THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER. It was released last year, but I put it off because I knew, I knew it was going to make me cry based on the subject matter alone. But I wanted to read it for several reasons: I adore her writing, I need to read more contemporary work, and my recent manuscript touches some of the same subjects as this one does. (Though in a much different way.) Luckily I have learned to finish books in the privacy of my own home. Where the tissue boxes are plenty and the gaping uncomfortable stares are few.

I was right. I bawled like a baby off and on for the last fiftyish pages of the book. But it was a good cry. This book had an amazing ending. It was very well done. And that’s why I cried so much. I FELT it. I felt what the characters were feeling and it knocked in the gut. This is most certainly a nod to her talent as an author, as well as evidence of my ability to connect with people who aren’t real.

Research shows fiction, in both literary and cinematic forms, greatly improves people’s capacity for empathy. It has to do with the production of oxytocin in our brains. I read an article listing an experiment on oxytocin production. To sum it up, when the participants were exposed to a video depicting an emotional scenario (child speaking about his cancer) their oxytocin production increased 47% over those who were shown a scenario in which the same child visited a zoo. The experiment went on to reveal that those who’s oxytocin had increased were shown to be more generous to strangers and give money to charity.

I find that all very fascinating.

And a bit validating too. I mean, anyone who’s seen a movie with me can testify that I will likely be a blubbering mess. And as I read the last half of ALLEGIANT? Please. It took me almost an hour and half to read Four’s POV chapters after [SPOILER HAPPENED.] I had to stop and wipe away my tears too many times.

I think the tears we cry over fiction can be our emotional release so that when an emotional crisis arises in our reality, we can deal with it. That doesn’t mean we won’t cry when bad things happen in real life. I do. Frequently. But I think my ability to connect with fictional characters and feel their pain (especially when I’m reading an amazing author!) makes it easier for me to deal with real life emotional situations.

Now before someone starts throwing bananas at me (because that would be a far worse fate for me personally than throwing tomatoes), I’m not saying that crying over fiction makes us the superior of the species. I know many people who don’t feel emotionally connected to fiction who are loving and empathetic people. I married to one of those people. But as I said to my friend today, I kind of feel sorry for those who don’t feel emotion that stems from fiction. I am encouraging everyone who is worried about being ridiculed for crying over books or movies (Young adult books, even? GASP), don’t. It’s okay to let those tears flow. Increase the oxytocin. Let it out. I’ll be here with my ample supply of tissues.

BOOK REC: If you’re looking for something to increase your oxytocin, I will wholeheartedly suggest THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER by Jennifer L. Armentrout. Even though I passed high school age many moons ago, I still FELT with these characters. It’s not typically the type of book I’d read, but I didn’t put it down once I began reading. The subject matter is dark and unfortunately all too real, but this hit all the right emotional notes with me. Jennifer is amazing and this book is worth the time.

For more info about Jennifer and THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER, visit her site here.

My research source article can be found here.

Nineteen Signs That You Love YA

  1. You know the difference between Veronica Roth and Veronica Rossi.
  2. When you meet a guy, you size him up by his ability to pick a hot best friend that’s full of snark. (Your friends think you should end up with HIM.)
  3. When you declare your team, you don’t mean the Cowboys or Yankees.
  4. When you’re asked to pick a number between 1 and 10, you always say Four.
  5. You can pronounce Tahereh without any help.
  6. Tuesday is your favorite day of the week.
  7. You ask for B&N gift cards for Christmas and birthdays.
  8. If your life were a movie, you’d be played by Jennifer Lawrence or Shailene Woodley. Ansel Elsgort would portray your boyfriend. Or brother.
  9. You think aliens are hot and that Daemon is a perfectly acceptable name for a guy.
  10. You’re not afraid of the zombie apocalypse because you know you could survive.
  11. You couldn’t care less who wore what designer at the Oscars, but are up early on cover reveal days.
  12. Tahereh + Ransom = OTP
  13. You can’t cite a classic work of literature without comparing it to the contemporary retelling of it.
  14. You can find the heart of gold in every bad boy you meet.
  15. You believe everything should come in trilogies.
  16. When you meet someone, you automatically sort them into Houses, Factions, and Districts.
  17. You have a color-coded spread sheet of upcoming release dates (Or is that just me?)
  18. You know how to book shimmy and do so frequently.
  19. You never forget to be awesome.

Happy reading everyone!

Looking Back and Looking Forward

My surgery-induced work vacation ends on 1/5/15. It feels a little bit like the end of an era. I look forward to getting back into the day job, but a little part of my writer heart is going to weep that day when it begins to miss sitting down to write whenever it wants.

I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps like things unresolved. But since it’s that time o’ year, I’ll do another obligatory New Year’s tradition: the wrap up.

My surgery was October 2. Since that day I’ve accomplished the following things:

  • Written roughly 60,000 words for 2 different manuscripts.
  • Read 12 books.
  • Binge-watched three tv shows on Netflix. One of which landed high on my list of all-time faves.*
  • Completely freaked out on my Crit Partner about my WIP and doubted that I could actually write a book.
  • Finished current seasons of five shows I’d DVR’d.
  • Organized my cabinets and pantry.
  • Visited the physical therapist around twenty times.
  • Went back to my WIP and decided maybe I can make a go of this.
  • Watched two movies in the theatre. Loved them both.
  • Got really good at driving the motorized carts at the grocery store.
  • Graduated one kid from college. (Okay, she did that herself, but I helped!)
  • Fell “fictional head-over-heels” for a hot alien.**

Not bad considering a lot of that was done while I was flat on my back. (Or rather slanted at the physican-approved 30 degree angle.)

In preparation for my return to work, I’m heading into the writing cave today. I plan to double the word count in my WIP by the time I go back, so it’s head down, fingers flying, don’t look up until I get there. I will not be deterred. You can tempt me with Walking Dead marathons, Twinkies or hot aliens**, I’m not stopping until I hit my goal.

My best wishes for a safe and happy 2015! See you on the flip side.

*The 100 is the best show you’re not watching. Seriously, it’s ground-breaking, daring, and emotional. I can’t recommend it enough. The writing is great, the actors are perfectly-cast and talented. And whatever you think’s going to happen…yeah, you’re wrong. So many, “Did not see that comings,” I can’t count them.

** My friend and aforementioned crit partner Mandy recommended that I finally make a point to read Jennifer Armentrout’s Lux series. She knows me so well.  I’ve devoured 2 ½ books in less than a week. (And that’s reading only at night after hubs goes to sleep.) I absolutely love it. The MC is great. The love interest is smokin’. It’s got everything I want in a story—emotional romance, gripping drama, plot twists, action, did I mention the romance? If you like those things, get on it.

The Amazing Awesomeness of Books

As I am still recovering from my surgery, I’ve got some time on my hands. And by that, I mean some time that I am not sleeping. It turns out that recovering from surgery makes one very tired all the time. I totally forgot that part after my 2 C-sections.

I have managed to catch up on the current seasons of two of my fave tv shows (Haven, and MARVEL’S Agents of Shield). I’ve also gotten almost to the end of the de-dystopianization of EVERGREEN. I’m not going to discuss the travesty that was me attempting to sweep the house yesterday whilst using my walker!.

What I will discuss is the reading I’ve been doing. I typically don’t read two books at one time, but I am doing that right now. My workplace friends sent a magnificent care package to me after surgery. In that box was a book. Some wonderful person at my job knew to get me a book! This book, however, is not something I would have chosen for myself. Why?

A.. It’s adult and not YA.

B. It’s a crime thriller, which not a genre I ever thought I would enjoy.

C. It’s from a super-mega-crazy-popular best selling author that EVERYBODY knows.

Granted, there is nothing wrong with being a super-mega-crazy-popular best selling author. I read Stephen King, for Pete’s sake. But when you read someone like that for the first time, there are a lot of expectations and I think I have mentioned in earlier blogs that I tend to go against the grain and reject popular things without giving them much of a chance. (Exceptions: The Walking Dead, Maroon 5, and the Dallas Cowboys under Tom Landry.)

But, since this person was kind enough to get me, the writer, a book, I committed to read it and give it a chance. My reaction to this book goes something like this:

Book: Page 1: Prologue.

Me: What the what? One of the most often heard pieces of writing advice from agents is that you don’t start a book with a prologue. If you do…say it with me other writers… YOU’RE STARTING YOUR BOOK IN THE WRONG PLACE.  *sighs and keeps reading* 

Book: Page 4. A description of two characters that the narrator is watching. It goes on for three paragraphs. {paraphrasing} He had this hair, these eyes,  was wearing this jacket, got out of this kind of car. She had this hair, wore this dress, walked like this, laughed like this, etc…

Me: The description of two characters goes on for three paragraphs in the most boring way possible?! Most writing experts will advise to find creative ways to fit description in and never ever list more than three attributes at one time. Because it gets boring and reminds you that you are reading a story, not being immersed in a world. But…on the other hand, this narrator is stalking this couple, so he would pay attention to details like that, so I’mma give him a pass on this one. *Reluctantly keeps reading.*

Book: Oh, not just a prologue, but three chapters of a prologue.

Me:  Why not just have them be Chapters 1, 2, and 3? *raises eyebrow and keeps reading*

Book:  A few chapters in and we’ve met the world famous detective that will be solving the crimes. (There are two going on in this book.) He is a grumpy curmudgeon who has a bad attitude and opinion about everything, This is the protag we are to root for.

Me: I don’t really like him. In fact, I kind of hate him, but he does love his children so he gets points for that.  More points for consistency of voice and character.  *tells self to overlook it and keep reading. Billions of people can’t be wrong, can they?*

Book: Chapters alternate between the protag POV and then the POV of each of the two killers

Me: That’s a lot of head jumping. Combine that with the fact that I am also reading AFTERWORLDS by Scott Westerfeld in which one chapter is told from the POV of an author, and the next chapter is the story she is writing. So, essentially I am reading 4 stories at once, plus re-writing my story and plotting another. *Takes Tylenol and keeps reading*

Daughter:  *walks into kitchen where I’m reading book* MOM, I can’t believe you’re still reading that book. I thought you said it was terrible and you couldn’t do it.

Me; *Tells her to shut up and keeps reading.*

Book:  I’ve got you now, Michelle. Right where I want you. You want to know how it ends. You feel a twist coming and you want to know if your suspicions are right. Or you want to know if Mr. super-mega-crazy-popular best seller guy can surprise you. *Mwuahahahahaha* You are mine now. All mine.

Me: *Keeps reading.*

I am not pretentious enough to think that I have the right to criticize or would know anything more than a super-mega-crazy-popular best seller. He’s that for a reason. And obviously when you are an SMCPBSA, you can break every rule ever written. What I think is so cool is that even though I was so reluctant to read this, I finally gave in and I know that I will finish it and like it, in spite of the flaws I found/will find in it.

Books are kind of awesome aren’t they?

Speaking of awesomeness. I am excited to tell you about a book that released today! LOOP by Karen Akins. I met this precious lady when she presented at the ArSCBWI conference this summer. She is friends and crit partners with some of my writer friends, so like, I KNOW HER! (Sort of, but it counts.) Go get this book. It’s going to be time-travelly and romancy and full of awesome! Check out her site here: http://www.karenakins.com/

Loop Book

More Christmas Traditions

I broke tradition (if you can call 18 weeks’ worth of something a tradition) by not posting last Tuesday.  A particularly stressful work week got the best of me, but I’m happy to say it’s all over now. I’m off until January 2 and I can’t wait to dive fully in the manuscript and finish my revision.

When last we met, I blogged a few 100ish-word pieces about Christmas traditions from the points of view of my characters. I’ll pick that up again today with a few more.  Whatever your holiday traditions are, I hope you and yours enjoy a blessed season full of joy and love!

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When you say Christmas, my mind goes to soup kitchens.  My parents dragged me to volunteer at one every Christmas Eve.  They were the ones volunteering. I was the one griping about volunteering.  My mother said you’d never know when you might need the generosity of others, so you should help people when you can. It used to amaze me how joyful some of the people there were. Even at their worst, they were grateful.  The Christmas after my parents were killed I found myself on the other side of the ladel with my mother’s voice echoing in my head.  Then I was grateful.

*

I have two words for you- Rankin and Bass.  Most people these days don’t know who they are.  They made a bunch of Christmas vids for kids over 150 years ago-classics, if you will.  Each Christmas we make a large bowl of popcorn and snuggle into the couch and have a Christmas vid retro-fest.    My brother with his blonde hair and I with my red, like to reenact Heat Miser and Snow Miser from The Year Without a Santa Claus.  It never fails to make my parents laugh. That’s what’s supposed to happen at Christmastime I think.

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My family celebrates Hanukkah.  Long ago Jews were forced to participate in pagan culture. Soon they began to assimilate and practice impure acts. They even allowed a pagan god, Zeus, into their temple.  A group of Jews called the Maccabees, finally said ‘Enough is enough! This is not the way God intends us to live!’ So they reclaimed the temple, pushed out the pagan impurities that were hurting the Jewish culture. They cleansed the Temple and rededicated it to God.  That’s what the word Hanukkah means-rededication.  I find it interesting how closely that matches our society today. It’s time to cleanse our people and rededicate this nation.

*

I always got twelve days of Christmas. Not the literal twelve days, mind you-what’s a kid going to do with three french hens? (Although I did have one Christmas celebration in my mid-twenties when I bought myself nine ladies dancing in Santa suits. THAT was memorable.)  I’m talking about getting gifts from December 14 through December 25. They got more extravagant with each day until Christmas.  My fifth Christmas I spent in Walt Disney’s apartment at Disneyland. My seventh, I got an actual-sized remote control airplane. At ten, it was an island.  My dad’s estate was willed to me when I was sixteen. Since then, it’s Christmas year-round for me.

Book Tree

My family and I spent last Christmas at Hogwarts.

Well, the Universal Studios equivalent of Hogwarts.

It was one of the best vacations we’ve ever taken. And I can still say that even though I experienced a 24-hour stomach flu during the trip.  (Or maybe it was just the aftermath of the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride-hard to say.)

There was a special kind of magic that came with celebrating Christmas in a different way and in a different location.  Sometimes, I think, when we get into routines and experience the same things over and over, we become numb to them.  I have to admit that the thought of pulling out the same tree we’ve had for 20 years, sneezing through two years worth of accumulated dust, forcing my kids to help me decorate and BE JOYFUL ABOUT IT, didn’t have much appeal.  So this year when it came time to decorate for Christmas I decided to mix it up a little.

I told the hubs my idea. I guess he liked it. Because last Saturday I awoke to find seven tiny (live) Christmas trees on my kitchen table. One for each member of our family, including our cats. (One great thing about the hubs, he’s a cat person.)

This weekend we decorated a tree for each of us.  It was fun coming up with the themes for the trees.  My daughter made hers a Supernatural tree. (Yes, Sam & Dean Supernatural, complete with Castiel as the topper.) My son made his a replica of the German flag with black, red, and gold beads and his favorite soccer player on top.

We even had fun with the cats’ trees.  Our cat Cookie’s tree is decorated with cookie cutters and cookies.  Coconut’s tree is totally white like he is. And Oreo’s tree is adorned with socks because she loves to steal and hide our socks.

My favorite tree, though is mine.

Because I made a book tree.

I used the kind of tags that open (like a book, duh.). I glued pictures of my favorite books on the front of the tag and wrote my favorite quotes on the inside.  It’s really cute.

Image

I even included my “one day” book on my tree too.

Now our fireplace area is decorated with all the things we love and it’s making the Christmas season magical!

I hope yours is too. And if you’re trying to figure out what gift to give someone-you can never go wrong with a book!

Thankful for Books

Ah, Thanksgiving, the time of year for turkey, cranberries, and Black Friday-none of which are on my list of things that I enjoy.  What I do enjoy, however, is reading. Today I thought I’d share some of the books I’m thankful for.

  1. INSIDE, OUTSIDE, UPSIDE, DOWN by Stan and Jan Berenstain.  It’s the first book I remember from my childhood.  My Dad used to read it to me. Or rather we used to read it together, long before I knew how to read. I can still quote some of it today. “In a box; going to town; inside, outside, upside down.” As an educator/author, I know this picture book was written to enforce the concept of direction. As a wee reader, it enforced a love of language and cuddling up with my Daddy.  I’m thankful for both of those things.
  2. A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle.  I mentioned this one last week, but one can never mention this book too much.  Without a doubt I owe my writing career, whatever it ends up being, to this book.  Not only did this book create a passion for writing in me, it was absolutely the catalyst to the Sci-Fi geek that I am today.  Without this book, my 4th grade self would have said Star Wars is for boys. Without it I would flipped through re-runs of Doctor Who on PBS instead of watching them. Without it, I wouldn’t know the difference between Wil Wheaton and Joss Whedon.  How sad and unimaginative my life would have been!
  3. FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC by V.C. Andrews. I read the entire series. Was I too young at the time? Absolutely. ( If my mother had known what went on in that book…) I’m thankful for this series because not only did it prepare me for Mortal Instruments, but I think it was the first time I had an emotional connection to a book. (Beyond loving them.)  I remember being in the hospital (diabetic complications) and being just vile and hateful to one of the nurses.  My mom questioned why I, normally a pleasant and accommodating teen, would be so mean. She couldn’t understand why I didn’t like her because by all accounts, she was nice to me and a great nurse.  I didn’t understand why at first either. I just knew I didn’t like her.  Then it occurred to me one night as I was reading one of the books in the series-this nurse looked exactly like I had pictured the evil mom looking.  And I hated her for it!  It seems silly now, but I’m thankful that I can totally immerse into a world. I still do that. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  (Note: I have learned to channel my aggression, so if you look like President Snow or Jeanine Matthews, I’ll still give you a chance.)
  4. HARRY POTTER series by J. K. Rowling.  My daughter is a reader (and also a pretty dang good writer/poet.) J.K. Rowling is the reason. In her early years, she was a reluctant reader who read only when her teacher assigned it.   Then came Harry.  I truly believe that the series changed her mind about reading. She grew up with Harry and it is impossible for me to separate him from her. I’m thankful for that, but I’m also thankful that I could read right along with her.  We were at every midnight release and bought two copies so we both could enjoy the magic together.
  5. TWILIGHT series by Stephanie Meyer.  Yeah, I’m thankful for books that I have never read.  (Sorry, couldn’t do it-not my cup o’ tea, as they say.) But I’m thankful anyway. This book, more than any other, grew a fandom.  As a professional fangirl, I appreciate that. Without this book we’d have no Teams! Who doesn’t love a good Team war?   I think this series paved the road for a culture that I truly support.  With so many ills in the world, it’s important to have something that takes you away from all of that.  Fandoms do that. Now, I don’t think fandoms are the most important thing, but I think they’re a good thing.
  6. UGLIES by Scott Westerfeld. I’m thankful for this series because it is a master class in world building. I read this many years ago and I still refer to things as “bubbly-making.”  If you need another world, fine, read another Westerfeld. He’s done vampires, historical fiction steampunk, pop culture-you name it.  I can’t wait until his next book!
  7. DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth.  The moment after I finished Divergent, I grabbed my laptop and wrote the first sentence of my first book.  I didn’t really even know yet what it would be about, I just knew that I had to write. Something about Veronica’s voice spoke to me.  She didn’t make it look easy, she made it seem worthwhile.  So I started writing and I haven’t stopped.   For that, I am most thankful.

There are so many more that I can list. Really I should have just said “ALL THE BOOKS” because every story is worth telling. And every story will find its audience, no matter how small or large.  For that, I give thanks!