All Hallow’s Eve Has Become a Night of Frolic, Where Children Wear Costumes and Run Amok!

Winifred Sanderson, Hocus Pocus (1993)

 

TBT halloween

I. Skeletons

TBT Halloween -- dad

Army lifestyle, Army makeup for your child’s Halloween costume. Logic!

I have been laughing at this Halloween photo for 20 years. Every single time I come across it, a grin breaks across my face, and no matter how awful the situation was back in the day, I find myself chuckling, remembering the story I have been told more so than the actual events that occurred. On her original Facebook post, my mom’s caption was, “And this is why Kathleen doesn’t like makeup!” which would be the honest truth. How did this disaster actually come to be? Well — my dad just has never been much of an artist, let’s just put it that way. We, however, have always been the kind of family that made a big huge deal out of Halloween. Since I moved out of my parents’ house and into my first apartment, however, I haven’t had the time to be in the spirit of Halloween. I don’t really have much by way of decoration, and have skipped pumpkin carving all together this year. I couldn’t scrape the funds together to do my annual Halloween arts and crafts project — and nor could I find the time even if I had had the money. Last year, I did make tiny ghosts out of silk maple

An aghast ghost.

An aghast ghost.

leaves and fabric paint. I carved pumpkins in my kitchen. I even wrote some creative non-fiction in order to help bridge the distance. But so far, this year, the holiday spirit seems even further removed from me. Maybe it’s just been that I’m out of it — so wrapped up in the future after college that I forget to live for the moment. Maybe I’m worried I’ll forget something important, without realizing that I already have. Instead of being so swept up in little details like assignments, and graduate school programs, I want to be a bit nostalgic. So, that’s what this blog post is about. It’s about remembering old family traditions at a time where I feel so far away from everyone. My house is cold and drafty, and sometimes kind of colorless, if I think about it. There aren’t a lot of autumn themed things laying around — no multicolored gourds sitting on altars, no dishes of candy corn that nobody will eat. Not a single ear of Indian corn, nor

A miniature pumpkin-pire.

A miniature pumpkin-pire.

any wreaths or wooden decorative signs. Maybe, looking around, it seems rather drab, almost as though a witch doesn’t actually live here; couldn’t live here. But, hey. At least I still have old photographs of my dorky family that I can laugh about to bring me back into a better spirit.

II. Pumpkin Patch

baby me pumpkin

Baby me, more charismatic then than I will ever be again.

Two costumes were incredibly popular for my sibling and I over the years — Pumpkins and Witches. Go figure, right? It’s convenient, simple and adorable to go dressed as a pumpkin. When we were babies, they were long sleeved onesies to help combat the southern New York cold that crept in during Halloween Night. For a long time, my immediate family lived on Cape Cod, but we’d always travel back to New York for Halloween — back to my grandparents’ house in Maybrook that I remember like yesterday. My grandparents had a most excellent taste in decorations, to boot. Everything was done up to perfection — cobwebs, plastic spiders, candles, pumpkins and dead branches made out to be mini Halloween trees — or the miniature plastic skeleton that hung from a hand twisted twine noose at the front door that everyone had always dubbed Dead Fred. There were lights strung inside and out, with the occasional wreath. The was an old mechanical crow that, when provoked by motion, would holler, “The end is near!” …I can still hear its shriek as though it was not just a figment of my memory from years gone by, and instead it sits on the table next to me as I type. Maybe one of my favorites was Drac, the dancing

My sibling, the mini pumpkin and my cousin, the tiny devil.

My sibling, the mini pumpkin and my cousin, the tiny devil.

vampire that Grandpa kept in his window near his writing desk. I can’t remember everything he said once the button was pushed on the base he stood on, but it had that classic old-fashioned Halloween charm. The face looked scary because it was plastic made to look real like the dolls did at that time, and the eyes were little green LEDs that flashed when it was activated and moved around. He had a shock of grey hair that resembled the hairstyles of the troll dolls everyone in the 80’s and 90’s everyone seemed to collect, and a black and red satin cape which clung to his plastic

My cousin and I, looking quite unimpressed.

My cousin and I, looking quite unimpressed.

fingers and matched so well with his satin suit.  All these tiny details are clear as day in my memory. I was always the shy, quiet kidling, and to be honest — that fact hasn’t changed too much in all my years. Maybe the reason I remember the decorations more than the interactions at these Halloween parties is because I paid attention and marveled, and that was the most fun for me. I loved the way so much was improvised when money was short, and thus hand made, and how so many of the decorations were repaired and brought back out year, after year. My cousin, pictured on the right, always had such creative costumes. When the weather was bad, my family was really good as solving the problem without compromising our costumes too much. (They probably just gave themselves a larger candy tax for the trouble.) Most people, when I was a kid, always looked forward to Christmas. They wanted to tear open gifts and see what they got. It is, for a kid, a holiday about things. Well, I always looked forward to Halloween. It wasn’t about things — but about being. And maybe I didn’t really understand that as a kid — gods know, I was no tiny philosopher — but, the night before we would pack up and leave for my grandparents’ house was one night I could never sleep.

III. Little Monsters

about 1997 monster mash 2

Monster Mash, 1997 — give or take.

 I read on a Facebook page once a cute quote on an image. It was text over a white paper-like background which went something like this, but with a typographical error somewhere — I would have saved it otherwise: Your cousins are your first ever friends. Halloween was the one point of the year where all of the cousins on my mom’s side of the family would get to see each other again. We have all drifted to our own little corners of the universe, now that we’re all in our twenties — but there was a time when we were just content to do the Monster Mash in Gramma’s kitchen. Growing up, Halloweens meant that we we were together again. I remember that there was this one time that my family had to be stuck at my grandparents’ house because the car broke down.

All of us kids at our grandparents' house.

All of us kids at our grandparents’ house.

Although we did often visit at other points in the year, I remember that when we finally had to leave, it felt like the end of the world. Of course it would feel that way to my kid-mind. But, I think even then, I understood how important family was. Now that I am so far away from everyone, I’d give anything just to dig back into family traditions. This past April, my Gramma passed away. I mentioned before that we would do the monster mash in her kitchen — she was always the best hostess. And sure, it has been years since she lived in the old Maybrook house, and even more years since we all met up for

My dad and my Gramma -- Gramma dressed as a reformed nun. (ha.)

My dad and my Gramma — Gramma dressed as a reformed nun. (ha.)

Halloween — this time of year specifically makes me miss her. Even when she isn’t with her, I’m sure we’re all still her little monsters. I keep hoping that, on the other side, she’s hosting their Halloween party, and watching over the fragments of our family, somehow ensuring we all stay connected.

IV. I Put a Spell on You

Sometimes, for Halloween — you kind of dress up as an exaggeration of something you

My Sibling and I.

My Sibling and I.

already are. Normally, you can be whatever you want. But the women in my family have collectively dressed as witches more often than not. As I got older, I realized — no matter what, it really wasn’t too far off the mark for most of us. I mentioned in an earlier section that I have been dressed up as myself (Read: a Witch) more times than any other costume. I was twelve, the first time I performed a Samhain ritual. It was November the 1st, as the book suggested a valid date was for the ritual, and it was the first time that the Pagan world crashed in around me. We didn’t grow up in a religious environment, but the way

My eldest and youngest cousin.

My eldest and youngest cousin.

life was lived was pretty witchy, even at an earlier age. I am the only practicing witch in my family now — and the only pagan. And while Halloween has become a parody of an ancient tradition, I still can’t help but watch Hocus Pocus on Halloween every year and find some really fancy witch hat to parade around in. My

Me, Freshman year of High School.

Me, Freshman year of High School.

paganism is quiet, and a lot of my traditions aren’t ornate or complicated. On Samhain, every year without fail since I learned how, I have made it a tradition to drop everything important and just cook. All throughout the entire day. Sometimes, I invite a ton of people over — sometimes it definitely more of a quiet thing. I always cook like I’ve invited an army; that’s how Gramma always did it. We light candles, and link arms and take a moment to breathe before dinner starts. Now

Momma Witch

Momma Witch

that we’re older, we drink wine or mead and tell stories of the people in our lives who have passed. We put pictures on altars, and set out a plate and a glass for the ghosts, and hope that they pass by. Sometimes, with some groups, it doesn’t take much to get everyone into the frame of mind where the slightest stir of wind feels like their ancestors. It doesn’t matter what spiritual tradition they come from, or what faith they practice — or don’t. When I explain to them that this holiday is about those gone before us, almost everyone finds it in themselves to suspend their disbelief. Halloween, and November 1st — my day to celebrate Samhain — becomes a time where ghosts are no longer just stories. Almost everyone walks away feeling content, like they have linked fingers with spirits — like have seen

Shirt says, "Trust Me, I'm the Good Witch"

Shirt says, “Trust Me, I’m the Good Witch”

beyond our mundane world in a small way. Nobody blinks or questions when I take the plate of food and the glass of alcohol and dump it outside as an offering — since we live on a different plane of existence, our food can’t help the ghosts. But I’m sure they appreciate it, anyway. Over the years, even though I have drifted away from tradition, and thus away from my family — and have experienced some difficulties in doing so, somehow I feel closer to tradition than I have in a while. I like reflecting. In reflecting, in remembering, I feel like I do justice to traditions that have begun to fade as the years have crept up on us. Halloween was never just some silly thing wherein children go out and trick or treat — not for my family. It was always about bringing us closer together. And now, that’s even more true the further apart we drift.

Advertisements

Reading One Book is Like Eating One Potato Chip.

~ Diane Duane, So You Want to Be a Wizard

tumblr_ncm0khQFJt1qz6pzqo1_500

So last week was banned books week! I recorded a few videos on the topic for my facebook page, and ranted about a few different books and the basis on which they were banned. Needless to say, I was incensed. The books I chose were banned often on the basis of religious difference, and I always found that sort of…ya know, counter-intuitive, considering how the US was founded on the idea of religious freedom. Yep.

So winding down banned books week was interesting! One of my favorite posts I read was by a long-time favorite author, Diane Duane. At the end of banned books week, she found out her book had been banned in Texas! Oh, the timing. SO perfect. The 9th book in her Young Wizards series was banned on account of violence and horror. Yyeahhh. Of course it was.

“Believe something and the Universe is on its way to being changed. Because you’ve changed, by believing. Once you’ve changed, other things start to follow. Isn’t that the way it works?” ~ Diane Duane, So You Want to Be a Wizard

I harped on this a lot during banned books week with my videos, but I think it’s especially important to write about here — you never really know which book you’re going to pick up and read that will change the way you look at life — or frame your world-view. And yet, across the country, people are banning books from being widely available to children due to their own belief systems. I’ve personally always been a voracious reader. When I was a kid, it was always like pulling teeth to get me to do much else. I read books like The Hobbit, the Young Wizards series, and Harry Potter. Why? Because each book, with a world of its own written in between the covers, helped me frame the world I lived in. It helped me, in the long run, become who I am today. I can’t fathom why people would take that opportunity from young people on purpose.

I feel like the world is a better place with more readers in it. I think that…well, it’s important, especially in a world where writing and reading are taking second place to things like television, video games and movies, to read as widely and as much as possible. The more people find reason to ban books, the less likely it will be that young people start to read what they love — especially if books required by common core in schools are not to their liking.

Books teach kids how to be empathetic. They teach kids how to be imaginative in a world where everyone seems to be striving to be “normal,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. Maybe that means books teach kids to be writers. That’s kind of what happened to me.

“You have your own stories to write. And when it comes to that, who writes the things written in your body, your life? And who reads?” ~ Diane Duane, So You Want to Be A Wizard

Banning books is essentially the same as banning creativity. And I’ve always been of a mind that any type of art is a gift that shouldn’t be wasted. So, I say — inspire. Imagine. Read and write and make your art! Nobody else can do it for you. And nobody ever should tell you not to read a book you feel called to read. (Goodness, just imagine if the main character, Nita, of the Young Wizards series was banned from reading So You Want to Be a Wizard!)

Banned Books Week celebrated that which is deemed inappropriate for — often times — very selfish reasons, and basically invites the entire world to rage against that. So — good folks — rage. Read as many banned books as you possibly can. Read them, and then pass them on to people who might need them.

Worthy of repetition — you never know which book you’ll pick up that will change the way you live your life. So go forth, and turn pages.

The Devil’s Demise: The Devil’s Tide by Matt Tomerlin

The Devil’s Tide.
Matt Tomerlin, $15.95
ISBN: 978-0615916484

Piracy always was an act of rebellion. What may have caused good, honest people to turn towards such a hideous lifestyle? Were they always criminals? In some ways, perhaps they were. In other ways, the kinds of sailors they were originally employed under (or press-ganged into service with, to be fair) were almost more monstrous than the pirates themselves. In Tomerlin’s second Devil’s Fire novel, The Devil’s Tide, this becomes more and more apparent with the introduction of famous pirate hunters and the criminals they tracked to world’s end and back.

Enter Kate Lindsay. Again, Tomerlin masterfully weaves history with the fantastic, and merges two worlds into an amazing novel, in which this character takes the lead yet again. No longer held hostage, she has taken up the title of pirate, and once again escapes the dull fate of being returned to London. Having escaped the fiery wreckage of the Harbinger, she finds herself stranded in Nassau, governed by the pirate hunter Woodes Rodgers. Of course, because Kate has long given up a life where everyone else tells her who to be and how to behave, she takes her fate into her own hands. She is a rather strong major character, but again – being a pirate, is she really a hero? Does it matter if the book has a hero or not? I was told by someone very wise that all good villains and all good heroes alike should be fighting for something they think is absolutely right.

So, let’s then talk about the character Kate wrapped up in her schemes of escape, Benjamin Hornigold. The pirate-turned-lackey-turned-betrayer is definitely an interesting point of view in the earlier chapters of this book. Hornigold took a pardon from Woodes Rodgers, and turned against all of his former allies. This, unfortunately, review quote 2incited the rage of Blackbeard, something any sensible pirate didn’t wish to do. The resulting capture and death of Hornigold was possibly the most grotesque and well written scene of the book, in my opinion. Failing Blackbeard’s trivial word games, Hornigold’s fate was already sealed. And by sealed, he meant in a wooden coffin fixed with a porthole and pushed over the gunwale. It was terrifying to read of this horrible encounter. I found myself basically glued to the book, unable to stop turning the pages. The serene way the underwater graveyard where Hornigold was left was described in such a juxtaposition compared to the horrific way this character was being killed. It was so much more torturous and slow than a death by keelhauling, which was commonplace during this point in history. It was masterfully described, and the setting was portrayed stunningly. I had never rooted for a character to die more, with George R. R. Martin’s Joffrey as the only exception. They say it is a mark of mastery if an author can sway his readers to hate a character. Tomerlin has accomplished this in both of his Devil’s Fire novels that I have read so far.

If we speak of Hornigold, then by all means, we need to speak of Blackbeard. In the beginning, it was hard to tell exactly who the enemy was – was it Guy Dillahunt, the captain sent by Woodes Rodgers to apprehend Kate and Hornigold? Was it Nathan, the one-armed survivor of the Harbinger’s burning, conspiring with the very governor who spared his life to catch up to Kate for betraying him? Or, was it Annabelle, the whore from Nassau who was shipped away and ended up traded by Blackbeard for Hornigold’s life? Tomerlin’s point of view chapters constantly kept me on my feet, and kept the pages turning. I was always in a state of shock at the events that unfolded during each chapter. Blackbeard is one of the most written-about pirates, after all. A Pirates of the Caribbean film focused on his demise, as did the book On Stranger Tides from which the film was derived. Legends about his death have been passed down through the lore for centuries, always inspiring new ways for him to die. They say, after his beheading, the body swam around his ship three times before hopping back on board. Well, being as realistic and violent as The Devil’s Fire trilogy is, none of that nonsense was about to occur. Leave it to Kate to create the hellfire that swallowed Blackbeard back up in his final moments. That was most excellent.

Once again, Tomerlin completely blows the stereotype of the romanticized pirate straight out of the water. In this book, I’m left less marveling over the now-familiar structure of the chapters – point of views of different characters – and more wondering exactly what a protagonist is. Are all the characters villains in their own rights? Or perhaps, all of them end up antiheroes? Is there any honor among thieves, after all? Do Kate and the others do what they have to in order to survive, or are their actions driven by something much more insidious – such as the lure of treasure or the freedom of the sea? By the way so many characters die, the sea in this world is more dangerous than ever, and yet still they choose to sail. Be they heroes, villains, demons, or a cross between all three, I think these characters are some of the best written pirates I have ever read.

I want to point out again the fact that The Devil’s Fire trilogy is indeed self-published. I mean, if you walk into a bookstore, you see shelf after shelf of “traditionally published” books that you could choose from. You can run your hands over the covers of the new releases and flip through their pages. In the self-publishing world, it is hard to be able to afford new readers this experience. We as readers have to take our chances and decide to purchase without much of a preview, or without being able to heft an edition of the book in our hands to the counters. We have to go by our gut instinct after reading reviews or synopses in order to decide to purchase or not. It’s tough to get your voice out there at all in a world increasingly less concerned with good art and more concerned with good paychecks. Self-published and newbie authors alike face this difficulty. It’s more and more important to give these authors and their writing the chance they deserve. Hopefully this review will convince you to pick up the entire series. I’m crossing my fingers. Reader to reader, I’m telling you it’s more than worth it.

So sentimentality aside, and all that said, my overall opinion of the second book in the trilogy is overwhelmingly positive. I thought it a great next step in the series. The development of the leading character, Kate Lindsay, takes a much stronger turn, to say the least. It leaves me wanting to read through the third book as quickly as possible – to dive right in after the grand adventure of the last. I believe it even more well done than the first book, and I’m hoping that fact trends upward for the next one. For those readers who are looking to get away from the traditional pirate tale, and move into something more historical and gory, these books are the way to go. Who knows? Perhaps they’ll hit you like a match to a powder magazine. Pick them up and see.


This review can be found on Goodreads & Amazon.

K.M. Alleena is a Creative Writing Major at SUNY Oswego and has Anthropology and Native American Studies as her minors. Her primary genre is Poetry, but she has a deep love of Creative Nonfiction and Fiction. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys playing old video games and talking to parrots, often simultaneously. She has been published in her campus literary journal, the Great Lake Review, and also was a winner of Miracle Magazine’s Poetry Competition 2013 as well as SUNY Oswego’s Speak Up and SLAM! Spoken Word Poetry Event.

All the Truth in the World is Held in Stories.

~ Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear

 

SUNY_Oswego

Well! Today marks the middle of my second week back to college. I’m still in the middle of processing the switch from working and writing all summer to actually being busy. Now, I’m working, reading, writing and attending school full-time in order to finish up my fantastic minors, and thus my degree. I’m reminded of Kvothe, and his journey through University, and so once again, it is time to use quotes by Pat Rothfuss to help me tell my story and reflect a little on my journey so far.

“It was only then I realized I didn’t know the name of Elodin’s class. I leafed through the ledger until I spotted Elodin’s name, then ran my finger back to where the title of the class was listed in fresh dark ink: “Introduction to Not Being a Stupid Jackass.” I sighed and penned my name in the single blank space beneath.”~ Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear

I’m in my fifth and final year of undergraduate school, and I am looking into graduate programs and trying to figure out the whole “getting a better job” bit as I go along. It’s a lot of stress, and it reminds me of when I first started school. I had taken a year off for some rather unfortunate reasons, and ended up feeling out of place after a year of nearly full time work in between graduation and freshman year. I didn’t speak if I didn’t have to and dropped classes that required group presentations that first semester. I had friends I would talk to, but the academic process just felt so strange to me after being away from it so long.

I mean, looking back now, I can see the way some freshmen are testing the waters of this new university experience — I can see how confused they are. I can tell when they are afraid to say or do the wrong things. Maybe they even feel a bit like I did at the time– that they are alone suffering the awkwardness. I’m now unconvinced that the fear I held back then is any different than theirs, but before this year? I, of course, thought mine was worse.

“Knowing your own ignorance is the first step to enlightenment.” ~ Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear

Times have changed for me since that awkward first year. I’ve been a teacher’s assistant, taught a few workshops and won a couple of contests — including one where I memorized and performed a spoken word piece. Yeah. I still can’t even believe it. And hey, even though everyone and their brother that has anything to do with college and academic planning advocate for a four year program — I think I really needed this extra year. At the end of last year, I figured out mostly who I am and what I need to do. I accepted a lot of my fear and a bunch of my self-confidence issues and decided to start moving past all that negativity. So this year feels like it should for me — my last year of college. I can take it easy if I want, finally, after spending the last four so nervous about everything.

“You never do things the easy way, do you?” she said. “There’s an easy way?” I asked.” ~ Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear

Sure, the fifth year costs money nobody really has, and had I known that financial aid cuts off after four years (because apparently every single student is exactly the same in terms of how they learn and grow as people…) I may have tried not to cry about (and thus end up failing and/or dropping) my Foreign Language courses so much. I might have stuck with my old set up — a dual major in English & Creative Writing. But everything happens for a reason, no? I wonder who I would be and what I would have accomplished if I hadn’t made changes and hit these obstacles. First, the year between High School & College — and now, the additional year before graduate school. I think that, for the most part, this is going to be a good experience. The diversity in my coursework now, versus the first three years of school is important to whatever narrative is being written about my future. I don’t know exactly. I might be a tarot reader, but I don’t think it works that way, after all.

My family tells me that when my uncle Roy went to school, he seemed to stay forever. He took a while and worked his ass off and finally ended up being this wicked cool phlebotomist. They called him a professional student because of how long it took to achieve what he needed to achieve. (And, in Pat Rothfuss’s books, there’s a student named Manet who has remained in the university for 30 years.) I believe that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to achieve any goal, so long as you are always working towards it. Maybe you even learn more when you work at your own pace.

“It’s the questions we can’t answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he’ll look for his own answers.” ~ Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear

I want to be a writer. I want to tell stories and share them with the world, and despite this world we live in, and how futile it seems to pursue this goal, I know now that if I give up, it will be as if I cut out part of my own soul. I have overcome so much and I have gotten so far, and I can’t wait to read the next chapter of this narrative I’ve been creating with every decision.

I can’t say I know how to be successful. I can’t guarantee that I will indeed become successful, but I can promise now that I will try my hardest to keep going. I have to. The world needs this story. I need this story.

10636155_10152403634024482_4076561599980817071_n

“The seeds of the past bear fruit in the present.” ~ Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear

The Scarlet Age of Piracy: The Devil’s Fire by Matt Tomerlin

The Golden Age of Piracy was anything but golden. The first thing I always thought of when I heard the term was, of course, those fantastic tales told in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean – you know, a silly protagonist meets a mythological or otherwise supernatural enemy and a slightly comedic action-packed adventure ensues. Pirates have long been romanticized like that, since well before Pirates of the Caribbean. Tomerlin’s novel takes our fictitious notion of what piracy was and keelhauls it completely. This book shows us a story of what piracy really might have been – all the blood and gore included.

The Devils Fire

The Devil’s Fire.
Matt Tomerlin, $12.95
ISBN: 978-0615916507

The book begins with a point of view chapter featuring the main character, Katherine Lindsay. Almost immediately, we learn of her stubborn nature in that she insisted to be taken along on her husband’s ship – something completely unheard of at the time. After all, bringing women aboard a ship was bad luck. It isn’t long before conflict appears on the horizon as a set of black sails, and the world Katherine Lindsay knew rapidly is sliced to ribbons, all due to her foolhardy request.

Another major character is Captain Griffith. He seems, at first, to be the enemy when he steals Katherine away to become his own wife, heedless of the fact that he had just brutally murdered her husband on his own ship. We learn through Griffith’s point of view chapters that he had turned to piracy as a result of mutiny against ruthless captains. Although almost none of the merchant sailors aboard Lindsay’s ship perished due to his promise not to harm them, he does declare he never makes such promises for the captains. The way the pirate treats Katherine Lindsay begins the spiral of her slow descent into fierce madness, but I’ll leave the gruesome details for the reader. The way Tomerlin describes the violence of pirates is more on-point for me than other authors of pirate stories have managed. The fact that the two aforementioned main characters always seem weirdly at odds, even when the seas are relatively calm, is what drives the narrative forward. Katherine Lindsay was Griffith’s bad luck, just as his crew predicted.

Katherine Lindsay isn’t the only character whose slow decent into madness is shown through aptly written chapters. Edward Livingston, the quartermaster of the ship on which Katherine was taken hostage, was by far the most violent of them all. He made the other pirates around him seem like women in a sewing circle – but this too was revealed piece by painstaking piece. At first, I was apprehensive of his character and how he made decisions in regards to things – but after a while, I grew to hate him. I hated how he purportedly solved his problems. In several instances, he resorted to torture if for no better reason than to watch his target suffer. All in the name of what? The good of the crew? As that same crew often murmured amongst themselves, Livingston was a monster. It takes some excellent writing for any reader to feel inclined to love or hate characters. It is an investment of much more than time to read a book so closely, so if an author can catch their readers in such a way, you better believe they’re the real deal.Griffith's Quote

Speaking of which, Tomerlin’s decision to use character point-of-view chapters was particularly ingenious – the storytelling is as diverse as possible through many different lenses. If you think about it, the only way a ship will sail is when all the crew works together to make it so. That being the case, each chapter fit together seamlessly. There didn’t seem to be any points where I was taken out of the narrative as I switched from the perspective of one character over another. Each chapter had a point to make or a specific detail of characterization to showcase, and did so in a way that made me wish I didn’t have to sleep, just so I could finish another chapter. 

The story really does tear down the classic “pirate story” stereotype, giving it a more realistic twist. It incorporates many details from history, including fictionalization of prominent figures of the time period. It utilizes real details, such as the earthquake which destroyed Port Royal, and the collapse of the pirate port, Nassau. It brings to light details about why certain sailors chose lives of piracy – because oftentimes, working aboard any other vessel would lead a man to the same grisly fate, only with less coin and even less power over his own life. The way history tells it, captains and quartermasters on other, supposedly honest ships could be even more cruel than pirate captains. The waters of the Caribbean really did run red, as the book description so morbidly proclaims.

It should also be noted that when Tomerlin describes the settings in any given chapter, there are realistic, factual details to cling to – such as blight-stricken livestock and pirates having nothing to live on but hardtack and rum towards the end of their voyage, or between raids. There’s also the truth that some pirates lost limbs in their service. If they didn’t die from injury, they died from disease and infection. Certain people who claimed to be surgeons on other ships were press-ganged into piracy as an attempt to stave off those dangers. Woven in among the narrative so naturally, these horrifyingly interesting facts bring the narrative to life, setting the tone of the work much darker than any other pirate story I have read so far. It is masterfully done in a way that even history buffs would appreciate, especially if they aren’t normally too big a fan of the classic pirate tales.

I believe that The Devil’s Fire is one of those rare gems in the literary world. Sometimes, it is hard to get your name out there when self-publishing – that world is also one of brutal competition. For instance, some authors must suffer snotty opinions from people who “only read books that have been properly published,” as one of my acquaintances said when I recommended the book to them the other day. To be honest, had I not been researching this very same topic, I may have never stumbled upon the work. But I’m glad I did, and even more glad am I to discover that there are two more books in this series. This brings up another point – self-published authors can be just as talented as those who have gone the traditional route, and sometimes maybe even more so. I think Tomerlin’s debut novel proves that point perfectly. Some of us don’t have a marketing bone in our bodies. Some of us aren’t graphic designers, and most of us aren’t very good copy editors. That’s fine. But a few of us are, and if they can produce books like this, I say self-publish away. Tell your story to the world however you can. That will always be the most important part of the process.

My final opinion on the book? If you loved stories like On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers or Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton – or conversely, wanted to see more of the pirate’s side of the story in Treasure Island, I know you’ll love The Devil’s Fire. Give it a shot.


— This review can also be found on Goodreads & Amazon

K.M. Alleena is a Creative Writing Major at SUNY Oswego and has Anthropology and Native American Studies as her minors. Her primary genre is Poetry, but she has a deep love of Creative Nonfiction and Fiction. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys playing old video games and talking to parrots, often simultaneously. She has been published in her campus literary journal, the Great Lake Review, and also was a winner of Miracle Magazine’s Poetry Competition 2013 as well as SUNY Oswego’s Speak Up and SLAM! Spoken Word Poetry Event.

No Matter What People Tell You, Words and Ideas Can Change the World.

~ John Keating {Robin Williams} (Dead Poets Society, 1989)

Dead-Poets-Society-1

If you were able to go to dinner with one famous, creative soul, living or dead, who would it be? To me, that will always be Professor Tolkien, but today the whole internet would, without missing a beat, answer, “Robin Williams, of course.” I’ve been reading article after article and liking post after post across all of my social media platforms in regards to his death. His struggle with depression as of late became too difficult, so they say. He got tired of fighting his demons, another one proclaims. I keep reading these things thinking the information will change, but it doesn’t — one of the most inspirational people of our age is gone.

“But only in their dreams can men be truly free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.” ~ John Keating {Robin Williams} (Dead Poets Society, 1989)

As I stated before, the internet is, as a whole, showing how upset the world is about the death of Robin Williams. Not only do I see posts stating the news from a neutral standpoint, but I see posts of sadness. I see also posts galore about how it’s just a celebrity. We didn’t know him. We weren’t his friends. We aren’t his family. What right do we have to post all these things about his life? To remember in ways that we would not if he weren’t so famous?

“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.” ~ John Keating {Robin Williams} (Dead Poets Society, 1989)

These are all valid points, nevertheless. But this is how I see it — he was an artist. Acting is, was, and will always be another form art, regardless of modern celebrity culture. It is okay for the masses — his fans — to mourn the loss of an artist. This is as true today as it was back when all we had of artists were paintings — and when those paintings became famous, those artists were long gone to the world in many cases. Regardless of what the dissenting opinion is, so many people are mourning the loss of a great talent in the acting world — myself included. I grew up watching many of his films — anything from Aladdin, Hook, Bicentennial Man, Patch Adams, Flubber, Robots, August Rush, Night at the Museum, A.I., Man of the Year, Jumanji, Mrs. Doubtfire, Awakenings, Good Will Hunting  — to What Dreams May Come. And, of course, as the quotes on this post will remind you — Dead Poets Society. There are so many films that I enjoy to this day and some more urgently recommended now that I should watch, but Dead Poets Society takes the cake, I think. The film is not a comedy, though nevertheless, Robin Williams’s character, John Keating, speaks words worthy of staying. I write tonight with quotes from his character in remembrance of great talent — of an artist able to act out some screenwriter’s work to the best of his ability, and thus help bring to life a masterpiece.

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” ~ John Keating {Robin Williams} (Dead Poets Society, 1989)

The first time I saw this movie was in my High School creative writing class. I remember that only a few of us were engaged enough to be upset that the bell would inevitably ring half-way through the film. I don’t remember if we saw the end of it in class or not, but it captured my interest in a way that — back when renting movies at a store was a thing — I pleaded to rent that one and to see the end of the movie. I just watched it again tonight, and as per usual, I cry when [Spoiler Alert — highlight text following bracket to read] Neil Perry commits suicide due to severe depression. His answer to his father’s question, “What is it you feel?” was “nothing.” That’s the part that always gets me. The movie was always important to me — it was one defining piece of art in a series of things that showed me being my authentic, creative self was more important than anything else. At the time, I wanted to be spirited away to art school. At the time, I figured I wanted to be an art teacher. At the time, not only was I acing my English courses, but also immensely enjoying Creative Writing. At the time, I thought it was a hobby, placed behind all of the visual arts that I had been elbow deep in. Even placed behind my participation in choir.

“You must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all.” ~ John Keating {Robin Williams} (Dead Poets Society, 1989)

Sometimes, I look back to all that. I hit a rough patch just after high school, where I did not get spirited away to college. I spent almost a whole year moping about it. Thinking just because I had missed this particular train, another one would never find this station I waited at. I would cashier at the local grocery store for the rest of my life and lose an opportunity I had only ever held on to by a thread. That was the statistic, right? Most kids who don’t go directly to college never make it there. And I kept believing that was me, too. And I stopped painting. I stopped singing in the shower. I stopped reading so much. I stopped writing. I stopped writing. Until that time, that never matter much to me. It wasn’t the game plan, even though I began writing at a stupidly young age. (That’s a post for a different day.) It was writing that brought me back out of the shadows I had cast for myself, in one way or another. And I have that class and this movie to thank for reminding me, after the fact, that my words and ideas most definitely can and will change the world. One day. Provided I just keep writing.

“I SOUND MY BARBARIC YAWP OVER THE ROOFTOPS OF THE WORLD.” ~ John Keating {Robin Williams} (Dead Poets Society, 1989)

It took a long time to recover from the setback I faced in the year before I started college. It took all four years leading up to a point in my life where I could stand proudly in front of an audience and perform my poetry, even while shaking from the fear of my words not being anything short of embarrassing. Sound familiar? Looking back at the movie, John Keating helped Todd Anderson in a similar way — to close your eyes to the words and laughter of those who would scorn you and just speak the words that are within you. And at the end, his classmates were stunned to silence at what he made up on the spot. They clapped. His words made a difference.

I am sitting here, only days away from starting my fifth and final year of undergraduate college work. I’m working as hard as I can to achieve a goal I thought I could never achieve. I aim towards graduate school and even beyond that. I am half way through my novel and have more brewing in my brain. I write poetry in a tiny notebook on the bus ride to campus and in between classes. I aim to be a professor, one day, even if it is not an immediately achievable goal. Even in the dim state of this economy and the terrible odds stacked against such a career these days — that will be the end result. I know it and I will make it so. All of the mentors and teachers that have helped me become… well, me so far are the inspiration. They’re the ones who believed in me and still do even when I find it difficult to believe in myself. I want to be that. I want to be what they are to me. What John Keating was to his class. To let them know that they, too, can change the world when they are their true and authentic selves. Let nobody dim the light of their creative souls. I just gotta keep following the path that I am on. I have to cherish each amazing achievement and learn from each terrible fall. I have to navigate all the bumps in the road and understand that not everything is meant to bring me down. I’ll get there some day. I will. I just have to keep living — really living — as best as I can in the mean time.

carpe-diem-seize-the-day

 I close my post with this: A heartfelt thank you to Robin Williams, for his light and for his ability to portray some of the most inspirational characters film of my time has produced. Rest well.   7.21.19518.11.2014

 

Almost All Good Writing Begins With Terrible First Efforts. You Need to Start Somewhere.

~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

giphy

Today is August FIRST. That means, for a whole month I put pen to paper in an event called Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve been talking about this a lot recently, and finally — FINALLY the month is over. I wrote as much as I could following a very busy work schedule and ended the month with 40,000 words written. And hey, my goal was 80,000 words which was a little ambitious — but to write literally half of my rough draft in a month. A MONTH. And I never believed I could ever do it.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.” ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

I compiled my book out of Scrivener for the first time last night — a whopping 158 pages so far in manuscript format for a PDF file. I was blown away. I have never ever written so much for this book before, despite having started it years ago. And to think all it took was a push in the right direction? A silly word count goal that was more arbitrary than anything else? I have found out recently that if I really set my mind to something, I can actually accomplish great things. I spent a lot of time thinking otherwise. I spent a lot of time thinking every single thing I wrote was the worst. That I was starting out wrong, or that my characters weren’t fully developed. That I had no idea what I was doing… Yet, what I wasn’t realizing is that the first draft isn’t about all that. Not at all. It’s about writing. Writing the shitty first draft, that is. I had to get past the fear that what I was putting on paper wasn’t good enough. I had to remember that there was time for editing later. LATER. Each time I sat down to write, even up until now, I had to remind myself that there would time later for revision. Keep going. I still have to keep going.

“Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly.” ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

71621_653926584634666_472708960_n

I have a huge list of ideas scattered across several notebooks towards the next phase of writing. The first phase? Well, finishing the book. The second? Starting revision. Besides that, I have about six other books I could write set in the same universe. Are they sequels? Nope. Prequels? Not exactly. Are we never going to hear about these characters ever again? Wrong! You will. Maybe at different phases of their life. Siren Song — as my book is tentatively titled for now — is neither standalone nor part of a series. I want the books to stand by themselves and yet have factors that link them together. So that no matter which book is on the shelf in your local bookstore, my readers can enjoy them in any order. Fans of the first book will get tiny tidbits that only they will understand, but a reader who comes to the series new would still get (hopefully) a great and clear reading experience without having read Siren Song first. That’s my hope. I have a long, long road to go before my book (or books, so it seems) are even near ready to be looked at. But I’m in this for the long haul.

“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?” ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Beyond revision, I’ve been seriously considering one of my dreams — to write something worthy of submitting to the Writers of the Future contest. One of my favorite living writers, Patrick Rothfuss, was a winner of said contest and ended up publishing the first two books of the Kingkiller Chronicle. You never know what will happen. If I was able to make myself write 40,000 words in one month, imagine what I can do with a year. Imagine working and working my rough draft until it shines in a pile of entries in a contest so many amazing writers enter every year? One of my life goals is yes, to traditionally publish my novel. I know it sounds impossible. But if you just keep writing, no matter what is going on around you in your life, you never know what you can accomplish. It’s more about saying, “This will happen,” instead of “I hope this happens,” and doing everything in your power to meet your goal. I am a writer. So I’m gonna write. I’ve already come this far.

“”So why does our writing matter, again?” they ask. Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the heart.” ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

The Nice Thing About Having a Friend Who is Crazier Than You Are is That She Bolsters Your Belief in Your Own Sanity.

~ Julie Powell, Julie & Julia
WP_20140716_014

Transforming leftovers and making the most out of nothing was Gramma’s specialty. She’d be proud.

You know what 30,000 words in two weeks feels like? It feels like fried ravioli, spur of the moment on a college kid’s craftiness and budget.
I’m not kidding you.  But I’ll get to that in a moment. My dear friend D. Arlene and I are rooming for the summer as she works on campus in their dining halls. I slave away at the local, classy, extravagant gas station (so much sarcasm) just down the street. Both of us are WriMos. Both of us took on the enormous task of writing the shit draft of our novel in just one month. Our goal counters are set differently — mine is set to 50,000 words, but mentally I want a book of 80,000 words or more when this is over; a proper debut fantasy novel. Hers is set to 80,000. We both write like the wind and lament two rooms down from one another.

“Nowadays anyone with a crap laptop and an Internet connection can sound their barbaric yawp, whatever it may be.” ~ Julie Powell, Julie & Julia

Ya know, for the first week, things were fantastic. We were writing so fast and so much that our keyboards were on FIRE. (Oh no, I’m pretty sure the landlord would’ve had a fit if that were true, but it was close.) We consistently met or exceeded our goals, and kept chatting back and forth as we wrote, brainstorming and marveling at the ideas spewing forth from our fantastic brains. But then, week two flies by and guess what? We find out Camp NaNoWriMo is more an obstacle course than anything else. Before us, we faced a giant towering wall that blocked the path so far on each side that we’d waste too much time trying to find a way around it. It was made so that we’d have no choice but to climb the hell over this stinkin’ thing — no matter what. It was then that I figured out this: Even if writing drives me insane, it’s all I’ve got. I would have no choice but to climb up and over this roadblock and keep firing away at my keyboard.
“Without the Project I was nothing but a secretary on a road to nowhere, drifting toward frosted hair and menthol addiction.” ~ Julie Powell, Julie & Julia
The process of writing is sometimes so daunting. Sitting down and looking at the cursor flash was not something I was used to. I toted moleskine notebooks the likes of which are hard to find these days.  And some days the flashing of that cursor was torture. I would sit and stare at the blank screen for hours wondering where the hell I could even start to write. I would type and backspace, type and backspace. My goal of 80,000 words seemed so far away that it made me ill, like I wanted to die rather than write THAT FAST. But every single time I felt like I was about to give up, I’d end up wandering away to go shower or something and immediately, my mind would race with thoughts of what I could possibly write next. This project of mine — writing my entire book in a month — is something I’ve been leaning on. Summers tend to be huge stretches of time where I feel overworked and thus tend to be apathetic. I don’t tend to get anything done. This is the first year that I feel any sort of difference. This time, I have something to do when I get home. No matter how tired I am, I have a word goal on a tiny post it note stuck to my desk, telling me “Hey. We got this. We’re not wasting the summer away.”
“Maybe I needed to make like a potato, winnow myself down, be part of something that was not easy, just simple.” ~ Julie Powell, Julie & Julia
SO? How does the struggle up and over the roadblock that is this novel writing business? The perceived writer’s block — or as Lena Gluck writes, “Writer’s Crippling Self Doubt” ? Well, like I said, it feels like Ravioli. Fried Ravioli coated in left over, crushed taco shells and spices. That’s what. It feels like saying if we can do this, we can do anything. I pondered at the freezer with D. Arlene and we figured out a crazy way to make left overs work. It felt like trying to make a NaNo wordsprint work. Kind of like — well we could have the expensive ergonomic keyboard, but instead voting for carpal’s tunnel to save a penny. Kind of like — what the hell. We’ve done enough thinking for a whole year in the last 24 hours, let’s do something stupid. Our brains were tired and our stomachs were hungry and it was all in the pursuit of creativity. My blog has never and will never be a cooking blog, but here’s the sample of our creativity:
Ingredients:

1 bag of ravioli of your choice (mini squares worked best for me.)
1 box old taco shells / left over taco shells *
4 eggs
Oil
Your favorite zesty pasta sauce
Optional: parmesan shake cheese
* quick sub: small canister of Italian bread crumbs

Spices:

Verigated oregano*
Oregano*
Minced onion
Garlic flakes
Red lid adobo (sparingly)
Salt
Pepper
*can sub for Italian seasoning with a little extra pepper.

Instructions:

1. Prepare ravioli by boiling. Drain and run under cold water until cool to the touch. Set aside.
2. Crush the taco shells while adding and mixing in spices. Add shake cheese if you want.
3. Beat the eggs together, adding just a pinch more salt and pepper.
4. Preheat your frying pan and add enough oil to cover raviolis half way up. An alternative would be to deep fry them instead, so prepare your oil for that at this step.
5. Dip raviolis in egg, then in crushed taco shells. Place on tray between layers of wax paper.
6. After oil is up to frying temperature, place raviolis in oil in a single layer. Let fry until deep golden brown and flip, repeating the process until all raviolis are a crispy, fantastic golden brown.
7. Place finished fried raviolis on a fresh tray between paper towels.
8. Serve with your favorite sauce and shake cheese. Pairs well with cranberry juice. A good idea for a side is fresh steamed broccoli or green beans.

WP_20140716_009

Served best while crazy, cup of iced chai latte on the side.

My grandmother died on April 4th, 2014. This year. I remember her as fondly as I can, and you know what? Persevering through the shittiest times, with the toughest odds was her gig. For real. And she did, right up until the end. Some great spirit or the next has her bossing around the kitchen staff, I’m sure. The kitchen was her sacred space, and the stove was her altar. One of the greatest things she taught everyone, which eventually filtered down to me, was to make use of what you have. Be it Ravioli and taco shells, or the insane ability to plan, write and finish a novel — run with it, and be happy because there are folks in the world who have none of the above.
That’s what I told D. Arlene that day when we both had over 30,000 words towards our novel goal. Never stop writing, because we’re all in this together. The experience of Camp NaNoWriMo is gonna probably stick around forever. D and I walked home from my job one night, and in the street brainstormed about the back stories of our characters. If anyone had been on the sidewalks or at their windows during those few minutes, what they would have heard was two crazy chicks. But what was really going on was this: We had time to kill, and so we made use of it.
You have to be a special kind of crazy to sign up and write a novel in a month. That’s why D and I get along so well. Neither one of us is sure who is crazier than the other. (I still say it’s her on the basis of this recent Facebook status.) But ya know? It’s okay. We’re making use of our lack of sanity. We’ll fight through until the end, and keep writing together. I think it was mostly my fault for signing us up in the first place! But, as we wave good bye to our ability to think straight, we wave hello to a body of work that we never thought we’d be able to complete. We’re two weeks or so from the finish line, and two seconds from losing our mind. But hey. That’s something, right?
farewell we will miss yo u

, sanity …

“So the end may be a long time coming, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a way of sneaking up on you.” ~ Julie Powell, Julie & Julia

He Seemed to Pick the Right Word Up on the Point of His Pen…

~ G.K. Chesterton, Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure

Lately, I’ve been wanting to work on my novel — a novel set in a fantastic alternate version of the Caribbean, wrought with foul magic from sea monsters and Sirens alike. In wanting to work at this, I’ve picked up a book I haven’t read in a really long time as reference — Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. As Eoin Colfer states in the introduction to the book, reading this story as a writer is certainly much different, but no less exciting. I found myself countless cool nights sitting in my bed with the window open, reading aloud in the pirate language as best as I could, and laughing every single time I realized how silly I sounded. I often wondered what my neighbors — whose door is near my window — thought if they heard me speaking the way Billy Bones’s speech was written.

“[Billy Bones’s] stories were what frightened people worst of all. Dreadful stories they were–about hanging, and walking the plank, and storms at sea, and the Dry Tortugas, and wild deeds and places on the Spanish Main. By his own account he must have lived his life among some of the wickedest men that God ever allowed upon the sea, and the language in which he told these stories shocked our plain country people almost as much as the crimes that he described.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

So far, reading and writing has been keeping me afloat. Summertime for me, while lacking college credit hours, is filled with work hours. All for the better — there are bills to pay and cafes to visit, and restaurants by the river or lake to sit outside and enjoy, after all. Weirdly enough, Treasure Island isn’t the book that got me wanting to write my own pirate adventure.  But lately this book has been kind of an inspiration. I see some of the traits of these characters in each of the more recently written pirate novels I have read so far. Little by little each author pays his homage to Treasure Island. I am beginning to see Jim Hawkins in my protagonist and Long John Silver in my antagonists. It could be the major driving force for why I am sitting down to write over two-thousand words per day —

Ahem. Oh! That’s right. This post wasn’t going to be about Treasure Island, per se. It’s more of an announcement, hehe:

Camp NaNo

I have entered Camp NaNoWriMo as incentive to finish drafting my book FINALLY after years of letting it stew in my head. My daily average should be 2,581 words per day in order to finish in a month. I’ve been consistently writing more, and the statistics say I should be done, at this rate, by July 29th. Who knows?

Now, Camp NaNo is all about writing first. You can’t edit anything you haven’t written. That’s not to say going back and editing what you have written this round isn’t fair game. Go for it. Only, the more you edit the less time you give yourself to draft, and the more time you give yourself to doubt your own abilities. Let’s just call any sense of self doubt Mr. Arrow for a moment:

“Mr. Arrow, first of all, turned out even worse than the captain had feared. He had no command among the men, and people did what they pleased with him. But that was by no means the worst of it, for after a day or two at sea he began to appear on deck with hazy eye, red cheeks, stuttering tongue, and other marks of drunkenness. Time after time he was ordered below in disgrace.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

Mr. Arrow, much like self-doubt, is really really bad at commanding anything. One’s an officer of a ship, and the other is all your fears about your work enveloped into one word. So order what doesn’t work away. Disgrace your fear. Pick up the pen. As terribly difficult as that sometimes can be, you have to keep going.

Anyway, the point of this “idyllic writer’s retreat” is to finish your draft. People who go in all crazy thinking they can produce a perfect book in a month are delusional. Most of writing is revision, after all. I know this. Still, there’s the pull to want to go back and fix things. I’ve often debated if I should scrap this draft (yes, right in the first week of Camp NaNo) in order to write a new one wherein certain characters use their point of view in each chapter to tell the story. Can’t do that right now — I’m eight tiny chapters in. I need to focus on telling the entire story first, in order to later go back and show it via new character perspectives.

I suppose the good news is I have passed the 11,000 word mark according to the verification tool for Camp NaNo this year and according to my targets set on Scrivener. This is the most I’ve written towards this specific story without straying into the back stories of characters in years leading up to the events of the book. It just seems like such a large project, that I can’t possibly finish it in a month. It feels overwhelming, especially when I sit at the keyboard and can’t seem to figure out what to type next.

“Before us, over the tree tops, we beheld a great field of open sea to the East. Sheer above us rose single pines, black with precipices. There was no sound but that of the distant breakers, mounting from all around, and the chirp of countless insects in the brush. Not a man, not a sail upon the sea; the very largeness of the view increased the sense of solitude.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

Sometimes writing is a chore. It’s not all flowers, rainbows and inspiration falling like drops of sunlight. No — sometimes it’s cold and difficult, like walking on wintery concrete barefoot, teeth chattering and hands shivering all the while. Sometimes it’s not fun. It’s real work, despite what everyone and their brother would have you think. You can’t just write a book in your spare time — when it comes to really writing — well, you live your life in your spare time and write the book as your work. Sometimes that’s a lonely notion. But another good thing about Camp NaNo is these online cabins of 12 people who are fighting the same battle. There’s a chat box where we can air our grievances and brainstorm with should you ever feel the beginnings of writer’s block. (Or, some form of writer’s blerch, as it feels more like.) I think it’s a great system. It’s kind of a push to just write. And possibly, to not give up.

I mean, today was the fourth of July. I have two newly adopted kitten/monster/beast-things in my house, and one has been incredibly sick as of late. I spent today caring after her, running errands in the rain, and cleaning various things that I can’t clean on days when I work my eight hour shifts. So after this busy and hectic day, I sat down to write at 9:15. We need to post our word count for Camp NaNo before midnight. I posted mine at five of, and managed to write 2,755 words. I think I am learning that if you make time to write, anything is possible. Hell, maybe I will have my whole book drafted by the end of July at this rate.

“I now felt for the first time the joy of exploration. The isle was uninhabited; my shipmates I had left behind, and nothing lived in front of me but dumb brutes and fowls.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

We Each Need to Find Our Own Inspiration, Kiki. Sometimes It’s Not Easy.

~ Ursula, Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

931185_569813516375001_575687371_n

Studio Ghibli is amazing, simply put. They have consistently produced amazing movies that I have been able to enjoy even now, a couple days from 23 years old. Last night, as I was working on a project, I played Kiki’s Delivery Service, which was a gift from my match on redditgifts. I have, of course, taken the time to watch these movies now and again on the internet, but it’s different to be able to hold the movie in my hands. The last time I did, it was a VHS, and that was at least fifteen years ago. It was the first Studio Ghibli film that I had watched, and I might’ve been five or six when Mom purchased it. Upon watching it again, I’m finding more and more reasons to love it.

kiki1

There are a lot of correlations to how I was at Kiki’s age, actually. (That whole witch thing included, to be fair.) But that’s neither here, nor there. Studio Ghibli films always have this way of making a point, or having a moral to the story. It’s kind  of neat, because they don’t make it completely obnoxious. You follow the failings and redemptions of each character in each of the stories. I just so happen to have always resonated with Kiki’s. Her story is about learning to believe in herself — in what she is able to accomplish. It so happens that this is my story, too.

I think there’s something wrong with me. I meet a lot of people, and at first everything seems to be going okay, but then I start feeling like an outsider.~ Kiki, Kiki’s Delivery Service  (1989)

There was  a year between when I started college, and finished high school. Most folk from my town who wait that long never end up going to college. There was that stigma as I cashiered in a grocery store. There was a point where I would believe the general opinion myself — this negative mindset wherein I would be completely stuck in my town, unable to move forward. (But that’s another story.) When I got to school for my first semester at SUNY Oswego, I felt like a fish out of water. It was exciting, this college campus. It was also overwhelming.

I was always the quiet kid — the one that did all her work and never said a word. I hated working in groups or doing presentations. (Who am I kidding!? I still hate that stuff! I’m just used to it now.) But here, there are these classes that require some kind of verbal participation. At first, I didn’t believe in myself enough to feel confident to speak up. (And yes, I still have moments like this.)

All right, first: don’t panic! Second: don’t panic! And third: did I mention not to panic? ~ Jiji, Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

I have an adviser who was also the professor for the poetry class that made me reevaluate what writing really meant. Hers was the first class where you’d get grades on how much you spoke in class — and was the first to tell me that I had smart things to say, and that if I didn’t — surely I would fail. I was only a Sophomore, and taking an upper division writing course. The rest of my class was comprised of Juniors and Seniors. It was my third writing class, and first upper division course for college in general. I felt inadequately prepared to discuss anything, let alone critique everyone else’s poetry in workshop.

Fast forward to now. I have been a Teacher’s Assistant in the largest lecture available for my major. I have done presentations for large audiences due to that job. I had to hold a conversation at dinner with some of the coolest professional writers I’ve ever met. (Including one of my favorite poets, discovered in aforementioned class.) I have started a club, and speak every week to a decent sized group of students. I have learned to run a tarot share workshop, and am planning another workshop combining tarot and writing. I sometimes speak up in class first. I also sometimes read my work aloud at public events. So much  has changed since those early days of college, and  I am happy for that. You really never  know what’ll happen next, but I’m finding it’s important to try something. Anything.

Jiji, I’ve decided not to leave this town. Maybe I can stay and find some other nice people who will like me and accept me for who I am.~ Kiki, Kiki’s Delivery Service  (1989)

It’s not important so much how others perceive you, I’m finding. It’s gonna be more important to be your own inspiration — to find your own voice. It’s incredibly difficult to convince yourself otherwise. (Look, it took me years, and I am still working on some aspects.) But once you do, it get much easier to keep being inspired, in little ways, no matter where you go or what you do. So don’t worry. Just write. Or speak. Or dance. Just do whatever it is that you do — wait and see what happens.