Saturday, January 21, 2017

Darkness and Light

Post-inauguration thoughts...

I'm tired of worrying about my country. I'm tired of seeing my fellow Americans take bites out of each other. I'm tired of seeing such vitriol and hatred on social media. It wears on a person, all the negativity, all the ugliness. I'm going to back away from it all for awhile for my own sanity.

I tried writing tonight, tried to get my mind to focus on other, more positive things.

It didn't work.

So I'm sitting in bed, watching a classic noir movie, Fallen Angel, with one of my very favorite classic movie actors, Dana Andrews.

And I'm hoping tomorrow will be better.

But I fear it won't. I fear that this anger and divisiveness from every side of the political spectrum will continue. I fear all those who said that spreading kindness is the only way forward will forget those words the minute they disagree with a person. I've already witnessed it. And it grieves my heart.

Humanity can be so very ugly. So very dark.

But humanity can also shine so brightly that the light drives out the darkness.

I want to be the light. But there are times I don't have the strength to shine. The darkness is too heavy and I would rather hide.

Like tonight.

There will be days ahead where we will all need to fight the darkness and be the light, no matter who we voted for, no matter what we believe.

We are all human beings, made up of darkness and light.

May my light shine brighter tomorrow and may the darkness recede into the shadows.




Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Lassoing Life

I think we can all agree that 2016 was an incredibly difficult year. Too many things happened locally, nationally, and internationally: beloved celebrities passed away, the Syrian civil war and terrorism took far too many lives, and the US presidential election strained relationships and us as a nation. On a personal level, I had my share of struggles: my husband ended up in the hospital for another staph infection (on the week we closed on our new house) and ended up in the ER later that year for a work-related accident; my father had a stroke and I flew to Denver to be with him; my stepson had overwhelming challenges that required our assistance; and my health took a nosedive.

Of course, no year is free from challenges. But some years are simply harder than others. Now that the year is nearly gone, I'm trying to regroup and find my way back to better health, better time-management skills, better coping mechanisms, and yes, better ways to find motivation to write. Thankfully, I've had some time to relax and regroup. I work at a university and every year we have a nice holiday break where everything is shut down from Christmas through New Year's. I love it (though I wonder if I'd like a bonus more!).

Yesterday, I accomplished quite a bit. I made a list of things I'd like to get done on our house in 2017, went through the huge stack of paperwork that had accumulated on my desk, paid bills, got in a work-out on my treadmill, and found recipes that fit my healthy eating plan. In other words, I felt like I'd lassoed the bull that has been running rampant in the corral, bashing into the fence and kicking up manure everywhere. Yes, that's how life has felt for the past year.

When you have a chronic illness, a set schedule is almost impossible. Waking up with a horrible rheumatoid arthritis flare means I miss work, miss my workout, usually make poor eating choices (though I'm hoping to change that), and miss writing. I end up in bed and take long naps, watch movies, surf the 'Net, and just try to ignore that I feel awful. My schedule ends up in shambles and every day I have to regroup. It becomes utterly exhausting physically and emotionally to go through this on a weekly basis (sometimes I'll make it two weeks without getting sick, but that's becoming rare).

And yes, this affects my writing life. It also feeds the horrible beast known as Resistance. It takes mental energy to write. After every flare, I'm drained and writing is the last thing I want to do. This saddens me considering writing is my fuel. But with Resistance tackling me at the one yard line every single time I try to work on the novel, I either 1) go down before hitting the goal line or 2) push through and make a touchdown (i.e. write all the words!). Unfortunately, #2 is becoming the exception rather than the norm.

How to change this? I'm trying to figure it out and come up with some strategies to help. But I've come to the conclusion that, as a person of faith, none of my solutions will work unless I put God first. Praying for guidance and strength is a must. Yet I constantly forget to do this. Whether it's the brain fog inherent to rheumatoid arthritis or my brain crowded with too many thoughts, I tend to misplace my best intentions.

We all try to make New Year's Resolutions, yet by March, most of them are gone by the wayside. I'd rather not do that. Instead, I'd like to create coping strategies I can use for the rest of my life. I'm tired of flailing in the ocean with my head barely above water and the current trying mightily to push me under. I can't do it anymore. I need to find a strong ledge so that the water can rush around me, but I can stand firm.

What does this ledge look like? I'm not sure. Bullet journals? Lists? Meditation? A reminder on my phone to stop and pray? A blocking device so I can't access social media after 5 p.m.? Maybe a combination of all?  All I know is that I can't keep walking down my current path. Something needs to change.

And isn't that the beauty of life? We can stop and say, "No more" no matter what day or month it is. We don't need to wait for New Year's to press the reset button.

For me, I'm looking forward to taking each day as it comes. As the song by Merle Haggard says,

"One day at a time sweet Jesus that's all I'm asking from you
Give me the strength to do everyday what I have to do
Yesterday's gone sweet Jesus and tomorrow may never be mine
So for my sake teach me to take one day at a time."




Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Why I Write World War II Historical Fiction


I’m an emotional person. It doesn’t take much to make me cry. A poignant commercial about a father and a daughter on her wedding day? Tears. A movie scene where the hero confesses his love to his girl? Tears. My cat tenderly cradling the kitten while he licks its head? Tears. (Yeah, I’m hopeless).

What does all of this have to do with writing World War II fiction? A lot, actually.

I’ve tried to uncover why I love studying this time period and why I continue to gravitate toward it when other eras have tried to compete for my attention (in my previous teenage life, I was a devout historian of the American Civil War). It’s not the military aspect – the battle tactics and uniforms and planes, tanks, and guns. Though I love the music and the clothes of the era, that’s still not what holds my attention. Neither is it “good triumphing over evil,” though that's certainly part of it. And goodness knows I hold no excitement for learning about the massive casualties and horrific deaths of millions upon millions of people.

What keeps me interested, fascinated, and altogether obsessed with World War II is this: emotion.

There is an absolute plethora of human emotion contained within this global war. There’s fear and horror and joy and laughter; there’s sympathy and empathy, courage and cowardice. There’s anger and guilt; forgiveness and redemption. And exploring those emotions within my fictional world is not only challenging, it’s crucial to understanding the human side of World War II.

Here's an example. It’s easy to think of the boys who stormed the beaches at Normandy as just a group of nameless soldiers: but the fact is, each one was an individual with their own story. Each one. Can you imagine what was going through their minds as they rode in the Higgins boat and watched the French coastline grow closer?

I hope Mom got my last letter. I hope she knows I love her.

Just stay alive. Just duck and cover, but don’t run. Don’t be a coward. Don’t abandon your post. Do your duty.

She said it wasn’t my fault, that it was just “this stupid war.” Now I’ll never get a chance to make it right. I’m not going to see her again. I feel it in my gut. This is it. So long, pal.

When you think of all the human drama created by this war, there are millions of stories, and emotion is at the heart of them all. I cannot help but explore these numerous facets. I want to somehow understand, as best I can, what the war was like through their eyes. Whether it be a soldier, a German immigrant, a Jewish survivor, a Red Cross nurse, a mother waiting at home, a factory worker, a Resistance fighter, or just an average citizen trying to live life day to day, I want to experience it.

As a writer, that’s my job. I’ll never get it completely right because I wasn’t there. But it makes the war more real to me. It’s too easy to read facts in a book and skip over notable dates, battles, leaders, etc. Yet that is, in my view, dangerous. The men, women, and children of World War II were flesh and blood, and deserve more than to be remembered as just words and numbers.  They felt. They hoped. They dreamed. They loved, they lived, and many of them died. They were real in every sense of the word.

So that, in a relatively large nutshell, is why I study World War II history, and why I write World War II historical fiction. I have a desperate need to connect with the past and to feel the emotions of those that experienced it. Because, to paraphrase a famous quote, those who do not understand the people of the past are condemned to forget them.

I refuse to forget.

And I’ll gladly shed as many tears as it takes to remember them.




Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Just Eat the M&Ms

Ahh, life. How you vex me. One day I feel normal and have the motivation of Cookie Monster at the Keebler Elves' cookie factory, and the next, I stay in bed all day and watch old movies.

Yin and yang, I suppose, but it would be nice if if weren't so frequent. Give me a month of solid motivation, good health, and a vibrant outlook on life and imagine what I could accomplish! Instead, it's one day of feeling fantastic, the next not so much, and maybe the day after that is sort of blah, too.

But since it's almost Thanksgiving, I'm going to focus on the good things in life. And there are many! Christmas is coming and I've decided to forego my usual Christmas decorations (with their traditional. Victorian slant) and go all-out vintage: 40s, 50s, and 60s stuff. There's a Christmas Vintage Market in my city on Friday and I can't wait to see all those gorgeous treasures waiting for me to pluck them from obscurity and take them to my home.

What's that, you say? Vintage items in a house run by three cats and one very rambunctious dog? Have I forgotten the annual Christmas Tree War with General Slick?

Yes, you have a point. I may not have thought this through very well. But! Since Blitz, who has grown up very fast and has such a sweet mentality, loves to chase Slick, I am thinking I can train Blitz to guard my Christmas tree from Slick's attacks. *rubs hands together and laughs*

Yeah. We'll see how that goes. But I've got to try, right? I cannot fully secede my house to the animals, can I?

On Writing

Well. I will say it. This has been the hardest novel I've ever written. I don't know if it's because I've changed the plot approximately 4,923 times or if it's because I've had two years of unbelievable stress both with my health and with other family matters, or if I'm losing my ability to tell a story or what, but it's been excruciating.

I still keep charging ahead, though, as one must. Last night, I made a promise to myself to write, but I wanted to start a new book and get lost in a story first. So, I picked up Kate Furnivall's The Italian Wife (set in Italy in 1932) and after reading the first chapter, I was itching to work on my novel. Her novels are so beautifully written and so well plotted that it gave me the necessary oomph to get over that hill of Resistance and get to work. It. Was. Glorious.

On the Upcoming Four-Day Weekend

So. I'm stuck at work today and tomorrow. Most everyone has already gone home or has plans to leave tomorrow, and thus, work is pretty s-l-o-w. I needed an extra burst to get me through this morning, so I ate a bunch of M&Ms. This flies in the face of my resolve to cut more sugar out of my diet and lose this *&$# weight I've gained back after menopause and my stupid rheumatoid arthritis have had their say.

But I ate them, justifying it with the knowledge that I am getting my treadmill out of storage tonight, so I will just burn all those M&M calories.

Ha. Now I actually have to get on the treadmill tonight.

We're staying in town for the holiday and will be having a simple meal with my mother at her place. There's a football game to watch on Friday, the vintage sale to attend, and those important naps to fit in, after all. Though to be honest, I am missing my family gathering at home at my grandmother's. She is 91 and I miss her, but taking that long drive by myself is almost out of the question with my ridiculous health. Hopefully I can talk my hubby into going home for Christmas.

Also to squeeze in this weekend: decorating the house for Christmas and working on the novel.

Of course, all of this may go belly-up if my health decides to derail me again. Hoping and praying that does not happen.


Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends! May your day be plentiful with food, laughter, and blessings.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

When It's Worth It

My daughter is a huge fan of the Marvel superhero films. The Captain America series is her favorite, and the character she loves the most is Bucky Barnes, a.k.a. the Winter Soldier (Cap's best friend) who is played by Sebastian Stan. For the past two years, she's accumulated approximately 5 million photos of him on her Pinterest board, has photos of him printed out and hanging above her bed, has comic books and t-shirts and just about everything else she can find that is Winter Soldier/Sebastian Stan. She even wanted a birthday cake this year with him, and of course she got it!

Since Sebastian Stan goes to comic cons, I told her that if there was ever a comic con within driving distance of us, I would take her. Well, that opportunity came when we found out he would be Tulsa, Oklahoma, approximately a six and a half hour drive from us. That's about the same amount of time it takes us to go home to western Nebraska, so the drive didn't bother us.

After weeks of waiting, the time finally came last Friday. Because my health is crappy and travel only exacerbates it, my husband did the driving, and we ended up in Tulsa late Friday night. We were up early on Saturday and headed to downtown Tulsa for the event.

This was my first ever comic con, so I didn't know what to expect. But it was quite the adventure. Lots of people love to cosplay for these things and this one was no exception. I saw lots of Captain Americas and Harley Quinns and Jokers and Star Wars characters and on and on. My daughter and I didn't dress up (but we've decided that if we go again, I'm going as Agent Carter and she's going as the Winter Soldier), but that was ok - we had a blast anyway.

When my daughter was in line to meet Sebastian Stan and get his autograph, she nearly fainted, but we managed to get through it ok. Later, she was able to get a photo of the two of them together - and she still has a hard time believing she got a hug from her celebrity crush!

But after being at the event all day Saturday, waiting in line, not eating well, and being on my feet most of the time, I was in a lot of pain by the time we made it back to the hotel room. My knees ached, my body felt like it had been tackled by a football player, and I was so tired all I wanted to do was sleep.

This is the crappy part of chronic illness. I've had to learn to prepare for the inevitable pain and discomfort that attending events or going places will bring. In fact, I took Monday off from work because I knew I'd need the day to recover. As it turns out, I needed more than one day - I'm still in a lot of pain today and have spent most of the day in bed.

Was it worth going through that pain to see my daughter's dream come true? You bet. I don't regret it for a second. To see her smile, to see her meet her favorite celebrity and actually get to hug him? Totally worth it!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Tips for Pushing Through

I am one of those writers who struggles to get the first draft written. It's always been this way. There are days when the words flow and I write with a feeling of giddiness. Other times, it's a slog, like trying to get through a foot of oozing mud in the spring. Or like my joints are in the morning: stiff and painful. Actually, just writing this post feels like that!

But there are times when I must force myself to get the words down. I can fix them later. Thank God I can fix them later. For me, the editing process is where I enjoy writing the most. I get to play! I don't have to get it right the first time! It reminds me of this quote:




That being said, what are some ways to push through and write on those hard days?

A few tips:

1. Silence the Inner Editor
This is one of my major hang-ups. That little devil inside my head constantly tells me that the words I'm putting on the page are pure crap, and that I should just give up already. Putting a muzzle on my inner editor is the only way to get words on the page.

2. Accept that you're writing crap
During last night's writing session, I knew very well that I was writing crap. And you know what I did? I embraced the heck out of it. The result? I kept writing crap, but I was still writing.

3. Do a round of freewriting
As alluded to in my previous post, freewriting can be, well, freeing! Before you start working on your novel/article/short story, open a blank document on Word and just start writing. Don't worry about grammar or punctuation or even if your ideas make any sense. Just write. Put words on the page. Get the gunk out. And if you still sit down to your project and write crap? That's ok. Just see #2!

4. Take a walk. Listen to music. Draw a picture. Bake a cake! Color!
There have been times when getting out of the house and immersing myself in nature or putting on a good big band CD have lifted me out of my writing funk. Creativity begets creativity. I'm a big believer in the new coloring craze that has seized the world, especially when I don't care if I color outside the lines or if I make my grass blue instead of green. Go wild! Then go back to your work-in-progress and use that same mentality.

Remember Nora Robert's famous line: "I can fix a bad page. I can't fix a blank page."




Friday, September 30, 2016

Finding What Works

Shortly after my daughter was born (2000), I asked my husband for Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way, and received it that Christmas. I eagerly plowed through it and began to follow her advice of doing morning pages. But, since I am not a morning person and usually don't roll out of bed and write first thing in the morning, I tweaked it so it would fit my life.

For a couple months, I used this technique to "get the gunk out" before writing sessions. In the same way that you stretch your muscles or do warm-ups in preparation to exercise, writing morning pages was a way to wake up my writing brain and get it ready to work.

And then life happened and I never got back around to doing morning pages again. A shame.

A week ago, I was lamenting this horrible block I get whenever I think of sitting down to write, well, anything. I freeze. Even to write a blog post was difficult. Why, I thought, am I having this problem? I'm sure resistance, which Steven Pressfield speaks about so well, was part of it. Fear, as well. Heck, it could be a bunch of things. But in the end, I had to do something about it. I had to figure out a way to bust through that resistance and just get on with the writing.

So, what did I do? I went back to a tried and true method: morning pages. And you know what? It worked.

I use morning pages as kind of a freewriting time. I put down whatever I want - stream of consciousness, thoughts about my day, ideas for my characters or plot, etc. It has a way of blowing the cobwebs out of my mind. Now, before I sit down to write, I always spend at least 5-10 minutes on writing my "morning pages" (though in truth, it's usually early or late night pages!). Since I've started doing this again, my writing has been much more productive and I've been able to keep the resistance at bay.

What about you? Any methods you use for overcoming the dread of sitting down to write?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hey! It's Autumn!

Normally, I would be shouting my joy to the rooftops that fall is finally here, but the weather here in Nebraska has stymied that for a few days. It's been in the 90s all week. Yes, the 90s. The humidity was so bad on Monday that I felt like I was stepping out into a swamp in Louisiana in the middle of July. (I went to Louisiana in March one year and the humidity was terrible, so I'm making the assumption that it's ten times worse in July!)

Anyway...

It's autumn! And that means golden-hued leaves and pumpkin bread (I've already made two batches!) and blankets and cool mornings and evenings and reading books and watching old classic movies and writing and  Halloween and Thanksgiving and...YAY AUTUMN!

I found this online; not sure who created it, but it's super awesome!


So! What's your favorite thing about autumn?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Coping

The last few days have been particularly hard for me. On Wednesday, I got hit with excruciating pain in my left shoulder blade area, rendering me incapacitated for two days. Who knows where it came from? I've had it before. I don't know if it's a flare of RA in my shoulder or what, but the pain brings me to my knees. As a result, I missed two days of work, and today, while the shoulder pain is vastly improved, the rest of my body feels like it's been hit with a truck. I also feel like I might be getting "normal people" sick, i.e. a cold.

Ah, the joys of living with chronic illness!

I've been wallowing in self pity for the past week. I watched a lot of t.v. (mostly Star Trek, the original series), slept a lot, and surfed the internet. My mind was nowhere close to being able to write. And that frustrated me to no end.

Today, though, I've had enough of the self pity. Time to pull myself out of that dark hole and get motivated again. I've got to get this novel done. There's only so much wallowing I can take before I get tired of it and myself for allowing it.

But that's the thing with chronic illness. There is a level of frustration that must be addressed. Simply being positive and sunny every single time I get taken out by a flare isn't realistic. I don't feel good. Period. And I have to acknowledge that. Ignoring it will only make it worse. But while I need to acknowledge it and allow myself to wallow for a bit, this, too, has a limit. I've seen too many people fall into the trap of living in a world of self-pity and "poor me." I don't want that to be me.

I'm constantly learning how to deal with my new normal and I don't know if I'll ever get it right. But darn it, I have to keep trying. That means not freaking out when I see how badly my house needs cleaned, or how I can't get any exercise in yet again, or I fall down repeatedly on my attempts to eat healthy.

The acceptance part, as I wrote about here, is the very hardest part of having chronic illness. We are conditioned to live in a culture that prides itself on exercising regularly and being fit, on participating in all sorts of activities every day, of working hard and going to your job no matter if you feel rotten, on not, on ferrying our kids to extracurricular activities several times a week. That's not my life and it hasn't been for some time, and in particular, the last year. I'm out of sync with most everyone around me. That's a challenge in itself.  

Why do I keep writing about life with chronic illness? Not for pity. But for understanding. For awareness. And as a way to cope. That's who I am, after all, a writer. And words are how I make sense of the world.



Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Our New Addition!

It's been close to seven years since we've owned a dog. Part of it is because of my immense grief over losing my beloved Charlie Brown and part of it is because we lived in a place that didn't allow dogs.

Now that we own our home and it has a fenced-in backyard, the thought of getting another dog crossed our minds. My daughter and my husband wanted to get a puppy. I, on the other hand, having dealt with, and house-trained, numerous puppies, wanted a rescue dog that was already housebroken.

So imagine my shock when I came home the other day and discovered that my husband and my daughter had planned to surprise me with a half-lab, half-border collie puppy. They were smart, though, because instead of just showing up with the dog, they actually told me about it first.

You could say I was not pleased.

With my health the way it is, another responsibility is something I can ill afford. But when I looked at the picture of the puppy, my heart melted. Still, I stayed firm in my insistence that this puppy not be my responsibility, but my husband's and my daughter's. They readily agreed.

So here he is:

His name is Blitz, short for Blitzkrieg. He is adorable. He is shy and timid and loves to be held and babied. And as promised, my husband and my daughter have taken the responsibility in caring for him. My daughter is finding out what a BIG responsibility a puppy is! I don't think she realized the magnitude of it, but now she most certainly does!

It's hard for me to relinquish control over the situation, but I'm doing pretty good with it. I don't take him outside for potty breaks, I don't feed him, and I don't give him water: those are all my daughter's responsibilities. She is learning to train him on the leash and get him to actually come back into the house as opposed to staying outside (he was born on a farm and has always been an outside dog). I supervise, of course, and I *did* give him a bath, but that's about the extent of it. And obviously, I cuddle and hug the little guy! How could I not?

This will be a great life lesson for my daughter and I know she will grow and mature a lot in the process. And this little fellow has already made her his surrogate mom. :)