raise the dead

Mothers are not meant to be remade.

This was a truth known since childhood. No simulacrum, no effigy could take the place of the spark that died in late September. I’d seen her dead. I’d touched her lifeless body. That cool, rigid cheek would never dimple from a smile. And she would never rise from that casket outside of nightmares. Dead was dead. But that did not stop me.

“Mother” was a word I hunted. Blood kin did not count. Biology had not granted me the mother I grieved. Madness had taken both the mother I found and the mother who birthed me. “Mother” was what I had to find before that madness claimed me, too.

There were certain things I knew, things a mother wasn’t. I knew the shadow of that Other Mother, that monstrous creature who destroyed and devoured and screamed to the heavens. In dreams, that Other Mother hunched over me, gaunt and terrible, and shrieked at anything that came near.

Other Mother crawled up the walls and panted from the ceiling at night. Other Mother was the phantom with four arms refusing to let me go. Any echo, any effigy of what I needed was jealously destroyed. I could feel her eyes through the baleful gaze of my blood mother, her rage in the curses hissed at me. She was there, riding upon my blood mother’s back. Cold black eyes staring down at me, the same monster who had claimed the mother I’d found and buried so many years before.

And that was the mother I’d eventually come to love, because she was the only mother I would ever truly have.

I approached again and again. When that enraged creature possessed my blood mother and roared, when she drove tears and blood down her cheeks, I pushed forward. When she struck me, threw things at me, hurled vicious words, I ignored it and pushed on. With a cool cloth, I’d wipe her face. I’d clean up the poisons pushed out of her. I’d hold the Other Mother, stare directly into those black eyes, and tell her what she needed more than I did:

“I love you, because you are the only mother I am going to have.”

Other Mother would not answer. Other Mother would stare back, barely comprehending, but allowing my approach. Other Mother accepted my actions with no small degree of confusion; still, she became calmer. Watching like a feral thing as I channeled from the dead those things she wasn’t. And when Other Mother stared into me and saw the reflection of who I had become, she would recede and fade away.

No, you cannot raise the dead.

But you can become them.

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Marching on

Happy March. From what I can tell driving around the countryside, it seems spring is on the way.

Updates have been a bit slow as I am now part of a delivery team driving freight all over the continental US. I edit, I drive, and I try to stay on top of the rest of my life from a van. Jess, my partner, has already bungie’d a desk to one side, and we’re planning to add a white board so I can write while we’re on the road. (Next to the freight if there’s room, of course.)

Living on the road is strange–but good:

It’s been eleven days since I set out on the road. 4805 miles. We drive as a team and deliver from Laredo to Detroit to Kansas City to…wherever. Whenever. I drove through all of Arkansas the other night, and a good bit of Texas the other night, and last night I slept between 3000 lbs of freight and the driver’s seat.

I’ve learned to live without constant conveniences. It’s a good trade. Kills the OCD tendencies. Every day on the road, I’m taking a hammer to every fear and anxiety I’ve ever had.

I used to have to take heavy duty tranquilizers to travel. I had to take back roads to drive around town.

Now, it’s like all of that is nothing. I’m realizing it was nothing. My priorities are more basic now: safe place to sleep, food, hygiene. Along the way I take pictures. We listen to Duncan Trussell together and I listen to ancient playlists while Jess sleeps.

Sometimes there are tornadoes. Sometimes there is snow. Sometimes the heater goes out in Indiana and it’s cold and we hide under the blankets and screech “it’s freezing! Screw this!”

and other times we doze with the windows open and the curtain fluttering over our toes, and it’s perfect.

Perfect.

When I was thirteen I imagined I’d live out of my car because my agoraphobia was so bad. I thought I’d be homeless and no one would know me and it would be terrible.

But it isn’t.

There are miles of stars in the desert at night. Fields of turbines in the Midwest. Sparkling cities. Tiny pit stops. And some intensely weird heckin’ stuff pretty much everywhere we go.

I don’t know where we’ll head next, but I think I’m getting the swing of this.

 

There’s quite a bit more in my travel diary, but that’s enough for now. Time for me to crash out while I still can.

Take care of yourselves out there, and maybe I’ll see you along the way.

❤ Anne

crossroads

As he passed the sign declaring HELL IS REAL, tumblr_mq6gg0hmnj1sq35zxo1_500-1Tyler laughed.

“Ain’t nobody who lives like us doesn’t know that,” he said, glancing at his silent companion. “And sure as shit, you and I know it’s true.”

The thing in the passenger seat slid its one gleaming eye toward him, a slight dip of its head acknowledging that yes, of course they both knew that.

Tyler had met his demon years before, standing in his path at an old familiar crossroads. And since that night, it had stayed beside him, because kin always knows kin.

Kin always stays with kin, especially in a family like theirs.

There had been no deal between them. No binding oaths. Just recognition of the truth, and a promise to never, ever look away.

Hell was real. Threaded through the corn fields, collected in sleepy diners, all the tired kinfolk spoke the truth with their very existence. Those bits of black matter, connecting everything, seeing everything, never looking away.

There was no way they could.

Hell was on the TV. Hell was on the radio. In every petty war and grim announcement on the eleven o’clock news, you could see it. You could know it. And Tyler kept driving, because it helped him feel like there was an escape somewhere. Some place he’d finally know rest. Where his demon would meld into him and finally take him away from this place.

Because hell wasn’t under the ground. It wasn’t a place separate from reality. Hell was the world he continued to trudge through, no matter what.

HELL IS REAL.

“Sure is,” he muttered under his breath. “It sure is.”

Another hundred miles to go.

He knew he’d wonder longer than that whether one of his hopeless kin put up that sign.

And it’s done.

I’ve polished IN THE HEART OF THE HOLLOW FOREST, and it’s ready for readers. This thing that took its first form in 2011 (maybe even earlier!) is complete. I can FINALLY get this thing out there. Awesome.

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Awesome work by Alex Ruiz

So what’s next? Contemporary, fantasy, science fiction…? My two loves are horror and fantasy, but they usually stay close to the real world. The idea I’ve been bouncing around lately…very much doesn’t. There are mecha, irradiated megafauna (we’re talking Pleistocene-sized megafauna), people who survived in massive underground bunkers, and posthumans forced to survive up top. My brain is pulling apart tons of memories from an awesome class on nuclear politics I took as an undergrad, and everything I love about deep time. Also, MECHS. MECHS MECHS MECHS.

(You guys have no idea how much I love mecha, but eventually you will.)

I’m still worldbuilding and characters are slowly taking shape. I think there’s a red sky from a not-quite-recovered atmosphere, and while plant life has made a comeback, it in no way resembles the plant life of the world as it was before. The setting is grim, but the characters…I think the characters may actually be a little more light-hearted this time around. The protagonist might even be cheerful!

But I don’t know yet. We’ll see. I’ll post back here when I have more to tell. I’m hoping for a tiny synopsis soon.

Happy Fat Tuesday to those of you celebrating!

A serious post.

2014 is at a close, and I can barely believe it.

This year has sped by too fast in some places, too slow in others. 2014 was not an easy year for me and my family, but we weathered it, and I have hope 2015 contains fewer losses. It’s never easy to lose people, and this particular loss was a bad blow. Still, I am telling myself what I always tell myself: “we’ll make it.” That’s been my mantra all year, and somehow I’m still here and pretty much everything in my life is intact. In some areas, things are vastly improved. In others, I know exactly how far I have to go.

2014 had some major wins. I found some very awesome critique partners and discovered a writing soul mate I get to see this January. I had one request for a full despite a terrible market, and the rejection shaped a stronger draft. While AMoA got bandied back and forth in the very capable hands of my critique circle, I discovered what was wrong with THE WILD HUNT. I’d hoped to have that particular book finished this year, but I didn’t find the right draft until September. Now it’s tentatively titled IN THE HEART OF THE HOLLOW FOREST, and it’s going all kinds of dark and nasty places I was afraid to go before. Continue reading “A serious post.”

End of NaNo means one thing…

We’re six days away from the end of November, and many of you know what that means. The end of NaNoWriMo looms nigh, and for many, that means the end of a draft.

As writers, we all know what comes after you complete a rough draft…

TIME TO MURDER YOUR MANUSCRIPT.

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The revision process is not easy. It’s fraught with terror and loathing. You’re torn between doubting whether the draft is salvageable, or whether you should set it (and possibly your computer) on fire. You alternate between various stages of “no,” “why,” and “SOMEONE BURN IT I JUST DON’T CARE” with every poke. It tends to look vaguely like this:

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Before you set everything on fire, though, the first step is…

1) Basic editing. Run spellcheck, use a grammar checker like Hemingway App, and use Find and Replace for changed character names, place names, and so on. Make sure your manuscript is readable. Then…

2) Send it off to beta readers. Give them as much or as little guidance as you need. Then, while you wait…

3) Consider some big picture changes on your own:

MOOD. GOOD LORD, MOOD. Okay. So this is something that should be present even in the rough draft, but in the event that it isn’t, this is something you want to work in. Every book has a “feel” to it. What’s yours? What is the atmosphere like? How heavy or light is it? How can you tweak the mood in each scene? Description and imagery can do a lot of work for you with mood. USE IT. Check your big scenes. Dial it up. Make it intense!

SUBPLOTS. Notice how that’s in big, capital letters? Yes. There is a reason for that. Subplots tend to be messy in rough drafts. Check them. How many of them do you have? Are they neatly tied up? Or are there threads in place for future books? This is the time to examine your subplots and figure out what in the world you’re doing with them.

Are the character arcs complete? How much have your major characters changed from the beginning of the story to the end? Is there enough of a change? How have their relationships with other characters changed over the course of the story? Are there characters who need to be cut entirely or combined?

Are their motivations strong enough? Sometimes additional back story is necessary to illustrate a character’s motivations or a particular relationship. There are plenty of character worksheets out there, but this one is my favorite because it is VERY THOROUGH. Sometimes it’s smarter to fill a character worksheet out AFTER you’ve finished the rough draft, rather than before.

This is part and parcel with characterization, but…are we clued in to a character’s thoughts? No? Why? Is there a reason a narrator is holding back information? Examine whether or not that’s something you might need to expand.

Which scenes can you cut, and which scenes need to stay? This one is easy if you outline your story. Big scenes are the backbone of the entire book. Think of them as vertebrae. If there’s too much filler between one big scene and another, rethink where that scene is. Can you add another to bridge the gap? Or can you eliminate that filler entirely? Ask yourself whether each scene is necessary. If they’re not, cut ’em.

Is there enough description? My critique partners hear me whine about this all day long, but especially in big scenes. I want to know the quality of the light, whether there’s anything ominous about the air, what the character can smell and hear and taste. Pay attention to your description. Let it do double duty for characterization and mood. Description does a lot more than lay the scene if you do it right.

Symbols. Revisions are where you start to work this in. Have a particular color you want to assign to a character? Work some of that into their scenes, clothing, or overall description. Perhaps there’s a color another character associates with them for a particular reason, or something they specifically notice about that character.

On that same note, the revision stage is where you really work on foreshadowing. AMP IT UP. Make it nasty. Really punch your reader on the nose.

Voice. This is highly dependent upon the narrator. If you have one, is their voice consistent throughout? If there’s more than one narrator, are the voices distinguishable from one another? Do the separate perspectives serve a purpose? (These are questions your betas and critique partners will likely answer, but it’s something you’ll want to be thinking about as well.)

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are a number of really good checklists out there. Marissa Meyer and Dahlia Adler have some really great things to say about the overall process that I fully recommend. And once you’ve finished revisions…

Ahahahahahaha…

Then, my friend…THEN you’ll face the synopsis and query.

This is how I feel about those:

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But you will overcome. You will not be sad Neo, rejecting everything with your cute sad puppy eyes. You will be a master of slicing and dicing and word murder, and when you are done, you will look at the revision process like this:

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You’ve got this, guys.

Happy writing!

An Ode to Donnie Darko

Look, that title is what it is because that’s what this is about to be. (Did I trip you up there? I’m sorry. I’m just excited.) This movie did things to my brain. Great, fantastic things, and every time I watch this movie, it reminds me of being young and afraid and realizing just how much I needed stories that were both scary and sad.

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The first time I got my mitts on Donnie Darko, it was September of 2002, and then-boyfriend and I were hunting for a date night movie at Blockbuster. Remember those? It was an actual brick-and-mortar Blockbuster, and–get this–we rented a tape. Unbelievable, right? But that was what was available, and back then, sixteen year-old me was rather enamored with the cover, and the plot description looked intriguing. So we nabbed some popcorn and headed back to my house, and we were watching it in the living room, and everything was fine until that Infamous Kitchen Scene.

Anyone who’s seen this movie understands exactly why this was a problem for my mother. Then-boyfriend, now-husband and I had decided in that moment that this was the greatest thing we had ever seen, and we weren’t even ten minutes into the film. Mom told us to relocate with our terrible potty-mouthed film, so we did, and something magical happened.

We were so enthralled that we did not speak until the movie was finished.

Even then, it was just a brief acknowledgement that it was well past time for me to drive him home. So I did, thinking of the world’s scariest bunny costume while bad eighties music and brilliant cinematography ran rampant through my head.

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And then I came home, watched it again, and wrote like I was possessed. Something had clicked in my brain, and I had this weird, instinctual realization of what mood and atmosphere really were. I was just a tiny, fledgling writer back then, stumbling through my assignments for Creative Writing I at the Fine Arts Center. But that night, I figured out what one of my first priorities was as a writer. It was something I’d never really had words for, or truly understood. I’d poked at it, made attempts at it, but was never entirely sure of what I was doing. I would fit in a piece here or there, but I could never really hack the full puzzle. It had escaped me for roughly sixteen years, but that night, I’d finally figured out what it was, because I knew what it sounded like.

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Now, I was born in the eighties, but my memories of them are pretty fuzzy because I was really, really young. I can remember the poor fashion choices, the truly hideous color schemes, and the movies with some clarity, but the music? Absolutely crystal clear.

That’s the first thing Donnie Darko does right with establishing mood. Straight out of the gate, we’re hit with a killer score/soundtrack combo. The score starts out ethereal, almost a little ominous, but the follow with Echo & the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” is what really sets the mood. The first priority with Donnie Darko is setting up that access point via the soundtrack, and making the viewer feel like it’s actually October 2, 1988. Time is a very important theme in this movie, and transporting us back into the late eighties is one of the rare tricks Donnie Darko manages to pull off well. Even if you weren’t a teenager back then in a rigid, Catholic school in a rigid, small-town community, you get the sense that you know what it was like. The details are just that strong and consistent. They have to be, because when things start getting weird, we need those solid details to keep us grounded in the story. We can deal with eerie, spooky stuff so long as we still have the familiar details of upper middle class American life in the late eighties, and a familiar tune from Duran Duran thrown in at the perfect time.

That seemingly effortless dovetailing between the score and the soundtrack was a great lesson in atmosphere. Given, it’s not really something you can use with writing, but that feeling, that particular emotion generated by a scene set to a really great song–THAT can definitely be applied to writing. Slow it down a great scene. Watch it over and over. You will start to pick out the reasons why you love it so much, and what it does for you.

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For sixteen year-old me, there was something about that opening scene to “The Killing Moon.” I was a wee batty goth thing, and I was already familiar with Echo & the Bunnymen, but this–this was a whole new spin on that song. There was something about that morning bike ride down a mountain road. Something about the quality of the light, and how the shots were framed. The lyrics didn’t make sense with the rest of the scene upon first watch, but on the second watch, I got it. I noticed how each character was introduced with some kind of personality, something to give us a sense of who was who in Donnie’s life. And then the scene ends perfectly with the whiteboard note asking “Where is Donnie?”

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Bam. Setting, mood, time period, characters, and character relationships in less than five minutes. All scored to one perfect song. No dialog required.

This is why sixteen year-old me mentally sat up and thought, hey, I could learn something here.

Now, this is the part where I’m supposed to wax on about how this is an awesome Halloween watch. It is. I’m getting there. I’m sorry for all the rambling, but this is one of my top three, and there are many blog posts I could write on why. This essay could go on for a really long time about all the things I love about this movie, but the obviously tight writing and plotting are what made it stick in my brain.

I got a feeling from watching this movie, and that is what I chase after in my own writing. If I had to pick a handful of words to communicate that feeling, the very first I would choose is “October.” Here’s why.

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This movie is supposed to take place in Middlesex, Virginia. Now, I’ve never been there, but the way the film is shot is vaguely reminiscent of October in the South. Down here, the trees don’t really change color until the very end of October. The quality of light is very bright during the day, golden in the afternoons, and when the sky is clear, it is a perfect azure blue.

Guess what things Donnie Darko had in common on that front?

Zing! Perfect October atmosphere (to me, at least). Add in the ominous countdown to Halloween, creepy bunny-man Frank’s doomsday message, and the movie starts veering into horror territory. There’s a great bait-and-switch with Donnie supposedly being psychotic and his repeated visions of Frank that’s both scary and incredibly sad.

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I won’t spoil the plot for those of you who haven’t seen the film before, but that particular theme hit a sore chord with sixteen year-old me. We know up front that the people around Donnie think he isn’t right in the head, and we know from his behavior that something is indeed a little off kilter with him. So when Frank appears, it’s a little ambiguous.

Is Donnie crazy? Or is there something else going on here?

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That tension between sane and insane, real and unreal is part of what makes the film work. The story balances on a knife’s edge between science fiction and psychological horror, and the beauty of the whole thing is that even at the end, you’re left with a sense of ambiguity.

(This is your warning: there are spoilers ahead.)

Was it really a loophole in time, knitting itself closed? Or was it all a dream in Donnie’s head?

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The weirdness with Frank begins with a simple proclamation: Donnie has roughly 28 days before the world comes to an end. Within that time frame, he has to figure out who Frank is, how he got there, and what exactly he wants Donnie to do. It doesn’t initially make sense, but as Frank leads Donnie through one seemingly meaningless task after another, it becomes clear that there is indeed a purpose behind Frank’s actions. Donnie becomes convinced that Frank is telling him the truth about the end of the world, and as he struggles to figure out what it is Frank wants him to do, he confronts some hard questions.

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At its heart, Donnie Darko is an existential film. Death, meaninglessness, freedom, and isolation are all challenged in various ways. Why is Donnie here? Are the things that happen to him complete random, or are they, like Frank, governed by some higher order? And if so, how much of a choice does Donnie really have in whether or not he prevents the end of the universe?

Well, according to Frank, it can only end one way.

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The ending is what either makes or breaks the film for people. For me and then-boyfriend, now-Husband, we were absolutely slackjawed by the time the credits rolled. It was clear to both of us what had happened, and that’s why I had to immediately watch the film a second time. I’d watched all those pieces fall into place the entire time, but I hadn’t caught exactly what they meant. The second watch was an even deeper experience than the first because I knew what was coming, and it made each scene even more poignant. It’s very, very rare for a movie to do that to me, and at sixteen, it totally wrecked me. Here was this raw, genuine character without a future, and for me, that was the movie I needed to see at that particular time. It wasn’t just that it had a good story, or that it made me want to create something so intricately plotted and tragically written it would smash someone’s heart to smithereens. What sixteen year-old me took away from that first and second watch was that every life has a meaning, and even if you’re trapped with a crappy destiny, your choices still matter because they define who you are.

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I’m not sure how I would have felt about this movie if I’d seen it at any other time in my life. Things changed quite a bit between September of 2002 to September of 2003, and when I declared at our 2003 New Year’s Eve party that we were going to watch “the most awesome thing ever made” (AKA this film), I was a much different person. 

When you stumble upon something destined to become your favorite thing, you bring all your life experiences and emotions with it. Who you are at that point in time shapes what that favorite thing will become, and for me, it was a pretty big deal. My critique partners are probably cackling right now, because that big, terrible, heartbreaking, intricate thing? Yes…now you understand what made me do it.

Thanks, Donnie Darko.

And now…if you haven’t seen it, go watch it. I promise you’ll enjoy it at least a little bit, if only for the hilarious dialog.

On that note, I’ll close with another playlist. This one has more than a couple late-80s tunes, and it’s filled with what I consider to be perfect October songs.

See you guys later this week! I’ll have another movie write-up for you soon. Thanks for stopping by.