Victoria On Masterpiece

The PBS.org description for the season finale of “Victoria” reads: “On the verge of delivering her first child, Victoria spurns advice.”

And I thought, “Seriously, ‘Victoria spurns advice’ could describe every one of these episodes.”

There’s no doubt that the show wants to show Victoria as an independent young woman who knows her own mind. Parallels are continually drawn between Victoria and the first Elizabeth who was, without question, a fiercely independent woman and one of Britain’s great monarchs. This is done subtly, through the opening music (the word “Gloriana” was one of the names given to Elizabeth I), and overtly, through the prominent display of portraits of the queen. In one episode, Victoria adopts the Virgin Queen’s attire as her costume for a party. She openly admires her predecessor and at times speculates about her own fate: will she have to remain unmarried in order to retain control of her own destiny, as Elizabeth did?

This speculation is not idle, as her advisers and Privy Council and even her family members are all scheming to control her, and if that fails, to provide her with a husband through whom they can control her.

So it is frustrating as a viewer to understand how high the stakes are — to see Victoria surrounded by power-hungry, manipulative, often shallow people, and to see her be fully aware of this, and then watch her behave in ways that play right into their manipulative, shallow plans.

I’ve taken it upon myself to write my own version of PBS’s brief episode summaries. Let me know what you think.

Episode 1: Doll 123

Upon ascending the throne at the young age of 18, Victoria, surrounded by family who would control her, spurns advice. Except she’ll listen to Lord Melbourne, whom she quite fancies because he’s the first person who has ever been kind to her. But in the one case where he tries to prevent her from causing a scandal, she ignores him because she’s angry. And it blows up in her face.

Episode 2: Ladies in Waiting

As Lord Melbourne’s popularity wanes and his government is dissolved, Victoria spurns advice and places her own desires above the good of the country and its Constitutional procedures. In fact, she nearly brings down the government because she won’t make a gesture. Again, her personal feelings take priority over doing what is right.

Episode 3: Brocket Hall

Surrounded by suitors, Victoria spurns advice, putting her personal feelings ahead of all propriety and the good of the country. She runs “incognito” to Lord Melbourne and essentially proposes marriage to the one man who simply cannot (and should not) be her husband. Thankfully, he knows what’s best, even if she does not.

Episode 4: The Clockwork Prince

Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha arrives in England. Victoria doesn’t like him on principle because he’s been handpicked by the family to be her husband (and also because he doesn’t flatter her the way Lord M does). As a reluctant attraction between them grows, however, Victoria spurns advice and refuses to entertain the idea of marriage to him, mainly because that’s what everyone else wants (and Lord M doesn’t like him, so…).

Episode 5: An Ordinary Woman

As Victoria and Albert fall in love and decide to marry, Victoria spurns advice, refuses to compromise, and alienates those she should try to make her allies. And, to top it off, includes in her wedding vows that she will obey her husband, even though she is the queen.

Episode 6: The Queen’s Husband

As Albert seeks a greater role in public affairs, Victoria continues to spurn advice, both his and anyone else’s, marginalizing her husband (who, it turns out, is clearly more suited to governing than she) and basing political decisions on personal enmities.

Episode 7: Engine of Change

Holding tight to her insistence that only she knows what’s best for the country, Victoria spurns advice and outrages those who should be her allies. Thank goodness for Albert and his diplomatic ways… but this just proves that the men around her have been right all along: that she needed a husband to “control” her. Oh, and now she’s pregnant, so she’s fragile and borderline hysterical as well (say the men).

Victoria was a woman of her time, but she was also a woman in a position to make the times. I do think she was a victim of her sheltered upbringing, and her choices were limited by the level of control that people around her had over who she met and what she learned. However, so far, this program isn’t showing us a powerful, independent woman in control of her own life. So far, what we’re seeing is a young woman only interested in getting her own way and pleasing the men she cares about. And, frustratingly for women viewers, the men are always (smugly) right.

 

 

 

 

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Writer’s Block? Who, Me?

I’ve always been proud to say I don’t get writer’s block.

Believe me, I have plenty of petty work-avoidance techniques that enable me to say that.

But until recently, I haven’t been writing. At all.

First, there was the craziness of the election in November. Then there was Thanksgiving, and then grading final papers, and the joyful busy-ness of the Solstice holidays. In December, I also had a little scare in which it looked like I might not have a job — or health insurance, since the ACA is being happily gutted by the new administration in Washington — but that was thankfully resolved and I’m back at school.

And, oh yeah, in case you didn’t hear, my book is being published soon! In fact, I’ve got a date:  April 11 for the paperback and April 25 for the digital formats. You can pre-order on March 28, if you feel so inclined (and I hope you do)! The cover art is finished and it’s GORGEOUS and it will be on City Owl’s blog in early February, so I’ll release it here concurrently. Things are getting real, people!

And I’ve been streaming Netflix.

I think the whole “OMG THIS IS REAL” thing is what’s behind the writer’s block. I can’t seem to wrap my head around this. I keep looking at the cover art (and I do so love it, you guys) and looking at the calendar, and April is only three months away. Three months until something I’ve waited my WHOLE LIFE for.

So, yeah, you can maybe understand why I’m a little freaked out.

My friends keep telling me I should have a party for the launch, and I’m thinking, yeah, something with beer and vodka because damn, this is crazy!

The other day I remembered a scene I had wanted to write for this next, neglected book, so I sat down to write. A little every day, I’ve been writing (still taking breaks to check Facebook and stream TV shows… it’s a process), and so far, the scene has turned out to be over 7,000 words. To give you a feel, the last book was about 85,000 words, so this scene is on track to be 1/10 of a novel.

Guess what? It’s not going in the book.

But at least I’m writing.

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2016: Ways In Which It Did Not Suck

This was a particularly difficult year. I think we’d all agree to that statement, especially us Gen X’ers.

From David Bowie’s death as the year opened, to George Michael’s passing as it limped to a dreadful end, this year dealt us blow after shocking blow. We found ourselves saying, “It can’t get any worse, can it?” over and over, and then it did.

So for this last day of the year, I decided to tweet (and memorialize here — a space I neglect terribly) some of the good and great things that happened this year, in the hope that I will inspire some of you to do the same. Let’s remind each other that it wasn’t  all bad. That there is good in the world, and it starts with each one of us.

I went to two weddings this year, both great couples who complete each other. One was my sister-in-law Amy and her long-time partner Mike. They’ve been through a lot together and the time was finally right for them to put a ring on it. Family and friends came together in Delaware and celebrated in a gorgeous gem of a restaurant owned by one of Amy’s oldest friends. And I got to put my feet in the ocean in October.

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The other couple was Rick and Pam. Rick has been a friend since my college roommates moved to Connecticut in the early 90s; Pam is the old flame he reunited with after he moved out here to Colorado. Pam moved here late this summer, and she’s fit right in to what we all lovingly refer to as the “Colorado family.”

I saw a Shakespeare First Folio in person on the campus of CU Boulder this summer, and since I work there, I saw it several times. Several. Times. I couldn’t touch it, but oh boy, I devoured that thing with my eyes.

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I saw Peter Gabriel and Sting together on the “Rock, Paper, Scissors” Tour and they were unbelievable. And they’re both still alive. Please, Universe, let us keep a few of our idols for just a little longer.

I finally met Katharine Owens, a writer and professor I’ve been friends with on line for several years and even Skyped with but had never met in person. She is as awesome as I knew she’d be! I’m looking forward to many more dinners together, Kat!

Teaching is getting easier and better for me (and hopefully better for my students as a result). I love the time in the classroom; I love getting to know the students and hearing their perspectives; I love the way we laugh. I also love knowing that for many of them, my class is the only opportunity they have to talk about issues in a classroom, whether it’s guns or the CU football team or on-campus sexual conduct or anything in the news that day.

My oldest child graduated from high school and went to college. I know that’s not at all an accomplishment of mine, but damn, there were days that I sweated and suffered through high school too, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of that kid. And now I get to watch her spread her wings and fly (while occasionally coming home to the nest), becoming the young adult she was always meant to be… it’s the most amazing experience a parent can have. Oh, and now her hair is blue, which is a kick too.

My dad is exactly 30 years older than me — almost to the day, as his birthday is June 6 and mine is June 8 — and we both hit some big numbers this year. So when he came to visit this summer, I booked us a table at one of the fanciest restaurants in Boulder, Frasca Food & Wine. I asked for the table in the kitchen so we could watch the chefs work and it was an experience I will never forget.

I could go on — road trips, time with family and friends, football games, and of course, Cinnamon Bun Oreos — but I think you get the point. Even when things are going badly, there is always good to counterbalance. You have to look for it, but it’s there.

What? You thought I wasn’t going to mention it? The biggest, best thing that happened to me this year?

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Yup, that’s the moment. So I’m sorry, I can’t say that 2016 was the worst year ever  because for me, it wasn’t. It was the year my dream FINALLY came true. And I can’t ever forget that.

What are your 2016 highlights? I hope you have some great ones to share, and I wish you a very happy new year and a wonderful 2017!

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview with Author Danielle DeVor

Today I’m excited to share with you an interview with City Owl Press author Danielle DeVor. She’s celebrating the re-release of her dark fantasy/paranormal SORROW’S EDGE with a blog tour and GIVEAWAYS!

Who doesn’t love a giveaway?

SORROW’S EDGE is the second book in a series about exorcist Jimmy Holiday (Book 1 of the Marker Chronicles is SORROW’S POINT, also available from City Owl Press. See below the interview for more details. I asked Danielle about the challenges of writing a series, her writing rituals, and what drew her to the dark side…

MLF: Danielle, my first question for you is, why horror? What draws you to horror and paranormal stories? danielledevorauthorphoto

DDeV: I honestly have no easy answer for that. I fell in love with monsters when I was very small. I always liked the dark. So, I guess I came out of the womb loving creepy things. 🙂

MLF: You’ve written quite a few novels, some stand-alone and some series. What’s different about writing a series vs. writing a stand-alone novel?

DDeV: Little details. When writing a stand-alone, you only have to concentrate on that one book and make sure that everything that happens in that one book is consistent. Whereas, in a series, there are all these tiny details that you must remember because someone WILL call you out on something small if you randomly change something.

MLF: Wow, that’s got to be challenging! With this series, did you come up with the main character or the setting first?

DDeV: Well, with the first book, I came out with the setting of Blackmoor [a haunted mansion] first. For Sorrow’s Edge, it is Jimmy Holiday all the way.

MLF: Are you a lot like Jimmy or not? In what ways are you different? And does that create writing challenges for you?

DDeV: I am very much like Jimmy. I don’t have patience. I tend to get mad instead of scared. And, I love to drive people crazy. He does say the things I wish I could say a lot of the time. And, he seems to get away with it. They don’t, because I can just set Jimmy free. But other characters are much harder.

MLF: Do you have any rituals when you write, like a favorite place, a favorite drink, or a soundtrack?

DDeV: I write long-hand using a steno pad and a sparkly gel pen.

MLF: Ooooh! I love sparkly gel pens! What’s your favorite thing about being a writer (besides sparkly gel pens)?

DDeV: Hearing from people and getting to nerd-out over shared interests. I love connecting with fans.

MLF: Awesome! Thanks, Danielle!

Book 2 in the fascinating series The Marker Chronicles!

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Sorrow’s Edge (The Marker Chronicles, Book 2)

Uncovering the truth will take an exorcist.
 
Jimmy Holiday, defrocked priest turned exorcist, is trying to get his life in order. With his on-again off-again witchy girlfriend moving in, the spirit of the little girl from his last exorcism hanging around, and a secret organization of exorcists hounding him, Jimmy equals stressed.

When a stranger calls in the middle of the night asking for help with a possession, Jimmy is about to land in a mess of trouble. Especially since the man on the phone claims to have gotten his number from Jimmy’s old mentor. Too bad his mentor has been dead for years.

After a mysterious silver flask arrives at his doorstep, Jimmy is left with two options: either ignore the newest enigma the universe has tossed him, or listen to Lucy and travel to Arizona to solve the mystery before all hell breaks loose…again.

 

You can buy SORROW’S EDGE at these retailers:

 Amazon     |     Barnes & Noble

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Danielle DeVor

DanielleDeVorAuthorPhotoNamed one of the Examiner’s 2014 Women in Horror: 93 Horror Authors you Need to Read Right Now, Danielle DeVor has been spinning the spider webs, or rather, the keyboard for more frights and oddities. She spent her early years fantasizing about vampires and watching “Salem’s Lot” way too many times. When not writing and reading about weird things, you will find her hanging out at the nearest coffee shop, enjoying a mocha frappuccino.

 

You can follow Danielle at these links:

Blog   |   Twitter   |   Facebook   |   Instagram

 

Excerpt

I got the phone call at three. Just as Lucy said I would. I was really starting to hate the true “witching hour.” I needed sleep, dammit.
I let the phone ring a few times, hoping that whoever was on the other end would just hang up. I wasn’t that lucky. I dragged my tired-ass body up, grabbed my phone off the nightstand, and swiped the screen.
“Mr. Holiday?” the man asked when I grunted into the phone.
“You realize it’s 3:00 AM, right?” My head hit the pillow. I did not want to be doing this right now.
The man sighed. “It couldn’t be helped. We need you.”
I twitched. Who the hell was this guy anyway? Kind of presumptuous to call somebody at random this late at night when you’d never met the person on the other end. Apparently, manners weren’t his strong point.
I glanced around the room. The lamp in the corner was on. The light glowed just enough to keep my mind at ease. I’d gotten into the habit of sleeping with a light on ever since Sorrow’s Point. Yeah, it was irrational, but hey, I was trying to keep the beasties at bay. From the dim light, I could see Lucy sitting on the floor in front of the TV. I, just barely, made out the program through her. Her hair was as pale as usual and so blond it seemed almost white. She wore the same white nightgown she always did.
“How did you get my number?” I had to know. I mean, I doubted Will would suggest me to someone else. Things hadn’t exactly ended on a positive note.
“You came highly recommended.”
That was news to me. A very small group of people even knew I did something besides graphic design. “By who?”
“That’s not important right now. You’re needed. That’s what should matter.”
I sat up. Not important to him, maybe, but it sure as shit was important to me. I squeezed the phone so hard my knuckles began to ache. If I broke it, this asshole was going to owe me another phone. “Listen. I’m not about to traipse around and do whatever the hell it is you want me to when you won’t tell me who you are or who told you about me.”
“O’Malley said you’d be difficult.”
I froze. Father O’Malley had been the one who allowed me to see the church as a vocation when I was a kid. But there was one problem. He’d been dead since before I left the church. I didn’t care where he got the information. That was a low blow. I clenched my teeth.
“I’m going to hang up now. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t call here again—”
“No, wait!”
The desperation in his voice was the only thing that kept me from hanging up the phone. “All right. I’m listening.”
“O’Malley told me about you in a dream. When I woke up, your phone number was scrawled on my hand.”
Yeah, I knew that kind of weird. I had firsthand experience with it. Having a dead person talk to him in a dream wasn’t that different from a disembodied soul speaking to me in a nightmare. Yeah, my life was really interesting. Though I’d never drawn on myself in my sleep. That was a new one. “Who is it who needs an exorcism?”
The guy hung up. I literally heard the phone hitting the cradle. Who used an old phone like that anymore? I almost threw my cell phone against the wall. I mean, what the hell? Wake me up in the middle of the night for what?
I scratched the sleep out of my eyes and glanced over at Lucy. “Don’t you ever sleep?”
She stared at me and grinned. Her blue eyes almost sparkled. “I don’t have to.”
I shook my head. Of course a kid would think it great to not sleep. I, on the other hand needed my rest—strange phone calls or not. And if someone else called, I’d probably be facing a murder charge.
“Do you think Tabby will like me?” Lucy asked. She stayed dressed in this little white frilly nightgown. I wasn’t sure if it was her favorite or if there was something else at work keeping her dressed that way. When I’d done her exorcism, she sure wasn’t in frills.
Now that was the question, wasn’t it? I’d been toying with the idea of not telling Tabby about my ghostly child, but it appeared that was no longer an option. And with my luck, Tabby would eventually see her, freak out, and the whole thing would be blown out of proportion.
“I’m sure she will…” I hoped that was true. “After she gets used to the idea.”
Lucy stared at me for a bit. I could tell she wasn’t buying it. Best I start remembering there was more to her than to a regular six-year-old.
“It will all work out,” I told her. “Eventually.” Part of that was me trying to convince myself. There was only so much oddness a normal person could take, and I figured I was probably getting close to the threshold.
“Uh-huh,” Lucy said, back to watching the TV. How she could just sit in front of the TV for hours on end, I didn’t know. It was almost like she became somehow hypnotized by it.
I laid my head back on the pillow. Hopefully, I could go back to sleep. Hopefully, I could stop worrying about that odd phone call. Hopefully…who was I kidding? I was seriously screwed. Again.

 

Giveaway

Open internationally. Must be 13+ to win.

Prizes:

1 Winner – Amazon $5 Gift Card

2 Winners – ebook copy of SORROW’S POINT

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This tour is brought to you by

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Please check out our other tour hosts for Excerpts, Interviews and more chances to win!

 
11/6/16 Natalia Brothers mycookbookofwriting.blogspot.com
11/6/16 Cheshire Cat cheshirecatlookingglass.com
11/6/16 Jennifer Theriot http://jennifertheriot.blogspot.com/
11/6/16 Em shotwell EmShotwell.com/blog
11/6/16 Leigh Anderson www.leighandersonromance.com
11/7/16 Steven Ramirez http://stevenramirez.com/
11/7/16 Randi Perrin www.randiperrin.com
11/7/16 Mindy Wall http://dream-reader-dreamer2229.blogspot.com/
11/8/16 Maer Wilson http://maerwilson.com/
11/10/16 Maryanne Fantalis mfantaliswrites.wordpress.com
11/10/16 E. J. Wenstrom www.ejwenstrom.com/blog
11/10/16 Ashley Pomykala parsimoniouspash.com
11/10/16 Kathleen Kelly http://www.celticladysreviews.blogspot.com
11/10/16 Miriam Greystone www.miriamgreystone.com
11/10/16 Craig Comer http://craigcomer.com
11/12/16 Christina Mandara http://christinamandara.com
11/12/16 Ronelle Antoinette http://www.redhotbooks.com
11/12/16 Tina Traverse https://writersonthewharf.wordpress.com
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Full Circle

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival just announced their 2017 season, and it’s packed with crowd-pleasers. “Julius Caesar,” “Hamlet,” “Rosencranz & Guildenstern Are Dead”… I can’t wait!

But what really makes me happy, in the same year as my novel FINDING KATE launches into the world, is they are performing “The Taming of the Shrew” again.

If you’ve been with me on this blogging journey from the beginning, you’ll know that it was seeing “The Taming of the Shrew” for the first time at CSF back in 2010 that inspired me to write a novel based on the play and eventually got me here — to the place where I will soon hold a book in my hands and call myself a published author for the first time.

I hope that you’ll come to Boulder this summer and see any one of these great plays, but especially Kate’s story which has become so precious to me over the past five years. And if you do, let me know, because I will go see it with you. Again and again and again…

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Which Fictional Characters Are You?

Earlier this week, Yelena Casale, the fabulous executive editor at my publisher City Owl Press, tagged me in a Facebook game, asking, “Which three fictional characters best describe you?”

I looked over the other posts by my editors and co-authors and saw amazing heroines like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones, and Eowyn from the Lord of the Rings, and La Femme Nikita, and other gun-and-sword-toting, ass-kicking women.

My first reaction was to be a little intimidated by my editors. 😉

My next reaction was, sure, I’d like to be the woman who faces vampires without fear or the one who rides a flaming dragon, but that’s just not who I am.

I am confident enough to share the real me, though, so here it goes.

Number 1:  Meg Murray from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

 

 

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This is how much I love this book! (Notice the poster INSIDE the library)

If you know me at all, you know that this is the single most influential book of my life. And Meg is my hero. In some ways, she’s nothing like me. In other ways, she is completely me.

 

When we first meet Meg, she’s home from a really bad day. She was called into the principal’s office for fighting at school. What?! That’s so not me. Not the fighting, not the outburst of anger, not the principal’s office — none of it. But the real Meg behind that anger? The insecure kid who nobody likes, who struggles to understand the world, who doesn’t get why it’s so easy for other people, who hates the way she looks, who doesn’t even really like herself? Yeah, that Meg was me. And the glory of it is how she grows into herself. She figures out that it’s okay for all of them — brilliant Charles Wallace and “normal” Sandy and Dennys and awkward Calvin and even her herself — to be just who they are. And then in the final book when she’s all grown up, she’s so at peace, and it gave young me hope that I could get there too.

Which I absolutely did.

If you want to understand the power of books, that’s it right there.

Number 2:  Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series

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Brains. Curiosity. Insatiable appetite for knowledge. Dedication. Always has the answers (and a little too eager to let you know it).

What the heck was this kid doing in Gryffindor, doing the homework for those slacker boys? She was a Ravenclaw through and through and the Sorting Hat got it wrong. (Yeah, I know, the Sorting Hat can make choices and individuals can ask, like Harry did, and as an author I know that J.K. Rowling needed this character in the same house as Harry and Ron, so there she is. But still. She ought to be in Ravenclaw.)

Hermione was always me. First with her hand up, first with the homework done, first to figure out what a teacher wanted and give it to them. It didn’t win me any friends, but I couldn’t help myself, any more than Hermione could. I wanted to KNOW things, to know EVERYTHING, and school is where you learn things and get rewarded for it. How could you not like school?

Even today, you still want me on your team in Trivial Pursuit.

Number 3:  Belle from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”

 

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Look at that tiny waist. That’s ridiculous! At least she has a book

I know it’s not PC to identify with a Disney princess, especially as they have warped from their movie forms into marketing caricatures of women who are all eyes and breasts. But I love the Belle in the movie, not that other Belle who is all about physicality.

 

I love the Belle who is smart and loves books, who lives in stories that carry her outside of the world she lives in. That was me as a girl, and is still me now. The Belle who walks around with her head buried in a book — that’s me. The Belle everyone thinks is a little different — that’s me. And I embrace that now, in a way I couldn’t when I was younger.

And how could I not be the Belle who thinks the greatest gift anyone could ever give her is a giant library full of books? Best movie scene ever!

What about you? Who are your three fictional characters?

 

 

 

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Big News!

Cue the trumpets! Pop the champagne! Toss the confetti!

I have signed a publication deal with City Owl Press for my debut novel, FINDING KATE, a historical romance based on Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.”

Let me say that again.

I have a deal. My debut novel is coming out next year.

I am going to be a published author.

*falls over*

As I described in a post way back when I first started this blog, I wrote this novel because I was inspired by a Colorado Shakespeare Festival production of the play. I wrote the first draft in three months, faster than I’d ever written a complete novel (that was before I did NaNoWriMo). Unhampered by my usual concerns about what-comes-next, moved by characters who were so vivid to me, I wrote with a confidence I’d never experienced before.

I knew this was something special. I believed in this story, and most of all, I believed in Kate herself. I knew the world was waiting for her to tell her side of the story.

They say nothing worth having ever comes easily. In reply, I would point out that I sent out queries for my last novel — the one that almost got published — the week before my daughter was born and now she’s about to start college, and therefore “easy” isn’t a word I’d use to describe this journey. But there were lessons to be learned along the way, and precious friendships made as well, so I am not complaining. Not at all.

I made it. I found City Owl Press and they found me.

I’m going to have a published book in my hands next year.

Somebody pinch me.

(Oh, and before you go, you can head back up to the top of the page and “like” my author page on Facebook. Because I have an author page on Facebook now. 🙂 )

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Invisible Mothers

Nineteen years ago on this day, I became a mother without a child.

I don’t talk much about it, mainly because it feels improper somehow, like I’m inflicting myself on others, making them uncomfortable.

I’m sorry if this post makes you uncomfortable. You should read it anyway. Because you should know about us.  The invisible mothers. The women who have lost a child before it even lived.

You should read it, and I am finally writing it, because it’s something we as a society don’t talk about enough. We pretend it doesn’t happen. When it does happen, we keep quiet about it so no one else has to hear, no one else has to share that pain.

Everyone understands miscarriages. Something like 1 in 10 pregnancies end in miscarriage during the first trimester, and people account for this by not sharing the news of their pregnancy until they’ve made it through those first twelve weeks. Then you feel safe. After that, you’ve shared your joy, you’re wearing maternity clothes, and you’re making plans. Still, according to the CDC, 1% of pregnancies in the US end in stillbirth, which is ten times the number of babies who die of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), but I bet you know all about SIDS and nothing about stillbirth.

One thing I have discovered over the years of talking to other women is that the pain you feel when it happens to you is magnified because you feel like you are the only one. In fact, the comfort you get from knowing that there are other women who have been where you are, that they have suffered and grieved and survived, is immeasurable. That’s a big reason for my writing this.

No one should be alone with such a thing.

TO THE MOTHERS

First of all, you are mothers. You need to remember that and acknowledge that and celebrate that in yourselves, even if no one else does. You are part of the vast chain of motherhood that stretches back to the dawn of humanity and nothing — no matter what else happens in your life — can ever take that experience of motherhood away from you.

Second, it is not your fault. Though the weight of guilt and the feeling of failure can be nearly unbearable at times, you have to repeat this over and over until it sinks in. Make a sign to hang on your bathroom mirror, if you can bear to look in the mirror (I couldn’t). IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. You did not bring this on yourself. You did not fail. Your body did not betray your baby; it did not let you down. You did not fail at the single most important thing you ever asked of yourself.

Moreover, it wasn’t anything you did or didn’t do. It wasn’t that sip of wine you had to celebrate your husband’s promotion (or God forbid, to toast finally getting pregnant!). It wasn’t that bite of fish or brie or hot dog. It wasn’t because you did pregnancy yoga, or because you didn’t do pregnancy yoga; it wasn’t because you forgot your prenatal vitamins that one time, or because you didn’t take them for a month because you were so nauseous from morning sickness you just couldn’t choke them down.

It was not your fault.

My pregnancy ended with premature rupture of the amniotic sac, something they call PROM — yeah, gives a whole new meaning to that high school ritual. I literally rolled over in bed one night and felt like I had peed in the bed. I was mortified.

To this day, I don’t know why it happened. There was nothing wrong. There was nothing my doctor could do. There was nothing anyone could do.

We are sometimes powerless in the face of nature.

TO THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS

Acknowledge that you don’t know what to say. You don’t. There’s really nothing you can say. Try this:  “I’m so sorry.” Or: “I can’t imagine how you are feeling right now.” Or, probably the best:  “What can I do to help you?” Or some combination of all three.

My sister-in-law brought me fancy chocolate covered pretzels and sat on the couch with me while I ate them, helping me not to feel guilty even though that was not going to help the pregnancy weight go away. Favorite foods and quiet love are a good option.

Here’s what not to say: “It was God’s will (or “fate” or “meant to be”).” Unless you want to hear something ripped from the depths of a woman’s shredded soul that sounds like this: “What kind of ‘plan’ would kill my child and make me suffer like this?” Women in the depths of this grief do not want to have a philosophical discussion about God’s mysterious ways. They are not convinced — no matter the depths of their personal faith — that there even IS a God any more. So you should lay off the standard platitude that it’s all part of some master plan.

Another thing not to say: “You’ll feel better once you have another baby.” As though babies are just interchangeable building blocks in a family. As though this one wasn’t as unique and precious an individual before birth as it would have been at one day or one month or one year old. As if I, her mother, hadn’t already envisioned her first steps and dreamed of which college she might want to attend.

All of that, gone. In a brutal, agonizing transition of labor with the certainty of death at the end.

It took me years — probably ten — to feel able to watch fireworks with any sense of enjoyment. This is a bittersweet day for me, nineteen years later. And while I would not trade the two children I do have for anything in this world, I still wonder about the child I lost. How can I not? Who might she have been if she had had a chance?

Moms, you will make it. You will stop hating your body for its apparent betrayal. You will stop thinking that your grief shows itself like a gaping, bleeding wound for all to see. You will stop hating other women when they stroll by with their healthy, living babies. You will stop punishing yourself by walking into the room that would have been the baby’s room and noticing the absence.

You will. And maybe you’ll have another child. And another. And they’ll call you Mommy and you’ll be undone by how much you love them.

But you’ll never forget the baby who made you a mother.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hi! It’s me again… and there’s a thing happening…

Hey! How’s it going? It’s been a while, huh? I’m really sorry about that. I have just been so crazy-busy, haven’t you? I know, excuses excuses…

My second semester teaching at CU ended on the last day or so of April and then I had about seven days to grade 50-something papers. At the same time, I got the flu and was struggling just to stay awake for more than three hours at a time so it was challenging to get everything finished with the kind of precision that I require of myself. The flu left me a present too, combining with allergy season to give me a cough that lasted nearly all of the month of May and cracked one of my ribs. Ouch!

I’m not teaching any classes this summer. I wanted to enjoy the break and spend time revising my classes so that they’ll be even better next year (and they will be; I’ve got some ideas!). Plus, I’m attacking all of the chores that have been sitting on the “To Do” list since last August when I got this job, such as cleaning the bathrooms (kidding, I’m kidding… mostly). I’ll be staining the deck railings, touching up paint around the house, getting the broken window shades fixed, trimming bushes and trees, pulling weeds; you know, all the fun stuff that comes with home ownership.

And, oh yeah, I’m still trying to get that novel published.

One of the biggest issues that a writer has is getting seen. There are so many people trying to get their work in front of agents that agents can get dozens of query emails a day. Top agents will receive hundreds of queries a week. How are you supposed to get noticed, much less stand out, in a crowd like that?

Over the years, writers, agents, and editors have organized competitions using social media to cut through some of that oppressive overabundance. Twitter, in particular, has proven to be an easy and popular forum for agents and writers to find each other through “Twitter pitch” contests like #PitMad (Pitch Madness). Because of its limited format (140 characters total), a writer must be succinct and clever and an agent only has to commit a limited amount of time. I’ve had some success with Pitch Madness, so I’m always keeping an eye out for other competitions like that.

This week, I’m competing in something called Query Kombat (#QueryKombat) which is a competition that occurs annually on a series of blogs. Over the years that it has run, it has given many writers exposure to lots of agents and editors, including those who officially judge the competition and those who just stop by to check it out because they know it’s going on.

Query Kombat takes place across three blogs: those of writers Michelle Hauck, Michael Anthony, and  Laura Heffernan. They set up a competition in the style of a college basketball bracket with 64 queries going up against each other. About a week ago, they put out a call for submissions: a query and first 250 words of a completed novel, plus a clever nickname by which your work will move through the bracket. I saw that the competition was open and said, “Why not?”, never thinking I’d make it. In all, about 350 people submitted to the competition, so my chances were something like 18%. Not great.

But I made it! I got in! My novel’s nickname is “If the Shrew Fits” and I’m up against another historical with the nickname “Irish In America” set in 1880’s Arizona. You can read both queries on Michelle’s blog here.

The round of 64 has begun. The judges are judging. Round 1 goes until Saturday, June 4, at 8 pm EDT. Feel free to leave any constructive comments you’d like. Including “I’d buy a thousand copies of this ‘Shrew’ book if only someone would publish it.” (No. Don’t do that.)

I’m losing 2-1 so far. But there’s still a couple of days to go.

The fact is, even if I lose, I will have had tremendous exposure from the competition and great feedback from the commenters. I’ve already started tweaking my query and as someone who is tremendously paranoid about her opening pages, hearing such great responses to my first 250 words is INCREDIBLY reassuring.

So.

Welcome to summer. I plan on being around more. Let’s have some fun.

 

 

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“Hamilton: An American Musical”

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“What’s your name, man?”

To borrow a phrase from the show’s author, words fail.

Three weeks ago, I became one of the lucky few who got the chance to see “Hamilton” on Broadway.

Three months ago, I had never heard of “Hamilton.”

Back before Thanksgiving, my daughter starting saying that there was something she wanted me to listen to. I waved her off for a while: I was really busy, and it wasn’t just a pop song or two, it was an entire soundtrack! And the way she explained it, it sounded like the most ridiculous thing I’d had ever heard of:  a musical about Alexander Hamilton. Sung mostly in hip hop. By a non-white cast…even though all the characters they were playing were famously white, and many of them were famously slave owners.

There was no way it could possibly work.

And then we finally had a quiet evening, and she played it for me.

Damned if it wasn’t brilliant.

It makes complete and total sense. The birth of our fledgling nation was a time of incredible energy and excitement and, yes, violence and pain; it was an uprising of people who had had enough; and it required thoughts to be expressed that had never been spoken in quite that way before. The rhythmic exuberance and youthful power of hip hop is so surprisingly perfect as the expression of this energy, this passion, that it seems completely obvious from the opening note.

(Here‘s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda on CBS Sunday morning addressing this: “We take it as a given that hip-hop music is the music of the revolution.” (at 1:47).)

This show is a phenomenon. It is sold out through the summer. In January.

The people lined up in front of the theater were singing the songs.

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Selfie with the Schuyler Sisters (that’s my daughter, the reason for my obsession)

When the first actor came on stage to open the show, he couldn’t get through his first line. He sang, “How does…” and the whole place erupted like a rock concert: screams and shouts, hooting and cheering like a beloved icon had just strutted out to sing a 60s rock anthem. They had to stop the music for a good two or three seconds to let the cheering die down before he could continue.

And he wasn’t even the star of the show; that wasn’t even Hamilton’s entrance. (He had a rock star moment of his own.)

It was unbelievable. Electricity shot through the place, from the audience to the actors, from the actors to the audience.

Every element of the show works together to create magic:  light and sound, main actors and ensemble, song and spoken word (there are a few). The ensemble sometimes represent a crowd of onlookers — dancers at a party, or rebels in the street, or patriots in the rebel army — and sometimes they are objects in the environment, forming a table or enacting the flight of a bullet, and sometimes they express the emotions of a moment with their bodies; in each case enhancing the performances of the main actors with powerful and energetic motion that I can’t really describe. They functioned almost in the way that water buoys a ship: swelling and swirling around the other actors and then receding, supporting and carrying, obvious but at the same time invisible.

I can’t remember ever having this kind of emotional experience at a play. As the final number began, my throat was tight and I had tears on my face, and as I surged to my feet with everyone else in the theater for the actors’ bows, I couldn’t cheer. I was so overcome.

One of the amazing things about this play is that each and every one of these actors is so uniquely talented. Leslie Odom, Jr., the actor who plays Hamilton’s lifelong nemesis, Aaron Burr, is so riveting that you can feel the entire theater lean in towards him whenever he is alone on stage. His most emotional number, “Wait For It,” renders the theater breathlessly silent (and I know my daughter and I were not the only ones crying). Daveed Diggs, who plays both Lafayette and Jefferson, is like lightning trapped in human form: unstoppable, fast-moving, electrifying. Phillipa Soo, who plays Hamilton’s devoted wife Eliza, tears your heart with her passion.

And none of these brilliant people is the star of the show.

That honor falls to the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The first act song “Non-Stop” could as easily, I think, have been written about Miranda. The ensemble questions Hamilton’s drive:  “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?/Write day and night like you’re running out of time?” Miranda spent six years writing and developing this play — book and music — after reading Ron Chernow’s 800 page biography of Hamilton; worked with the director, choreographer, orchestra director, light and sound and set designers to achieve his vision; and stars in it seven shows a week (he gets Sundays off). He is active on social media, engaging with fans. He is the definition of non-stop.

Seeing the play live is a completely different experience from listening to the soundtrack (which I do almost daily, and believe me, even when you’re not listening to it, these songs are living inside of you). For one thing, these performers are not just exceptional singers but excellent actors; particularly Miranda, whose performance was much more subtle and nuanced than I expected. In addition, I was struck by the fact that Miranda is not afraid to surround himself with greatness even if it means that he is occasionally eclipsed. How many superstars would have decided that they MUST be the center of attention at all times, that no Lafayette rapping at the speed of sound nor heart-wrenching Burr should ever take the audience’s eyes off of the STAR, the creative force, the all-powerful-awesomeness-that-is-LMM. Instead, Miranda not only reached out to pull these people into orbit around him, he wrote these parts for them. He wanted them to shine, knowing what they could do.

It’s that kind of play, and he’s that kind of person.

I know I said “words fail” at the top, but the truth is that I could talk about it endlessly. I can’t say enough (“non-stop”), but at the same time, I can’t find the right words to express what it felt like to be there or to describe what it was like. All I can say is, if you get the chance, GO.

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The stage, before it begins…

 

(posted with apologies; there is really no excuse for how long it’s taken me to get this thing written)

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