10/1/16

DIY or Buy – my thoughts on Fairy Wings

Earlier this week I got an email from Eli that said:

“I googled fairy wings and came across your picture. I love what you did and was wondering if you could share how you made them? I’m asking because some friends of mine are shooting a music video and we wanted to have a fairy in the video. 🙂

Best,

Eli”

Unfortunately, the email address Eli gave me bounced back. After feeling sad that I couldn’t help an aspiring fairy make her wings I realized I have a blog. Now it’s a writing blog, and normally I keep pretty close to the topic, but it’s almost Halloween, so…

fairy wingsFairy Wings!

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Eli probably found a picture of my amazing wings from Enchanted Hearth Designs. More than a decade ago, I bought wings from Deanna at Enchanted Heart on eBay. Now she has a great Etsy shop that produces custom and regular wings. She does amazing work, my wings sparkled brilliantly even after a decade of use. They never tore or ripped despite being worn to the Maryland Fairy Festival and on rides at Disney World. I even wore them to run various Halloween 5ks. (Where I won for best costume, because my wingmaker is just plain amazing).

wings-aloneThe wings are sheer organza surged on the edges with a sleeve that goes over a metal piece which slides between my back and my corset. The metal is a single piece, bent into a square-bottomed u shape. They’re comfortable and travel well in a FedEx triangle box as checked baggage or shipped via ground (they weigh less than 5lbs). A word about cost: wings are not cheap. Enchanted Hearth has wings from $95 to $40. The bigger the wings the higher the price. Mine were around $75.

I also made my DIY Fairy wings using old dry-cleaning hangers and cellophane.

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Simple DIY fairy wings steps:

  1. Pull the flat portion of a drycleaning hanger (cheap wire hanger) until it resembles a hoop, with the hook on one side.
  2. Straighten the hook.
  3. Repeat with 3 other hangers.
  4. Twist the hooks together.
  5. Cover the hooks with duct tape or another soft on the skin tape.
  6. Sandwich the wings between cellophane on a safe working surface (so cellophane, the empty wing frame, then another piece of cellophane).
  7. Use a hair dryer set on very high (or a heat gun if you have one) to melt the cellophane. Be careful not to melt the cellophane, or be ready to artfully melt the cellophane so no one thinks it was an accident.

These wings are worn  by tucking the braid hanger hooks between a sports bra and your skin or by tying a ribbon around the braids to make a harness.

Here are some tutorials with roughly the same steps and pictures:

Simple wing tutorial

Complex wing tutorial

The DIY wings cost less than $15 in materials. They took me about three hours to make three pairs. The first two were epic failures. The photo above is my third set of DIY wings.  If you Google “cellophane fairy wings” you can find some really amazing wings out there. Please remember, you’re not seeing anyone’s first attempt.

Also, bear in mind that cellophane wings aren’t as durable as the cloth wings. I wore these for a day at Disney World. By the end of the day they were destroyed. To contrast, my cloth wings made it through multiple Disney days without a scratch.

A word on wing size: I bought my purple wings in size “oh my yes”. I justified it by saying my wings would have to be twice my height to lift me off the ground. This meant that in large gatherings I had to have a ‘wingman’ walking behind me keeping the tips of my wings from gouging someone’s eyes out. As a smaller than average person (61.75 inches/1.6meters tall) I often forgot to adjust for wing height when it came to doors or openings in the crowd.

I’d recommend starting with wings in a more medium height, one less prone to hurting others or restricting movement. While I love my purple fairy wings with a passion I’ve wished many many times that I got a more neutral color – sparkly white gossamer wings or black veined dragon wings may have been a bit more versatile.

Then again, wings aren’t really about making the sensible choice, are they?

So Eli, and anyone else who decides to become a fairy, I hope that helps. My wings gave me great joy. They became a way to introduce myself and my culture – “I’m the girl who wears 6 ft purple fairy wings on the weekends”). I hope your wings do the same. Good luck!

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09/5/16

DragonCon Report 2016

Labor Day weekend means DragonCon for me, at least most years. Other folks expect to bar-be-que or drink some beers. Me? I’m hoping to ride the dragon, literally:

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I’m riding a half-size model of Toothless from How to Tame Your Dragon, displayed to raise money for the Make a Wish Foundation. Toothless is wearing their band around his leg.

There’s more to the con than costumes, but any Con report would be remiss not to include them. This year some of my favorites included costume designers who envisioned another world. One designer imagined a regency period where British Colonialism didn’t exist and allowed Caribbean and African influences to flourish. Another pair created a gender swapped Avengers set in the Civil War era:

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Civil War Iron Woman and Captain America

There are also costumes with very large props, such as the life-size Luck dragon with the Empress from Never Ending Story.img_1170

But the real beauty of DragonCon for me is the way science becomes fun, and learning difficult new ideas turns into a party game.

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In this panel, three distinguished scientist (geologist, astronomer, and marine biologist) told stories. The audience had to guess which of the three were lying. After six rounds we determine the marine biologist should never play poker and marine mammals do terrible things. Dolphins get high chewing puffer fish; Killer Whales kill sharks and eat their liver for fun; and those adorable cuttlefish are cannibals.

Later in the same room I’d learn about opti-genetics, the emerging science of turning on and off parts of the brain (neurons/nerves) by flashing different types of light. Take a look at what this science can do. Making a mouse run in circles seems a little cruel, but as someone who suffers from seizures I’m very interested in what other things we might be able to control this way.

Across the hall in the Space track room, I learned about the secret town of Oakridge, TN and the young girls who perfected the process to refine uranium there. Hired because they didn’t ask questions, separated from their families, and working under horrible conditions, they made history. The panel discussed the book The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II. Listening made me itch to start writing a historic fiction novel set in the same town.

I adore the Georgia Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra’s presentations on Saturday night. No place else in the world features that many talented musicians playing the familiar songs I love. This year’s set included three Batman themes, the theme song from Firefly (with a live banjo!), songs from Star Wars and Star Trek, and a vocal performance of the Misty Mountains Cold from The Hobbit. I and over 3000 of my new best friends knew the performance was worth the hour and a half wait.

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That wait was indicative of the biggest problem I had at Con this year: crowds. With 77,000 geeks and at least a few thousand locals thrown into the mix on Saturday, the crowds were enormous. Suddenly even simple tasks like drinking water or walking ten feet ahead became a challenge. The dealer’s room, normally a vault of geeky treasures, became an enforced march where you couldn’t stray from the crush of people until it was shut down due to over crowding.

Which at least partially explains why this was the first DragonCon that I didn’t bring home a new corset. I absolutely fell in love with KMK designs. Their corsets were unique, innovative, well made, and surprisingly affordable. My last corset was a generically sized, came wrapped in plastic kind of corset, while KMK is a custom sized with a mock up to ensure perfection. If I’m going to invest in a custom-made couture corset I want to savor every second of its construction, something that isn’t possible in a giant crowd. So while I want one, oh yes I want one, it will have to wait. Thankfully, there were enough great times at Con that I’m not too disappointed about that.

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07/1/16

Let’s go to the movies

Friday night was a sacred time in my childhood: movie time. Every Friday afternoon, usually around 4:30, my folks would pick a film. We tended to rush to the theater with barely a minute to spare. A lucky kid would be sent to the lobby for a large soda and a larger popcorn. We could never afford separate drinks and snacks for everyone, and besides, whispering “pass the popcorn” down the row was half the fun. Sometimes my brother and I would split a candy bar, usually the extra-large Kit Kat.  As the lights went dim I lost myself in the story.

I’m lucky that the story didn’t end when the lights came on. My family didn’t just watch movies, we dissected them. My father would pose deep questions, “what would have happened if…” and then challenge us to come up with a better ending or a better story all together. The worse the movie the more we would fight it out, who could come up with the best ending, the right twist on events?

Without the aid of Google and Wikipedia, we were forced to get creative, drawing on what we knew. No ideas were condemned, but a lot were rewritten as the drive home became dinner, which turned into time to do the dishes. Usually by Saturday morning I’d rewritten something that took the studio months to make, positive I’d done better.

Occasionally we wouldn’t agree on the subtle meaning of a foreign film or what the underlying metaphors meant in the Oscar contenders.  A little disagreement is natural when you watch 52 movies a year – more in a good year. I think of those early exercises in writing and rewriting, finding motivation, and fixing flaws as the basis of my writing career. I don’t want to ever write a book that couldn’t be made into a good movie. I start writing them all by picturing scenes, then picking actors to play my characters.

We all loathed February, with its deadly combination of no good movies and no good weather.  We all looked forward to summer, when the darkened movie theater would bring respite from the unending heat. I’m cynical enough know to know that some of my movie excitement was brought on by a surefire combination of soda and candy, caffeine and sugar. But some of it was the story, the escape from the world I lived in, and the jewel-box way another world would expand. Walking out of the theater into the Florida sun was a blinding experience, brightness enveloping your vision until everything looked white, like re-entering the world through a hot cloud.

I miss those moments, those seconds of whiteness before I realized I was still in my small town. That shift from the story I’d seen to my own story felt drastic in a way adulthood has ruined.  I’m lucky that my last move simplified my life and brought me close to a wonderful movie house. I have high hopes for this summer, for Ghostbusters, Star Trek, Suicide Squad, and the Secret Life of Pets. For the first time in decades there’s a movie to see each Friday, and sometimes a second movie to watch on Sunday afternoon. I can’t wait to slip into those stories in the dark room and set aside the hot reality of life for the cool dark world of the movies.

02/29/16

My Blue Couch

In 2005, Tiger carried me over the threshold of our first single family home. The rental was small, and at $2450 a month it didn’t leave much for furnishings. We picked up a couch at Ikea, I don’t even remember the name of the style, just that we couldn’t pronounce it.

A little more than a year later I had a stroke on that couch. A few months after that I began writing a novel in the same place. In February of 2007 I wrote “The End” propped up against the couch’s cushions. It became a favorite place of mine. The marshmallow-y blue pillows held my laptop perfectly. Eventually, my rabbit editor learned that treats came more readily when he joined me on the couch. I wrote in the mornings, usually with a warm but unattractive robe over my pjs and the rabbit by my side.

An author and her editor (post breakfast)

We moved. We moved again. We moved again and again. We took the couch with us. When we finally bought a house we splurged on grown-up furniture. It didn’t come from Ikea. It wasn’t nearly as comfortable as my blue couch. I wrote there, but I found myself back on the blue couch, now regulated to a rarely used room.

The cushions tore, but I was superstitious and kept the couch. Our last move came in the middle of my embrace of minimalism. I got rid of antique family photos, heirlooms, and art. I kept the couch. It went back into the most used room, and I went back to writing on it each morning. But one tear made another, and I knew the couch would fall into piece during the next move, one that would take it several states away.

What I saw when I looked past my laptop, most mornings for the last decade or so.

What I saw when I looked past my laptop, most mornings for the last decade or so.

I posted it on craigslist, free to a good home, expecting no one would reply. I steeled myself to face facts, cheap couches don’t really last more than a decade. It needed to go to the dump. Instead last week a family came. They recently made America their home, traveling from the war-torn Middle East. They took a table and two chairs, a TV stand, an arm chair, and the blue couch. The torn cushions didn’t bother them, they were happy to cover it with a sheet. They thanked me for helping their family. I welcomed them to our country and wished them the best.

I miss that couch. Not going to lie, I was up at 5:41 this morning and knowing I didn’t have a blue couch with a rabbit sitting on the end made it harder to pull myself in front of the laptop. But the rabbit was there in the living room, happy to sit next to me on the newer, but still not-quite-comfortable, couch. I wrote, because couches aren’t magic, hard work is. But I’ll always smile when I think about the twelve books that came from ten years of good writing on that couch.

02/15/16

Research Roadtrips: Edgar Allan Poe Museum Richmond, VA

For almost eighty years someone left a bottle of cognac and three roses on Edgar Allan Poe’s grave each year on his birthday. The wonderfully Gothic and slightly spooky story is close to one he would write: a shadowy figure in black formal clothes commits a mysterious act on a dark winter’s night. When the tradition stopped in 2010 I admit that I briefly entertained thoughts of heading out to his grave in Baltimore. It wasn’t that far away, and I’d fallen deeply under Poe’s spell at the tender age of sixteen when I read Annabel Lee.

Edgar Allan Poe, madman, genius, poet

Edgar Allan Poe, madman, genius, poet

Unfortunately, the pull of my warm bed was too much for me to overcome, but a trip to the Edgar Allan Poe museum went a lot smoother. There are actually a number of Poe Museums scattered across the country, but I started with the formal sounding “Edgar Allan Poe Museum” in Richmond, VA. Housed in the oldest house in the state (built in 1740, almost six decades before Poe was born), it contains a strange collection of artifacts and memorabilia.

I was impressed by the Virginia Star quilt on Poe’s bed and the chair he sat in. While the first edition manuscripts and antiques books were impressive, seeing the furniture his family owned made him come alive to me. A lock of his hair and old photos felt haunting, as if the museum was trying to grasp at the life of the man with only a few precious things. His sister’s piano, his trunk, and a chart of his sad family history all felt like threads when I wanted a rich tapestry.

I’m obviously not alone in that desire. Outside the two historic buildings, a third more modern structure is devoted to modern artwork that depicts Poe and his work. The most disturbing offer was a portrait done in the artist’s blood. It wasn’t the media that bothered me, but the deplorable smell. Upstrais, in a small attic room painted in a similarly sanguine color images from his stories were displayed along with the modern diagnosis for the characters. Most were psychological, depression was common but there were physical aliments as well, The Fall of the House of Usher may have been a horrible curse, or perhaps it was Lupus disease.

 

Edgar cat Poe museum

Edgar relaxes against some vintage furniture inside the main building of the museum.

Jupiter cat Poe Museum

Jupiter enjoys a shady spot in the garden, but does not enjoy being photographed.

 

Two darling cats came and went freely, sitting on antiques and ignoring roped off areas. Named Pluto and Edgar the pair are part of a trio of black kittens found mysteriously inside the garden.

Poe bust in the garden

The end of the garden, a place to sit in the shade.

The garden is fairly perfect for that sort of thing. A small space with bricks and a tiered fountain bubbling, at the end a brick columned shrine to Poe holds his bust and vintage iron wrought seating. Poe himself had a black cat, as well as a tortoise shell cat who enjoyed riding on his shoulder.

It was facts like that, tiny humanizing things, that made the museum worth the trip for me. In South Carolina I learned about Poe’s brief military service, and listened to a tour guide swear that the real Annabel Lee was a local girl. In Philadelphia I toured the hotel hallway that inspired the Raven and heard about how he created the detective novel. But it wasn’t until Richmond that I found out about Poe as a person, with a dramatic dysfunctional family, lost loves, and a life outside of his work. I’m glad someone is working to preserve it.

 

02/1/16

Random Thoughts – The Value of Things

The costume worn in the first Indiana Jones movie. New the garments cost a few hundred dollars, with their history people pay $25 just to look at them, drop them off at a charity shop and you might be able to write $10 off your taxes. What's their value though?

The costume worn in the first Indiana Jones movie. New the garments cost a few hundred dollars, with their history people pay $25 just to look at them, drop them off at a charity shop and you might be able to write $10 off your taxes. What’s their value though?

Editing is hard work that leaves you slightly scattered making it difficult to come up with a blog post that stays on topic. Thus, here are the very random thoughts about worth, value, museums, and mermaids swirling in my head.

I recently attended the National Geographic Museum’s Indiana Jones and the Adventures of Archaeology. Blending movie magic with actual artifacts the exhibit left me with struggling with the idea of value and how it is defined. What makes something important?

The exhibit started with the costume worn by Harrison Ford and then showed the famous Ark of the Covenant, before moving on to ancient necklaces, a series of stone carvings, and the first map. It was hard to tell the movie props from the actual artifacts. I started by wondering what was real, and then immediately wondered why it mattered. Does the experience an item provides make it valuable?

While the exhibit was meant to showcase actual archaeologists and explain their work, most attendees clustered around the props, costumes, and movie memorabilia. Are those items not as much of a representation of our culture as the real things kept under glass? Popularity certainly didn’t seem to be related to the archaeological value of the item on display. Winding my way around the exhibit I found ample room by the ancient pot shards and antique photos of actual digs but barely enough space to breathe next to the crystal alien skull props. Does popularity define value?

One exhibit box showed an ancient shell necklace and a modern diamond engagement ring, explaining that the two are roughly equivalent. Both are items that were/are considered precious by their culture but are actually easily obtainable. Diamonds are a common stone; their scarcity is a marketing device. Shell necklaces impressed ancient people without the means to travel to the ocean, but today they’re tourist trinkets. Yet somehow, both diamonds and shells were used to signify relationships. Does the value of a thing reflect the value of what it represents?

One of my editors told me to work on world building, to tell more about how the mermaids live, how their world works, if people know about them, and so on. But while the main character is a mermaid, she doesn’t want to be. She deliberately shuns mermaid culture, choosing to learn about biology, history, and life on dry land instead. For her the value of any mermaid item would be less than the value of any human item. Regardless of representation or popularity, individual beliefs about an item change its value…but only for the individual. I don’t like diamonds, but that doesn’t mean they’re worthless. Museum goers would rather read about special effects than the rosette stone, but the stone is still extremely important. So maybe usefulness determines value?

When I moved I gave up a lot of useful things. Decorative cupcake stands I loved but rarely used, more plates and dishes than most families needed, and a vintage sled un-ridden in years, all went to another home. While I still thought they were valuable, they didn’t have a place in my life anymore. The last year or two have been a season of shedding for me. I want more experiences and more time with the people I love, but I’m not keen on having more things. At the same time I want to be sure I’m keeping what matters. I wish I had an easy way to judge the value of a thing.

01/15/16

Running Wisdom

I decided to mark the turn of the century with an epic New Year’s Resolution. At midnight in 1999, I proclaimed I would run a marathon in the next year. I didn’t know how far a marathon was.

It’s 26.2 miles.

I still haven’t made it.

Running deceives a lot of people this time of year so if you made a running resolution, here’s most of the wisdom I’ve learned in 16 years and countless miles since then.

A runner is real when she takes her first step.
You can run on a treadmill, a track, a street, the beach, or in the woods. Don’t be ashamed of running or put it off until you reach some mythical size or shape. You don’t have to go fast or far, there’s no magic distance or speed that makes you a ‘runner’.

Plans help.
Back in January of 2000, I started running without a plan or any direction. I wish I had used the Couch to 5K app. The program begins with a manageable walk/run program. Running portions start out around a minute, and a pleasant female voice tells you when to walk. It’s a great way to get started and in 8 weeks you’ll be ready to earn your first shiny medal.

Medals are important.
Not because they look good on your wall, but because achieving a goal is a great feeling. My first goal was the 2001 Walt Disney World Marathon. I didn’t train well, so I didn’t do well. I managed to finish a Half Marathon. That shiny medal makes me feel accomplished whenever I look at it. Pick a race and train for it, doesn’t matter if it’s a cheap road race or a fancy destination race, running toward something keeps you on track. I’ve become a fan of virtual races, where you run on your own and submit proof of your race (a snapshot of the treadmill’s display is enough) to get your medal mailed to you.

Find your motivation.
I love stories – on tv, radio, podcast, or book. I’ve turned that into my running motivation. I have TV shows I only watch on the treadmill that pull me back to the gym. My latest addiction is the Zombies, Run! App.  In each 20 to 40 minute story I’m Runner 5, charged with running for supplies or to ensure the safety of Abel township – the only piece of humanity left after the zombie apocalypse. The running goes at my own pace and the story comes between my favorite playlist.

There will be setbacks and triumphs
I’ve had plantar fasciitis in both feet, a hip flexor sprain, and runner’s knee. My runner partner for 2001 Marathon was injury free until she fell and broke her arm heading to the starting line. Running can make you feel like an elephant, huge and plodding. But it can also make you feel like a tiger: powerful, graceful, and strong. Your runs won’t always be hard, some days they’ll be effortless. A few miles can give you a mythical ‘runner’s high’ where the endorphins in your body make you feel better than ever, then the next day a few steps will bring you to tears. If you’ve decided to start running stick with it on the bad days, push yourself through the tough times, because the best miles are the ones you haven’t run yet.

And everything else:

5k = 3.1 miles, 10k = 6.2, a half marathon is 13.1, a full marathon is 26.2. Vaseline is great for spots that rub. A little caffeine before you run can be a nice boost (I like Coca-cola, some people like coffee). Dress for the outdoor temperature minus 20 degrees. You should be cold when you start out. Drink lots of water. Don’t run on a full stomach. Run safe – tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. When you pass someone say “Oh your left”, just like Captain America does.

01/1/16

Rewrite Your Story

A combination of holiday doldrums, editing stress, and my first cable subscription in years led me to re-new my acquaintance with stories I hadn’t watched in a few years. In between editing and unpacking boxes I plopped down on the couch to revisit old favorites, shows I once stopped everything to watch.

But a funny thing happened while I was away: the stories changed. Characters I loved started behaving in unbelievably strange ways. I expected things to get back to normal after an hour or two, but slowly I realized this was normal now. Strong female characters became emotionally crippled shells; decisive heroes became hesitant. Two shows embraced the same bizarre story-line where a villain raped the hero only to become pregnant and avoid all punishment.

I can imagine how it happened – in some boring conference room writers surrounded a table, fiddling with pens and rapidly cooling coffee. One of them looks up with excitement to exclaim ‘I’ve got it!’ and the world of characters and circumstance I found so watchable becomes a mess, the story so far away from what it had been that I don’t want to take part any more.

How far back would I have to go to fix the problem? How many paragraphs of dialog, how many scenes? I could change something subtle  or maybe it needed a drastic push like cutting out a character completely or moving them all to someplace new. Picking a new path isn’t easy. Every decision I don’t like, every plot point that makes me cringe, is someone else’s favorite. From where I sit choices are regrets but to another person they’re a triumph, a story I should love.

It’s hard to know which perspective is right because often the out of control past writer  is yourself. Great choices sour in the light of reality, things spiral out of control. You find yourself someplace you never expected to be or suddenly dealing with circumstances you never thought could happen.  Don’t waste time lamenting how it should have gone. Move forward, try something new, don’t spend energy on the future that wasn’t. Work to make the story better and make a new ending for yourself.

Sometimes stories go the wrong way. It’s up to us to rewrite them. The story doesn’t have to be about your biggest mistake, it can be about your biggest victory – the way you turned a mistake into the best decision in your life.

 

12/1/15

My friends don’t live here.

I struggled to write this blog post, starting from scratch three times before I came up with an idea worth sharing. In the middle of those attempts a friend-I’ve-never-met dropped me a link about her Prime Minister to distract and inspire me. I didn’t understand all the humor/humour but I realized that moment, that interaction, was what I was struggling to capture.

I’m moving. Again. I swore the last move would be my last. I expected to settle down in my small, historic town and surround myself with friends. But my friends don’t live here. They live in Canada, the Northeast, the Northwest, Florida, and overseas. I’ve developed a collection of like minded, brilliant people who inhabit the globe. There are people I’ve known for years that I’ve never seen in person in New Zealand and Iceland, France and California. I could find someone to go to lunch with in great snowy plains of the Dakotas, the Midwest, or even Seattle but I struggle to do that in my own town.

I grew up with the idea that you make friends through volunteering or your job, but that never quite worked out. The people I volunteered with weren’t interested in getting together after the task was done. The civic groups I served didn’t check on me after my car accident or hospitalization. I couldn’t talk about the things they liked: football, church, or hunting. They didn’t understand the things I liked: running, fantasy novels, and comic book movies.

The people online did. The phone calls and emails, posts on Facebook and message boards provide me a constant sense of support and friendship. A new paradigm is emerging and the people around me don’t quite understand how it works. My relationships with people I’ve never met are more fulfilling than the ones with people I see every day. Dinner with someone I’ve only chatted with online turns into an evening with no pauses in the conversation, no struggling for topics, but the ten minutes before a meeting stretch on as I scramble for something to say. Thank all the gods for the weird weather we’ve been having.

So I’m moving to a city that’s served by three major airports with lots of chances to travel. Being in a small town, trying on that dream of buying a house and settling down was important, but it didn’t fit. I’m terrible at home maintenance, and a menace in the garden. I’ve killed countless seeds and plants learning that all those things I once dreamed about don’t really work for me. I’d rather be back in the city taking belly dance lessons than in a garden struggling to grow a tomato.

I’m ready to go back to the good and the bad, the crime, traffic, and high prices. I expect I’ll complain about them soon enough, but for now they seem like a small price to pay for the opportunity to go to Drag brunch or spend my Sunday at a museum. I’m going back to DC, purging all the things I acquired to fill my suburban home. You’ll find me at the Smithsonian Folk life festival, the Scottish games, the Romance Writers of America meetings, and every dance class I can fit in. And sometimes, you won’t find me at all, because I’ll be flying to meet those friends I haven’t ever seen. I know we’ll have a great time together.

11/15/15

Rachel’s NaNoWriMo Anti-rules

Many people will tell you how to win at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). They’ll quote best practices and articles, talking about support networks and plotting. All of that is very good advice. But I’m here to tell you that even if you don’t follow any of it, you can still ‘win’ at NaNoWriMo. And by winning I mean end up with a book contract.

The end of 2013 was a hard time for me. My father died, my mother had serious health issues, I was hospitalized, and my heater broke in the middle of a snowstorm. The NaNoWriMo deadline had long since passed, but I realized if I didn’t challenge myself to get writing my creativity would drown under all the stress. I needed a challenge, even though the next NaNoWriMo was months away.

Anti-Rule #1: NaNoWriMo happens when you make it.

If November is a bad time for you, start your novel today or any day. If you like the discussion boards and support of a writing team NaNoWriMo Camp starts in June and August. It brings the same support and fun as NaNoWriMo  in November with none of the holiday obligations pressing down on you. A lot of the teachers in my life prefer NaNoWriMo Camp in June when school is out for the summer. I planned to start my personal NaNoWriMo challenge on 2/1/2014, but got excited and started writing on January 27.

Anti-Rule #2: You can start with something you’ve already worked on

After my life stabilized and  the heat came back on,  I realized I hadn’t written, really written, in months. Starting a new story felt too overwhelming so I grabbed a six-thousand word opening inspired by this image:

Photo from EPBOT.com one of the coolest blogs I know.

The story of a teenage mermaid fighting with her mother while tracking down a serial killer took off in my imagination. I saw the piece not just as a YA mystery, but as a platform for talking about feminine power. I repeatedly watched the mermaid scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides:

The mermaids there were exactly what I wanted – desirable, otherworldly, and deadly. Young women are often admonished against expressing their sexuality and told “good girls don’t do that sort of thing”. I wanted a character who struggled with her own powerful sexuality, who wanted to fit in but was constantly swayed by strong emotions the world didn’t expect her to have.

Her name is Danika. Her friends called her Danny, and for my private NaNoWriMo I thought about her every day. I challenged myself to two thousand words a day for each of February’s twenty-eight days.

Anti-rule #3 Finish your novel when it’s done.

I kept writing through March and into the first weeks of April. (Danny first appeared on the blog in April.) It turned out that I wanted to write more than the NaNoWriMo  prescribed 50K words. I wrote about Key West disguised as Danny’s beach-side town Playa Linda. My Aunt’s house on Stock Island became Danny’s house. My favorite high school books became her favorites. I filled that manuscript with a thousand sunny details of life in a tropical town while the cold winter months passed away.

Anti-rule #4 Edit whenever you want!

NaNoWriMo focuses on getting the words on the page, so the rules tell you not to edit as you go.  That means leaving something in place that doesn’t work and trying to write around that mistake. For me, it became too confusing to write chapter 10 based on what I wanted chapter 8 to be instead of what it was. I’d rather go back and rename a character than keep a list of things to correct when I’m done. I enjoy re-reading my work on Sunday night, planning out what scenes I’ll write for the week and making little changes. I don’t want to give up that ritual.

Anti-rule #5 Don’t stop when the manuscript is finished

People joke that NaNoWriMo should be followed by National Novel Editing Month, and I agree.  When I finished the Mermaid manuscript I let it rest for a month before doing a first edit. Then it was sent it for a beta read. That caused another round of edits, which were followed by two rounds of paid edits, one with a college student for YA voice and one with the amazing editors at Quail School Media. Finally it felt polished enough to send out to editors.

Bonus Conflicting Anti-rules –  

Don’t leave your manuscript in a box. 

Start something else!

While the editors were reading The Mermaid and the Murders (the current working title) I started another manuscript. More than a year after my personal NaNoWriMo finished, the Mermaid and the Murders was out on submission and I did my best to forget about it.

Months passed and I never managed to put the story out of my mind. So this November, I threw in my hat for the real NaNoWriMo focusing on a a cozy mystery about a group of quilters who dabble in magic spells on the side. As my story reached 10,000 words, I got news that meant I would need to bend those NaNoWriMo rules again.

My mermaid book, that rule-breaking not-really- NaNoWriMo manuscript got a contract. Right in the middle of the real NaNoWriMo I recieved my editorial letter. I’m excited to dive back into the world of mermaids and I’m happy that my (personal, not at the right time) NaNoWriMo was a success. If you’re participating right now, I hope you succeed. If you’re not participating, remember that any month can be NaNoWriMo or, if you don’t write, any month can be the one you accomplish your goal.