Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Good Day

So apparently I’m not doing this blogging thing right because after my last post, Summer happened and that flew by and I completely forgot I had a blog.  But.  Here we go again.

July 15 marked not only the release of the last Harry Potter film, which I attended at midnight, equipped with tissues, but also the release of my first published work. 

In junior high school I had an English teacher named Carol Johnson who taught me to really love the written word, and I have been writing ever since.  I suspect I may have started writing anyway, but I don’t think the power of a skilled and enthusiastic teacher should be underestimated. 

Since I was first introduced to it (oddly, I suppose, by way of the 1995 BBC miniseries), Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has, far and away, been my very favorite book.  (The Little Princess ranks right up there, too, having been one of the first novels I ever read.)  I think one of the things that makes any written work endure is the amount of truth in it.  Pride and Prejudice is about two otherwise great people who don’t see their own flaws, but are perfectly willing to point out each other’s, and 200 years later that kind of Stupid still goes on.  Add to that Austen’s masterful turn of phrase, very English wit and humor, and a dash of romance, and voila!  A masterpiece.

At that point in my life (1996-ish), my writing had come to something of a standstill.  I graduated and got married and moved within a very short amount of time.  But these two items (writing + P&P) collided one day when I stumbled upon a place on the interwebs called The Republic of Pemberley.  This is a web site dedicated to Jane Austen and her work, including a group called The Derbyshire Writer’s Guild.  This was my first introduction to fan fiction, and writing quickly became an outlet again.

It’s laughable, what I first wrote, thought was good, and shared with that community.  I still have it – I read it sometimes for self-punishment.  But it was welcomed and encouraged and I kept writing, which meant I kept getting better. 

Several years ago – maybe five or six, before Jane Austen fan fiction was commonly published – a group of people in the Jane Austen fan community wanted to put together an anthology of all-new work, and they asked me to join them.  I originally pitched a brief, modernized story which was rejected (although I wrote it anyway, and you can read it at your own risk here). 

When I went back to the drawing board I decided to take a completely different route.  Georgiana, Darcy’s sister, is a curiosity in that she is an integral part of the story, yet we see so little of her.  Once I had decided to write about her, it seemed natural to explore what her life might have been like and how she might have influenced the course of Darcy and Elizabeth’s story.  I wrote her tale, but the anthology never happened; I had only just finished a second draft when those of us involved in the book were contacted and told that – more or less – nobody wanted to do it anymore.

I was disappointed but decided to post it online when it was finished, because honestly, what else was I going to do with it?  Then last November I was contacted randomly by Marsha Altman, who was in the process of putting together an anthology of short stories for Ulysses Press.  Long story short:  She asked me to submit Georgiana’s Voice, and I did, and now you can buy a copy of it at your friendly neighborhood Barnes and Noble.

I, of course, have still not received my copies, although those of my darling friends who are reviewing it for me have received theirs.  And naturally, now that it’s been published, I can see the flaws and glaring omissions.  Still, it's pretty damn cool - now I just have to worry about all those reviews I asked for.

Now…  Don’t you have something to go buy?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

New Blog

I decided to start a blog because that way I would write something at least every couple of days.  Hopefully it’ll help clear the clutter and personal stories from my head so I can focus on writing the made-up stuff that I want to write – short stories, novels, miscellanea.  I don’t know how interesting this is going to be, but whatever – here goes nothin’.

So, my first personal story is this:  I got a tattoo.  (See?  Not that interesting.)  Lots of people get them, but here’s the story behind mine.

My mom smoked almost all of her life.  She probably started as a teenager where she grew up, in Keister, Minnesota in the 60’s, when they thought smoking was a Great Idea.  She had an ashtray, and I don’t know when she got it, but I’m pretty sure she had it all of my life, that was made of artillery.  The bottom was some kind of canister, and it was wrapped in M-60 shells.  She loved that damn ashtray even though it was hideous and it rarely, if ever, got washed.  She took it with her everywhere she went – wherever she was in the house, in the yard, on the boat…  She took it with her on vacations when we were younger.  She put her cigarette between the brass bullet shells and it didn’t fall into the tray and go out and evidently, that was Brilliant.

I talked to Mom right around Christmas 2009, and she mentioned that she had a “flu bug.”  This wasn’t news for Mom; she usually declared she had some kind of bug.  When she couldn’t get out of bed, my nephew, who lived with her all of his life, went to their kind neighbor, a retired RN, and she called an ambulance.  Mom went to the hospital, fluid was drained from her stomach, and a few days later she had a diagnosis of cancer.  Her urologist thought it was the kind of cancer that normally forms in breasts, only because she didn’t have any – having had them removed some 18 years prior because of cancer – it had formed in her stomach.

She had one chemotherapy treatment, but then contracted pneumonia, and she never recovered.  Mom, an at-times-raging (although she raged quietly) alcoholic, had been in the hospital, close to death, on more than one occasion.  When it became apparent that Mom wasn’t going to cheat death again, I went to see her one last time to say goodbye.  That was January 17, 2010 and she died the morning of January 19.  Even though I made my peace, I’ll always regret not being there.

There are seven of us – me, two sisters, and four brothers, three of who are still living.  After Mom’s death it was left to us to go through her belongings (which is Another Story Entirely) and decide what to do with them all.  Each of us wound up with something meaningful, and the Stupid Ashtray went to my brother Tom, who made the mistake of soaking it overnight in an effort to clean it.  It rusted.  He threw it out.  It was frustrating to hear this news because that ashtray was, in terms of our mother, an iconic item.  She took it Everywhere.  It was synonymous with Red-Haired Blue-Eyed Norwegian Smartypants.

I have a tattoo of a quill on my back (its placement is symbolic; I am Writing’s Bitch).  For a while I’d wanted a new one but didn’t know what I wanted and was just waiting for an Epiphany to get it done.  I toyed around with the idea of a breast cancer ribbon, but I sincerely dislike pink; also I thought about a tree to symbolize my family but with six siblings of my own and five siblings-in-law that would be one o\Out-of-Control Tree, I think.  My brother Jon told me about the Death of the Stupid Ashtray, and there was the Epiphany I’d been waiting for.

I know butterfly tattoos are cliché and everyone has them and they’re boring and whatnot, but I still love them and what they represent.  Despite not being able to stay sober I believe Mom wanted to change.  She and I share our birth month (March), thus the aqua-blue color.  And in the wings, one on each side, are M-60 shells.  I thought about a breast cancer ribbon for the body of the butterfly, but just as her alcoholism didn’t define her, her cancer didn’t define her, and that isn’t what I want to remember when I think of her.

The work was done by the incredibly talented Shawn Hebrank, who works at Identity Tattoo in Maple Grove , MN .  I kind of found him by accident – I decided on the morning of what would have been Mom’s 61st birthday that I should get that tattoo That Day and contacted a few places to check availability.  When I emailed Identity Tattoo, Todd The Owner emailed me back to say they didn’t have anything open, but invited me to come check out the place anyway.  I found another shop who said they could fit me in, but they closed unexpectedly.  So instead, my Auntie Lin and I visited Identity and perused the photos and while all three of them do incredible work, I picked Shawn because of a Muppet – a Count von Count tattoo (a picture of which I can't find online).  Awesome.

Anyway – there’s my first story.  Something a little more light-hearted next time, perhaps?  That’s a Great Idea.