Open Journal: Who Am I?

My spirit’s been having a rough time, lately. Even though it’s been several months since The Trauma at the end of Germany, I still haven’t been able to write like I used to. Short stories, sure. Flash fiction and scraps of poetry. But nothing like a novel.

And it’s awful because so much of my identity – so much of my self-worth – is Danielle = writer. That was my thing. My gift. My magic. So my brain says to me, If you’re not churning out books, then who even are you? And what is the point of you?

Because my brain is not my friend.

Fortunately, Will and Tirzah are.

I was speaking my sadness to them; sighing my wish that I were a cooler character in my life’s story. And thus spake they of me:

Tirzah: Hold on. Someone, write up all the things about her that she would find cool if she heard them about someone else.

Will Scarlet: Well, we’ve covered the hell-ton of written/published works and Europe. Also: Ren Faire.

She can hear dialogue and music cues from childhood movies and radio in her head. Surely that’s a low-grade superpower.

She has a lute. She owns a cool hat bought in Manchester, and epic boots reminiscent of Merry Men.

She makes friends of fountains. She’s in love with the moon.

She’s never too old to sing the songs she likes from kiddie stuff, and geeks out at krakens and balrogs.

She apologizes to books for dropping them, and takes care not to smother her stuffed animals.

She drove the back end of Maui – where even the locals dare not wend!

Me: Okay. You make me sound credible.

Will: Then I’m failing, cuz you’re INcredible.

Tirzah: She’s created great art. She’s adventured far and wide. She’s written, lived, and loved stories.

She’s had an eye for the beauty in every place she’s been, and faced many fears for the sake of beauty and adventure.

She’s come up against Giants and been wounded, but not defeated. She rises up again after every blow.

She’s kind in spite of all, and true of heart in spite of much. She’s always pushing onward, herself and others – sometimes in vain, sometimes too hard, but sometimes to glory. And sometimes to simple survival.

She’s noisily brave. She’s faced trials in and out. She has kingdoms hidden under her hats, of which she has many – figurative and otherwise. She’s always pressing forward and branching out and learning new things.

She’ll do what she must. And what she must is, in her mind, a far higher standard than most would dare raise their eyes to.

Me [through literal tears]: Thanks for liking me, guys.

Will: Pssht. Why wouldn’t I?

And I share all this not so readers can see me, but so that those among them who need to can maybe see what they’ve been overlooking in themselves.

Being cool, being somebody, being Enough – it’s not all about Big Things you can do or have done. It’s not all about achievements or talents.

It’s also about the little ordinary things, and the everyday weird things, and the quirks and the quiet strengths that all add up to the person you are.

I needed to hear that – and probably will need it again, before I’ve healed enough to return to my old word wizardry. Hearing likely won’t always mean believing, but as the West Wind once said, “what is true does not require your belief to be.” So believe it or not, Danielle, here is the truth:

Danielle = writer is inaccurate math.

Danielle > that.

Kingdoms Hidden Under Her Hats 06

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In Which I Go Mental

Word on the ‘Net is that May 16th – 22nd is Mental Health Awareness Week. I don’t generally get involved in capital Weeks, Months, or Days, but in this instance, I felt compelled to recognize the occasion.

It’s probably to do with the fact that I am gradually becoming more aware of my own mental state, which seems to regularly include episodes of anxiety and depressive tendencies, with some mild OCD-like symptoms thrown in for fun. (Note: None of it is fun.)

And I’m not the only one in my head affected by mental illness. Will Scarlet and Allyn-a-Dale, for instance, have varying issues to deal with, too. Which is why they joined in the whole #InShadowSelfie* thing on the Outlaws of Avalon Tumblr.

*(Details here for those wondering what in the world that hashtag’s about.)

Mind you, I wasn’t planning to blog about any of this, until I realized that it’s been a while since I shared any new book reviews with you guys, and – hey, whaddaya know! – a couple of books I’ve read/very much enjoyed recently featured main characters with mental illnesses.

Kismet or nah?

<<<>>>

Book the First: The Rest of Us Just Live Here” by Patrick Ness

Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy/Paranormal

Featured Illnesses/Disorders: OCD, anxiety, anorexia, alcoholism

Blurb: What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

My Story: Majorly enjoyable. A number of lines had me laughing out loud. (Great narrative voice!) Some others drove me nearly to tears. (Relatable mental health struggles are relatable.) I loved the focus on – and the depth of – the main characters’ friendships, including between siblings and potential romantic interests. And the juxtaposition between the story in the spotlight and the plot offstage was a fun quirky touch. Part of me wishes I were rereading the book already.

Edit: Welp, that re-read just happened, and yep, would still recommend.

Mental Health Reads

Book the Second: When We Collided” by Emery Lord

Genre: Contemporary YA

Featured Illnesses/Disorders: Bipolar disorder, depression (plus grief)

Blurb: We are seventeen and shattered and still dancing. We have messy, throbbing hearts, and we are stronger than anyone could ever know…

Jonah never thought a girl like Vivi would come along.

Vivi didn’t know Jonah would light up her world.

Neither of them expected a summer like this…a summer that would rewrite their futures.

In an unflinching story about new love, old wounds, and forces beyond our control, two teens find that when you collide with the right person at just the right time, it will change you forever.

My Story: Hearing about this book in the lead-up to its release, I had a hopeful feeling that I’d like it. I had yet to read any of Emery Lord’s novels (though I’d heard good things), but what I’d glimpsed of her on Twitter seemed cool, and the book’s premise grabbed me – in particular, the part about the bipolar protag. …which isn’t in the blurb, but y’know, rumor had it. (One of my [fictional] friends is bipolar; I figured he’d appreciate having this kind of story in our shared headspace.)

Just to play it safe, I read the first couple chapters before committing to the purchase. And joy of joys, it sucked me right in from page one – like to the point that the gratifyingly busy bookstore faded around, leaving Reader Me in her happy place. Vivi’s voice is vivacious, creative, and fun, while Jonah’s is likewise amusing, if far more grounded. Both co-stars garnered my sympathetic attachment. Aaaaand I basically chose finishing the book over going to bed before 3am. ‘Cause I do what I want.

Confirmed: Emery Lord can write. I may have to try getting ahold of her first two novels after all.

<<<>>>

Some Kind of Happiness

Book the Third: Some Kind of Happiness” by Claire Legrand

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Featured Illnesses/Disorders: Depression

Blurb: THINGS FINLEY HART DOESN’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT
• Her parents, who are having problems. (But they pretend like they’re not.)
• Being sent to her grandparents’ house for the summer.
• Never having met said grandparents.
• Her blue days—when life feels overwhelming, and it’s hard to keep her head up. (This happens a lot.)

Finley’s only retreat is the Everwood, a forest kingdom that exists in the pages of her notebook. Until she discovers the endless woods behind her grandparents’ house and realizes the Everwood is real—and holds more mysteries than she’d ever imagined, including a family of pirates that she isn’t allowed to talk to, trees covered in ash, and a strange old wizard living in a house made of bones.

With the help of her cousins, Finley sets out on a mission to save the dying Everwood and uncover its secrets. But as the mysteries pile up and the frightening sadness inside her grows, Finley realizes that if she wants to save the Everwood, she’ll first have to save herself.

Reality and fantasy collide in this powerful, heartfelt novel about family, depression, and the power of imagination, for fans of Counting by 7s and Bridge to Terabithia.

My Story: I haven’t actually read this book yet, but it releases today (*throws Book Birthday confetti*), and I’ve been looking forward to it and totally pre-ordered it, so hopefully my copy will reach me soon, and if the stars align aright, I’ll tell you how I liked it. ^.^

<<<>>>

So concludes my contribution to this capital Week’s awareness. Stay healthy, y’all.

Shadow Selfie 05

The Old and the New

My New Year’s Eve with Tirzah

Walking through her German village – (our German village, I can say for now) – our latest heated argument punctuated by the battle sounds of fireworks.

Staring at the bursts of color in the foggy sky, my expression sobbing while the tears refuse to fall. It’s been a wretched day.

Is this how the old year ends? I mourn. Is this how the new begins? In painful misery? I don’t want that kind of year. Not again.

Maybe a bottle rocket will shoot me.

* * *

Meandering back down a side path. Stopping to stare at a tree – bare except for water droplets glittering in the smoky glow of a streetlamp. Silent music, melancholy beauty.

“That tree is Allyn-a-Dale,” Tirzah says, then looks to the flamboyant sky. “The fireworks are Will Scarlet.”

Will’s laugh through my throat. “Yeah they are.”

* * *

We – the hosts and the host inside of them – take a seat on pathside boulders. Embracing the mists like we’re born of them. Craning to watch the comets erupt.

“It’s hard,” Will says for me, eyes on the showers of light, “when someone who might otherwise be a happy person just… can’t, a lot. It’s like a flu of sadness. You try to drink plenty of fluids, try to get your rest, but all you can really do is let it run its course.”

Through Tirzah, Sy nods. “In her way, your author gets sick as often as mine does.”

“It’s pathetic.”

“It really is.”

Will arches a brow. “Take bets on which of ‘em dies first?”

Sy puts his money on my death; Will goes the other way. Winner’s author gets custody of the dead one’s characters.

Like that hadn’t already been agreed upon.

* * *

Back to the house for a New Year’s toast – she, me, her husband makes three, classy glasses of wood-flavored whiskey for all.

I snap pics of her in her hat and sharp jacket, Gandalf’s pipe balanced at the corner of her mouth. She raises the glass. “Happy New Year, old sport.”

“Mm, yes, I say, rather, *bluster-bluff*.”

She laughs at the toothpick I swirl in my drink and contently chew. “Who needs wood whisky when you can have whisky wood?”

A masterpiece of a movie, thanks to my sister’s Netflix. (“The Illusionsist” – you seen it? You may wish to.)

Always cold, but – with three top layers, a beanie, and T’s ski pants over my jeans – almost warm enough.

Always at risk to feel sad and angry and scared that life will swallow me and my inner fog whole, but for now – through the wee hours – happy enough.

* * *

I expect the year will be much like this.

Happy ‘til I’m not, sad ‘til I’m better, my people and me weathering it all like we do.

It will be hard.

Bits will be glorious – pockets of silent music in the mist.

In Which I Achieve Web Wizardry

Once upon a time, there was an author who suffered from a terrible curse.

To wit, her dread archfoe, the Technology Fiend, despised her with all passion. He got his kicks by tainting anything she touched requiring a battery, plug, or modem, and was particularly tickled by thwarting her attempts to become computer savvy.

Our poor author grew understandably fearful of treading in enemy territory. Every click of a button authorizing yet another account or threatening one more upgrade sent spasms of anticipatory horror through her heart. But much as she would have liked to stay far, far away from all terrors technological, she was, as I said, an author – and a self-publishing author, at that. In this day and age, an author is expected to blog, have a website, show her face on social media. And a mostly self-pubbing author with no other employment doesn’t have enough cash to hire someone else to do all the scary Internet stuff for her.

So when the day came that our author – who also happened to be something of a perfectionist – looked upon the “My Books” page of her website and thought, “I suppose this serves its purpose well enough, but it’s not all that I want it to be,” she had no recourse but to suck up her anxiety and figure out how to work a little web sorcery.

And that author… *solemn nods* …was me.

Time to put on my big girl wizard robe and get ‘er done.

Time to put on my big girl wizard robe and get ‘er done.

Opinions will vary on what’s needed to make a website look “professional” (which I feel is a kind of snotty term, in general, since when you’re good at what you do, you can do it your own way and make it amazing, never mind some arbitrary standard clung to by the masses. But I digress into artistic anarchy…). My personal minimum requirements/preferences are that it be clean (because I don’t deal well with clutter) and simple to navigate (because isn’t the whole point that visitors be able to find the information they’re looking for?).

What nagged at me about my site’s original “My Books” page is that it wasn’t immediate enough. You started at the top with the cover and info for my first published book (“The Swan Prince”), then scrolled down to get to my next book, and the next, and so on chronologically, through the whole of my Wilderhark Tales (to date), my first professional anthology (“One More Day”), and my debut novel (“Inspired”), until you reached the current position on my publishing road and the page’s end simultaneously. All very well, but why couldn’t I have that deal where the covers of all the available books are presented at once in a neat little gallery, and clicking on one will take you to another page dedicated to that one book (or perchance the whole of its series) only?

Because I didn’t know how to make it happen, that’s why. And I was scared to try to learn. But if being scared were enough to stop me from doing things, I wouldn’t have any published books to show off on a website in the first place.

So I went to my site’s dashboard thing. And I stared at it, looking for some kind of hint or guidepost. I’d seen other Weebly-powered sites pull the trick I wanted, so there had to be a way…

Website Dashboard

What am I even looking at, right now?…

Aha! Down there, what’d that say? “Tip: Drag pages up/down to reorder and left/right to create subpages.

Subpages! That sounded like exactly what I wanted!

Now came the true test of courage: Sacrificing the sure thing I had in order to reach for what I knew, if gained, would be better.

There’s a great, honking life metaphor, for you.

After much stressful experimentation, uploading pics, copy/pasting text, fiddling with format, and careful linkage, I had a brand new at-a-glance “My Books” page, complete with subpages for each and every title. Like. A. Boss.

It’s… *sniff* …beautiful.

It’s… *sniff* …beautiful.

Sure, I screwed up a bunch of times. Yes, I crashed the browser once. Never mind how many hours later it pushed my already ridiculously late breakfast. I got my heart set on a goal, put my mind to the task and came out with one more tally mark next to my name on the Danielle vs. Tech Fiend scoreboard.

And oh, hey, would you look at that: My new page’s gallery of covers includes the face of “Legends and Lore: An Anthology of Mythic Proportions” – the Xchyler Publishing paranormal collection set to release on Wednesday (party over here!). If I do say so myself, it does look mighty fine. ^_^

“Withdrawal” or “Confessions from a Meeting of Authors Anonymous”

Hi. Um, my name is Danielle, and… I am an author with a problem.

            Maybe you’ve seen my blog, and noticed the little Ever On Word tagline – “Writing like an addict and never looking back”. Well, that’s not just me being cute; that’s me being both cute and dead honest. Writing is my drug of choice. Novel-writing, specifically. The blog doesn’t do it for me. Even short stories are barely enough to take the edge off the craving that gnaws somewhere deeper than my guts. I’ve got it bad, folks.

Exhibit "A". Meet Wilbur, everyone.

            As of the typing of this piece (and I can only hope the situation will have changed by the time the post goes up*), I’ve been clean for a little under two weeks. The first handful of days following the completion of my latest novel weren’t so bad. They never are, when I’m still riding the old high – when a portion of my head and heart and soul is still in the story, chumming with the cast, reveling in whatever rightness I’ve managed in that first draft and can leave gloriously as-is. Those are the days I’ll re-read what I’ve written to my Tirzah and whoever else wants to listen. The days one or two of the new characters will get their headshots drawn (or even something closer to a full-body shot, if I’m feeling ambitious). The days wherein excitement transitions into satisfaction, and thence slides quickly into… mild distress.

            And when I say “mild distress”, I mean withdrawal – i.e., full-on “physiological and mental readjustment that accompanies [the] discontinuation of the use of an addictive substance”. …Well, okay, maybe “full-on” is a bit of a stretch. Of potential withdrawal symptoms including nausea or vomiting, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety (as mentioned by the good folks at drug-rehabs.org), only that last point barely applies. I don’t feel sick or like I’m technically dying; just restless. …And sleep-deprived, but my tossing and turning into the wee hours for the last couple of nights might be nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence.

            The cruel irony is, all those things I wanted to do a few weeks ago and had to put off for the sake of word-count goals, I’ve got nothing but time to do now. I have a stack of books to read, other projects to research or buckle down on, DVDs gifted at Christmas that demand to be watched over a few leisurely slices of pizza or something. There’s plenty I could be doing, and would more or less gladly do… if only I were working on a novel, too.

            It’s not just the actual writing of it, you know. It’s the planning. The plotting. The daydreaming and waiting-to-fall-asleep-at-nightdreaming. Outlining beforehand, and puzzling out during, and leaving a part of me inside the document even when my body’s busy elsewhere. It’s knowing that, whatever else I’m doing this second, I’m also crafting a story. I love that knowledge, that feeling, that sense of doing what I’m meant to be. And when that’s taken away from me – even if it’s only for a few short weeks – I miss it like some might not believe.

            Oh yes, I’m an author with a problem, all right. But now that I’ve made the first step of acknowledging it, it’s time to move along to step two: Choose the next novel idea, and for pity’s sake, get crackin’!

*Happily for what sanity I’ve got, I have since begun another novel. More on that to come…