To Sleep, Perchance…

I’ve been a very busy bee these past few weeks. So much so that my house is starting to show signs of neglect and my energy level is frustratingly low.

I flew to Washington (state, not D.C.) to attend the wedding party of Women and Words admin Jove Belle. That was a really fun trip that included a rainy day in Fallen Leaf Lake Park, a trip to Astoria, OR (where Goonies and other movies were made), a stroll through a street market, a tasting at a couple of distilleries (which resulted in a purchase of apple pie moonshine and a couple of drinking vinegars), a viewing of seals sunning themselves on a pier, a long drive through scenic, winding, forest-y roads, a climb up to the top of a tower (the view from which was amazing), an introduction of New York bagels and black and white cookies to a bunch of people who had no idea what they’ve been missing, and a very long flight home.

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Fallen Leaf Lake Park, Camas, WA

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Fallen Leaf Lake Park, Camas, WA

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Astoria Column, Astoria, OR

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View of Columbia River from/near Astoria Column

Then, the next day, I went to work, then was on a panel at the Jefferson Market Library with fellow writers Catherine Maiorisi, Ann Aptaker, Sheryl Wright, and Nell Stark (you can check out my blog about that at Women & Words on October 6).

Every evening since then, I’ve been on Skype calls and taking care of other sorts of business, and all I can think of is how can I win the lottery so I can quit this job and get some sleep.

Speaking of sleep, Ann Aptaker and I were chatting at the panel and she mentioned to me what she’s been up to. She’s been a busy bee, too, and she jokingly said that sleep was overrated. It seems that lately, so many of us have been deprived of that delicious unconsciousness that soothes our weary bodies and minds, and may or may not take us to strange and unexpected places.

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Seals on pier 39 in Astoria, OR

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No explanation needed

Incidentally, because I had a long flight back from WA, but one that was direct (hallelujah), I opted to upgrade my Delta seat to Economy Comfort. I’d never done it before and I had my doubts about the difference. But let me tell you, my friends, that extra leg room makes a big difference. Plus, I was on one of those large planes that do international flights and have a center row. I was in that row, last seats before the bathrooms, which meant I could recline all the way back without feeling guilty about disturbing the people behind me. AND the seat in the middle was empty. Oh, how sweet it was! I put on my eye mask, reclined, and slept. I only slept for an hour, but for someone like me, that goes a long way.

I know someone who once said that she doesn’t care about sleeping because she’ll get enough sleep when she’s dead and buried. I understand that, but as I get older, I empathize with it less and less.

Sleep is a beautiful thing, and I want more of it. So, if anyone knows where I can buy some, please let me know.

In the meantime, the busy season for many of us has begun, and I’m going to try and get through it without collapsing. To that end, I hope to get more sleep. And I wish the same for all of you who crave more it as well.

Through the Smoke

Two years ago, my writers’ group, The Penheads, released their first anthology, called Hunger: Stories of Desire, Discovery, and Dissatisfaction. Now I’m happy to announce that we’ve released our second volume. This one is called Smoke: Tales Between Dark and Light.HUNGER COVER FINAL

When we conceived this theme, we wanted something that could cover a broad spectrum of emotions, story lines, and characters. The reason for this is quite simple: we are a group of five very different writers. We like to write about different things and in very different ways. Smoke seemed like the perfect idea because like people’s ideas, it is strong when present, but can be fleeting, and can mean so many different things.

I’d like to share with you here the introduction:

Dear Reader of Smoke: Tales Between Dark and Light

We’re glad you decided to check out our tenebrous world.

Here are the smoky stories we’ve written just for you:SMOKE COVER FINAL

  • A subtly frightening tale. In the sinister world of our first story—Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin’s The Bar at the End of the World—a grieving husband tries to cheat death, and finds that a horrifying price must be paid.
  • A mystery within a dream. In J. M. Levinton’s In the Smoke, a young man who is being tortured by a haunting receives help from entities usually perceived as evil.
  • An Olympic-class athlete finds love. Next we turn from the dark side to the snow-covered mountains of Colorado. In Making Tracks, by R.G. Emanuelle, Ronnie, a young woman who has come to Colorado to train for the World Skiing Championships, befriends dark-eyed, kind-hearted Dee, and quickly falls for her. Too bad Dee is straight….
  • Is this a date, or not? In our fourth offering, Anne E. Wagenbrenner’s Litmus Test, it’s Valentine’s Day, and two lesbians from Astoria, Queens, are on their first date. But when Lydia arrives at Catherine’s home, she does a sudden about-face, saying that they are only friends. Catherine, who is smitten with Lydia, is taken on an emotional roller coaster ride as Lydia reveals, little by little, how her own ghosts and demons—this time, the psychological kind—have scared her straight.
  • Was it enough? In our final story, Arielle Prose’s Still Secret Silence, we visit a couple at the beginning of their relationship, and then again after retirement. Hearing their separate thoughts, we find, in this story, a picture of marriage: its dissatisfaction, its anger, and its comfort.

We hope you enjoy our tales of horror, as well as our tales of love. In both, our characters seek to find the thing that will bring them peace or joy, often as ephemeral and elusive as a cloud of smoke—and just as difficult to grasp.

With such a diverse collection of stories, there’s bound to be something everyone likes. And who knows, maybe you’ll like all five of them. I hope you’ll join us on our journey through the haze with Smoke.

Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

 

Today I Did Nothing

Yes, that’s right. Today I did nothing. Why is this noteworthy? Because I NEVER do nothing. I can’t remember a day when I did nothing, unless I was away. When I’m home, there’s always too much to do, so when I have a day off from work, it’s always packed with “things to be done.”

Before today, I would have felt the need to make use of the extra time and run some errands or do some chores that I’d been putting off. I did feel that pang of guilt this morning, truth be told. I debated going out to do some things: I needed to go to the bank, the store, and Staples. But in the end, I said nope. No can do. Today I want…no, need…to relax.

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Here’s what I did: Had coffee. Had breakfast. Took a shower. Took a nap. Ate lunch. Watched a movie. Had a snack. Hung a plant. Unloaded the dishwasher. Ate dinner. Did a Skype call. Had a snack. Watched TV. Played on Facebook.

This is unheard of for me. I’ve been so driven my entire adult life to “accomplish” stuff, that I’ve neglected my own health, mental and physical. I’m finally, at the ripe age of 23…yeah, that’s right…learning how to slow down and rest.

That initial guilt I felt at the beginning of the day gave way to acceptance and acknowledgment that it was okay to rest, to spend some time recharging and regenerating.1-74

I’m sharing this because I wish I’d learned this lesson years ago. The lesson is that life goes by quickly and you should stop to enjoy it now and then. The world will keep rotating on its axis, and when you’ve regenerated, your “stuff” will still be there waiting for you.

As writers, we need to experience life in order to write about it, and part of that experience is the quiet moments, when we’re just sitting reading a book, or lying with our eyes closed listening to the sounds outside. From there we can understand so much.

Slow down, and taste life.

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Exhaling

I feel like for the last few years, I’ve been holding my breath. What was I waiting for to exhale? A new job. A successful writing career. Some stability in my life.

Seven or eight years down the road, I found myself really turning blue. It was time for me to exhale, no matter what was happening.

I realized that if I waited for these things to happen before exhaling, I would pass out.

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On Vampires and Disco

Vampires. People love them. But not enough, apparently.

For years now, I’ve been working on vampire stories, starting with my debut novel, Twice Bitten.

Then I had a story in the anthology When the Clock Strikes Thirteen, called “Love Bites, and then a story in Tales of the Grimoire called “Lizzie Borden Took an Axe.”

Most recently, I released book one in a novella series called The Vampires of Brooklyn Chronicles. The book is called Have a Bite.

Vampires are popular, right? Look at all the movies and TV shows that feature vampires and other supernatural creatures.

But getting some of that vampire lovin’ going on in Lesfic Land isn’t so easy. Obviously, there is a market out there for paranormal lesfic, but it’s simply dwarfed by all other genres. And it seems that no matter how much I do to promote my vampires, it isn’t getting the traction that I’d like.

So, now I have make a decision. Do I keep writing my vampire stories and doing what I love, or do I cater to the majority of the lesfic-buying community and stick to romances?

Don’t get me wrong, romances are fun to write, too. I particularly enjoyed writing my novella Add Spice to Taste, and all the romance/erotic short stories that I’ve had published, but paranormal is what really interests me.

But “love” and “interest” don’t pay Verizon, know what I mean?

You hear artists talk about selling out all the time, dissing other artists—musicians who allow companies to use one of their songs in commercials, or actors who promote adult diapers—but exactly when did it become wrong to make money from your work?

I mean, I get it. When you’re an artist, the product of your labor is art—it comes from your heart and soul, whether it’s a song, or a story, or an interpretive dance. But suppose your art is something else, like bricklaying?  My father was a master bricklayer. He built, by himself, entire homes, luxury master baths, and building facades (many of the buildings around New York City have his handiwork in or on them). That was his art, but he didn’t work for free. No artist does, right? Well, the hope is that there will be some remuneration for someone’s art (eventually, if not at first).

Wait a minute, you’re saying, no one said that artists have to work for free. Musicians make money by selling music and performing at concerts; actors make money by making movies or TV shows; writers make money through royalties (ha ha!). So I’m having a hard time understanding this “selling out” thing.

When I was younger, I was all like, yeah, don’t sell out to the man! But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started wondering, how is selling or lending out your art “selling out”?

This rambling is leading me to say (or ask, rather) that if I write stuff that I’m okay with but that isn’t really the true product of my passion, am I selling out?

When rock musicians starting doing disco music in the 1970s to tap that huge market, they were lambasted. The world was at odds: It was the “Rock is good, I must admit/But next to disco, it sounds like shit” camp versus the “Disco sucks” camp. But, seriously, was it that wrong? Most of them survived, right? The Rolling Stones, the icons of rock ‘n’ roll themselves, released “Miss You,” and although rock fans will refute it, that was disco. YES, rock ‘n’ rollers—“Miss You” was DISCO. It didn’t change their status in the rock music firmament.

Of course, not everyone is the Stones (grammatically, that’s both correct and incorrect!). But every artist has the right to express him/herself in the way he/she wants. And if they want to dabble in other arts, they can do that, too. It’s always been done: actors releasing albums, singers taking on acting roles, socialite heiresses designing handbags…oh, wait, that last one is not at artist. But you get my drift.

It’s all stuff to think about. If you have an opinion and want to weigh in, I’m happy to hear your input.

Meanwhile, stay safe and be happy.

 

Control is an Illusion

This is for all the control freaks out there.

Two familiar sayings: You are the captain of your own ship. You are the master of your destiny.

Do you really believe that?

I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to construct the building blocks that I felt should be the foundation of my life. And if anyone has been reading my blog or Facebook posts, you’ll know that part of that is chasing the kind of job that I really want by doing everything in my power to build my resume, which includes flipping cartwheels and pulling rabbits out of my ass.

But it finally dawned on me—control is an illusion. We can do a million things to create a result that we want, but in the end, that result is incumbent upon luck.dc1ac4bc2eac9bfec9878cd20029f763

Now, some people might say “there’s no such thing as luck” or “you make your own luck.” But let’s look at an example. Let’s take two actors. They start off in the same place in life, are equally talented, do the same kind of training, and try out for many of the same parts. One actor goes on to be a huge Hollywood star, while the other never gets more than a few bit parts. Here you will say, well, maybe the first actor worked harder, or had that extra little spark, or an important casting director saw something in him.

Another example: Two people apply for the same job. Equally educated, equally experienced, same social/political/professional profile. Why does one get the job over the other? Again, you’ll say that the one who gets the job has that little extra something.

Maybe.

Or maybe it’s that the there really wasn’t much difference between the actors, but the first actor was lucky enough to encounter a casting director who makes and breaks careers, while the other actor never got such an opportunity.

Maybe the hiring manager at the job turned out to be a friend of a friend who the winning applicant met at a wedding. The other person was just as qualified, but not as lucky to have a personal connection with the manager.

Call it luck. Call it destiny. Call it the whim of the Universe or God or whatever you believe in. It all comes back around to the same thing: we have no control.  

Think about it. You can work like a dog at your job, but you can’t help it if your company goes bankrupt and has to lay you off.a0642d43a01c72566960637f311b6c74

You can bend over backwards to help someone, but you can’t force them to appreciate you.

You can take classes, do volunteer work, and get involved in events, but you can’t force an employer to hire you.

You can eat healthily, exercise daily, even live in an organic-only commune completely off the grid, but you can’t force your body to not get a disease.

Accepting that we have no control is a frightening thing. No one wants to believe that we have no control over anything in our lives. It goes against our very nature, our instinct to take command of the world. It’s scary, this not knowing what’s going to happen. Uncertainty is nerve wracking. But things will happen the way they happen, no matter what you do.

This is the reality that I’ve been forced to face. So now my goal has been to come to a place of acceptance. I’m learning, slowly, to accept that all I can do is try my best, but I cannot force the result I want. Stressing myself out about it and burning the candle at both ends (to the point that my mental and physical health are impacted) in the hope of reaching my goal is pointless. Mental and physical health are better served when you don’t completely exhaust all your resources trying to do something that refuses to get done.days-of-thunder-control-is-an-illusion-you-infantile-egomaniac-nobody-kno

Don’t misunderstand. This is not an acceptance of defeat. Rather, it’s accepting that there may be more than one door available to us. We’re so focused sometimes on a goal that we plow ahead full steam without really stopping to look around and assess what we have to our disposal. But if we stop the crazy for a moment, we might find there are alternatives. My therapist says, it’s making a left turn to move forward. The example she uses is this: It’s like trying to get into a room. You pound and pound on the door and it just won’t open. You’re so determined to get into that room that you don’t realize that there are other doors. That door won’t open, but maybe if you stop pounding on it, make a left turn, there’s another door there for you to try.

Learning to stop and take that left turn can be difficult. After all, we spend so much time in the pursuit of our goals that we don’t know how to stop. We aren’t aware that we can turn. Once we make that realization, the real challenge then becomes believing that one door will open where the other would not. Again, you have no control over which door will open. Not even slamming into it head first may open it. Believe me, I’ve tried. But trying each one might just get you into that room.

You’re a control freak, I get it. So am I. But letting go has been surprisingly freeing. Scary and frustrating, but freeing. It takes a heavy burden off your shoulders and allows you to believe, perhaps for the first time in your life, that you’re not a failure.

So Iet the illusion of control go, then sit down and rest. You deserve it.

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That Time Again

It’s hard to believe, but it’s time for GCLS again. This year, the lesbian writers’ conference is in Washington DC. I’ve never been to DC, so it’s going to be fun finally getting to see my country’s capital (even though we’re going to hell in a hand basket).logo

This year’s con is going to a strange one, though. There’s going to be some tears and somber moments as we remember lost sisters, particularly Sandra Moran, who we lost to a heinous and much-too-short battle with cancer late last year. And I know several other fellow con-goers who recently lost loved ones.

But I think, too, that everyone wants this conference to be, as it always is, a celebration of us—as women, as lesbians, as writers. This year, in particular, it’s important that we continue that tradition, because of all the losses in our community. Not just the loss of individual souls, but the tragic mass loss of our brothers, sisters, and allies in the Orlando shooting.heart orlando

We need to celebrate who and what we are, and we need to appreciate each other and what we have to offer the world. It’s through our art that we reach out to the new generation of kids just coming out. Maybe those kids who are afraid to be who they are look to our stories for guidance. Maybe LGBT people who are disenfranchised because of where they live or family pressure depend on our stories as lifelines, the one thing that let’s them know that there’s nothing wrong with them. Maybe people who are isolated find our works and realize that they’re not alone.

Maybe we save some lives.

Regardless, life goes on, no matter what else happens in the world. We can’t stop living. We can’t stop loving. We can’t stop writing. Because if we do, all is lost.

So, maybe I’ll see some of you in DC. Maybe I’ll see some of you at future events elsewhere. Or maybe I’ll just see you here next time. Whichever it is, be safe, be joyful, and, most importantly, don’t be afraid.  

Peace

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