Revival of an artist

photo-2A couple weeks ago, something amazing happened and I’d like to share it with the world.

I sketched.

For the first time in YEARS — five, ten, who knows — I pulled out my sketchbook and drew. If you have read any of my intermittent posts here, you might have read this one here about my trip to Eastern PA. It was in the sketchbook I bought following this workshop that I drew for the first time in ages. The one that’s sat in my bag with a set of pencils just in case I ever had the inspiration.

And I did.

Actually, I’ve had a picture in my head for quite some time. See, I’m a very visual person. The whole artist thing, I guess. As a story unfolds in my head, I see it in pictures, movie-esque stills, or mini shorts. And sometimes, but not always, I see my characters faces. Most times, it’s a vision just out of my line of sight where I get a general IDEA of what my characters look like. Maybe it’s a smile, the way their eyes crinkle when they really laugh, or the firm set of a jaw when they struggle with emotion, but not the whole picture.

But I saw Tiani.

Tiani is a character in my first [officially] completed MS. Though it’s told through my main guy’s POV, Luc, I’ve seen Tiani since the beginning. Or at least how Luc sees her. I’ve always had a slight itch to sketch her, to put her on paper, to make her real, but shied away out of fear. I was terrified I wouldn’t like what I produced. That I would look at the CRAP I spewed on paper and it wouldn’t do Tiani justice AT ALL. To me, she’s beautiful, and I just knew I couldn’t match her beauty once I tried to make it real.

Then, one day, I decided it didn’t matter.

Sure, it’s been eons since I’ve put pencil to paper. Would it be prefect? No. Would the sketch be a perfect representation of how I saw Tee? Probably not. Would my technique show the lapse in practice and fall shy of meeting my self-instilled high expectations? Without a doubt. But that’s okay! Being an artist is much like being a writer, or an athlete. They all use muscles that NEED to be exercised on a constant basis in order to improve. And I hadn’t worked out in for-e-ver.

In the end, I’m happy with what I produced. She’s not perfect, my technique is way rusty, and I see loads of room for improvement. But for the FIRST TIME since I was a budding teenage artist, I’m okay with what I produced. I look at this sketch fondly with tears in my eyes.

She’s still there. My inner artist still lives inside me. She was buried deep, but with a little more exercise, I KNOW she will continue to thrive.

 

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PTSD the utopYAcon Way

I know what you’re thinking. “Odd title.” “She’s gone off the deep end.” “Is she medicated?” The quick answer: perhaps I should be. *snortle*

PTSD generally has a negative connotation. Not ’round these parts. For me it’s Post Transcendent Squee Disorder, a condition that rears it’s ugly head the moment you realize the next utopYAcon is a WHOLE FREAKIN YEAR AWAY! An ailment afflicting con attendees who fell victim to the magic that IS utopYAcon.

Last year, the virgin voyage of utopYAcon, was my first wee con and you can read my uber mushy PTSD blog post here. And when I say I cried, I totally did. Almost the ugly kind. But that’s what happens after utopYAcon! After two and a half days of complete immersion into a world of squishy community awesomeness, you sort of get addicted. Then the weekend passes and you come down off the utopYA high. You’re back to the real world, back to the writing task, the endless books, the same computer screen that mocks you with its blinking cursor. That’s where the PTSD kicks in.

As an attendee last year, I felt all the magic. It saturated the air much like Tennessee humidity. The whole ‘help you rise as I climb’ mentality soaks into every pore, urging you to be a part of that enigmatic world of the writing community. The thing is, it only feels enigmatic at OTHER cons. Not at utopYA. The community is very tangible, welcoming even, and will quite frankly snatch you by the lanyard if you linger too long in the corner. I felt it. I was part of it. It was part of me.

Then a couple months later, something amazing happened.

After one of our KidLit critique meets, Janet Wallace (aka: mama of the amazeballs utopYA) asked if I wanted to stay for a utopYAcon meeting. Of course I stayed. Pah-leeeze! Suddenly, I was a part of this amazing con and had the privilege to see how it all came together. Only 2013 was on track to be GINORMOUS compared to 2012. Lots of planning splattered the menu and, after a few shorts months, I became part of an amazing team.

Then something even more amazing happened.

The weekend of June 28th, 2013, as part of the utopYAcon staff, I got to see the magic happen for 320-something other people. Facebook friends united, Twitter stalkers united, bloggers, readers, writers, and authors united. They all came together, again, to embrace each other and their individual journeys. New friendships formed, old ones grew stronger, and despite the stickiness that is Tennessee, hugs and squee-ing filled the air.

Not only that, but I got to experience the magic…again. Seeing some of the utopYAcon alumni rocked my socks in a HUGE way. Chelsea Fine and Carol and Adam Kunz remembered me and had hugs to spare. M.R. Polish came stocked with an exhibitor table filled with her now published books. CJ Redwine sat on several panels and wowed with her humor and knowledge (I bow to thee). Even Myra McEntire hugged me, HUGGED I say, before hopping onto the panel pony. Jennifer L. Armentrout came as keynote speaker and totally knew me from Twitter! I got to sit next to her at dinner and get some serious fangirl on. Not the psycho-crazed fangirl kind, but the I-heart-you-and-I-suddenly-don’t-know-how-to-speak-properly kind. Others thought it was cute. Me? Sort of mortified.

At the close of the weekend, during the final thoughts, when the floor is opened to all, it happened again. The magic that is utopYAcon. Those who got up and shared their experience brought tears to my eyes and goose-pimples to my flesh. They felt it too! The magic lives on!

UtopYAcon may not be a hard-core intensive powered crafty con, but it has something that the other cons don’t; Community. No invisible lines, no expectations, no drama. Just the equal love of books, the written word, and a deep love of encouragement.

So what do us little utopYAcon goers do during the months we’re without the magic? We write. We befriend. We encourage the next in line. We support those who encouraged us. We READ! We dare to dream and dare to see them come true. PTSD is not to be taken lightly. It’s a condition that lives within all who have experienced the magic of utopYAcon, the little con that could. It urges us to carry on, to “Expand our Clumps¹,” and to “Dream Out Loud².”  “UtopYA is what you make it³,” so make it yours.

UtopYAcon is a tangible unicorn. Touch it, and you too will carry the magic.

utopya2014

 

¹Quoted by Angeline Kace
²Quoted by Victoria Faye Alday
³Quoted by K.P. Simmon

 

 

Artist at a writer’s workshop

IMG_0691 Wow. There have been some serious cricket orchestras playing around here. My apologies. I’ve been meaning to blog, really I have. Just as I’ve been meaning to scrub down the guest bath, trim the lilac bushes, sand down a desk for my son, help my aunt with her website, and a multitude of other things. But none of them happened. I suck, I know.

So what have I been doing with my time? Well, the day job has been a HUGE time-suck lately. My company is growing, which is good, but that means more work. My son has also discovered that mom tunes everything out when the laptop is open so he does his damnedest to get all up in my grill when he sees it open. He’s too cute to pass up.

There was also a couple online synopsis and query workshops I took with the fab C.J. Redwine. She’s awesome. DO IT!

The reason for this post today however, is the recent trip I took up to Honesdale, PA. I’m an equal opportunity SCBWI member and buddied up with my pal Carli for the Eastern PA SCBWI Retreat Workshop. In short, it was amazing. Quite literally in the middle of nowhere, we stayed in some too cute cabins at a facility owned by the Highlights Foundation. A full kitchen staff was on hand for all meals and unlimited supplies of cookies, ice cream and coffee!

The workshop was amazing. Miss Darcy Pattison headed up the UNfinished track I attended. Her tricks for writing will certainly come in handy. I really enjoyed the bit we did on writing a letter from one character to another. It really fleshed out my other character’s motivations; stuff I knew was there, but hadn’t written from her POV. Another bit that I enjoyed was to take a scene from the WIP and flip the feel of it. For instance, the scene I chose is where my guy, Luc, is totally freaking out over the crazy things happening around him. To flip it, I wrote the same scene as if he thought everything where totally lame and predictable. The result? It was hard! But I can see where something like this would help with a pesky block or if you can’t quite get the feel of a scene.

The crowning moment for the weekend, though, did not come from the writing world, but the illustration world. You may, or may not, know that at my core, I am an artist. Or at least I used to be. I seriously think I was born with a set of crayons up my tush. I drew ALL THE TIME when I was a kid. Once, my mother (whom can draw a mean stick figure) asked me how I knew what to draw. She said I told her, “You make a picture in your head, and then you put it on paper.” I was like four or five.

I dreamed of going to art school, maybe doing illustrations for children’s books (before I even knew a writer lurked inside). Then in high school, I had an advanced art class my sophomore year. You had to get an ‘A’ in a prerequisite class to even get IN the class so I was beyond happy. My previous art teacher was nothing but supportive and I knew I was going somewhere.

But he wasn’t my new art teacher; Ms. Yanes was.

Ms. Yanes was the most unsupportive art teacher. Maybe she was trying to push my boundaries or make me ‘see’ more than my trusty sketch pad, but there are only so many “It’s wrong, do it again”s a kid can hear before it starts to chip away at your confidence. In my case, it chipped a lot. After my sophomore year in high school, I stopped drawing. On occasion I would pick up my sketch pad, but I no longer liked what I produced. I stopped showing my parents my work, and my friends. And eventually, it all stopped.

As an adult now, I have a need to reconnect with that inner artist. I know she is still in there. I’ve seen her rear her shy head in various doodles during work meetings or ideas for a book that I need a visual for. But doodles aren’t enough. I want more. After setting my Arwen free, I’ve had an idea for a picture book inspired by my son. The thing with picture books though, is that they include PICTURES. How can I create a picture book if I can’t reconnect with my artist?

So at the EPA SCBWI, I dared to ask. On closing day, I walked up to author/illustrator Selina Alko, with stomach in knots the size of Mt. Everest, and asked what she told artists who’ve lost “it” but want to get it back. After some background info, Miss Selina said the most amazing thing ever, “I believe there’s an artist in all of us.”

Out of nowhere, I started crying.

I apologized, feeling like a total tool, but I think Selina understood. She said to carry a sketch pad with me always. I tend to doodle on note pads, but it’s not the same. Selina said to just let the moments take me. When I felt the need to doodle, doodle in the sketch pad. Which is funny, since what are we told to do when experiencing writer’s block? Yup, we write. Doesn’t matter what it is as long as you’re writing.

The clouds parted and I felt a new sense of peace inside. Then I couldn’t STOP crying. Poor Carli had to deal with the emotional me. But I will remember Selina’s words always. When I got home, I went to JoAnne’s and bought a small sketch pad and travel case for sketch pencils and such. They are in my bag as we speak, right next to my writer’s note pad. Have I drawn anything yet? No, but I know I will.

It was amazing to experience this emotion. I knew I resented Ms Yanes for what she did to me, but I hadn’t thought how deeply it went. Apparently, REALLY deep. As one of those ‘had I known then what I know now’ scenarios, I would have told Ms. Yanes to kiss my ass, but I was an impressionable teen with little confidence in my art. I still don’t have much confidence in my art, but as an adult I know that the best part of my art is that it IS MY ART, not any one else’s. My art, just like my writing, is an extension of who I am. Just as every writer has their own voice, every artist has their own style. No one is perfect and what one person thinks is trash is the most awe inspiring piece of art to another.

In my heart, I have told Ms. Yanes to kiss my ass. It will be a rocky road, but I will reconnect with my artist. I want to create a picture book. I want to be a writer/author/illustrator. That is who I am, and I won’t let her go again.

 

 

If I could walk 100,000 miles

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February 1, 2013, I crossed over 100,000 miles on my car. Some may think this is a tedious thing to track, but not me. See, those miles are all mine. Damn near every single one of them.

When I drove my little Toyota Matrix off the lot, she had six miles reading on the odometer. That was AFTER my test drive. Pre test drive, I think there may have been two miles, if that. When I test drove my baby, the Toyota folks had to take plastic off the seats and that protective paper stuff off the hood and such. It was THAT new.

I’ve had new cars before, but not for this long. One even met with an untimely demise after a confrontation with an ’82 New Yorker that ran a stop sign. This is the first time in my life I’ve crossed the 100,000 mile milestone and it all — be — mine.

It got me thinking. On my way home that centennial night, I thought about the things that have happened in my life during those 100,000 miles. There have been huge highs and huge lows.

Some of the highlights of those 100,000 miles…

I reconnected with my father, whom I never had a great relationship with. I said goodbye to my Granny. I got married. I said goodbye to my TazzTazz (the most obnoxiously wonderful cat ever). I drove cross-country with my Lab-mutt, Arwen, who was ever patient with the week long adventure. I moved to Tennessee without a job and one friend (besides my hubs). I became a home owner. I worked for the worst company ever in existence (ever) for six months. I landed a job at a great biofuels company (and still work there). I befriended some of the most amazing people ever; I’m looking at you Rachel, Cara, Dana, and Amber! I said goodbye to my G-ma. I said goodbye to Grandpa Wilgus (in-law) who was quite possibly the most big-hearted man I’d ever come to know. I brought home my baby boy after 36 hours of labor. I found my inner writer. I wrote a book. I flew to New York City (had never been there before, by the way) by myself to attend an SCBWI conference where I knew not a soul. I met my first critique partner/writer-friend, Carli (HUGS). I met another awesomesauce critique partner/writer-friend, Alisha. I wrote several short stories and one resulted in an honorable mention in Writers Digest. I learned that chemical addictions can always sneak up on you no matter how well you think you know someone. I learned that sometimes you cannot depend on the one’s you need to depend on most. I also learned that the one’s you thought you could never depend on were the most dependable. I started two more books and know I will one day be published. I said goodbye to my sweet Arwen after a short, but horrible, fight with Cushing’s Syndrome. I invested in my dream computer (hello Macbook Pro). I learned that the infallible love of a child is the most precious gift in this world.

I also, after these 100,000 miles, have learned that my journey as a writer is just beginning. She may have always been there lurking under the surface waiting for her chance to burst onto the scene in a shower of glitter, but she’s still new to me. My journey as a writer will undoubtedly be as treacherous, ugly, rewarding, exciting, crushing, and as anxiety filled as the last 100,000 miles in my car, but that is the beauty of life.

Life is a journey.

Writing is a journey.

And both will leave tread marks on your soul.

 

The Next Big Thing (Week 25)

How did I not know about this awesome longstanding writer meme So You Think You Can Write A Novel? Nice little play on my all time fave show So You Think You Can Dance! If you know me, or follow my randomness on Twitter, you know I get all sorts of gushy over the show.

Anyway, so my pal Alisha Klapheke tagged me in this wee meme where we get to [gasp] share some tidbits of our [lip quiver] current WIP and post a [near faints] Q & A session about it. Oi. If you’re not a writer, you probably don’t understand the palm-sweat-inducing nerves that posting bits of your coveted baby on the world wide web creates. Granted, if you’re published, this is ‘meh’ to you. BUT! For us who still linger in the shadows, it can be darn right frightening.
So here goes! [cracks knuckled and pops neck] Let’s do dis.

#1. What is the working title of your book? BLOOD SHIFT, and that’s the 3rd working title so far. Heh.

#2. Where did the idea come from for the book? After reading far too many YA novels than should be considered normal, a mini-movie starting flipping through my head. I also attribute it to my endless fascination with all things speculative as well as Celtic folklore.

#3. What genre does your book fall under? Hmmm. Good question. Young Adult Urban Fantasy is my guess.

#4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Oh boy! Love this. Okay. [rubs hands together with devilish glee] This part isn’t nearly as fun without the visual aid, and it also eliminates the Wha…? Who? factor.

Bree has always been a Nina Dobrev (with curly hair) to me.


Kennon is rep’d by this one picture of Sam Claflin.
All of Sam’s other pics don’t work. Or I would go with an Alex Pettyfer. Cuz…yummm
Tess is Blake Lively.
Lucy is Lauren Prepon, but with short hair…
Franco has been a young Dario Franchitti in my head. Now Dario’s not an actor, but an Indy Race-car driver. The hot Scottish kind. Grrrr.
And G-ma I see as a Lois Smith.

 

#5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Ew. Hate this part. Ahem. When a seventeen year-old girl discovers the truth behind the whacked dreams plaguing her for months, she learns she has two choices: either suck it up and become the fighter her bloodline dictates, or turn away from her legacy, surrendering her soul to her birthright’s wild energy.

#6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Not sure yet. Have some Indie Pubs that I’m looking at…

#7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? The first horrific rough draft? Four months. The last year attempting to make it not so horrific.

#8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? I’m horrible at this, sorry, and really have NO idea how to answer this. I believe readers who liked the HUSH, HUSH series by Becca Fitzpatrick and maybe the LUX novels by Jennifer L. Armentrout would like BLOOD SHIFT. For those who’ve CP’d feel free to chime in here…

#9. Who or What inspired you to write this book? My friend Rachel. [BIG grin] She was the person who said “GO FOR IT” when I said I had an idea for a book. Heart her.

#10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? Pishaw! I wrote it, duh! Totally kidding. Seriously, besides hot boys with accents who are swoonishly deadly, I believe it’s a story about strength. Finding strength in those around you and also, and most importantly, within yourself.

You get all that? Fantastic! Now I’m going to tag a couple of wickedly talented people I know to continue this tradition for Week 26 next Wednesday.

The wonderfully sparkly Isabel Bandeira and uber awesome M.R. Polish (who might need a NaNo stress relief about now) will share some loveliness on their blogs next time so keep a watch out!