Photographic Demon

Photographic Demon

Our little squishy faced demon

Check either my or my fiance’s phone, and you’ll find hundreds of pictures of the Minions. No surprise there; parents take pictures of their kids. Especially when their kids are irresistibly adorable. Of course, trying to catch some of those moments requires sneaking up on the buggers since not everyone enjoys the paparazzi. (Firefly, in particular, doesn’t enjoy having his photo snapped) But there are exceptions to every rule.

In our house, it’s Tonks.

Not only is she adorable (you know it’s true), but she POSES for the camera. She knows precisely where the lens is on every camera (including the computers), and she plants herself in the best light and location to ensure someone gets the shot. Of course, this also translates to her adding herself to video conferences, Zoom meetings, and Skype conversations. (A camera’s a camera, after all)

Tonks - the most interesting kitten in the world

I’m sure people think we set up some of the pictures we take. They look THAT posed (case in point to the left). But it’s really a matter of glancing up and snatching up a camera. She’s simply photogenic. And where the other three usually only give us a brief nanosecond to capture an image, she’ll pause until we get the photo right before moving or resettling and destroying the perfect picture. (Vanity, thy name is Tonks)

Tonks is the most ridiculous kitten

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of other cats, and my phone and pocket drive are full of pictures. Rarely have any of them have produced such consistently, ridiculously perfect pictures. I mean look at this! (And, yes, she likes this particular pose – as I’m sure you’ve noted…or you will) It’s absurd! You can even see her eyes dart back and forth, asking, “Did you get the shot, Mommy? Did it come out?”

For Christmas last year, I put together a children’s book detailing her story for my nephew. I was spoiled for choice when it came time to add the pictures to the book. There were so many, some I’d even forgotten about. It made writing the story more fun, because I was able to add funny little touches here and there. I mean, when you find a photo of her with her paw on a wallet, how can you NOT slide that in there? It came out a hundred times better than I ever imagined, and my nephew (and niece) thought it was great.

While I don’t use my own images in my freelance work, I absolutely slide mentions of my kiddos in (where appropriate). They make my writing more approachable, allowing me to connect with the readers on a personal level. And I often remember these images when I’m writing. They’re tiny stories in and of themselves.

Cutest demon on the planet

So, yes, you see a lot more of Tonks in the Photo Bomb tags than the other kids. It’s not intentional, and she’s not the favorite of the household, by any means. She just happens to be the most photogenic and demanding in front of the camera. I mean, how do you resist taking a picture of that face? It’s impossible! That little demon just begs to be immortalized on digital film. Which is why we’ll continue to do so.

Terribly Horribly Unacceptably Unavoidable

Terribly Horribly Unacceptably Unavoidable

ly bottlecap
Bottle Cap that Thinks it’s an Adverb from Quinn Dombrowski on Flickr

Adverbs. These little pieces of grammar are hotly debated in writing circles. Along with the Oxford Comma, you find people aligned on both sides. You also find people that want to put banning adverbs into The Rules. While there’s some truth to cutting adverbs from your writing, outright banning of the poor things is unrealistic (and kind of impossible).

First off, what is an adverb? Adverbs, in the simplest explanation, are words that modify or qualify adjectives, verbs, other adverbs, or entire sentences. To eradicate the misconception, not every adverb ends in “-ly.” Do most of them? Sure, but not all. Want an example?

Deadpool’s costume is deep red.

In that sentence, “deep” is the adverb modifying the word “red.” It qualifies the color, adding additional meaning. However, (and this is where the debate comes in), it’s sloppy writing. You can do better than “deep red.” Just open a box of crayons, and you’ll see at least ten other options that substitute for “deep red.”

Deadpool’s costume is blood red.

Deadpool’s costume is maroon.

If you know the comic, the first one works from the merc’s perspective. The second appeals to the sensibilities of writers who hate extraneous words. Neither is technically wrong; one just uses an adverb while the other doesn’t. (See where the debate gets into the grey zone?)

Newbie writers tend to overdo adverbs. You read an average sentence and count ten of them. WAY too many. The sentence is clunky and difficult to read. Slicing it apart and trimming those excess adverbs in favor of stronger language improves the readability dramatically. It’s something that’s gained with experience. And, yes, I’m speaking from my own personal growth. When I go back and read things I wrote ten years ago, I cringe. Turn on Word’s tracking, and the paragraphs BLEED. I mean, look at this:

They were strong hands, large-knuckled but curiously delicate; unhappily, at the moment, they were shaking so badly he didn’t dare try to lift the knife to eat his cooling supper.

Horrible! Count the adverbs in there! And just try to get through reading that drivel without stumbling! (I can say this – I wrote it) Awful, terrible, and in need of ruthless editing. However, do I need to eliminate all of the adverbs? No. (Yes, the -ly words all need to go. I don’t know what I was thinking)

And this is where I argue against the “Death to Adverbs” camp. Adverbs aren’t the enemy. They DO serve a useful purpose, even in speculative fiction. The problem comes in when they result in sloppy, careless writing. We ALL use adverbs (anyone who denies is lying through their teeth). I know I was writing when I was tired or out of it when I skim over a passage and see adverbs sprouting like weeds. My brain switched off and let autopilot take over.

It isn’t the end of the world, it just means I need to rewrite and tighten up the language. Prune the worst adverbs out and choose better words. Am I using adverbs in dialogue tags? Okay, then I need to go back and examine the dialogue itself, see what I can do to make sure emotion’s coming through in my word choice so I can eliminate the tags. Have I zoned out and let “very” sneak in? Time to purge it and figure out stronger descriptors. (I will stand with the camp that opts to ban the use of “very” – it’s weak)

Then we get to the grey zone.

How many -ly words are there? I don’t think all -ly words are bad. People use them in normal conversation, so I refuse to ban them from my characters’ dialogue. Unless I’m writing a historical piece, I need human beings to speak like human beings. And guess what? Humans speak with adverbs. It needs to sound REALISTIC! I’ve deleted and then replaced adverbs within my dialogue numerous times, realizing I made my characters sound too formal. Not good.

Can you overdo adverbs? Of course. Can you find better word choices most times? Sure. Does that make adverbs the enemy? Definitely not. If you read over your work with a critical eye, you’ll see where the line is. But never let anyone tell you all of the adverbs have to go. You’ll end up writing like a computer, and no one wants to read that.

“I Seriously Hate You”

“I Seriously Hate You”

“Because if there’s anything you need to be a physical therapist, it’s a sense of humor.”

~Adele Levine, Run, Don’t Walk: The Curious and Chaotic Life of a Physical Therapist Inside Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Fun fact about me: I’m one of the most accident-prone people on the planet. Seriously – it’s almost superpower level (although I’m not sure what good it would serve). I fall UP stairs, I trip over my own feet (and thin air), and coordination and balance are foreign concepts. My parents threatened to make me take ballet as a child to teach me how to walk – I’ve always been THAT bad. This translates to frequent bruises, and A LOT of injuries.

Injuries = Physical Therapy

While I’m no stranger to the OR (and my natural resemblance to Sally from A Nightmare Before Christmas proves that), I try to avoid that scenario as much as possible. I may have a chronic illness, but I still don’t do well with pain, and surgery means PAIN! So whenever a doctor offers to start with physical therapy I agree without hesitation. Doesn’t always keep me from going under the knife, but I have to try.

Let me explain one simple fact for those that have never experienced physical therapy: IT SUCKS! Physical therapists somehow found a way to exempt themselves from the Geneva Convention, employing legalized torture. Even worse, they post this list of cheerful “Nevers” all over the building reminding you that you are their guinea pig for the entire 45 minute session.

What the hell?!

You get a nice little 5-minute warm-up, and then pure hell commences. And they SMILE the entire time! They even laugh! All while you grit your teeth, dig your nails into your palm, and wish you were dead! Then you drag yourself outside, with a cheery, “See you next time!” following behind you. Oh, right, and you’re usually given special exercises to do at home – to continue the “fun.” (I’m pretty sure they implant some kind of micro-camera to make sure you do them, too)

I’m not exaggerating, but physical therapy DOES help. And if you DON’T have a condition like fibromyalgia, it may not be as bad. Unhappily, I have pain receptors on every milometer of my body, so every second of my Graston session is beyond my tolerance level. My therapists know, but neither of us have a choice if I’m going to get that particular muscle through to the other side. They DO push, but it’s right up to the line of tolerance and no further. I might get tears in my eyes, but they don’t fall. It’s a delicate line, and physical therapy dances right to the edge.

I might hate it, but I appreciate it.

My current therapist is a champ, because I frequently tell him I hate him and threaten to kick him in the head. (I have a right ischiofemoral pingement) While vocal cursing isn’t allowed, I admit that there are a lot four-letter words happening in my head when he asks. He knows how to get me talking so I don’t break my jaw. He watches how hard I’m clenching my hands so know when I need a break. And he knows very well that I keep count, and he’ll stop me when he thinks I’m going too far.

He also knows I’m not doing my stretches at home, and he’s stopped asking.

It’s medically-sanctioned torture, but it’s better than surgery. Every session HURTS LIKE HELL, but I can see the progress. This current round’s progress isn’t going as fast or well as I’d like, but it IS there. The laughter helps (I won’t throw that quote in – everyone knows it), and so does his promise that we’ll get where we’re going.

On my bad days, when I have to sit on the couch and watch my fiance’ do kickboxing without me, I feel like it’s all a lie. When I spend the remainder of the day wanting to detach my leg from my body, and I reach for the phone to cancel the rest of my appointments, it seems pointless. Then I remind myself that a month ago, I couldn’t do ANYTHING without pain. Now, I can at least work without wanting to scream. I can walk without a visual limp. Maybe it isn’t much, but it’s SOMETHING.

Besides, even if I end up needing surgery, I’ll still end up back in physical therapy afterward. (Kind of how the wretched system works) Might as well get used to the routine now.

So, yeah, I hate every minute I’m there. I’m a terrible patient, and I complain. It keeps the pain from getting the upper hand. And when my therapist tells me he gets it, he understands… Well, at least we’re on the same page.

Out THERE

Out THERE

Natural waterfall near Natural Bridge, VA

Writers are, by nature, introverts. We like staying indoors, huddled in our offices with our computers (or laptops, or – for some – pens and notebooks). The outside world has people (ew!). The outside world has noise. The outside world has distractions. The outside world lacks electrical cords. It’s just not for us.

Except it IS!

Not the people part (I’m not crazy, don’t worry). No, just the outdoor part – away from people, noise, and, yes, electricity. The natural world provides exceptional resources for writers, if you’re willing to take the time away from your computer.

Regardless of where you live, there’s a natural space SOMEWHERE. It doesn’t have to be green to speak to the creative part of your brain. Forests and waterfalls call to the fantasy writer in me. I love waterfalls, and I’ve always been drawn to them. The sight of tumbling water – large and small – the sound of water bouncing over rocks, and the smell of moisture in the air. Not only does it spark creativity, it recharges my mind. I reconnect with the primal part of myself that savors escape from computers, noise, and other human beings.

Two for one!

Even as a kid, I’d find stories popping into my head when we spent time out in the real world. Camping, touring caves, hiking, going to the beach – each provided different backdrops for my vivid imagination. I haven’t lost my touch now that I’m older. While others my age might hit the beach to work on tans and down alcohol, I stare into the patterns of foam and conjure new worlds. When storms roll in and people whine about lost daylight, I envision monsters roaming among the lightning. I never step into a forest without fairies flickering in the corners of my eyes.

Nature doesn’t discount science fiction, either. Dystopian work bubbles out of vines climbing over ancient railroad ties. Last autumn, we went to Northern Virginia and walked along a river bed, desperately low from drought. Looking at the natural water line etched into the rocks, my mind raced with climate change possibilities. Beautiful, twisting tree growth superimposes over shattered buildings in my brain – nature reclaiming the world after some cataclysmic event.

The possibilities are endless!

When you go outside and let the quiet permeate your mind, creativity steps into the silence. You recharge yourself (yes, I’m one of THOSE people), and you recharge your ideas. And, as I said, you don’t even have to go that far. There’s a park five minutes up the road from our house. We can put our kayaks in and go up or down the river, with different views available. The Botanical Gardens are only a twenty-minute drive away, and they cover MILES. We have hiking trails and beaches within an hour – many lacking in popularity with locals and tourists.

Step away from the machines, tuck a notepad in your pocket, and step outside. Hell, even sitting on my back porch brings ideas! (Though I really think you need to go further) When storms roll in and lightning dances across the sky – how can that NOT inspire something?

Nature holds fascinating possibilities, and it reconnects you to the world in which you exist. If you gain inspiration AND recharge yourself – how can you NOT take that chance? Give it a try – you won’t regret it.

Plague Planning

Plague Planning

My wedding planning notebooks

“And your plague policy is…?” With just about three months to go, we find ourselves asking that question more and more often. Not a question I ever anticipated coming out of my mouth. Certainly didn’t expect to utter it behind a mask (a really cute mask, but that’s beside the point). NEVER thought I’d ask the question in regards to my wedding. (Thanks a lot 2020)

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m organized. (Yes, I realize that word isn’t strong enough, but I’ve yet to encounter a word that encapsulates my actual state of mind) I read through every word of my wedding planner, which I bought the same week I got engaged. There weren’t enough tabs to my liking, so I added more (if you can’t find something in the binder, you’re not looking). My Pinterest boards are carefully broken down into every aspect of the wedding. I have white board calendars for tracking appointments, with additional color-coded check boxes for what needs accomplishing. The calendars went up a year prior to the wedding date.

Someone forgot to tell me to plan for PLAGUES.

In all of the advisories, warnings, and extra suggestions, nowhere does it mention pandemics. COVID-19 threw off my schedule, prompted an insert for the invitations, caused me to orchestra Plans B-Z (just in case), and led us to cancel our honeymoon (for the time being). We inserted that plague question into our interviews (once the state reopened and interviews were possible yet again). We recognized that our already small wedding might dwindle to just family. And we learned gratitude for every small business that smiled, laughed, and assured us they understood.

No one expects the plague.

Before, getting my fiance’s suit wouldn’t have been a problem. Now, setting foot in the mall took grit, nerves, and a lot of hand sanitizer. Neither of us have done so in MONTHS. We know people don’t listen to the state order for masks. We have no idea what people do on their own time, if they follow social distancing or not. The number of cases in our area is climbing. Even avoiding the mall proper and sticking to the store in question didn’t make us feel safe. But the suit wasn’t going to buy itself. Something that was supposed to be fun and involve laughter felt akin to a military operation.

(Mission accomplished, by the way)

I watch the days trickle away. I should be excited, and some days I am. Other days, I want to hide. I re-read the inset I wrote for the invitation and imagine everyone declining to attend. I fret over coordinating so many Zoom attendees. I look at the bins under the bed in the guest room, filled with favors and table decorations, and my depression asks why I bothered (not that they’re returnable at this point). I open my binder and look at the confirmed cancellation of our honeymoon cruise.

This virus stole away the joy from the event.

Then I remind myself that the wedding is STILL happening. I’m still marrying the most important person in my life. That cruise will happen eventually. I flip through my list of music to play throughout the ceremony and reception. I think about the beautiful cake and the thought I put into the decorations. I look at the pattern for my dress and all of the accessories. I glance through the images of the beach house and remind myself our families will be there.

What else do I need?

Yeah, COVID-19 sucks. It’s ruined a lot of 2020, and I have no doubt it isn’t finished with all of us. I can either focus on the fact that it made my wedding difficult, or I can choose to look at it that, years from now, I’ll look back and say, “Remember how we got married during the plague?”

One definitely makes for a better story.