Good books and hope

Some people have lofty dreams: careers, higher education, to have a large, expansive family—I have dreams of writing a book. Many books. Any book.

When I read a book, a few things always happen (depending on if it is a good book or a bad book). 

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With a good book—my imagination develops tracers: flashes of light that remain after something bright has burned in the darkness. Fireworks. Burning hot dog roasting sticks (sorry, my Montana is showing through). Tail lights in the distance, crunching gravel beneath tires. The story leaves a memory, an experience, a ghost that forever inhabits a part of myself.

A good story leaves the characters behind to stay with me forever; I can recall them at will. Not the entire story, my memory is far too poor for that, but I can picture the story and the characters clearly enough. They are forever suspended in my mind—sometimes in certain scenes or just impressions.

Talia and Kris alone in the waystation all winter (Arrow's Flight, Mercedes Lackey).
Sabriel in a bathtub blushing over the sounds of a giggling couple in the next room, while thinking it is Touchstone (it isn't; Sabriel by Garth Nix).
Tiger and Del arguing, fighting, laughing and much more (Sword-dancer series, Jennifer Roberson).

A good book, for me, leaves a scar. As a writer: it creates characters and worlds I can only stare at longingly. I can only kick myself for that 'Why didn't I think of that!' (Because I was 7 when that book was published, nerd). 

Memories aside—a good book reminds me that there are plenty good books left to be written and they make me remember that my contribution—once it happens—has value. More importantly, perhaps, they make me feel like contributing. I'm not saying that I detest writing or that I find it a chore, but I do find it very sacred. It's very precious to me and I often find reasons why the circumstances aren't write (hah) because I want to be in the perfect place when I do sit down to write. That isn't realistic, but—have we met?

Many of these characters, places and experiences that I have encountered while reading hold firm places in my mind. At any moment—I need only remember a book and suddenly the Sandtiger is grinning back at me or a bell rings out in the fog, and I know Sabriel is there, waiting. I can feel the cold water rushing around my ankles—I am transported.

A good book becomes a good memory and, I'd like to think, tries very hard to replace a bad one. A good book reminds us to dream, because it is often in dreams where novels and characters are born.

A good book gives me characters, places, styles, plot and guidance. As both a reader and a writer—I learn from reading as much as I experience it. I can acknowledge a book for the skill on a line level, for deftly penning a plot—and for giving me scenes that forever burn like embers in my mind. I can both learn from, and enjoy, the hard work of dedicated authors. A book is a gift from the imagination and hard work of one person, to the imagination of next.

A bad book is even worse for a reader-writer. Before I continue, let me explain: I am not insisting that anything I write is considered "good" nor can I claim to be involved with the making of a "good book" as I have not yet been published (or even survived the second draft). The following opinions spring only from my life experiences and what I, personally, consider to be a bad book at this point in my life. A bad book was quite different for me 10 or even 15 years ago and the same can be said for what I considered good in my youth.

I had an entire section on what bad books do to people—but I think I'll just let it go. We all know a bad book when we read/hear/experience it. And bad books can be found everywhere: self-published authors, New York Times Best Selling authors, even ourselves. They can be books written by terrible people (I once saw a beloved author be disrespectful about politics on Facebook and I can no longer read their books) or bad books written by people who refuse to accept any kind of feedback or criticism. We all have a certain way we want our books to be read and experienced: but full of typos, cliché names, weak-willed characters and mindless sex is never the answer (for me, at least). 

Bad books leave scars that only amplify the good books in our lives. Even bad books have lessons to teach us (as writers and readers) and characters to adopt—even if only to tape their mouths shut and throw them down a dark stairwell for their own protection. Sometimes I read so I can remind myself what kind of writer I don't want to be.

Right now I am about 20% through Clariel by Garth Nix. I am reminded that there are still stories left to be told, monsters left to banish (both in real life and in literary ones) and memories yet to make.

Read the good with the bad: learn from both. Spend the money on the editor. Don't write what you know: often we know only a life of cruelty and unfairness. Write to make the world better than it is, not to remind us of how dark and awful humankind really is. We already know that. What we need, more than anything as mortal creatures reading books, is hope.

Final disclaimer: this opinion of "don't write stuff with typos" and "only write good books" is an opinion I only recently embraced. See my earlier work for contradictions and furthur proof that I am far from perfect.

Shotgunning Memories

So much as happened lately that it is hard to know where to begin. Let's throw some memories down a shotgun barrel like nickels and start there, firing at random:

  • I nearly dropped out of school with straight A grades because I felt discouraged. Not just a little, but like, what the hell am I doing in school, I have no time for anything, I cannot write--
  • My grandfather passed away.
  • I opened a licensed home business in the state of Washington called Distracted Dragon and sell my 1.5” buttons, magnets, keychains, magnetic keychains and 3.5” drink coasters online, effectively throwing off the albatross of FIVERR.com 

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  • A ten minute conversation with a valued teacher re-affirmed my belief in myself and I went from seven to fifteen credits (full time) for Spring 2017 semester at North Idaho College.
  • I got tickets to a fancy book reading by the lovely Sharma Shields, who signed my book, which I then scanned and turned it into a drink coaster/memory.2016-11-18-21-01-10b

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    • I saw Doctor Strange in theaters. It is weird seeing Benedict Cumberbatch with his British accent and hear him speak with an American one.
    • I've learned about non-fiction, about essays (personal essays, segmented essays, short essays, lyrical essays, on my!), about literary journalism and about work-shopping peer material. I wrote a personal essay about my own trichotillomania which I'll be workshopping in class in a couple weeks.
    • I cried uncontrollably during—and since—the Presidential Elections.
    • I made a video about how I became the Distracted Dragon:

  • I've since had a longer conversation with my valued teacher and once again re-affirmed my belief in myself and was asked to “give myself grace” about not writing, and was given this analogy about my anger at not writing while in college: “It's like being an apprentice chair maker and being upset about making fewer chairs while you're learning to make better ones.” Ok, that is something I can understand. Leave it to my Creative Writing teacher to spin it in a way that makes sense.
  • I have listened to Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen and now Goldenhand (all by Garth Nix) in the past year. Sabriel still remains my favorite in the series.

    My cat Boo Boo LOVES to "watch the printers how" as it prints off buttons and coasters.

  • I had all my teeth extracted, healed for two months, and am transitioning to dentures. I am now more embarrassed by adjusting to dentures than to people seeing me without teeth. It's been kind of a secret, many people have not seen me for months (and would not normally see me anyways). It was an easy decision to make, I had an incredibly kind dentist, Mason went to all of my appointments with me, and I have learned to eat soft foods for the past few months. But the hardest part was not changing my diet or hiding my mouth: now, the real battle is learning how to speak, how to eat and how to smile. I've spent much of my adult life hiding my mouth when I speak; there are no photographs that I have taken that show my teeth. Soon, there will be, because it is quite a nice smile—just lacking confidence, which will come with time. My dimples remain intact. Now I have one more thing to claim I share with my biological father: dentures.

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  • I am re-watching the TV show “LOST” with Mason. We just finished Season 2 late last night (after my Anthropology paper and quiz, but before work-shopping two non-fiction stories for class the next morning). Watching TV shows makes me wish I had more of an interest in script writing or video game writing.

    2016-10-20-06-13-17I found this picture and thought it was funny.

  • I stopped drinking extreme amounts of caffeine, including coffee and Mt. Dew. I now only drink it when I am away from home—which, recently, has been very rarely.
  • I made some safety pin buttons for a family member who feels threatened by the current political climate.

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  • I failed at National Novel Writing Month and have managed to not get inconsolably mad or sad about it. Apprentice Chair Maker, after all.
  • I met my boyfriend's daughter “officially” as his girlfriend and no one caught on fire. She's quite adorable and likes me—a situation I had avoided all my life (children), and now find myself uncontrollably attached to one. A true, potential red-headed step-child.2016-10-30-13-17-52-1b
  • I negotiated a beautiful logo for my business, and you can also bother the artist (and my sister) Stephanie Skiles at her website and Facebook page here.etsy-banner

Video! Reading "Hope in the Darkness" like a scared girl!

I spent my morning making buttons and watching YouTube videos of Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon. Mason came home early from work and arrived just in time to take over button making so I could get dressed. Boo "helping" me make buttons for the launch.Boo "helping" me make buttons for the launch.

“I need to dress like I don't care, because I can't look like I'm trying too hard--”

But I dressed like I cared. Like we still live in a time where being a writer is cool, where it's still something that makes us dangerous and unique. I wore my favorite black short-sleeve “pin-up-esque” dress with a faux-corset over top, over my black leggings and space shoes. And my screw-back earrings. I thought about finding something that belonged to my parents or my sister, but nothing matched and I felt out of time.

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I transformed into Michelle, the author. At least on the outside. Inside I was still shaking like a leaf. We gathered up the buttons I had made and hit the road. We got to campus and Mason turns to me, “What do I call your teacher? Mr. Frey? Professor Frey?” “Uh, Jonathan?” I honestly couldn't remember, we don't usually refer to him by name in class, and my emails always just said Jon. As soon as we got on campus though, I spotted Mr. Frey leaving the area where the release party was. He said hello, introduced himself to Mason as “Jon,” and that he was glad to see me. It made me feel a little better before heading to the launch party.

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I wasn't too nervous as I went down the stairs. A table greeted us covered in pretty orange booklets. I dropped off the buttons I had made and people were pleased. I met the editors of the Trestle Creek Review, Quincee Nuffer and Danielle Combs. I met the gentlemen who was going to introduce me, Dillon Harmison. He was very nice and asked “How do you want me to introduce you? Do you want me to use the biography from the book?” “Yes, please.” I remembered it was short and sweet. I was going to go fourth—it was poetry, prose, poetry, prose.

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Members of the Trestle Creek Review team.

Roger Dunsmore read first with his poem “Crew Boss,” and a few other poems. He also shared a story about the bear “Scarface” from Yellowstone National Park that was recently killed, which inspired him to read another of his poems about bear encounters. [An article can be found here from the TIME Magazine]. After the event, I approached Roger and he said I did a good job on my reading, that the fear in my voice actually added to the tension of the story. He asked Mason for the spelling of my name and personalized the inside of my book:

“For Michelle,

Keep up the good writing,

Roger Dunsmore.”

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Georgia Tiffany read a few of her poems, including “On the Lost Side of the House.” Later, I met with Georgia (I believe she goes by Georgi) and she said she really liked my story and that I did a good job reading it. She told me I should consider poetry, too, and she signed my copy of the Trestle Creek Review and it reads:

“Writing – Reading – Love!

Try poetry, too!

Georgia Tiffany”

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She didn't have her copy available for me to sign, which is just fine; but I did remark that I loved her signature. “My signature is awful,” I insisted. “But it's yours.” She replied with a smile. Usually, I'd have exited the conversation at that point-- “I have a story for you,” she said and put her hand on my shoulder briefly, “I had a friend, once, from Somalia, and she said 'I don't understand America, you're all taught to write exactly the same!' In Somalia, a signature is considered precious, a defining characteristic. I wonder what my signature says about me?” Then she laughed and went away.

Teacher Josh Misner reads.

I've forgotten the exact reading order—but Josh Misner, a teacher at North Idaho College, read his story “Tailgate.” He also shared his story that many years ago he had submitted his story to the Trestle Creek Review and been rejected, and it actually kept him from writing and submitting for a long time. He now felt that, after many trials by fire with agents, publishers and editors and after having been successfully published—that he should try to apply to Trestle Creek again. And he was delighted to be accepted.

I found Jois Child and asked her to sign her poem, and I believe she also read from a collection outside of the Trestle Creek Review.

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I don't really remember much leading up to the reading, I remember that the last reader's poems were impossibly short and they should just keep reading so everyone would forget I had something to read... Everyone was more experienced at reading, they thanked the Trestle Creek Review for the opportunity or shared a fun story about a past experience. I walked up and said, “Thank you. Please don't make me say anything else.” And then I started reading. I could feel my stomach ache, my voice was shaking, I was so afraid I was going to lose my place in the story. I remember thinking that I had to add some attitude to the story, I couldn't just spit it out flat. My voice felt and sounded higher than normal. But then it was over: no one threw a rotten tomato at me or a cabbage or boo'd me off stage. I survived, but it did remind me that some day I'll have to take a Speech class and that's going to be really, really, really awful.

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Since extra credit was offered for getting signatures—a couple of my class mates and some people I didn't know asked me to sign their copy of the magazine. It was the first time (perhaps second) that I've ever been asked to autograph anything. It was superficial but it was touching in a way. I knew my teacher had engineered the situation so we “felt” like real, established authors. It worked.

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And if you don't want to watch the video, I have also made just the audio available for whatever reason:

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