10 August 2020

Music Mondays: Taeben

So as promised, today's Music Monday consists of music that inspired everyone's favorite villain from the Nature Walker Trilogy, Taeben. I know that there is a hashtag out there among my readers referring to Ben: #benisadick, but he is really a product of his environment more than anything. His story will come one day, but I'm not quite ready to tell it. 

Until then, though, when I sat down to think about a song that always makes me think of Ben, this one kept coming to mind. It's an older song, from when I was younger than I am now, and it is what I think of when I think of Ben's motives, specifically his feelings for and actions toward Gin. Lyrics to follow after the embedded video.

Fortress Around Your Heart

Under the ruins of a walled city
Crumbling towers in beams of yellow light.
No flags of truce, no cries of pity;
The siege guns had been pounding through the night.

It took a day to build the city.
We walked through its streets in the afternoon.
As I returned across the fields I'd known,
I recognized the walls that I once made.
Had to stop in my tracks for fear of walking on the mines I'd laid.

And if I've built this fortress around your heart,
Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire,
Then let me build a bridge, for I cannot fill the chasm,
And let me set the battlements on fire.

Then I went off the fight some battle that I'd invented inside my head.
Away so long for years and years,
You probably thought or even wished that I was dead.
While the armies are all sleeping beneath the tattered flag we'd made.
I had to stop in my tracks for fear of walking on the mines I'd laid.

And if I've built this fortress around your heart,
Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire,
Then let me build a bridge, for I cannot fill the chasm,
And let me set the battlements on fire.

This prison has now become your home,
A sentence you seem prepared to pay.
It took a day to build the city.
We walked through its streets in the afternoon.
As I returned across the fields I'd known,
I recognized the walls that I once made.
Had to stop in my tracks for fear of walking on the mines I'd laid.

And if I've built this fortress around your heart,
Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire,
Then let me build a bridge, for I cannot fill the chasm,
And let me set the battlements on fire.

03 August 2020

Notes from Exile, Week Eleventy-Seven, with extra Lenny Kravitz

Nancy in Home Depot, wearing a mask
Y'all, what day is it?

Please, while I try to figure it out, enjoy this shot I sent my friend Brina of the mask her daughter made for me back at the beginning of all this.

Seriously, I know what day it is. But I was surprised yesterday by how shocked I was that this is August. I have always had trouble with estimating the passage of time and am a chronic watch looker as a result (even when I didn't have a watch, how sad is that?). So this pandemic has made that little character flaw even more vivid.

How is it August? It was just mid-March a few days ago, wasn't it? Is Christmas tomorrow?

Side note: It had better not be tomorrow because that means we skipped my birthday but in the grand scheme of things that's probably okay as it is the last one before I turn 50 so...what was I talking about?

Right. Notes from Exile. Writerly stuff. Author life. Got it. Rift continues to do fairly well and I had plans to work on the next book in that series over the summer/possibly as the November Nano, but I haven't heard from Em and Alex in a while, so they may just get put back on their shelf in my hard drive for a bit longer. What I have fallen back in love with is Gin and Sath's story - but let's be honest, I never stopped loving them. 

I'm in the middle of the second draft of Guardians of Darkness, which is the next chapter for Gin and Sath, and while the story has plot holes you could drive a BUS through I'm enchanted all over again. So, I thought that I would start a new thing here at the Lettuce called Music Monday, while I'm shoveling mad amounts of literary tarmac into those chasms. 

The first one is a new one for me in terms of immediately making me think of the Rajah and the Nature Walker: Ride, by Lenny Kravitz. Enjoy. (Lyrics follow the embedded video.) Next Monday, a song that reminds me of everyone's favorite villain from the Nature Walker Trilogy. Let me know in the comments here or on social media if you have a favorite character from any of my work and I will look at my playlists for that character's inspiration.

Lenny Kravitz

When I look into your spirit
And the spirit never lies
There's a feeling that I can't explain
Deep inside, deep inside
Feels like I've known you forever
Since the origin of time
I've been with you in eternity
In my mind, in my mind

I have loved you since the dawn, my love
Through the storm, my love, we will ride
I have loved you since the dawn, my love
Through the storm, my love, we will ride

You and I on Earth together
Can't you see it's no surprise
I know it from the first second, babe
As I looked in your eyes
I could only dream of heaven
When I gaze into the sky
But I know I found my angel here
In this life, in this life

I have loved you since the dawn, my love
Through the storm, my love, we will ride
I have loved you since the dawn, my love
Through the storm, my love, we will ride
I have loved you since the dawn, my love
Through the storm, my love, we will ride
I have loved you since the dawn, my love
Through the storm, my love, we will ride

We will ride
ride, ride, ride, ride, ride

I have loved you since the dawn, my love
Through the storm, my love, we will ride
I have loved you since the dawn, my love
Through the storm, my love, we will ride

26 July 2020

Different Tears

Young John Lewis, on Bloody Sunday, March 1965
[Upon watching John Lewis's body crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.]

I'm sitting here on my sofa in Greenville, South Carolina with tears on my face. Why? I wasn't there on that horrible day in Selma - I wouldn't be born for another six years. I was born in Atlanta, but I didn't live there during the time that Mr. Lewis represented a district in the metro area. 

I am just a white girl, born and raised in the "Deep South" of America. I am of the generation raised on those sweltering streets just after the Civil Rights movement shook the foundations of my country. And as I watched that flag-draped casket cross that bridge in Alabama, that bridge named for someone that believed some are more worthy than others - that some are more human than others - the tears came.

Tears for the man whose body is in the casket. Tears of gratitude. Tears of humility in the face of courage. Tears for a country that did not deserve him, yet he loved with all that he was for the whole of his life. Tears of shame, that people who looked like me met him on the other side of that bridge and beat him. Tears that we have lost yet another voice reminding us that it is all worth it and that we are all worthy. 

Tears over the sheer tragic beauty of that image - the caisson pausing at the apex of the bridge, its driver standing with his hat over his heart, on a hazy July Sunday in Alabama, as rose petals flutter to remind us of the blood spilled there in March of 1965. 

Pausing, as though to hear the congressman urge us one last time to good and necessary trouble. Will we take up the call?

04 June 2020

Notes from Exile: Week Ten

I am departing from my normal format here at the Lettuce today to tell you that people I love are hurting and this is the only way I know how to help. Please start with the link below and see how you can help. Be light in the darkness, speak truth to power, and if you are a white person like me, sit down and be quiet and listen. Don't ask what's wrong - we know what's wrong. Don't ask why - we know why.

If you feel compelled to say something about all lives mattering, here's my response. Maybe it will help. As I posted this week on FB, there is a story in Luke, chapter 15, about how a shepherd left his flock of 99 sheep to look for the one that had gone missing. That action in no way diminishes the lives of those 99 sheep that are where they are supposed to be and safe - because it is the one that is missing that is in danger. 

30 May 2020

Notes from Exile: Her-storically Speaking: Meet the Women of War!

So, at one point during Week Nine, I did a thing...please enjoy me bringing the awkward with a panel of fabulous female authors! (Premiered on the ConCarolinas channel, powered by ConTinual.)

28 May 2020

Notes from Exile: Week Nine

A carrot wound into a spiral from growing close to another.
Carrot as Pandemic Metaphor
Well, it's been a minute.

Or has it been? I'm not even sure. What I do know is that this humble carrot that grew too close to another carrot in our garden is a perfect metaphor right now for where I am in this pandemic. We took it out of the ground and pulled the other carrot from its grip, and it still looks like it is pointing at me, accusingly, for ruining its cozy life in our garden.

My choices over the past nine weeks been called paranoid. Nervous. Extreme. Excessive. And yet, I don't have symptoms and as far as I know, no one that has been in contact with me does either - that is why I'm doing what I'm doing. That is why, on the COVID Risk Tolerance scale that has made the rounds on social media, I'm about a 1.5: 
  • Leaves the house only to go for groceries and other essentials
  • Works 90% from home
  • Orders non-essentials online
  • Eats takeaways only, no restaurants for dine-in or outside seating
  • Fairly strict etiquette including hand washing, masks, and social distancing used 80-99% of the time when outside of the home
  • No socializing outside of the home
And yet, in spite of my numerous introverted tendencies, I am that carrot, wishing for the closeness from what Hubs and I are now officially calling The Before Times. I'm holding space for my Girls Night Ladies, my family, my beautiful and brilliant niece, and everyone else with whom I wish I could still share hugs. But I am just not willing to change course yet - I am trusting in the science and data that tell me that this virus is much more dangerous than any flu we have seen. I'm trusting in those with more knowledge and ability that I have to tell me when it is safe to move back toward what was normal before.

I've been thinking more about that this week - what will normal look like in a month or six months, or a year? When can we get back to Girls Nights and Renn Faires and all the things that have been pulled from our grip, like that poor carrot up there? I don't have answers, but I think we are seeing things opening up faster than they should, and we are headed to a time when we see The Before Times disappear for good.

22 May 2020

Notes from Exile: Week Eight

Mary Louise McDonald,
September 11, 1929 ~ April 15, 2020
So we are into the eighth week of whatever this is - lockdown is incorrect if you compare it to what other countries are doing. Quarantine is incorrect unless you are sick and forced to isolate to prevent infecting others. Shelter in place doesn't even seem right because to me, that response is more apt for an ACTIVE threat like a tornado or a shooter. We are staying at home and working from home, but it will not necessarily injure us if we walk outside our doors. We are staying at home because we care about others in our neighborhoods, our towns, cities, states - our country.

This kind of selflessness does not come easily to a great number of Americans. We are taught from birth to depend on ourselves. Work hard and you will be rewarded. Sharing is good, but saving is better. There isn't an adage about helping your neighbor pull up his bootstraps. The American Way often feels like The Everyman For Themselves Way. So this self-isolation is hard on us. We are a people who value hard work but also are interested in instant gratification. After six weeks of mixed messages from all levels of government, a distrust of the media that comes from the highest levels, and a frankly terrifying resistance to trusting proven science in favor of unproven talking points, we the people began to become restless. There were armed protests at statehouses and armed, inflammatory discourse on social media. We had overshot the mark for caution and were treading on civil liberties.

Everyone seemed quick to forget that, thanks to those very overblown measures, they were still alive to make their irrational and selfish arguments. Anyway.

Why have I attached a picture of my aunt, my mother's older sister who died last month, to this rant about the overbearing vocal majority intent on disbelief until they actually are infected? That sweet woman, Mary Louise McDonald, died after an intraparenchymal hemorrhage. She was 90 years old. Her birthday was Sept. 11, 1929 - and she was a typical McDonald, just like my mother and all of her siblings. We joked that Mom would apologize for breathing too much air if someone else was in the room - and she clearly came by that honestly because Aunt Mary was the same way.

I hope that this is where I learned how to survive the isolation, the restlessness, the loneliness that this Exile has brought. Their example taught me to value the lives and health of others as highly - and sometimes more highly - than my own. Their example taught me that there are things we do that we do because it is the right thing to do. Their example taught me that doing for others shows your love for them.

Aunt Mary was encouraging. She was loving and gentle and quiet - to us. My uncles said that she was bossy and could be stubborn and sassy. I witnessed the passive-aggressive way that she and my mother would argue over kitchen duties at Thanksgiving and the way she always knew the exact gift to give you at the exact time you needed it. She and Hubs bonded over her fudge which was a staple at family gatherings. The last time I spoke to her on the phone was so quiet, only the sound of the ventilator on the other end in response to my weepy promises to look after Hubs and my sister and to learn to make her fudge for all of us.

So when we were under a mandatory stay at home order in South Carolina and we lost Aunt Mary, and the funeral home and my sister and brother in law prepared for a quiet burial, socially distanced and only attended by family - I thought about what she would have done for me, and Hubs and I went to Georgia. We drove by and saw the house in Pendergrass where my Aunt Mary lived with my grandfather until his death, and I thought about her life and how much she sacrificed because it was the right thing to do - and I hope that she forgave me my hesitation and that she was proud of who her niece has become.

And I hope that I can learn to make that fudge - goodness knows I have the time now.

17 May 2020

Notes from Exile: Week Seven

Coming 31 May 2020
The big news for week seven is that finally, at long last, and after much editing and refining of cover art, most of which happened LAST WEEK, Rift is in pre-order now and will launch on the 31st of May. Initially, I had the release date set to coincide with ConCarolinas because I am an author guest this year. But with the pandemic, some of that had to change and I went ahead and opened pre-orders on May 15th.

I'm so excited about this novel! This is such a departure from my Orana Chronicles - for one thing, it isn't set in a fantasy world, at least not initially, anyway. From the blurb:
A gamer, desperate to escape her real life, discovers that nothing in her beloved online world is as it seems. Madelyne Laurent is a bookseller in a chain bookshop in Yorkshire by day, but by night she is Em, an elven warrior in the massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, Arcstone. Her closest friend is someone she has never met in person – Alex – and she spends her days anxiously ready to log into the game with him.
A mission goes awry and Madelyne finds herself in the body of her online persona, Em. Can she find out how she ended up in Arcstone in time to get herself back out, or will she end up stuck in the game world she wanted so desperately to inhabit? And is Alex trying to help her or hurt her? When a tyrant running the show inside and outside of Arcstone sets his sights on Madelyne, she must find a way to save her life and get back to the real world, if she can.
I've been told that this book is like Tron meets Ready Player One, and I will admit that there is a bit of an attempt at romance as well. But if you know me, you know that didn't go well either. In fact, I had a conversation with one of my beta readers that you might find funny:

Me: OMG you're at the...sexy times. Eeeek! (loads of blushing emojis)
Beta Reader: I...am? What are you worried about? How bad can it be?
Me: (wonders how to spell the urgh noise that I made thinking about that question)
Beta Reader: Oh, you mean (mentions parts of the book that were making me very nervous)? Oh, honey I beta lots of stuff - this is tame. Don't worry.

So, there you are. Romance with a side of puritanical I SHOULD BE WRITING YA OR YOUNGER. I tried, at least. If you are looking for a quick diversion during this trying time, give Rift a read, if you would? Em and Alex have a fascinating story to tell, and I just know you will fall for them like I did.

And if you do, I'd love to know what you think! The link leads to the Kindle version, and the paperback will be available for purchase at the same link on the 31st.

Welcome to Arcstone – Game loading, please wait…

05 May 2020

Notes from Exile: What day is this?

Skylar Austin and Jane Levy in "Zoey's Extraordinary Father"
So, it's week six, and today is Tuesday. My rational mind knows that. But my emotional mind has gone off the rails today. TL: DR - I watched the season one finale of "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist" and had a visceral reaction consisting of ugly sobbing because I have not let myself feel things that were unpleasant or painful for about five years. 

Lucky you, you get to come along as I not only sort this out but offer some advice so that NO ONE has to do this. Seriously, y'all, the long-suffering heroine who manages to hold it all together in the face of all sorts of awful is a trope that needs to be banished from literature, television, and movies. GONE. So many of my MCs have this either as a personality trait or a goal to work towards and it ends now. In my new series opener, RIFT, launching at the end of this month I created an MC that I didn't really connect with as much as I did with Gin from The Nature Walker Trilogy. Madelyne is honest about what she feels when she feels it. Gin (and I) worry too much about how what we are feeling will affect other people.

My father died in 2018 from complications related to Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. My mother died last summer after a major neurological event and about a month in hospice. During both of these events, I tried my best to be a grown-up about it. My sister is amazing - she may have had the same need to become completely unglued but you would never know it, and that is what I thought I needed to be. 

I did my best to be okay, I'm okay, everything is fine. This is sad but for the best. They are finally together again. Those were the words coming out of my mouth. But what I should have done was be honest with myself about how much all of that devastated me - and I wasn't.

I watched that episode of this amazing show (seriously, if you haven't seen it GO DO THAT NOW, I will wait) knowing that it would be difficult. But it was more than that - it was painful and real, and absolutely beautiful. I cried, but more importantly, I FELT. So this blog post is more than just an ad for this show (have you watched it yet? No? WHY?), but it is an encouragement to let yourself feel what you need to feel. Go through stuff. Experience things. 

The past six weeks of almost total isolation have gone by so fast and so slowly, in a way, because I'm not letting myself think about why I'm doing this. It's easy to just think about what's happening in the world, far away from my little house on my little street. What is not easy to think about is how this is affecting my relationships with people - how I'm pulling away from people that would normally be my support because I don't want to look as out of control as I feel. The first two weeks I cried every day because I was afraid. But I managed to think about it more as being safe than being stuck, and now I can't believe it's been six weeks.

You will never know how strong you can be until you are. The fact that I am still here and relatively sane is a testament to the fact that I am stronger than I ever thought I could be. The fact that, overall, I let my sister do most of the heavy lifting related to the end of both our parents' lives means that I still have work to do. But I know, with new clarity, that I can do it. I'm thankful, I'm hopeful, and I'm completely congested and horrible to look at - and I don't care.

Well, maybe I care...just a little.

22 April 2020

Notes from Exile, Week Five, via Twitter

07 April 2020

Notes from Exile: Week Four

Hello from my sofa. I'm still in the house, and for the first time on Sunday, I did not go with Hubs to do the weekly shop. That makes today the 8th one since I've left home. Just more water over the rocks, like the water flowing over those holy rocks there at Cane Creek Falls, right?

I've been out in the yard a few times, but the tree pollen is making that very difficult. Normally I have the blinds open here in the den so that I can at least see the yellow green of the trees that surround our house. But not today.

Today feels different somehow. I think that I was feeling very hopeful over the weekend - it is certainly easier to do that when Hubs is here. His work is still open, inexplicably, so he is there now and I worry so much that he will come in contact with someone who passes on this horrible illness to him. Yesterday, I was a good employee and sat in front of my laptop in my new office - complete with a new desk and chair - and did my usual triage/dispatch as I put out metaphorical fires at the DayJob™. I had a zoom staff meeting. Hubs came home for lunch. It was all still fairly hopeful.

Today, I sat down to the DayJob™ at that new desk and I logged into the VPN and...nothing. I mean there was nothing that I needed to worry about, nothing really to triage - once my students have the accommodations they need, they are off and don't really need me so much. I checked on a few things and updated my calendar. And I thought - I really processed how much longer there is that we will live like this.

And please don't misunderstand - I am so very thankful for a job that I can do from home. I am thankful that Hubs and I are still healthy and that I have my wonderful pups with me. But it just gets heavy sometimes. I was just watching the news on the BBC and they were interviewing a woman from Paris who said, "It's just heavy, this is starting to weigh on people."

There is some good news - the Nano seems to be coming along in a way this story world has not in past attempts. I really think that I will be able to work in a lot more of the previous attempts and I won't lose too much of it. I read through a great deal of past effort yesterday, and it made me sad to think of losing some of that world/those characters. I'm at the very least caught up with my word count target, so that is reason to celebrate. Normally by the end of the first week, I'm a hot mess of playing catch up and adding fluff that isn't needed, so this is nice to report.

So I remain in my house. I take Benadryl to combat the allergies. I look forward to the end of this month when hopefully we can start to get back to something like normal. See you next week - stay safe and keep healthy.

Music Mondays: Taeben