My Acting Teacher Was Right About Writing, Too

Each flyer, poster, and playbill on my acting teacher’s office wall represented a show he’d worked on, and the wall was packed. Some prominently displayed items came from university productions and were covered in student autographs, while others came from bigger things—New York and LA things. Though I couldn’t have been more than a college sophomore (and had gone “off to college” the distance of a whole 20 miles), I was convinced that I knew what I wanted in life. A wall like his was on the list, but there was a problem.

My scene performances were falling flat, and though the teacher I was visiting was neither my advisor, nor the instructor of the class in question, we had a rapport and I trusted his advice above others. Besides, the Theatre Arts department was a small one, so he didn’t have to lead my class to know that some students crossed their fingers to ward against drawing me as a scene partner.

One of my old headshots. The fresh face of a young woman who knows exactly what she wants in life. She is, however, wrong.

My teacher and I had a conversation that I now imagine we must have had a million times, that went over my head a million and one: Do you really want to be an actor? Of course, I do! Why else would I be here? And paying tuition, no less! Acting requires both bravery and vulnerability. Well, yeah. I’m standing on stage in front of a crowd of people, vulnerable to judgement and rotten tomatoes. That’s bravery. You’re going to have to find a way to empathize with the character and that might require digging deep and pulling up ugly stuff you don’t want to look at. In the real world, I wouldn’t have auditioned for this role in the first place.

His advice didn’t sink in in time for me to connect with Blanche DuBois, to live truthfully within her given circumstances, and my grade on the scene reflected it. I heard my scene partner got the playing-to-a-brick-wall curve.

Still, much to the dismay of potential scene partners of the future, I performed well enough overall to advance to the next semester’s acting class. Much to their delight, I didn’t last long in the department after that anyway. Halfway through my college career, an acting teacher asked me to drop her class. It should have crushed me, but I’d never been more relieved. I did one better than drop her class and changed my major altogether. If I was going to dig that deep—if I was going to take a character’s hand and let them lead me into some scary place I didn’t want to go, time after time after time, it would be a character I created. I’m a writer, now, I’d chirp, though I knew on some level I always had been. Fade out.

Fade in to the other day. I sat at my computer, frustrated as I ever let myself get without taking a breather. No matter how I wrote, rewrote, and wrote it again, my scene fell flat.

The observant reader knows exactly where this is going: I wasn’t (and am probably still not) digging deep enough to do the job right. I understand it, now; truly grok it in a way that I didn’t when I thought I was an actor. I’m working on a novel with a lot of ideas and characters. I don’t necessarily like all of those characters, but to write them correctly, to do any kind of justice to the world I’m building or my protagonist within it, I’m going to have to find a way to empathize with them and dig deep and pull up ugly stuff I don’t want to look at, or it’s all going to keep falling flat.

So, that’s where I am, folks!  I’m pulling up ugly shit I didn’t want to look at, and it sucks as much as it sounds like it does. However, it’s what needs to be done to make sure the novel doesn’t suck, and that’s the important part…even if it is taking a bit more time and a bit more out of me than expected.

And maybe, if I work really hard and write a really good book, some interviewer will ask me: So, how much of this character is autobiographical? And maybe, in the most appropriate answer to the question yet, I’ll summon a demon to devour their soul.

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New Year, Old Me

“Did anyone get the number of that speeding year?” I ask about 2018 as I sway and swoon and sink into 2019.

It’s true; 2018 was a whirlwind in the best possible way and if that’s vague, I’m sorry. No one likes an internet humble-braggart. I will simply say that 2018 was a busy and amazing year for me personally (though I won’t talk about the state of the world in this post), and I’m still a bit tired.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because they don’t stick. Honestly, why does anyone even bother with them anymore? I do, however, set goals. Some of them are about as useful as resolutions (join The Avengers), while others are actually kind of doable (finish the first draft of my novel). Ringing in the new year with the yin and yang of the impossible and the possible is typical of me and so, as the title suggests: new year, old me.

Also suggested is that I’m not going to start writing frequent posts just for the sake of posting frequently. My career isn’t at the point where I need to create regular content to generate clicks or keep people engaged with my digital space (though I’m hired to do it for other people from time to time), so I’d far rather only write here when I have something to say.

So, you mean to tell me that you haven’t had anything to say for…

No, no. Stop scrolling and counting. I acknowledge that it’s been a minute and, like I said, 2018 was a bit of a whirlwind.

I’d intended to write a piece about life since my tubal ligation on the first anniversary of my surgery, but the second anniversary is coming up, so that extra year of experience can only make the writing better, I guess.

I’d intended to write a number of pieces about my career. I’m very driven when I know where I’m driving, but the GPS has been a little spotty in that area. I’ve gained some clarity (more on that), so that can only make the writing clearer, right?

I’d intended to acknowledge the two or three people looking for updates on my novel and let them know how it’s coming. I even intended to create a page just for novel news and updates. Now I guess I’ll have to acknowledge that it didn’t happen and provide an update letting folks know why.

It seems that catching up on my intentions just made my list of goals this year.

I suppose I could have just written and posted these pieces rather than writing this rambling preamble, but frankly, the preamble keeps me honest. I said it out loud; I published it; I have to follow through with it because, whether I publish my thoughts regularly or not, it’s probably still not cool to let two birthdays pass between posts.

On the Importance of Strong Female Characters

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From the Women’s March; Seattle, WA; January 21, 2017

I was fortunate enough to attend the Women’s March on Seattle, a sister to the Women’s March on Washington DC. Before I lose you, I have no intention of talking politics in this post. What I am going to talk about is something I can’t believe is still controversial: the importance of strong female characters in fiction.

As I marched with 175,000 other humans (the estimate at the time of this writing), I noticed countless signs referencing some of my favorite female badasses from fiction. I took in multiple nods to space rebels, vampire slayers, and warrior princesses and knew—without a doubt—that every last person who argues that female heroes aren’t interesting or “won’t sell” is absolutely full of shit. I saw little girls in Wonder Woman costumes and Princess/General Leia t-shirts (I was wearing a General Leia shirt myself), and knew—without a doubt—that the strong female characters we see on screen and read about in books really do have an impact on us and how we view ourselves, each other, and our roles in the world around us.

What would General Leia do?

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These three signs caught my attention, but you couldn’t swing a pink pussy hat without hitting a Leia Organa reference. Considering that Carrie Fisher was a badass in real life, this is not surprising. If the dead really do get to hang around and see what the living are up to, I’d like to think that she got a giggle from the “Carrie Fisher sent us” sign.

I’d like to think that she’d be proud to be our rebel leader.

Are you ready to be strong?

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Fans of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer not only know where the words on this sign come from, but many of us can recite the entire speech—if we can get through it without crying, that is. Submitted for your misty-eyed pleasure:

For people like me who rarely view embedded videos in an article, here are the highlights:

They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power should be our power…From now on every girl in the world who might be a slayer, will be a slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?

-Buffy Summers

A whole damn lot of us made our choice and are ready to be strong.

And then there’s this:

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The picture says it all.

Xena will always have a special place in my heart. It was a Xena poster I hung on my wall to remind me not to take any shit, particularly from real-life Joxers.

I’ll never forget the time I told a guy that I was a big Xena: Warrior Princess fan and he responded, “You know Xena and Gabrielle are lesbian icons, right?” Well, I hadn’t actually known (naïve me, I guess), but the only troubling thing about finding out was this guy’s tone and his obvious suggestion that there was something shameful about being a lesbian icon. Fuck that noise.

So here’s the thing…

The articles reminding us that one march isn’t enough are already flooding my feeds—as well they should. Marching is great, but there is more work to be done. There are the things we can all do as citizens; then there are the things we can do that are more personal.

I’ve always known that the presence of strong female characters in fiction is important, but this march solidified for me what a great female character can inspire in real life women. As a result, my dedication to writing these characters has been renewed. I intend to contribute as many badass women to the fiction world as I can because…well…I can. And of course, I don’t want to do it in some pandering political way—obvious and boring as hell to read—but in a way that’s honest. A way that inspires.

I suppose I can call it my duty. I prefer to call it my privilege.

Excuses, Excuses!

“What’s your excuse, now?” you might be asking, and you’d be within your rights. After all, every time I’ve been quiet on the blog, or the internet as a whole for that matter, I’ve come back with some flimsy excuse as to where I’ve been, but this time the excuse is a good one. I promise.

Yes, I’ve been trying to find balance in my writing life again, but this time it’s because I’ve landed a new paying day gig. It’s a technical content writing job and it’s actually kind of perfect for me. It is also particularly significant because landing a full-time job was the final piece of the puzzle before feeling like I really live here. Driver’s license and registration updated: check. Registered to vote: check. Employed by a company in the Greater Seattle Area: check. Though I rarely have to commute (working remotely is nice, I’ve got to admit), there’s something about being able to complain about the traffic with the other commuters that just makes me feel like part of the community. Of course, I realize that as a transplant, I’m actually a part of the traffic problem we face.

There’s also the issue of getting the most out of the few remaining days of summer. It’s no secret that I hate going to the gym. I’d much rather get my exercise from an outdoor activity. So while I still have enough daylight to hike a trail or skate (inline) around the park after work, you better believe I’m going to take advantage of it. There are plenty of short, cold and rainy days on the horizon that will find me on a treadmill or a stationary bike.

Or maybe I can just suck it up and learn to be cold and wet in the dark.

I really hate the gym.

But time marches on. Summer is almost over and autumn is upon us. Aside of perhaps having to return to the gym (I say “perhaps” because I’m seriously considering that cold and wet in the dark thing), I’m excited for fall. I’m ready for hot cider and Halloween. Fall is also my most inspired and prolific time of year, which is good because I have a lot to do.

And if I can find that elusive little critter called balance, you might actually get to hear about it.

This Is Just How It Goes Sometimes

It’s always good to hear from writers when things are going well: when a project has been picked up or published, when momentum is strong and daily word count is high, when there’s sage wisdom to impart. These posts give all of the rest of us hope that we’re not wasting our lives (and advice about what to do when we’re banging our heads on the desk, feeling like we are). These posts are necessary.

Also necessary are the posts that say, “Hey, writing is awesome. It comes with some great rewards, but a lot of the time it’s more like this.” Well…

Hey, writing is awesome. It comes with some great rewards, but a lot of the time it’s more like this:

Let’s talk about those works in progress.

I wasn’t quite done with 13 Morbid Tales when I started keeping notes for a novel. In fact, I often had to remind myself to focus on the task at hand; 13MT had a deadline and the novel did not. Nevertheless, I was chomping at the bit to start typing away at my new—clearly brilliant—idea. So, with 13MT finally finished and out, I sat down and began working on this wonderful new project…

…and it was just bad. It was hackwork wrapped in cliché, skipping down Redundancy Road. I put it aside until I could bring something new and fresh to the table and went back to the drawing board.

It was as if the new idea was already there. It was so much better, so much darker, than the dreck I’d just put aside. Chapter one flowed from my brain through my fingers to the page in record time. This was it! I was on fire! I was telling everybody about it!

Guess how long the cursor has been sitting on the first page of chapter two. Actually, no. Don’t. It’s embarrassing. Also, I think I hate chapter one. “It is not going well, friend. It is not going well,” I answered when a friend asked. I do, however, have some great notes—for a third freaking novel. Yeah.

I’m seriously starting to think that I have a fear of commitment when it comes to writing novels.

Let’s talk about that job search.

I’m still in pursuit of a full time writing job: firing off resumes, applications, and cover letters. In some instances, I’m taking writing tests. Now, I like writing tests. Writing tests are good. They keep me sharp and, since it was literally illegal for me to retain samples from my last writing job, they give me a chance to prove myself in the face of my relatively slim portfolio.

Keeping that in mind, it makes it sting all the more when the writing test doesn’t result in further interviews. I get that job hunts as a whole are full of rejection, hundreds of people applying for the same job. I get that the writing life as a whole is full of rejection, hundreds of manuscripts on the same desk. But holy crow! Combine the two, it’s like Rejection-palooza over here.

I can remind myself that, this is just how it goes sometimes, all day long. Eventually, the doubt sets in and I ask myself why in the world I chose to be a writer. Then I remember that thing I’ve said many times before and will say many times again, “I did not choose the writing life. The writing life chose me.”

And in the end, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

How Does It Feel?

I’ve been getting this question a lot since putting out 13 Morbid Tales. Of course, my very first answer to this question is, “Freakin’ great, dude!” And that’s no lie. The feeling of accomplishment was a high that lasted for weeks. And the support? Oh, sweet lord, the support! As I explained to a friend, I’d prepared myself for bad reviews, hate, and being pelted with rotten tomatoes. The “What If” monsters in my head even led me down a spiraling path that ended in townsfolk chasing me with torches and pitchforks. What I hadn’t prepared myself for was the outpouring of love and support. From people boosting the signal online, to folks hooking me up with events, to all you crazy cats who took awesome pictures of my book in various situations when your copies arrived…I’ve been so overwhelmed with support I’m still on cloud nine and I cannot thank you enough.

Of course, negativity can still come at any time, and a part of me wants to stay vigilant because that crap only gets you when you’re not looking, but the bulk of my torment comes from my own psyche. Surprise, surprise.

That said, there have been some drawbacks in this overwhelmingly positive time. If I’m being completely honest with myself, those are coming from me, too.

One of the greatest accomplishments of my summer (besides moving cross country) was getting active and healthy and into better shape to the tune of approx. 18 lost pounds, two sizes dropped, and sweet, sweet muscle tone. Well let me tell you, it doesn’t take nearly as long to start falling back out of shape again as it does to get into it. I’m not saying that putting my book out completely took over my life; it just provided a whole lot of excuses to skip the gym. Some were even legitimate. But since it occurs to me that I’m not publishing a book this morning, guess where I’m going once this is posted. Gotta nip this ass-in-seat-all-day thing in the bud before all the good I’ve done is undone.

I did drive myself a little nuts reading the book over and over (even though I swore after the final proof that I’d never read it again), allowing myself to get worked up over word choices and that comma I really should have used. I’ve been assured that I’m not the first writer in history to have done this.

In deep contrast, I’ve also had the burning desire to just move on to the next project. Sometimes, it’s really hard to keep your mind on the book that’s already out for the sake of marketing when all you want to do is keep the momentum going and start the next thing. I have started the next thing(s) and am anxious for the day I can do cover reveals and publication announcements for them.

All in all, though, publishing my first book feels great. It’s been a wonderful experience that I’m looking forward to having many more times. And again, I want to thank everyone who has made it so wonderful.

13 Morbid Tales is Available Now!

Lookie what I've got!

Lookie what I’ve got!

Today is the official release day for 13 Morbid Tales! Why now? I needed my 13 creepy little tales to be available to readers by Halloween: werewolves in mailboxes, ghosts in e-readers.

This has been a lot of years coming. Fun fact: by my estimation, the oldest story in the collection was actually written 13 years ago. Don’t worry. It’s been edited to reflect my skills today, not my skills back then.  *smile and wink*

Some of you may already know that the links went live a couple of days early. The really cool thing about that is that for the last two days leading up to the “official” release, I have seen an outpouring of love and support so strong I completely forgot about my anxiety. Those who know me know that’s no easy feat. I cannot thank you all enough. Really. It’s not possible. Just know I’m feelin’ the love for all of you!

At this point you’re probably wondering, When’s this chick gonna stop being sappy and get to the book blurb and the links where I can buy this bit of awesomeness, already? At least, I hope you are. So here goes:

The creatures living within these pages come from the imagination: a place where a sentient life support machine contemplates its own existence, a budding slasher villain comes into her own, and a demonic agent makes another deal.

And they’ve brought friends.

Werewolves, ghosts, and human monsters alike guide the reader down highways of dark fancy, exploring what goes bump—and what stays eerily silent—in the night.

Available Now!

Get 13 Morbid Tales for Kindle

Get a paperback copy of 13 Morbid Tales from Amazon

Get a paperback copy of 13 Morbid Tales from the CreateSpace eStore

#13MorbidTales

Edited by Reggie Lutz.

Cover Art by Janell R. Colburn.