Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Irrational Fears

Last week we discussed weird things that comfort us, but what about the flip side of that? What are the weird things that scare us? For me I have two main things that scare me more than anything: tunnels and ventriloquist dummies. Yes I know I write horror yet am terrified of two pretty nondescript things.

We’ll start with the tunnels. Up until these past few years I was incapable of driving through tunnels. Add that to the fact that I live near Baltimore which has two tunnels, sometimes this is a problem. It stems from a form of claustrophobia. I don’t like being totally enclosed like that – I always like to have an exit strategy. Then there is the fact that there is that added problem of all the water pushing down on you. Whenever I go through a tunnel I tend to shake uncontrollably. The best thing to do is to crank my metalcore music and focus on getting out. 

Then there is my problem with ventriloquist dummies. This stems from a traumatic experience I had as a child. My uncle had me go down in his basement to get something. He then threw his voice to act like his dummy was talking. This of course scarred me for life but also just the thought of a ventriloquist dummy gives me shivers. Anything that shouldn’t be talking really creeps me out. Puppets do too. Weirdly enough though possessed dolls, possessed puppets (a la Buffy or Child’s Play) don’t bother me since there is a reason they are talking/moving: they have a demon or a spirit in them. Yes I know, weird logic but it makes me feel better. 

So now I ask you. What irrational fear makes your body tense up or keeps you awake at night? What weird things send shivers down your spine? 

Image from "Howdy Doody Time" 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Strange Comforts

Lately life has been utterly crazy busy; but if you all know me at all, you know that’s how I like it. Grad school has kicked up again and I’m slugging through my Spatial Modeling class with lots of coffee. Work has been busy as well since we’re coming to the end of the government fiscal year. Though I wish I had a little bit more time to write, overall things are going pretty well.

Of course between all of this I make time for myself and lately that has been spent either working out or watching TV at night. The number one show on my watch list of course is Sons of Anarchy. If you follow me on twitter you know how far this obsession goes. I realize now that this obsession stems from what was going on in my life at the time I started watching the show. Last Fall I lost my job due to budget cuts and then my Dad wound up in the hospital with kidney failure and was near death.

It was a pretty dark time in my life so I started watching Sons of Anarchy to escape from it all. For the month of September and the beginning of October that was all I watched. I zoomed through the series and for that moment in time it was like I was living in Charming. At first I thought it strange that I found comfort in a show about violence, crime, and death but then I thought about it. When I write I exaggerate horrors of my own life to cope; wasn’t I just doing the same thing with watching this show? If I focused on the horrible things on the show then maybe the things going on in my own life weren’t as horrible. Throw in some Shakespearean themes, amazing writing, and an amazing cast and I was hooked.

This has caused Sons of Anarchy to be my “security blanket” as of late. Used to be whenever I was upset or angry I would turn to my Whedon shows (Firefly, Angel, Dollhouse, and Buffy) to calm me down. Lately they have been replaced with Sons of Anarchy (though let’s not get crazy I still rewatch all those shows as well). It’s gotten to the point that I am so invested in this show that Tuesday night is almost an extension of my own life: I wait with bated breath for what’s going to happen next. Like my Whedon shows, it has become so much more than just a television show.

All this might sound a little looney but hey, it works and it got me through a hard time in my life (of which has now done a complete 180). In fact I know a handful of people that feel the same way about other TV shows. So I ask you, my faithful readers, what is your TV show “security blanket?” When you want to be comforted, what is the one thing you watch more than most?

Image: Cover of the 2nd Season Sons of Anarchy DVD

Thursday, September 4, 2014

First Big Break

The year was 1996. I was a confident six year old with a Little Mermaid backpack, My Little Pony lunch box, and a head filled with extensive knowledge. Maybe I wasn’t the most popular in my first grade class but I had a nice group of friends who put up with my creative genius. All in all I had a pretty damn good life. 

The other kids were slightly jealous of my teacher’s pet status as I was highly intelligent for my young age. The pig-adorned classroom was filled with my perfect penmanship (as well as others, I suppose) and quick math skills (which were promptly lost somewhere around fourth grade). I was living the first grade dream, and my friends were riding on my coattails. 

Then I got my first gig in the spotlight. My teacher noticed that I always had a notebook on hand; I was always scribbling down short stories (couple sentences here and there). She tasked me with writing a puppet show for a group of my friends to act out. I took to my blank pages and crafted a harrowing story of a pig and a dog who, against all odds, became best friends.  My friends fought over the coveted spot of the pig and were quick to skillfully craft their Popsicle stick puppets. 

The show went on without a hitch and we ended with a thunderous applause from the captivated audience. I was awarded a certificate for my achievement and was crowned with the highest honor of “Pigtastic Author.” To this day I still have that certificate and shirt with the ironed on pig in a dress. From there the fame only increased but I am always remembered my big break into the world of storytelling.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What is Your Background?

This is a question that I get asked a lot in my line of work. I’m a contractor at a DoD site that provides IT and Security training/education to the government and military. The majority of people have a laundry list of experience that range from military IT work to the Pentagon. Then there’s me. I’m the technical editor/writer; I make sure that all documents are edited for content and I also work with the Subject Matter Experts to write reports and articles.

My background to back all this up? Well I have an undergrad degree in Anthropology and am working on my Master’s in Geospatial Science. My technical background is in web design, programming, and Geographical Information Systems (GIS). At my previous jobs I have played multiple rolls but all come back to technical writing. 

After I explain that to people I tend to get the head tilt followed by “So all that and you’re an editor?” My response usually is: yes; I’m a techy who can write, so this job is perfect for me. The reality is though there is no justification. To some this job might not seem glamourous, but to me it is. Not only do I get to use my editing and writing skills to “clean up” all the documents (classified and unclassified), but I get to read all this incredibly cool material from all IT and Security disciplines. I’m never bored with it. Sure there are times where I get frustrated (a lot of times my “grammar lesson” posts on my Facebook are blunders I see at work), but that can be said of any job. 

The follow-up to the “background” question usually is “After you get your Master’s will you get an analyst or more tech-heavy position?” I’m open to that but it’s not what I’m shooting for. Sure I could make a butt-load of money sitting in front of a computer all day developing databases and maps for the NGA or a similar government agency. That though isn’t necessarily what I want. In the end what I want is to be able to use my knowledge of GIS, IT, and Security to write about it. One of the things I pride myself on doing, as a technical writer/editor, is taking these incredibly tech-heavy disciplines and writing about them in a way that anyone can understand. At my job one of the best compliments I received was from the division chief. He pulled me aside one day and said “This is awesome; even now I can understand how to do [this].” 

In the end am I using my undergrad degree? Directly, no. Am I using my Master’s knowledge (and eventually degree)? Directly, no. However, the knowledge that I’ve picked up along the way about the tech field, writing, and even how to interact with people has shaped me into the technical writer/editor I am today.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Virginity is like a piece of paper…

“…the more times you tear it, the easier it is to tear again.”

Yes, these were actual words, spoken in an actual classroom, in an actual Sex Education class. This was a class that yes, was at the Christian school that you all have heard so much about. It’s a story that to this day sticks out in my head.

We were learning about female anatomy and sexuality. In the process of that the teacher held up a piece of paper. She told us that this was representative of our virginity. She tore it in half. Then she tore that half in half again, again, and again until there were about 10 scraps of paper. She went on to tell us that each time we have sex it becomes easier and easier to have more sex, and in the end we are left with only a scrap of ourselves.

I sat there trying to pull into my mind any kind of retort to this logic, but my fifth grader mind couldn’t. So what did I do? I accepted it. I accepted that my virginity was sacred and that waiting until marriage was not only a good thing, but something you should brag about because you were still “whole.” This followed me through middle school and into high school: I would tell anyone who brought it up that I was waiting until marriage to have sex.

Then somewhere around when I was 16 I really started to think about that piece of paper. If I were to have sex why would it tear me in half? Was it because spiritually I was broken? Physically would it cause me harm? So I did what I do best: I researched. I researched statistics of virginity loss, of STDs, teen pregnancies and the like. I researched about protection and how to perform different sex acts in a safe manner. It struck me: why was I always told that sex was wrong? And when I wasn’t told it was wrong, I was told that it was between a married man and woman to make children.

It was around this time that I was questioning my sexuality so that threw an even bigger wrench into the works. Eventually I realized that I didn’t belong in Christianity anymore and my mind became clear to what sex really was. For me though I was paranoid; I was paranoid that it would hurt a lot, that I would get pregnant, that I would be scarred forever if I had sex. Then came college: where I was able to explore my sexuality with both men and women and did “everything but” as I used to put it. I remained solid in my decision to avoid actual sexual intercourse.

When I was 22 I lost my virginity; it hurt, sure but I didn’t really feel any different. I didn’t feel dirty like those Sex Ed classes made me think. I didn’t feel broken emotionally or otherwise. In fact I felt dare I say, good? Fast forward to now when I’m married and having the non-sinful kind of sex. Do I feel any different? No. Do I suddenly feel like I’m doing what I was meant to do? No.

Point of all of this is no matter what you go through, there are things that stick out in your mind. By teaching kids from a young age that sex is dirty, bad, and you’re going to go to hell for it, you’re scarring them for life. Even now in my adult, married brain who understands that sex is a pleasurable act that bonds two people together, I still flash back to the piece of paper being ripped up.

Monday, July 14, 2014

#MyWritingProcess Blog Hop

Thanks to the always on-point J.P. Sloan, I was called out on his blog to join in on the #MyWritingProcess Blog Hop. J.P. is not only an awesome writer of Urban Fantasy, but also is Pagan, and an all-around awesome human being. So to appease him I decided to jump right in. It’s funny that just last week my Mom pointed out that since I had a lot more free-time now with the wedding over, house settled into, and a break from class, I would have more time to write. So what is my writing process? How do I get those thoughts crammed into my brain? Well I sought out to answer the four questions posed on this Blog Hop to explain my process.

1). What am I working on?
Oh how loaded this question is. Most of you know that I’m always working on something; no matter how inundated I am with all the other things in my life I always find time to write. The two big projects I’m working on however are the sequel to Summer’s Hollow (Return to Summer’s Hollow) and the follow-up to Dark Cell (Dark Hall). Beyond that I have my short story series Loose that I am also working on, but I don’t have plans yet to publish.

I’m about seven chapters into Return to Summer’s Hollow. I’ve touched it a little bit since the wedding but haven’t gotten much in way of progress; most of it has been filling in the gaps and cleaning up the plot/character development so far. Dark Hall I’m about halfway through. The outline is already set for that one; I just need to sit down and get to it. Once I start I’m sure I’ll finish it by the end of the summer.

2). How does my work differ from other in its genre?
Horror is a genre that can be all over the place; my horror focuses on the people and how they react to their environments around them. Whether it’s Rylie’s psychic connection with the spirit of a witch, Aer’s journey into becoming the ruthless temptress of a vampire, or Penn’s discovery that his powers can be used to unearth the truth, all my books focus on the horror within people. This horror within of course gets spurred on by magic, paranormal occurrences, and monsters.

My books are inspired by my studies of culture, biology, and artifacts. I love to delve into the minds of my characters and frankly, scare the living crap out of them in more ways than one. This translates to the reader; if you aren’t freaked out after reading my books then I haven’t done my job as a horror writer. The anxiety that I felt reading a Poe work or a Stephen King book is something that I want my reader’s to feel. I take a lot of the ideas I see in classic and modern horror and put my anthropological spin on it.

3). Why do I write what I do?
In all honesty I write for myself. I write to get all these crazy stories out of my head and onto paper. The fact that I get to share these stories with people around the world is just an awesome perk. I’m like a giddy little school girl anytime someone tells me they got creeped out while walking home, have had to sleep with the lights on, or will never look at a clock tower the same way.

4). How does my process work?
My process differs a lot from the way that other writers write. For me, I can’t force my process. When I get inspired though watch out; I’ve been known to write for a day straight. Sometimes I come up with jumbled ideas and have to go back and clean them up, while other times the plot and the characters just flow perfectly into a combination of pure terror and psychological curiosity. My characters are really the ones that determine where the story goes. I start with a basic story, a setting, and then let my characters run amok. It’s as if I’m watching them from above as they live their lives. Sometimes they take me on twists and turns that even I didn’t see coming. My short story series I’m working on (Loose) is the prime example of that.

Loose is not a horror story series. It is a story that follows the mind of a very troubled woman who uses her influence in her biker gang, her boxing skills, and her sexual promiscuity to survive in this life. She lands in jail multiple times, commits murder multiple times, and is the victim of sexual assault multiple times. Her story weaves through so many different avenues that sometimes it’s hard to keep up with her. Many times I have had to fight her on the direction her life is going. Sometimes I feel like a mother to her, scolding her on her choices. In the end though she will do what she wants. She has grown into much more than just a character in one of my stories. She is very real to me and because of that I have a hard time thinking about publishing her stories. Still, lately I find myself running back to writing more of her story, especially her backstory. Currently I have 45 short stories as part of the series.

As part of this blog hop I’ve been asked to call out some authors of my own but you know what, rules have never been my style. I want to know what all my readers’ process is for creating; doesn’t have to be a writing project but it can be. What are you working on, how does it differ from similar works, why do you create, and how does your process for creating work?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Realities of Rape Culture

For the past few months I’ve been struggling with the right way to write a blog post about this topic. I mused writing about the historical significance, about society’s views on rape, and even about writing my own experiences. Then yesterday I read four words that have made me more disgusted than perhaps anything I’ve ever read: “her rape went viral.” What kind of society do we live in that this would be even remotely okay? I’m referring to the events that surrounded 16 year old Jada who was not only raped and that rape posted all over the internet, but people turned that rape into a joke.

Rape is NEVER a joke. There is no part to any person’s violation that is funny. There is no variance, no grey area here; it is black and white: NOTHING about sexual assault is funny. If you think that it is then you are what’s wrong with society.

The amount of women in my life, including me, that have been sexually assaulted is staggering. These are women of every ethnicity, age, religion, and creed; all who have been victims of some version of sexual assault. As I said above though, there is no grey area; there is absolutely no scenario where sexual assault is justified. Yet we live in a society where a rape culture is alive and rampant. Remaining silent about rape culture, ignoring it because it makes us feel “uncomfortable” is doing a disservice to the women who have been assaulted. (That being said, I know a lot of women out there who don’t share their assaults for their own personal reasons and I respect that.)

There was a part of me that thought putting this on my anthropology heavy blog wasn’t the right avenue. The reality is rape culture has everything to do with anthropology which at its core is the study of people. If we teach boys from a young age that women’s bodies are not objects, that you can’t treat them like garbage then we can eliminate this rape culture. Yet here we are talking about a 16 year old who had her assault splayed out on the internet and instead of people taking it down or reporting it, they shared it and made fun of it.

Jada though didn’t ignore it, didn’t just retreat into herself (like I did), she stood up for herself and shared her story with the world. That’s when the movement started to #standwithJada. This young girl is braver at 16 than I am at 24. No more though; no more will I simply keep my mouth shut about what happened to me 5 years ago. No more will I allow my experiences to scare me into thinking that I did/am doing something wrong by talking about it. I will stand with Jada and all the other women/girls out there who have had to go through this.

Image part of the #jadacounterpose hashtag on twitter from user @taasa