Posted in Making It Up As I Go

Doing the Thing: Garden Update

It’s been a little over a month since I wrote about my garden on here. And as happens when plants are watered on a pretty regular basis, they’ve grown.

There have been casualties: a couple pea plants, parsley, and the lettuce. But I consider those to only be partially my fault; I forgot to put drainage holes in the bottom. I also blame spring thunderstorms leaving an inch of water atop the soil.

The flowers have absolutely flourished. Even the marigolds–which I was hesitant about planting because they need a whole lot more light than what my patio gets in a day–have done fan-freaking-tastic. Every single marigold plant is in bloom, and the wild flowers are providing a pop of color amidst all the green of stems and leaves.

As for the vegetables, the ones that didn’t get their butts handed to them by the storms are doing so well. I’ve already harvested a few radishes (and then quickly realized I don’t like them), have found that the carrots are indeed growing, and am pretty close to picking peas. There are also clumps of little green tomatoes on the tomato plants. They still have a way to go, but they’re definitely looking like tomatoes.

I’ve also added cucumbers, peppers, and pumpkins. The cucumbers have already gotten so big that I’ve had to tie them to bamboo stakes, though the peppers have yet to sprout. And while I’m still not sure how the pumpkins are going to like being in pots long-term (this type of seed isn’t meant for my version of urban gardening), they’re about an inch and a half tall at this point and seem happy enough. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll have pumpkins ready to carve come October.

I’m going to finish this post up with a picture of the garden a month ago and what it looked like on Friday, 6/15. I’m proud of what I’ve done with this eclectic garden. I also can’t wait to see how the veggies taste.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

Doing the Thing: a Vegetable Garden

SE smiling with baby tomato plants

The patio off my bedroom isn’t great for a vegetable garden. It gets maybe six hours of sunlight in the morning and then sits in shade for the rest of the day. Certain flowers do fine; others not so much.

But this year I said fuck it. I researched what vegetables tolerated partial sun and came away with not so definite results. Some websites said root vegetables–like carrots–would be fine in the shade. Another said that they needed a significant amount of sun. One site said peas would do okay; another said the opposite. The same was said of lettuce and basil. What all the sites agreed on was that tomatoes were a definite no.

So after compiling a list of possible veggies in my head, I ventured to Lowes. The racks of packaged seeds stood in the front corner of the store; they were next to the lawn mowers and bird feeders and the entrance to the outdoor garden area. It became clear pretty quick that I was out of my depth. I spent half an hour pouring over the tiny text on the back of seed packets, only pretending to know what I was looking at. Ultimately, I decided on carrots and peas because they appeared to be the ones I was least likely to kill.

SE's patio garden

A week or so later, I found myself in the Home Depot seed department while waiting for the weather to cooperate for planting. More seeds–basil, lavender, tomatoes, radishes, and lettuce–found their way into my hands. I knew full well the gamble I was making, not being at all positive that any of these plants would even germinate. But I did it anyway.

Planting everything took a few days and left me with dirt under my fingernails. The two cinder-block and two-by-four shelves on my patio looked more than full with planters of different sizes and colors. Even if I’d wanted more plants there simply wasn’t room. All that was left to do was wait. But I’m slightly impatient, so I checked for specks of green in the dirt each night when I watered.

Things began sprouting after a couple weeks, and now I can look out onto my patio and see so much green. There’s still a way to go before I’m actually eating what I’ve grown. But things are moving in that direction, and I’m wicked excited.

SE with tomato plants

 

 

Posted in Doggies, Making It Up As I Go

The One with an Update on Canine Houdini

A year ago, I introduced Sampson’s alter-ego: Canine Houdini. My German Shepherd made it his mission to figure his way past every gate my parents put up to keep him in the kitchen when they weren’t home. They managed to stump him with a metal gate practically screwed into the door frame.

It stumped Canine Houdini for all of eight months. And then he figured it out.

My dad claimed Sam learned to pull the gate until the door on it came loose and then he let himself and Grace into the rest of the house. But he never saw Sam do it; he just heard the metal door thud open.

I wanted to see my butthead’s ingenuity for myself.

So I set him up when I visited my parents. While he ate his dinner, I shut the gate and effectively locked him in the kitchen. Grace and I sat in the living room, and I had my phone ready to capture his great escape on video. It took a bit of coaxing to convince Sam to handle the problem on his own rather than just give me a look of betrayal.

Here is video evidence that my German Shepherd is a clever butthead.

Canine Houdini is back, and I’m totally here for it.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

That time I almost got a cat

Apart from dogs, roadkill, and the occasional kamikaze squirrel, my neck of Charlotte is lacking in furry animals. So I felt more than a little compelled to pull out my camera when I spotted an orange tabby cat in the middle of my apartment complex’s parking lot.

The tabby arched his back a little as I moved around him to get the light from the streetlight at my back and avoid shadows in the picture.

“Hey there, buddy,” I cooed, crouching down about ten feet away.

I opened the camera app on my phone and frowned when he wasn’t in the middle of the frame. He was closer. I looked over top of the phone and found him trotting toward me. His little orange ears pointed in my direction; his nearly black eyes had laser focus.

Here’s the thing: I’m not a cat person. I don’t particularly have a lot of experience meeting them or handling them or reading their body language. As a result, I felt a momentary spurt of panic because I had no clue if the little guy intended to claw my face off or if he just wanted to say hi.

I froze, and the kitty molded himself around my knee before shifting to rub against my other knee. Relief mixed with pure joy that a furry creature wanted my attention unstuck my muscles.

“Hi kitty,” I said. “Hi there.”

He arched into my fingers when I scritched them through his soft fur. His attention diverted away from rubbing against my legs every so often so that he could stare off into the darkness. (It was one of my neighbors walking to his apartment. He must’ve thought I was crazy talking to a cat.)

After trying and failing to take cute pictures of the tabby while kneeling, I straightened up in the hopes of getting a bit more distance between him and I for a better shot.

It was at this point that the kitty decided to give me attitude.

“Oh,” he said. “You don’t want to pat me? You want to take pictures?”

He slunked over to where the concrete from the curb met the asphalt before flopping onto his back. He stretched and rolled, looking at me over his shoulder.

“I’m cute, ain’t I?” he asked.

“You are adorable,” I said and proceeded to center him in the frame on my camera.

Just as I pressed the button, the tabby squirmed. The picture was blurry. I took another one, and it was blurry again. I must’ve taken a dozen pictures, each one a different level of blurry. A couple weren’t too bad.

“Thanks for the pictures, buddy. I’ve got to head inside now and start thinking about heading to bed.”

“Oh, so we’re going inside?” he said.

“No, no, just me,” I said.

“Okay, we’re going inside.”

I walked in the direction of my apartment, and the tabby led the way. I paused at the curb.

“Bye buddy,” I said a bit forcefully. “Time for you to go home.”

He ignored the hint and followed me all the way to my door. Then he started rubbing against my door just like he’d rubbed against my leg.

“Oh shit, you think you’re coming inside.”

“Well I am, aren’t I,” he replied. “I’m sure you’ve got food inside for me.”

“Um, no. All I have is dog treats.”

“I can work with that.”

“Dude, you’re not coming inside.” I unlocked the door, and the clunk of the tumblers moving made his ears perk up. “No, go home.”

“Are you sure this isn’t my home? I’m pretty sure I live with you now.”

“I’m pretty sure that you don’t.”

He kept eyeing the door like he’d dart inside the instant there was even a sliver of space between the door and the jamb.

I waited, briefly considering that I was locked in a stalemate with a cat that weighed less than my purse. If he snuck inside, I had no idea how I’d get him out again. And what if he peed on my carpet? I knew how to handle dog urine; cat urine might be different. It definitely smells worse.

Then he walked away from the door. He didn’t move far, but it was far enough that I knew almost for certain that I could slip through the door before he could dart in. I took my chance.

The tabby stared at me from the other side of my welcome mat with a look of betrayal in his eyes as I shut the door. If I didn’t feel guilty enough, he said one last thing: “But you’re my new human.” Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for him), when I looked outside a bit later with the thought of maybe letting him inside, he was gone.

Posted in Movies, TV & Games

Westworld’s Unreliable Narrator

Warning: This post contains spoilers for HBO's Westworld.

Related imageWriting an unreliable narrator is something on my writerly bucket list, so my interest is always piqued whenever I come across one. Though if he or she is really well-written, I don’t fully appreciate them until a second watch or read-through. That’s how it was when I watched Westworld.

Westworld’s allure for guests is that the Hosts seem human, and that’s the result of their programming. So no matter how human they act, the staff can still ‘reset’ them back to the beginning of their story loop. That’s what makes Dolores such an interesting unreliable narrator. She doesn’t mean to mislead the audience; it just happens because of her programming.

One story thread Dolores’s presents is travelling with William and his future brother-in-law. She starts off as a damsel and literally falls into William’s arms. But as they progress through their adventure, she becomes more and more of a strong female character. She uses a gun (when before she couldn’t physically pull the trigger), she holds up soldiers at gunpoint, and she even changes from her simple, blue dress into a button-down shirt and pants.

Nothing in Dolores’s behavior makes us think that her change from a passive character to an active one is anything but permanent. But when William discovers Dolores after she’s had her memories erased and has been put back at the beginning of her story loop, both he and us realize that the change–her story arc–was simply part of her programming. She wasn’t exhibiting freewill at all.

The other component of Dolores being an unreliable narrator is her memories. Like all the other Hosts, her memories are supposed to be wiped after she finishes every story loop. The staff considers it a kindness as she won’t remember any of the terrible things done to her. Though it’s also a way for them to ensure that each guest gets the same opportunity to experience the sweet, rancher’s daughter.

Here’s the things about the Hosts’ memories: they’re not like human memories. When a person picks a memory to recall, it’s fuzzy and very obvious that it’s a memory. A Host’s memory is so clear and in-focus that they’re indistinguishable from the present.

Now in theory, a Host’s memories wouldn’t be an issue since they’re always wiped. But a change that Arnold made to Dolores’s programming means she retains those memories.

Dolores travelling with William seems so much like the present–especially with how the scenes are juxtaposed into the rest of the series–that we take what we see as true. That she’s going through this realization of her humanity right now as we watch because there’s no fuzziness that we’d associate with human memory.

Because Dolores can’t distinguish the past from the present, neither can we as the viewer. It’s not until the Man in Black reveals that he is William, albeit older and disillusioned with humanity, that we realize everything we’ve seen in terms of Dolores and William happened decades ago and that she is not the empowered woman that William fell for. That was just her programming. In fact, she’s something else.

Needless to say, the realization that Dolores has been an unreliable narrator for the better part of the ten-episode season is a hell of a twist. It brings up the question of how do we define agency. Is it adhering to what the world wants us to be? Or is it figuring out the world on our own?

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

The One with the Hypothetical Poltergeist

The other night, I woke up after something banged in my living room.

It wasn’t an oh-shit-something-broke bang. More of an eh-the-neighbors-dropped-something-in-their-living-room-again kind of noise. So I rolled over, pulled the comforter back over my head, and went back to sleep.

I’d forgotten all about the noise by the time I crawled out of bed the next morning, and my brain struggled when I noticed that one of my candles had fallen out of its candlestick. It lay across my dining room table with small clumps of broken-off wax in the little collection area at the bottom. Had it been like that when I went to bed? No, I thought, no. It hadn’t.

Eventually my brain put two and two together: the candle falling over was the bang from the middle of the night.

But what made it fall over? I posed that question to my [probably] haunted figurines: Miss Georgia and Phillip.

Me: Hey, Miss Georgia, do you know anything about this candle?

Miss Georgia: I am afraid not, dear. I was enjoying a rather spirited conversation with Nosferatu about the rights of vampires when I heard the candle hit the table.

Me: The rights of vampires…? You understand that he’s a vampire, right?

Miss Georgia: Of course, dear. That is quite evident.

Me: O-K. What about you, Phillip? You keep tabs on the living room at night. Did you see anything?

Phillip: I don’t like what you’re implying.

Me: Excuse me?

Phillip: You’re implying that I had something to do with that candle being knocked over. I didn’t.

Me: That’s totally not what I said but all right.

Phillip: I don’t like your tone.

Me: Oh for f#$%s sake. Did you or did you not see who knocked over the candle or not?

Phillip: … Perhaps.

At this point, I realized that my fingernails were beginning to make gouges in my palms, and I flexed my fingers until they no longer felt cemented in place.

Me: Look, nothing’s broken. I’m not mad. I’d just like a straight answer.

Phillip: If I saw what happened, and this is hypothetically, I imagine there might have been a poltergeist.

Me: A poltergeist?

Phillip: Hypothetically, yes. The poltergeist decided that the best way to freak you out would be to knock over the candle. Now, I’m not sure why this hypothetical poltergeist would want to freak you out. Maybe because you sprayed him in a clear-coat of spray paint or something. Maybe to get you back for that because that stuff smells, you know.

Me: Phillip. Is it possible that–hypothetically–you’re the poltergeist?

Phillip: Hypothetically, no.

Me: All right then. Well, tell this hypothetical poltergeist that he’s going to have to try a hell of a lot harder to scare me. And for the record, that spray paint is going to make sure your paint won’t fade.

I turned around at that point, and I’m pretty sure Phillip flipped me off as I walked away. There’s no doubt in my mind that the hypothetical poltergeist isn’t going to stick around. As long as he doesn’t break anything, I’m curious to see what kind of trouble he gets into.

 

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

On Writer’s Block

The act of writing is simple enough: it’s creating a couple lines on a page with a pen or tapping on a keyboard until words show up on a screen. I can do those things no problem; hell, I do them on a daily basis at work and around the apartment (my grocery list doesn’t write itself, unfortunately).

But there’s a creative aspect involved in crafting characters and setting and plot that isn’t needed when writing emails, and it can’t be forced.

I’ve mashed the keys on my keyboard in an attempt to write a story that didn’t want to be written, only to drag the file into the “Graveyard” folder on my desktop. Or on the worst days, I delete everything I write and leave the page as blank as it was when I started.

Those days of clawing my way through a single paragraph are demoralizing. And when writing day after writing day is like that, when weeks pass with nothing to show, when it’s been a month and I’m still not falling in love with a story, that’s when doubt starts to whisper into my ear.

It says: You’ve had a good run of this writing thing. Wrote for newspapers; had a few hundred thousand hits on an article; even got a short story published. But that’s over now. You might as well find another hobby that’ll fill the hours you’re not at work, like painting or balloon animals. 

I know–logically–that I shouldn’t believe doubt and all I need is to find the story that wants to be written. But logic isn’t all that comforting when I’m staring at a blank page, unable to live up to the writer label that I’ve carried like a badge of honor since I was eleven.

Fear is the seed of doubt; fear that I’ll never be able to write again and that I’m not actually a writer. So when a story isn’t ready or when my brain isn’t ready to work, I try to force it. The failure that inevitably follows leads to more fear and more doubt and more panic. Stepping away from the computer, going on a Netflix binge, and letting the story peculate in the back of my mind is the best way to get back in the saddle.

It feels counter-productive when it’s actually the opposite; my brain works out the kinks in stories even while I’m busying myself with other things. And then the time comes where I read a book or watch a movie, and I’m itching to write.

Words flow from my fingertips like there was never anything keeping them stopped up inside me. Everything is right again because writer’s block is temporary, even if it may seem otherwise.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go, Updates, Writing

2017: A Wrap Up

Three-hundred-and-sixty-five days is a long time, despite the fact that it often feels like a single day passes me by in the blink of an eye. And a lot happen for me in 2017. Both when it came to writing and to life in general. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of a rough spell, I forget how much I’ve accomplished. So this kind of post is a good way to remember the successes of the past year.

Here are the big things that I did in 2017:

The Map (March)
In 2016, I participated in the Collaborative Writing Challenge’s mystery project, The Map. The project wrapped up for the writers in September 2016, and the book was published in March of 2017. The eBook copy arrived in my email shortly afterwards. Over the summer, I ordered a paperback copy from Amazon for my “brag shelf.”

Attended ConCarolinas (June)
I talked myself into buying weekend passes to ConCarolinas in March as an investment in my writing career. I didn’t know where I was going to be job-wise and didn’t know if my introvert-slash-hermit tendencies would allow me to go. But it worked out, and I had an amazing time. Not only did I learn a ton during the panels, I credit my experience as giving me the confidence to submit a short story to an anthology.

“The Monsters of Bear Mountain” Accepted into Down with the Fallen (August)
A ConCarolinas panel on short stories inspired me to find anthology calls for submission, and I stumbled upon Franklin/Kerr Press’s call for post-apocalyptic horror. I wrote and revised “The Monsters of Bear Mountain” over the course of two months before submitting it. About three weeks later, I received an email saying that they had accepted my story. I couldn’t stop smiling for a whole hour after reading it.

Enrolled in College Again (August)
After serious soul searching about what I want to be when I grow up, I decided to enroll in classes at my local community college. I wholly believed I was overestimating myself when I signed up for five classes in addition to working full time. But I not only managed to keep up with my classes, I ended the semester with a 4.0 GPA.

Down with the Fallen Published (November)
Franklin/Kerr Press’s Down with the Fallen anthology–which included my short story–was published on November 7th. But what I’ll remember even more than release day was when I received my author copies in the mail. It was a couple days before the release, and I must have flipped through the book a dozen times. Seeing my name and my story was so surreal and amazing.

Finished Knitting a Poncho (December)
I started my first big knitting project in November: a poncho. I’d only worked on scarves before because they were so simple, but I wanted to accomplish something bigger. Something usable. While it’s not perfect by any measure, it’s complete and is something that I’m insanely proud of. I crafted it with my own hands. There are few things cooler than that.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go

Just One More Thing

I’m far more productive between the hours of 9 PM and 12 AM than I am at any other time of the day. It’s quite unfortunate considering I work a day job that doesn’t allow me to go to bed after midnight (Well, it does. I’d just fall asleep at my desk.)

This combined with building up momentum after finishing a task–whether homework or a bit of writing–makes it difficult to step away from the computer and head to bed. Or to get in the shower and then go to bed. I’m tempted to do just one more thing: write one more line, do one more homework questions, read one more chapter.

Because it’s only one thing, right? That’s true until one thing morphs into a second thing when I tell myself I’ll just do one more, and then the cycle repeats until it’s well passed my bedtime.

Trying to squeeze writing in between the hours I’m committed to my job and to school has only made this habit worse. I want to write. I will write.

I just need to get better about parsing out my time and only spending half an hour re-watching YouTube videos instead of an hour and a half. The time I have after work or after class and before bedtime is pretty finite. And it doesn’t do me any good do do just one more thing before saying that the day is over because it’s really just refusing to admit that I’m out of time but not out of things I want to do.

On that note, I need to get off my computer, head to the shower, and then tuck myself into bed. Goodnight to all, and to all, a good night.

Posted in Publishing, Writing

It’s Here: Down with the Fallen!

It’s official! “The Monsters of Bear Mountain” has been released alongside other short stories in the Down with the Fallen anthology.

I’ve been trying to write a release post for a few weeks but didn’t come up with anything that I liked. Then I got an email about a promo opportunity on a fellow writer’s blog (check it out here!) Unfortunately, I didn’t get my post edited before the deadline. But that did give me the basis for a post.

So here it is: a look at the story behind the story, or what inspired me to write this particular short story.

Every so often, the setting comes to me before the characters or the theme or even the plot itself. That’s what happened with this short story.

I saw a two-story ski chalet huddled into the woods on the side of a mountain. The air was colored the dirty gray of smog, and wind smashed snow the flat surfaces it could find. Within the forest, human-shaped figures shuffle through hip-deep snow.

The chalet itself is dark, but there are two people inside. A man and a woman.

I didn’t know who these people were, what these figures outside were, or how all of this fit into life in a post-apocalyptic world. I knew that I wanted to find out, and I did.

It’s available in paperback and as an eBook here. Grab a copy today!