Thursday, November 17, 2016

True Confessions of a Jack of all Trades

I will never be Michelangelo. Or Tolkien. Or Picasso.

It's no secret how much I love to pursue new interests. I'm always looking for something shiny and new to wake up my mind. It's what I love. It's what makes me tick. It makes me happy to be alive.

Unfortunately it also has drawbacks. Each interest stops being new at some point and begins to be old and tiresome.  It becomes work and my ADHD mind no longer classifies it as as a priority. Thus I always tend to cycle out of an interest at some point and start looking for the next shiny thing.

I've been doing this for as long as I can remember. I have a list of skills as long as my arm. People tell me that they're amazed at the number of different things I know how to do. I don't say this to brag. I'm quite competent at many things, but I will never be Michelangelo.

Here is some painful honesty. I cycled out of writing a year and a half ago.

The more I denied this fact and the harder I clung to it the more miserable I became.  Miserable, depressed, and frustrated with myself for not being stronger. For not having the passion I see in others who have found their calling and have laid their souls on the alter. I'm am in awe of you, and a little jealous. While you are becoming Tolkien I will still be chasing after the next shiny thing and becoming merely competent.

There is good news in all this. I always tend to cycle back to my greatest passions. Sometimes it takes months, sometimes years or even decades, but I always come back. Perhaps over the course of several cycles I will grow past competence and become good or even great. I don't know yet.

And just for the record, this doesn't mean I'm swearing off writing completely and shunning friends and the community I grown to love. It just means I'm giving myself a break. I am, as of this moment, giving myself permission to be passionate about something else and stop trying to force myself into a box that doesn't fit right now.

I may never be Michelangelo, but I am Christauna, and today that is enough.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Back in the Light

It's amazing how bright the light is when coming out of the dark.

Years of darkness. Deep depression, medium depression, and even slightly blue is no way to live. In fact you don't live during those times, you survive.

I'm happy to say that I'm back among the living.

Since I've been open about mental illnesses up to this point, it's only fair I finish the story. A few months ago I found myself at a point of medium depression that I felt I would never be able to shake. I wasn't lost in the black hole, but I wasn't living either. Everything was gray. It was a time of "no" for me. No, I don't want to go to that activity. No, I don't want to write. No, I don't want to read. No, I don't want to do much of anything other than eat, sleep, work, and the occasional date night with my man. Unrelenting medium depression is a blah existence.

One morning during yoga (yes, yoga every Monday morning at six for the past 3 years...which I didn't want to go to) I found myself praying. I was tired of my gray existence. I knew God could heal me, and I pleaded, with tears dripping onto my mat, that he would do so. And I got an immediate answer.

"Be thou healed."

Be thou healed. A gift from my Heavenly Father. Healed? Me? After all this time, all I needed to do was ask? Maybe. Maybe I hadn't prayed in earnest before. Maybe there were things I needed to learn in the dark years. Maybe it was just time. Whatever it was, I believed that God could and had healed me. I just needed faith and action to accept this gift.

With great faith, and not a little trepidation, I took action.

I went off my antidepressants...

No one panic. This story has a happy ending. Or beginning, however you want to look at it. Over the next couple of months I slowly weaned myself off the drugs. And very slowly over the next couple of months the gray fog bank evaporated, leaving nothing but bright sunshine in a cloudless sky.

It's been well over a month since I kicked my antidepressants to the curb and I'm having a tremendous time rejoining my life. It's taking effort, but all the No's in my life are becoming potential Yes's once again.

Thank you to my sweet family and dear friends who have hung in there with me through my black and gray years. And thank you to my Heavenly Father for giving me back my life. It's still going to take some time to rebuild myself, but for now I'm just happy to be able to turn my face to the warm sun and smile again.

Monday, November 9, 2015

I Fight

Who am I? I used to know.
I was a daughter, an adventurer, a mother.
Who am I?
I was a writer, an artist, a woodworker,  a painter, a gardener, a housekeeper, a chef?
Finding, learning, discovering.
Dedicated, productive, determined, happy.
Was. I was…
All was’s. All were’s.
Who am I?
A ghost.
Cocooned. Trapped.
I want light. I want darkness. I want happiness. I want nothing.
Light. I see you. I’m reaching.
Sludge. Enfolded in the dark embrace. Tears forced from my eyes.
I lose.
I win.
I desire.
I fight...
I fight.
That is who I am.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Silent, Dream-Stealing Monster

Depression is a funny thing. And when I say funny, I mean the furthest thing from. For me it presents as a silent, vile, soul-sucking, dream-stealing demon that I’m unable to see until it’s devoured everything that makes me happy.

You know those profile details you put on every social media account that lists your interests. Think of your top three. Do they make you smile? Mine do. They are reading, writing, and art. Not always in that order, but always in the top three. Now imagine if every time you thought about one of those top three things, instead of a smile it brought out feelings of anger, hatred, disgust, sadness, and guilt.

That’s the true face of depression for me. It snuck up on me gradually, disguising itself as stress, exhaustion, sickness, and boredom. For months it crawled through my inner joy and took little bites with venomous teeth until one day I found myself staring out the window for hours, floundering in the realization that there was nothing in the world I wanted to do. Had I ever liked to do anything? I didn’t want to read. The very thought made me exhausted. I didn’t want to paint, draw, refinish furniture, or crochet. Worst of all, I didn’t want to write. I hated the idea of putting words down. I even despised the characters in my manuscripts that I had once loved so much. Writing? No. Never again.

I confessed this to a friend, thinking that perhaps my interest in writing had just waned. Perhaps I never was a writer and this passing fad was now done. “Do you mean, like, forever?!” she asked. And I really believed this was the case.

Motivational memes and happy writers on Facebook and Twitter only made me feel worse. “Have you written today?” “4000 words and counting!” And worst of all, “Writers write even when they don’t want to!”

Well I didn’t want to. I wasn’t even sure how I ever had! I hated it! Hated them all! Those annoying, prolific, happy writers, so cocky and confident that their loves and talents would always be there. Didn’t they know that talent was fleeting? That at any moment it could be ripped away, trampled on the ground. Unbearable jerks, all of them.

I’ve suffered with depression before. Written through it. Infused the dark feelings and sadness into my manuscripts to great effect. This round of depression socked me so hard I was certain I never see light again. I would never read. I would never write. And I would never again create beautiful art. That part of my life was over. All I could do was survive.

You’ll be happy to note the word “was” in the previous paragraph. Today I feel better. The sun is shining the rich scent of cut grass and a first cutting of alfalfa is in the air, and I got to take my doggies to the dog park. I was able to smile even when they annoyed me, and I felt lightness on my shoulders for the first time in months. Perhaps I could write again.

My marker for how well I’m feeling has been my writing, and obviously I’m once again putting words to the page. It’s been a long, slow, uphill battle. I have had many small victories and large steps backward. I’ve had to come to some surprising realizations about depression and who I am as a person.

Present me with a physical enemy and I’ll slice and dice the bastard with a great deal of bloodthirsty delight rather than let him take one inch. But this subtle monster, this thing called depression, knows me. It knows what to target that will cause me the most pain. It knows where to stab, what to whisper, and how to settle deep into my mind without me suspecting a thing until it’s almost too late.

I am not writing this post to teach about depression, preach about mental health, or ask for sympathy. I am simply putting words to a page in an all out assault against the monster who tried to steal my life. I see you now. I know who you are and I’ll be damned before I let you take one more inch.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Tips for Creating Characters in Short Fiction

In honor of the release of Secrets and Doors, I'm offering a few tips for creating characters in short fiction... like the title suggests...

Characters. That’s why I read. I want to meet interesting people and see them doing interesting things. I like to be in their heads. How do they think? Why do they feel the need to act this way?

In a novel an author can use pages and pages to create a character. Using the character’s past and present experiences, and internal dialogue, the reader slowly learns who this person is and they get very attached to them as they live through sorrow, trials, trauma, and joy.

So what does that mean for the short story? The author doesn’t get pages to set up a character. How can an author, make sure his/her characters are fully developed within a couple of sentences?

Essentially, in a short story, the reader is being dropped into the middle of a dramatic moment of the character’s life. Their backstory is a mystery and you don’t have the luxury of a prologue or cute anecdotes into their past except on a minute level. Here’s a couple of tips to help you create that fully formed characters in a matter of sentences.

1. Make sure you know your character and their backstory in all its sordid detail. Know them as well as you know yourself. Know what makes them tick, what trials they've had in their life that makes them soft spoken, or gruff, or funny. Having these kind of details in your mind will help to color every thought, word spoken, or motivation.

2. Now assuming this character is now fully fleshed out in your mind, add in tidbits of their backstory through your character's actions, reactions, and dialogue as though the reader already knows their backstory. This will give  the impression of a real, incredibly interesting person the reader just hasn’t gotten to know yet. In Reflection, by Terra Luft, she artfully does this by giving her character an intense emotional response to something we would consider mundane: a sweeper on the street scattering a puddle of water. Make the reader curious.

3. Use dialogue and stereotypes to your advantage. We all speak in different tones, languages, and dialects, which help to pinpoint the place we grew up and possible experiences we endured as a child (aka backstory). You know a Texan is going to say what’s on their mind and probably try to shoot you at some point. A southern belle will speak sweetly and yet somehow make you feel small.  Don’t try to go too far outside a stereotype. Use those kind of twists for a novel, unless the twist is vital to the plot of your short story. In Johnny Worthen’s piece, A Thousand Secret Doors, from the first section of dialogue you can glimpse a backstory and two distinct personalities simply through the phrases they use.

In short, (pun absolutely intended!) drop your readers into the middle of the story. Make sure your characters have a distinct personality from their first line. Keep backstory brief and relevant and above all don’t try to do too much. This is a short story, for crying out loud! The reader of a short story just wants a glimpse, they don't want your character's entire life story.

Open the door and unlock the secrets in eleven short stories from The Secret Door Society, an organization of fantasy and science fiction authors dedicated to charitable work. All proceeds from this anthology benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in their quest to cure Type One Diabetes (T1D).

In these pages you’ll discover a modern woman trapped in an old fashioned dreamscape, a futuristic temp worker who fights against her programming, a beautiful vampire’s secret mission disrupted by betrayal, a sorcerer’s epic battle against a water dragon, the source of magical mirrors—and more. There are tales for every science fiction and fantasy taste, including new works from award-winning authors Johnny Worthen, Lehua Parker, Christine Haggerty, and Adrienne Monson.

Join us in the fight against T1D as you peek into a world of magical and mysterious doorways—if you dare.