Is writing our destiny?

Last night I was watching the fifth episode of the BBC show Being Human. (Wow, I started this series weeks ago, and I’m only on episode five? Good lord.) In “Where the Wild Things Are,” the vampire leader/policeman William Herrick confesses in an elevator that he once dreamed of becoming an architect because of a picture book he owned when he was a boy. The hunger of a vampire, as it happens, decided otherwise. “This chose me,” he tells Mitchell fiercely.

It got me thinking. That’s a lot like being a writer.

Now, maybe it’s wrong* to compare a vampire’s instinct to kill and drink blood with a writer’s need to write, but … bear with me here.

As writers, we’re constantly being pulled into a tide we cannot resist. If we don’t write, we drive ourselves crazy. I imagine that’s much how a dehydrated vampire feels, only with the murdering and all.

We feel better when we write, when we spill our thoughts out onto the page (okay, hold the morbidity). For me it’s almost compulsive. An idea happens upon me and I scribble it down on a scrap of paper—or off to my blog I go. My passion for writing is, I firmly believe, an innate phenomenon. I didn’t decide to be a writer any more than I decided to be born with blonde hair and blue eyes.**

Without a outlet to write, without an audience of some assemblage, I would be a very sad girl indeed.

But as any writer can tell you, writing isn’t the easiest job in the world. Far from it. But it’s an endeavor well worth the time and labor, and an addictive one at that. I write not only here on this blog, but on my other blog (on occasion)—as well as several other websites. My name will soon appear in print in a magazine as a contributor (more on that in the coming weeks, when I finally have my copy in hand). I’m busy revising my first novel, when I can spare the time. And when I’m not writing, I’m doing things that create more opportunities for me to write—reading books or comics, playing video games, watching movies … all so I can reflect on them in written form.

I admit. I do have an agenda here. I’m in the process of securing two deals for freelancing positions*** that, combined, will lighten my financial burden but severely limit my time. They also let me do what I love, and that counts for a lot. Because of these two new (please, please keep your fingers crossed for me) responsibilities, I’ll have less time leftover for blogging. But don’t think for a minute that’ll stop me from posting every week—as always, I’ll find a way. A big workload has never discouraged me before. Just be more lenient with me if my posts show up in your feed half as often. ;)

But okay, back to my point. Writing is sort of like destiny, isn’t it? Try as we might to get away from it, it just keeps reining us in, for better or worse. I’d say right now, for me, it’s for the better.

P.S.: Another happy life update: I just ordered a new laptop! Insert high volumes of girlish squeals here! I can’t WAIT until it arrives. I’ve been lugging around this hunk of junk**** (that’s an endnote, not a bleeped-out swear word, although it might as well be) (my other hunk of junk, the one that’s a desktop, died on me a couple weeks ago) for far too long. I icily named it “Pandora’s Box” the other day: the source of all pain in my world. Ugh.

P.P.S.: Want to see something lovely? Go to Google Images and search “writing,” and then search “love of writing.” With “writing,” you see lonely pens on paper and disembodied hands. “Love of writing” is something else entirely. You see doodled hearts and people—people together, and people smiling.

P.P.P.S.: By the way, I manage on a lot of coffee, tea, and the comfort of cats.

*Yes, yes it is.

**For the record, I dye my hair red and sometimes brown. Shh.

***More on those when they’re finalized. Although the one involves writing evening news posts, so if you’re interested in video games, stop by after dark starting tomorrow.

****Thanks to my sister for passing down this hunk of junk, which has been a great gift to receive despite all its hassle.

Eleven unique ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day

I have a special gripe with Valentine’s Day: Everybody has to express their disgust with it. Believe me, I understand why so many people hate it. I used to be single, too, and for many it’s a painful reminder of a fruitless search for that “special someone.” It’s also an overblown Hallmark extravaganza (but then again, so is Mother’s and Father’s Day) that leads to a lot of mushy rom-coms and diamond ring commercials. But you know what, Christmas is commercial, too, and who doesn’t love Christmas? Scrooges, that’s who.

Okay, there are valid reasons for not liking Valentine’s Day. It can put a lot of pressure on couples to be perfect and extraordinarily romantic—like, of superhero proportions. But some couples prefer to simply crack open a bottle of wine and spend the evening watching their favorite movies.

I just want to enjoy my holiday in peace without having to hear people whine about it. That just spoils all the fun for those of us who like it. Valentine’s Day is about more than cards and chocolates and long-stemmed roses. It’s about taking the extra time to do something special for your sweetie (though you should be doing that all year round)—or the people you love. Elementary school taught us you can have more than one Valentine, after all.

So here are ten ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day with your better half—or your own wonderful self.

1. Read a book! Big surprise here, huh? There’s lots to choose from—from the romance section to young adult to holiday specials like Love Monster by Rachel Bright. Comics are always a good pick, too. I really enjoyed the NEW MUTANTS #37 Valentine’s Day special this year.

2. Learn about the history. Fact or fiction: People in France and England believed that February 14 was the beginning of mating season for birds, making the day a perfect one for romance? Take a quiz on Valentine’s Day traditions from around the world.

3. Write a love letter. The official National Card and Letter Writing Month isn’t until April, but some are starting the challenge early. February has been declared a month of letters. Not much of a writer? Send a free, classy digital card (much nicer than many e-cards, in my opinion) instead.

4. Play a video game. Twisted Metal (for PlayStation 3) is hitting retailers today, on Valentine’s Day. If you and your snuggle-poo like to play video games together, nothing says love quite like killer clowns and Rob Zombie. You can also get a four-game indie bundle of various PC titles for ridiculously cheap.

5. Make arts and crafts—they’re not just for kids, you know. Check out cool ideas at the Better Homes and Gardens website (like a case wrap for beer or caffeinated drinks, an “I Love You” library card and journal, and 34 other snazzy gifts). The Martha Stewart website has 48 other suggestions, like heart-shaped pot holders and lacy votive candle holders.

6. Concoct and bake your own super candy bar. Blogger Erica at Erica Takes Over the World will show you how.

7. Review ten of the greatest kisses in literature. Perfect for living vicariously.

8. Learn about the Museum of Broken Relationships in Croatia, which among other mementos features a smashed garden gnome that was hurled at a car during an angry breakup.

9. Watch twenty-five Valentine’s Day movies for twenty-five different relationship stages. This one made me giggle: “You love Nicolas Cage no matter what anyone says: Moonstruck.”

10. Cut costs with a romantic dinner at your favorite fast food chain, with restaurants like White Castle, Waffle House, Chick-fil-A, and more participating.

11. Take Valentine’s Day less seriously with these disgruntled quotes by famous comedians. Why not?

Double special of Grant Morrison comics: reviews of We3 and Joe the Barbarian

For those of you who like graphic novels, I read two by Grant Morrison recently. My general stance on Grant Morrison? I love and hate the crazy bastard, but he’s one of the most inventive writers in comics now. When he does a comic right, he does it really right.

We3 by Grant Morrison (writer) and Frank Quitely (artist)

We3 is a surprisingly short comic book, but not by accident. I enjoyed the story so much that I tried to imagine ways it could be expanded into an ongoing series, but each scenario my brain cooked up resembled a goofy sitcom. Don’t let that fool you into thinking We3 is a work of humor. It most certainly is a work of anger and activism and love. Morrison takes three lost pets, turns them into man-killing machines, and makes you want to adopt them.

Why? Because their murder sprees are a result of human intervention. Always, always human intervention—in this case the military, funding yet another project to put them ahead in warfare. When the scientist who’s worked most closely with the animals (a dog, a cat, and a rabbit) learns the experiment is not only being shut down, but terminated, she frees the dangerous and capable test subjects and surrenders herself to the consequences. The rest of the book is about seeing who wins: man or man’s Frankenstein creations.

It’s hard to imagine such a violent comic like this one causing the reader to tear up, but I did. In a brief span of pages, you come to love these animals as though they were still helpless pets. They were taught to work together, and in their fealty they remind us of how innocent they are under all that wire and machinery. They’re bred killers, trained to massacre, but they show more compassion than the people trying to restrain them.

Like the pets so many of us have under our care (I have three babies, myself), these animals think of home, friendship, and basic needs such as food. That’s what makes We3 such a shocking and meaningful comic—it teeters on the brink between sweetness and violence but balances both so well.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Joe the Barbarian: Deluxe Edition by Grant Morrison (writer) and Sean Murphy (artist)

Joe the Barbarian crosses children’s playtime with an epic fantasy of adult peril and consequences. When the boy Joe Mansion forgets his daily intake of glucose, his empty house becomes a gateway to a rabbit-hole realm that puts Wonderland to shame. His pet rat fights as a warrior, and each hypoglycemic step he takes in his house converts to miles in the land of Hypogea. As his imagination takes hold, casting him into a kingdom fraught with war and toy armies, one threat remains consistent in either reality: death.

Death himself shakes the foundations of Hearth Castle and the regions beyond, and Joe grows weaker as he stumbles downstairs and into the kitchen—an effort that stretches across the entire book’s length, as every staircase, room, and hallway brings new enemies and challenges. His quest for soda—a necessity that gains comedic effect as the comic goes on—leads him through the bloodied fields and towns of Hypogea, to cliffs on high and sewers down low. Each change in his house reflects back into the otherworld (eg., letting the bathwater run and overflow creates a waterfall in his hallucination), and as a perfect parallel to life, he makes new friends and learns to stand as tall as a giant. Grant Morrison bridges these two worlds with a lot of storytelling depth—each mountain and forest is aptly named, each person and legend translatable to Joe’s home dimension—and Sean Murphy builds it from the bottom up with awe and color and breathless wonder.

In one adventure, Joe must grow up—he’s the Dying Boy, fabled defeater of Death. But to save the kingdom means inching closer to his own mortality. The only thing more beautiful than the intricate, believable story is its ending: Readers watch as Joe matures from page to page, but it’s the last moments of the book that really cement his growth and identity. Joe the Barbarian not only comes full circle in small measurements; it comes full circle in a final, big way—the most important one of all for Joe and his widowed mother.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Comics are books, too—and a quick question

Tony Puryear, a screenwriter in LA who’s written the Arnold Schwarzenegger picture Eraser and adapted the upcoming Fahrenheit 451 movie for Mel Gibson, sent me an email today thanking me for my thoughts on his “Concrete Park” story in DARK HORSE PRESENTS #7, which I reviewed last weekend. Apparently this is Mr. Puryear’s first entry into comics.

A little about “Concrete Park,” in his own words:

“Concrete Park” takes place on a distant desert planet where Earth’s poor youth have been shipped to mine for resources. (Only the prologue, featuring the character ‘Isaac’ takes place on Earth). The main action of the story takes place in “Scare City”, a city of millions on the desert planet. If a ghetto in space makes readers uncomfortable, I guess I’m doing my job as a writer. Some of the characters are “minorities”, but to me, in terms of population, Scare City looks like LA, where I live. “Luca”, the star of the series, is a Pacific Islander. “Isaac” is black. “Lena”, Luca’s lover, is an alien (we have those in LA too).

I entreat you to pick up a copy of the comic if you get a chance. It’s a good one.

While I have you here, I did want to pose a question for the writers out there: How do you find time, between school or work or kids and other responsibilities, to keep to a writing schedule? What is your schedule actually like? An hour or two a night, or several hours a week? I’d like to hear from you in the comments.

A little London Horror and some pro writing tips

I know I made this blog to focus exclusively on books and book writing, but I want to recommend an excellent comic that came to me all the way from UK shores. London Horror Comic (review here) is produced by John Paul-Kamath, who’s not only an indie creator but also a self-publisher. Even in today’s world, when such nontraditional routes are becoming easier and more acceptable to pursue, selling and marketing your own work takes guts.

Having read the horror-comedy anthology series from issue one, I can attest to its ongoing quality (I reviewed it for the Girls Entertainment Network years back.) If you’re interested, the website offers free previews and directions on how to purchase the issues individually or by set (#1-4).

So what about self-publishing: Is it good or bad? Pros and cons accompany both the independent and traditional route of publishing. One writing guide talks at length about the topic: the second edition of The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, which is up for grabs at along with some other e-books (I’ll get to those eventually, too). I finished it just in time for the new year.

This book is one of the best sources of advice, knowledge, and inspiration an aspiring writer could hope for. Each section starts with encouraging quotes about writing, and most of the chapters (written by accomplished, published writers) contain guidance and insights into writing habits that will comfort novices persistently doubting their potential and abilities. If you can identify with the mindset of any of the featured writers—and the book makes it easy to—you can gain a little confidence and be reassured of the value of your pursuits. Chapter by chapter, and sometimes sentence by sentence, I kept finding myself wanting to return to my manuscript and tackle it with renewed vigor.

That’s possibly the most useful advantage of a book on writing—not to “teach” you how to write, but to allow you to feel comfortable with your own process. The included interviews with writers and essays on constructing effective fiction (from strong narratives and characters to the tenets of editing and revision) are invaluable, too, and readers will find plenty of good tips and information to mine for personal use. The book covers a wide range of topics, but one theme stays consistent: Motivation and hard work is key. The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing provides more than enough of the former, but it’s up to readers to follow through.

The book also discusses publishing and marketing, important lessons for any writer hoping to see his book hit shelves. This portion of the book is smaller, but it’s a perk compared to many writing guides, which don’t even broach the subject. It also covers both self-publishing and traditional publishing, warns readers how not to sell out, and lays down the basics about agents, editors, and contracts.