The Care and Feeding of a Creative Writer (and Human Being)

You, my dear readers, have been neglected. My apologies to each of you. I just emerged from a haze that blanketed my world for several weeks and until this moment hadn’t realized how out of touch I had become. It’s a side effect of chronic depression.

Several things occurred to put me in a hazy corner and keep me there. While I won’t be specific, I’ll give you a brief overview.

I have family and friends who like to tell me that God won’t give us more than we can handle. This simply isn’t true. We suffer grievously when we try to handle things on our own. I truly believe I was on the wrong path and God let me suffer to get my attention.
1. I took on a job that, while I believed it would be fulfilling, pushed me beyond my stress threshold. My writing suffered. My blogs suffered. My health suffered. I was overwhelmed by the smallest things. And so, I prayed, knowing God will never leave me nor forsake me. Last week, I tendered my resignation and have been a writing fool ever since.

2. My mother had surgery to repair two tears in her rotator cuff. She’s a good patient and caring for her hasn’t been a hardship, but it has put things into perspective. Because my father died relatively young (just 43 days shy of his 68th birthday) I’m hyper aware of my mother’s age. I’m afraid I got a little wrapped up in being a caregiver and forgot to care for myself. She went to spend a few days with her brother and his family and that’s when I realized that I had added an unnecessary weight to my shoulders.

3. The day mom left to visit family is the day Robin Williams died. His suicide had a profound effect on me. As a fan, I felt the world had lost a tremendous talent capable of lightening the sorrows and despair of the whole world. As a human who battles depression and has more than once considered taking my own life, I grieved for the man; I still grieve. I’ll never know what thoughts led him to his decision, but I understand the decision itself. Depression strangles reason and without oxygen reason cannot survive.

If you are having difficulties coping with day to day life there are resources that will help. Here are just a few:

  • MentalHealth.gov has a blog, depression & suicide prevention resources and a treatment locator.
  • US Department of Veterans Affairs is an authoritative mental health information and resources for Veterans and their families.
  • NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.
  • Founded by Glenn Close, Bring Change 2 Mind works to end the stigma and discrimination of mental illness.
  • NoStigmas.org is a global non-profit movement utilizing Peer-2-Peer connections to promote mental wellness and prevent suicide.

Robin WilliaimsThere are more than enough tributes to Robin Williams out there, but I wanted to share my ten favorite movies starring this frenetic, whirling dervish-like comedian and actor:

  1. The World According to Garp
  2. Awakenings
  3. Good Morning Vietnam
  4. August Rush
  5. Dead Poets Society
  6. Jumanji
  7. House of D
  8. One Hour Photo
  9. Aladdin
  10. The Fisher King


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A Reader Opines: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

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Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Published: November 20th 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (first published January 1st 2009)
Genre: Young Adult | Fantasy | Paranormal
Series: Beautiful Creatures #1
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

When I first heard of the Beautiful Creatures series, I was indifferent. Trailers for the movie kindled a bit of interest, but not enough to actually read the book. When I finally got around to seeing the movie, it really grabbed me. I loved how it portrayed dark and light, good and evil. We all have a little of both in us. So, I asked my cousin to borrow the books and have been lost in the Caster world since.

Summary taken from Goodreads:
Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

Garcia and Stohl have created a rich and diverse world in which its inhabitants live in shades of gray, where the line between light and dark is hazy. That line is firmly drawn, but the story explores free will and the possibility of choices being taken from us.

The characters are wonderfully constructed and despite being an old woman, I fell a little in love with Ethan Wate. From Amma’s chicken bones to Ridley’s lollipop, each player’s characteristics set them apart, even the sheeplike cliques of Jackson High. Ethan’s journey with Lena and the strange world he discovers consumed me, just as a well-written book should.

The story, of a girl who fears what her future holds and a boy with a strange connection to her neither understands, holds your interest. The plot unwinds through visions, magic, cause and effect. Theme upon theme unfold so inconspicuously that you don’t realize they are there until you reflect on the book as a whole.

Beautiful Creatures is a thoroughly enjoyable book and I wish I hadn’t taken so long to read it. Especially since the movie is so very different.

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A Reader Opines: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Published: first published 1890
Genre: Classics | British Literature | Fantasy
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Showtime’s Penny Dreadful grabbed me from episode one and has inspired me to further explore classic literature. I began by re-reading The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. It had been at least twenty-five years since I last read it and in that time, I’d forgotten much.

Summary taken from Goodreads:
The Picture of Dorian Gray was a succès de scandale. Early readers were shocked by its hints at unspeakable sins and the book was later used as evidence against Wilde at the Old Bailey in 1895. Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray sells his soul in exchange for eternal youth and beauty. Under the influence of Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life, where he is able to indulge his desires while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Only Dorian’s picture bears the traces of his decadence. A knowing account of a secret life and an analysis of the darker side of late Victorian society. The Picture of Dorian Gray offers a disturbing portrait of an individual coming face to face with the reality of his soul.

As with many classics, The Picture of Dorian Gray is written from an omniscient point of view though it sticks fairly close to Gray’s thoughts and deeds. When I was younger, I had no idea what that meant and therefore read without noticing. As a more experienced reader, and a writer, it was glaringly evident this time around and sometimes pulled me out of the story.

The setting is late nineteenth century London, for the most part, and juxtaposes the elite galas and gentlemen’s clubs of the wealthy with the opium dens and seedy underbelly of the poor and working classes.

When we meet Dorian Gray, he is an innocent young man, a bit vain, but relatively untouched by the world’s ugliness. Basil, a painter who claims Dorian has become his muse, introduces the young man to Harry (Lord Henry). The meeting, mixed with the portrait of Gray (Basil’s best work to date), is the ultimate downfall for both Basil and Dorian.

Harry is a rich, pompous and bored man who sees in Dorian a project. He is driven to squash the innocence he glimpses in the young man’s features and implies that, “youth is the one thing worth having.” ¹ This stirs something in Dorian and he becomes, “jealous of everything whose beauty does not die.” ² An impetuous plea of, “Oh, if it were only the other way! If the picture could change, and I could be always what I am now!” ³

He later regrets those words. As he commits one act of immorality, sin and pettiness after another, the painting withers becoming grotesque. Those around him age, the lines on their faces evidence of the passage of time, while Dorian’s youthful countenance remains unchanged.

There are many themes in The Picture of Dorian Gray:
• Self-worship leads to self-destruction
• Time will have its way
• Beauty is only skin deep
• Earthly pleasure can never completely satisfy a human being
• Evil appears in winsome disguises
• An abused child becomes an abusive adult ⁴
Readers could spend lifetimes studying these themes as they pertain to Dorian Gray and in fact many have.

As I read this book for a second time, I remembered the elements that made me love it and my mind has not changed. However, I now see its faults as well. There are sections that lean precariously close to boring and scenes with more than two characters often become a jigsaw puzzle of dialogue. In my opinion, it’s a book that must be read by those who wish to study literature, but isn’t for everyone and I realize that.

Download The Picture of Dorian Gray:
This book is in the Public Domain and available as a free download at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

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¹ Wilde, Oscar (1994-10-01). The Picture of Dorian Gray (p. 25). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.
² Wilde, Oscar (1994-10-01). The Picture of Dorian Gray (p. 29). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.
³ Wilde, Oscar (1994-10-01). The Picture of Dorian Gray (p. 29). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.
⁴ Cummings, Michael J. “The Picture of Dorian Gray By Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) A Study Guide.” . N.p., 1 Jan. 2005. Web. 24 June 2014.
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A Reader Opines: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

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Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Expected Publication: July 8th 2014 by St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary | Fantasy
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

I was fortunate to receive an ARC of this book through a Goodreads giveaway. I’ve been anxious to read something by Rainbow Rowell because people are raving about Fangirl and Eleanor & Park. I hope to read those books in the future.

Blurb taken from Goodreads:
Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

At the heart of Landline is the universal theme of relationships and how difficult they are to maintain. Especially when only one half does all the heavy lifting. Rowell does a beautiful job of pulling the reader’s emotional strings by stripping away the masks we all wear and exposing what lies beneath.

I’ve known people in real life much like these characters. Georgie is completely clueless and watching her grow and change is satisfying. Neal has all of these defenses firmly in place and I wonder how in the world did he wind up with Georgie. He must be a gluten for punishment. By the end of the book, I understood him much better. Seth is completely annoying, a masterful saboteur, and engineer of his own failings.

I have a love-hate relationship with Rowell’s writing style. It’s engaging and even though it took a while for me to become sucked into the story, once it finally grabbed me, it did so completely. However, there were times when it exasperated me. For instance, there were a lot of thoughts like:

Neal.

Neal, Neal, Neal.

It was difficult to picture a 30-something doing this – even if it was in her mind.

I give Landline 4 out of 5 stars because it so thoroughly manipulates the emotions. It might disappoint readers who loved her young adult books, but those that have passed the YA and New Adult stages of life will appreciate it.

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Missy does not participate in any affiliate programs and receives no compensation from the sale of this book.

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Moving Beyond Motive to Murder

coldjusticeWhen the TNT show, Cold Justice, premiered last September I found myself transfixed. It’s been a staple in my home since. I love Kelly Siegler and Yolanda McClary. They are obviously caring, compassionate and determined women who know their business and they are closing cold cases all over the country. But with each episode I find myself shaking my head and wondering how people can so callously take the life of another.

Motive is only a portion of it. Being motivated to kill is one thing, actually killing is another.

I’ll reveal something about myself that I don’t readily offer up: I’ve killed someone.

At the age of 21 I worked nights. One evening, while on my way to work, I found myself in a line of traffic, on a poorly lit two-lane highway, just after sundown. The last streaks of daylight dipped in the western sky and the headlights of oncoming cars created a halo-like glow. As I passed a grocery store, the red tail lights of the car in front of me swerved and I pressed my brakes, unsure what might be coming. In mere seconds, a head, with gray hair, hit my windshield at eye level. A shoe flew to the right. I stomped the brakes, a body rapidly flew from the hood and landed in the opposite lane. Cars were swerving to miss the body.

Now, this wasn’t something I chose. When I was informed that the man died, a guilt took up residence inside me and it didn’t leave for years. That experience makes the idea of willingly kill someone even more perplexing.

Photo provided by John O'Neill and freeimages.com

Photo provided by John O’Neill and freeimages.com

It’s rare for me to write about murder, but as a writer of mainstream/women’s fiction, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility. The one time I did take on the task, the motivation took center stage and the killer suffered from mental instability. Her reasoning was skewed and irrational. It made me uncomfortable to delve into her mind, so when it came time to write the scene in which she attempts murder suicide, I blocked all emotion and wrote clinically. No macabre images. Just the struggle, both emotionally and physically, of two people, one wanting to live the other to die.

Is that what it takes to actually commit murder? Shutting down, not thinking of action and consequence? If so, how do we explain murder in the name of jealousy and greed?

I guess the reason for this post is to query you, my readers and fellow writers. How do we go beyond motivation and get to the action of killing? Is this a subject you’ve explored before?

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Harry Potter Fans Aren’t Faithless

PotterIn the long shadow cast by the 9/11 attacks in 2001 two movie franchises hit the big screen: Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. They helped us heal and started a sort of cultural revolution. Tolkien found a new audience with the help of Peter Jackson. Rowling made reading cool for kids around the world. Young adult books have been around for many, many years, but Harry Potter pushed the genre into a new stratosphere.

I remember, very clearly, a conversation I had with a coworker about the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings books. In her mind, the wizarding world was bad and Middle Earth was good. Her reasoning rested on the fact that the Hogwart’s students learn how to cast spells. It promoted witchcraft. When I argued that the wizards of Middle Earth used magic she denied it. My chin did drop when she said that. Clearly, she knew of Tokien’s wish that “his literary insights be clearly consistent with Christianity.” ¹ She found the parallels between the Gospels and Tolkien’s work, but hadn’t bother to look for them in Rowling’s.

This debate is old news, so why am I bringing it up now? Because of a news story I read about 15 year old Cassidy Stay who survived a shooting. While her parents and siblings died execution style, “her skull was fractured by a bullet graze.” ² She managed to call 911 and warn the police that her ex uncle-in-law was on his way to kill other family members.

What really struck me about the story was her public statement at a memorial for her family on Saturday (July 12, 2014). “I know that my mom, dad, Brian, Emily, Becca and Zach are in a much better place, and that I will be able to see them again one day,” Cassidy said. This shows me she is a person of faith. So, when she also quotes Dumbledore, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light,” naysayers of the Harry Potter series would do well to stop and take notice.

Rowling herself finally revealed the Christian themes of the Harry Potter series and why she waited until the final book to speak publicly about them. You can read an article about that here. If you want to explore even further, I recommend reading How Harry Cast His Spell by John Granger. Take one minute and ten seconds out of your day and watch the video below of Cassidy Stay’s speech at her family’s memorial.

Works Cited:
1. Armstrong, Chris. “Christian History Corner: J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, a Legendary Friendship.” . Christianity Today, 1 Aug. 2003. Web. 13 July 2014. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/augustweb-only/8-25-52.0.html?paging=off.

2. Urbanski, Dave. “Teen Girl Who Survived Shooting That Claimed Her Entire Family Quotes ‘Harry Potter’ Character During Stirring Memorial in Her Hometown.” The Blaze. The Blaze, 12 July 2014. Web. 13 July 2014. http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2014/07/12/teen-girl-who-survived-shooting-that-claimed-her-entire-family-quotes-harry-potter-character-during-stirring-memorial-in-her-hometown/.

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Reel Gazing: ‘Enough Said’ Starring James Gandolfini & Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Enough SaidTitle: Enough Said (2013)
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Writer: Nicole Holofcener
Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette
Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 93 Minutes
Genre: Drama | Romance | Comedy
My Rating:

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini star in this charming comedy about a divorced woman venturing into a relationship with a sweet man. But things get tricky when she discovers the man she’s dating is the hated ex-husband of her new best friend.

The story is intended for comedic effect, but I believe it’s the subtleties that make it work. Louis-Dreyfus brings authenticity to the role of Eva, a divorcee facing an empty nest. Gandolfini, as Albert, is charming and enigmatic. The chemistry between them runs like a lazy river banking against rocks and gently disturbing the silt beneath them. The characters appeared to be natural fits for the actors.

Relationships don’t come to us fully formed and even under the best of circumstances maintaining them takes work. Eva and Albert are open to a new connection and find something rare in the other, harmony. But dating is tough, especially for people in their 40s and 50s and this couple has lived with a lot of bad mojo sloughing off of their exes. It’s enough to make anyone wary.

Marianne (Keener) is a disengaged poet with a pretentious demeanor. Eva is approaching a crossroad and desperate to avoid the vacuum the departure of her daughter will produce. The unlikely friendship between the two is perplexing. Add to the mix Eva’s longtime friends Sarah (Collette) and Will (Ben Falcone), who are seemingly in a relationship rut, and you get negativity telegraphed through wifi. The signals don’t jive and mistakes are made.

Enough Said is about choices, external influences and learning to trust, not just others but ourselves. I truly wish this movie had seen a wider audience upon its release because it’s a beautiful film. Yes there are funny moments, but the beauty lies in the undercurrents of emotion. Only a director with vision and fearless actors could produce such a gem. I highly recommend it.

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