A better word than joy?

I knew from the beginning that my second novel would be centered around the theme of joy. My first novel was all about our connection to others; I wanted this one to celebrate the authenticity of being oneself.

Because I’m the kind of person who gets carried away with an idea, I decided to center the action around the place on the globe that was exactly opposite of Nigeria, where my my first novel took place. Turns out that location is just south of the equator, smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This fact might have discouraged someone else, I but I was determined to introduce this symbolism of opposites into my already half-developed plot. So I delved deeper and discovered the island nation of Kiribati, and began to write a novel that encompassed a swath of the sea.

Just as “peace” seemed an inadequate word to describe x0, “joy” barely touched the surface of my overarching theme for y1. What I wanted was a word that meant

the sheer exhilaration that can only be found when a person is true to who they are.

We do need a word for that.

The book was orange in my head. Orange for sunsets over the Pacific and orange for crazy-strong exuberance and for all that glows. This had to be a book about the fire within.

I already knew that later in the series I would write a book that was blue, and it would be about the virtues that tug us in the other direction. I’m still struggling to find a single word that encapsulates the theme of my blue book, but I know that it is about something important, too.

Why would anyone call a collection of books 46. Ascending?

I spent most of my free time over the past six years writing a collection of six novels. I’d never written a book before and, now that I’m finishing the last one, I’m starting to puzzle through what possessed me to do such a thing.

It seemed like fun? I’d always wanted to write fiction? Why the hell not?

Part of the answer lies in something I wrote today to put at the end of the sixth book to explain to any curious reader who had stuck with me exactly why I called this collection of books 46. Ascending.

Here is how I explained it.

  1. It is an I Ching hexagram.
  2. It is what I came up with when I decided that my six proposed books could be made into an I Ching hexagram. Those with a female protagonist would have two lines and those with a male protagonist a single line and book one would be at the bottom and book six at the top because I was pretty sure that was how you were supposed to do it. I thought it was a cool idea.
  3. The lines make Sheng, the I Ching hexagram number 46, as I discovered when I looked up the above cool idea.
  4. Sheng answered the question that bothered me most. The question was not “will my books make money?” or “will I sell a lot of books?” It wasn’t even “will these be good books?” or “will I enjoy writing them?” Those would all have been fine questions. But, this I Ching hexagram answered my question “should I do this or not?”
  5. Researching Sheng, I read that “it is a time of development and progress, the direction is correct” and “hexagram 46 shows a time where a steady progression will occur where the predicted outcome is positive  and “keep working on your plans and maintain confidence in their success.” Those all sure sounded good to me.
  6. My research on 46 Ascending also put this quote in front of me. It is always better to fail in doing something than to excel in doing nothing. – Chinese Proverb . It is undoubtedly a good quote for anyone contemplating anything.
  7. I learned that Sheng was also referred to as the Symbol of Rising and Advancing, Ascending, Ascension, Rising, Promotion, Advancement, Sprouting from the Earth, and Organic Growth. Who can argue with all that?
  8. Sheng’s details included “The emphasis is on upward motion, from obscurity to influence, with growth that is supported by adaptability and an absence of obstacles.” and “Make a sincere effort to apply resolute effort against the forces of inertia, bending around obstacles that arise, and good fortune will follow.
  9. In other words, everything I read about the I Ching hexagram told me loud and clear “write the damn books.” So I did.
  10. Was the universe talking to me? Was I talking to myself? Am I lucky I didn’t put the lines in the reverse order? Those are all great questions. But the one I started to consider was how well did the hexagram fit in with the books themselves.
  11. If you asked me what this collection of books was about, from the beginning I would have told you it was about how all humans have so much more potential than they realize. We can improve, we can rise, we can ascend. Climb the mountain. Move towards the light to the south. You know. Grow.
  12. So this collection of books is named after an I Ching hexagram that not only got me off my butt and writing, but just happened to perfectly describe what it was I was trying to say. Go figure. At the least, it seemed reasonable to name the collection of books after it.

What I don’t address at the end of my novel is the question “did writing the books make me happy?” It’s an important question, but it’s important to me, and not really to my readers. That makes it a more appropriate topic for my blog.

Well …

I can tell you that I wrote these books filled with a sense of energy and purpose unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. Many days, writing wasn’t just what I wanted to do, it was all I wanted to do. It was an addiction, an obsession, and a nepenthe against all the world’s ills. I let it consume me, and I enjoyed the ride.

I emerge at the other end, tireder, older, fifteen pounds heavier and with six years of my life mysteriously gone. But, I was lucky enough to have five people in this world who loved me throughout this process and I was lucky enough to have a way to make a living while I wrote that kept serious worries away. Neither is to be taken lightly and for both I count my blessings.

Everybody always tells you to pursue your passion in life. I don’t think that “everybody” has much of an idea of all that really entails. It changes you in ways you do and don’t like. It’s not always fun. It doesn’t always turn out well, certainly not in the Hollywood kind of way.

But once you’ve done it, you can’t imagine not having done it, if that makes any sense. Like not doing it wasn’t even an option, or at least it shouldn’t have been.

Is that happiness? I’m not sure, but I think it might be something even better.

 

The real eulogy that I never gave

It was written eight years ago and it is the oldest file on my computer. I found it cleaning out a folder called “other writing” looking for any forgotten gems that I might want to roll into the book I’ve just started. It isn’t the oldest thing I’ve written of course, I’ve been doing this stuff since junior high. But most of that is all gone now. This isn’t.

I hear my own voice, from the year my mother died. I’ve changed in the passing years, and I’m not sure I agree with all of this now. But I think it is a perspective worth sharing. It’s called “Teach your children.”

You teach your children every day.  Not by what you say but by how you live your life. It is so easy to find yourself teaching them that life is drudgery, that marriage sucks, that work is to be avoided, and that you never get a fair deal.

I will never get to deliver the eulogy for my parents which I would like.  But if I could – it would go something like this.

Dalai 9The most offensive and ridiculous thing my parents ever said to me was “don’t do as I do, do as I tell you.”  They thought it was terribly funny, which made it all the worse.  And they quoted it often.  You see, my parents basically liked to drink, gamble and have sex.  And overeat. They  avoided cigarettes and drugs, although my father smoked for awhile and tried pot in his youth.  I don’t think stopping either had much to do with self restraint – rather the first was more of an aesthetes choice and the second had more to do with what vices were readily available within their social circle.

And while my parents were busy enjoying life and telling us not to, they were also, in a way they never suspected, busy teaching me and my sister.

And what were we learning?

  1. If you want to have a good marriage, have all the sex you want but only have it with your partner. Nothing else will result in love after 40 plus years and having someone love you when you are 60 is about as good as it gets.
  2. If you are going to drink alcohol, only drink after five o’ clock except on holidays and special occasions. Only get drunk on weekends and not on all of them. This works a lot better if you can manage to be a happy, or at least not a belligerent, drunk.
  3. Gamble all you want, but never ever what you cannot afford to lose.
  4. Keep you weight to within 40 pounds of your ideal.  There are a lot of ways to die and frankly odds are yours will have nothing to do with your weight if you keep it somewhere under obese. Meanwhile, you will enjoy your life a lot more.

So today – I am slightly chubby and happily married for 26 plus years.  I drink less than my parents did, which is good, but I do drink only on nights and weekends. I hate most forms of gambling but play the stock market as hobby, but of course only with what we can afford to lose. I pretty much have a great life.

It is a shame I will never get to deliver this tribute, because it brings two things to mind which should be said.

  1. I hope my husband and I have taught our children as well.
  2. Thanks Mom and Dad. I am doing what you did, not what you said, and it’s working out just fine.

Of awkwardness, birds and monsters

I have a secret motto for my writing. If I put it in my blog it isn’t going to be secret anymore, so suffice to say it has to do with leaving my fears behind as I pen my prose. I believe that if you comfort zoneconstrain yourself to write only what others expect, or what you think others want to see from you, or what you think is acceptable, then you will never write anything great.

So I was happy to see this on twitter the other day, tweeted by @HeyJamie, who is really Jamie Jo Hoang , author of “Blue Sun, Yellow Sky.” I’m not a big liker and re-tweeter, but this got them both.

Which brings me to the song “Of Moons, Birds and Monsters” by MGMT. Not the song itself, which I’ve loved ever since the first time I heard it because it somehow makes me think of magic, but rather my mention of the song in my novel y1 and the scene it was used in.

y1 is the story of a young man who can reshape his body at will. This is all well and good for his solving crimes but if you start to think about it a little more, sooner or later you end up doing this.

Zane had seldom altered his shape to appear female, but except for his height there was no particular barrier to doing so. He could approximate breasts and wider hips. A wig would work wonders. He could add years, and a more ambiguous ethnicity. He would practice making himself as short as possible. The stooping of age would help. Meanwhile, he needed to learn more about a part of Penthes that he had, up till now, ignored, like most people. That was the beauty of the janitorial group. They just did not get a lot of attention.

In his office, Zane began to gather supplies. A janitor’s jumpsuit just a bit too small for Zane, women’s sneakers, and an unattractive salt and pepper woman’s wig were locked in this bottom left drawer along with an old iPod holding the brightest, shiniest pieces of electronic dance music and remixes that Zane had been able to find.

This last item was so much more than his favorite songs. Over the past months he had discovered how he could use music as a tool to push his body to new limits, with the music he loved helping him concentrate as he became ever more adept at controlling his appearance at will. He had finally, reluctantly, let himself begin to refer to his gift in his own mind as “shape shifting” and he now thought of this particular music as his cache of shape shifting songs.

He plugged the iPod into his computer and let himself enjoy the wonderful Holy Ghost remix of MGMT’s “Of Moons, Birds and Monsters.” Zane savored the ocean imagery and the upbeat tempo of the song for a moment, then as he began to coax his body into another form, Zane tried to imagine how wonder itself might be shaped.

IMG_1625I don’t write erotica, so I didn’t end up taking this nearly as far as it could have gone, and yet, well, my hero’s inevitable transformation from male body to female body made me squirm a little at the fuzzy line between the genders. It was probably a good squirm for me to have, given that I live in a world that increasingly acknowledges how complicated human sexuality is and encourages every human to discover and be in the shape that is right for them.  I welcome this enlightened acceptance, but philosophical agreement doesn’t always convey complete ease with something, at least not right away.

So, as so often happens, my writing took me out of my comfort zone and I was the one who gained the most from it. My hero Zane changed his gender a few times before the book was over. I don’t know what my various readers thought of it, but by the last edit of y1, I was better off.

Back to twitter. One of my other favorite tweets came via writer Jose Iriarte, who described himself in third person as “a Cuban-American writer and high school math teacher …  [who] writes because he can’t afford therapy.”

Exactly.  Except for the Cuban-American and math teacher part, of course. Otherwise, that’s it exactly.

While pondering your own monsters and other discomfort zones, you can listen to and enjoy Zane’s favorite Holy Ghost Remix of “Of Moons, Birds and Monsters.”

 

 

y1: new synopsis and my 3 favorite excerpts

I’m talking a close look at my older blogs, making sure that they are up to date and that they represent my earlier novels well. I’ve added my latest book synopsis and placed a few of my favorite excerpts on a page for permanent reference, and thought I would post these improvements as a blog post as well. Enjoy!

y1 is the second novel in the loosely interrelated collection known as 46. Ascending. Each novel tells the tale of an otherwise normal person coming to terms with having unusual abilities. This page contains a short description of the book y1 followed by three of my favorite excerpts from the first part of the novel. To read more, please purchase y1 at at smashwords.com, at amazon.com, or at Barnes and Noble

Zane swore as a child to protect all the odd people of the world, studying chameleons and muscle groups to teach himself to alter his own appearance. No longer a young boy too smart and too different to fit in, Zane starts his first job at a pharmaceutical company where he uncovers layers of corporate secrets that hide surprisingly vile plans. Once he is sent on a sales trip to the South Pacific, it becomes clear that there are those who would kill to protect the mysteries that the company has worked so hard to keep hidden.

Charged with murder and hunted by an unsavory boot camp manager, he finds himself sailing to remote islands with a shadowy group known as y1. As a young gay man sometimes forced to hide his true nature at home, Zane discovers love with a young man of the Pacific whose past and whose talents are every bit as unusual.

Fantasy, reality and speculative science come together as Zane must find a way to use all of his unique abilities to resist turning from a murder suspect into a murder victim. He still plans to keep his childhood promise, if he can only live long enough to do so.

Excerpt 1:

At the end of February, the television kept talking about a bomb which had gone off in the parking garage of some giant building in New York, killing five people. The man on the TV said the bomb had ended the belief that Americans were safe from attack.

His mom had taken him and Ariel to see Aladdin for a second time at the dollar theater because they had both liked it so much. The movie’s hit song, “A Whole New World,” had just made its way into the number one spot on the charts. Zane sang the title to himself. “A whole new world …” He didn’t sing very well, but Zane had liked the movie. He liked all stories about creatures with special powers, and he thought that the genie was really funny.

Zane was glad that no one else was upstairs with him that day as he sang because after Balthazar gave Zane one of his one-eyed knowing looks, his reptilian skin made its first transition from subtle greens and browns to a spectacular bright orange. Zane grinned. He didn’t know what orange meant with other chameleons, but Zane felt sure that it meant that Balthazar was very happy.

Then Zane took a deep breath. Forcing back his fear, he made himself remember that time last summer. That time he had been so scared. Every so often Zane’s dad made him go outside and play with whoever was around, and he had been playing hide and seek with neighbor boys he didn’t really like because they did more mean things than most. On this day, Zane had taken great pains to conceal himself particularly well because he especially did not like to be “it” with these guys.

As the one boy came close to the bushes in which Zane was so carefully hidden, Zane had noticed his bare foot was still sticking out onto the orange-brown soil. He dare not move it now. So he had thought hard about his foot muscles and did his best to flatten the foot tight against the ground, and to hold it very still. While he did this thing, the skin on his foot had started to burn and itch too. Zane looked at it, alarmed at first, and saw that his foot was blushing. At least, it had turned a shade of red orange brown that mimicked the dirt. And that had been his first inkling that he could do more than make his body’s shape twist and warp a little more than most people could. Zane had watched his orange brown foot in fascination while the neighbor boy ran on by.

Afterwards, Zane worried that he had imagined it. But then every so often after that, Zane’s skin would surprise him, just like his muscles had already sometimes surprised him with what they could do. After awhile, he could feel a color change coming, this kind of burning feeling, and he knew what to expect. So he finally figured that he needed a teacher. A wise teacher. Like Balthazar.

Zane watched the chameleon’s orange skin with fascination.

“Can I learn to do that when I want to, wise one?” he asked.

He tried hard to make the feeling inside that he felt when his skin did this all by itself. He concentrated hard on his arm. At first nothing happened. Then, yes. He felt the feeling. He made the feeling. His skin on his arm went from its normal light tan to a tan orange.

“You and I are going to be great friends,” Zane told the chameleon quietly. “You are going to help teach me ways to fight the bullies in this world. And you are the only one who is going to get to know just how really strange I am.”

Zane could have sworn that Balthazar turned even brighter in delight.

Excerpt 2:

Toby was considering whether he should buy more pineapples. Samoan pineapples were consistently tasty and he loved them, but he didn’t want to buy more than he could eat before they spoiled. He was also concerned he had bought more fish than he could eat, but it was too late to remedy that.

He looked behind him and saw a young man with unusually straight jet-black hair and a Polynesian’s round face that held East Asian eyes. A genetic blend of the Pacific Rim, the young man was wandering along the dock near the back of his boat. He was thin and wiry for a local, and looked harmless as he took off his shirt and shoes as though he were thinking of jumping into the water. Toby glanced away, giving himself one last minute to enjoy the sight of the pretty harbor with the older wooden houses and shops framed by the fast-rising hills and dense trees.

He smiled at Aggie Grey’s famous hotel, where yesterday he had been pleased to enjoy essentially the same hamburger as those that the legendary lady had served to America’s servicemen in World War II. You had to appreciate a tourist place that served such good food and had such a fine story to tell. And you had to appreciate a harbor town that in today’s world had maintained a feeling of existing somewhere between the 1800s and the 1950s.

As he nodded to the stately twin spires of the Roman Catholic Cathedral that had guided him in safely between Apia Harbor’s two reefs at least a dozen times over the last few years, he heard a splash that he assumed had been made by the young man going for his swim. He turned and focused on getting the rest of his gear aboard and heading out.

He was just starting his engine, always preferring to use it to get easily in and out of a harbor, when he noticed three stout Samoan men wearing the traditional wrap around lava-lavas marching out towards his boat as though they had just made a decision.

The oldest of the three waved at him and shouted. “Stop your engines. We need to check your boat for a missing boy. We saw him heading out onto this dock.”

“Oh, sure, I saw him,” Toby yelled back as he waved a hand agreeably, pointing towards a shirt lying on the wooden pier. “He jumped in the water here. A little odd, but no harm done. He didn’t bother me.”

“We’d like to make sure he’s not on your boat,” the Samoan persisted as the three men approached the craft. Toby shrugged. “Look for yourself.”

Toby thought, I wonder what happened to the boy’s shoes?

There wasn’t that much looking to do on his vessel. There was seating for up to six above deck, and a cabin with a head and separate shower, a compact galley area and sleeping arrangements for up to five, depending on what was raised or lowered and how. The men boarded without further courtesy, which irked Toby a little. He was sensitive to people walking into his home. One man methodically began opening each of his storage areas above deck, while another descended below and opened the door to the head to reveal a small toilet seat with no one on it.

“I’ve been right here. I promise you he is not onboard,” Toby added with growing irritation, not so anxious to have this bunch of strangers pawing through all his possessions, legal though they were. “Please gentleman, I would like to be on my way.”

The man who had opened the door to the head ignored him, opening the larger storage areas located below deck, starting with those beneath his sleeping and sitting areas. One was filled with kitchen supplies, another held clothes and toiletries, yet another lifejackets. He shrugged to his cohorts.

“We guess he jumped in the water then. Let us know if you see him. He could be dangerous.”

Toby’s dark brown eyes widened. “What’s he done?”

“We don’t know details. He’s one of the young men being kept at one of those special schools for troubled teens here on the island. We have a few of them. These kids are lavished with good care and opportunities to grow into decent adults, but sometimes they don’t realize what they’ve been given, and they try to escape so that they can return to their old and troubled ways. We help the school by returning the misguided ones. He’s better off at this school, believe me. So if he does turn up, do him a favor and let us know.”

“I will. Thanks for telling me.”

Well that was a new one, Toby thought. Maybe these men had a point. He didn’t even realize that there were schools for, what, misguided youth on Samoa? Go figure.

He had just gotten safely past both reefs and was tacking slightly under a nice slow breeze, heading northwest on a course for Funafuti, when he decided to go below and grab some water. A movement caught his eye. The lid to one of the smaller storage areas tucked around in the back of the cabin was opening slowly. Surely a person could not have fit into that space? Toby felt a surge of fear, and looked around for something that might do as a weapon.

He grabbed a knife as the stowaway tumbled to the floor in a mess of ropes. The small young man in the briefest of underwear rose slowly, shook himself as he stood, then turned around, with apology in his eyes, to face Toby.

“I am so sorry about this. And I am so sorry about no clothes. Please do not hurt me. Please.”

Toby took a deep breath and decided to hear the other side to the story.

Excerpt 3:

It was hard not to like Peter Hulson when one actually talked to him in person. In spite of his age he had a liveliness about him, and his still sharp, bright blue eyes were probing but not unfriendly. He shook Zane’s hand warmly, gestured him onto a soft green velvet-covered settee and offered Zane water or coffee. Zane passed, although he wasn’t sure if it was more rude to accept or to decline. He allowed himself an appreciative peek at the surprisingly unobstructed view of Lake Michigan that the top floor provided.

“I’ll get right to the point, young man,” Peter began, drawing his attention back. “It’s well known that I am always seeking bright new young people here, and that I like to mentor them myself. I get a fair amount of grief from my VPs about it being beneath my pay grade, but the fact is that I want my company to not just exist but to thrive for a very long time. The way I see it, that only happens if I can hand the reins over to not one but at least two more generations of focused, brilliant, committed successors.”

A swirl of sorrow came and went from his face so quickly that Zane thought that he might have imagined it. The older man kept talking.

“I’m finding that these brilliant, committed successors are a bit in short supply. But, you’ve landed on our doorstep with excellent grades from an excellent school—did you know that Penthes sponsors a neuroscience scholarship at your alma mater?—and managed to get yourself in a position reporting directly to my director of sales and marketing. Word is that she thinks that you have excellent potential.”

Zane tried to smile appreciatively.

“Excellent potential.” Peter repeated the words for emphasis. “I don’t think there are two finer words in the English language, young man, than ‘excellent potential.’ So I’d like to personally do what I can to, well, encourage you.”

Zane tried to make the smile even more appreciative because he just didn’t know what to say.

“Would you consider a trip to Fiji to be encouragement?”

Okay, he could answer this one.

“Yes. I think most people would.”

The older man chuckled. “Good, good. Brenda and Gil are in the process of putting together a very important conference for us. I have told them to spare no expense. Raju has assured me that we are near approval for our latest R&D endeavor, a specific cocktail of some of our older drugs, designed in such a way as to particularly target the problems of anger and rebellion sometimes found in older children and younger teenagers. We believe that we could save untold numbers of families huge amounts of grief if instead of hostility and even illegal behavior in this age group we could provide a treatment which would result in more mature and acceptable choices being made by these young people. Mind you, the drugs aren’t new, but the combination and the approach are. And this conference in Fiji is designed to introduce our new product in the most favorable light possible. The success of this conference is important to the future of this company.

“So, I’ve okayed sending Brenda to Fiji late this month to do a recon. In spite of you being new, I want you to go with her. Help her with travel and logistics, but also keep your eyes open and your brain on and to help us to find ways to make this little symposium a huge success. Have ideas for us, Zane. Think for us. Will you do that?”

Of course Zane said yes. He said it sincerely and shook the man’s hand and thanked him. Because Zane wasn’t an idiot.

But on the ride back down on the elevator, Zane kept seeing his fourteen-year-old sister Teddie’s face. She had anger. She had issues. More than he had at that age, for sure. But she also had a huge heart and a creative streak a mile wide and Zane really wondered if both Teddie and the world would be better off if some doctor was totally convinced that she should be medicated.