Where Ladybugs Roar

Confessions and Passions of a Compulsive Writer

Monday, January 30, 2012

YA Books and the Absentee Parents

Over the weekend, we got into a discussion on Twitter about Disney cartoons and the scarcity of sets of parents in them. (This conversation carried on between the husband and I as we ran errands--the husband went through all the live action movies by Disney on the hunt for complete sets of parents--which are rare.)  (You can play this game at home.  Establish a safe word if you're playing between spouses so neither of you gets into a snit over the Parent Trap.)

This is something that comes up frequently in discussion among those that write and read Young Adult books. Parents are killed-off as either part of a tragic backstory or to move forward the plot or just to keep them from hindering the adventure.  Sometimes, the parents' divorce is impetus for a teen's exploration of independence or the fact that only one parent is present means a lack of supervision.  Woo!  No supervision! Sometimes, parents just don't care and are in the house at the same time as a teenage werewolf boyfriend for months and they never notice... ever... at all.  (I'm not going to mention any specifics here.)  Sometimes, the parents leave on trips, or work or... whatever.  You get the point.  They're not around.  FREEEDOM!

Let me break to say, so I'm not completely coming off as hypocritical: I stank of this plot device. In fact, let's tally it up.

Sentinel's Run: One character with two dead parents.  The other is sent off to a war setting to fight for the humans.  (Teens = 2, Parents = 0)

Good Girls Don't Date Mutants: One character's mother kills his father. (Doh!  Tragic backstory alert!) The other (age 17) has two uber-responsible parents---who leave her alone while they go on a quick trip.  (The shame is high with this one.) (Teens = 2, Parents = 3, but 2 go AWOL, and the other is a murderess.)

Secrets of Skin and Stone: Piper has two very involved parents.  Gris has two involved parents--but he's over 18 and doesn't live with them. (Teens = 2, Parents = 4)

Scorched: Sidra has two parents who've gone through a bitter divorce and a step-mom just slightly older than herself. (Tragic backstory in overdrive.)  Asher has two dead parents--part of his tragic backstory. (Teens = 2, Parents = 2, divorced)

Curse Me A Story: Sheri has a mother and a very involved step-father. Thomas has two dead parents--both part of his tragic backstory. *sighs* (Don't judge me.) (Teens = 2, Parents = 1 1/2)

The Unseen Kingdom: In my defense, this is based on the Odyssey and it's not my fault that Odysseus is gone for most of that story--he's like the ultimate of absentee parenting.  And, technically, the female lead in this has a very active dead father because she can communicate with the spirit world. Actually, I don't want to talk about this.  (Teens = 2, Parents = I don't even know how to tally this one--one is AWOL and the other has a dead but involved parent.)

I have to say, though... while this plot device/impetus might be applied frequently, it's so completely useful!  Wait, that came out wrong.  It's very hard to write exciting stories when two sets of involved parents are there preventing their teens (or younger) from getting into trouble. (Not that it can't be done....) As a teen, most of the moments that I remember as being fun and exciting--didn't involve my parents.

(cyber gasp)

I have super responsible parents.  If they could prevent it, they tried to keep me out of danger or from making mistakes that would contribute to a tragic backstory.  I never could have had a werewolf boyfriend in my room for months.  They probably wouldn't have let me put myself in a position to be kidnapped and nearly killed by vampires.  There was no way I'd be sent off to a boarding school where I'd discover I had magical powers--though, this I'm mostly blaming on the adequacy of public education and our middle class income. I'm sure there were times they'd have liked to send me off to boarding school.

Also, I realize I'm lucky to have parents still married and that two parent families aren't a requisite for happiness or responsible parenting.

Also, some stories are about growing up in a less-than-perfect homelife.

So, I'm not sure where I was going with this blog post other than to say that I find it interesting how other writers handle parents in their plots and to introduce the find-the-parents-in-Disney-shows game.

Also, my kids will never have any cool adventures.  That's the goal.  Just sayin.

So, what do you think?  How have you handled parents in writing?  Does your tally look as shameful as mine?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Being Incomparable

I don't know if other writers suffer from this, but whether I'm doing well in my writing life or poorly, I need to compare myself to other writers--their success, their failure, their path to publication.  I hate this about me.  I wish I could stop.  I hate especially when I find myself lacking, but I hate it even more when I find others behind me and take some pleasure in that.  I'm not sure where this vindictive side to me resides--this bit of me that enjoys seeing others fail--because I don't feed it or indulge it, and I kick it out whenever it slinks into view.  It's like the rat in the house of my mind.  It's there--I know it's there--it leaves droppings.

The crazy thing is that you can't compare.  It's not as if any of our paths parallel to the point you can see where someone made the right decision and you made the wrong one or vice versa.  There is no way to say, "I could have been there if only I'd...."  Life doesn't work that way.  I know this.  I believe it.

Yet... the rat.

I was talking with a friend about coveting a week or so ago, and they brought up the point that coveting is more than actual envy.  Coveting begins with not being content with what you have.  I mean, this in no way means you should lack ambition or the drive to improve yourself, but if that drive overwhelms your ability to be happy at the point you're at--then you'll never be happy.  There it is.  You'll never be happy.  If you're waiting for something to happen before you can be happy, there will always be something to wait for.

I don't know what the answer is by the way.  I feel like I was discontented most of 2011 for one reason or another--mostly related to my writing.  I feel like the rat has made a nest in my mind and invited in some buddies.  Today, sloth and gluttony are out to play and leave droppings.  (I'm supposed to be working on that revision, but I've been eating chocolate instead.) (Mmm. Chocolate.)

So far, I've found some success in just getting back to writing or revising.  If I'm working my tail off, I tend to keep too busy to envy or covet the success of others.  I don't have time to compare as much.  I get lost in the worlds I created and there is satisfaction in that... in being in another world and creating.  I didn't write as much in 2011, and I think that contributed to my discontent. It seems ridiculous to have to remind myself that "writers write" but if you've spent much of a year buried deep in revision... the correlation of "writers revise and revise and revise" is also true.  Revision doesn't seem to keep envy as far away, and I think I spent 3/4 of last year's "writing" time actually revising.

I also fake it until I can feel it.  I really do appreciate and enjoy the success of others--even if I envy them initially.  I love that friends are finding success--even if I feel a bit left out.  The emotion is there--even if the spirit follows a little behind my initial "woo" and confetti.  I love that others are successful... even if the rat is lurking in the corner wishing I was there with them.  Like I said, I don't feed the thing--I think it lives on the cupcake crumbs I drop.

Lately, I've also tried to avoid diving into online conflict.  That's more my personality than something new, though.  I've never been comfortable with conflict or arguments.  I'm the middle child in my family, and they tend to be peacemakers by nature... and that's how I've been most of my life.  I hate arguing.  I hate seeing it.  It does seem to breed discontent. I've seen people content with their lives until other peoples are discontent and suddenly they hate their lives.

Finally, I'll have to admit that social media isn't a true window into other people's worlds.  If you find yourself thinking that their lives are all too good to be true--they are.  With the exception of crazies like me or chatterboxes, many people use social media to build either a cheering section or a sob corner.  (I, of course, use it to tweet pictures of Mountain Dew's effect in my day-to-day life.)  You tend to see the extremes of most people in social media.  Some people will only tweet once or twice a day--so, of course, they're going to say something significant and usually something flattering to themselves or to engage others--depending on what they need emotionally. Or they'll tweet pictures of food... which is cool by me.  I love pictures of food.  The point is that no matter how much someone tweets, you're not in their shoes.  You're nowhere near their shoes.  You're like their nice dressy scarf... maybe. You go pretty places and get dragged out for funerals, but you're not seeing their life.

So, that's where I am... what I'm doing.  I'm trying not to compare myself to others, and I hope no one is comparing themselves to me and coming up lacking.  When my kids were having a lot of success in overcoming their delays, I was talking to someone who had a child a bit younger than B.  I remember one day she said, with a bit of hysteria in her voice, "What are you doing differently?  I'm doing everything you're doing!  I'm doing more than you're doing!  Why is it working for you and not for me?"  She even told me she envied me--that she was jealous of me and my children's success. Of course, comparing children with Autism is a lot like comparing writing careers when it comes right down to it.  You have different children.  Your paths are different.  Also, what I learned from this was that it didn't feel good.  Whether you're the person being envied or the envier--there is a sour sense that goes with it.  In fact... it made me discontent.

I'm also taking vitamins.  I know that's rather out from left field, but this is the winter of our discontent because I'm not getting enough Vitamin D from the sun, and it's making me cranky.  If you start out cranky, it takes a bit to pull up from there.

*gives you a significant look* Don't forget to take your vitamins.  I worry about your health.  Really.  Yours.

So, how do you deal with not comparing yourself?  Or is that just my problem and I'm a freak?  (Wait... just answer the first part.)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

That's Deep--Real Deep

So, this is NOT a post about my OCD.  I know.  Weird, isn't it?  I've been working from lists all week and I'm not sure if it's the illusion of control or actual control, but I feel like I'm doing better, and I'm definitely accomplishing more.  There is the possibility that lists might become an obsession themselves, but I hope not.

So, while I'm waiting on various editing notes from various sources, I'm working on revision of Good Girls Don't Date Mutants--which I originally wrote nearly three years ago.  It's gone through many, many revisions already.  It had some plot issues--a major plot issue in fact--it had stalking that was just a smidge less severe than Twilight's.  It gained and lost a point of view.  The chapters have gotten smaller and more numerous--which I don't like--and I'm fixing. It's gained epistolary inserts between chapters--which I really like--but I wouldn't be surprised if they get discarded as being too cute or something.

This manuscript started out life in third person--just third person for the most part.  Then, I switched it to first person.  Now, I'm switching it to third person deep.  Typically this would seem like a frustrating set of changes--to switch it back to the original point-of-view makes you just want to shake the characters and ask them why you changed in it the first place.  On the other hand, third person deep will still retain some of the inner dialogue from first person, so it's helped the story evolve. Wanna see?  You know you do...

Okay, this is from Lucas's POV.  This story is set in contemporary society but there are a secret group of mutants living among us.  Lucas is a member of the Strain--his genetics give him super-human powers, and he thrives on bacteria--the same bacteria that would kill "Outsiders" i.e. the rest of the world.  He's studying botulism in his lab.  Botulism is the Strain's version of a narcotic.  His mother is a sociopath and an assassin... and GO:

First, flat third person:

“Hello, my lovely,” his mother said while breezing in.  “What are we studying today, Lucas?”
“Botulism,” Lucas said.
“How delightful… are we studying or partaking?” she asked, sliding onto a stool beside him.
He glared at her… which made her laugh.

Second, its trip through first person where it picked up all the character's thoughts. 

“Hello, my lovely,” my mother said, breezing in.  “What are we studying today, Lucas?”
Damn.  If only I’d put this away and been working on something else.  Prevarication was out—she’d know.
“Botulism,” I said.
“How delightful!  Are we studying or partaking?”  She slid onto a stool beside me.
I glared at her—which made her laugh.  This wasn’t unusual.  She often found my serious nature amusing.

Finally, here we are in third person deep:

“What are we studying today, Lucas?”  His mother stepped up to his microscope and peered in.
Damn.  If only he’d put this away and been working on something else.  Prevarication was out—she’d know.
“How delightful!  Are we studying or partaking?”  She slid onto a stool beside him.
Lucas glared at her—which made her laugh.  This wasn’t unusual.  She often found his serious nature amusing.

Another thing that this--rather laborious method of arrival added was that Hallie has a southern accent and during the first person conversion I added accent and voice to her character. Much of that will stay in third person deep.  On the one hand, I might rather sell my soul than switch something from third person to first person and then back again just to gain insight into the characters' thoughts, but I can't argue with the resulting nuances it's added.

Still, don't do it.  It's a misery.

If you have other questions on third person deep--and I have--I asked a bunch on Twitter two nights back actually after I read this post by Liz Pelletier: Demystifying Deep POV Liz is the publisher and lead editor at Entangled Publishing.  That post is really helpful.  She and I exchanged several tweets on whether Hallie should keep her slang in the narrative portions of the story. This post: What is Deep POV on the The Editor's Blog is also useful.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Eating a Frog--One Gulp at a Time

So, just after the beginning of the year, I bought this book:

I'd hoped it would help me with my OCD and the procrastination it induces.  It's getting to be ridiculous how much control my OCD has over my decisions--as I mentioned in the previous post.  The one thing you should know about those with OCD--it's all about control.  We use compulsive behaviors to gain control.  We avoid things to maintain control.  We fuss over things--for control.  We hide our OCD because we don't want you to think we're not in control.  One of the most profound influences in our lives is this balance of control.  Does our OCD control us or do we control our obsessions?  I'd rather use compulsive behavior to maintain control than go without control.  It's that vital. 

So, the premise of the book is based on the Mark Twain quote: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”  In order to tackle procrastination, you prioritize the biggest and ugliest frog and eat it first thing.  The book outlines how best to make use of your time and how to prioritize.  It was really fascinating actually.  One thing the author mentioned that stuck with me was that a feeling of success releases endorphins, and I've mentioned that I'm a total endorphin junkie--it's why I run.  Endorphins also help moderate my OCD.  On the other hand, the things I've been tackling and procrastinating--housework, laundry, dishes, etc... don't ever actually give you that feeling of success and closure--and I spend a decent amount of time procrastinating them because I hate them. 

Much of the book wasn't aimed at those who don't work outside the home, but it could be adapted easily enough. One of the habits I've fallen out of over the years is lists of goals, both long-term and short-term. I know that's helped in the past.  I think I'm going to start making a list in the morning of what I plan to do that day. 

When I wrote the last post on Friday, I was sure the only available avenue was medication.  Don't get me wrong, medication is more than just a viable solution, especially hand-in-hand with proper exercise and diet.  On the other hand, everything that goes with the medication is brutal.  Anyway, tomorrow I thought I'd try some of the things suggested in the book to try and calm my OCD and channel it.  

So, I mentioned that I can't read books by friends because of my OCD.  I realize now that was unclear.  I can, of course, force myself to read books.  I do it once a month for Book Club.  The backlash is that I won't be able to sleep at night, and I'll obsess over what would come of telling the author I read their book for days.  Some things are worth going without sleep for--some things are not.  This is iffy in my mind.  Beta reading lately has pushed me into wicked insomnia streaks that can last weeks.  I am still trying to work on this, and I've come up with a few possible work-arounds.  I'm thinking of telling myself it's research and then also reading my list in alphabetical order.  The temptation is to do it from Z to A because I go counter-clockwise and backwards whenever possible.  On the other hand, Kiersten White's third book in her trilogy isn't out yet but might be if I go the proper direction. My TBR category is up to 99 books, though, so maybe not.  Anyway, by determining to go in alphabetical order and then letting fate pick that order--I'm in control again. Also, I really like letting fate decide things.  Many with OCD are superstitious to the nth degree.  I'm one of those. 

I don't know how much the book will help--though I enjoyed reading it, and I highlighted throughout.  I think I can use it to control my OCD.  The solution may still be to go back on medication.  I'm surprised I've lasted off of medication as long as I have.  I never thought I'd manage longer than a year.  Perhaps I shouldn't have.  OCD is a tricky beast.  Maybe with a few tricks from this book, I'll tame it... a bit... maybe.  I hope. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

OCD. It's what's for dinner... and breakfast... and snacks...

I've mentioned this the last few days on Twitter, but my OCD lately has been really bad.  Really bad.  If you've come in the line of fire from my very pleasant personality these last few weeks, I apologize.  If I've offended you, I'm sorry.  By nature, I try never to offend or hurt anyone.  I didn't mean it.  My intention is never to hurt anyone.  Ever.  I feel out of control--like I'm on a roller coaster holding on to the outside of the coaster and hanging on for dear life.  I can't seem to dig in and get a handle on it.

Typically, my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is vexed by a few different triggers.  Hormones is a big one--one that I can't seem to work around right now, though I've tried various things when I was medicated.  Estrogen patches were nice to regulate it, but they gave me nightmares--fairly horrific nightmares actually.  Since I'm not currently seeing my doctor, even that isn't an option. I'm trying vitamins to control my hormones, but they're a piss-poor substitute for actual control.

Stress is another trigger.  Another thing I can't really seem to help with.  The funny thing about stress is that as my OCD escalates, it too becomes a stressor... so it cycles back to this never-ending push towards worse days.  Clearly, we're just through the holidays so stress is almost expected.  We had a lot of sickness over the holidays, though... the puking kind... and germs and body fluids are not my friend.  I have "contamination" issues as my strongest OCD symptom.

I was at a church thing on Wednesday and one of my friends (who would be the polar opposite of me for mental health issues) said, "Just so you know, my daughter had strep and impetigo on Sunday, but she's just finished 24 hours of meds, so she's no longer contagious." My skin wouldn't stop itching from pretend contamination.  I always err on the side of extreme and total caution when it comes to germs... far past what is reasonable.  So, germs or the possibility of germs... always get to me.  That same friend also licked her right index finger while dishing out ice cream and I said, "Did you know you just licked your finger?"  She said, "Yes, but it won't come into contact with the food."  I continued to stare at her finger... and stare... and stare... until I moved down the line because I couldn't handle it anymore.  She has no issues with contamination.  I have severe issues--and that's on me.  I have to remind myself she is the normal one.

Another trigger is poor sleeping--which is both a symptom and a trigger.  Over the holidays, I got nailed with some really intense insomnia.  Most times, I didn't get to sleep before 3 a.m. despite hours of trying.  One night, I saw the hairy side of 5 a.m.  It was miserable.  I'm lying there, thinking of everything and trying to think of nothing... and I just can't sleep.  I even took one of my sleeping pills that should have knocked out an elephant. It didn't work at all. The insomnia jag finally broke a couple days ago.

Insomnia often leads to depression for me--a deep-rooted depression that is more about chemicals inside my brain.  It's an illusion of depression.  I feel hopeless and despondent as if I'll never catch up and never be okay, but it's chemicals and smoke and mirrors.  It's not real. It sucks to be depressed without reason and to know you can't fix it. The depression becomes a stressor also--I hate irony.

Diet and exercise are good ways to control it, but they can only do so much... and when my asthma is acting up or I'm injured, exercise won't help.  Poor health is a trigger.  Sickness, not exercising, and eating crappy--all come back to bite me.

Okay, so those are some of the main reasons my OCD is bad.

Some of the symptoms you might not realize are symptoms:

I binge on things and collect things.  If I take up a hobby, I have to have everything I could possibly need for that hobby.  Scrapbooking, beading, and painting have all been binge hobbies where I have more than I'd ever need for those.  This last bout, it was holiday-themed books, stories, and anthologies.  I have read more Christmas-themed stories in the last three weeks than probably all my followers combined.  I had to have access to all of them.  I read them with an obsessive drive that was terrifying.  Some days, I'd read three novels--just to quiet the need.

Avoidance.  My husband was home and drove nearly everywhere we went.  I've always hated driving, but my destinations are limited during an OCD bout to destinations where I know where I'll be parking.  I have to know where I'll be parking in order to even go there in the first place.  Also, I'm afraid to drive cars that aren't running perfectly... which has been a difficult job for my husband this year.  Our cars are getting older--and he's been kept on his toes trying to keep them running.  He's brilliant but we've had a limited budget for car upkeep.  At least we went places over the holidays because my husband is as sane as I am insane.  He drove and I sat clutching the armrest and hoping we didn't die in a fiery wreck or be unable to find a parking spot--which are on the same level for me.

Avoidance goes deeper than you'd guess.  If I've bought your book or you've recommended a book to me--I haven't read it.  I can tell you that right now.  I want to.  I want to read it with all my heart.  It's in a category in my Kindle that says "Books I'm Anxious To Read" but the anxiety involved is stronger than my will.  I'm absolutely paralyzed by the worry that I might not like it, and I might have to tell you something less than the truth.  It's the reason why I read my book club books the day of the book club--I have a paralyzing phobia of not liking a recommended book.  I'm an obsessively honest person, and the thought of lying is horribly repugnant to me.  I'm really trying to overcome this.  I want to overcome this.  But, right now, it's stronger than I am.  I'm sorry.  I'll continue to buy books of friends and continue to ask for recommendations, but it's not something going easily into that good night.  I'm trying.  That's the best I can give you right now.

Then, there are some of the obvious symptoms.  I'm wearing non-latex disposable gloves to do some things.  I'm washing my hands so frequently that my knuckles are cracking.  I want to stay inside my house and never leave because the world is a scary ugly place full of contamination.  I'm triple checking everything--locks, the oven being off, the signature on checks, the innards of envelopes, anything I've written for transposing errors, etc.  These are the things you expect of OCD, though.

I'm sorry my OCD is making me be a bad friend, an impatient person... it's even making me into a lousy mother and wife.  I'm trying.  If nothing else, believe I'm obsessing about doing better and being less of a hot mess of dysfunction.  I'm trying more than I'm coping.  I'm trying more than I'm giving up.  I'm really trying.

I have severe OCD.  It's not just bad.  It's not just complex.  It's severe, and it's clinical, and it doesn't take vacations.  I should be medicated again.  I just can't seem to bring myself to start throwing money at it--and me being medicated is expensive... and there are side effects beyond the financial drain that I've mentioned before.  The physical side effects are such that I wouldn't wish them on my worst enemy... not that I have an enemy who comes to mind.  I wouldn't wish the side effects on anyone, though.

Okay, this was a novel.  If you made it through, thank you.  If you didn't, dude, there's no shame.  LOL.  This was far too long.  I just wanted to explain why I am the way I am.

If you ever have any questions about OCD, I'm obviously very open about it.  I haven't always been, but I am now.  My daughter has OCD and it's not a dirty secret.  It can't be.  I refuse to let my daughter grow up thinking she has to hide the symptoms and seek unhealthy outlets to cope.  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental illness, though, and it's pervasive and vicious.  It creeps into everything I do.  It's like a liquid... it fills up the spaces I leave for it.  Right now, there are a lot of spaces in my life for it to crawl into it.

Starting a new year freed me up a bit, though.  I can consign all of last year's worries and awful situations to a number--2011.  I can say, "That was a bad year," and move on.  2012 isn't going great at this point.  My daughter's favorite teacher and my favorite teacher at the school--apparently has cancer.  I'm struggling to keep personal relationships from feeling the strain I'm under.  My kids are both struggling either quietly or violently with issues related to their Autism or sensory issues.  2012 is not the beautiful new day I'd love for it to be.  It's a new number.  Still, it is new and that's something.

Thanks for listening.