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It Began with a Typewriter…

For a hook, this line might not be as compelling as “Once upon a time…” or “On a dark and stormy night…”. However, it is perfect to begin sharing my odyssey as a writer.

Once upon a time, (sorry, couldn’t resist) I was a twenty-one-year-old wife wishing to make a career change. What? At such a young age? No, it didn’t involve leaving my husband of one year.

To help pay the bills, I took a job as a nurse assistant in a nursing home. While a nice private facility which paid better than minimum wage, it was still a difficult place to work. Especially when you are a sensitive, creative soul who might weigh 100 lbs. wet. Many of the residents were bigger than me, and not all of them appreciated the assistance, most especially those with dementia. After nearly a year of employment there, I longed to find another job with fewer physical demands and fewer opportunities to have my feelings hurt, simply because I was trying to help someone.

My husband and I married in the late 1980s, just a few years before the internet started becoming widely available to everyone. It wasn’t unusual to find a computer or two in an office (no, they didn’t have Word yet), but you could still find many typewriters perched on secretaries’ desks. I took typing in high school, but funnily enough, it wasn’t my best subject. Many of the office jobs I found in the local classifieds required applicants pass a typing test to be considered for a position. What to do…

On one of my weekends off, I perused the garage sale classifieds. Fate smiled upon me. I found a listing with an electric typewriter which supposedly still worked. The garage sale was in progress that very day, so I dragged my husband out of the house to go typewriter shopping. Lucky me. They still had the machine when we arrived, and as promised, it still worked. It was even a recent enough model; typewriter ribbons could still be purchased for it. Yeah! (Typewriters do not come with backspace or delete buttons. We had white-out for that.) I wish I could remember what we paid for it, but I still believe it was a bargain.

Now that I had my own personal typewriter, I could practice increasing my typing speed in my free time. Surely, copying any old document would do, right? Nope. In my brilliant, 21-year old mind, it made more sense to write a romance novel while improving my skill. Bonus! Who doesn’t love a twofer?

Did my typewriter and novel writing get me out of my nursing home job? Sadly, no. I worked there a little over two years, until we decided to move from Nebraska to the town in NW Iowa, where my in-laws lived. Hubby was a reservist in the military. He received orders to report in California for two-weeks of training, then was supposed to leave for the Gulf War in Iraq and Kuwait. We were expecting our older daughter at the time, and I didn’t want to live four hours away from both sets of grandparents, with a baby.

My parents moved me during the two-week training period. Days before it ended, the Gulf War did too. My husband just missed being shipped out. Instead, he joined me in Iowa and found a new job at the Farmers Coop lumber yard. I went back to work when our daughter was two months old, as a nurse assistant in the local hospital.

I continued using that typewriter until 1993, when we purchased our first home computer, complete with 3 1/2-inch floppy disk storage and dial-up internet. Our younger daughter was born that same year.

Now a mother with two small children and a part-time job, the novel writing had its challenges. I joined Romance Writers of America in the latter half of the nineties, seeking support from others who would keep me motivated and help me hone my craft. In 1997, I finally made that career change, into graphic design, and within a year had a full-time position. Moving to Texas in 2000 ultimately brought my novel writing ambitions to a halt. Though the girls were still in elementary school when we first moved, it wasn’t long before they entered middle and high school. I continued to work full-time as a graphic designer. Hubby was an orchestra teacher with practices and programs, before and after school. He also rejoined the military after 9-11.

He is now a disabled veteran, with a spinal cord injury, and I am his caregiver. For a while now, I have been considering finding ways to bring in additional income, without leaving him home unsupervised. A few months ago, I had an idea and dusted off the novel I started 30 years ago. Made perfect sense to my brilliant, 51-year-old mind…

Quote of the Week

Don’t be getting anyone’s knickers in a twist. It’s painful for all involved.

Kristal DeJong

Study of a Yellow Rose

If you have followed me on social media, you may have noticed most of my accounts have a yellow rose on their pages. It is a Floribunda named in honor of Julia Child. I took that photograph at the Antique Rose Emporium located just southwest of Independence, TX in Spring, 2017, and bought one to bring home with me right after that. I do not admire many public figures, but Julia is a rarity. Not just because she pursued her dreams and never let anyone tell her “no”; but also because she was a joyous, curious person who happened to be interested in the world around her. Though French cuisine may have been her first love, she certainly didn’t stop there.

I had an even more important reason for bringing that rose home with me, one which happens to be far more personal. Yellow, at least in Western cultures is the color of remembrance, and it’s my memorial to my mother. If you are interested in knowing why, I recommend you read the following post.

Sadly, I lost that rose by the end of last year due to a pernicious weed which escaped my control. In the process of trying to get rid of it, I ended up killing Julia. Yes, it made me very sad. Two months ago, I decided to get a replacement, but going to ARE was not possible at the time. Instead, I went to a Houston Garden Center while we ran some other errands. I couldn’t find Julia. However, I’m not going to say I settled for another yellow rose. Although, I wondered at first, if that was exactly what I had done.

Instead of being placed in the bed which is now my garden, Michelangelo was planted in a large pot. Until recently, it didn’t seem to be doing much of anything. Fortunately, it didn’t die either. Then about three weeks ago, it had a massive growth spurt complete with flower buds. Its initial growth had occurred where I couldn’t see it, in the soil. It wouldn’t have been able to produce the growth I observed without concentrating on its roots first. I have been photographing this rose for the past three days. The timing was a miracle, one which has just occurred to me in the last day or two. My mom died May 28, 2015, and my new rose just gifted me with two buds which opened at the same time. This time of year is not only difficult for me because it’s a painful anniversary; it was also made worse by once again observing the horrendous things we do to each other in the name of selfishness. I don’t care which labels humanity use to disguise it, because that’s what really it is. I should know, because I’ve experienced it personally, and it’s why my mother is gone.

This seemingly insignificant gift was given to me by my special friend. It was a reminder he is still here, and still loves unconditionally. It was also a pointed reminder that where our roots are planted and nurtured, makes a difference in what we produce where others can see it. This is not the first lesson I’ve received about the importance of roots. There have actually been several recently. It’s one of the most important lessons a gardener should take away from their endeavors. When I removed Michelangelo from its nursery pot, I didn’t throw any old soil into its new, pretty blue pot. I used rose soil designed specifically for its needs. I make sure it is watered properly in between bouts of rain, too. That care rewarded me with something profoundly beautiful, the promise of peace, which is something I have struggled to find for the last five years.

For all of you wondering how to fix the world’s ills, I challenge you to start with yourselves, before you try to fix anyone else. Regardless of your skin color, ask yourself where your roots are planted. What, and who, are really feeding your soul? All the things we tend to value and think give us value as human beings, which are mainly possessions, have no value whatsoever in the realm of my special friend, who happens to be the creator and ruler of the universe.

If you’re still not convinced and need historical precedent, then look no further than the ancient Egyptians. All those pharaohs who thought themselves divine, lost their wealth and power the moment they died. Although, they certainly made the day of a few grave robbers. The true king values humility and selflessness, two characteristics human beings don’t come by naturally. It’s due to that lack most of us reject him out of hand, because we’re too blind to understand the cosmic implications of our selfish natures. We claim what he asks of us is too difficult and mistakenly believe that frees us from his expectations, when in fact it does nothing of the sort. He promised, if we become his friend, he will help us overcome the worst in ourselves and receive a place in his eternal kingdom. That’s the secret. He seeks personal relationships, based on a daily connection with him. In exchange, he feeds our roots with the food we really need and gives us the ability to make a true difference in the lives of others. That is the one promise no one can take from us, even when they threaten death.

So, stop looking to institutions and other human beings to fix our woes. Institutions were created for the express purpose of controlling, separating and justifying the removal of possessions from other human beings, most especially our dignity. That includes using religion, which is the worst sin we can commit in our heavenly friend’s eyes. He is willing to forgive us for everything else, but there is no forgiveness for misrepresenting his true character.

The Spirit and the bride say “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book; If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.

He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”

Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!

May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people.

Revelation 22:17-21 (The Love Languages Devotional Bible)

Blooming in the Face of Adversity

The rose you see depicted in the photograph above is “La France”. She was the first to be classified as a Hybrid Tea in 1867, which to the gardener of today, puts her in a group of roses known as heirlooms.

This rose has significance to me because she is the last one left in my rose bed. Over the past year, I lost three roses, including an English rose bush which was more than 20 years old. Despite my best efforts to keep up, weeds, especially a pernicious creeper known as purple bindweed took over my bed in the past two years. Unfortunately, the only way to get rid of that stuff is by spraying it, since it puts down deep roots which make it impossible to pull it. It ended up smothering the roses I lost, and I believe the poor things were ultimately sacrificed in the effort to remove the invader.

The bindweed never quite made it to La France, at the back of the bed. That doesn’t mean she did not have her own issue with weeds, but she did have one advantage over the other roses. The specimen I have is known as a climbing sport, and she can grow taller than our backyard fence. Though she was surrounded by a mess, she mostly stayed above it. Even though roses really don’t like to be crowded around their feet, the poor thing started blooming in January; not an unusual occurrence here in southeast Texas during a mild winter. Since she is in the bed which is becoming my butterfly garden, I can easily see her every time I look out the kitchen window. She seemed to be saying, “Look, I’m still here. I’m still blooming, in less than ideal circumstances. If you love me, won’t you take the time to come care for me?”

It is always during times of adversity, that we are forced to step back and take a closer look at what really matters to us. Truthfully, adversity never goes away. Modern society, with all its distractions, simply finds it easier to pretend it doesn’t exist; until it rises up to smack us in the face. Most of the time, even though the TV is often on in the family room next to the kitchen, I still find myself looking out the window while doing the dishes. Every time I saw that rose, I experienced deep shame. Because nothing was stopping me from clearing out the bed and pruning dead canes from La France, other than simply making time for it.

I don’t remember what year I planted her, but it could be more ten years ago. Meaning, like the maple up front, she has survived less than ideal conditions. A drought, 2 hurricanes, severe thunderstorms, 110° Texas summers, two snow events during the winter following Hurricane Harvey… After all that, how could I possibly allow her to slowly die from neglect? To prevent the inevitable from happening, I had to give myself a kick in the mental patookus and go put on my big girl gardener pants.

The work paid off. I no longer feel guilty when I look out my window. Other than my butterfly plant, La France still has that bed to herself at the moment, making her the obvious center of attention. Once the bed is filled with my butterfly plants, she will still be the queen. If I continue to give her attention, such as deadheading the spent flowers, she will bloom until the weather gets too hot. Even then, she occasionally produces sporadic flowers, meaning she will keep rewarding me for my efforts, as long as I don’t give up on her.

Perhaps because we have been living daily with adversity in our household for many years now; I don’t allow situations, like the current one being caused by Covid-19, to cause much excitement around here. Like everyone else, it is causing us a bit of inconvenience, but we always live in a state of preparedness. Our motto is, “One day at a time, and what is the best use of my time today?”

The best advice I have for those who are suddenly worrying about their futures, is to step back and take a look at the things you have put off, due to a perceived lack of time. Worrying is nothing more than an unproductive, dead-end road. If you’re not going to work, or the kids aren’t in school for a while, take advantage of the opportunity to roll up your sleeves and take control where it really matters; in your own home. At the end of the day, shut out the world for a while and spend some real quality time with each other.

Quote of the Week

When the end of a life arrives, it is the rare person who looks back and regrets nurturing the relationships, which gifted them with the most beautiful blossoms.

Kristal DeJong

Why Writer’s Should Do Their Chores

Are they dirty dishes, a sink full of inspiration or an opportunity to observe nature?

Multi-tasking is considered a highly desirable skill set these days. Over the years, I’ve lost track of the number of job listings I’ve seen which mention it as a requirement. I have to confess; I’m not always convinced it’s appropriate at all times. It depends on the task one is completing. Jobs which use heavy machinery, or equipment which can remove body parts, should probably not expect multi-tasking. To be honest, many who work in creative fields usually don’t like it either; because it interferes with the thought process which takes a project from the inception phase to final product. But if anyone is guilty of introducing multi-tasking into the human experience, it is probably creative people.

Why would we invent something so mentally exhausting? I have one word for you, and it is the least favorite in the creative’s person’s vocabulary. Chores. While this post is directed more at writers, as a creative with multiple interests, I can personally attest any project I wish to start or which is already underway, occupies at least 50 percent of my brain capacity throughout the day. Those with a strong creative impulse are just born that way. Chores take away some of that precious time to actually create, so thinking about a project while we’re doing something else tides us over until we can return to our true love.

I have a meme on my Pinterest board which states writers always have their best ideas when they’re doing chores. I can personally attest it is in fact true. I’ve mentioned returning to novel writing was inspired by cleaning rabbit cages. I do a lot of problem solving while cleaning cages; plotting, conflict, character development… (Though I’m now down to three bunnies. Mr. Harry Buns died on Valentine’s Day.) It doesn’t stop with cage cleaning. Doing dishes and laundry are prime opportunities to “write” at the same time. I was doing dishes this past weekend when I thought my antagonist for The Pearl Diver’s Song clicked into place. Not quite. She’s becoming a redeemable character instead, but the real villain is connected to her.

Like Little Caesar’s Pizza, I must take a moment to pick on sliced bread. Yes, it is up there in the pantheon of important human inventions. However, there is one which tops all of them. It’s one of the oldest, writing, followed not too long afterward by paper. We simply would not have one, without the other. Yes, these days I do most of my writing on my computer. However, I own a few notebooks. One is always nearby, including next to my computer. Especially, while writing early drafts, I often make notes of changes which need to be made when I go back through everything. Paper and writing utensils are the multi-tasking creative’s best friend. That goes for other disciplines besides writing.

Are there times it’s not appropriate to multi-task? Yeah, it might not be such a good idea while you’re mowing the lawn, or if you’re still operating a corded vacuum cleaner. And for those of you who are wondering if my mind wandered when I started the fire in the backyard (This is My Brand), NO! In fact, my buddy the torch, and I have recently been clearing the disaster which is my rose bed, part of the preparation for converting it to a butterfly garden. In fact, a recent purchase I planted in my bed late this afternoon, had a visitor the other day. You can see the photo on my Facebook and Instagram accounts. Getting that bed cleared out and making it pretty again, will give me something nice, not to mention interesting, to look at while doing dishes.

Kristen Lamb recently did a post about the importance of taking time away from constant electronic stimulation and busy-ness in general. I have to back her up on this one. I know from experience how important it is. (In fact, my phone is rarely on my person, either at home or when I’m running errands.) Sometimes, a project stalls and overworking the brain will not improve your chances of identifying or fixing the issue. Let’s not forget brain fatigue is a real condition. Just like the remainder of our organs, it needs a rest too. Before it starts experiencing some perplexing problems. If you feel an over-whelming need to take a nap, for the love of all that’s good, don’t fight it or waste time feeling guilty afterward. Take the darn nap! (Unless you’re at work.)

If you’re fortunate like I am and have a window over your kitchen sink, that might be a good time to observe what’s going on in your small part of the world, instead of multi-tasking. You never know, you might witness something special if you’re paying attention. I love the pollinators, especially butterflies and hummingbirds. Texas is great for both because we’re on migration routes. My flower bed can be seen from that window.

I used to have a purple passion flower vine which attracted butterflies and bees in droves. It is because of the passion flower I saw my first Giant Swallowtail Butterflies while doing dishes (Autumn 2014). There were two of them mirroring each other as they flew around our yard. I have never seen that again. Being a vine, the passion flower eventually became a bit too unruly. I finally had to kill it to keep it from taking over everything. The new garden will be filled with a variety of wildflowers and perennials which attract pollinators. They are the kind of organisms which prefer to be planted densely. I’m hoping they will choke out the weeds. It goes without saying I hate weeding, not to mention it gets too hot here from late spring to early fall to do a lot outside work. Heat doesn’t stop weeds. In fact, nothing stops weeds except really cold weather and severe drought.

Hubby and I may not be considered old yet (tell that to my joints), but we’re not getting younger either. Especially as a caregiver, I have to work smarter not harder; not to mention planning well ahead to minimize the care of anything for which I may become solely responsible down the road. I won’t deny this philosophy will also give me more time to finally pursue a dream I set aside more than twenty-years ago. It’s a long-term goal, one very much a work in progress at the moment. To be honest, I don’t mind doing work around my house that much. It actually presents its own sense of accomplishment, not to mention taking care of one’s obligations minimizes the guilt when you’re finally indulging your creative pursuits.

Never Rest Upon Your Laurels

Oops… it apears I sat on them.

Versions of this saying have existed for eons. I found the following article informative and entertaining.

In this post, we’re going to discuss the modern variant, which originated in the nineteenth century. It was during that time period this saying developed a negative connotation; indicating a person has become lazy and is resting upon their past achievements.

How pervasive is the problem? To be honest, I don’t know that there are any verifiable statistics. But I would be willing to hazard a guess, we’ve all been guilty of it at some point in our lives. Why? With that one word we ask a question which is not so easy to answer. (Or is it?)

Let’s just start with laziness. Many creatures, including humans, are perfectly content to expel as little energy as possible, provided their basic needs are met. At the earliest points of our history, laziness was a rare luxury. The person of both lazy mind and body didn’t survive very long. I would be willing to bet they were the least popular person in the tribe. Unless they were that rare person of lazy body and busy mind.

With one act of courage, say scaring off those pesky lions with a stick from the evening campfire, they could then brag about their value to the community and demand to be made king or queen. Viola! Instead of being cursed for not pulling their weight, everyone else suddenly found themselves waiting on this individual. Was the monarch then resting on their laurels? Maybe to a point. In order to maintain the new, cushy lifestyle, they had to continue convincing the other tribe members, it was in their best interest to keep supporting the ruler. Enter lies and propaganda into the human experience.

Since I’m a writer, I’m going to pick on writers for this post. There was one romance novelist who began her career a few years before I was born and was still writing during the 1970s and 80s, when I grew up. I read a “few” of her books because a friend and I could buy paperbacks by the paper bag, or box, at a used book store for less than five dollars. Some of her books lurked in every bag. She mostly wrote Regency era stories and pretty much used the same characters for each book. An older, and usually jaded, dark-haired hero with an ingenue blonde heroine fallen on hard times; who tended to be a victim of hero-worship. Though in my humble opinion those nasty rakes hardly deserved it. Only one heroine’s name still sticks with me. Not because I liked the name, but because it made me giggle. When this author first started writing, those characters might have been ground-breaking. After novel number five, I would say she was resting on her laurels for the remaining one-hundred.

That can be an issue when you’re constantly cranking out stories in the same genre, all in the name of trying to make a living. From what I’ve seen, that mentality is still alive and well. Is it bad? Eh. That’s a matter of opinion. Some people like what we here in the States call “same poop, different day.” (Substitute poop for a slightly less palatable word.) This author’s books were often the last ones my friend and I dug out of a bag; when we didn’t feel like doing homework, or were really bored, they filled an hour or two.

Like any creative, writers always have a choice when they move on to their next project. You can write one-of, or a series. Series books are popular with both authors and readers. For writers who have invested a great deal of time in world building during book one, writing a series pays off with the later books because the heavy lifting is already done; not to mention they create return business. Readers who become invested in that world not only want further glimpses of characters to which they are already attached; if you’ve done your job properly, they’re curious to know more about those intriguing individuals lurking in the wings.

As with anything, there are pitfalls. The author must be careful not to jar their fans out of that world in subsequent books. On the other hand, you don’t want them to be exact carbon copies of each other either. Especially when it comes to character development, including antagonists. Series books can go in a few directions. They either start a bit weak and improve with successive books; start strong and only get better with each book; or begin strong and go on a downhill slide afterward. The last one can be a career killer for an author, if they don’t quickly redeem themselves with their next work. Human memory, being a rather finite and fickle beast, will only ever remember that last thing you produced. And with a plethora of too many choices, most folks aren’t very forgiving if you let them down even once.

During my lifetime as a creative, I have rarely made more than one of any projects. Except for several pairs of adult onesies a few years ago. (Don’t judge me. They were gifts for my daughters and their friends.) It’s not just because I have a rule about resting on my laurels. Been there, done that is built into my psyche. I get bored without the occasional challenge. Writing a series is an interesting endeavor for me. Not because I don’t have enough material for more than one book, but because I discovered I had too much for one book. Knowing how to distribute all of it in a manner which makes sense can get tricky. Especially, when you have characters who share a substantial bit of backstory. Such is the case with Isobelle, the heroine in Heart of a Star, and Persephone (Percy to her friends), the heroine in my WIP, The Pearl Diver’s Song.

Since I waited more than twenty years to return to novel writing, I could have taken the approach I had a lot of lost time to recover. I did initially feel I should be producing books more frequently. But that’s not in my MO at the moment. Instead, it seemed like I would be cheating myself if I didn’t keep pushing to make the final product the best it could be. Hopefully, that outlook will carry me through the remainder of books in my series Fate’s Champions.

“Slow” movements seem to be a popular concept these days. If it’s so great for food, why not writing? Meeting word count challenges seem to be a popular way for writers to measure their productivity. Getting to the point where you can write a few thousand a day is a useful tool, but it shouldn’t be a means of cranking out mass quantities, unless you’re a Conehead. Instead, use that productivity as a tool for improving your craft. Masterpieces take time to create, and they require being objective about your work. Granted, what makes a piece of art a masterpiece is always determined by those who view it, not those who create it. But such a designation is rarely given to something which has little effort behind it, and doesn’t challenge the viewer in some manner.

If you want to create works with staying power, start by not getting too attached to every word which flows from your fingertips. Writing with a certain amount of speed should be seen as the price paid for then slowing down and stepping back to take a critical look at your work. Start by asking yourself, “If I was buying this, is it worth my time and money?” Those answering “yes” every single time aren’t exactly being honest with themselves, or they haven’t spent enough time with the work of those who keep pushing themselves to do better.

Humans have an amazing capacity to learn and grow throughout their lifetimes. Despite all the distractions, and never-ending list of things we think must be done; the only things really keeping us from earning new laurels, or any laurels at all, are fear of failure when we attempt something difficult, and laziness.

Quote of the Week

Do you really want to write the book which becomes the last one left in a paper bag?

Kristal DeJong

Interested in getting pre-release and WIP glimpses of my books? Please visit my Patreon page.

I’m a Piranha!

Image from pixabay

This phrase popped in my head one day, while tidying the kitchen. It took me a few minutes to place it, then I remembered it came from Finding Nemo, proudly announced by a character known as Darla, the fish killer. It does make one wonder why someone would give a child, who identifies as a Piranha, a gentle little clown fish snatched from the Great Barrier Reef.

To do this post, I researched Piranhas. It turns out they may not be as fierce as their reputations, after all. They’re members of the Tetra family. If you have spent a significant amount of time in an aquarium store, you’ll notice the resemblance to smaller Tetras sold for freshwater tanks. Granted many species do have sharp, scary teeth. But they are sometimes omnivorous rather than carnivorous, meaning they’ll eat whatever is available; and they’re just as likely to scavenge as hunt. Rather than a hunting tactic, they seem to school for protection. Piranhas are not apex predators. That honor goes to larger animals, like caimans, a relative of crocodiles and alligators. Native to the rivers and lakes of South America, like all creatures, Piranhas serve a function in their original habitat. Including providing a food source for people, depending on the culture. Those who do eat them have some favored preparations, including Piranha soup. Apparently, it’s considered an aphrodisiac.

Well. Perhaps aspiring to be a Piranha is not so desirable after all.

Edna Mode is My Hero

I guess this post could be considered a character study. I’ve mentioned previously the Pixar movies usually impress me with their story telling and character development. The Incredibles movies are near the top of the list, not just because I can identify with the villains, but because Edna Mode is my one of my favorite characters. (Followed by Elasta-Girl and Frozone. Mr. Incredible grew on me a bit more after the stay-at-home dad stint in the second movie.)

Why Edna? Technically, she’s a secondary character. Rather like Q from the James Bond movies. (Those movies/books would not be the same without Q’s gadgets.) Only Ms. Mode is a bit more eccentric than Q. She’s also something of a mystery. Just how did she become a lucrative super-suit designer anyway?

It seems safe to say she’s incredibly smart. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) I would image she was the type of child who stood out in school. Was she the shy, quiet kid bullies singled out, because they knew she would hate the attention, or was she equally flamboyant as her adult self? Either way, she most likely always won first prize at science fairs.

Usually, smart people end up becoming some sort of villain or side-kick. Why is that exactly? Those who skew toward villainhood are often the victims of bullies, who develop a chip on their shoulders. Or their brilliance simply isn’t appreciated by others. The side-kicks, on the other hand, don’t necessarily suffer from a lack of appreciation, though they are often relegated to the background, out of the public’s eye. Like Dr. Frankenstein’s Igor, and Alton Brown’s dungeon keeper. Edna Mode is anything except invisible with her big house and super-hero statues.

Personally, if I cast Edna as a villain, she would be the really sneaky, underhanded kind. Sure, she would still create those super-suits. Seems like a far more efficient way to pick off the Supers, than Syndrome’s convoluted inventions. Eh, he behaved true to type for someone who suffered from a lack of appreciation. Our villainess from movie 2, possessed a more compelling reason to be angry with the supers; though it was really an unfortunate case of bad timing, since their government support ended right before her parents were killed. She came really close to succeeding with her googly-eyed take-over-the-world glasses. Only to be out-maneuvered by children. Got to give it to Violet. The girl is a smart cookie.

What prevented Edna from becoming a villain, instead of “designer to the gods?” It is difficult to say because she has no backstory. We don’t know anything about her origins, or what truly motivates her. However, she does have a way with Jack-Jack. If the world ever succeeds in upsetting those two, it better look out. Only which one would be the side-kick? I’m betting it won’t be Edna.

Captain Unobvious

The “Captain Unobvious” hat is a Saturday afternoon panster project made with a freebie baseball hat and left-over chenille upholstery fabric. Could be a yacht captain or airplane captain hat. Depends on my mood at the time.
(Or it’s just a Maytag repairman hat.)

I will often write down several potential blog titles at a time, often with the expectation I will remember what I planned to do with it later. Ha, ha, ha, ha… Pardon me while I wipe the tears of laughter from my face, because that’s not always the case. This clever item is “Exhibit A”.

Most of the time, I could be classified as a planster. I’m comfortable swinging both ways. If we’re traveling on a long-distance road trip, you better believe there are often plans with days of preparation before we leave. However, since we do have some challenges here, it’s not uncommon for a monkey wrench to disrupt my well-oiled machine. The only way for my sanity to survive is by being flexible. Pantster skills do have their uses, and like anything else, improve with practice. (Not to mention age. There had better be some perks for getting older, gosh darn it!)

I started this blog with a somewhat nebulous idea. In fact, I didn’t really have any plans to return to blogging while wrapping up my first book. Only a crazy person would take on additional writing tasks while preparing said book for publication, establishing a legitimate business, and trying to decide how I was comfortable promoting “my brand.” For a few weeks, I managed to be at least two posts ahead of schedule. Now, I’m caught up. When looking at my list of inspiration I came across “Captain Unobvious”. An intriguing title to be sure, but what had I planned to do with it? I couldn’t remember, so I wrote “Resolution Re-evaluation” last week. That one wasn’t even on my list. Pantster skills at their finest, to be certain.

For my mid-week post this past week, I released a sneak-peak of my book cover. (The Big Reveal) Like any needy writer/creative person, I’ve been seeking approval for my work before making it widely available to the big, wide world. My next-door neighbor and two of my critique partners received beta copies. (Thank you for your time Casie, Kathie, and Michelle.) Kathie sent me her notes several days ago, including her impression of the cover. She noted it didn’t suggest a historical romance. Kathie, if you read this, I am by no means upset with you. The beauty of being an indie author is the ability to take risks. Including with your cover art. The design choice is in fact deliberate.

I know I have been meandering down the Yellow Brick Road for a while now, and it’s time for the Wizard to pull back the curtain. At least a little bit. Yes, technically I wrote a Regency Historical. It is what I started with 30 years ago. The story is set mostly in London, England 1816. However, once I got through my first draft, I realized “traditional” just wasn’t working for me. Meaning a trade publisher probably wouldn’t either. From that moment on, I took more than one risk. Starting with the fact, the large star sapphire on the book cover became a pivotal character. In my original draft, way back when, it was just an object in the story. Where would I get such a nutty idea for a “Regency” romance? The Orb from David Eddings’ The Belgariad and The Malloreon. I read both series in high school and my early twenties. They obviously made a lasting impression. It’s only fair to warn die-hard Regency fans my characters don’t attend many fancy parties, and clothing is only described if it matters to the scene. Otherwise, this book is very much about the characters themselves.

When I say a good story is a good story, period, I’m not kidding. I find it a bit frustrating when other authors mention they want to try writing a different type of story from their usual genre, or whatever trend they’re trying to capitalize upon. Sure, you may have some readers who prefer not to be “challenged” by something different. That’s OK, to each his own; but you shouldn’t let them keep you from finding your joy. That leap of faith might yield some new friends, like myself, who prefer not to be contained by a single genre when I read.

Which is all part of my evil plan when I write and design my books. I’ve read many books with compelling love stories, not classified as romance novels. And I have a tiny little problem with labels. They do occasionally have their uses in helping us identify stuff, like say, a bottle of poison. Unfortunately, the large majority of the time, they are used to keep us apart. Not to mention the pesky practice of denoting some types of work as less valuable than others, because of the label affixed to it. (Women’s literature, I’m looking at you.) As a multi-discipline creative, I find that idea highly insulting. I do not, nor have I ever, considered any type of project I undertake as less valuable than another. They all require a great deal of thought, planning and faith to make them reality. That goes for anyone who has the courage to create works of art they are willing to share with others. Even if it doesn’t suit another’s taste, it should still receive respect, period.

I’m at the point where it’s time to release my first book and commit to the second, which I have already started. The downside of self-publishing can be the level of investment the author makes upfront. It all depends on goals. I have more IP identified in my projects than the writing, meaning it’s in my best interest to form an LLC as a production company. Starting with the fact my production work is performed “in-house”. This is a high-concept operation with corresponding support tools. I already have expenses related to the software I use. Initially, continuing to pay for it was an investment in myself, to keep my skills current. (Because one never knows when your circumstances may change.) Now, it’s a legitimate business expense, and it won’t be the only one. Besides the fact this first book has been eight months in the making, I’m not in a position to give my books away in order to find an audience. If any business is to succeed, it can’t begin by operating in the red. Look at it this way. If I didn’t do my job properly, I don’t deserve the privilege of having anyone buy my second book.

Personally, I don’t think any creative, regardless of discipline, should be expected to give their work away to grow their business. Professionals invest a great deal of time and money in education, equipment and the work itself. (Those big boxes of crayons, people.) It may seem to others like we magically produce stuff, much like Unicorns pooping sprinkles. Except there is a great deal going on behind the scenes; including projects which don’t always work out, yet still cost money to produce. I have worked in other fields, including healthcare. I believe it would be safe to say none of us would show up for a job, if a new employer tells you there will be no paycheck until you prove yourself. For those of us born to create, we pay our dues daily and throughout our lifetimes, often starting on our journeys while still very young. We are not second-class citizens whose work is less valuable until someone else owns it.

I made it clear early on in this blog (This is My Brand), why I decided to get serious about taking a chance on myself. I chose Patreon for early public access and behind-the-scenes peeks at my work. It’s a chance for my potential readers to get in on the ground floor. The R&D department really, since I have no problem being honest. They will get opportunities to interact with me in a manner which wouldn’t be possible if I simply throw my first book on Amazon as a loss leader. When all my ducks are in a row, I plan on a wide release, including being available oversees. I am aware some of the visitors to this blog are outside the United States. It would be foolish of me to exclude them from the opportunity to read my book, if they are interested.

There are two current Patreon offers at the moment. How I produced a multi-media book cover, and the first three chapters of my book. Both are available to the $3 tier, and higher, of course. Those who like making things, might want to become a Patron in the higher tiers to receive exclusive opportunities to complete projects from my books with me. (Like your very own Heart of a Star.) At the very least, there may be a few items which might appeal to Cosplay folks or aficionados of Renaissance Fairs. Not to mention exclusive offers for members when my books are officially published. Such as early full releases, discounts or autographed copies which will be available to all tiers at varying levels. (If you want to know a bit about my “hobbies” and potential activities, see the post “The Year of Being Extra”.)

Those interested in supporting me on Patreon can click the link below. I will be adding polls, not behind a paywall, to get more information about how potential Patrons wish to interact with me, and whether or not they want to be part of a community that interacts with each other. Just to name a couple. In case you have doubts about trying it, the polls will allow me to customize an experience which allow you to enjoy your membership. There will be no expectations for anyone to support me for a given length of time. If you try Patreon for one month and don’t enjoy it, there will be no hard feelings. The occasional, fun freebie might appear as well, which won’t be on this blog. Like my playlist of inspiring writing songs and a chapter from my book, which are available now.

For those people who only want to read my blog posts, those will still be available to the public here, no strings attached. Right now, there are 26 posts. If you haven’t read them all, there is enough here to keep someone entertained for at least a few days. This is the work I’m doing to prove myself, and I appreciate the time any visitor gives, to spend it with me. It’s OK to leave a comment. I’m happy to hear from you, and if you’re a fellow blogger, I don’t mind reciprocating. All I ask is that you make it a bit easier on me, since I have a lot of work on my plate. (Including our older daughter’s wedding in April. My husband does want me to spend time with him occasionally, too.) Please provide me with a link to one of your favorite posts. (Real posts, not advertising. I do inspect the links of anything which lands in the spam folder.) I know, they’re like our children, and we’re not supposed have favorites. Though I’m willing to bet you have at least one or two. Unfortunately, I will have to adjust the number of posts I publish here. Writing a book is a very intensive process for me, and number two hasn’t proceeded as far as I would like. However, I do get notifications for comments which aren’t spam, meaning if someone takes the time to communicate with me, you won’t be ignored for very long.

This is your invitation to join Captain Unobvious on her inaugural flight to destinations of wild imagination. These skies will always endeavor to be friendly and inclusive.

Kristal DeJong

The Big Reveal

If you have been paying attention, the cover artwork for my first book has been lurking in a blog photo or two. There is even an early post which shows the necklace just after I finished making it. (I am a Project Person) For those interested in getting a behind-the-scenes peek showing how I created the cover, you will find a post with more details on my Patreon page.

Become a Patron!

Resolution Re-evaluation

I took this photo a couple of years ago while playing with a used 50mm MF lens on my camera.
Did I know what I was doing? No, not really, but I still took a beautiful picture despite myself.

Now that we are a couple of weeks into 2020, I imagine some folks who made resolutions are starting to rethink them. Being successful always comes back to mindset. Why did you make a resolution in the first place? Is it a “have to” or a “want to?” Since life is full of “have to”, I say make your resolutions “want to”. Is that cheating? No, not really. Self-improvement can take many forms; including learning a new skill or making an effort to carve at least five minutes out of your day for meditation. You’re far more likely to succeed when you look forward to doing something.

I generally don’t make resolutions, not so much because I don’t believe in self-improvement or making needed changes.  I just don’t see a reason to put a lot of pressure on myself at the beginning of the year. The definition of evolution is change over time, and it’s more user friendly than resolutions. Change is easier when it’s done in small, incremental steps as part of a daily practice.

The same is also true for situations or circumstances one has allowed to get a bit out of control. We have such a situation here, in dealing with clutter and disorganization which has been allowed to run amok. It can be easy to make excuses, especially if someone in a household is dealing with less than ideal health. Unfortunately, that’s the worst time to lose control. Sooner or later, there is going to be a day of reckoning, and it rarely comes at a convenient time. For years, I’ve been telling the man to tackle the mess in small doses, since we have a garbage day two days a week. We’re finally starting to clear things out, in a manner which doesn’t make us feel so overwhelmed. This week was a little harder. Overall, we haven’t had much to complain about this winter. We’re actually a bit behind in rainfall, only this week it’s been damp and gloomy. Though it wasn’t cold, motivation skedaddled. (I don’t know what it is about cloudy weather that makes one want to hibernate, or cuddle under a blanket with a cup of tea.)

We’re at a cross-road, being parents of grown children. Down-sizing certainly has its appeal. We bought our house nearly 20 years ago. With all the new development around us, home values have gone up in this area. We probably could sell our house “as-is” and still walk away with something. However, I feel like it’s in our best interest to tackle the issues we have here and leave with a sense of accomplishment, rather than defeat. Mental baggage had a major effect on all the other “baggage” we’ve accumulated. Addressing it isn’t easy, but is one of the most rewarding when you succeed. If we don’t conquer it, those problems will continue to follow us, meaning a different address will have no true benefit, other than escaping the stairs in our current house.

So, why start writing again in the midst of all our issues? I’m still trying to figure that one out. It wasn’t a New Year’s Resolution. Finally finishing that novel I started 30 years ago, wasn’t even on my radar last January. I started it at the end of April. Returning to blogging wasn’t in my plans until October, and I’m pretty much panstering it. I was getting close to finishing my book, and following the advice of others, started the process of creating my author home base. I opted for a paid plan to begin with, to give me some room to grow up front. Once I had it, the clock started ticking to do something with it. Now here I am, showing my particular brand of crazy.

Creative writing is a reward activity for me, like any of my other pursuits. For the most part, I did enjoy the process of tackling and conquering something which defeated me years ago. There are days the words don’t come so easily, or I discover I’ve written myself into a corner. Like most “artistic” types, I do have doubts, something I’ve poured my heart and soul into may not be good enough. While a few people have read my first book and given positive feedback, it’s still scary to think about releasing it into the world at large. It helps I have a lot of practice with critical evaluation of my work and survived it just fine, even if I didn’t always agree with another’s opinion.

The same thing goes for this blog. The only way I’m going to continue writing posts is if I’m actually enjoying it. I learned a long time ago playing the popularity game doesn’t suit my personality. I’m a non-conformist rebel type, and stressing over how many “followers” I have here, or anywhere else on social media, doesn’t bring me any sort of pleasure. In fact, I find it counter-productive to my creativity; especially when there are so many people out there who think the unprecedented “access” we now have to each other, gives them a license to attack and tear down others about whom they know absolutely nothing. Sadly, it seems like the only thing “social” media has really accomplished is showing us how immature, insecure and vulnerable we are as a species. There’s a lot to be said for keeping one’s poo-poo undies covered with adult britches, especially in today’s hyper-connected world. (Come here if you need a “hug” or someone with whom to be silly. Otherwise, don’t waste my time.)

It is possible to make friends over the internet. I have one, met over a forum a few years ago, who is an “old school” email pal. How did we make a connection which has lasted more than four years so far? We have some things in common. There are also some differences. Being respectful of the differences is the only way we will continue to be friends. Hopefully, we’ll be able to meet in person a little later this year. She recently moved to my home state, Colorado. I also have a relative there I haven’t seen in a long time, and I’m overdue for a visit.

How does one learn to get along with others? You start by liking yourself just as you are, which is the most “extra” way to live. Take it from a rebel who rarely allows anyone to twist my knickers, I’m much happier that way. I find it counter-productive to be in conflict and competition with everyone around me. And what is true success really? Most of the tools we use to measure it, do nothing except cause stress and jealousy. Why are we so gosh darn needy to receive recognition for our achievements from others? What is really missing? That’s the billion-dollar question, isn’t it? The answer is inner peace. Elusive, and often fleeting, yet sublime when we find it. It’s most powerful when your life seems at its lowest point. (Yes, I like the Kung Fu Panda movies. Never underestimate the power of an uplifting underdog story.)

If you find yourself at a cross-road, re-evaluating your evolution, jump-start your progress by first eliminating those non-essential things which bring you no lasting pleasure. Make at least one new friend who is “different” from you, by finding the things you have in common. Do not let others tell you what to think, or give them the power to make you angry all the time. Afterall, the educated person shouldn’t be so easily influenced. Most importantly, never underestimate the power of small changes to accomplish big things. That also includes doing things for others without the expectation of personal recognition. We only get one day at a time. Each day is a clean slate.

Quote of the Week

Set small daily goals, and when you look back at your life, you may find yourself surprised at the grand things you accomplished.

Kristal DeJong

Misdemeanors Against the English Language – Bite (?)

My first post in this series took a look at a now common misuse of the word, Listen. One commenter asked if the following sentence is a misdemeanor as well.

Have a bite.

Nope. Bite is in fact both a noun and verb, making its use in this manner perfectly acceptable. In this instance it’s used as a noun, inviting someone to take a mouthful of food. However, it can be tricky when applying rules of tense as a verb. Sometimes, you drop the “e”, such as past – Bit. “The dog bit him.” (In this form, it also becomes a word with other definitions. Such as an object, like a drill bit. Or, “I will do my chores in a little bit.” A reference to passage of time.) Then there is a past participle, where the “e” gets relocated, “He was bitten by the dog;” and a form of present particple which also drops the “e”, “He is biting the dog.”