Saturday, November 30, 2013

A little Christmas Madness for You

So THE big holiday is nearly here.  It's coiling around us isn't it?  All that warmth and cheer and family togetherness that will drive you round the bend in short order.  No, I know some of us genuinely love Christmas and all of its warm fuzzy nostalgia.  At times I love parts of it too.  Hell, I decorate the tree every year.  I also know that it's a time of year when family can drive us absolutely bonkers.  That's why I wanted to share the following story with you.  It was written back in my twenties when I was still working for Disney and living far from home.  Enjoy and take some heart in knowing that your holiday could be so much worse.

Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire. . .In Hell
by Rebecca A Wrigley
For the first time in five years of successful holiday avoidance on my part, I gathered with the rest of my slightly irregular family at the home of our recently deceased Patriarch--my mother's father. It's a quaint little clapboard house packed to the gills with chatchkis crap. Apparently Grandpa had a compulsive knick-knack shopping habit in his last few years. Somehow, I'm glad I wasn't around to experience that new development first hand. Grandma's addiction to painting pictures of squirrels and yard gnomes was, I thought, more than enough colorful wackiness.

Either Christmas Eve at Grandpa's house was meant to be a fond remembrance of the long standing family tradition, or it didn't occur to anyone that we'd be celebrating Christmas Eve in a creepy shrine to my Grandparent's questionable taste. Even weirder--there were little yellow post-it notes with various family members names scrawled on them stuck to all the pictures, lamps, furniture, and appliances. Well, we gathered round the warm glow of the big-screen TV (post-it placed considerately without blocking the screen) to watch a heartwarming video recording of a Christmas Eve past in the same house--minus the labels and a whole lot of bad resin Golf and God themed mini-sculpture. As per tradition, Grandpa read the Nativity sequence from a family Bible so old it was mostly held together with spit and paper clips, while his youngest grandchild knelt beside him. Danny was actually pretty cute at the date of the taping, probably eight or nine years old, Tiny-Tim skinny with huge coke-bottle lens glasses. While Grandpa reads reverently, Danny performs what we like to think of as his "perpetual motion performance art"--it involves variously flailing the air with both hands and lolling his head side to side ala Stevie Wonder on speed.  Danny was born with Hydrocephalus and Cerebral Palsy. The camera swerves abruptly with a cinema verité style reminiscent of Cops (and suddenly I'm expecting to see some half-dressed mullet head streak through the scene clutching a beer can and screaming incoherently; which would actually have pretty stiff competition for attention amongst my clan). We zoom queasily in on Grandma's sweet expression as she blinks at the camera and then back to the floor show, all the while smiling vaguely as if to say, "I don't have the slightest idea what's going on and I think I like it that way." A shuddering pan past Grandpa and flailing child widens to reveal my oldest cousin Peter and myself in the foreground, both dressed in an apparent homage to the band Kansas, complete with large incongruous neckerchiefs, all of it nicely accessorized by the stiff expressions and posture of political prisoners attempting to stoically endure torture in vain reluctance to abandon that last shred of human dignity. If you're paying attention, as we blur past my Uncle's game grin, you can catch the ever present faint glimmer of, "They're my family, and I love them, but please let this be over soon, Dear Lord," in his eyes. In what has to be the longest and most ill-advised one-shot in Television history, the camera pauses once again to bob in the erratic fashion of a drug-addict's POV, framing--yes it's another recently deceased Grandfather. This was our wacky pseudo-French Grandpa Pete, who could always be counted on to behave like the demented love-child of Pepe Le Pew and Bette Middler. Whatever he said was loud and just this side of inappropriate and he was always saying something. In fact that's what he's doing in this shot, discoursing loudly over the venerable recitation of the birth of the Christ child and the gentle strains of an Ave Maria recording. Beside him, my long suffering aunt (his daughter-in-law) seems to twitch with the desire to strangle the man into silence but restrains herself to shooting deadly glances. At last my Grandfather finishes his reading as gracefully as it began (mostly because he can't hear much and is completely oblivious to anything else that may have occurred since he opened the Bible). The camera swoops back to catch little Danny as his tribal gyrations climax in a huge flapping of arms, page-boy haircut flaring dramatically in exponentially faster head turns, and he shrieks, "PRESENTS!"
Now, jump-cut to the present Christmas Eve, as my adopted sister--legally blind, developmentally disabled with Cerebral Palsy which wreaks havoc on her coordination and balance, hugely overweight due to a number of completely valid factors that nonetheless render her somewhat Kong-like amongst a family of smallish short fat people such as we--abruptly rears up from her seat in the darkened labeled living room. Lit only by the dim flicker of Christmas Eve Past, she lurches to the back of the room, hands slapping randomly at furniture and shoulders as she attempts to build speed on her path to the hall-way. And say a brief prayer with me as we thank Jesus and the Saints that this is a small one story house and fully carpeted. Grandma has just begun blinking and smiling from the television screen when a door thuds loudly behind us, followed by the dull thwack of padded plastic on porcelain. As the shepherds are visited by a host of angels and the demure choir on the stereo glides through its devotion to the mother of Christ, we are treated to the real-time sounds of violent projectile vomiting--taking place in a bathroom not more than six feet away (I did say the house was small). This is the kind of regurgitation that is precede by gagging to rival the most protracted feline hairball experience and causes audible splashes in toilet water that last only slightly longer than the special effects geysers rigged for The Exorcist. Everyone left in the living room stares determinedly at the TV screen in polite silence (ironically even more politely silent than the videotaped Bible reading), until at last my mother explains in her new hard-of-hearing voice that everything's fine. My sister has recently been diagnosed with possible gall stones which make her throw-up like this after every meal. She's been doing this for at least two months, comes to dinner every night at the parent's house, eats a hearty meal, and then returns it before going home. Honestly I don't know why I wasn't expecting the Christmas Eve spew, since we had just eaten dinner before sitting down around the electric glow of video nostalgia. In hindsight, a tasteful warning announcement for the whole extended family might have been wise. But then that wouldn't be traditional, really, for our family it isn't a down-home holiday celebration unless it all skates narrowly between humor and horror.

Ya know, somehow, I feel all those John-Denver-Dolly-Parton-Charlie-Brown-Christmas specials left me unprepared for the very real weirdness that I seem to have been spawned from.  I hope your holiday was slightly less eventful and really, mine could have been so much worse.  See, they couldn’t find the truly awful Christmas Eve video from two years ago, where Grandpa Pete kept taking Polaroid pictures during the Bible reading, and a twenty-something Danny read part of the narrative while hissing distinctly audible demands for silence and awe to his mother who had crumpled into embarrassed sniggering with me at my all-time heaviest camera weight snorting and jiggling like a bowl full of jelly.  This delightful bit of documentary-style holiday viewing was introduced last year at Christmas Dinner where it was played in a loop all evening long–they tell me it’s a new tradition.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hello Again

Hi everybody.  Apparently there is an everybody to address now.  Past blog entries I felt were sort of echoing into the wind.  Heavens, now I know someone's read them or at least skimmed them.  Thank you for the interest, really, I deeply appreciate it.

What's even more astounding is that according to my last residual check, quite a few people have actually purchased the book--more numbers than I can account for with people I know.  So I have to say thank you to those who have shown enough interest in the book to purchase it.  May it amuse and excite you as much to read it as it did to write it.  I am hard at work on the second book in the trilogy already so you shouldn't have to wait too long for the next installment.

I'm rather sorry I let October come and go without a blog entry.  It's my favorite month and it was almost perfect this year.  Textbook weather here in Northern California.  Leaves just starting to change color.  Evenings growing longer.  And I was in a good place to enjoy it all in relative peace.  Well at least on my weekends off when I drove up to Santa Rosa to be with by boyfriend and had no responsibilities I got to enjoy October peacefully.

Anyway onward to November and we're nearly through already.  I've taken some time to write a few short stories in between working on book 2.  I've submitted them to some Nevermore Press anthologies for publication so we'll see if they get to see the light of day.  I wrote them mostly in October so they're all horror.  Though I rather think I like writing short horror stories in general. I have one right now that I'm writing in the cracks between book 2.  Not sure what I'm going to do with it.  Just enjoying the process of telling a story.

I could rant about the commercialization of Christmas which is nearly upon us, but that really doesn't have a place in my blog space. I'd rather wish you all a great holiday season and happy reading no matter what it is you're reading at the moment.  It's a great time of year to snuggle up with a book, electronic or paper.

Best to all!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Birth of Real Magik Trilogy

I thought I should talk a little bit about where the trilogy came from. At the time when the idea was born I was still working for Walt Disney Feature Animation. This was back in 2000. I'd been reading the Harry Potter series and finding it a bit juvenile for my tastes (well I was an adult reading children's lit for heaven's sake, what did I expect?). I was also watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and loving the irreverent style with which they addressed massive danger while still keeping it real and scary. Somewhere in my head I was thinking though, yeah but all these things have one thing in common, the heroes are all pretty decent looking. None of them looked like I did as a kid and still did as an adult: big boned, zaftig, plump, chunky, curvy, fat.

I was also nervous as a kid, to the point of panic sometimes. You never saw that in those shows or books. I was insecure and had melt downs. Yeah all of this maybe made me a freaky kid growing up and I'm a different a adult now, but I also thought that freaky kids are human kids. There are lots of them out there and a heroine with those traits could speak to them. Voila, Fred was born.

I also had a Nina in my childhood who got me through the bumps. So it was easy to come up with her character.

From there I came up with the over arcing story line for the three books and broke it down into each book so that they hooked together like nesting dolls, each building to the next.

From the story came the other characters although I have to say that Oedipus came directly after Fred and Nina. He was clear as day and just as feisty from the second he bloomed in my brain. He was always Fred's introduction to the world of Magik and he was always rude about it.

So I started writing about 2000 in bits and pieces, usually on a pad of paper clipped to my animation desk. Whenever I had a notion or a sentence I'd take a second to write it down. Probably not Kosher by Disney's standards of working, but I did get my work done despite my little breaks.

Then on the weekends I'd work in my office at my apartment for hours at a time, forgetting to eat frequently. I wound up with a 300 page manuscript that was still incomplete and still growing when I stopped in 2003. Walt Disney Feature Animation had virtually closed its doors on traditional animation and I left to take up freelance illustration, a career that took up all of my time. I shelved the book for ten years.

When my illustration work began to dwindle in a waning economy during 2012. I found I had time to work on the book again. I took it down and started again, editing a great deal to trim excess material, getting the thing down to 300 pages total instead of 300 to start.

The whole thing was completed in April 2013. I painted a cover for it myself and posted it on Facebook and started planning for publishing it myself on Amazon Kindle. The cover got a LOT of attention on FB. I was stunned. Many independent publishers really liked it and wanted to know what the story was about and did I have a publisher yet? Suddenly I had an independent publisher reading my manuscript and then I had a contract in front of me. Now I have a book about to be in print and a trilogy about to see the light of day.

It's been a long journey from 1999 to 2013 but satisfying. I hope that readers accept Fred and her friends warmly and that they appeal to some kids who aren't Harry Potters or Buffys. We can't all be heroic and pretty. Some of us just manage to do our best in the face of danger and look OK instead of fabulous but go on anyway and that's its own kind of heroism.

Authors Who Influenced Me

I was a little frustrated with the author profile program on Goodreads as I went about adjusting the names of authors who influenced me. I'd originally sketched in a few names as I was in a hurry to set up the page and figured I'd go back later and fill in more. Well, when I went to do a comprehensive list, I found out there was a pretty skimpy limit on how many you could include. So, here I am with a blog where I can talk about the writers I love and why.

The first I couldn't include was John Steinbeck. Ouch! When I read East of Eden in eighth grade I was floored. The descriptive power. The clean plot. He was elegant in a tough way. And it was all so California, specifically Northern California, where I grew up. I was enthralled.

Next was Mary Shelly. My God. How could I leave Mary Shelly out of my list. She created the first real scary monster story of my youth. It was so descriptive in its horror, in a way that no other older horror stories had ever been. I was enraptured. I think it planted the seeds for my love of horror fiction.

Edger Allen Poe came later in the stream of things but he was just as big an influence. Ye gods, he was wickedly horrific. I ate up every sentence. I think I learned the idea of suspense from him, waiting until the appropriate time to reveal the worst thing you could possibly imagine. And of course making sure that the pay off was worth the wait.

More recently Jennifer Armstrong and Nancy Butcher created the Kindle (Fire-Us series). I recommend them to anyone that's looking for an example of realistic post apocalyptic YA reading. The characters are so tangible and broken by events preceding the book that you can easily imagine the world they're living in. Strangely the books got only middling reviews but I'd rate them much much higher.

Jumping back to my youth again, Robin McKinley was a piecemeal influence. I didn't like all of her books but at least two of them were like cherished friends of mine. I read them over and over. One in paperback form finally disintegrated last year. Beauty, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast was so clever that it never failed to surprise me every time I read it. The heroine was rewritten to be smart and take-charge rather than a lovely sad-sap. Then there was The Blue Sword written about a fictional desert country conquered by a "British-like" country. One of the "British" girls strikes the natives as part of a prophecy and they kidnap her, taking her far into the mountains, where her countrymen cannot find her. Whether she shows herself to be the prophesied one or not you'd have to read to find out but it's high adventure in the flavor of Prince of Persia.

So those are all the authors I couldn't list. I could say lots about the ones I COULD list but that would be a much longer post. Perhaps another day.

Another Book Coming Out

While I'm mostly blogging about the Real Magik trilogy, I do have other things in the mix. I thought I'd share one with you. I have a collection of short stories coming out soon called "Wishing and Wanting".

A meek young woman stumbles onto a magic lamp; a savvy goddess falls for a mortal man, and a determined mirror maker goes on her own quest to break a curse. Three women who will be faced with difficult choices in strange situations. Wishing and Wanting is about the strength of a woman’s heart and the cleverness of her mind when she’s pushed to the wall. Heroines can be just as formidable as their counterparts, even if their methods are different.

They're three very different tales but they're united in their subject matter, strong women taking the tough road to find their place in the world. I'm hoping that you'll enjoy the light flavor of the writing though. They're each romps in their own way.

So look for Wishing and Wanting soon at It’s due to be released October 22 2013.

Starting with Grandma

If I’m going to talk about me and my writing at all I have to talk about my maternal  Grandmother, Earline Desmond.  I was really fortunate to have her in my life,  living in the same town and so close that she could babysit and take me on trips with her.  She was incredibly imaginative, both a painter and a storyteller.  I don’t know what happened with my Mother, she wound up a math teacher who can’t read fantasy novels because she can’t picture what’s going on in them.

My Grandmother read me fairy tales from a book without pictures, insisting that I had to see them in my head.  That was a huge concept for me at six.  Picturing things in my head from words on a page.  It seeded something in me that took root.  I think it lead to my interests in illustration and writing.

When I was little, my Grandmother would provide my cousin and I with pencils and water colors, brushes and watercolor paper.  Then she would let us loose to imagine on paper.  Nothing was wrong.  Everything was interesting.  She would ask us to make stories around the things we painted.

She knew stories that no one else seemed to know.  Like the Vallejo Native American myth about Mount Tamalpias.  I’ve since tracked down the story and validated its existance but when I was ten I had no idea how my Grandmother knew it when no one else did. 

The story went that an Indian maiden was bathing by the San Pablo bay waters when a water god rose before her and told her he had fallen in love with her.  He begged her to come with him and be his wife.  She agreed but when he took her to his watery home she drowned.  In grief and remorse he rose up and laid her body to rest upon the moutain top, creating the shape of a reclining woman that we see from across the San Pablo bay—though only from Vallejo’s perspective.

See, how cool is that?  When your Grandmother comes up with a story like that as you’re riding in a car past a distant moutain range you’ve seen dozens of times  and never thought anything of—don’t you just go wow—at least when you’re ten years old?

She died in 1997, confused about most things.  I had already begun to miss her.  I miss her still.