Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays!




Hello everyone!

I just wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! The week has been filled with goodness, laughter and lots of smiles and bittersweet memories for the Morgen family.

Working for a charity, this time of year really drives home how important giving is. Without the help of generous donors, many of the families I work with would have had very few reasons to smile this week. Having a critical child is never easy. Having one during the holidays can be so much more difficult, particularly for the siblings who are unable to spend the holiday together. It has been a true blessing getting to watch the community pull together to help bring smiles to those facing truly stressful and frightening times.

Likewise, it has been a true blessing to see the community come together in support of my six year old nephew, Aloshua. Our family has been blessed for the last six years with some truly amazing people in our lives helping us watch over Aloshua, and this week has just been one reminder after another of how very lucky we are to have him and to have each and every one of his doctors, nurses, therapists, medical providers, friends, supporters, and extended family members. He may be struggling medically with overwhelming obstacles, but he never lacks a reason to smile or laugh. My family cannot say enough how much that means to us.



So thank you to everyone who has done for others this holiday season. It is people like you who make this world and this time of year truly special.

I hope your holiday season has been as full of joy and beauty as ours has!

All my love,
A.K.M.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Meet Miss Kitty Fantastico Aleria



The Husbinator and I recently rescued a stray kitten. And by rescued, I mean got duped into bringing home a demon parading as an innocent, homeless kitten.

It went something like this:

Me: Ohhh, look, a kitten!
Him: We are not getting a kitten.
Me: But, baby! It likes me!
Mom: It does. It hasn't let anyone pick it up but her since it started coming around here.
Me: See? She does like me!
Him: So do stray kids. We don't take them home with us.
Mom: She would if you'd let her.
Me: She needs a home.
Him: She'll find one.
Me: But...but...
Him: No.

We then took the kitten inside my sister's house so I could use the kids, who The Husbinator can't say no to, to coerce him into letting me keep the cat show the kitten to the kids.

My nephew, Losh, never touches animals. And by never I mean hell will freeze over before this kid ever willingly owns a pet. He'll look at animals all day long, but forget getting him near anything that breathes and isn't human. So I wasn't particularly hopeful that he'd be useful in my ploy, but Losh surprised everyone.

That conversation went a little like this:

Me: Losh, want to pet her?
Mom: You know he won't pet your kitten.
The Husbinator: It's not her kitten!
Me: Hush, she is my kitten and look, he's thinking about it. Do you want to pet her, Losh? I promise she won't bite.
Mom: He'll never forgive you if she bites.
The Husbinator: She's lying, Losh. She's an attack cat.
Me: She is not! Pet her, baby, it's okay.
The Husbinator: He's not going to...
Mom: Yep, you're getting a cat.
The Husbinator: F##$%, we're getting a cat.

And so I gloated all the way home.

We've had her a little over a month now and the taste of victory has begun to get a little stale. And by that I mean... I'll never admit it to The Husbinator, but he might not have been completely unjustified in his hesitance to get a kitten. I've had cats before so was well aware of what stubborn pains they could be. But Aleria has taken it to entirely new lengths.

For instance... She refuses to eat out of her bowl unless it's completely full. If she feels The Husbinator is getting more attention than she is, she bites me incessantly. If schoolwork interferes with me petting her, she'll sit on the desk and randomly throw things at me. And by that, I mean she'll slap everything on the desk off at me, making sure she hits me with every little kitten-sized missile in the general vicinity. We have to block the kitchen doors because she's learned to open them... and takes pride in pushing everything off the counter into the floor every time she successfully gets the doors oepn.

Now, most cats run for cover when water enters the picture. Not my cat. She hops into the bathtub like it's nothing, and looks at us like we're complete morons when we splash at her. Needless to say, our options are severely limited when it comes to not being driven to drink by the cat cat obedience training.

The poor dogs have been thoroughly traumatized. Now, I have to be upfront here and tell you that my dogs (Boo and Razi) aren't necessarily the brightest of animals. In fact... I'm pretty sure they're both mentally challenged, and I'm also pretty sure that's probably my fault.

They're as scared of bugs as I am of spiders and are pretty much as paranoid as I am about everything. So you can just imagine the trauma this little kitten has put them through in the last month. She'll rub up against them all day long, but as soon as one of them dares look at her, she slaps and hisses. As soon as that paw comes up, the dogs run for cover. It's been like this since we brought Aleria home.

It's rather sad.

Surprisingly enough though, The Husbinator has yet to say "I told you so." He'll never admit it, but I think he kind of loves our little demon cat. And I have to admit, being wrong isn't so bad. There's nothing cuter than a 6'8" hulk of a man cuddling and catering to a 4 pound kitten, except maybe watching a 6'8" hulk of a man play peek-a-boo with a 4 pound kitten...

So I'm pretty sure it's safe to say that Aleria, demon though she be, is our proud new owner for the long haul.

Which begs the question...where can I sign the dogs up for therapy?!

Cheers,
A.K.M.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sleep? What is that?!




When you've spent the last six years of your life in school without a break, it seems all you do is eat, sleep and breathe school. When you aren't studying, you're thinking about studying, being asked what you study, or trying to decide why in the hell you ever decided to study in the first place.


But I can finally say that it's almost over. I scheduled my exit exams today! For those who don't know what the heck I'm talking about...once I complete all credit hours (which I will do next week!), I have to take exams on all core courses to prove that I actually retained everything I've learned. Once I pass those, I'm officially a grad school graduate.


It's a little unbelievable to actually be at the point where I can say that in a little over a month, I'll be done.

When I started the undergraduate program six years ago, I wasn't so sure I'd make it this far. My nephew had just come home from NICU and was seriously ill, and my sister had a one year old at home too. On top of helping with the kids, I was working full time, had been married for a little over a year, and was volunteering full-time.


Six years later, I have no idea what's on television. I haven't read a magazine that wasn't school-related in longer than I care to count, and my only vacation in years consisted of wrangling three kids under the age of six in Florida for a week.


But who the hell cares?


I made it!


Almost. I still have law school to go, but that's a subject for another day. Today, I am basking in the glory of almost-doneness.


It’s a good feeling. :)


All My Love,

The Girl Under the Stack of Textbooks (for one more month)

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Zombie Apoca-what?

I have a confession to make. I love zombies and apocalypse tales. A couple of years ago, I danced in glee when I found a zombie bookmark at the local bookstore. The cashier was highly appreciative of my public display of affection and we had a rather nice conversation about all things Black Dagger Brotherhood before the husband patiently handed over the cash to pay for a year's enrollment in the complete awesomeness that is their discount book club. A hardback copy of the John Matthew's BDB book for $4.58 less than a month after release last year? Heck yeah!

I did another little jig when someone hacked into a road sign on the interstate here in Little Rock to post "Beware! Zombie's Ahead!" in the middle of the night. Nothing breaks up the frustrating monotony of morning traffic quite like a zombie warning flashing where you'd expect to see a "Click It or Ticket" sign, right? Right. While highly illegal, it was still pretty funny.

Equally as hilarious to me are end of the world tales. My husband has this theory that I'm insane, but what does he know? I mean, really. Who didn't cheer when Yellowstone exploded in fiery chaos and John Cusack had to run like he stole something to make it to the relative safety of the plane? Or how about when the Titanic-like ship went bobbing through NYC while Jake Gyllenhaal and Co. burned books (tsk, tsk) to stay warm? And don’t even get me started on the cheering (and crying) that happened during Battle: Los Angeles.

So naturally, when I heard that AMC was about to air The Walking Dead, I was one happy girl. Zombies and the apocalypse seemed like a sure bet. Right up until I remembered my absolute inability to watch anything remotely spooky or gross without having nightmares, anyway.

Remember the movie Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour? Yeah, the kids' movie. I watched it a few weeks ago and woke up in a cold sweat to find the person shaped vacuum cleaner looming ominously in the corner. Scooby Doo freaked me out as a kid. I slept with a butcher knife the first time I watched Nightmare on Elm Street. For the record, not a plan I would recommend.

I still hide my eyes during the Hush episode of Buffy even though the first song I taught my niece when she was born was the rhyme from that episode. I still don’t know what happened to that kid in Slum Dog Millionaire or what the dead girl in Sixth Sense looks like. I stopped watching Aliens as soon as I saw that creepy looking sucker explode from the man’s body. I skipped half of Phantoms when I read it, and I’m still not quite sure if the villain was a demon, a man, a blob or something else altogether. The first time I saw a scorpion, I sat on the kitchen cabinet in the fetal position, begging it not to eat me for an hour until The Husbinator came home from work in the middle of the work-day on his noble steed to slay it (read: release it back into the wild so it could go about it's little scorpion life).

To make a long story short... I'm a chicken, so I've spent the time since The Walking Dead premiered in this confused state of "I wanna see this!" and "OMG, I'll never sleep if I watch this!"

I finally worked up the nerve to start the series and sat down with The Husbinator (so named because, as described above, he comes home from work to capture and/or kill things for me) this evening to watch it. Naturally, we got on the subject of Zombie Apocalypse survival plans. Everyone knows you need a Zombie Apocalypse plan because, hey, no one wants to be sitting there looking like a fool when the zombies come, right?

Right.

My plan is fairly simple. I’m going to sit on the roof with a flamethrower, a bottle of Stoli vodka, and what remains of the world's supply of cookies. By the time the flamethrower is out of flames or gas, or whatever magic the elves put in it to make it work, I'll have consumed enough of the vodka and cookies to die happy, thus negating the requirement that I run anywhere or watch rotting corpses walk around nom'ing on whatever limb they happen to stumble across. To me, any plan that involves me not running (or watching a rotting corpse walk around nom'ing on human limbs) and a last meal of cookies and vodka eaten over the toasty flames from a wickedly cool flamethrower is a winner.

The husband disagrees.

In his not so humble opinion, “It sounds like a good plan now, but just wait and see; when the zombies come…you’re going to freak out and forget all about the vodka and cookies.” Since this comes from the man who denies the existence of tiny elves who make all of the cool stuff in favor of believing the total fantasy spouted in shows like How It’s Made, I decided to take offense to his scoffed retort.

And so started the Great Zombie Debate of 2011.

I have no idea if I like The Walking Dead or not because, instead of watching it, I ended up having to defend my superior position to the clearly inferior mind of The Husbinator. And let me just say…he’s going to be sorely disappointed when the Zombie Apocalypse comes and I’m blissfully drunk on Russian goodness and enough calories to feed the entire state of Arkansas for a month. And if I have nightmares tonight and they feature a lack of cookies or vodka, he might want to sleep with one eye open for a while.

Despite our vehement disagreement over what constitutes an acceptable Zombie Apocalypse survival plan and my newly found fear of nightmares involving a cookie-less world, he did promise to shoot me if I’m unfortunate enough to be turned into a zombie.

Now, that's love, right?

I thought so, too.

For the record though, he’s still insane...and I’m still not sharing my cookies and vodka when the end comes.

Until Next Time,
A.K.M.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Blogs, and Websites, and Social Networks, oh, my!




I’ve been active in various writing groups and communities for a long time. Over the years, I’ve noticed that a lot of new writers have a lot of the same questions… How do I find readers? How do I connect with other writers? Is Facebook helpful?... The list goes on.

I’m, by no means, an expert, but I can tell you from personal experience that there are a few things that really can make your life easier. Writing, for many, is a solitary endeavor a majority of the time, but having a support system can be incredibly beneficial, whether you’re just starting out or have been writing for years.

So…how do you go about building that support system?

A writing related blog is always a really good place to start, and I can already hear the groans over that, but it's truly not as terrifying as it sounds. Places like Wordpress and Blogger make it relatively easy to create a basic blog. The more comfortable you become with the entire concept, the easier you'll find it to expand your blog and personalize it.

So, why a blog?

First, it allows you to network with other writers and authors, many of whom have had the same experiences as you’re beginning to face and can walk you through the process or simply offer a little support or insight.

Second, it allows you to connect with your readers. I don’t know about any of you, but I hate finding a book I love, finishing it…and not being able to find any information at all about the author or future releases. I like to know things, and a blog is one of the best ways an author can keep readers like me in the loop.

Third, a blog allows you to create your own little niche. Are you an expert on Napoleon? Have you acquired a pile of resources that were helpful to you on a particular subject? Did you have an amazing experience at a bookstore during a signing? Do you wish you’d known ten chapters ago that the publisher you’re aiming for is no longer accepting manuscripts such as yours?

In the course of writing, you’ve probably amassed an impressive amount of helpful knowledge, hints and tips that can make life easier for others. Sharing that information not only gets your name out there, but it can help you organize it for your future use as well. Not to mention, if you suck at backing things up like I do, you have a little safety net in the form of your blog if you post research related things.

What you blog about is pretty much up to you. I've seen authors blog about everything from what they're currently reading to what they're currently writing, to obscure details and facts that they've uncovered and have incorporated into their writing. I've seen authors include interviews with their favorite authors as well as up-and-coming authors, favorite recipes, the importance of the perfect playlist, rules of grammar that they find particularly difficult or irritating, what they did over the holidays, and so on and so forth. What you write about will depend on what you’re working on and what’s going on in your life. A good rule of thumb, however, is to write about what interests you. Chances are, if you're bored to tears writing a post, your readers will be bored to tears reading it.

You don't have to follow any particular format. You can be funny or sarcastic. You can be serious or lighthearted. Be yourself and let your personality and style shine and you'll do fine. Just don't try to force yourself into a mold that just isn't you. People will notice and it will do you more harm than good in the long run.

(As an aside...it's important to differentiate between fact, assumption, and opinion. And I say this for several reasons. First, I'm a grad student and college tutor and it's been ingrained in me for the last six years to cite sources and verify facts. Plagiarism is a bad, bad thing, and, as a writer, you don't want someone accusing you of plagiarizing when a simple source notation could have prevented it. Second, it's helpful for others who stumble across your posts in the course of research to know where you're getting your information from. Third, you really don't want a reader (or fellow writer or journalist) to take offense because they've misinterpreted what you've posted and tell all and sundry that you're an uneducated fool who's told your readers that NASA found sharks on Kepler-22b. It's the internet, and it happens.)

Something else to consider is creating your own website. I can't count the number of discussions between writers and even readers about the entire website idea, and, generally, everyone tends to agree that even if you don't want to publish or have no plans to publish for years to come, having a website will allow you to display those works you are willing to share as well as provide more information on yourself to potential readers and fellow writers.

Readers like to be able to keep up to date with what's going on in your world and a website helps them accomplish that. In that same vein, it also makes it easier for an author, even the unpublished writer, to be kept in mind. It's also a great tool for networking with fellow writers and providing resources that you've come across and found particularly helpful.

Most of us aren’t tech geniuses, and a website can be a lot of work. As with a blog, however, it can be a harmless process. My website is done completely through Blogger. All I had to do was register the domain and set up administrator accounts (which Google and The Husbanator walked me through or I’d have been clueless). When I want to post something, I just log in to my Blogger account and do it from there. It’s simple, straight forward, and doesn’t require me to learn an entirely new skill-set. When you’re a grad student and work two part-time jobs…the less you have to do with a website, the better!

Next up is social networking. Regardless of what you may have heard about Facebook, Twitter and the like, it's not just for kids or for wasting time. It can be a powerful tool. It's a great way to hook up with fellow authors. It's also a rather easy way to keep in touch with your readers. You might not always have time to write out a long email, but it takes all of two minutes to write a note on a reader’s wall or mention them on Twitter to say that you got the email and appreciate their support, etc. It's also a great way to keep up to date on what is occurring in the lives of your readers and fellow authors, and to offer your support or encouragement.

Social networking, of course, shouldn't be used in place of all other forms of contact. If the only way your readers ever get a response from you is when they catch you on Facebook, Twitter, or a similar social network, chances are it's going to irritate at least some of them. But when used wisely, it can add a personal touch that might otherwise be lacking.

Did a reader just post that she's having a child or that she's turning thirty? Great! Send a little note along saying congratulations or wishing her a happy birthday. At the least, she'll appreciate that you took the time to respond to her and may make a point of grabbing your book when it hits shelves to say thanks. Don't expect that she will or that she has to simply because you responded to her; simply recognize the potential and make an effort for the sake of making the effort.

Another aspect of social networking that I want to touch on briefly is writing related social networking sites. There are an entire host of those, and they can be helpful in networking with fellow writers as well as in locating resources and information that can be equally as helpful. One of which is online writing groups.

Yahoo, MSN, Writing.com, and many others, allow individuals to get together with others of similar interests in “groups”. For places such as Yahoo, posts can be delivered straight to your email and you can respond the same way, making it a whole lot less time consuming a process. They also have tools in the group itself that can be helpful in keeping up with one another, sharing resources with one another, etc. These groups can be particularly helpful if you're looking to connect with fellow writers or even with readers. There are more than a few writing circles that run almost solely through these groups as well as groups that help you connect with beta readers, with critique partners, writing buddies and the like.

Because not all groups are a perfect fit and because not all groups are honest, my suggestion if you plan to utilize the group tool would be to talk to others first and find out what groups they've found particularly helpful or unhelpful. That way, you don't find yourself stuck in a group where all anyone does is argue or where you have to worry that someone else might be stealing your writing.

At the end of the day, you want to make your life easier, not more difficult. There are plenty of other techy tools out there that can help you do that. Fellow authors, your readers, and your friends and family are great sources of information on what is available, what works, and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to ask for their advice or input, and don’t feel like you have to join every group or social network that comes along either. No one can realistically keep up with all of it, and, for most, having one or two options for networking with readers and writers works far better than trying to maintain those relationships on fifteen different sites or groups.

As they say, everything but chocolate in moderation, right?

Cheers,
A.K.M.

*partially adapted from a previous article I posted elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Signed, Sealed and Delivered


You know that feeling you get when you're about to do something permanent? You think, "This is it. There's no going back now." And then a thousand last minute questions run through your mind so fast you're left spinning in confused circles. I just had that moment.

I've officially signed and returned my first ever novel contract, and I'm not going to lie to you about it. It was terrifying and exhilarating (and a thousand other things) at once.

I'm excited. I'm nervous. I'm still wrapping my mind around the fact that I sent out my first query letter only four and a half months ago.

It's a lot to process.

I have to say that, despite the last minute worry overload, I am absolutely thrilled to have been offered the opportunity. More than that, I am so blessed to have had so many of you in my corner through this entire process. You are each a blessing to me and have been some of the most amazing critique partners, "send" button pushers, hand-holders, butt-kickers, shouty-caps text deliverers, relentless phone call hounders, and friends a girl could ask for. :)

And now *deep breath* it's on to the next phase of this journey!

Until next time,
A.K.M

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Of Wolves, Men and Mythology


Virgil's Aeneid, Homer's Iliad, the Enûma Eliš (Seven Tablets of Creation), the Tao Te Ching... these mythological (or religious) texts have been a source of fascination for me for a very long time, so it seems fitting that my first post here be about that very subject: mythology.


Virgil's Aeneid is the first story I remember hearing as a kid. I don't know who read it to me, or even how old I was, but I can remember being fascinated by the world Virgil had created. I didn't know then, of course, that so much of what he recounted in his epic poem was directly related to Greco-Roman mythology, but I was suitably impressed with the tangled web of words and how they all fit together. Some I understood, some I'm not so sure I understand yet, but I think it's safe to say that it started what’s become a bit of a life-long adoration for me.


In high school, I was given the opportunity to take a course on ancient texts and mythology and discovered an entirely new set of myths and legends from around the world. The two that immediately grabbed my attention were the Norse Eddas (the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda), which recounted the skaldic traditions of Iceland and Norse mythology as the modern world knows it.


Those familiar with the Eddas no doubt know that they were written sometime in the 13th century (1200 BCE), and recount northern mythology from creation to the destruction of the Gods (Ragnarök) and beyond. In the myths as told in the Eddas, Odin and his offspring (the Aesir) are given reason to fear Fenrir (the monstrous son of Loki and the giantess Angrboda, born in secret), who has grown so large and fearsome as to threaten the might of the Aesir. As a result, Odin and the Gods trick Fenrir into Gleipnir, a magical ribbon meant to bind him and render him harmless.


Fenrir, who suspects trickery on the part of the Gods, agrees to test his strength against the suspect ribbon on the condition that one of the Aesir places his or her arm in Fenrir’s mouth as a show of good faith. Tyr (one of Odin’s sons) willingly agrees to do so knowing it’s the only way they will ever be able to contain Fenrir. When Fenrir realizes that he cannot escape from the magical bond placed around his neck, he bites off Tyr’s arm and swears vengeance upon the Gods. The Gods then drag Fenrir into the depths of the earth and chain him to a rock (Gioll).


There, the Eddas recount, Fenrir will remain until his bonds are broken and he is freed to seek his revenge upon the Aesir for their trickery. His release, according to the Eddas, will be assured when his sons, the wolves Sköll and Hati, catch the sun and moon and devour them. At that point, the magic of Gleipnir will shatter and Fenrir will kill Odin, pitting brother against brother, and causing the world to die in fire and ice.


Fenrir, Sköll and Hati are not the only wolves of Norse mythology. According to all accounts, Odin has two wolves, Geri and Freki, that he loves above all others. These are, according to Norse mythology, the first real wolves ever created (as opposed to the monsters Sköll and Hati, who are the offspring of a Fenrir and a witch) and they serve Odin and humanity faithfully, even teaching humans how to love and care for one another at the request of Odin. These aren’t ordinary wolves by any means though. Myth tells that Geri and Freki are mythical beings, able to change form at will.


And from them springs the legend of the Berserkers, or the bravest of Norse warriors who, in a fit of blood lust during battle, were able to change into wolf form to fight alongside their brethren. The Berserker legend (or shapeshifting) is one that has been recounted in various forms throughout many different cultures and link wolves to men as securely as Geri and Freki were linked to Odin.


Despite the strong relationship between man and wolf in Norse mythology and in other myths from various cultures and time periods, the actual relationship between man and wolf has been more along the lines of Fenrir and Odin's relationship than of the inspiring bond between Odin and his companions, with wolves being viewed as a predator to fear by man. In fact, wolves have been hunted to near extinction in the continental United States and elsewhere in the world, resulting in the gray wolf being added to, and then facing removal from, the Endangered Species list twice in recent years in the United States.


And that brings us to Fade


I began writing Fade nearly four years ago after taking an undergraduate course that required us to reach out to our representatives in Congress on an environmental issue of our choice. I chose the plight of the gray wolf after having talked to a friend that was very involved in the fight to keep the wolf on the Endangered Species list in her home state. The more I learned about wolves, and the more I kept coming back to mythology, the more the story began to grow in my mind.


When I was introduced to the story of a family that had lived alongside wolves and come to view them as family, I was absolutely certain that I not only wanted to include the mythological side of things, but that I wanted to include aspects of the debate that had become so familiar during the course of the assignment. The people that fight for and love wolves, and those that are terrified of and hunt them both often had incredibly compelling reasons for their stance on the issue, many of which were rooted as deeply in mythology and legend as wolves themselves.


By the time my letter was written to Rep. Snyder, Fade had begun to take shape and I had begun writing. I finished the first full draft of the story two years ago and set it aside to take on other writing projects that had been tickling at the back of my mind; each, ironically enough, about issues that had become as important to me as the plight of the gray wolf. Fade never left my mind though, and I picked it up frequently to reread, revise and expand.


I’ve written four full novels and numerous smaller pieces in the last two years, but it’s always been Fade and the wolves that has kept my attention as fully as mythology has over the years. I’m excited that it’s not only finished, but has recently been offered a contract, and I cannot wait to share my favorite fictional world, and my favorite animal (shapeshifter or actual) with all of you in the months ahead.