When the Words Aren’t Coming

Writers Block

This year has been a terrible year for me as a writer, and I know I’m not alone. It’s so hard to concentrate on a fictional world when the real world feels like it’s spinning out of control.

I deliberately scheduled my year to shift most of the writing into the spring and summer this year, leaving editorial and research for the rest of the year because I’ve learned that I have trouble writing in the fall and winter due to seasonal depression. Unfortunately, real life and my other jobs got in the way of writing in the spring and summer this year. Now that I have time to write, it’s like something has atrophied inside of me. My depression and anxiety is worse than it has been in years. I am writing, but very slowly. What used to be 2000-3000 word days are now 200-300 words. A thousand word day feels like a victory.

This year has taught me much about myself as a writer and as a business person. I tried to balance the business of my publishing company with the creative act of being a writer, and I’m failing at doing both. I have a different plan for next year and how it will go, but I know that I need to back away a bit from publishing, promotion, and advertising if I’m ever going to finish another book. And that’s what really brings readers back–more good books.

I’m still trying to finish Secret Magic by mid-December, but the going is tough. Sometimes I want to throw my computer across the room, like in the picture above. But I don’t, and I won’t.

I won’t give up.

I promise.

 

Vacation!

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I am on vacation! I’ll be back next week with a Cara Recommends and a new podcast on the Feminist Romantic. Have a great week!

Cara Reads Memories Chapter One!

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For Memories of Magic’s release day party, I made a special YouTube video of me reading the first chapter of the book. I am not actually on the video–I recorded the audio and then used the book’s cover as a still image. So it’s almost more like a podcast.

I didn’t do any accents (I am intimidated by accents!), and there are some coughs and fumbles that I didn’t manage to edit out, plus a weird buzzing that I assume has something to do with an equipment problem but I don’t know enough to figure out what. Otherwise, though, I think this turned out fairly well. I’m even talking with A.E. Hayes (who did the live video with me on Facebook for the Crazy Little Spring Called Love release) about starting a monthly podcast.

Check out the video. I hope you enjoy it!

 


PS–tonight, several of the authors of Crazy Little Spring Called Love will be interviewed by Focus on Fantasy Romance, a weekly vlog about all things magical and romantic!

Check it out:

Focus on Fantasy Romance YouTube Channel and Website

The Perils of Nostalgia-Fueled Films

The Perils of Nostalgia (1)

My kids and I went to see two movies recently that were fueled by nostalgia for me and pretty much everyone else in my age group: Power Rangers and Beauty and the Beast.

I’ll be honest and say that I wouldn’t have gone to see Power Rangers if A) we hadn’t been invited by a friend of my son’s and B) my daughter wasn’t obsessed with them. I wasn’t a huge fan of the show at the time it first aired, but my brother was, and so I saw enough episodes to have a rough idea of the premise and characters.

On the other hand, I was pretty much obsessed by Beauty and the Beast as a kid and a teen. (And, let’s face it, I still am as an adult). I loved the cartoon, and the musical came to Broadway when I was in high school and we went to see it. I have read at least twenty different adaptations of the story (not including ones that use it as inspiration–I can’t even count those) and I pretty much adore them all.

But I kinda hated the Beauty and the Beast movie and I thought the Power Rangers movie was surprisingly well-written and acted.

Hate is probably too strong a word for Beauty and the Beast. I was disappointed. My expectations were, perhaps, unreachably high. But I was particularly gutted by the loss of my two absolute favorite songs from the musical, “Home,” and “If I Can’t Love Her.” Now, let’s be honest. Emma Watson is a fine actress, but vocally she is not up to the task of Belle (especially in a movie where we get to listen to Audra McDonald). So I can understand cutting “Home,” because she would have to carry that all by herself, unlike most of the other songs where her bits are either short or cut up by other people singing. But I thought that Dan Stevens was a surprisingly talented singer and he could absolutely have carried “If I Can’t Love Her.” Unfortunately they kept the original cartoon’s pacing and that doesn’t leave a big space at the end of act one for a show-stopper.

I did like the additions, especially the ones that fill in plot holes, and I was very fond of Le Fou’s arc and redemption. I will probably like the movie more after watching it again with lowered expectations (and without missing part to take my five-year-old to the bathroom or calm her down when she got overexcited and started bouncing around the seats). But I don’t think I’ll ever prefer this to the musical, much less the cartoon. And that makes me sad.

Power Rangers, on the other hand, was much more than I expected. I thought it was going to be “gritty and dark” the way all reboots seem to be these days, and was prepared to take my daughter out if things got too bad. But it wasn’t dark, and it was surprisingly deft at characterization and inclusion. There was real conflict that grew out of the character’s personalities and problems. I missed several parts (again, thanks to the kids), and I actually find myself wanting to watch it again to see what I missed. Color me surprised!

Have you seen either movie yet? What did you think?

This Is Not Who You Are

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This weekend, my kids and I went to see Moana, finally. I’ve been wanting to go since it came out, but with all of the illness and holiday madness, this was our first opportunity.

Ever since, I’ve had the soundtrack going almost non-stop, and I keep coming back to a few sets of lyrics and themes that resonate with things going on in the US right now.

SPOILERS FOR MOANA TO FOLLOW (But they’re necessary to discuss why the songs fit).

Even from the beginning of the movie, with “Where You Are,” there is this cognitive dissonance between a society that seems happy and settled and cared for, but that is based on fear and isolation, and is surrounded by darkness. This song is upbeat, but just like Moana’s father’s insistence that she belongs here, we know the peppiness is a lie. Moana can’t say that happiness is where she is, because her truth is in her grandmother’s words. Something is broken at the heart of Motunui, and it’s the same thing that is broken in the world–Te Fiti has lost her heart.

Motunui is the America shaped by fear. The one that allowed terror and a false sense of security to strip it of freedom and compassion. The one that insists that everything we need is here, when our entire history clearly disputes the fact.

“We Know the Way” reminds Moana of her people’s past.

Away, away,
We are explorers reading every sign
We tell the stories of our elders in a never-ending chain

Away, away
We set a course to find
A brand new Island everywhere we roam
Away, away
We keep our Island in our mind
And when it’s time to find home
We know the way

That’s us, too, or it has been. I flipped the stanzas from the song because the past is the undercurrent in our story. We’re on this great voyage known as democracy, an experimental republic, sailing to new lands with the stories of our Founding Fathers to guide us–for good or ill. We try to keep our “Island” in our minds–the ideal of that democracy, so that we know the way home.

But somewhere on our journey, we got lost. We got stuck. Things got scary, and people died, and we made bad decisions that isolated us, and now we’re digging down into those decisions instead of realizing that what is driving us is fear.

And of course, in Moana, Motunui is just a reflection of the true problem in the world–again, that Te Fiti has lost her heart.

We, the United States, are like Te Fiti. We’ve transformed into Te Ka, lashing out at everything that comes close to us, erupting with violence at the slightest provocation, or, as was the case this weekend, acting even when there’s no reason to at all.

But as Moana says in “Know Who You Are:”

They have stolen the heart from inside you
But this does not define you
This is not who you are
You know who you are

America, this is not who you are. Don’t let Trump and Bannon steal the heart from inside you. The things they do–the things they are telling you you are complicit in–do not define you. Do not define us.

You know who you are. You know who we are. That Island–that beautiful dream of democracy, of equality, and justice, of the voice of the people, of freedom from tyranny–is still inside of us.

“I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)” (with additions/alterations by me in bold)

Gramma Tala:

I know a girlpeople from an islandnation
SheThey stands apart from the crowd
SheTheyloves the seaEarth and her their people
SheThey makeher the whole family country proud

Sometimes, the world seems against you
The journey may leave a scar
But scars can heal and reveal just
Where you are

The people you love will change you
The things you have learned will guide you
And nothing on Earth can silence
The quiet voice still inside you

And when that voice starts to whisper,
MoanaAmerica, you’ve come so far”
MoanaAmerica, listen”
“Do you know who you are?”

Moana: America:
Who am I?
I am a girlnation who loves my islandpeople
I’m the girlcountry who loves the sea liberty
It calls me

I am the daughterproduct of the village chief a hundred nations
We are descended from voyagers
Who found their way across the world
They call me

I’ve delivered us to where we are
I have journeyed farther
I am everything I’ve learned and more
Still it [liberty] calls me

And the call isn’t out there at all
It’s inside me
It’s like the tide
Always falling and rising
I will carry you here in my heart
You remind me
That come what may
I know the way
I am Moana America!

Liberty is for all of us, no matter our religion, our gender orientation, our sexuality, our ethnicity, our race, or any other silly thing you can think of to divide humanity.

Freedom and liberty require compassion, empathy, and an open heart. Because anything else is slavery–slavery to fear, to bullies, to anger and violence, to hatred and oppression.

But just like Moana, I’ve spent most of my life playing it safe in Motunui. No longer. My books are my ocean. That’s why, when the next segment of A Merge of Magic releases, it’s going to look a little different than I originally intended. The story has grown. It’s no longer just Viola and Ian’s story. It’s Rachel and Helena’s story, too. They’re two lesbians, in love, protesting for women’s rights at the turn of the 20th century. Because the fight is not over, and I’ll never know how far I’ll go until I get out there onto the water.

“How Far I’ll Go – Reprise”

See her light up the night in the sea
She calls me
And yes, I know
That I can go
There’s a moon in the sky
And the wind is behind me
And soon I’ll know
How far I’ll go

All song lyrics © Mark Mancina, Opetaia Foa’i, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and excerpted from the Moana Soundtrack page on Disney Wikia.

On the Passing of a Legend

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I am still reeling from the loss of Carrie Fisher on Tuesday.

The news broke around 1 pm, while my family and I were in the middle of watching Rogue One for the first time. My brother’s best friend texted him about it, and my brother showed the text to me. I was sad, but able to put my emotions on hold to finish watching the movie.

Until the end.hanleiaforceawakens

If you’ve seen it, you know why I burst into inconsolable tears at the final scene. If you haven’t, it isn’t too big of a spoiler to say that this movie ties directly into A New Hope, and you can probably figure out the rest.

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My father was a fan of Star Wars from the moment it hit screens in 1977. My mom jokes that he saw it so many times because he was avoiding wedding planning (they got married that August). In the mid-80s, one of my aunts taped the trilogy off of HBO and sent the VHS tapes to us so my dad could watch them whenever he wanted. I literally have no memory of the first time I saw Star Wars and I cannot remember ever not knowing that Darth Vader was Luke and Leia’s father. I never had that moment of reveal and surprise. It was always my truth. Star Wars is an integral part of the fabric of my being.

A different aunt (my father’s baby sister, 16 years his junior) gave my brother and me all of her Star Wars figures when she got too old to play with them. We had the Millenium Falcon, a bunch of smaller ships, and all of the main characters in action figure form. We didn’t have bun-Leia, but we had Hoth, Bespin, and Boussh, and I played with those constantly. When my brother and I played with our female cousin, I got to be Leia for two reasons: 1) I am short and have brown hair. 2) My real name is Carrie, like Carrie Fisher. So my cousin had to be Han and my brother was Luke, as you might guess.

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Pretty much what my relationship with my brother looks like.

In elementary school, I had a crush on a boy whose last name was Fisher. I think a huge part of the appeal was imagining that we would get married one day and my name would be Carrie Fisher.

After that, I never lost my love of Star Wars, although I did stop playing with the toys in middle school, and for the most part moved on to epic fantasy books for my go-to strong female fix (thanks to authors like Robin McKinley and Martha Wells, the latter of whom wrote my definitive Princess Leia book, Razor’s Edge). But when the special editions were released in the 90s, and then the (shudder) prequel trilogy movies, my family went to see them (often at the Senator Theatre in Baltimore, MD).

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As I grew up, my feelings about Leia and Carrie Fisher became more complex, but–drug addiction aside–I never stopped wanting to be her, both the character she resembles and her, the outspoken, honest, unrepentant woman who didn’t take shit from anybody. She is my hero, as a writer and as, honestly, just a human being.

I hadn’t gotten around to reading her new memoir, The Princess Diarist, yet, what with my very full holiday schedule and lots of other things going on. But I bought it immediately after her death and am almost finished reading it.

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What gutted me most (other than the frequent mentions of how she would be remembered after her death and how her obituaries were going to all show her with the buns at 19, which is only partially true, thank goodness), were the excerpts from her diary while filming Star Wars.

That diary was me at 19. I was working in theatre, not film, and my affair was with an emotionally-distant guy my own age who was still in love with his high school girlfriend, not Harrison Ford, but the underlying emotions were all exactly the same. Looking back at my own journals from that age, I even used many of the same metaphors and my diaries are also peppered with poetry.

What that likely means is that the experience of being 19 is fairly similar across the board in our culture, even though I was 19 twenty-ish years after her. Or maybe it’s because the feelings of a bipolar teenage girl aren’t lightyears away from a girl with clinical depression and anxiety.

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Me at 19.

Whatever it means, I see myself in her words. I’ve always seen pieces of the woman I want to be in her, in her fiction and non-fiction writing, in the characters she’s portrayed, from her autobiographical turn in Wishful Drinking to her triumphant return to Star Wars as General Organa. But now I feel an even stronger resonance, a kind of cosmic similarity between two Carries. I always wanted to be Princess Leia when I was little, but now I aspire to be something between Carrie Fisher herself and General Organa. I want to be honest, and open, and driven. I want to fight for a cause and not give up even when everything in the world is against me.

I want to find hope in the dark times.

Her loss is devastating and incalculable, but the body of work she leaves behind is a ray of light. She said once, “I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to be art.” That’s my aspiration, too.

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(All images on this post are from Carrie Fisher’s official website, carriefisher.com, except the first and last, which are from tumblr, and my own picture, of course!)

For some more awesome (if poorly proofread) Carrie Fisher quotes, check out this page.

Problematic Holiday Music

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There was a CNN article going around social media this week about a couple that re-imagined the lyrics to “Baby It’s Cold Outside” to emphasize consent. I shared it on my Facebook page, and you should listen to the cover. It’s not only cute and funny, but also makes a very important point–the original song is basically about a woman being pressured into sex, plied with alcohol and possibly date-raped (she asks what’s in her drink, and then starts to feel funny–like she’s under a spell). And, in case you missed it–she totally says no. Like, a lot. Emphatically. “The answer is no, sir.” Even without the alcohol, even if she eventually caves and gives in, there is nothing at all romantic about a man who won’t take no for an answer. Reluctant sex is rape.

I’ve seen people try to defend it using similar reasoning as to why rape fantasy “romance” was popular in the 80s–that women weren’t allowed to own their sexuality or feel pleasure unless someone took their consent away. And while that may be true of the time (and moreso in the 40s when this song was written), it doesn’t mean we need to celebrate that or perpetuate it now. When that happens today, it’s called date rape. It also happens all of the time in marriages, and women are taught to simply accept it as their “marital duty.” And it’s not OK.

EDIT–it looks like the couple took down the song from SoundCloud. It was there on the 6th, but it’s possible the article caused too much negative feedback or too much traffic for the website.

BUT, they did a live version and it is now on YouTube!

 

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is one of the worst offenders for problematic holiday music, but there are others that perpetuate negative stereotypes and cultural biases, too.

“Up on the Housetop,” “Jolly Old St Nicholas,” and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” all include stereotypical toy choices for kids–always dolls for girls and either active (hopalong boots, hammer&tacks, ball, whirligig, skates) or violent toys (pistol, whip) for boys. “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” (contemporaneous with “Up On the Housetop” in the 1860s) at least mentions that Nellie would rather have a book than a doll. That may be because it’s based on a poem written by a woman, and the other two were written by men.

What we hand our children to play with is what they will learn to become. Any preschool teacher will tell you that kids learn through play. So if all we give our girls to play with are dolls, we are telling them the only role we want them to learn is mother/nurturer/caretaker. In contrast, we allow boys to have a wider range of options, from sports, to construction, to–yes–violence.

Of course not everyone sticks to these stark divides when giving gifts to their children, but go walk in any toy store or toy section and tell me what you find there. Even in Target, where they are doing excellent things to break down gender barriers on a store level, they can still only go as far as the product-makers will allow with their merchandise.

And let’s talk about another gift-related issue, with songs like “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” The song doesn’t explicitly state that Santa won’t bring toys to bad kids, but it’s implied: “Be good, for goodness’ sake!” This dovetails with another popular phenomenon: the Elf on the Shelf. I want my kids to be good and responsible just like every other parent, but I don’t want them to get used to living in a police state with Big Brother spying on them. I prefer Santa as a benevolent being who bestows presents regardless of the actions of the child–who loves unconditionally, in other words. It’s one thing for bad behavior to be punished by me, the parent, and for good behavior to be rewarded. It’s another thing to withhold presents on a day where gift-giving is expected because of some perceived “badness.” And what about families that can’t afford to give their children gifts? Do those kids now think that they’ve been bad? It’s not a simple issue.

There are other songs that display problematic behavior or biases, but the last one I want to talk about is “Santa Baby.” Many people defend this song as comedy, or parody. It’s supposed to be funny that Santa is standing in for a sugar daddy to a wannabe trophy wife, because all women really want is what a man can buy her and a ring, right?

Even if you claim the song is satirical, it’s still punching down. It’s still perpetuating the negative stereotype that women can be bought, and if a man dangles expensive toys in front of a hot girl, she’ll go home with him. It equates female sexual desire with being paid, and turns us into whores.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that funny.


I don’t want to end on a negative note, though. There are lots of holiday/Christmas songs that I do like. And the three songs with the toys in them can still be enjoyed for their other merits, while acknowledging the problems. I’ll admit that I won’t listen to “Santa Baby” or “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” at all unless I can’t help it (ie., trapped in a store), but versions of the others are all in my curated Christmas playlist.

Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian family, I tend to have a soft spot for religious songs that remind me of my childhood (“Mary Did You Know?” and “Breath of Heaven” are contemporary favorites, and hymns like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “O Holy Night,” and “Silent Night”), but I also like secular carols (“Sleigh Ride” and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”) and contemporary winter or holiday-themed songs (Sarah McLachlan’s “Wintersong,” Carly Simon’s “The Night Before Christmas,” and Joni Mitchell’s “River.”)  So I’m definitely not someone who says “bah humbug” at this time of year. In fact, I go all-out and decorate my house for Christmas and Yule.

But it’s totally OK to love something and still be able to see the faults and problems within it. Criticism and critique help us find the flaws in our own thinking, too.

I’ll leave you with one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs. It has a different meaning for me now, because I literally believe that god is in all of us. And that all paths, including Christianity, can be valid paths to discovering Truth. Most poignant are these lyrics, especially now:

“A voice of peace to the weary ones / Who struggle with the human soul. / All of us, travelers / Through a given time. / Who can know what tomorrow holds? / But over the horizon, surely you and I will find / Emmanuel, god with us.”

To me, god is love, and love is with us, even in the dark. And that love is for everyone, regardless of what they look like, what god they believe in, who they love, or what language they speak.

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