In Which I Attempt to Read All Seven Harry Potters Next Month

So this past New Year’s was just me and my little sister. We had two bottles of this super nasty sparkling non-alcoholic wine (red grape and white grape, if I’m remembering right). When midnight hit, we shook them up like crazy and then raced onto the back porch, flinging foaming grape juice everywhere while Frozen’s “Let it Go” blasted on full volume behind us through the open door. Not gonna lie, it was kind of exhilarating screaming, “THE PAST IS IN THE PAST!” while swinging trails of juice around us as we danced in circles. Fireworks were going off in three different places around us.

But all of that lasted about as long as the song, and then we were left slightly sticky and holding two empty bottles. “We should make resolutions,” I said, “and then shatter the bottles.” My sister’s eyes widened. “Yes.”

We were by no means rebels, but I’m from a super small country town and there were plenty of empty parking lots to use, with abandoned, weedy fields to catch errant shards of glass. Anyway. Nervous and hyped up, we found a parking lot and shut off the jeep’s lights so nobody could see us. “So,” my sister said. “I’m going to get a six-pack this year.” (For my incredibly athletic, soccer-star little sister, this was a feasible option; not so much for me. I have a writer’s doughy build and I regard crunches with the same nose-wrinkle as I do all green vegetables). I lifted mine and said, “I’m going to try one new thing every month this year.” Then we threw the bottles down and ran away giggling.

The month to month “new thing” is variable, but basically I’ve seen it either as a new habit/practice to try for 30 days, or simply doing something I haven’t done before. This month, I’ve vowed to read all the Harry Potter books.

Again. For the record, I have read them.

The other day I was in a publishing lecture, and someone asked the speaking editor what she thought about the Potter books’ climb from MG to YA to Really Upper YA. And she said that she thought it got away with it not just because the books were good, but because lots of readers were 10-11 when the first book came out, and so they literally grew up alongside Harry Potter.

I was one of those readers. I was eleven when I won a paperback copy of the first book as the prize for a drawing contest. The last scene with the mirror and Voldemort scared me a little. And the last movie came out when I was 21, so my entire transition from childhood to adulthood was tainted by Harry Potter. He’s like a long lost cousin or something. But I’m not a Potterhead. I read each book once as it came out, and also the book right before it to give myself a refresher, so that means I’ve read every one twice, except the last one (upward of six years ago, wow). I haven’t seen any of the movies. (Oh, wait, that’s not true. I did see the sixth one with a friend in the theaters.) To be honest, I barely remember the bare bones of the story. And I think half of what I know is simply media exposure.

So I thought: I should read those again.

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I mean, why not? I feel like I should if only because books are my business, and also because the experience will probably be wholly different now as an adult than as a growing-up adolescent, not to mention reading them all in one condensed time instead of spread out by years and years. So March, prepare to be Potter-fied. Anyone want to join me?

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Some thoughts on Love Day

Writing prompt: level Valentine’s.

When it comes to love, I can basically sum up my experience with this video:

But even as a single during this time of single awareness, I still appreciate that we have a holiday specifically devoted to celebrating love. And so, for this week’s post, I share some rambling thoughts (helped by PostSecret), on love.

Beautiful:

beautiful

We ascribe a currency to our words. If you look at a sandwich, and you say to that sandwich, “Dear god in heaven, has anything more beautiful graced our mortal earth?” then you turn to the person you love and say, “You look nice,” they will think they have all the attractive qualities of a wilted piece of lettuce.

But then imagine standing next to someone, both of you craning your necks back to see the luminous display of the aurora borealis, your own frosty breath swirling around your heads like a heavenly cloud, and this person says (behind a yawn), “Well, this is certainly above average.” And then they look at you, with a whole new expression, and say, “You look nice.” Suddenly, your face is more mesmerizing than a rainbow collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in high altitude atmosphere.

Daydream:

daydream

So much of what I think about love is defined by expectation, not experience. But all of us, saturated by books, movies and television’s portrayal of love, expect something of the same. We enter movie theaters separately but emerge two hours later as one, with the same experience, same guided emotions, and the same moral. A million schools teach as many curriculums, a million churches feature ten thousand sects with twenty times as many sermons—but the same movie shows in every place. And we all see it.

Daydreaming about love—in all aspects, physical and emotional—seems to be pretty common. But what about romantic daydreaming? Do you stop daydreaming once you’ve found a partner who fulfills everything you need? A daydream is a break from reality, but most of the time, my present is not so bad, but I do this anyway. Sometimes, if I have a romantic fantasy, the guy takes the place of the Subway cashier who smiled at me that day, or if I don’t have an immediate crush to fill the role, then he just becomes a faceless dark and handsome substitute.

And I wonder how damaging it is, really. Is it just a natural, healthy response to loneliness? Or a simple expression of aspiration and the desire to make things better than they are? (Or nothing—actually nothing). Or, since your daydream can be whatever you want, filled by the expectations of movies, are you setting yourself up for constant disappointment, and as a result, more loneliness?

Heart:

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The symbol of love is the heart. A hundred times some realist will always point that our actual hearts look nothing like the red, romantic shapes. But part of the reason this organ gets the honor of representing love is because that’s where we so often feel it, there in our chest—in the hammering pace when we feel attraction. Actually, though, it’s our blood. It makes us warmer or colder—when our heart is racing, more blood is pumped more rapidly through our bodies, an influx causes a sensation in our chest. Too little, and we lose our breath, dizzy, since less oxygen is moving through our veins. There’s no way to symbolically represent blood, except like, a squiggle? So the heart was the next logical choice.

Probably a good thing. Imagine comforting your sniffling friend. “I have broken blood,” she cries.

“Just follow your blood and you’ll do the right thing.”

“I promise, from the bottom of my blood.”

“You’re so nice, you have big blood.”

“We need to have a blood-to-blood talk.”

Loyalty:

Loyalty is the best L-word. Better than love. The crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty.

In the mid-thirties, a traveling salesman (he specialized in jeans and Western gear) walked into a shop in Trinidad, Colorado, hoping to make a sale. When he saw a stunning young woman working at the counter, he asked her out for a Coke instead. They went on a couple of quick dates before he got back on the road. He continued traveling and their courtship unfolded almost entirely by mail. They married in 1939 and remained madly in love until he died in 2001.

This is from one of his letters:

Darling:
Si, dear, I just know that someday you are going to be very successful. I don’t know why, but somehow I have all the faith in the world in you. Some people go through life without having any ambition or ideas, and you are full of them. Your new idea sounds grand—much better than a fox farm or even the Trading Post and camp idea which was very good. Your idea for having a children’s wear store with a sort of Alice in Wonderland or Mother Goose set-up is just swell because it is novel, and this seems to be an age when novel ideas or anything that is just a bit “different” goes over big. BUT (there always has to be a but) an idea like this would take an awful lot of capital for it couldn’t be put over in half measures. That is the main drawback. The idea of having midgets as clerks isn’t so very practical. You might have one or two as a special attraction, and then regular clerks just petite girls. But darling I think it is a grand idea and I think you are simply marvelous for being wide-awake enough to think of it. Did you have anything definite in mind? Let me know what is what, dear.
 

This, to me, is the most beautiful picture of what love means. Someone always behind you saying, “That is sensational, darling.” Again, and again, until you have to believe that at least they believe it. Even when you know are not sensational. “That is the most daring and spectacular C on an exam I’ve ever seen.”

I guess you want someone to challenge you, too. Be honest with you. But lots of people will do that. How many will tell you you’re sensational? Is it so unbelievable to think that you might be so greatly admired that constant support and compliments would be genuine? It is the reassurance that you are never alone. Loyalty is the anti-Loneliness, not love, since love is contained within loneliness, like webbing between these two ideas. You can love and still be lonely.

Loneliness:

notalone

One of the tragic ironies of life is that we all feel so separate from each other by the very feelings we have in common. The first time this occurred to me was secondhand, when someone else said, I feel like I was born another planet, delivered here by accident. And my good friend Donna told him, Well, we all feel like that sometimes.

I almost asked, “Wait, really? Everyone? Not really, though.” I knew that feeling; it was like watching a fleet of ships travel together, fast and full of purpose toward the horizon, while my dinghy of a boat was tut-tutting in another direction, passed by and unaware of the destination anyway. But it was possible no one was in the fleet of powerful, impressive ships—the thought had just never occurred to me.

Marriage:

“I don’t know. What love? I think it’s a habit. We didn’t have any love. We went out, we walked around. True love is only on TV. We didn’t have that. We had friendship, we lived happily, we loved each other, we shared life’s endeavors. That was our love.” – a 71 year old woman from Siberia, Russia, interviewed by 7 Billion Others.

marriage

On nearly everyone’s top five expressions of ultimate love (I have asked), you will find *~the dishes~*.

Doing the dishes is the sum of all romance, the first brick in every road to forgiveness. What is it about the dishes—I mean particularly?

Even with roommates, of which I’ve had plenty—it’s never the trash or the vacuuming that gets noticed, it’s the dishes. I now do my dishes very efficiently and well, but it’s not because I’m a particularly tidy person. Over the years, I’ve responded, like Pavlov’s dogs, to the pleasant chime of praise and affection when I do them.

It really is romantic. And so, I’m wondering, if romance isn’t really just kindness, but given a different name when considered with courtship and marriage. I feel like what I’m really saying when I say I want romance is that I’d like a steady stream of kindness in my life.

Soul mate:

According to Theosophy, whose claims were modified by Edgar Cayce, God created androgynous souls—equally male and female. Then the souls split into separate genders, perhaps because they incurred karma while playing around on the Earth, or “separation from God.” Over a number of reincarnations, each half seeks the other. When all karmic debt is purged, the two will fuse back together and return to the ultimate.

I don’t actually believe in soul mates, mostly because I consider myself an intelligent person and intelligent people don’t believe in soul mates—despite the occasional evidence to the contrary.

Except this one time I came home after a generally awful date and I threw my purse at the wall and I figuratively screamed at the universe, “Where are you keeping the other half of my soul?! Cough him up! Where is he?!”

Or she. Does your soul mate have to be the person you’re intimate with? Discovering your best friend is a little like falling in love (so says Elizabeth Wein). Or maybe a sibling is like a soul mate. I believe there are people you’re bound to meet, who you’ve probably already met in some way before you “meet” them again, and they’re people who bring you to your own attention so you can change your life.

But do you marry them? I think sometimes, you do. But sometimes you don’t and it’s not that great a loss.

gay

Bashert is a Yiddish word that means “destiny.” It is often used in the context of one’s divinely foreordained spouse, who is called “basherte” (female) or “basherter” (male). Nowadays, Jewish singles say they’re looking for their bashert, meaning they are looking for that person who will complement them perfectly, and whom they will complement perfectly. Since it’s considered to have been foreordained by God whom one will marry, one’s spouse is considered to be one’s bashert by definition, independent of whether the couple’s marital life works out well or not.

So yes, I do believe in soul mates, but I don’t think it’s synonymous with true love. True love you choose. For children love is a feeling; for adults, it is a decision. Children wait to learn if their love is true by seeing how long it lasts; adults make their love true by never wavering from their commitment.

2014, Resolutions, and Updates

How about update more regularly on my blog? That would be a nice resolution.

But it’s not. (smile~)

I’m kidding. I mean, I really didn’t make any resolutions concerning my blog, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try and post at semi-regular intervals. In fact, none of my resolutions are writing-centered. Last year I nabbed a coveted full-time internship at a magazine, I spent two months hiking around the UK, and even then I would get distracted, squirreling away time to write or read. Nothing I can think of has, or could, stop me from writing as much as I was able. If anything, I need to make resolutions that force me to take a step back from writing and remember how to be involved with life as a normal human being. (On that note one of my resolutions this year is to try something new each month. January is keeping a “Happiness Jar” and each day my happiest moment almost always involves writing or reading or just this great big bad industry that I love so much.)

Some quick updates before we kick off this grand new year:

I am now an official editor at Jolly Fish Press, and I work contractually. I love being on the other end, hunting for the next great novel instead of writing it (though I love that too).

UNTIL PROVEN is coming out this June (crazy!) and I’m sort of uselessly flailing around, wondering what, exactly, I’m supposed to do to carry my load marketing-wise. (I am a publicity fail.)

A MERRY WAR is in revision and will hopefully find a permanent home sometime this year. I’ve grown very fond of the fun-ness of this manuscript. Every time I sit down to write it, I feel smiley and adventurous. Shakespeare in general is a world I entered in 2013, and I’m still grateful for the professor and England experience that planted my fangirl-ish love.

MORPHEUS: The second book starts updating this month! Hurray! Once the sequel is done and dusted, I have a third book on the horizon, which I’m quite excited about, because IT’S A BIG ‘OL EXPERIMENT (that could totally crash and burn). A more modern “interactive” kind of book.

In the meantime, I’m still working as a ghostwriter and doing freelance editing work (if you know someone in need, send them my way). And in the midst of all these opportunities, I have somehow managed to STILL not have my bachelor’s degree, so I’m taking classes part-time to polish off that last credit I need before graduation. Hally-fricking-looya. That’s all folks, at least for this site. Updates will happen more regularly. Stay tuned for additional news.

Math Things That I Need To Stop Doing

[-stands up on podium-]

Hi, my name’s McKelle, and I’m a reader/writer/artist who can’t seem to stop doing math for the things she reads/writes/creates.

Problem #1

How old were you when you first got published?

get-published

Step One: I read a book I really liked.

Step Two: I wikipedia the author and find out his or her birth date.

Step Three: I research the date of publication of his or her first novel (sometimes the one I read, sometimes not).

Step Four: I subtract the year of publication from the year of birth to determine how old the author was when their first book was published.

Step Five: I add it to the growing list of author ages, which I then average out to determine the EPA, or Expected Publication Age.

Step Six: I start freaking out because I only have SIX MONTHS LEFT to somehow make that cut off. (A FEW WERE EVEN YOUNGER THAN ME OMFG).

I really do this. It’s a bad compulsion I can’t seem to stop. And the worst part is, many of my favorite writers were publishing at my age (or often younger). But writing is unlike other professions. For one, you don’t have to get it right the first time—like, for example, a brain surgeon. For another, it’s not the Olympics; it’s not something like if you missed it by age 19, too bad so sad. It’s never too late. Your writing will only get better as you get older and wiser. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, “If you write something beautiful and important, and the right person somehow discovers it, they will clear room for you on the bookshelves of the world – at any age.”

Problem #2

How long should a book be and how long should it take you to write it?

shot-wordcount-window

Step One: Determine word count of good book. Tricky. Wordcounts are not typically advertised. You can convert e-books into PDFs, copy and paste into a Word document, and check word count there. You can estimate that each page contains approximately 250 words and calculate that way. (There used to be Text Stats on Amazon, but no more).

Step Two: Compare to your book.

Step Three: Compare to your unwritten books.

Step Four: Try and calculate how long it took author to write said book (also tricky, because you have to minus out production time, which isn’t writing time).

Step Five: Freak out and beat yourself up if you’re not writing a similar pace, or if your book is nowhere near the average wordcount for the genre.

I have a mental log detailing whenever a published author announced how much they typically write in one day.

Jack London wrote between 1,000 and 1,500 words each day.  Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day, “and only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.”  He finishes a 180,000-word novel in three months. Raymond Chandler agreed:  “The faster I write the better my output.  If I’m going slow I’m in trouble.  It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.” Shannon Hale kicks out a 40,000 word novel incredibly fast, and then spends all her time rewriting and rebuilding what’s there. On the other hand, Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full has about 370,000 words, and it took him eleven years to write it. “My children grew up thinking that was all I did: write, and never finish, a book called A Man in Full.”  That many words divided by that many working days in a year indicates he averaged 134 words a day. J.R.R. Tolkein wrote The Lord of the Rings as one novel, which contains about 670,000 words.  It took him eleven years, which is 245 words each working day, or a little less than a typed page.

You see? Why do I know all of this? I have a problem. Clearly, there is no set solution, and the only way out of it is to just write the damned book. As George Bernard Shaw said, “The one certain thing is you must write, write, write every day.”

In the meantime . . .

. . . don’t fail as a human being.

Sorry we’ve gone a whole two weeks with zippo blog updates. I was working on three (count ’em), three deadlines, only one of which was self-imposed, and got a little bogged down. Until Proven is now officially on its first round of edits, my ghost writing MS is shined for agents and A Merry War was ready to go just in time for Pitch Madness.

But now that’s all done.

A few days ago, I was driving home from my (third) job–third not counting my own writing as paying work, at least not yet–and yawning at the wheel. On the weekends I work all night long doing custodial work to help cover rent costs after my (amazing and worth it!) trip to England kind of sank me. So anyway, it’s a little after 6 AM and I’m going home and as I’m driving along past a Starbucks, I see three girls in signature green aprons, huddling outside on the sidewalk and looking behind me at Utah’s impressively high mountains. What are they doing? I wondered, and then I realized they were waiting for the sunrise.

If you live by high mountains, then you know the sky gets light far before the sun actually shows itself (and it takes a while to get fully dark after the sun sets). I felt a sort of camaraderie with these girls, also working during these ungodly hours, who probably didn’t aspire to be baristas, but maybe CEO’s or pastry chefs or even writers like me.  So I turned my car into the mall lot, parked going the wrong away along three yellow lines, and watched the sun rise with them.

I’ve had a lot of weird menial-labor un-enjoyable jobs over the years. Some–like summers spent as a ropes course host or a Girl Scout camp counselor–have been a lot of fun. But others . . . like my brief stint as a telemarketer to pay for my speeding ticket or the job at the bakery where I had to go to work at 4 bloody AM and suffer through a supervisor who always redid my roses on the cakes because they weren’t good enough were somewhat less fun.

The closer I get to achieving my goal as a writer, the harder it is to endure these jobs I need-but-do-not-like. In his awesome keynote address for the University of Arts, Neil Gaiman said, “Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.”

It’s tempting, as an artist–of any caliber, writing or otherwise, to throw down the gauntlet and say, “I REFUSE TO DO ANYTHING NOT MOVING ME TOWARD THE MOUNTAIN,” and get a little bitter about the necessity of staying there.

But. (there’s always a ‘but’).

There’s more to life than writing.

I know, I know. (Traitor! hissss)

Roughly six months ago, I inadvertently got some advice that was maybe the best thing I could have heard about trying to make it as a writer. It was an author interview and the student asked the author, in slightly desperate tones, what he needed to do to make a living as a writer, what were all the tricks he needed to know? What are the real chances of being able to support yourself as a writer? How can an unknown outsider get a fair shot?

The author answered like this: “Don’t be intimidated. If you’re good enough and smart enough and persistent (i.e., brave) enough, you’ll make it. If not, then with luck you’ll realize it in time to get on with another job that will enable you to support your family and have a good life.

There are worse things in the world than not making it as a writer. Not making it as a human being, that really sucks. Not making it as a writer almost doesn’t matter, compared to that.”

For me, at the time, it was like getting cannonballed in the stomach. Writing was the only thing I wanted to do. Envisioning a career where I could write all the time kept me up at night in a half-desperate fever and envisioning giving up made me sick.

But this just made me think . . . if you have to do janitor work while you write your stories, that’s not a big deal. Relax, Joe.

If nobody but your best friends and your family ever read your stories, well . . . there are worse things.

Be a good human being first and everything else is sort of secondary. Go after your mountain with everything you have, but in the meantime, don’t let it destroy the things that are really important.

Until Proven! May! Stop!

I made a promise to myself not to get too giddy and freaked by this first small publishing venture . . .

. . . but here I am. FREAKING OUT of total happiness.

Pandamoon has made the official announcement! Check out their little teaser with the prison and the horse therapy pictures. (want to read my book.) Go like their announcement so it looks like other people want to read it too!

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“We are thrilled to announce that we have signed McKelle George for her debut novel entitled UNTIL PROVEN, a fast-paced, suspenseful mystery about Penny Baker, a caseworker in a Montana correctional facility with an unusual sensory ability. Part gift, part curse, Penny can tell whether or not the accused are innocent or guilty – at a glance.

The problem with that ability is that there is little she can do with it. Unable to make the grades for law school where she could help those whom she knows are innocent, she settles for a prison caseworker position that leaves her frustrated and unfulfilled. There’s not much she can do for those who have already been through the justice system and deemed guilty by the courts.

That all changes when an inmate named Gatsby Childs enters Penny’s office. She has never seen someone who is so glaringly and blatantly innocent. What’s even more perplexing is that he plead guilty to a horrific crime, arson and the involuntary manslaughter of an innocent six-year old girl, a crime Penny knows he did not commit.

Why would he confess to such a heinous crime? Was he protecting someone else? Penny is determined to finally use her gift to help someone she knows is innocent, but she must do so without the knowledge of her superiors at the prison. Her investigation leads her to a horse therapy farm owned by Gatsby’s family in nearby Wyoming. Everyone there assumes Gatsby’s large and mentally-challenged brother, nicknamed Frankenstein, is responsible for the crime and that Gatsby is making the ultimate sacrifice for his family. However, Penny’s gift allows her to see what no one else considered…Frankenstein is innocent too.

Please join us in congratulating McKelle on creating a compelling story with an accurate portrayal of the criminal justice system. UNTIL PROVEN will both touch your heart with interesting characters and keep you guessing who is really guilty until the end. Stay tuned for updates as we work our way to a May 2014 launch.”

Which reminds me . . . like my Facebook page too (it’s new)! https://www.facebook.com/mckelleg

Some writing updates

You know what summer makes me think of? What my life would be like if I was a full-time writer. It means I’d spend even more time holed into my room tacking away at a laptop, heh.

All that aside, I’ve more free time to advance on projects, so here’s some writing updates.

Until Proven:

My speculative/mystery novel is going to be published by a small press sometime in 2014. This is fantastic news and I’m so pleased to have a venue for my adult novels, as most of them are sort of quirky ideas tied into romance, and my other works are primarily YA and a whole other market besides.

Once Upon a Nightmare:

After being passed through the hands of more than a few literary agents and getting various feedback that ultimately led to rejection, I decided to take some advice I heard in the LTUE conference: move past your first book. Too many new authors spend so much time tweaking and re-vamping their first baby, and then when they finally move on, that’s what gets published. This, I think, is pretty sage advice for most of us (but not all, ain’t that the beauty of writing?)

So I’m moving on, trying to get my next project published instead, but I can’t just . . . drop it. Cause friends, I love the Isle of Morpheus, and all the characters in it. I can’t let them go because they’re my first babies. Hence: I’m putting it back online–on Amazon and Smashwords, but it will also be available in its entirety for free on sites like WattPad, Figment and FictionPress. IT GOES UP AUGUST 1st.

Atlantica: The Last Child of Triton (Book One):

What started as a ghostwriting gig and morphed into a partnership has been over a year in the making, but we’re about to send this baby out on submission (maybe mid-August?). A fantasy series with a 16-year-old boy protagonist, in a re-wrought world of Atlantis and mermaid warriors is not really my style, so it’s been an adventure for sure. But that’s why it’s a partnership, eh?

A Merry War (the first in a series of Shakespeare Adaptions):

My latest project, the first niche in an even bigger, envisioned project, is a modern YA adaption of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing set in the 1920’s. My research a few weeks ago looked like this:

DSCF2103

I’m currently 20K into the first draft. The goal is to have a good final copy by November 1st and then I want to find an agent for this one. (The next one would be The Taming of the Scoundrel, a version of The Taming of the Shrew set in high society Southern states, right after WWII, with all the genders reversed).

Whew–I think that’s it. In the meantime, I’ll be part of the staff of a children’s magazine and hoping that Jolly Fish Press will hire me full time so I can feed myself while continuing to write.