The Stories of Michelle Rodriguez

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The Places Where I Write

Posted by [email protected] on September 13, 2012 at 8:05 AM Comments comments (0)

I can write anywhere; I’ve been told that’s a talent.  I never considered it anything but a little freakish and further proof of social awkwardness, but I also never considered my stories worthy of sharing or that anyone but me could ever appreciate the strange, little world in my head.  Just give me a pencil and a notebook, and no matter what is going on around me, I am content. I dive into the recesses of my mind and tune out everything else, and the world falls away.

 

I have written in the midst of rehearsal.  Anytime I was not needed onstage, I’d plop down anywhere and pick up a scene wherever I’d left off, even with people chattering and walking around me. It’s always funny because someone will inevitably come along and say,“What are you working on, Michelle? Another novel?” And I’ll have to stop mid-line and answer, dragged back into the world of reality.  But it’s like I hit a pause button in the ongoing saga in my head, and as soon as I’m left alone again, I resume right where I left off and never miss a beat.  I’ve always had the thought that my novel is already written; I’m just putting the words down on paper.  With that idea in mind, I never feel like I can go wrong. I’m just the instrument for my story.

 

I have written in the few minutes of passing period between classes in school, literally sucking every word out of every possible second.  I never wanted to waste a single minute.  I’ve even written during class, which is not something I recommend if it’s a class where attention must be duly given.  But sometimes in performance class when we were supposed to be an audience for each other, I admit to sneaking my notebook out and getting a few paragraphs in.  I suppose compared to others who’d be quietly whispering or messing with their phones, my offense was innocent.  As a school obsessed, straight-laced student, my greatest crime was working on a novel at every second.  Not really detention-worthy, I suppose.

 

I have written while feeding an infant, balancing the bottle with my chin and propping my notebook on the armrest; I’ve also used something akin to that position to type an entire novel during my baby’s bottle time.  It always amazed me what I could manage to get done with a baby in arms if I was determined enough!

 

I have written in moving cars while traveling on vacation (I don’t recommend that if you are prone to car sickness because I managed to give myself a headache and will not be trying that again!).  I have written on planes; I spent the entire ride on my recent trip to Colorado lost in a story to avoid any sound the plane wanted to make.  I have written on the beach, and subsequently, got sand trapped between my notebook pages.  I have written on a screened-in porch overlooking the ocean; almost all of “A Revenant’s Love Story” was written to the background of rolling waves.  I have written in random hotel rooms on random trips in many states, curled in their armchair while my kids ran back and forth through the room, happy to be out of the car and shrieking so loud we were lucky not to get thrown out of the hotel.

 

I have written at every possible time of day.  At college age, I preferred late at night and would get a lot done while waiting for my boyfriend and future husband to give his nightly call, at an hour I now never see on the dark side of it.  As I’ve gotten older and had kids, I’ve learned to prefer the early morning before anyone is awake.  I’m happily up at 4:30AM to work, but that’s not always enough for me. Any extra second in an over-packed day is subject to be filled with the scratching of my pencil on a blank piece of paper.  Whether it’s mid-afternoon or the middle of the night; “Opera Macabre” was started at 3:30 in the morning one night when my insomnia was preventing me from sleeping. Any hour is a canvas for creativity if it strikes.

 

I write, no matter the time, no matter the place, no matter the way the world of reality is shifting on any particular day.  My imaginary place doesn’t need a specific ambience to take me away.

 

But for that special time at 4:30 in the morning when all is quiet but my coffee maker, I do have a spot that beats everywhere else I’ve been.  I made the perfect place for imagination and creativity to blossom. My bedroom walls are covered in quotes and pictures, everything I’ve ever seen or heard that I find inspiration in.  And one specific corner, my “snow” corner is where my writing chair resides.  The walls surrounding it are laden in more quotes, and when I’m finding myself at a loss for the correct words I want or the way to move forward, sometimes I sit back and read the walls for awhile.  All of my favorites are there: from Susan Kay’s “Phantom” to anything by the Brontë sisters to song lyrics that make pictures in my head to even some of my own scenes.  I wrote them all out on blue and purple legal pad paper, ripped the edges, and glued them to the random, mismatched paper stapled to the walls. I pity my husband and father because if we ever need to take my walls apart, I know the sort of damage I’ve done and what it will take to fix them…again!  At our old house, I did something similar to one wall, and taking it down meant a mélange of holes and glue streaks, missing chunks of dry wall; that staple gun is a powerful toy!

 

My corner is my special place, but my creativity is not limited to its walls.  It goes anywhere I go, and when I’m in the middle of writing a story, it overtakes me at every unoccupied second. Whether it is offstage at rehearsal or while I am keeping an eye on the dinner cooking on the stove, I write. I never want to waste a moment when that moment could have a dozen words in it.  And maybe that ties back in with my obsessions in life, and writing is almost another one because I have no idea why I feel I have to do it.  I just do it.  But if the stories I’m telling are important and touching the lives of strangers I’ve never met, then I will happily be a slave to my writing bug for the rest of my life. If nothing else, it makes sure I’m never bored!

 

My "snow" corner!

 




Mr. Perfectionism

Posted by [email protected] on July 18, 2012 at 5:45 AM Comments comments (2)

I have a little man that lives inside my head.  He isn’t a very nice person; he’s usually full of mean comments and criticisms.  Incessant, unavoidable, and he truly talks more than anyone I’ve ever met.  Some might think he’s another character waiting for his story to be written, and believe me, if he were, I would have written that tale long ago and freed myself from his aggravating presence.  But I am not that lucky.  No, he is my sometimes friend, sometimes enemy, Perfectionism, and we’ve been together for as long as I can remember.

 

To some degree, every person has a voice of self-doubt.  Some are quieter than others’ and speak no more than whispers in the background that don’t interfere with life.  Confidence is supposed to mute its volume, and proven triumphs should build a barrier wall between the truth outside our heads and that nagging voice within that questions it. For example: I am a writer; other people have told me that I am a good writer; therefore I should consider myself a good writer.  If only it were that simple!  But here is where Perfectionism puts a wrench in things. Trial and error should have made this fact to me, but I have that cursed little man running circles in my head and insisting otherwise.  He never shuts up, no matter what proof I have that his claims are unwarranted.  No matter accolades and compliments, no matter the depth to which I love what I do, that voice argues against me.

 

I look at Perfectionism as a curse some of the time.  I cannot enjoy things for what they are because I’m so fixed on making them perfect, which is really sad when reality tells us perfection doesn’t exist.  Nothing I do can live up to the standard I set for myself.  That is the unfavorable truth of the matter.  But…for every grief perfectionism causes, there are advantages.  I am always pushing myself.  Whether it is on the stage singing or devising a new story that is outside my comfort limits, I never settle for anything but throwing everything out there.

 

In singing, that is such an integral component.  I have to get up onstage and just sing without the constant critique in my head.  When singing, you can’t trust your ears.  You have to trust how things feel on the inside.  My teacher constantly tells me to stop trying to listen because that’s what I pay her for.  And it’s true.  Your ears lie.  The sounds you hear are mere echoes of the sounds you’re making.  For a perfectionist like me, that is practically torture.  I have to discredit what I think I’m hearing and trust feeling instead.  Gasp!  When I’m onstage, I have no choice but to turn off Mr. Perfectionism and sing!  He has his say later when we can overanalyze every show together and pick at our faults.  But I don’t cower to his opinion and decide never to set foot on the stage again.  Instead, I try to exceed what I did last time: make my coloratura cleaner, faster, make the high note blossom on the pitch.  He is never happy with my performance, but he makes me a better singer because of it.

 

In writing, it’s an entirely different situation.  I throw it all out there when a pencil is between my fingers, but later, I have the final product before me to pick apart as I please.  A show is just that; once the final bows are taken, critique all you like, but the show is over.  Aside from video copies (which I never watch), no one will relive it except in memories.  With writing, I have physical proof forever before me.

 

For that reason, I cannot go back and reread any of my published works or posted stories. That probably seems odd. One would think I would draw inspiration by rereading, or that the mere fact I am so passionate about my stories and characters would mean that I revisit them often.  But I can’t!  I don’t read my own stuff for the enjoyment of it; I read and rip it apart.  It literally is like both a writer and an editor live in my brain at the same time.  That isn’t always a bad thing, but when Perfectionism gets thrown into the mix, then every critical word I have to say about myself gets amplified and overtakes.

 

Those of you who know me from my frequently posted Phantom of the Opera stories have had glimpses of my self-doubting nature and my addled nerves every time a new story goes up. What you don’t know is the true extent.  I edit everything before it is posted, and as words fly by and I try to fall into my story, I am constantly critical about what others will think of it.  That voice speaks up inside and insists that every reader will hate it, that it isn’t as good as some of the others I’ve posted, that it will make my every loyal reader turn away from me and wonder what the heck that particular story was.  There have been times where I’ve edited a story and put off posting it for days because I was so full of doubts that Perfectionism created, and even though they hold no real validity, they make me hesitate and question.  He’s never satisfied, and when I go back and reread, he makes me unsatisfied as well.

 

Perfectionism makes me strive for new stories in new places, makes me fight to write tales others wouldn’t touch, builds me up by promising if I have an idea, I can always work it out.  But then in the end, its voice gives a skewed view of the final product and makes me want to interpret what my readers will say.  How foolish indeed!  Mr. Perfectionism is a cunning one, and he knows right where to hit me.

 

It’s so difficult to find a balance.  Perfectionism is a curse and a blessing.  I push myself to more and better things because of it, but at the same time, I am never satisfied with the things I’ve already done.  But despite its undeniable power over me, I’m trying to chip away at its hold.  At the end of the day, if I gather courage enough to post the story I mentally ripped apart in edits or sing with every bit of myself on that stage, then I’m winning meager battles.  I’m never going to be cured or kill Perfectionism permanently, but for those few moments, I outwit his control, and I guess I’ll have to settle for that.

 

 

My Obsession

Posted by [email protected] on June 12, 2012 at 6:15 AM Comments comments (2)

Most of my fellow Phantom fans already know the story of my first experiences with “The Phantom of the Opera”.  That I first heard the music in a high school freshman choir class.  That I fell in love with the storyline at the same time as I was discovering my own talent for singing.  That I felt like it was my story in some bizarre, alternate universe sort of way.  That I used to act out scenes from the show in my bedroom behind locked doors complete with a Christine cloak…  OK, I hadn’t gone into that much detail perhaps.  Suffice to say, Phantom of the Opera is my obsession in life. It goes beyond just something I possess a great interest in to something that has shaped me as a person and continues to mold me to this day.

 

There is a very big difference between something we love and something that is an obsession. Things we love often change with time, and though they leave a lasting imprint in our lives, they lose a bit of their initial first passion.  It’s like that cliché of a couple breaking up and one person telling the other, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you anymore.”  I’ve had a lot fall into that category.

 

To me, an obsession is something we don’t grow out of; it grows with us.  At 14, I fell in love with a disfigured, genius musician named Erik.  A fictional character changed my life literally.  At 14, I loved the romanticized ideal of his story, and I let it construct my changing views of life and the world.  I was enamored with the basic principle of a man no one else could love and the undoubting assertion that I could be the one to love him (yes, a fictional character!)  I was utterly determined to have my hands on any and everything Phantom related.  I don’t know why in my twisted mindset owning things that embodied the characters meant so much, but I had to have every music box, ornament, doll, everything bearing a man in a mask or that could somehow be misconstrued to represent Phantom (ie. the Christine cloak, which was from some random Halloween costume!).

 

And what great lengths I’ve gone to in order to own such things!  There used to be a San Francisco Music Box Company store in the mall, and since I was there weekly for Chinese food Fridays with my sister, I insisted on walking by the windows to see if there were any new music boxes. A few times I was lucky enough to have funds on-hand to buy one at sight, but sometimes I had to wait and became an impatient crazy person until I could go back and get it.  One night I even made my mother drive the half hour trip back to the mall in the pouring rain because they only had one of the new Christine and Raoul “All I Ask Of You” globes left!  Yes, that was insane, but obsessions have this tendency to consume.

 

My obsession wasn’t just for the musical version.  I read every piece of literature ever created having to do with Phantom. At the time, I had to special order half the books because they were no longer in print…back when you had to actually go to a bookstore to do that sort of thing.  Or I printed out page after page of fanfiction online.  That was how I got started writing my own stories for Phantom.  …And the obsession grows.

 

The first story I wrote was as a final project in my freshman choir class and it included a girl Phantom!  It was silly and cheesy, but I did get an A+ on it, so I suppose it worked out.  But it wasn’t until college that I decided to try my hand at writing the real, canon characters and developing my first real Phantom story.  By that time, I had read dozens of other people’s stories online and was never completely satisfied.  So many included a new female character, and to me, who wholeheartedly believes in soul mates and eternal love, that concept never sat right.  Imagine any story you know picking up where it ended with one of the main characters replaced by someone new…  It just felt wrong.  I could never find enough stories that gave Erik a happy ending with Christine, which I felt was the ideal ending to the story.  So I decided to write my own.  Hence the start of my vast collection!

 

Obsession is writing almost 70 stories and 2 full novels about a set of established characters, throwing them into different scenarios and playing with them like I own them.  When I first started writing, I never thought there were people who would appreciate what I do or share my so-called obsession.  But two years ago I got up the nerve to post a story on the fanfiction websites online, and it changed my life.  Before that, I lived in a bubble with the things I loved.  I didn’t tell anyone (aside from those living with me who knew I had a sick infatuation!) and I kept my writing all to myself.  On the day I hit the “POST” button and submitted my first story, I popped that bubble and opened my heart and soul to the world through my writing.

 

Obsession is something that is carved onto our very bones.  It is something that hits you to your core and anchors inside of you, never letting go.  I’ve grown and changed since my Phantom obsession started.  I went from a daydreaming high school kid who kept fairytales always spinning in her head to a married adult who learned what love means and how to feel it and portray it in language.  My life experiences have changed my views of the Phantom story, showing me new nuances and details, helping me put myself into the characters’ heads in ways I couldn’t at 14.  I’ve grown, and instead of abandoning the story I love so much, I’ve let it change me and change with me.  And the characters have become so real that they are practically friends.  When I work on my original novels in between Phantom binges, I always have Erik and Christine to return to; I can fall back into their heads like a safe haven and build new dreams for my first love.

 

I would hope that everyone reading this could relate with things they have their own obsession for. Yours might not go to the extreme that mine does; I don’t fathom everyone daydreams of disfigured, masked men carrying them off to sing in an underground domain, but whatever it is, if it shapes your life and views of the world, if it has had such an impact that you could never imagine yourself as the same person without it, then it might just be an obsession.  And that is not a bad thing!

 

Playing The Villain

Posted by [email protected] on April 19, 2012 at 6:35 AM Comments comments (3)

When I first found out I was going to play the Queen of the Night, I freaked out a little. Most people would assume it was the fast coloratura and the high F’s giving me nightmares.  The role has always been called “virtuosic”, and of course, that is a lot to live up to.  But the cause for my immediate anxiety was not singing at all.  It was the idea of playing a villain. I’ve never played a villain. I’ve never wanted to play a villain.  I’m always the good girl, the innocent heroine; even when I’ve played the jilted wife in both Die Fledermaus and The Marriage of Figaro, I’ve been on the good side of the moral compass.  But a villain…  That is as far from my comfort zone as I’ve ever ventured to go.

 

Villain has such a stereotype attached.  I attribute it to Disney.  The word villain brings to mind Ursula the sea witch and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, all dark colors and grating laughs so full of malice and sinister design.  And who in their right mind would want to be the tentacled sea witch over the beautiful princess longing for love?  Never has a little girl run around the house playing pretend as the Evil Queen out to poison Snow White or the Stepmother locking Cinderella in a tower.  If I had told my mother that I wanted an Evil Queen costume as a child, she would have thought something was wrong with me!  My sisters and I were always the princesses and good girls.  Countless Halloweens were passed as Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, Snow White, Belle, Alice from Alice in Wonderland.  Little girls don’t choose to be the evil antagonists.

 

In last year’s production of The Mikado, I played the epitome of heroine.  Yum-Yum is the innocent, pretty, young girl, just released from school and seeing the world for the first time.  She is naïve to the ways of life and love, a little self-centered as she admires her own beauty and foolishlyoptimistic.  At the time, I tried to find layers to her character, but she is exactly what she seems.  She doesn’t have a tragic back-story, a past that leads her to question Nanki-Poo’s love or fear the world.  Perhaps had she not earned her happy ending, and Nanki-Poo was beheaded, she would have developed darker traits and transform into a more three dimensional person, but the happy couple gets the happily ever after and therefore fulfill their preset roles.

 

Being a villain is something entirely different.  A good villain needs to be insightful and surprisingly intelligent, not just evil for evil’s sake.  The Queen of the Night is a grieving mother; her first appearance in the opera, she is lamenting and mourning the loss of her daughter Pamina who has been taken by her enemy Sarastro.  She truly loves her daughter, and yet in act two, she tells her daughter that if she doesn’t kill Sarastro, she will disown and abandon her.  It makes no sense that the Queen’s attitude would suddenly shift from wanting her daughter returned to disowning her.  There are so many more layers to it than that, and to play the Queen and do it successfully, she has to show a much wider array of emotions and a maturity well beyond the innocence of a heroine.

 

I was terrified with the idea of playing such a complex role, of carrying myself with her regality and confidence, knowing it must exude from every gesture and every expression.  I am still anxious.  It would be impossible to be calm a week before the show’s opening. But for every nerve, there is anticipation.  I am excited to play this role, excited for the challenge and to push myself out of my comfort zone.  Every rehearsal I’ve had to learn to be someone I’m not.  When heroines were practically branches of my existential self, this has been the opposite extreme.  …And yet this has been the most fun I’ve ever had in a show.  It’s easy to play someone close to your own self; the difficulty comes in being someone else and finding reasons for their actions, defining and defending their personality and even if you don’t agree with it, portraying it as if you do.

 

The Queen’s Vengeance aria starts: “The wrath of hell within my breast I cherish/ Death, desperation are the oath I swore”.  Michelle Gliottoni-Rodriguez does not agree with a single word, but the Queen needs to be 100% convicted without falter in proclamation.  The Queen doesn’t think she’s evil; she might call herself the tortured heroine, but that’s just another layer.  And I have to play her that way.  I can’t call her evil because she needs motive and reason.  She needs a heart somewhere beneath all the darkness.  She needs to feel human even if she has super powers, can grab you without a touch from her hands, and appears by thunder and lightning.  She needs to be more than a caricature of evil, otherwise she won’t be real.

 

Next week, The Magic Flute opens.  I don’t know when I’ll get to play a villain again; I look too much like the proverbial heroine/princess, and so I will be savoring this show all the more.  Compared to everything I’ve done and will do, this might be at the top.  A challenge to sing, a challenge to play, always on my toes and anticipating what’s to come.  How could I ever grow bored?  The biggest joy in performing is being someone you’re not; this time I’m really someone I’m not, and it’s absolutely liberating.  Michelle sits back and the Queen emerges, and hopefully, when fully costumed and ready to go, she will truly be a figure worthy of both fear and respect.  I doubt it will inspire little girls to want to be sea witches and queens in their games of pretend, but hopefully, it will show that villains are much more than evil.


 

 


Superwoman

Posted by [email protected] on February 29, 2012 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (2)

I live my life under a misconception that I am Superwoman. I truly believe in some masochistic part of my mind that I can do everything. Let me give a vague idea what I mean.


I wake up every morning at 4:30 to write. For an hour and a half, I let my mind wander my imaginary world. Some would consider getting up so early just to write as extreme, but for me, it isn’t a chore or a sacrifice. Usually, when I’m working on a novel, I’m so anxious to write that I’m awake even before my alarm goes off with some absurd paranoia that I will miss my designated writing time. I will admit that is a bit crazy.


But mental escape is necessary because then comes the chaos. Mom responsibilities call, and I’m off to make lunches and get my son Noah ready for school. He is autistic, so everything must run to the clock and in the same exact order every morning. As soon as he is out the door, I practice my music for an hour and a half while my daughter Cordelia watches Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, stopping whenever she needs something or decides to have a random freak out. From the moment my last note stops, she consumes the rest of my morning and early afternoon: making her lunch, working on potty training (my idea of torture!), trying my best to get a few odd and end tasks accomplished with her help and attention. Her new interest is “helping” me with housework. It causes more of a mess, but it’s cute.


At 1:00, I’m off to pick up my son from school. As soon as he gets home, we have his routine to accomplish, which again thanks to his autism, must happen exact and unchangeably every afternoon: change from his uniform, a snack, his homework and reading, then some TV. By then, it’s time to start cooking dinner. Feed the kids, bath time, wait for my husband to get home which isn’t until after 6, and then bedtime rituals. We attempt sleep at 8:30, but again, Noah has his routine that can’t be deviated lest we want a tantrum.


That’s just a normal day. Now add into the mix that currently 3 days a week, I have rehearsals in the evening for The Magic Flute and therefore cook dinner at noon to make sure everyone is taken care of while I’m gone, and I guess calling myself Superwoman isn’t really that farfetched.


My life: singer, author, wife, mother to 2 little ones, one of which has special needs. Sometimes I don’t even know how I’m doing it anymore. I’ve been called “motivated” again and again, but I don’t agree with that. It’s just my life, and I deal with it as best I can. Is it too much? Maybe, but I can’t fathom giving anything up. I’m not me without every detail in my hectic and insane day.


Despite the constant rigor of my schedule, I’m trying to learn a certain level of balance. Most of the time, I feel like I am upon the proverbial balance beam, one wrong step from toppling, but if I approach things whole heart and without hesitation, I manage to stay upright and make it through. Sure, some things suffer; housework is truly the last thing on my list, and laundry is the bane of my existence! But I’m trying to cut myself a break in that department. The laundry will always be there tomorrow; missing a rehearsal or giving up dance time in the kitchen with my kids on Friday evenings is not worth the sacrifice.


One of my goals this year is to take a step back and appreciate things more. I never do that, and I’m terrified that one day I’ll look and my life will already be over. What’s the point of living if we don’t appreciate the small things? I’ve been making the biggest effort with my kids, reminding myself that they’re only little once. How often do my husband and I say that we can’t wait until they’re older and we can do more stuff with them? Especially in regard to Noah’s autism. It’s almost like wishing his childhood away because everything is so complicated. Of course, we see every advance he makes and appreciate it more than most parents could imagine. Just hearing him spontaneously say to one of his classmates last week, “Goodbye, I’ll see you tomorrow” made me cry; a small achievement for a regular kid, but a huge leap for a five and a half year old who rarely acknowledges anyone without a phrase being put into his mouth first. I appreciated that moment and stood back to truly look at it, and that’s what I want to do with everything.


We live in a world that is constantly spinning and can knock us off our feet. I don’t have control; I’ll never have control, but I love the things I do. I still need to work on accepting that it’s all right to fall every so often and ask for help. To prioritize, but forgive myself for not managing to juggle everything at the same time. My perfectionist streak makes it difficult, but I’m trying. I’m tired of being Superwoman!

My Happy Place

Posted by [email protected] on January 8, 2012 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (1)

The holidays have taken their toll. I am utterly exhausted from an overload of baking, shopping, wrapping, socializing, dealing with the kids. Too much! Every year the same hectic insanity leaves me recovering for days on end. This year was worse yet as I was left baking six kinds of cookies with a 3 year old running about and making a task that should have taken a day take two instead! Now add into that a social anxiety I can’t quite shake that comes to a peak on Christmas Eve spent with the in-laws and an autistic son who requires double the planning and preparation for any special occasion lest we have a major meltdown, and I’m sure anyone would call my fatigue justified. I’m supposed to be tired and worn out. Most people would try to sleep it off and hopefully spend days in languid recovery. And what do I do amidst all the chaos? I write a new story.


There’s a reason imagination is considered a gift. As children, we played pretend more than any other game. We were different people putting on fake makeup and silly costumes or singing like rock stars with light-up microphones and a radio. We were Barbie or Jem, acting storylines through 12-inch dolls. We were little pretend moms in our playhouses with plastic food, cooking dinner and making parents act like they were eating it. We had an imaginary place to escape to as we played. Then we grew up and learned reality is a lot more difficult to endure without a retreat.


Writing has always been my retreat from the real world. It’s more than a hobby; it’s stress relief and necessary to my well-being. Literally. At high school age when most of my classmates were hanging out and having parties, I was home writing romantic stories of a world I wished existed. I happily spent more of my youth in my fantasy world than the real one, and that carried on until I got married and had my first child. I was under some misguided impression that being a wife and mother meant sacrificing everything that made me “me”, and my fantasy world became a memory.


Then I had my son, and I got sick. And everything changed. The human body can only take so much without retaliating; for me, the complications I had after my son was born culminated in insomnia. It never sounds bad to say the word, but when you’re living it, it’s a whole different story. I barely slept. Every single night was a struggle. I did everything the doctors told me to no avail. Not even prescribed sleeping pills made me sleep. I was in a constant state of alertness and spent hours in the middle of the night crying just because I couldn’t rest. One would presume that after so long awake, you’d just be so exhausted that you’d have to fall asleep. Not so. I went whole nights with little more than 45 minutes of sleep and then spent all day taking care of a newborn. It was the worst time in my life.


After giving up on everything, I decided one day to pick up a pencil. “Opera Macabre” was the product of my rampant insomnia and ironically the cure. I had started the story years before and had set it aside when reality cut me off from my magical world of imagination. I can’t say why I thought returning to writing would help me. I claim God and destiny. But I read through the 60 or so pages I had written, and I just knew I had to finish it. I committed myself to writing something every morning before my son woke up. Since I wasn’t sleeping anyway, it wasn’t a sacrifice to get out of bed at 4:30 and work. And the more I recommitted myself to my creativity and fell into the story, the more I began to sleep!


My imaginary world is my happy place. When life reaches out and tries to claw at me, I now know that is the place for escape. I go there, fall into my current story or make a new one, and I shut out life. If I didn’t have my writing, life would overwhelm me, and considering the hardships I deal with everyday, it is a blessing to wake up at 4:30 and forget the real world exists for a little while.


People always tell me that they have no idea how I keep motivated and balance a singing career, a writing career, two kids and a husband. My little secret is that I can slip away every morning and I don’t have to be the wife, mother, singer, author. I can stop worrying about everyone else and my responsibilities. And nothing can touch me when I’m there. It’s playing pretend all over again. It takes the weight of life from my shoulders, so that by the time I have to face my day and run downstairs to deal with the kids, I’m rejuvenated and “me” again. Sometimes the best places that exist are the ones we create, and though they aren’t real, as we move in and out of their corridors, life seems sweeter and touched with imagination all the time. Even in the midst of chaos, imagination is an eternal blessing.


So now as I recover from far too many holidays and return to the regular stresses of day to day life, I do it with a new story in my head and anticipation for where my world of imagination will take me next.

Bittersweet

Posted by [email protected] on December 15, 2011 at 6:50 AM Comments comments (3)

Done!  Finished!  Over!  Finally, after a six week emotional investment plus an extra week and a half of typing, my 25th novel is complete.  For as proud as I am of such an achievement, I can’t help but mourn its ending.  It truly is bittersweet.

 

This was the first novel I’ve ever written in modern times.  It was something in planning phases for 2 years as random notes scribbled in the back of a notebook.  I was adamant that it had to be written in the fall to fully capture the season in words, and last fall, it was bumped out of the forefront of concentration by another idea that just had to find paper.  This year I was determined to capture it.

 

I started writing it the week before my recital to have a distraction, and it surprised me how easy this one came out.  Maybe it was the modern setting, or maybe because there was a bit of memoir mixed in.  It flowed on its own and took the story to new unforeseen places, giving me characters that I loved to watch grow.  As I’ve blogged about in the past, when I’m writing a novel, I’m committed to writing something every single day, and with this one, I was eager to be up at 4AM and get as much down as possible, to lose myself in the story and see where it wanted to go. It was my escape.

 

And now it’s done, and I’m sad.  I can’t help it. To be fully invested in something that is novel-length, you really must attach a piece of your soul to the characters.  At every moment, you are at their mercy.  I can’t tell you how often in the past six weeks my mind floated off in the middle of most things and dragged me back into their world.  I could have been watching a TV program with my husband or waiting to pick up my son from school, and though my body was present, I was truly in another world, seeing what I had just written that morning, envisioning what would happen next, letting my mind no longer be my own and letting the movie take over.  A lot of my less than happy moods in the past six weeks were direct results of sharing consciousness with my characters.  I picked up their frames of mind.  If they were having a bad day, so was I by default. That’s just the way it works.

 

My characters are not me.  They have minds of their own.  They make decisions that would not necessarily be the ones I would make, and I have no choice but to follow them where they lead.  They are their own people, and in a way, they become friends.  And it’s so hard to let them go now that their story is over.  People will read books sometimes and wish the story went on because they enjoyed the characters so much.  Well, it’s even harder when you’ve created the characters to not continue life with them.  I felt like the unseen angel at their side through every trauma they went through.  When my heroine had a broken heart, I was the one with her; I was the one to share her pain and cry as I wrote it.  I had to feel what she did and be in her head to truly understand it.


As my characters fell in love, I fell in love with them.  I truly think that’s why I write romance; it’s falling in love over and over again and making new first times, new excitements, new experiences. It’s not just peeking into their love story; it’s living it from the inside.  I already miss it.

 

So what will I do next?  This story is said and done; hopefully, someday it will be as enjoyed by an audience as it is by me. Being the 5th in my angel series with the first one set to be published next year, it has awhile to wait, so for now, it will just be mine.  I will look back at it and reread it and recall what I felt when I wrote it.  Recall, not relive.  Every new story brings new feelings.  I can never fully recapture the ones I had when I wrote a particular novel.  I’ll remember, but I won’t feel them again.  It truly is a chapter in my life closed.  A new one may begin, but it will never be the same. That’s why I cherish every foray into someone else’s life; it only comes once.  It’s the bittersweet part of reality.  And I have to simply trust that though I’m no longer living their lives with them, my characters have their happily ever after and will have it forever.

 

 


Thanksgiving

Posted by [email protected] on November 24, 2011 at 6:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Thanksgiving is a day to reflect on what we are thankful for in our lives.  It is about celebrating those we love and appreciating things that go unacknowledged and often taken for granted the rest of the year.  So I was thinking about what I’m thankful for and how often I don’t get to consider such things in the midst of the chaos of everyday life.  As everyone else is stepping back today to reflect, so am I, and here are just a few of the many things I am grateful for in my life.

 

My children. They are both the biggest challenge and the biggest reward I’ve ever had.  Our house is a constant tornado of energy and insanity, always an absolute disaster.  The antique couch I kept so meticulously pristine before kids is now stained with juice and markers; the floor is constantly covered in car magazines, random Goldfish crackers that somehow spilled from their bowl, blocks, and whatever item they are fixated on any particular day.  Cleaning up when they’re gone is pointless if a disaster is inevitable once their little feet make it through the door again, and yet I’d have it no other way.  Of course, I miss sleeping and writing at a time a day that wasn’t before sunrise, but they are amazing, little people that reward me everyday for my sacrifices with hugs and blessings that exceed anything I myself could want.  Our challenge is greater than a lot of other families because our son is autistic.  Because of his situation,every detail of our life has had to change.  It’s been a learning experience that never ends, and yet I am so grateful for the joy he brings us with every achievement we see him make. I am equally grateful for my daughter; she is dramatic and still going through terrible 2’s even at almost 3!  But she is the bright spot in the house and always ready to hug her brother and take care of him first.

 

My husband.  I am so thankful to have such a wonderful friend and love.  He is the only man I could imagine would go into an American Girl store with both kids screaming just to get a doll and surprise me at my recital.  Not many husbands would do that.  He supports my career and my hobbies, my odd tendencies and dramatics over every recital and every review for a new story; he is the greatest father, always ready to make himself look ridiculous even in public if it means making one of the kids smile.  I couldn’t do anything without him.

 

My writing.  Forthe first time in my life, I’m doing what I truly love and being recognized for it, and that is an amazing feeling. How long did I write stories and bury them away in closets with no intention of showing anyone?  Now I feel like the characters I create and write matter to other people as much as they matter to me.  Through my writing, I’ve found my niche, and it is something I will never take for granted.  I am so lucky to have such wonderful fans, to have made such wonderful friends, and to have been able to touch so many lives with my stories.

 

My health and being able to sing again.  I had a rough year health-wise, which included spending over half of it sick. It started with a horrible acid reflux attack a year ago.  I truly believed I was dying, that my entire life was over and done because it felt like what I imagine a heart attack does.  I remember being so afraid, and nothing after that was the same.  Medication didn’t help as it should, and doctors were not sympathetic.  I was afraid every time I sang that I would trigger another attack because it was so out of control.  When you’re sick every single day, you start to forget what it feels like to be healthy and believe you’ll never BE healthy again.  It took my parents dragging me up to University of Chicago to finally get a new medication and answers I needed. To me, being able to perform the recital in October was the real test,and thankfully, all was well and continues to be.

 

Thanksgiving is about remembering what is important, and these are just a few of the things I’m grateful for in my life.  Today, I’ll include the joy of cooking a turkey from my mother’s recipe and being home with the kids, putting up our Christmas village while the turkey is in the oven, eating pie and watching “The Santa Clause” as we do every year.  Every tradition is something worth blessing and appreciating.  And I wish all of you a million of your own and a happy Thanksgiving and holiday season.

 


Writers and Their Superstitions

Posted by [email protected] on November 15, 2011 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (1)

I'm an odd person; as a writer, that's good fodder for inspiration, but when it comes to the rituals I require to make said inspiration work for me, it can be a bit distracting. I have my own routine about how I always must handle things within my story writing with a fear of failure if these random details are changed. I think that every single person who has a talent or a passion for doing something develops his or her own facets surrounding said talent. I thought I would give a little insight into mine and maybe show that I may be odd, but I'm also unique.


Superstitions are a way of life for my story writing. I have established a certain pattern of behavior that I've subconsciously convinced myself will result in nothing but trauma if I deviate. Dramatic? Yes, but when one must be closely in touch with feelings that will be poured out onto paper, one is entitled to be a little dramatic.


I start every one of my stories exactly the same. A brand new, 5 subject, college-ruled notebook, preferably in a color that FEELS like my story. I sign my name in the front cover and date it; that is an important step. When the story is finished, I also sign the back cover and date again. I like knowing the life span of a particular story and its characters. If I look at the date, I can recall what was happening in my life and how I felt at the time I wrote certain scenes and their images. It also gives me a basic average for how long I spend lost to someone else's life; for me, it is about 6 weeks, although I have a few that were started and stopped for various reasons and a few that pushed into only a month. "Opera Macabre" had the first 60 pages or so written and then was put aside for 4 years before I picked it back up and finished it in less than a month. Sometimes inspiration can be fickle like that. It is neat to look back and see that I started "Opera Macabre" on November 4, 2003, and that one had a time as well as date because that story drove me to so much insanity that I got up one morning before 4AM and just had to start it! Maybe that was a prelude for what was to come; anyone who knows me knows that since having kids, I have little choice but to write at 4AM, but another superstition is that I must do it everyday no matter what else I should be doing instead. I have my bagel and coffee, put on a playlist custom-made for the story I'm working on, and write. The coffee helps immensely, but then again anytime before sunrise, one would need some kind of mental stimulation.


Another superstition I have is that I must write everything out in pencil and never compose at the computer. Yes, that is very old school, and it isn't even that I was born before the computer take-over. It started off simply because I wanted to be able to write whenever and wherever I was, and so I had a notebook and a pencil everywhere with me. It made sense. I always said that if by some wild, freakish twist of nature, I was one day stranded on a desert island, all I would need were notebooks and pencils, and I could be content forever. There is just something so calming to me about pencil and paper. It's the scratch-scratch sound; it's holding the notebook in my hands; it's being able to flip back pages on a whim to check something out. Having written 24 novels and over 60 short stories, I'm sure it can be imagined the pile of notebooks I have accumulated. Stashed away, they are my treasure. Of course, due to pencil's inability to be permanent, some words grow smeared, but I like to think that adds character. Maybe someday, people who have enjoyed my stories will be able to see the hand-written copies, before edits and full of leaded smears like artwork. And yes, it is time-consuming to then type every word after the fact, but I use that as a first edit and make changes as I go. It's amazing how many redundant phrases or repeated words I've caught that way. And it's a labor of love. I literally must adore every word on the page if I take the time to write and then type them letter by letter.


My superstitions are not just rituals; they extend into my story writing as well. I am currently working on the fifth book of my angel series, and aside from some random details that I have granted, I WILL NOT talk specifics until it is done. I can't. I'm scared I'll jinx it! How crazy is that! I have a storyline plotted and am chugging away at it, but I feel like telling people adds a weird, unwanted pressure. I don't even confide the characters' names! It's as if everything must stay behind a construction curtain until it is finished and then the surprise can be revealed. And 24/7, it will be the primary focus behind my every expression and playing incessantly in my mind, but I WON'T talk about it! People who know me recognize my tendencies and have learned not to ask. If they do, they get to hear my unqualified superstition and call me strange. That's just fine. I'll take strange over normal any day.


Some people might look at my weird tendencies strangely. And I freely admit that they are, but everybody has their technique. Granted, normal people don't take it as extreme or as a death for the entire story if the pattern is changed, but if the ending result is a book I can be proud of, I go with my oddities and embrace them as MINE. They make me unique. So don't be afraid to embrace your own superstitions and let them lead you to more creativity. If the simplest detail like scribbling a name and date in a notebook is what it takes to keep calm and mark a beginning to something great, there is nothing wrong with that. I say don't fix what isn't broken!

 

Happy Halloween!!

Posted by [email protected] on October 31, 2011 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (1)

My family is very big on celebrating Halloween!  I've dressed up practically every year of my life and managed to talk my husband into it, even if he's less enthusiastic than I am!  I hope everybody has an enjoyable Halloween with lots of candy and pumpkins!!


2009 - We did Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovitt.  At least I got my husband into the wig!


2010 - We did the Addams Family last year all together!


2011 - And this year!



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