Tuesday, April 26, 2016

May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month

I'm absolutely swamped (it's finals time, in addition to everything else going on), but I wanted to take a minute to share some information on Preeclampsia.

I had gestational induced hypertension with my third pregnancy, it was incredibly scary, and hard to control. May is Pre-e awareness month, and hopefully in four days we can continue having important conversations about this condition that can save lives.

If you are pregnant, know the symptoms (via http://www.preeclampsia.org/ )

  • *Swelling of the hands and face, especially around the eyes (swelling of the feet is more common in late pregnancy and probably not a sign of preeclampsia)
  • *Weight gain of more than five pounds in a week
  • *Headache that won’t go away, even after taking medication such as acetaminophen
  • *Changes in vision like seeing spots or flashing lights; partial or total loss of eyesight
  • *Nausea or throwing up, especially suddenly, after mid pregnancy (not the morning sickness that many women experience in early pregnancy)
  • *Upper right belly pain, sometimes mistaken for indigestion or the flu
  • *Difficulty breathing, gasping, or panting
It's also important to know that some women with preeclampsia have NO symptoms or they "just don’t feel right." If you have a sense that something's wrong, even without symptoms, trust yourself and contact your healthcare provider immediately.

I will add a couple of things to this discussion- 1. this is a medical problem. It is NOT your fault. It is not your failing. This is especially important to talk about with plus sized women, because while being larger can increase your rate of complications THIS IS STILL NOT YOUR FAULT. It's a disease, it doesn't discriminate, and it didn't target you. I know smaller women who have had terrible bouts with this, and larger ones who have never encountered this monster, and everything in between

The important thing is that you get the treatment you need. Start your prenatal care early, before you are pregnant if you can. Your best tool will be your relationship with a trusted and knowledgeable care provider, and the longer they have a baseline on you, the better they can pick up abnormalities when they arise. You may need extra care even beyond delivery, some women have a blood pressure spike afterwards (I did) and it raises our risk of heart disease and general high blood pressure in our everyday lives after pregnancy and birth. It took about 5 months for my bp to return to 120/80, which is still not great, but it beats the heck out of 140/90, which is where it sat after delivery for a long, long time. 
Viability milestone with my last baby-at 28 weeks,
I'd have a cardiac event and then raised blood pressure for the rest of my pregnancy. 
For anyone who is going through this, or who has, my <3 to you. It's a difficult road, and it needs to be part of our conversation about pregnancy due to how often it occurs and how dangerous it can be. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Not in this Economy!

I thought I'd take a minute to go over actual writing techniques, since two of my last three posts were insanely personal (I know for damn sure I'm not that interesting)...

We got the chance to skype with a sci-fi writer a few weeks ago during my creative writing class I take at the university. I was really impressed with her opening to her work, and she spoke about the "economy of the first paragraph". 

Makes sense, right? That opening scene is the first orientation your reader gets. The first glance at the map, the first answer to WHERE THE HELL AM I ? that even your book jacket or summary can't accurately tell them. 

This isn't to say you need to directly just "Sandra was riding the last dirty grey bus to San Antonio to her tiny robot apartment", but you can certainly do that. Be poised and sleek in your guiding. Make this, of everything else you write, count double-count more than that. Because it does. 

A few great examples from famous works...

"The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn."

Do you know where you are? You don't know what's waiting on you there, but this has done enough that you get the first feeling of the story. You have the word "studio", so you can base artist off of that, painting even. This is the opening passage to Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. 

Another example from a classic text, longer, more specific this time...

"Dark spruce forest frowned on either side of the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean toward each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness — a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the Sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild."

You know exactly where you are here. And even an underlying theme in the work. This is from Jack London's White Fang

And, one of my favorites:

"In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul."

Frank Herbert's Dune

This is one of the inciting incidents on Maud'dib's ascent, his set-up and passing of the test from a mystic and calculating order his mother belonged to. It's a short paragraph. But, you know now that you are going to an imaginary land (Arrakis), and there is probably a kind of epic coming forth (a crone is generally significant, it calls back to Jungian archetypes), and that Paul is the most significant person you will follow in this journey. All that, one sentence. And this is for a world that doesn't play by our rules (speculative fiction).

Fit everything you need to to make the gradual orientation and belief of your world take hold, and don't be boring with it. Some of you can get really specific like London, and do it well, and some will be able to paint with a lighter brush and succeed -just make sure you give us the information we need in that first paragraph, and make it your own. 

As for hammering out your style, find your favorite openings. Figure out why it speaks to you so powerfully. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Things you run from that Chase you (about fear and death)

Nothing proves you are not over something like having to talk about it.

I should probably explain that remark. 

I wrote about, and tried to speak about my own journey with what I was afraid of. My time with illness. With death.

I got through the paragraph. And then began to cry. I had zero control over my reaction, and had to leave the room until the wave of it was beatable.

I tend to think I am over things. Unafraid of things that have happened because I have some ability to not dwell on it. But then, if it gets the chance to rise up again, I fall apart. So, I guess I'm typing this now to help with that.

I'd always thought my mom a coward. She runs from pain, from reality, masked some of it for a time with substance abuse. I once had to drive myself, as a I bled to death from a miscarriage, because she didn't want to. She believes in superstition, and was happy I was losing my baby so that her father wouldn't die (no, it still doesn't make any sense to me, but it seemed to be a new life for an old one kind of thing). I was left to hold our dog when he was put to sleep, his dead weight crashed suddenly in my arms and I'd almost hit the reflective table-mom had left the room a long time ago. Many nights she spent at work, or at the bar after work. We spent most of those nights calling morgues and jail cells.

Have you seen my mom? Me, either.

That's what I remember her for.

It damaged us, damaged the bond of trust between a parent and child. I knew, early on, that I couldn't count on her to be there. I can be there for her if I want to, but I can't put absolute faith in her love for me or her ability to be there. I love her now, I think I always will. And she's become braver, because as human beings we are rarely static. She realizes she has made mistakes, and I realize that she is human and was allowed to make mistakes.

But I tried to be different.

I want my children to think of me as this unmovable rock, this steadfastness, this bravery always behind them. I want so hard to give them all of that, that sometimes I swallow pain and fear and, like my mother, never dare to reopen it.

I am a coward. 

I know that I can't do that. I guess I know I'm not healing that way, either. Or maybe it just takes longer than I thought. But I feel like facing it, talking about it, might speed it up for me. I feel like, after this, that I have to. What is a horror writer who won't do that, anyway? A bad horror writer. 

I'm more like my mom than I wanted to be. I have her good side-she taught me to be selfless. I have her bad side-sometimes I'd rather run from my own pain.

But hiding your pain, your story, is fucking exhausting.

When I was 21, I was diagnosed with an electrical problem with my heart. It's mostly fine. I have only brief problems with it. But, my third baby, my rainbow baby, and my fifth pregnancy, I found myself with a racing pulse and nearly blacking out. My son, just in pre-k, so shiny and new and small, had to witness it. I took him outside so he could get help if I passed out, from our neighbors who were nice. I also quickly dialed for help.

We made it through. I kept consciousness, and was examined. My blood pressure and pulse rate were permanently raised, and made for a dangerous last two months and an early delivery. We all survived. But, it was a reminder that I am not healthy. Not immortal. Not immovable, even for my own children. I will die one day.

I have lost two children. I still have a hard time writing about it. Accepting it. Talking about it is almost out of the question sometimes...

The first was my first pregnancy. We never saw an image or a heartbeat. Just a lot of bleeding, and an operation at just over 9 weeks. The sadness was heavy.  When I did finally become pregnant again, over a year later, I was just scared. Scared of all the things I now knew could go wrong.

With my fourth pregnancy, a surprise, I made it to ten weeks, made it to a bright shade on an ultrasound. And then, doused in blood I had lost the strength to clean up, spontaneously aborted at home. Alone in the dark at 3AM I was one the floor and lost my baby. Having to see everything was different from the operation, It was there, right there. I bled out for days and finally had to have an operation again, a shorter one this time. But it remains the saddest little white room I have ever been in. There is usually some hope in medical settings. But not in that room, where they clean out hope from your body who is trying to fight giving it up completely.

And I thought I'd been shattered. I had no idea how to assemble my pieces into a working person anymore. And I barely cried out for help.

The universe must have heard my silent screaming.

While still on birth control, my body took matters onto itself, and I became pregnant a fifth time. It was this time that I faced my heart issue once more, with this most wanted and beloved baby I had to again dance with Death like he was an old friend, coming to see us from far away.

When he arrives, he demands hospitality. And respect. As we age, and I'm now in my 30's, we greet him more and more. For our family, for our friends, for ourselves...
My second Rainbow baby. 

I hope when he visits that last time, I will be unafraid.

That I will bravely rise and go with him.

But, my darkest fear is that I will leave the people I love the most too soon. That I will leave them unprotected and hurt. That I will fail them. That is my darkest fear. And in speaking it, in facing it, I gain something.

This is also why I think horror and dark fiction really have meaning in our world. 

In facing it, in facing ourselves, we gain something important. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

What you Feed Yourself

I will occasionally share what I can of what I'm working on here, this includes parts of the next books, but also work I'm doing on the side. A work being reviewed, here are the first two pages of "What you Feed Yourself", 

I remember waking up at home. On our soft violet couch. I knew I was dead. I knew that much, but it was as if I'd lost everything else. And sadness blossomed out of my body like a flower in Springtime. 
I don't remember how it happened, and I refuse to ask. 
And I feel so lucky. I woke up at home, with the people I love. My husband can see me, our children can see me. I can interact with them, with the world, with objects. I'm sure there are yet limitations I don't know about. Rules that could probably break this spell. Like knowing how I died. Maybe just that knowledge would suck me down into some other eternity. 
I don't actually care what, if anything is beyond this. I just want to stay here. With them.
I get to rock my baby to sleep, to inhale her breath that still smells like cookies even if she hasn't eaten any, because that's just how babies smell. I get to help the older ones with their homework, and be proud when I don't have to help them at all. I get to run a wide brush through their young hair every morning before school. I get to pick up toys. I get to lie beside my husband, touch his warm skin and listen to his stories. 
I am the luckiest person not alive. 
I died and nothing changed. But I died and I changed. 
That deep sadness I felt when I woke up never went away. It unfurled new and more decayed petals every chance it got. 
I stopped looking in mirrors. The nicest thing about being dead is that I don't change. My make-up is always deeply pigmented, my lipstick is never gone, and my eyeliner is always black, my tan cheeks always shimmering slightly with expensive blush. I don't wear my long hair up, I don't have to because it is always in place. Always. 
I spent the first week looking over my body intently, out of morbid drive and passion. I went looking for a wound, a seam to be unwound, for my skin to start curling and peeling up. I waited for my blood to blacken, for my pigment to fade to ivory. I never saw anything. You don't change when you're dead. You're just dead. 
When you don't know the rules, it's frightening to go to new places. My family could see me, most people in everyday life seemed to be able to, but maybe I was imagining that. I did notice that the places I used to frequent in life were infinitely more crowded now. What the actual fuck hundreds of ghosts were doing at the park and the library and the market was beyond me. But some were probably doing what I was doing-trying to help take care of their loved ones. I wasn't brave enough to talk to them. 
It takes me a bit to tell the living from the deceased. 
The gargantuan automatic glass doors of our grocer opened like a sideways mouth of a creature lying down. They inhaled the breeze from the Autumn day, and yet a woman with perfect, golden and straight hair was unmoved in any sense. Her baby's strawberry hair, too, sitting in a buckeled carrier on her back, remained motionless in the wind. Just a few feet from the doors, picking through oranges on a stand, it should have affected them. They were dead.
"That's not her baby, if that's what you're thinking," said a male voice, deep, and suddenly in my right ear. 
I jumped. "I'm sorry," I said. I'd been staring at them, and for all I knew that was either his wife or his child. His face was just as easy to lose myself in. I stared at the details-deep set dark eyes, set off my the darkest lines of eyebrows and eyelashes I'd ever looked at; they looked like ink. His hair was long and slicked back, but was the same color. He was a vintage travel poster, and was wearing an ugly blue plaid scarf with a button-up shirt. No way this bastard wasn't long dead. 
"They get like that," he said, pointing to the golden woman. She was picking through every orange and then putting it back. "Over-focused and protective. She probably just got him today and doesn't know what to do with herself."
"The baby is a ghost?" I asked. I stared intently, wanting the child to move or show some sign of life, but it appeared to be sleeping.
"You think a living child would want anywhere near us? No, the living prefer the living. Hell, the dead want the living, too, but, you get the idea." He had a perfect snear.
"I have children-" I said.
"Oh. I thought you had maybe a juice box and cheese cracker fetish." He pointed to my reusable shopping bags. I laughed, but I kind of wanted not to.
"I didn't mean our children. Of course they want us around. I didn't mean it like that. The ghosts of young ones need caretakers, too. But the longer we've been like us, the more it takes adjustment. They'll be fine." he said.
"That's good. You seem to know what's going on." I said, "Can you help me?" I put my bags on the spanish tiled floor and a clamshell of kiwis escaped. I set to collecting them. It was one of the only vitamin rich things all four children could eat. 
"Well, you're dead." he said. 
"I know that. That is almost all I know. I wake up everyday afraid that I'm going to screw this up, break rules I don't know about for a game I didn't get to decide whether or not I really wanted to play." I said.
"You must have wanted to play. There are three kinds of deceased. The dead-dead. Like you. Driven to stay around for the people they love. The dead-and-gone have moved on with their after-life, unattached to this place. And the night-dead. You don't want to be one, you don't want to sit with them if they ask you."
"How long have you been dead?"I asked.
"Not even that long. What? It's the scarf right? Damn. You're the fourth dead woman to ask me that." He picked up my bags, and I went to fetch the last stray fruit, its scraggling hairs damaged by the wild roll to the dairy case, and my reflection caught me by surprise. 
There was something dark. Something dark on my face. 
I moved closer to the shimmering sidelines of the freezers and saw the deep midnight black oozing out of my eye-like a tar bubble that had been pierced open. But in the darkness were tiny stars, small points of light and faint auroras. The longer I stared, the more it began to pour down my face. 
Someone wrapped something around my eyes, and tied it, binding and blinding me.

On Claiming who you are, and some Reasons I suck at that.

Writing is one of the most permanent forms of communicating ideas we have as humans. It's that important (for all the dismissing of pursuing the career).

I remember the first career test we took, as a student of the 90's, and novelist was the first entry it suggested for me.

I threw that manilla folder and the paper inside that read my aptitude test and resulting job away. I threw it away because I was terrified. Terrified of being a "starving artist". I think, more than anything, I wanted a reliable 9-5 with a reliable paycheck, something that I knew would happen every week or two weeks.

My father had started and ran his own business, always working for himself.  He kept his head and our heads above water, but it was just barely. And, eventually, the business collapsed when I was in high school, despite all of his time and effort. Watching it broke me. I didn't want to be responsible for my own employment. I didn't want to wonder whether I'd get paid regularly or not. But there it was, a printed label stuck in that folder listed the only things it thought I was good enough at to matter, and all of them fell into that category. To be clear, not all writers work independently at all (technical writing, business writing, even advertising and script formulation are just some examples), it just was the idea that had settled into my head then. 

It was right. I probably should have been smart enough to see that, but I wasn't. And, I was writing. Even if it was short novels that I threw away as a kid because they were garbage, I was writing.

Not everything I wrote early on was dark or speculative fiction, and it still isn't, but that part of me is the easiest and most enjoyable to access when I'm putting words to paper, and it's still my favorite genre to read in, too. 

I struggled so long against my talents and identity as a writer that it feels weird now to claim it. I ran around telling everyone I would not even call myself one until I had finished my own book. I did that, I'm working on second and third books and short stories and guess what? Still feels weird. Calling myself a writer still seems wrong. It doesn't get easier with accomplishments, but I'm learning to do it anyway.

I have a family now, three fantastic babies and a stellar husband. I'm a grown woman who takes care of her family. And writes. I'm a WAHM, but the W, it stands for writer.

*(The Silver Kiss, one of my first supernatural books that I remember having a huge impact on me as a kid).