Friday, April 11, 2014

J Is For the Journey


(This was also posted on my personal blog as part of the A-Z Challenge. Hence, the strange title.)

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be a keynote speaker to a group of women at church. My topic was Following Your Dreams. As part of the speech, I was asked to share my journey to accomplishing my dream of becoming a published author. This is kind of what I said:

When I was a child, I had a plan for my future, I was going to be a ballet dancer in New York, an archaeologist, a famous actress, a marine biologist (translation: one of the people who got to swim with the whales at Sea World) and a mom. But of course I would mostly be an author. I loved books so much, there was no doubt that I would someday write some, and yet I didn’t. I was absolutely NOT one of those children who were constantly writing stories. Being a writer was always some future event. In fact, in college I didn’t even take an English course. My ACT scores were high enough that I didn’t need one and to tell you the truth, I was at college to play, not to take extra classes just because I was interested in the subject (oh silly Melanie. If only I could go back…)



I was in my last semester of my Master’s program at BYU when I realized what an opportunity I was wasting. There was a class on the course schedule called “Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy” and I realized that I needed to take that class, even though it had absolutely nothing to do with my degree in Special Education. So I signed up, blissfully unaware of how foolish I was being. It was a 400 level class, but I was in a master’s program, which somehow made me feel overqualified for any undergraduate class.
So here I am, with a full master’s degree course load, working on my thesis, with a full time job. Did I mention I was also engaged? Our wedding date was two days after the semester ended. Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy was taught by the amazing Dave Wolverton, though years went by before I realized how cool that was.

My favorite part of the class was our textbook, a book full of short science fiction stories, including “It’s A Beautiful Day” by Isaac Asimov, which is still my favorite short story ever. My least favorite part of the class? Writing. I had no idea how to pull a plot together, how to assemble a cast of characters…And this class was not about how to write a story, it was about how to perfect a story, and how best to add fantastical elements to it. I was hopelessly out of my depth. And busy with my “real” school life, and my jobs. And addlepatedly in love with my fiancĂ©. A few days before the end of the semester, I realized I was getting a C in my writing class. A C! As a master’s student, I could not get a C on my transcript. It would be dreadful.

So I met with Professor Wolverton. I explained my situation, in the hopes that he would give me an extra credit project or something. He was very nice. He said that he thought it was awesome that I had taken the time to take a class out of my program of studies, and that he had done the same thing as a student too. He agreed that a master’s student could not get a C on their transcript and promised to take care of it.
And he did. He gave me an A, no strings attached. When, years later, I found the Daily Kick In the Pants, and realized that my former teacher was an icon in the science fiction world, this little blip in my path to writing took on even more significance to me.

More to come...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Birthday Outing to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour

A little over ten years ago I started to realize that I'd lived in this fascinating city of Los Angeles for my whole life and there were still things I hadn't seen or done. Between this and getting sort of bored with just going out to dinner for my birthday, I started a new thing amongst my friends. Now, on my birthday, we go see or do something that's specific to Los Angeles. It started with a trip to the La Brea Tar Pits. Since then, we've been to the Watts Towers, found a little Tibetan/Nepalese restaurant, ridden horses in Griffith Park and gone to the LA Arboretum, amongst other things. This year, we went to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center. For a science fiction geek like me, this was awesome!

First off, the Science Center is a fun place. The exhibits have all sorts of interactive things for kids to do in all different areas of science. Us big people enjoyed them to, when we could get to them. There's also an IMAX theater where we watched a film about repairing the Hubble Telescope. It was very cool, though I wish they'd have shown a few more deep space shots. The 3D even worked for me, which it usually doesn't. There wasn't enough time in the day to see everything. We did find time to ride the shuttle flight simulator. It was tame (kids, remember) but well done with a good sense of motion.

The shuttle itself is in a temporary hangar. If you're in the LA area I recommend going to see it now because in about four years they're going to upright it, add the boosters and have a three tier observation area. While that sounds great, the opportunity to get as close as you can now is not one to pass up. You can see just how big the shuttle is, or isn't, in its current state. And it sits, just out of reach over your head.

One of the funniest things that struck me was the "Cut Here for Rescue' sign with the big arrow. It was only the big arrow that made it funny. Needing rescue in space is serious business. It made me think about what it would mean for everything to have gone so wrong that the crew would be hoping for someone to come along and cut a hole in their ship to get them out. How long would it take to get a rescue ship up to them? What would be their hope for survival? Astronauts are a brave bunch, that's for sure.

The volunteers in the shuttle hangar are full of useful information. My bf and I got to talking to a retired engineer that worked on the shuttle and he had all sorts of quirky stories. One in particular about a mysterious scorch mark on the top of the shuttle wing and a mystery black blob that was discovered only after partial disassembly. After lab analysis, they discovered that someone had accidentally left a roll of tape inside the wing. Fortunately, no harm was done.

Seeing the shuttle, and the IMAX movie and contemplating the vastness and mysteries of space give insane perspective on how small we really are. It makes me glad I write science fiction because I'm reminded that the possibilities are infinite and so is the human imagination.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Friendship Zone- My Real Life Love Story- Part Two

A sixteenth birthday is a big deal for a Mormon girl.

In case you weren't aware, Mormon teens aren't supposed to date until they're sixteen, and that was prophetic counsel I kept.

Though not for lack of trying.

My sophomore year of High School was a big year for me, though I didn't know it at the time. Living through it was torture. ALL my friends had their sixteenth birthday, got their driver's licences, and went on dates. All of them except me. Still fifteen, I walked everywhere like a child, and tried to learn how to talk to boys.

Summer Birthdays suck for Mormon girls.

Around that time, I'd heard a lesson in church about not dating until you're sixteen, and I had decided to actually not date until I reached that magical birthday, which felt like a big sacrifice at the time, despite my strangely quiet field of boys.  Besides, the sixteenth birthday rule explains why no one had asked me out or liked me back. They must all have known how pious I was.

Still, I really wanted to learn how to talk to boys.

Turns out, boys weren't that much harder to talk to than girls were, which in Sheenaland, means REALLY HARD to talk to until I've done something embarrassing and we're already friends, and then super easy to talk to. I had a couple of boys on my roster that I could walk past in the hall, and say..."Hi" to, (not to brag) and a few magical boys that together we could carry actual conversations, (totally bragging). These magical boys became something more than my roster of crushes. So high above it, in fact, I need a new name for for this particular kind of boy. Let's call them... "friends."

Dear cute boys from my high school. If you considered yourself my friend, you should consider yourself on the list of boys I liked. No, more than liked, I befriended. I did not know at the time that being friends with boys meant that I was friends with boys.  To me, it meant there were BOYS( magical, pedestal sitting aliens that I've been crazy about since elementary school) with which I talked. Now in the dark and tortured corners of my head, these BOYS with which I talked, were actually potential BOYS WHO WOULD DATE ME.

You know, once I turned sixteen. Cause I'm all pious and stuff.

My sixteenth birthday was not magical.  Do you know who asks you out when your birthday is in the summer?

This is me legitimately asking, because I have no idea.  The sad answer is no one.

I spent the day in Community Summer Driving School, (which is worse than it sounds) and that night I watched the window and my phone for all those BOYS WHO WOULD DATE ME to... date me. I had waited for this day, and it came, then it went, and no boys were asking me out. If facebook was a thing back then, my status update that day would be depressing and embarrassing and possibly involve jazz hands and the words COME AND DATE ME.

I think I learned how to talk to boys wrong. Because even after that magical birthday these BOYS with which I talked did not magically morph into BOYS WHO WOULD DATE ME. Somehow they became BOYS WHO WOULD DATE MY FRIENDS.

Sucksville. Population, me.

It seemed like all of my friends went on their first dates while I twiddled my thumbs, and read, oh, and had a life.

I had a life. Dreams. Goals. Big plans. In the Anthony Era, I discovered what I wanted to be when I grew up. That's something not everybody knows, especially when they're fourteen. I was going to be a Jr. High School Drama teacher. I'd teach English in my non-Drama periods, and put on plays, and in the summer do Community Theater. This was my goal, my future, and my dream. I wanted to be just like the woman who changed my life and inspired me. I wanted to help kids like me, and tell stories for the rest of my life.

I knew the step I had to take to get to that dream meant college, and because my parents clearly told me they weren't in the position to pay for school, that meant I would have to get a scholarship. Knowing my mad skills at math, (something Chase should have paid attention too) and my inability to play sports, or have any kind of skill set above standing in front of people and telling stories and playing characters, I knew my only option was to work my tail off to get a Theatre Scholarship.

 I started that work young. Sophomore year, in fact. So I was really busy and focused on acting, and scared of these boys I couldn't talk to, and then weirdly overconfident around these BOYS with which I could talk, plus I occasionally wore random clothes I bought from the thrift store, had weird hair, and would belt out show tunes while walking down the hall.

Who wouldn't ask that girl out?

Answer-- every boy I knew.

It happened again and again. There'd be a boy. We'd become friends, and while trying to get to know if I liked him or not, I got to know them, and they changed from a scary distant person on a pedestal into a friend, only it didn't ever feel like that. It felt like love, although I didn't even know what love felt like. I'd like them, but not realize that they didn't like me. Not until one day, sometimes weeks after I started liking them, once years, I'd hear these words, "I don't like you like that."

Six times in a row that happened. I remember the last time. It was the summer after my first year in college, and I was talking to this boy I really liked after work. He walked me to my car, (protecting me from the scary monster boys who lurked in shadows) and we talked for almost an hour until he said, "You know we're just friends, right?" 

Psh. I nodded. "Yeah." Psh. "Of course." Psh. "Obviously."

"Okay cool," he responded. I sat down in my car, smiled, and waved goodbye. As I pulled my mom's minivan back out of the parking spot, my lip started curling, and my eyes widened and my fingers tightened around the steering wheel... until I'd had enough and slammed on my breaks. 6 times. 6 times. What is wrong with me? I pressed on the gas and hard turned the wheel. No, I thought. This is not happening again. I am SO sick of the boy I like turning into my best friend!

And then a clear and quiet thought entered my mind. Yes, but your husband will love it.

I removed my foot from the gas, waved once more to this boy who watched me randomly jerk the van around like I was having a seizure, and then drove away.

I love that my husband is my best friend.  The friendzone is in the corner of our relationship.

I didn't realize that at fifteen, but I had learned to talk to boys in the right way. It just wasn't the right time, or the right one, or maybe I just wasn't ready.

The reason my sophomore year of High School was such a big year for me, though, wasn't because that's when I learned how to be friends with boys. It's a big year, because that's the year I met Darren.

I didn't know it at the time, but one of those BOYS with which I talked, would somehow, magically, morph into a BOY WHO WOULD MARRY ME.

But that story was just starting.



Saturday, April 5, 2014

Phoning it in

No, really. I'm practically phoning it in.

I'm visiting my Mom this week (it tears my soul into tiny little pieces to not say "my parents", which explains one of many reasons I'm phoning this one in.) I don't have time to put to my usual Prosering.

HOWEVER, I stumbled upon a pretty article about writing-related pinterest boards this week and thought I would pass it along for your enjoyment.

I'll be honest, I've never given much attention to Pinterest. I find it frustrating that I can't just pin articles I like (that may or may not have pictures.) The software may have changed from when I first signed up with Pinterest, but back then it wasn't allowed. Frustrating for a writer! Much of what interests me online is *writing* and may or may not have a picture associated with it.

How do you use Pinterest? (and please don't say to plan thoughtful and adorable craft projects for your 5 year old's bday party including the fourteen-step decorated cupcakes….I might not be able to  be your friend anymore…)

Care to connect? I'm found here on Pinterest, maybe your connection will help me figure out how to make better use of it. ;)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Trouble with Dystopians - Part 1

I've been meaning for a while now to write a post about dystopian YA fiction. I finished several dystopian series at once near the end of last year, right around the time the second Hunger Games movie came out. And now, with the Divergent movie having done so well, it seems like the first time to finally get to finishing this post.

Dystopians have been popular for a while, but it really kicked off with the Hunger Games. Theories as to why they're so popular range from high school is like a rigid, dystopian society, to dystopians hold a mirror to society, to my personal favorite - recent dystopian fiction tends to follow the Hero's Journey. Oh, and apparently Edward Snowden is a lot like Katniss.  Anyway, the Hero's Journey theory actually makes a lot of sense - I don't think the Hero(ine?)'s journey is ever going to go out of style. 


Speaking of style issues, let's look at the series I'm going to be discussing:

In a distant, dark future, a sudden event changes a young woman's life, pulling her away from everything she knows. The society as she's known it has always been bad, but it turns out its worse than she thought, and she finds herself at the center of a revolution, and a race to save what's left of society. But is the revolution everything it seems? Who are the good guys? And in fighting the revolution, will she has to sacrifice the boy she loves?
Believe it or not, I actually hadn't noticed this pattern (clearly modeled after the Hunger Games) until I started writing tonight. I'd mentally grouped these books together to compare them more for the plot structure, but apparently they stuck together in my mind for others as well. In case you're wondering, the series are:

The Chemical Garden Trilogy, Lauren DeStefano
The Divergent Trilogy, Veronica Roth
The Matched Trilogy, Allie Condie
The Hunger Games Trilogy, Suzanne Collins (of course)

From what I've read so far, the Crewel, Delirium, and Under the Never Sky series (and possibly Shatter Me**) should probably be in this group, but I haven't finished them yet, and I'm far too lazy to do so by the next post. In any case, for this first post, I'm going to talk about patterns and shared ideas and fiction.

I don't think similarities are necessarily a bad thing. It's a little startling to me how similar these dystopian novels are on that basic level, now that I'm aware of it. But they're certainly not the first time an idea has been recycled. For one, there's the hilarious comparison of Pocahontas and James Cameron's Avatar that's been around for a while. And it's not like I'm going around saying, "Oh darn, too many awesome strong female characters who save the world!" 

And in Fantasy, we have the whole Tolkien subgenre. And Arthurian stories, which I've never liked. I mean, it's a never ending pattern of "everyone betrays each other and then they die." In most stories, you have hope that something good will happen at the end, but with Arthurian retellings, it's pretty much set that everyone dies tragically.

Then, of course, there's urban fantasy. I'm pretty sure Laurell K. Hamilton and Anita Blake are solely responsible for the current trends, though I'm too lazy to Google it to see if I'm right. And yes, I know Emma Bull's War of the Oaks is the real first urban fantasy. But Hamilton is responsible for the vampire/witch/shapeshifter/half (or full) faerie/necromancer/wizard, who lives in a city and hunts the local vampire/witch/shapeshifter/half (or full) faerie/necromancer/wizards, all while fending off her attraction for a darkly mysterious vampire/witch/shapeshifter/half (or full) faerie/necromancer/wizard. Oh, Anita Blake. I remember how awesome you were before you gathered your male harem. All those interesting moral thoughts you had about religion and intimacy? Whatever! Forget those!Though I think I'd probably hate those books if I started reading them now. But at the time, I loved them, and Anita  was in a class of her own.  

So why do we keep seeing so much of the same? I think some of it is comfort - my comfort reads are historical romance. Not sure why, because they're some of the most formulaic of all genres, but there's something soothing about pretty dresses and a guaranteed squishy happy ending. 

But I think there's another aspect at work: publishers will sell what is likely to be successful. That's not necessarily a critique. Their job is to publish books they know people will buy. It can go deeper than that though. Here is an excellent and thoughtful post (WARNING: contains adult language). from the review site Dear Author (they have a ton of amazing and insightful articles there on publishing, self-publishing, authors behaving badly, and more... apart from all the book reviews). 

For those not in the mood to read a post with adult language, or who don't want to click on one more freaking link for this post, here is the conclusion to the article:

Assumptions about what readers want not only reinforce the sexist status quo, but they create homogenized books. Books in which we know what’s going to happen before it happens.... And as the comments from self-policing authors attest, these established norms are self-perpetuating. They’re writing what they’ve read, what they expect to read.
What do readers want? Perhaps we won’t truly know ourselves, until we get to experience all the possibilities.
What do you think? What would you like to see more of in your traditionally published fiction?***

Maybe it will be urban science fiction, with the android/cyborg/alien/space pirate/three-headed space lobster who hunts android/cyborg/alien/space pirate/three-headed space lobsters and fights off her attraction to a  android/cyborg/alien/space pirate/three-headed space lobster.

One can only hope not.




Coming up next week: the second half of the dystopian post, where I talk about what does and does not work in this particular brand of dystopian fiction.





*Blogger flags dystopian as misspelled - and offers 'utopia' as the only correction. STOP TRYING TO WHITEWASH EVERYTHING, GOOGLE! I will not bow to your evil empire!
**A large part of the reason I haven't read this one yet is because the heroine's name is Juliette. I think that would confuse me too much right now.
***Yes, self-publishing is its own thing that might be the solution, but I'm not going to talk about it in this post, because it's late and I'm lazy.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

When Stories Get Real: The Finale of How I Met Your Mother


Massive Spoilers—please watch the finale before reading.

From my random reading of fan responses to the finale of HIMYM on the internet, it’s pretty clear that fans either loved the ending or hated it.  It was a risky move, but I applaud the writers for daring to be so real.  I liked it.  I would’ve liked it more if I ever felt that Ted and Robin were right for each other (which I didn’t), but it came full circle in a very satisfying way.

How I Met Your Mother never shied away from messy.  It was a very funny show and mostly was light hearted, but it had those moments that were real, Lily and Marshel’s break-up, Marshal’s father dying, Robin learning she couldn’t have children, and Ted being left at the altar.  So it shouldn’t be too shocking for the fans when the finale gets a little messy because messy is real.

 I know some audiences are never going to like messy.  They want stories that show them that good concurs evil, that everything has a purpose, and that true love lasts forever.  I don’t blame them because I like these too.  Life is messy enough, and sometimes you need stories to show you how life should be.  But I think sometimes we need those stories that are messy because we also need to understand that our lives are not wrong because they don’t meet those ideals. 

So here are few of the real life lessons that I liked from the finale of How I Met Your Mother.

Robin and Barney’s divorce- Sometimes even when you love someone, you just can’t share a life with them.   So much time was devoted to the romance between Barney and Robin, and I can understand the fans anger that the show had them divorce so quickly.  I think the writers were trying to show that these two really did love each other, but they just couldn’t make it work.  Love is messy like that sometimes.  In some ways, you can’t really choose who you love, and sometimes you love someone who isn’t right for you.  So rarely do we see this idea shown on TV.  I kind of think it needs to be said.

Robin Leaving the Group- This was harder for me to watch than Robin and Barney getting a divorce because the show worked so hard to show how much these people meant to each other.  And seeing Robin pull away from the group was heart-breaking, especially because she didn’t want to.  But it was understandable.  Break-ups are rough, and the let’s just be friends sentiment is hard to pull off in real life.  Robin struggled with this in earlier seasons, and it was clear that this time it was just too much for her.

The Mother- This season spent a lot of time convincing the audience that Tracey was perfect for Ted, and they did a great job.  Kudos to the writers and the actress to bring in a character for such a short period and make her so real and loveable.  She was the love of Ted’s life.  I think that was clear.  A lot of fans were upset because she was so awesome, that she shouldn’t have seemed more right for Ted than Robin.  But I think that was the whole point.  Tracey was better for Ted.  She gave him the stable, deeply-rooted life he wanted, but with his kids grown and his wife gone, Ted was ready for a different life.  We grow and change, and there are times in our life when we need different things.

Robin and Ted- I wished I picked up from the beginning that this was Ted and Robin’s story.  Looking back, it was pretty obvious.  The story began with them meeting, and they kept coming back to each other over and over again over the years.  For some reason, Ted and Robin never quite worked for me, so I had a hard time seeing it.  But thinking back, I can see that this was quite the epic love story, of two people who cared deeply for each other, but just didn’t want the same things in life.  Robin had an amazing career where she traveled the world.  It is hard life to share with someone else, but that was what she wanted.  Ted wanted a family and home.  It was who he was, and even though he may have believed that he could’ve given that dream up for Robin, I don’t think he really could have.  If Robin and Ted had gotten married from the beginning, they would’ve gotten divorced. 

This story to me is about the people you love, and how much they mean to you.  I personally don’t believe in soul mates.  I think that there are a lot of people you could love if you really got to know them.  Some of them work for you and some don’t, but the love is real either way.  Ted loved Tracey, and he had a beautiful life with her.  If she had lived he would’ve loved her and stayed with her and been faithful to her until the end.  But he also loved Robin, and it was kind of beautiful that they finally both reached a place where they could be together.

I thought the final was perfect.  So thank you writers and producers of How I Met Your Mother for giving us a truly legendary show.

So what did you all think of the HIMYM finale?

~MaryAnn
P.S.  For those of you who thought I was going to trade spots with Sheena, April Fools.  Seriously, I felt the urge to write this post after watching the finale, but please come back next week for part 2 of Sheena's epic real life love-story.  Sorry everyone.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Computer Angst

Yesterday I forgot that I couldn't plug the griddle into the outlet next to the stove. When I do, it overloads the circuit and trips it, and that is the circuit my old, ailing computer is hooked up to. About three minutes into making Breakfast for Dinner, the music on the computer cut out, and so did the little light on the griddle. Shoot.

We haven't turned the computer off for nearly two weeks, because we were afraid it wouldn't turn back on. To my surprise, it started up like a dream. I moved the griddle to the other side of the kitchen, flipped Spotify back on and forgot all about it.

Last night before I went to bed, I made myself a little To-Do list. I was going to include it, but decided it was too boring. So instead, just believe that it was an awesome to-do list, which would prove for once and for all how truly productive an individual I am.

When I got up this morning, I went downstairs and walked past the computer. How odd. The little green light was off. Why would my husband turn the computer off when he told me that it needed to stay on until we bought a new one? I hit the button. The computer roared to life--for exactly 2.7 seconds, and then the light shut off I tried it again. And again. And again and again and again.

It's dead.

Before you feel too sorry for me, you should know that I have a laptop. I'm working on it right now, as a matter of fact. But when I tried to hook my good keyboard to it, the cursor went all weird. It went behind the letter I was typing instead of in front of it. That is a lot harder to get used to than you would think it would be. So I'm using this keyboard that was never meant for serious typists. In spite of everything Nina taught us about taking care of our bodies, I am currently giving myself carpal tunnel.

 Nearly everything on my list requires a computer, and not just any computer, THAT computer, with all the right programs loaded and all the passwords gloriously automatic. Who can clean a house without Spotify playing in the background? Not me. I finally took "Download Spotify onto my phone" off of my other to-do list, you know the one I'm talking about--the list of things I need to do, but never get around to.

 Then the kids came home, and we had a long moral debate about whether minecraft or my writing career was a more compelling reason to use the laptop. I'm currently winning, but only because we have a wii. (Wow I'm sounding like a stellar mother. In my defense, it's raining and about 35 degrees outside).

We have carbonite, so I'm hopeful that I will just be able to type in a password and find out that my pictures, unfinished manuscripts and entire life is automatically downloaded right to the new computer. It seemed so perfect when we didn't need it, but at the moment it is sounding too good to be true. I'll keep you posted.

Instead of the post I'd scheduled, I'm treating you to this post to remind you of two things:
1. Back up everything. RIGHT NOW.
2. Technology is amazing. So are face to face interactions. I'm going to go have some right now.