Category Archives: Personal

Happy Birthday, Danica!

Danica

I keep writing, deleting and re-writing this blog post. It’s a tricky thing to get just right so I think I’ll go with ‘Just the facts, ma’am’.

It’s Danica’s birthday today. Her 18th (which means she gets to vote in the federal election this month!).

Dani, you make me proud every single day and I love you beyond words. Happy Birthday!

<3

Octobers

Anne of Green Gables

“Oh, Marilla,” she exclaimed one Saturday morning, coming dancing in with her arms full of gorgeous boughs, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it? Look at these maple branches. Don’t they give you a thrill–several thrills?”

~ Excerpted from Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

 

I share Anne’s excitement for October, which is why I pre-scheduled this post waaaay back in January. As I write this my yard, my world, is covered in fresh-fallen snow, my breath would fog the air outside, and I wouldn’t venture out without full winter clothing… as we read it, however, October is just beginning which around here means crisp air, colourful leaves, golden light and that special feeling that comes with knowing that winter is coming and we need to appreciate every day, every moment, between now and then.

I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers 🙂

 

Leafs - Photograph by Rhonda Parrish
Leafs – Photograph by Moi

Scarecrow Cover Reveal

Scarecrow edited by Rhonda Parrish

Oh.

My.

Gawd.

I love this cover. Don’t you just love this cover? I feel like this anthology series has been blessed with great covers (thank you Eileen!) but this one is my favourite. Love, love, love, love, love it.

Oh. But wait. There’s more! In addition revealing the cover of Scarecrow I have copies to give away! There are two ways to win (I suggest entering both draws LOL). The first is a Goodreads giveaway. We’re giving a copy of Scarecrow to two lucky winners (US and Canada only, sorry :-/ ). It’s super easy to enter, you can just click here to go to the page on Goodreads or use this:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Scarecrow by Rhonda Parrish

Scarecrow

by Rhonda Parrish

Giveaway ends August 03, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

That draw is only open for like 5 days (it closes on August 3rd). Can we get 500 entries in 5 days? I don’t know, but let’s try! 🙂

The other way to enter to win a copy (well, actually ten copies) of Scarecrow is via #ScarecrowSelfies. This one is open to people anywhere in the world. You can check out all the details by clicking here, and in the meantime take a look at the entries that have come in so far:

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Awesome. Like that cover. Amirite?

Staycation 2015

Canoe

That photograph is from our last family vacation when we went to Nova Scotia in 2012. I can’t believe it’s been three years already, time has started doing crazy things in these past few years… Anyway, the reason I’m sharing that photo is because I don’t really have a more appropriate one to use to announce this year’s staycation 🙂

For the next couple weeks though I will be at home and working a (very) little bit, I will mostly be on vacation. It’s a very awkward period to take off, coming as it does between book launches, but it was the only time I could find a couple weeks on the calendar that Jo and I both felt comfortable taking off. So there you have it.

I’ve got a handful of pre-scheduled blog and Twitter posts and I will be checking my email to make sure there aren’t any urgent matters that need my attention but between now and the 28th my goal is to be online as little as possible.

I’ll see you on the other side where I hope to be rested, refreshed and ready to get back to work 🙂

 

 

ISSS 2015 Graduation Speech

This is my amazing husband.

He is my best friend, biggest supporter and I love him more than I could ever tell you (or, than you’d want to hear about, really).

He also teaches in the Biochemistry department here at the University of Alberta. Occasionally that means he’s asked to make speeches. This year he was invited to speak at the ISSS graduation ceremony and I liked his speech so much I asked him if I could post it here. He said yes 🙂

Jopa

ISSS 2015 Graduation Speech

by Dr. Jonathan C. Parrish

Good evening, graduates, family, and supporters. I’d like to start by thanking ISSS for inviting me to speak here again. Graduation speeches are daunting things, there are some fantastic and inspirational speeches out there to hold up as standards, from the “Always Wear Sunscreen” speech – never delivered, usually attributed to Kurt Vonnegut, actually written by Mary Schmich – to the “Make Good Art” speech by Neil Gaiman. If you have not heard either of them I encourage you to find them. If you want, you can imagine me saying them, that would be swell.

Last year I thought I’d provide some of the lessons I feel have been important, punctuated by stories that illustrated them, this year I wanted to try something a little more coherent. I debated how to approach it, and what to discuss, without feeling that my own advice was overinflated or invaluable as opposed to amusing with brief insights. As a sign of how serious I am taking it, I even wrote it down!

As I only have a few minutes, what I’d like to offer is some small portion of my own philosophy. I’d like to talk today about the big picture. The mountain. The goal. The end of the rainbow. What is the big picture? I can’t tell you, because we each have our own. Some of us love the avant garde, some of us are realists, some of us are firmly couched in classical themes. The picture changes from day to day. From week to week, from year to year. We change, we adapt, we get bored, we move on. Changing is not a de facto failure nor a success, it’s just change, and that’s ok.

Choose your own path, follow your own counsel. Is it ironic for me to suggest this to you? You bet! Be unreasonable. George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying, “the reasonable man adapts to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress is made by unreasonable men.”

Within reason, of course, and feel free to change pronouns as you wish. But ask yourself this – do you want to be the next someone else or the first you? Keeping the big picture in mind will help you choose when to adapt and when to be unreasonable. You only have a finite amount of time and energy, especially the former, and you may find that things you change are changed back by someone else.

Christine Miserando, who suffers from lupus, uses spoons as an analogy to how much energy she can spend in a day. She starts with a limited number of spoons; everything she does uses one up and that determines how much she can do in a day. It helps her explain why some days it’s enough for her to get out of bed and brush her teeth, but the idea can be expanded to everyone.

In my field, structural biology, we have an analogy related to lysozyme – the basic idea being that each scientist only has so many structures in them. Lysozyme is easy to grow and solve (which is why it was one of the first proteins to be crystallized) and this is why we use it as training for novice crystallographers. But there are those who say if you can only solve so many structures, don’t waste one of them on lysozyme. Put your energy, when you do have it, into things that get you closer to where you want to be. Or away from where you don’t want to be. Or somewhere else, if you’re not sure. And that means keeping your mind on the big picture, so you know which way is which. And be unreasonable when it’s called for.

The next thing I’d like to discuss is purity of motive. Purity of motive is something I can’t think of as anything but a good thing. It means not just doing the right thing but doing it for the right reasons. Sometimes, I tell my classes that there are two ways of beating the curve: study and work hard and bring up your own grades or confuse everyone else in order to bring theirs down. Purity of motive then informs this choice – focus on what the point of education is. What the big picture is. It’s not the curve, it’s not the grade, it’s (hopefully) understanding, learning, growing that is the goal.

As much as I’d like to reassure you about this, it doesn’t end, either – in my work I am expected to justify everything I do each year, to compete for limited resources, to beat the curve. There are things I could do just to add content, to check off boxes, tick off to-do items on my annual report. But that is not purity of motive. What did you do at work today? I ticked off a box. That’s not focusing on the big picture, that’s being reasonable. If you are doing things solely to meet someone else’s criteria, you’re not having as much fun. And if you’re not enjoying yourself, then you need to re-focus on the big picture and find the path that takes you closer to that fantastic work of art, that big picture, in your head.

Things happen, day by day, week by week, we get into a state where we feel like we are constantly putting out small fires that keep starting, and it’s all we can do to check off the items on our to-do list. It’s hard to focus on the big picture, let alone think about being unreasonable. But even on those tough days there may be a moment to think about where you are headed and how you could work toward that goal even as you are putting out all those tiny fires.

Because there are much bigger fires waiting – and when those ones are out you can tell stories about the great fires you helped to extinguish and the ones you helped to start. You are university graduates, you’ve been given lighter fluid and a fire extinguisher. It’s up to you, now, to choose how unreasonable you are going to be.

And so to you, class of 2015, I congratulate you and I wish you the best, biggest picture to work towards. Go out there and be the best, first you. Give ‘em hell.

 


Personally, I am paying especially close attention these days to make sure I’m doing something each day beyond putting out fires and checking off boxes. That’s the part of this speech which spoke to me the most. Some days I do better than others, but by keeping the images of the fires and the checkboxes in the back of my mind, I’m finding it easier to stay on the path toward the ‘big picture’ that represents my larger life goals.

🙂

2015 Goals

All rights reserved by Rhonda Parrish

I don’t really make New Year’s Resolutions, because I’m crap at keeping them, but I do enjoy setting goals for the coming year each January. I find them super helpful staying focused and find the accountability which comes from sharing them publicly really helps as well. This year I’m a wee bit late on getting this blog post done, so it may be slightly less chatty than in years past, but without further ado, here are some of my work-related goals for the coming year (and health counts because you can’t work if you’re not at least a certain degree of healthy).

Health

  • Weigh less at the end of the year than I do at the start
  • Run 5k
  • No working on weekends and minimal working on evenings.

Editing / Publishing

  • Publish the final three issues of Niteblade and then close down that aspect of the magazine
  • Complete Corvidae and market it to the best of my ability
  • Complete Scarecrow and market it to the best of my ability
  • Publish B is for Broken and market it to the best of my ability
  • When Shadows is published market it to the best of my ability
  • Have the manuscript for C is for… polished and ready for publication
  • Have the manuscript for D is for… polished and ready for publication
  • Come up with a way to set actual concrete goals for promotion.
  • Make progress on sekkrit collab with CJD
  • Open to submissions for Sirens

Writing

  • Write and submit at least one new short story a month*
    • The ‘submit’ part of this is important. I can’t just write a first draft and leave it to moulder indefinitely. The story needs to be ready for submission and, in fact, submitted, within the month to count.
  • Begin querying agents about Hollow
  • Self-publish at least one collection of reprints
  • Complete work on collaborative project with Marge
  • Successfully participate in April Poem-A-Day
    • This means actually writing a poem a day or at least having thirty poems written by the end of the month
  • Participate in NaNoWriMo*
  • Either complete the first draft of a new novel, or revise one of the novel first drafts I’ve already written (this can be completed in conjunction with NaNoWriMo or separate from it)

Reading

  • Read at least 50 books
    • Slush doesn’t count, nor do books by friends I read to critique.
    • Have at least 20% be non-fiction

Misc

  • Create a website at poiseandpen.com
  • Attend When Words Collide and Pure Spec
  • Blog at least once a week
  • When someone visits this blog and leaves a comment — reciprocate.

Kobo

As of New Year’s Eve of 2014 I’d sold a total of one book via Kobo**. One. For a whopping $0.45 in royalties. One of my goals in 2015 is to improve that. I don’t have a super firm goal in mind but it shouldn’t be too difficult to top one sale and less than fifty cents in royalties, right?

I’ll probably tweak this list as the year goes on, but for now I think it’s a very good jumping-off point 🙂

*under this name or as a pen name project. Either counts.
**this doesn’t count books I didn’t self-publish like Fae, Metastasis etc.

Remembering the Year

Remembering the Year

A Guest-Post by Scott Burtness, author of the horror-comedy novel, “Wisconsin Vamp.”

New Year’s Eve has always been one of my favorite holidays, but I also think it loses something when you turn twenty-one. While it can be a helluva good time, New Year’s Eve after turning 21 tends to be pretty myopic in focus. Forgotten are the experiences of the past year and the hopes and plans for the new one. Suddenly, it’s all about the amount of alcohol you can pack away in one night to justify the exorbitant cover charge you paid to get in the door and, if you stay just the right amount of not-too-drunk, that midnight kiss from a pretty (you hope) stranger. As goals go, those two aren’t particularly lofty and really do a disservice to what celebrating the new year should be about. What good is a New Year’s celebration if all you think about is that one single, solitary night?

After college, I moved from Minneapolis, MN to Chicago, IL. My first New Year’s in Chicago was about what you’d expect. I drank, danced, laughed, spent way too much money, cavorted on the train, threw up in an alley, and woke up with a massive hangover and cheap champagne stains on my shirt. The next year, I had landed a gig tending bar at a trendy joint in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, and was more than happy to work on New Year’s Eve. It kept me on the sane side of the bar, away from the craziness happening just a few feet away. For the next four consecutive New Year’s Eves, I watched people party 1999 style, kicked them out at bar close, cleaned up, restocked, counted my tips, grabbed a late-night gyro or burrito, headed home and passed out on my futon. I never spent much time thinking about the night itself. Rather, the thought that would go through my mind before slipping into sleep was, “I can’t wait until tomorrow.”

See, growing up, my family had a tradition. On the first day of the new year, we’d go out for dinner as a family. My parents were, um… Hmmm. I think ‘frugal’ is the polite way of stating it. We didn’t eat out much, but January 1st merited a meal on the town. That alone made January 1st a noteworthy occurrence. Some years, it was pure Americana – a Perkins or Denny’s or Embers. Other years, we’d go crazy-exotic like La Casita Mexican or the Dragon House for Chinese. Hey, cut us some slack. We’re talking about suburban Minnesota in the eighties and early-nineties, not the East Village in New York or San Fran’s Mission District. We did the best we could with the tools at hand.

We would enjoy a good meal, but any conversation was restricted to the meal at hand. There was no discussion of the previous night, the previous week, or any time prior to arriving at the restaurant. Only after we’d packed away our dinner would my dad let the real event begin.

“So…,” he’d say. “What happened this year?”

And that was all it took. My sister and I would climb all over each other trying to see who could remember more things – what grade we’d received in what class, the best school event or some particularly spectacular shenanigans with the neighborhood kids the previous summer. Meanwhile, my parents would chime in with memories of grown-up things. My dad starting his own business, my mom getting a job at the local elementary school. One year, it was the new car. Another year (the one in which I’d turned sixteen), it was the car I had crashed. If it was one of the rare years that’d we’d been able to take a family vacation, memories and stories from the trip would dominate the conversation. Yellowstone the year it was on fire. St. Petersburg, FL when I was thirteen. Tucson, AZ one Christmas when I was in high school and my parents were fed up with winter.

We’d go around the table, sharing memories, some big, some small, but all important or meaningful in their own way. If someone remembered something that the others had forgotten, the rest would oooh and aaah and then start to pepper in their own recollections as they came back. One-upping was highly encouraged and richly rewarded with approving nods and smiles, or even an, “I’m impressed you remembered that!” golf clap. Those New Year’s Day dinners and remembrances are some of my fondest memories from my childhood.

Years later in Chicago, I’d kick-out the drunks, close down the bar, grab my late night dinner, head back to my crummy little studio apartment, collapse onto my futon, and think, “I can’t wait until tomorrow.” See, I usually didn’t have enough money to travel home for Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years. There were more than a few years when I could barely afford to make it down the street on a city bus, much less make it back home, even for a holiday. But on January 1st, I’d call home. Dad would answer, we’d trade pleasantries about how crummy winter was, how my jobs were going. Mom would usually chime in from the background, asking if I was getting enough to eat. And then my dad would say,

“So, what happened this year?”

And that was all it took.

***

Wisconsin VampScott Burtness lives in Minneapolis, MN with his wife, Liz and their boxer-pitt, Frank. When he isn’t writing horror-comedy novels about a vampire that likes to drink beer, bowl and sing karaoke, Scott enjoys drinking beer, bowling and singing karaoke.

His novel, “Wisconsin Vamp” is available on Amazon.com:

For random randomness and updates on the soon-to-be-release second book in the Monsters in the Midwest series,

Follow Scott on Twitter: @SWBauthor
Find Scott on Facebook: www.facebook.com/SWBauthor
Read his “Not Even Remotely Helpful for Authors” blog on Goodreads: www.goodreads.coom/SWBauthor

… or drop by some bowling alleys or karaoke bars in the Midwest.

~*~

Scott is going to be the final participant in series of Winter Holiday-themed guest posts I’m sharing on my blog this year… not just because the year is up at midnight, but that’s a pretty good reason all by itself 🙂

Happy New Year everyone!

So, what happened this year?

A Very Virna Christmas

A Very Virna Christmas

By Virginia Carraway Stark

This short story is from my universe of Carnival Fun. Virna Grant is my alter ego, who I feel I would be if I gave into my every weakness and flaw. The Novel Carnival Fun has also been performed as a play and has received attention to be made into a movie as well.

It’s always hard to say what will happen in Virna’s world though and everything is seen through the twisted spectre of funhouse mirrors.

You can find out more about this and other worlds at www.starklightpress.com and www.gafmainframe.com as well as finding Starklight Press on Facebook and at www.ihavememory.wordpress.com

 

The cookies were definitely a little burned around the edges, especially the Christmas trees.

This was a consequence of trying to do things myself.

I had let the help off for Christmas this year. Well, Bruce had let them off. The truth wasn’t that he was doing it out of the goodness of his heart (although the bonus he gave them made up for his self-serving motives in my opinion), but that he wanted to have a party with Eric and their ‘alternative’ friends and didn’t want too much gossip to get around town after the brandy and eggnog started to flow and people forgot that they weren’t supposed to be couples.

I hadn’t thought twice about the idea when my husband had first brought up the idea and I was happy to brush off my dusty home maker skills to have a Christmas dinner and all the goodies made by myself. Eric had offered to help me with the baking but then he and Bruce had gone to decorate the sitting room and decorate the tree. The servants had brought the large Donner pine in before being dismissed for the holiday. They would return New Year’s Eve when they would orchestrate a more traditional and public party- and of course help us clean up from Christmas. By my calculations we should all be recovered from Bruce’s party but the house would doubtless still be a disaster.

Disaster wasn’t quite the word for my gingerbread cookies. They weren’t firm at the edges like how I thought they should be and they kind of trailed off in a vague way. The word ‘puddle’ stirred distressingly in my mind. The were Christmas tree puddles, and they looked like they had only barely survived a forest fire from the singes. Icing would cover it up and Bruce and Eric and their friends probably wouldn’t notice that they weren’t perfect if I brought them out later in the night…

Then it occurred to me.

I would be spending the entire party fetching trays, getting hot and sweaty and being utterly ignored by almost everyone. It was too much to bear and I felt my skin prickling with anger and my lips purse.

I stormed out of the kitchen and then remembered I didn’t have anything to drink and so I stormed back in and poured myself a small glass of cherry brandy and drank it. My skin prickling faded as the healthier flush of the booze took over. I steadied myself by pouring another glass. I searched through some drawers for some pills to take as a chaser.

I felt better as the warmth of the pills spread through me with the brandy and I stormed out of the kitchen with a clearer idea of how I would distribute my frustration at being so insultingly put into the role of servant to my husband and his gay lover. What was I thinking?

I hadn’t been thinking and neither had been Bruce and Eric. W were all just feeling frustrated by being so inhibited and wanted to be with some of the people who also hid their lifestyle choices to please their parents, get inheritances or just fit in with society. None of us had been thinking and now I was stuck with being the Martha of the Christmas party. I found Bruce and Eric adjusting a garland in the living room and I threw myself down on the divan with my drink, glowering at them while Bruce hopped down from the ladder and came over to give me a kiss on the cheek.

“Whatever you’re doing in the kitchen, it smells delicious, my dear.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing in the kitchen, I haven’t done anything except heat up soup in the kitchen or make some toast for about a year.”

“Well, it must be a nice change then to have the place to yourself.”

I pouted but I wasn’t quite up to throwing a full tantrum yet. Eric finished what he was doing and took my glass from my hand, sniffed it and then refilled it with more cherry brandy and kissed my forehead as he gave it to me. His eyes were filled with the knowledge of why I was upset even though Bruce was still happily oblivious to my potential tantrum.

That was part of the problem. I liked Eric. In some ways I liked him even more than I liked Bruce. We had conversations that would last all night sometimes while Bruce would be more interested in going out for a jog or playing sports or doing his own researches. Bruce was happy being Bruce and I was not happy being me and only Eric seemed to see anything of how I was feeling in all this.

How wonderful it had seemed to be given so much freedom in a marriage, to be able to give my affections to anyone I wanted, so long as we kept the gossip down to a minimum of course, to not have a husband who was interested in me physically but only in my intellect and my company and my presence on his arm. It was hard not to have someone look at me the way Bruce and Eric looked at each other. This soiree of their was making me even more of the third wheel that I really and truly was in this ridiculous parody of a marriage.

“The servants already gossip, who cares what they say. Call them back and make them do this. I don’t want to.”

Bruce looked at me in bewilderment and Eric studiously adjusted some ornaments in a box.

“Virna, you aren’t making any sense. We can’t have this sort of gossip going around town. The firm would be sure to hear about it and they might even take it seriously.”

I folded my arms. “Well, then call the party off. I don’t want a party.”

“Well, I do want a party and the invitations have gone out and the R.S.V.P’s returned.”

His tenderness had turned off like a switch and he was irritated with me. His mouth was doing that pouting thing that some days made me feel like holding him like he was my own small child and other times made me feel like punishing him into a less self-indulgent man.

Today was the a case of the latter.

Eric turned back to us. He opened his mouth and closed it. I wished he would just talk. He was often so shy and I knew that he was in an even worse position in many ways than I was.

Eric was a lawyer with another firm and while Bruce was secure as a married man, Eric was still a bachelor and older than Bruce. With his gentle manners and quiet voice he had only his dignity to stave off the gossip that inevitably circulated about unmarried men who weren’t frequently seen with pretty young things dangling off of their arms. He maintained an apartment where he ‘lived’ separately but he only used the place when he was forced to entertain. Eric didn’t really have a life of his own, he was more like me in that way, just a satellite orbiting Bruce’s life. Wee both only influencing the tides while he held us in his gravity.

I drank my cherry brandy and wondered how much I was willing to fight with Bruce about the party.

“It’s not really fair to expect Virna to handle all of the catering, Bruce. There were a lot more RSVPs than any of us expected. Perhaps we could ask Brian and Jeffrey to help out. They are more than sympathetic and they both love to cook.”

Bruce was annoyed with me and I could see that he had a moment of sheer rejection of the idea and then Eric put a gently hand on Bruce’s shoulder, one finger gently tracing along his hairline. I watched the tension drain from Bruce and he smiled and nodded.

“Sure, sure, give them a call, there’s no reason not to,” Bruce kissed my cheek and went back to his garland. Eric gave me a wink and returned to helping Bruce.

I finished my brandy in a swig and decided that I could still feel up to decorating the cookies when they cooled. I thought it would be a long stretch to see that I felt included but at least I didn’t feel ostracized.

I would call Brian and see if he and Jeffrey could help out. They were nice and I got along with Brian’s wife who was in a similar position to me but had been doing it for much longer. Anna had a stream of seemingly younger and younger men on her arm every time I saw her. I thought I’d be up to making some eggnog too- my own Mother’s recipe- she had had her cross to bear in life as well although it was much different from my own. I could still recall her serenely drinking it with pale hands that trembled even though her lips smiled.

Bruce and Eric were my family and it was Christmas. My own pale fingers trembled withn the cherry brandy and its small yellow chasers and the pent up tears that I had no right to shed. There were beautiful presents for me under the tree and my husband loved me, even if he had never loved me. Really, I had nothing to complain about as I made my face serene and stirred the nutmeg into the eggnog.

 

**

Virginia Carraway Stark is a Canadian author and screenwriter who lives in British Columbia, Canada. Her scripts have been made into movies (BlindEYE and Truth and Wine) and online podcasts (Candid Shots of the VPD). Virginia has written several dozen well-researched blog articles about cutting edge biochemistry and health topics for wellness websites and pubmed.com. In addition, she promotes the remarkable turnaround of the African country Rwanda with My Rwandaful Blog, where she educates readers about everything from mountain gorillas to murderous lakes.

Currently, Virginia is editor in chief at StarkLight Press, a leading Canadian publishing house devoted to science and speculative fiction. She promoted her new novel, Dalton’s Daughter, as well as her short story anthology Tales from Space, at VCON (Vancouver Science Fiction Convention) this year to great acclaim. In addition to introducing VCON audiences to her alien race the Gendlers, Virginia also picked up her Aurora Award Nominee Pin.

Both aforementioned works center around the Galactic Armed Forces Science Fiction Universe, the immersive and open-ended worldscape loved by fans all over the world. Virginia Carraway Stark is co- creator of this universe, and co-editor of its online incarnation the GAF Mainframe.

Virginia has also written stories for StarkLight Volumes 1, 2 and 3. These fascinating anthologies compile the winners of StarkLight Press’ short story contests, which are open to first time, fresh authors from all over the world.

In between writing projects, Virginia finds time to record excerpts from StarkLight Press’ catalogue on YouTube and runs online writing and poetry workshops. She resides with her husband in the country, where they are surrounded by several dogs, waterfowl and a small herd of goats.

Websites:

www.starklightpress.com

www.ihavememory.wordpress.com

www.myrwandafulblog.wordpress.com

about.me/virginia_carraway

www.gafmainframe.com

Our Annual Christmas Movie

This week for Fae-tastic Friday we’re going to do something a little different. For the month of December I invited friends and readers to share their favourite winter holiday traditions here on my blog. Fae contributor, Laura VanArendonk Baugh is one of the people who took me up on that offer. For Fae-tastic Friday this week, let’s learn a little bit about how she celebrates Christmas:

Our Annual Christmas Movie

by Laura VanArendonk Baugh

Photo credit: Wikipedia --> http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:It%27s_A_Wonderful_Life.jpg
Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nearly every year of my life, my immediate family has gathered on Christmas Eve, invited friends and pseudo-adopted family, eaten ourselves silly on shrimp and brownies and cheese balls and red and green M&Ms, and watched It’s a Wonderful Life.

“That old hack of a film? Really?” you ask.

If you asked it silently to yourself, read on, and I’ll explain. If you asked aloud, there’s the door over there. We don’t argue about It’s a Wonderful Life.

No, it’s not a perfect film, and yes, it’s been parodied so often that many people can’t see the original story for itself any more. That doesn’t matter. If you need a fresh perspective, go look at the complete miniature village of Bedford Falls all lit and sparkling near the tree. “Merry Christmas, movie house!”

It’s a story about a man enslaved to duty, bound to his family by love and his job by honor, feeling trapped and resenting not the people but the circumstances. It’s about finding the delightful and unexpected in the commonplace, where the girl you ignore on the street everyday can be the gorgeous girl of your dreams when you finally notice. It’s about giving up your youthful dreams and yet finding joy in the life you’ve made.

It's a Wonderful Life
On my mother’s Chistmas tree. (Photo credit: Melissa Heigl)

And it was allegedly Jimmy Stewart’s favorite film, too, and who can argue with that?

It was a relative flop, fairly unknown until its copyright expired and it became cheap fodder for television stations seeking seasonal filler — a miracle both in script and real life. The film slipped around the contemporary Hays Code (that #*&%@! Potter never gets punished), provided the names of friends Bert and Ernie for generations of happy Sesame Street fans, and managed to make a hero of a man who screamed at his children while smashing the house.

It's a Wonderful Life
It’s a Wonderful Life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s good for writers, that way — we see George Bailey save his brother’s life (losing his hearing) and the life of an unknown boy (taking a beating in front of the girl who likes him), give his college funds away, give his honeymoon funds away, and save the town’s only independent financial institution at the cost of his own dreams, so by the time he’s breaking stuff and shouting, we’re on his side, because we know what it costs him.

But who cares about story technique? We’re watching the movie. And it means Christmas lights and carols and food and friends and family, and while I’m not usually bound to tradition, this is one tradition I refuse to give up.

And if any philistines watch the colorized version, I shall banish them to Potter’s Field (the best-named housing development ever, I suspect).

There are other Christmas and seasonal movies I love, too, but It’s a Wonderful Life is our family’s signature film.

What’s yours?

***

Laura was born at a very early age and never looked back. She overcame childhood deficiencies of having been born without teeth or developed motor skills, and by the time she matured into a recognizable adult she had become a behavior analyst, an internationally-recognized and award-winning animal trainer, a popular costumer/cosplayer, a chocolate addict, and of course a writer. Find her at www.LauraVanArendonkBaugh.com

Grinchdom

This year I’m sharing some of my own winter holiday traditions on the blog, so I opened it up to anyone else who wanted to share too. My intention had been to post something special today because it’s Christmas Eve. I had fully expected to write that *something* myself, but then Leslie sent me her guest blog and I thought it was perfect for the job. I admire the honesty of Leslie’s story and her bravery in sharing something so personal with a lot of strangers. Thank you Leslie. You’re awesome.

Grinchdom

My trek down from Mount Crumpit

 

Leslie Van ZwolWhen Rhonda Parrish posted on her blog the idea of people sending in Christmas traditions I thought it was a very nice idea. Then, I started thinking: “I guess I have traditions? What the heck are they? Why do I do them? How did they come to be?” I wanted to know how I grew from a child that despised Christmas into and an adult who loves it. So I had to go back, a very long way, to figure it out.

Childhood expectations:

For the first seven years of my life I think I had enjoyable Christmases. I say, I think because I don’t remember them one way or another – I remember being infatuated with the bubble-lights that decorated my grandmother’s Christmas tree, but other than that I don’t have any clear memories.

Adult Leslie knows there was a lot of tension from my family during the holidays, but Little Leslie was completely oblivious to this. It was always grandma, grandpa, dad and I

You see, I was raised by my paternal grandmother (Grandma Jean) and spent very little time getting to know my mother, sister, or her side of the family during this time. I knew who they were, but Little Leslie didn’t understand who they really were. All of the tension soared over my three-foot-something head, and I had a jolly time during the holidays.

Rise to Grinchdom:

As I mentioned above, I was a person who hated Christmas. The first Christmas that sticks out in my mind was the very first one after my Grandma Jean passed away. I was seven. Living with mom and dad who were trying to make a difficult situation work and I was introduced to my older sibling as a living companion.

Everything was going wrong. Struggles for power, affection and independence were everywhere. I remember going to my mother’s parents’ house for Christmas. They were delighted to have me, and I was content as a seven-year-old to see them. Which really meant I was ambivalent about the whole thing. I remember walking over to their Christmas tree, looking for the bubble-lights and after finding none deciding something was wrong.

The whole visit caused me anxiety. I got presents from people who loved me, ate a nice dinner, slept in a new bed – but everything was foreign. None of the traditions I was used to were there. Dad didn’t come. Grandpa wasn’t there. And Grandma was gone forever.

They did a wonderful job at trying to make me feel comfortable. We even opened a few presents on Christmas Eve (which is one of my favorite traditions to this day) but something felt different.

Adult Leslie would tell Little Leslie (if she could) that it was okay it felt different. Of course it would. Things couldn’t be the way they were, we had to make new things. But no one told Little Leslie this in a way she could understand.

I started to hate the holidays.

And at the ripe age of seven school was starting to become particularly confusing. I had switched schools three times by the time I was eight. I am a pretty logical thinker, so when I started asking, “What is the meaning of Christmas?” I just wanted a straight answer. Maybe I was looking for what people expected of me. But everyone had a different answer, which just confused me and made me bitter.

Some people told me about religion, baking, family, turkey and anything else you can imagine. Add on the responses from my classmates that tended to value gifts over all things, and I got extremely confused. Some of the adults regurgitated the heartfelt and meaningful answers they felt they were supposed to, but then their actions showed me that Christmas meant something different to them entirely. And television was teaching me there was a whole different meaning to Christmas. And I wasn’t experiencing any of these things.

We never had much money, and my parents weren’t the most adept and at understanding what I was interested in. So when other kids my age measured their parents’ love in the gifts they got for Christmas, I was left at a loss. How do my own parents not know me? Why do these kids get this and I get that? I don’t want dolls, I want LEGO!

By the age of ten my paternal grandpa was entirely out of the picture and had turned to the bottle. He didn’t come around anymore and I felt as though another lifeline to the past Christmases with Grandma Jean was were gone.

Christmas became a time of argument and unrealistic expectations. After dad and mom split, dad was only too content to let us go with mom’s family. This made me feel like he didn’t want me around. My sister and I built a comfortable niche with mom’s family – where we could leave the chaos behind and just enjoy the holidays, but this didn’t sink in until my early twenties. And I always felt torn between the two worlds of my mom and dad.

Change of heart:

I started a new relationship when I was 19. The first Christmas we shared was with his family, and for the first time I felt as though I’d fallen into the television and was experiencing Christmas. Logically there wasn’t much of a difference, but what I saw changed my perspective.

They had steadfast traditions, a giant tree filled with presents, and so much love between them. Every present they opened was something the person wanted/needed. Then one present came around the bend and it was for me. I was shocked. I expected nothing that day. The gift was small but the meaning behind the gift was that “we want you to feel welcome.” And that was the important part.

The next year when I saw my father for Christmas I demanded we start a tradition. I was starving for tradition, any consistency and to feel like my family could have a normal holiday. We bought the movie the Grinch with Jim Carrey, and I said, “Dad, we are going to watch this every year we get together.” And we did.

When I was 18 I got my own independent source of income (i.e. a job), this opened the door of buying the gifts I wanted to for people. Apparently I was a natural gift buyer, and I found it gratifying when they opened it and realized I remembered something they had said a few years back.

A gradual shift began around that time. I moved seven hours north of home. The first year I didn’t make it back for Christmas. But the second year I found myself wanting to come back and spend the holidays with my family. I needed those subtle connections.

I started staying with my sister over the holidays, and she made sure to decorate her house for me when I was coming. She decorated because she knew a part of me wanted more than anything to feel the love of Christmas. My sister stepped outside of herself and defied her own hatred for the holiday, deciding as long as we were together it would work out.

When I came down for the holidays we started inviting our close friends over and having a post-Christmas get together that is now dubbed “Friend Christmas.” This was when I first felt the pull I had been wanting to feel since I was seven years old. It was a simple concept: friends spending time together because they love each other. Everyone brings a dish so there is not a ton of work placed on one person, we drink and we just have fun with zero expectation. The gift exchange during Friend Christmas is my favorite part, not because of the gifts, but because I know the person who bought me the gift knows me and understands me. Even if they buy me a bag of chips – it will be my favourite flavour.

In 2008 I bought and decorated my own tree. I made the decision that Christmas was going to mean to me whatever I wanted it to mean. It didn’t have to be about gifts, family, religion – it just had to something to me. That was all. I put on my green Christmas hat and decorated my tree! And for the first time I realized it was the expectations of the world around me that was making me hate Christmas. Not my own ideals, but the idea Christmas had to mean what they said it did.

I love the holidays. I love watching people do good things for each other. I had to decide that I wanted Christmas to mean something positive for me and go and chase that. It took a long time for me to figure out what that meant, but now that I have I am glad I did.

You can focus on the negative: crazy line ups, huge commercialization, religious pressures, higher grocery prices, heavy traffic, and a hundred other things. Or you can simplify: let Christmas be to you what you want it to be. You don’t have to stand in a five hour lineup to buy your kid the newest thing, get the biggest turkey, deal with an unbearable mother-in-law, wear the nicest clothes to the party, have the biggest tree, have a party for one hundred guests when you really only like five of them, or decorate your house with so many lights you can see it from space. You just have to be you, and be around people that love you for who you are. It’s that simple.

My traditions are simple: A person always has to wear a Christmas hat when they help decorate the tree, anyone can come decorate the tree, the Grinch is playing in the background while the house gets decorated, and we always have Friend Christmas.

These things have brought meaning to a holiday I used to find so loathsome. It’s about what it means to you – not what it means to your neighbor or to a celebrity or to your mother. To you. And only you.

***

Leslie Van Zwol is a writer who enjoys adding a dash of grit into her mystical worlds. Currently she lives and works in Lethbridge, Alberta – where the Christmases tend to be brown, to her chagrin. When she is not dabbling in dystopian realms you will generally find her hiking, travelling or dancing. For a daily dose of snark and occasional fun science facts you can find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/leslie.zwol and Twitter: @bobbistylz.

Learning and Sharing Compassion

This year I invited people to share their Christmas traditions on my blog. Virginia is one of the contributors to this effort who went above and beyond in her sharing. What follows is an extremely personal story that may just touch your heart. I know it touched mine. Thank you for sharing it with us, Virginia!

My Christmas Tradition: Learning and Sharing Compassion

By Virginia Carraway Stark

Every holiday season I am very aware of the expectation of the holidays. Whether I am having a large Christmas or a small one, if I am on the road travelling, in a foreign country or in my own home, I am aware that it is the expectation that I have of compassion and sharing and togetherness that is of the prime import.

This is my own Christmas miracle that happened when I was a child. I try to pay it forward anytime I can to people I see struggling during the holidays. I’m not a saint but the belief in the kindness of our fellow humans is what we all really want to be at the heart of our holiday season.

I learned to have compassion for my mother’s failings during the events of one Christmas family dinner and I’ve tried my whole life to be aware that everyone has a story that explains their failings ever since. It’s become the heart of not only my holiday season but my approach to dealing with real life people and the people I write into reality as well. This is from my memoirs: ‘I Have Memory’ that is slowly being published on my blogspot: ihavememory.wordpress.com

There were a lot of things like that with my mother but the hard thing was the big incident that taught me how arms’ length I would have to be with her. It was only after I understood how she felt about her own abuse and her mother that I forgave her for that Incident. It’s easy to get confused with abuse and easier still to lash out at others and she didn’t have my ability to focus on the positive. She was the opposite of me in that way… to her the world was darkness and despair.

She had a good heart though, she had a wonderful openness to her and it was mischance and ill fortune that every choice she made with love in her heart went badly for her.

You see, she had wanted to get away from her dad more than anything else in life when she was a girl.

He wasn’t like my Dad- her father was unpredictable. My Dad had rules and if you obeyed the rules you wouldn’t be disciplined. There were a lot of rules but I took it as a challenge and I regarded it as a deep failure on my part if I was unable to remember them all or was physically unable to meet up with them. I would push myself to the point of unconsciousness rather than fail my dad while I had a drop of strength left in me.

Her dad, Dennis, was like a pot that’s on the back of the stove of life and is constantly boiling over. You could try to keep the burner set to low but the least little thing would set him off. I recall one family Christmas Eve going to his house, the table was set with margarine and butter. Dennis asked for the butter and someone (I think it was my brother) passed him the margarine instead.

I feel I should also mention at this point that both butter and margarine were unlabelled and were little squares of nearly identical yellow grease.

They were slightly different yellows and that was the only difference as they each sat on little cut crystal plates. Of course, for a normal person, getting the margarine instead of the butter would be the smallest of incidents, but not for my grandad.

He took the saucer, started to slice of a wafer of margarine and, muttering something that I think was, ‘that’s not butter’.

He picked up the outed margarine and threw it across the dining room and then threw the crystal plate behind him like a discus as he stood to his feet and hit the table with his rising lap and knocked over his chair behind him. He started to roar and rage. He ranted about ‘idiots’ who couldn’t tell the difference between margarine and butter while throwing plates and turkey around the dining room.

My Dad scooped me up in his arms and my mom grabbed my brother by the shoulders and they evacuated us as quickly as they could to the truck. My mom held onto my brother and my brother clutched me while our brave dad went back into the house amidst the sound of breaking china and incoherent ragings and extricated all of our presents.

The truck was full of presents and it was Christmas. We weren’t going to enjoy the tree, we weren’t going to have the rest of our dinner. Dad drove us to a motel and held my mom while she cried. I remember the two of them, sitting in the window of a cheap motel, him perched on the arm of the chair while my mom wept exhausted and ashamed tears. Dad helped her to the bed where she passed out and then he left without barely a word to my brother or me.

Leonard and I sat together in the window. He was kind to me that day, he was very impressionable and I noticed that he usually treated me as an exact replica of how he saw my dad treat my mom on a moment by moment basis. We talked a bit about what had happened but mostly we thought about all the presents in the back of the truck getting covered by snow. He held me the way he saw dad hold mom and we sat in the window watching the growing snowflakes until we fell asleep in the chair.

I’m not sure of when my dad returned, but when we woke up we saw a Christmas miracle.

There was a little scrawny Christmas tree on the coffee table in front of the window and the presents from the truck were mounded up around us to nearly fill the hotel room. Some of them were damp from snow but we didn’t mind. There was a little tinsel on the tree even though there weren’t any other decorations and there as the smell of fried chicken and cranberry sauce in the hotel room.

It wasn’t an ideal Christmas but it was the sort of magic that my dad could make happen when he wanted to. Sitting on the hotel bed as a family and eating take out food we all laughed at grandpa the way people always laugh at the monsters that scare them. Leonard had a bruise on his face where something grandpa had thrown had hit him and he imitated grandpa’s anger after seeing Dad do it. Mom and I laughed as the two of them mugged angry faces and stormed around the room, throwing the wrapping paper that we had left all over the room as though it were crystal plates.

We never went back to grandma and grandpa’s house for Christmas dinner ever again after that. It was a relief because you never knew what would happen.

Dad rescued us all from it by simply saying, ‘That’s not the sort of Christmas I want for my family’.

When I think about Mom and the fact that she grew up with that man and there was no escape for her, then I learned compassion.

You can find more of Virginia’s memoirs at www.ihavememory.wordpress.com

**

Virginia Carraway Stark is a Canadian author and screenwriter who lives in British Columbia, Canada. Her scripts have been made into movies (BlindEYE and Truth and Wine) and online podcasts (Candid Shots of the VPD). Virginia has written several dozen well-researched blog articles about cutting edge biochemistry and health topics for wellness websites and pubmed.com. In addition, she promotes the remarkable turnaround of the African country Rwanda with My Rwandaful Blog, where she educates readers about everything from mountain gorillas to murderous lakes.

Currently, Virginia is editor in chief at StarkLight Press, a leading Canadian publishing house devoted to science and speculative fiction. She promoted her new novel, Dalton’s Daughter, as well as her short story anthology Tales from Space, at VCON (Vancouver Science Fiction Convention) this year to great acclaim. In addition to introducing VCON audiences to her alien race the Gendlers, Virginia also picked up her Aurora Award Nominee Pin.

Both aforementioned works center around the Galactic Armed Forces Science Fiction Universe, the immersive and open-ended worldscape loved by fans all over the world. Virginia Carraway Stark is co- creator of this universe, and co-editor of its online incarnation the GAF Mainframe.

Virginia has also written stories for StarkLight Volumes 1, 2 and 3. These fascinating anthologies compile the winners of StarkLight Press’ short story contests, which are open to first time, fresh authors from all over the world.

In between writing projects, Virginia finds time to record excerpts from StarkLight Press’ catalogue on YouTube and runs online writing and poetry workshops. She resides with her husband in the country, where they are surrounded by several dogs, waterfowl and a small herd of goats.

Websites:

www.starklightpress.com

www.ihavememory.wordpress.com

www.myrwandafulblog.wordpress.com

about.me/virginia_carraway

www.gafmainframe.com