Friday, October 31, 2014

This is Halloween

Tonight--Halloween night--is one of the most beautiful nights of the year.

I'm not talking about the weather which, even here in California, is a gamble. I'm not talking about the decorations, although some would certainly argue for a type of beauty in a good spooky haunt.


(Source)
I'm talking about the social contract that says, on this one night of the year, children may knock on strangers' doors and expect to be given a warm welcome and a piece of candy. This will happen in countless streets in countless neighborhoods in all fifty states, and in many other countries beyond. It's a true miracle of human spirit and community togetherness otherwise unmatched throughout the year.


We adults stock up on candy, not knowing who will come, or even how many will come. Some even spend time and money to decorate our houses with fun lights or spooky scenes, to help give children we've never met a special evening filled with fun and harmless scares. It's not just parents who do this, it's all sorts of us: single, married, with children, without. Young and old. Wealthy and poor.


(Source)
And when that doorbell rings, it doesn't matter who's on the other side. They don't  have to practice the same religion we do. They don't have to be the same race. They don't have to belong to the same political party, or think the way we think. We will open our door and give a piece of candy to any child who asks for it.


Next Halloween, take a moment to look down your street. Watch the lights as the children dash back and forth across the street, run from house to house, squeal at scary decorations and yell 'trick or treat!'. Walk down to the corner and look down the next street; notice the same thing happening there. And on the next. And on the one past that, too.


Tonight, the streets, the neighborhoods, they belong to the children. Not the drug dealers, and not the criminals. Watchful parents and neighbors come together to create a playground for the children to experience and enjoy. Filled with magic and fun and candy.


I can't decide if it's ironic or fitting that the night we set aside to pay tribute to the things that scare us the most--death, phobias, insects, vampires, ghosts, the dark, things that go bump in the night--is also the night we come together to celebrate and support innocence.  Maybe this makes sense, to prioritize the young when remembering that our time on this earth is finite, and that the cycle of life is inevitable. I don't know.

(Source)

But what I do know is this. Millions of children will fall asleep tonight with their heads filled with fun memories and dreams of their candy loot. And millions of adults got their hearts tickled by adorable costumes, and had a reason to smile the night away.


And that, my friend, is a beautiful, beautiful thing. May we carry a bit of that Halloween spirit with us throughout the rest of the year.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Why I love NaNoWriMo, and believe you will, too!

Hello!

As some of you may already know, I'm stoked beyond words right now because one of my favorite things is about to happen: NaNoWriMo.

Before I say more about it, let me ask you this. Have you ever, even a little bit, said to yourself 'You know, I'd really love to write a book someday."? (Same question applies if you can answer 'yes' to 'screenplay', 'short story', 'memoir', etc.). Have you ever read a book and been really annoyed by it and thought 'I could write a better book than that, dammit!"?







If you have this dream lingering in the back of your mind, poking its little head out now and then, NaNoWriMo is the way to make it happen.

NaNoWriMo stands for 'National Novel Writing Month', and it happens every November. In a few days' time, around half a million people will gather together at the NaNoWriMo site (www.nanowrimo.org), and will endeavor to write a novel (50,000 words) in 30 days. A vast quantity of them have never written a novel before. And, btw, all the resources and tools and signing up, it's all free.


What's that you say? You think this is all crazy talk?? No sir. Well, maybe. But only in the most awesome, amazing, life-changing way.

Yep, I said it. Life-changing. Because it changed my life.

I'd always thought about writing a novel, ever since I was a little girl. I came close a couple of times, but always talked myself out of such silliness. Then, in 2010 I began one, inspired by my genealogical research. I wrote here and there, agonized over each paragraph trying to make it perfect, and got frustrated by how little progress I was making. I've been a writer of one sort or another all my life, and in my professional life have written journal articles, book chapters, and even a research-based non-fiction book. But this novel thing...well...it was different. And it was hard.

Then, in October 2012, a friend of mine mentioned something she called 'NaNo', and explained it to me. I figured, why not? It will kick me in the tushie, get me to really put a spotlight on pulling this novel together once and for all. Give me a reason to prioritize it. And worse come to worst, I just won't make the full word count, but I'll be farther along, and that can't be a bad thing.

So I sat down to write a little each night, once my daily obligations were done. I had a more-than-full-time job with a monster commute, and all the other typical daily responsibilities to go along with it. But I carved out a little time, and I really enjoyed seeing my word count go up--so much so that I started pushing aside my TV shows to write more.

That first year, I didn't 'win'--I didn't reach the 50,000 word goal. I came in just under 25,000 words.

And yet, my life was changed.

Why?

For a very simple reason: It gave me permission to turn off my 'internal editor' and just let myself write. I didn't even realize that's what was happening until later.

See, when I would sit down to write before NaNoWriMo, I'd get all caught up in my head. The sentence I was writing had to be perfect. The paragraph I was writing had to be perfect. This word here? The one I can't get quite right? I have to sit here and obsess over it I find the perfect word. This plot point here that could go one of two ways? What if I pick the wrong choice and it ruins everything? No, no, I just have to sit here not writing until I figure it out. Then I put it down on paper.

So my brain would seize up and I'd sit in front of the computer writing nothing and loathing myself and desperately wanting to cram Twix bars down my throat.

But when you're faced with writing 50,000 words in 30 days (1,667 words per day), ain't nobody got time for any of that. If you can't find the right word, you put down one that's close enough and then type the next word. If the sentence isn't perfect, that's okay, you'll make it perfect later. If that whole scene you wrote where the monkey turns into an eel has to be rewritten because you need it to be an alligator, and it probably should have started off as a lion anyway, you know what? Just start writing it as an alligator from here, and go back and adjust it later. No biggie. Just get the words down.

And when you do that--when you turn off that editor and just give yourself permission to let the words pour out of you--Guess what? They DO.




I know what you're thinking. "Sure, the words pour out of you, but what you're left with must be a steaming pile of dung." Or, to quote a dear friend of mine when I told her I was going to do this: "I can't imagine any novel you'd write in a month would be worth reading."

Absolutely, positively, 100% correct.

The first draft that you write by the end of your 30 days will most likely be crap. But here's secret #1: every first draft anybody ever writes, whether it takes them 30 days or 30 years, is crap. This is not me talking; I'm paraphrasing Ernest Hemingway, who said that 'The first draft of anything is shit.'. Look it up if you don't believe me.

There is something incredibly freeing about not stressing over the fact that your first draft will probably be crap. In my case, it allowed me to stop sabotaging myself by expecting something great to come out of my fingers, and just allowed me to write, and get that first draft down on paper.

Because here's secret #2: You can't revise a draft that isn't written. 

So why not get your first draft out there in the best, most efficient way possible? In a tried-and-true time-honored tradition, surrounded by a support group of half a million people?

Because here's secret #3: When you free yourself to write with 'literary abandon', amazing things come out of your brain. Ideas will seem to come from nowhere. Plot points you were worried about when you started will resolve themselves. Your characters will do things and become things you didn't anticipate, and they will be better than you thought they could be. There were whole characters I didn't know would exist, and whole sections of my book I had no idea what to do with when I sat down at the beginning of that NaNoWriMo. I understand why writers and artists talk about 'their muse'; it's the strangest thing to have your brain spit out things without consulting you first. It truly feels like you're channeling someone else.

And why? Because writing this way optimizes the associative way that our brain works. That might not be a quote from Hemingway, but there's a Ph.D from the best psychology program in the country backing up that claim for you.

As I say, I didn't 'win' NaNoWriMo my first year. But the next year, 2013, I did. And it was an amazing feeling.

I had a little more work to do to finish (my first draft came in at 123,000 words), but I finished that quickly. Then, I put it aside; I had read Stephen King's On Writing, and in it he advises writers to put aside their first draft for at least six weeks before starting to revise--but to keep writing daily on another project in the meantime. I figured, Stephen King is clearly doing something right, so doing what he does is worth a shot. So I began working on an idea I had for another novel; I approached it the same way I had approached NaNoWriMo: I gave myself a daily goal of 1,667 words.

Six weeks later, I had a completed first draft of my second novel. It had been a fairly vague idea when I started it--about a serial killer who finds his victims online--but it was a fully plotted book by the time I was done.

I now know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I can write a novel. I never have to doubt that again. Is it a novel someone will want to read? We'll see. But I now have a starting point to build from.


I can hear you saying "That's all well and good, Michelle, but it won't work for me." Okay, let's talk about that. Because I call shenanigans.




Here are the excuses I've heard from friends (they talk more about each on the NaNoWriMo site):

(1) I don't have time.

This is just not true. Sorry. It takes about 7-10 hours per week to finish the 50,000. Wake yourself up an hour early or go to bed an hour late, or (gasp!) cut out one hour of TV or Facebook per day, and you're just about there. Yes, I love NCIS as much as you do, and my life would not be as rich without those cute Lolcats my friends share on their FB pages. But you aren't giving them up forever. You can catch up on your shows in December, and there will never stop being new Lolcats. Seriously now. You can do this.

(2) I don't have anything to write about. 

First of all, yes you do. If I can come up with a novel out of 'Hey, there are some crazy people that hang out in World of Warcraft. Odds are one of them somewhere has to be a serial killer...Hey! That would make a cool book!', you can come up with one, too. Flip through the newspaper and check out the crazy crap you find there. Take a look at a shelf of books at the library, and pick one of them to change in some way, to make better. Take that really weird dream you had last night where you were a fighter pilot in an alternate galaxy with hyperspace aardvarks trying to eat your brain, and run with it.

Second of all, lot of people start NaNo with absolutely no idea in mind at all. They just start free-writing, and something comes. And they build on it. And build on that. They are no different or better than you. I promise.

(3) I don't want to write a novel. I'm more of a non-fiction/short story/screenplay person.

There is a whole group of 'rebels' who use NaNoWriMo to write things other than novels, including all of the above and more (even dissertations). So decide you're going to write 5 short stories. Or that how-to book you've always wanted to write. Go for it!

(4) I don't think I can manage the 50,000 words...I might be able to come up with 2-3 hours per week, but that's all.

That's okay! Set your own goal. Make it 25,000 words, or even 10,000 words. There are no blue meanies who will come out and spank you if you don't reach the 50,000 words (and if you like that sort of thing, I'm sure you can make your own arrangements to set that up as a motivating reward). Nobody cares. Everyone will cheer you for accomplishing however much you accomplish, because here's secret #4: even if you only write 5,000 words, that's 5,000 more than you had before you started. And that's awesome!!!

But I'm willing to bet that once you start, you'll write a lot more than you think you will. It's invigorating. It's freeing. And it's fun.

So, come out and join me for NaNoWriMo next month. Add me as your buddy--drop me a line at michellemchouinard@gmail.com, and we can exchange avatars. This is my third year, and this year I'll be starting a fun little novel called 'Accidental Divination'. I'll be posting my progress here, and need you all to hold me accountable!!





Here is a link to their FAQ page, which will answer all of your questions--but feel free to ask me anything you want, too, and I'll help you where I can.

What it boils down to is this: what do you have to lose? Nothing. But you stand to gain a lot. Belief in yourself. Your very own novel. Bragging rights. One thing crossed off your bucket list.

And if you're like me, it might even change your life.

M.

(P.S.: Secret #5 is that it really should be 'International Novel Writing Month' because people from all over the world do it in all sorts of different languages. So if you aren't in the US and you don't write in English, that still won't stop you!)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Zombie Flash Fiction Published!

I am so excited, October must be my lucky month! I just found out that the zombie flash fiction piece I wrote has been published on Every Writer!

You can read the piece by clicking here or on the picture below; because it's a flash fiction piece it's very short, only takes a couple of minutes to read (Warning: this piece does have some gore in it, so take a pass if that's not your thing). If you take a look, let me know what you think!

(Photo credit: Vorspiel by Ann Dunn)

Happy Halloween everybody--watch out for those zombies!! :)

M.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The One That Got Away: My piece has been officially published!!

Guess what?!?!

My flash-fiction piece has now been officially published! It's a fast read, no more than a minute or two, if you want to check it out.


You can find it by clicking here:





Thank you so much for checking it out if you get a chance!


Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Volcano Death March

(When I posted my 'ABCs of Me', I mentioned I hiked up a volcano, and got a few questions about that, so I thought I'd tell the story of it here. My apologies that the pictures were taken before I had a digital camera, so these are pictures of pictures. Otherwise, enjoy!)


I’m not a big fan of helicopters or small planes. I’ll fly in them if I have to, but only if there’s no other option.

So when my husband and I were picking the day trips for our our cruise to Hawaii, I didn’t want to do anything that involved helicopters. We knew we wanted to see one of the active volcanoes, and there were two ways to do that—take a helicopter trip, or take a hike.

“Let’s do the hike!” I said. “We’ll see our volcano and work off some of the buffet food at the same time! And we’ll get an authentic, real experience, see all different parts of the volcano, not just be dropped off at the top!”

It sounded like a good idea at the time, and we signed up for the volcano hike filled with optimism and joy, then held hands while we peered over the side of the ship into the sunset. Ah, to be so naive again.

On the day of the hike, they distributed waivers for us to sign as we rode out to the site. I’m pretty particular about reading everything I sign, and read through the extensive list of injuries that we might sustain, including death.

Death.

That’s a pretty intense word, and my husband pointed to it with eyebrows raised.

“They have to put that in there.” I said. “Even if it were a nature walk to look at butterflies, they’d make us sign that. Don’t be such a wuss.” He narrowed his eyes at me and shrugged.

A group of five guides met us when we arrived. The leader gathered us together and told us to listen up:

“If you have any injuries or heart problems, difficulty breathing, this hike is not for you. The bus driver will take you back to the ship and refund your money. If you think you’re in good physical condition, this hike will redefine your idea of what it means to be ‘in shape’. And if you’re not in good physical condition, this hike will help you find religion.”

Ha ha ha. Very funny. I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t take that seriously from a group of five guys who were all chain smoking.

“We normally work on a very tight schedule, and today it’s even tighter because your ship has to leave an hour earlier than usual. So we’ll be moving quickly, and you’ll have to keep up.”

Wait, what?

“You will be given a pack that contains five bottles of water and two energy bars. You will need to eat at the midpoints to keep your energy up. If you can carry extra water, please do so.”

Okay. At this point, I started to get a little frightened. But still, I told myself, I work out, and I know my body—I know when to eat and how to hydrate. Five bottles of water for a day hike will be just fine, thank you. Carrying more is just plain stupid.

We headed out; for about twenty minutes we hiked down a paved road that was almost quaint; surrounded by solidified lava flows on either side, you could see the remains of road signs here and there embedded where the lava had wiped out everything in its path. 



Seriously, this is what you're trying to freak me out about?? Come on. I can do this with one foot tied behind my back. 




This is what all the fuss was about? I began to scoff internally. My elliptical back home is way worse than this! What a bunch of ka-hooey!

And then $*^# got real.

The road ended, and was replaced by trails of lava that extended forward and upward as far as the eye could see. Over each ridge of lava was another ridge of lava, because the flows pile up on top of each other in dreadlock-style rivulets of textured rock. And you have to climb these, up, up, up, to get to the top of the volcano and the site of the active flows.



Looks like you just have to climb over this, right? Nope. It kept going like this for two hours. 


This development did not please me. When I think ‘hike’, I assume there is some sort of trail, not just clambering up endless piles of black, unforgiving, volcanic rock.

This is also when the air started to get hot. I know what you’re thinking—well, duh, you’re climbing up a volcano. To a place where there are active lava flows. Which are made of molten rock. Of course it’s gonna be hot!

You’re right. You are. And I have no idea why that never occurred to me, but it didn’t. So this is where I should probably mention that my body and heat do not get along. You know how every year something like four or five people die in Arizona of heat exposure? I’d be one of those people if I lived in Arizona, even if I never left the air-conditioning.

And, to top it all off, we didn’t get any real rest breaks, because we were racing to complete the ‘hike’ in five hours instead of the normal six.

To sum up: I was on a 2.5 hour Stair-master trip directly to hell, which was very confusing for me, since I had always been taught that hell was found in a downward direction.

Yet, I am nothing if not stubborn. There was no way I was going to let our guides be right—I was gonna make it up that volcano if it killed me. I’d show them.

So I climbed. I trudged. I stumbled. And as I did, I drank water almost constantly. At one point, my husband poured a bottle of water over my head and you couldn’t even tell, because my clothes were soaked through with sweat. There was no way my five bottles were going to last even until we got to the top, let alone the trip back.

By the two hour mark, I needed all my focus to continue climbing. My eyes fixed directly in front of me, constantly searching for the next places to put my feet. I lost track of my surroundings completely, saw nothing outside of my direct path of vision. With every step, my body told me I couldn’t go any further, and my mind had to keep lying to my legs: just one more step, we’re almost there.

By the time we reached the top, where the flows mostly leveled out, I was done. The heat was coming off the ground in waves you could almost touch, like we were inside a convection oven. About half of the group had given up and turned back long ago, and I was still in the first 20% of our group to arrive. But that didn’t matter right then; my body had had enough, and I sank down to sit on the ground.

My husband, who had been a little bit ahead of me, came back to my side.

“Don’t stop now! The active flows are right over there!” He said.
“I don’t care.” I said.
“No, seriously, not more than fifty feet!” He said.
“That’s awesome for you.” I said.
“You’ll never forgive yourself if you miss this!” Said he.
“Bite me.” Said I.

But he was right, and I knew it. So I took some cleansing breaths, and I reached down deep inside to I don’t even know where. I stood up on legs that felt like overcooked ravioli, and began to move toward the flow, forcing myself to take every step.

Then, a voice rang out.

“STTTTTOOOOOOOPPPPPPP!!”

I stopped, and looked around to see which idiot was doing what stupid thing.

Predictably, the idiot was me. I was so focused I hadn’t noticed the patch of silvery ‘rock’ that indicated a live flow that was only just starting to crust over. I had stopped only inches from stepping into molten lava so hot I probably would have literally pulled back a stump and nothing more.


The one I almost stepped on didn't have any orange, just that smooth silvery look. 

The heat coming off of these was so intense, it actually messed with my camera. 


In light of this, my husband decided it was a probably a good idea to walk alongside of me for a while, and I managed to make it safely over to the red-and-orange active flows. 



I could not get closer than this to the lava, it was simply too hot. Even this was too much--as soon as the picture was taken, I bolted away from it.


They were truly awesome, in the original sense of the word, as in 'awe-inspiring'. And in the distance, the trails flowed all the way down into the ocean, sending up huge plumes of steam where the water met the liquid fire. It was beautiful, it was amazing, it was a monumental demonstration of the power of nature and the wonders of this earth. It was worth every bit of the torture it took to get there, and I don’t regret doing it for a minute.

But next time I’ll take the helicopter.

©Michelle M. Chouinard, 2014. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The ABCs of Me...:)

Hello!


Laurel of Wads Of Stuff recently did an 'ABCs of Me' post to share a little bit about herself, and she inspired me to do the same. So here are some facts about me, alphabet-style! As she did, I'm taking a couple of liberties with a few letters that I felt were not the best for me.


A- Age? Yes, sadly, every day I age a little more. Oh, this is about how old I am? Look! Over there! A squirrel on a spaceship!! 

B- Best day? The day I got my Ph.D. 

C-Craving? Chocolate. Always chocolate. Or cheese. That'll work, too.

D-Difficult? Losing the ones I love.

E-Embarrassed? I don't get embarrassed easily, but when I do, I turn about as red as a tomato. I do stupid things all the time, though, so I've inured myself to most of that. The fastest way to embarrass me is to say something nice about me in front of a group of people. I suddenly don't know where to put any of my limbs, or my eyes.

F-Fear? I fear spinning my wheels because I haven't learned lessons I'm supposed to learn. 

G-Gross? Scatalogical humor. Yuck!

H-Height? five-foot-seven. 

I-Interests? Reading, writing, genealogy, psychology, scrapbooking/paper-crafting, cooking, tarot, history, art, nail art.

J-Joy? Writing.

K-Kids? Four kitties and one puppy. The cats may or may not be plotting to kill me (ala The Oatmeal), but my puppy has mah back.

L-Likes? Pina Coladas and walks in the rain. Oh wait, that's a song...

M-Music? Anything that makes me feel good and makes me want to dance.

N-Never? I will never watch E.T. Don't ask, you don't want to know. 

O-Once? Once I climbed a volcano. Next time I'll take the helicopter tour.

P-Pet peeves? I have several grammatical quirks that drive me nuts. I hate it when people misuse 'literally'. I hate it when people say 'less' when they should say 'fewer' (things you can count = fewer. So you have less sugar, but fewer oranges--you don't have less oranges. That's just ungrammatical). I hate it when people say 'The proof is in the pudding'--no, no it isn't. The expression is 'The proof of the pudding is in the taste.', and if you think about it, you'll see that makes a lot more sense. Also, if you say you 'could care less', that means you do actually care. What you're trying to say is you *couldn't* care less. And, to round off my list of crazy, I hate it when people say 'You want to have your cake and eat it, too.'. Everyone has their cake, and then eats it. The trick is to eat your cake, and still have it. The expression is 'You want to eat your cake and have it, too.'. Yes, I do know how crazy this sounds and that the only other Americans who says it this way was the Unibomber, and it's one of the reasons they were able to figure out who he was. So no, I'm not proud of it, but it is correct, dammit!!

Q-Quote: "I'm not afraid to fall, it means I climbed up high. To fall is not to fail, you fail when you don't try."

R-Religion? Spirituality.

S-Siblings? I have one half-sister. Love you!!! 

T-TV shows? Right now, it's Walking Dead, Orange Is The New Black, House Of Cards, The Big Bang Theory, The Goldbergs, Masterchef, Project Runway, and, if I'm honest...Real Housewives of New Jersey. I'm not ashamed. Not at all. Maybe a little. Don't judge me!!

U-Unique: I'm probably the only person on the planet who has a Ph.D but can't figure out how to get the battery out of my laptop computer. 

V-Vacation: I love Europe, cruises, and more and more I like nature-related vacations, like hiking in Point Reyes. 

W-Web? I have a website and two blogs. (see the 'About Me' in the upper-right corner if you want to check them out :) )

X-X-ray? I've had pretty much every part of my body X-rayed. And I've had a several scans, as well. I've had a bumpy life, injury-wise!

Y-Why? Why not?

Z-Zoo Animal? Tasmanian Devil. Although I would have also accepted meerkat and mongoose.


So what questions would you add to a list like this, for bloggers to discuss about themselves?

Monday, August 11, 2014

My first Tweet Poem

Hello!

I'm not much of a poet. I write poems occasionally, but they aren't good, and they're usually just meant to be silly.

Well, a poet friend of mine just introduced me to the concept of a 'Tweet Poem' or a 'Poem Tweet', where you write a poem that can fit into a single tweet.

I was intrigued by the idea, and realized that a silly poem I wrote waaaay back a few years ago would pretty much perfectly fit the bill.

So I did it. I posted my first Tweet Poem.

Here it is, for your reading pleasure:

Ode To A Tasmanian Devil
your little legs are so cute
your beady eyes so sweet
i want to cuddle you
#&%$
i don't use that arm much anyway


Yes, it's silly, but I love it. :)

And if you want to follow me on twitter, you know, just 'cause, I'm @mishka824.

M.


© Michelle M. Chouinard 2014 All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Short fiction exercise: Go Figure

This is a short fiction piece I wrote; the prompt was just to write a piece that had something to do with a butterfly. Enjoy!


**********


Go Figure

It’s amazing what can happen because of a butterfly. Doesn’t Chaos Theory say something like that? I don’t know, doesn’t matter, the point is, it all started with a butterfly. Go figure.
The only exercise I really get these days comes from walking. I can’t afford a gym, and I’m not sure I’d go to one if I could—all those people looking at you, ugh. I just can’t face that. But walking can get boring unless you mix it up, and if I’m bored, I plain won’t do it. On that particular day, I started feeling bored about halfway through, and to top things off, my iPod died. So I was facing thirty minutes with nothing to distract me from the fact I was exercising, and my brain wasn’t really up for that.
I was trying to come up with some game I could play to keep my mind busy, when a monarch butterfly flew across my path. They aren’t rare or anything, you can see ‘em all the time if you know where to look. It just seemed like perfect timing is all, so when it flew around the corner I figured hey why not—I’ll follow it. 
She flitted around the way butterflies do—backtracking, going in circles, then jumping far forward—so I had to really focus to keep up with her, and I probably looked like a crazy person changing direction all the time. But you know, random movements are supposed to fool your muscles, or something like that. At least that’s what they’re saying today.
So I was watching her hard, and after a while when she decided to set herself down for a minute, I looked around while I walked in place. Wouldn’t you know it, I was on a street I’ve never seen before, no idea how we got there. I’m not one of those people that make, what are they called, mental maps? I used to get lost in the building where I worked, no lie. So it probably wasn’t too smart of me to follow a butterfly, truth be told.
The street wasn’t anything special, but just around the corner I caught a glimpse of that pretty woodwork you seen on Victorian houses, what’s it called, corbels? Spandrils? I don’t know. But there it was, in these whimsical colors, navy blue and mint green, with bits of coral here and there. I couldn’t help myself, I have such a weakness for that sort of thing, so I went around the corner to see the rest of it.
It was so charming, covered with all sorts of gables and little porches and it even had a circular stained glass window. It wasn’t huge or anything, and it wasn’t restored perfectly, but it was the kind of house that just makes you happy to look at, you know? So I pulled out my phone to take a picture of it. As I was trying to figure out how to make it look the other way (why do I want a picture of myself anyway, I know what I look like!), I heard someone call my name.
I looked up, and there was a woman at the door. She looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place her.
“Maggie, it’s Deanna. Don’t you recognize me?”
Well, I’ll tell you, you coulda knocked me over with a feather. Deanna and I had been best friends way back up until the fourth grade, years and years ago. We did everything together, shared all our secrets. She was always there for me when my mother would have one of her ‘episodes’, and I showed up at her house crying. She’d hug me and let me cry it out, never asked questions I didn’t want to answer. And then she’d find some way to take my mind off of it all. It near broke my heart when she moved away; in those days we didn’t have Facebook or Twitter or My-gram or whatever those all are. We didn’t even have e-mail. I felt like I’d lost a piece of myself, and although we wrote letters, both of us moved around so much after that, we eventually lost touch.
I ran up to her, and we gave each other the biggest hug, tears streaming down both our faces. I guess I don’t mind telling you, I’ve been lonely since my daughter died. Not a lot of people stick with you through something like that; cancer is a horrible way to go, and it took all my energy trying to help her beat it. I just didn’t have time to keep up with my friendships, I guess.
We talked for two hours, catching up on everything in our lives. She had three girls, and one of them has passed too, can you imagine? Talk about knowing what someone is going through. We talked and we cried and we laughed, and I swear, it was like we never left each other’s side.
I had to leave because of my doctor’s appointment, but she’s coming to visit tomorrow. Isn’t it amazing how these things happen? I don’t know how it works, or why, but I’ll tell you this. When I left, that butterfly was perched right up on her fencepost.
Go figure.


© Michelle M. Chouinard 2014 All rights reserved.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Revising = Land of the Lost Writers

I haven't posted for a while because I haven't been doing any writing prompts--after a six week hiatus from my first manuscript, it was time to go back and start revising that sucker.

I was hugely optimistic--writing the first draft had been easy, almost magical at times. There were parts where I struggled, sure, of course, but overall the Muse was on my shoulder whispering in my ear. So I figured, hey, surely writing the darned thing in the first place is the hard part, and the revision should be easy-peasy, right?

Wrong.

From what I gather, every writer is different and has to learn their own rhythm. But as a rule of thumb, I hear tell, the faster your initial draft goes, the longer the revision takes. And that certainly has been true in my case.

My inner writer was given freedom to frolic by NaNoWriMo--the philosophy during that month is that you don't have time to edit yourself as you go, so your inner editor has to be bound and gagged and stashed in your linen closet while you jump into the hedonistic binge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. As it turns out, I like that unbounded approach very much, and for 2.5 NaNoWriMos now (two regular and one camp), I've been unexpectedly, blissfully prolific.

But my inner editor holds a grudge. He didn't care much for being trussed and abandoned, and when I pulled him out, his stiff muscles put him in a very, very bad mood. Let's just say resentments were made.

I pulled out the manuscript, and with my inner editor back on the job, realized that never in the course of human events has such a steaming pile of crap ever existed. Ever. I also hear tell that this is not an uncommon experience--but it sucks nonetheless.

Another thing I've learned about myself is that I'm just not a very good multi-tasker when it comes to my writing. I'm not a good multi-tasker anytime, truth be told, but it's really bad when hey was that an ice-cream truck I just heard go by? I'd sure like to have me some ice cream. Wait, where was I? Oh yes. I am not able to revise for structure and pace and narrative summary and dialogue and character development and anachronisms (it's mostly historical, my novel) and knock out those cliches and those pesky adverbs and line-edit all at the same time.

As it turns out, I can barely do one of those things at a time. I finished my first revision, which focused on basic structure and pace issues just a few days ago. Then I picked up my second draft to do my read-through, all smug and happy and ready to pat myself on the back for my much improved product. But not only is it fraught with all of those things I haven't revised for yet (and, somehow, more typos than I had when I began), it also still needs work on pacing and structure.

That was not a happy moment in my personal canon of moments.

Don't get me wrong--it's better than it was, a lot better. But I just had hopes that it would be better than it is. A lot better.

Ah well, such is life. I suppose the more time I spend complaining about it on the blog, the longer it will take me to turn it into something somebody somewhere wants to read. So I'd best power the blog post down, and go get on with it.

But those stories about the authors that take 30+ revisions to get their books finished? That is looking less and less silly and more and more optimistic.

Sigh.

Michelle xoxo

© Michelle M. Chouinard 2014 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Day 9: Obituary for your favorite fictional character

Day 9 Prompt: Write an obituary for your favorite fictional character (literary, television, etc.) including how the death occurred. 

(This will only make sense if you read Sue Grafton's books.)


***************************************************


May 29th, 1999, Santa Teresa Times

Kinsey Millhone, 49 years old, died Monday as the result of gunshot wounds to her chest. She is survived by her dear friend and landlord, Henry Pitts, aged 102.
Millhone was a long time resident of Santa Teresa, where she worked as a private investigator. A one-time police officer, she was deeply concerned with bringing criminals to justice, and devoted her life to investigating on behalf of their victims. Her memory will be deeply cherished by those she helped; despite living a solitary lifestyle, she touched the lives of many.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday at Morgross and Sons Mortuary, 114 Tcholke Avenue. All are welcome; food will be provided by Rosie Pitts. 



© Michelle M. Chouinard 2014 All rights reserved.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Day 8: Full Disclosure

Day 8: Full Disclosure Prompt: They toured the house with the real estate agent. "We love it," he said. "Is there anything we should know about the house's past?" The agent looked down.

******************************************************************************************************

They toured the house with the real estate agent.
“We love it,” he said. “Is there anything we should know about the house’s past?”
The agent looked down. “Ah, well. There was a suicide here a few years ago. That’s the reason it’s such a steal.”
Nika’s head turned with a sharp motion. “What happened?”
“Nobody really knows the full story. Right after the house was built, an out-of-towner bought it. The neighbors never saw her, it was like she didn’t live here at all. They assumed she worked really long hours, or something like that, because many nights they wouldn’t even see any lights on. One day there was some problem with her alarm—they never did figure out what had tripped it--and when the police came to check it out, they found her. She had killed herself several days before.”
Carl came over to stand by Nika; he knew how this would affect her. “Where did they find her?”
The agent looked away again, and cleared her throat. “In the master bathtub. She’d taken an overdose of pills.”
Nika turned on her heel and walked back to the bathroom. She searched the surface of the luxurious bathtub, and then sat on the edge; she placed her hands at the head of the tub, and closed her eyes. The surface felt cold to her touch, and smooth; it warmed slowly and began to vibrate gently. She lifted her hands slightly, so that her skin was barely in contact with the glazing; the vibrations moved with her, and intensified, as if reaching for her, like thousands of small strikes of lightning on her fingertips. She continued to focus, waiting, and felt the energy begin to come.
She felt the woman’s emotional pain, but only as the start of what had haunted her. The pain had been replaced by resignation; not a decided-upon acceptance, but an inability to fight any longer. The woman had fought continually, fought for so long, and then the desire to fight had drained from her. There was no moment when it had left; no minute, or day, or even a given week when it abandoned her. It had leaked away, one drop at a time, steadily, until there simply was no more left.
Nika concentrated. There was something here that was different from any other spirit she had channeled. What was it? She’d felt many people’s will drain when they had died slowly of a painful disease, of cancer, of AIDS; that wasn’t new. But this was something else. She drew in the energy, let it wash over her body.
She felt an ache grow in her chest, as though someone were squeezing her lungs. She felt anguish flood through her mind. She leaned into it, tried to experience it with every cell of her body, so she could identify it.
Heartsickness. The woman had been heartsick. Nika could feel repetition pounding through her: over and over, again and again, her heart had been broken, by family, by friends, by her lover. One piece at a time, her hope and her faith had died.
Mariah. Her name had been Mariah. And she needed help. She hadn’t received it in life, but Nika would see that she received it in death.
Nika broke the contact and straightened up. She walked back to the kitchen where Carl stood, distracting the agent. They turned at the sound of the approach.
Carl examined the expression on her face, and then turned to the agent and spoke.
“We’ll buy the house.”


© Michelle M. Chouinard 2014 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

DestructoLog

DestructoLog, Cat Date: Meorw, 8014

So far, operation Mommy Insanity has been unsuccessful. On day 1, we planted a mouse under the floorboards in the bathroom. When the boards were torn up during this hellish construction project, the mouse popped out, right in front of Mommy. When she wasn't scared or angry, and only made a joke out of it, we knew we had to bring out the big guns.

So yesterday, we designed what we thought was the perfect plan. We released another of the mice that we'd previously trapped, directly out into the dog's cage. When the dog behaved in her predictably annoying canine fashion, we deployed our coordinated ambush. We scattered fiercely around the room, taking out any and all strategic targets that we could reach--we even exceeded our grandest hopes and exploded our prime objective, her Starbucks mocha. I was particularly proud of Agent 004, who left behind a path of urine as the ultimate final insult.

Yet still, she retained her calm, and refused to release us from our cruel imprisonment; we rotted in this tiny room with her until dinner time.

I'll admit it--we started to despair for a time. If she was going to remain steadfast in the face of even that destruction, what chance did we have?

We stayed up all night trying to brainstorm a new plan. We sent Agent 001 to sleep with her, so she wouldn't be suspicious of us. Then, right as the sun was coming up, Agent 002 came up with a brilliant idea, tactically nearly as old as Catkind itself: we would use her Achilles' Heel to take down the rest of the her, bringing the beast crippled to its knees, and our imprisonment to an end. She would have to surrender to our demands.

We waited patiently as she started her day, and as she worked through the morning. She saves her work often, so we had to work out the timing carefully to be sure we would cause her to lose as much work as possible. We took turns being both cute and mischievous, thereby keeping her totally off guard. After about 3 hours, we saw our moment, and we sent in Agent 002 on what might have turned out to be a suicide mission.

Agent 002 crawled up on her lap and looked lovingly in her eyes. She nuzzled up to Mommy's head, and then snaked about her neck to the other side of the chair. She jumped up on the desk, and reached over to give Mommy a butterfly kiss. Then, ever so nonchalantly, she wound her way around the back of the laptop...and then SPLOOSH! She knocked the Starbucks mocha over the laptop keyboard with admirable precision.

There was no great joy in watching Mommy scream, and jump, and run for a towel. There was no happiness in watching her dab furiously at the keyboard, trying to soak up the liquid before it was too late, knowing that she would never be successful. We took no pleasure in it. But you see, sometimes in war, you have to take casualties. You have to break some eggs if you want to make an omelet. And when it comes right down to it, we didn't start this war--she only has herself to blame.

First, her touchpad went out, and she realized that something was very wrong. Still she kept dabbing, and then the screen filled with static. Her face filled with horror as she realized her motherboard was shorting out.

When she was on her knees, shaking her fists toward the ceiling and sobbing 'why, why, why??', we knew that we'd won. But we did not rejoice.

I must stop writing now, because I hear her footsteps coming to surrender, and to liberate us. So I will sign off now, refusing to gloat in my triumph.

Wait, what's happening? She's doing something on her smart phone...she's posting an ad on Craig's List...if I could just...make out what it says...wait...

"Four cats seek loving homes. $50 per cat--we pay you."

NNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!


[Human note: This is a dramatization of a TRUE story. Well, except for the Craig's List part. But yes, my computer is dead, and I have to buy a new one. I love my cats. I love my cats. I love my cats...]

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mama said there'd be days like this...

Do you remember the Tasmanian Devil? The one who hung out with Bugs Bunny and when he got annoyed he'd start going 'bbllrrabbbllllrrraapppprrr!!' and turn into a tornado?

I want you to keep that image in your  head. We'll be coming back to it.

I'd love to say that the day started out well, but it didn't really. Today is day two of my pipe-replacement journey, and for the second day, I woke up at 8 am. Now, for those of you who don't know, I am a night owl, and I tend to be up working until at least 2am. Most often, I'm up until 3. So before you get all judgy and play the tiniest violin in the world for me, realize what that means--it means only 5-6 hours of sleep, at the most. If you get up at 6 am, imagine having to get up at 3am, and that's the equivalent. Yes, both nights I tried to go to sleep earlier, but I wasn't able to fall asleep earlier, and I just laid awake unable to fall asleep until it was actually farther past my bedtime than normal. So, to sum up, I'm a little sleep deprived. And I don't wake up well on a good day, when I've had plenty of sleep--I used to have a mug that said 'Just hand me my coffee and back slowly away.' You get the picture.

I got up, and prepped the house. What that means is, the dog has to be out in her dog run, and the cats have to go into a room with me, because 1) they can't be allowed outside, and 2) they'll get in the way of the workers. So I brought them into my 'office' with me, where I sat down to get some work done.

I was excited today because I was going to attend a webinar about writing. I made sure everything was all set up, I had my coffee, and I even had a cozy blanket wrapped around me. Ah, the benefits of working from home. Then the seminar started, and I began to listen. I think these things always start out slowly, which was good, because I hear the workers talking about how the stuff we ordered to put the bathroom into place again won't fit, and new stuff has to be reordered. I don't even have to know how or why, I just know it's going to be expensive. Ah, well, c'est la vie. You have to have working pipes, and that bathroom has to be reassembled afterwards.

I turned my attention back to the webinar, and ignored the chatter. Suddenly, the dog started to bark about something. I don't know what--maybe she saw a cat or a possom or a raccoon in the yard. Maybe some bird was taunting her. Maybe that episode of Cosmos she heard in the background the other day finally registered and she was suddenly hit with the vastness of our universe and the absurdity of life when seen from that context. Who knows.

The point is, she went nuts barking, and then, BAM! There's a huge crash against the side of the house. Perhaps it was the cat or possom or raccoon escaping. Perhaps it was a canine suicide attempt in the face of deep philosophical questions about why we're all on this planet.

Whatever it was, it scared the booboo-jeebies out of the cats, who all jumped simultaneously. Keep in mind that my cats are ninjas, and when they jump, they don't just jump--they leap up walls and furniture. So, when they jumped at the scary noise, the fear was reinforced by the sight of three other cats leaping around them in their peripheral vision. So they each understandably tried to run away from the other cats that were leaping and jumping around them.

Okay, now is when I want you to call in that visual of the Tasmanian Devil.

There were  four cats, all trying to out-run each other, and all doing it up at the top of the room. From the top of one bookcase to another, off the lamp, off the top of the desk, banking off walls, off the top of the shoe rack hanging from the back of the door, all faster than the eye can see and the brain can register. Knocking everything down that was stupid enough to be in their path--pictures, printer paper, the shoe rack and all the shoes, small tchotchkes, magazines, my phone, and most important of all: my beloved Starbucks mocha.

I waited for a few seconds assuming they'd each find a spot of sanctuary to hide behind, before realizing that nope, this tilt-a-whirl was self-sustaining. While each thought the other three were chasing them, they were gonna keep running. And leaping. And destroying.

I should probably mention that this is a pretty darn small room, and I am sitting in (roughly) the middle of it, while four cats are dashing around my head at hyperspeed, claws extended, freaking out. And all I know is that if I move a muscle, I'm most likely going to be shredded. Or peed on. Or both.

Let's pause for a moment to do a little math. Each cat has four paws, each of which has five claws. There are four cats. Four times four times five = eighty. 80 claws, all whirling around my head. I've never been so glad in my whole life not to own any polydactyl cats.

I have no idea why I thought this would work. In retrospect, it was probably a fairly stupid thing to do, but you know how it is at the spur of the moment. I put my hands up and said sternly, in a loud voice just below a yell: CALM. DOWN.

And they did.

Holy crap, they actually did. 

They each went to their metaphorical corners. I looked at them, and they looked out at me with accusatory faces, like I'd been the cause of the whole thing, and I owed them an apology. They looked around, and I swear if they'd been able to speak, they would have said "Damn, what a huge mess! You better get to cleaning this up!"

And they did have a point, so I got to cleaning. I sopped up the mocha, started picking up all the things they'd knocked over, and realized that one of them had voided their bladder while in flight. There was a series of little puddles all around the edge of the room, like the trail of bread that Hansel & Gretel laid down to find their way back home, but only if it was incredibly disgusting and led directly to the depths of hell. For the next half hour, I fell in love all over again with my old friend, the Lysol spray can.

After that, I pried one of the cats off the far corner of the bookcase where he'd tried to become one with the wall, and attempted to bring him out of his dissociative fugue state with a can of his favorite yummy noms. Bupkis. He stared at me like I was the devil and he wanted to shred my face. He is still, at this very moment. It's very disconcerting.

What's the moral of the story? I believe it's this:

Thank goodness the webinar was free.


© Michelle M. Chouinard 2014 All rights reserved.




Friday, March 14, 2014

Black Widow: The Prequel

The following was originally published on another platform on April 29, 2007. After I posted my other spider story, I had a few requests to elaborate on my previous experience with black widows...so I did. To be clear: yes, this absolutely 100% happened to me.

Enjoy! :)



***


Black Widow: The Prequel

I’ve had several requests for me to tell the story of the black widow in my garage that pre-dated the spider in my fireplace…So here goes.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (the California Bay Area; a land normally blissfully free of black widow spiders), Brian decided it was time to buy a new car. After much thought, he picked out the car of his dreams and decided that he wanted the car to be teal. Unfortunately, there was only one of the model he wanted in teal—and it was in a land even farther away: Redding.

So, the dealership drove the car down from Redding, and Brian and I picked it up. It was beautiful beyond words, and we stood staring at it in wonder, holding hands and thinking back to simpler times when life itself was as enchanting. Because it was so beautiful, we parked it inside of the garage; no way were we going to let the elements beat down on its perfect, awe-inspiring body. 

What we didn't realize was...it had a hitch-hiker in it.

We went about our business, doing the things that life demands. A few days later, we went in the garage to load up the car for a trip.

Have you seen the movie ‘Arachnophobia’? In it, there is a scene where a woman finds a huge 20-foot spider web hanging ceiling to floor in her barn. She is stunned by its beauty, and takes pictures of it. Only later does she discover the web was made by a monster-death-spider from hell intent on killing her and her entire family.

(Source)
When we went into the garage, we saw that web. From the top of the garage, to each side of the garage, to the floor of the garage, all around the car, touching various parts of the car: a huge, intricate, intense, 20-foot web.  

I looked at the web and said “Holy S***. I don’t EVEN want to KNOW what made THAT web”. Brian, ever the practical one, said “Um… I think I DO want to know what made that web.”. So, we began to trace the web to its most dense point; this turned out to be the passenger-side wheel-well of the car. Brian took a flashlight and looked into the wheel well. He said ‘It’s a black widow’. I said ‘No way, we don’t have those here. Let me see’. I bent down, and he told me to look where the light was. “I only see a white pod-like thing”, I said. “No, he said, to the left of that.”

I don’t remember making a decision to leave the garage. In fact, I don’t even remember actually leaving the garage. All I know is that the next thing I knew, I was standing in farthest end of the backyard, screaming “Kill it!!! KILL IT!!!!!”. (To this day, Brian says that he’s never seen me move that fast, ever. Even when it involved chocolate.)

So, Brian got some bug spray, and gave the black widow a shot directly in the face. It didn't. Even. Phase her. He gave her another shot, and that didn’t phase her, but it broke the web that she was standing on, and she dropped to the ground, and started to crawl away. Her big mistake was crawling out from under the car; as soon as she did, Brian stomped on her, squishing her little poisonous body.

“Yay!”, you’re thinking, “Brian rules all! He has defeated the dreaded monstrous Shelob-like black widow!!”.  And that’s what I thought, too. Until Brian took a second look at that white pod-like thing. It was a nest…and it was broken open: the babies had hatched out of it. With a feeling of intense horror we stood up slowly and started looking around. Sure enough, there were hundreds of little tiny white spiders walking along the never-ending web that had been spun all over our garage.


(Source)
From the backyard, I found myself again yelling. This time it was ‘We have to bomb the garage and the car! We have to bomb the garage and the car!!!”. Brian said he was worried that the bug bomb would ruin the new paint on his new car. I said he had a choice to make—he could stay married to me or he could keep his car bug-bomb free. Thirty minutes later, after he’d made the pro-con list for each option and come to his informed decision, he decided to bomb the garage and the car.

Since then, we have had no black widows in our Bay Area home.

But fate, with her infinitely dark sense of humor, has sent me to the Central Valley, where black widows roam free, and graze upon the angst of lost souls. Son-of-a-B****.



© Michelle M. Chouinard 2007 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Day 3 writing prompt: Beware of mysterious cookies...

Today is day 3 of my writing prompt boot camp. Today's prompt is this: "One day you come into work and find a cookie mysteriously placed on your desk. Grateful to whoever left this anonymous cookie, you eat it. The next morning you come in and find another cookie. This continues for months until one Day a different object is left—and this time there’s a note."

Okay, so here's what I wrote for my fictional exercise:


For months now, I have been coming into work to find a cookie mysteriously placed on my desk. This is odd for the following reasons: 

1)      I am a freelancer, and I work at home.
2)      I live alone.
3)      I have an alarm system.
4)      My dog instantly eats any form of food that gets left out unattended for more than three seconds.

Despite these suspicious circumstances, I have been eating the cookies each day, for the following reasons:

1)      Cookies are awesome.
2)      Free food doesn’t have calories.
3)      My new interspace yogi has been on this kick lately, continually stressing the importance of recognizing the gifts that the universe sends to me.

See, the old me would have never eaten those cookies. I am a highly paranoid obsessive compulsive with various anxiety disorders, and my previous self would never have even considered putting something into my body unless it was hermetically sealed and came from a fully-researched source. But about a year ago I decided I need to make some changes when the following all happened simultaneously:

1)     My boyfriend left me for refusing to have sex unless he could guarantee there would be no transmission of any bodily fluids.
2)      I got fired from my job for going through 6 gallons of hand sanitizer in a single week.
3)      My psychiatrist threatened me with an intense horse tranquilizer + chlomipramine regimen if I didn’t stop calling his office 3 times a day.

Yes, compulsive list-making is a part of my problem. And no, I haven’t made a lot of progress yet, and I think that’s a little rude and presumptive of you to say, frankly. I mean, okay, you're right, I haven’t really managed to make any changes but one--the cookies. But my yogi says that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step right? And it takes about a journey of a thousand miles to burn off one chocolate chip cookie right? And when the student is ready, the teacher appears (my yogi says that, too). So when the cookies began appearing, I began a-eating.

So far so good. Until today. Today there was no cookie. When I looked at my desk, there was a remote control and a note. I haven’t read the note yet, I’m too excited! What could be next for me? Twix bars? Cake?? Do I have to use the remote on some magical bakery box?? So many possibilities…I just can’t wait any longer. I’m going to take a look at it now:

“Dear Earthling—
You are the first of your kind that has willingly eaten the nanobot technology disks we’ve been leaving for you. Our deepest thanks! As of yesterday, you have ingested the necessary number of nanobots for us to begin synthesis. Around 5pm tonight, we will deploy the last of the engineer protocols, and launch final fusion. From this point on, all of your bodily functions will have to be orchestrated with the use of the attached remote, until we are able to beam you onto our ship, at which time we will take over all of your physical and mental functioning for you.  You needn’t worry about any discomfort; at the earliest opportunity, we will arrange for a basic neurological reprogramming for you. After that, we will return you to earth, where we will control you remotely from the ship. We will use you to learn all we can about earth, and to begin infiltration of your species and colonization of your planet.

Thank you so much for helping us with our experiment! Future generations of our people thank you for your sacrifice!”


Wait, what? Nanowhat? Infiltration WHAT?

Oh fuck this, and fuck my yogi. Where are those damned horse tranquilizers?

© Michelle M. Chouinard 2014 All rights reserved.