The Stars Look Very Different Today

 

bowie

I woke up to sad news this morning, as did everyone else in the world. David Bowie has died of cancer at age 69.

If you’d have asked me, yesterday, if I’d have felt compelled to write a blog post if David Bowie died, I’d have shrugged and said, “I like his music. He was a hell of an entertainer. But he doesn’t really have anything to do with me.”

I’d have been wrong. The minute I read the news, I felt like I was kicked in the gut and it took me a couple of hours to understand why.

The short answer… the easy answer… is Labyrinth. It was, in my recollection, my very first taste of fantasy. We weren’t a family that dwelled in the land of wizards and warriors, of swords and sorcerers. We were a family that watched Westerns. Later, I would bond with my dad over Star Trek and Star Wars, and even Beastmaster, but my earliest movie memories were The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and Gunsmoke. And while I can see the way that those stories, too, have touched my work, nothing shook me by the shoulders the way that Labyrinth did.

From the moment we watched Labyrinth, it changed the way I thought. I remember, in winter, a huge puddle formed downtown, and the top layer would crust over with ice. My sister and I discovered that if you broke the crust in the middle, then stepped on the edge, it would bubble — our very own Bog of Eternal Stench. I’ve forgotten whole years of my childhood, but I remember that puddle like it was yesterday.

And David Bowie was a part of that. Jareth was a force of nature, a celestial being, a kind of immortal that I had not yet known. He was the kind of beast that stole babies from their cribs and tried to seduce the heroine to the dark side. He was evil, but in a way that made you want to be evil, too.

As I got older, and my musical tastes diverged from my parents’ love of all things Country and Western, I heard Space Oddity. I heard Heroes. I heard Rebel Rebel. I heard him play the part of Ziggy Stardust, and he was so charismatic, so otherworldly. He was experiencing the earth as if from somewhere else, and that spoke to me. As the kind of person who has always questioned where they belonged, I got David Bowie. I felt like he got me.

I didn’t know David Bowie. He was an entertainer and an artist. He was a father and a husband. There are those in this world who truly mourn his loss, today, in a way that I cannot, and my heart goes out to them. I hope that they find peace.

But, for me… this world glitters a little less, today, than it did yesterday. There is less Stardust in our sky. There is a little less magic. The Goblin King is dead. All hail the King.

Commencing countdown, engines on

Check ignition and may God’s love be with you

Best Friends Forever

This is the title on the gift that my daughter is giving away, tomorrow, and it had me sobbing in my car, twenty minutes ago.

Tomorrow, two of my nine-year-old’s best friends–twin boys that live within shouting distance of us–are moving across the country.

She’s had time to get used to the idea, and she has some other amazing friends who will all work through the adjustment, together. They are all off, basking in their last few hours together, as we speak. And they are great kids.

And that is why I found myself driving down Centre Avenue with tears streaming down my face like I’d just watch the trailer for The Fault in Our Stars.  I’ve seen at least one of these boys on my front stoop, nearly every day for the past two years. I’ve cleaned up their blood and listened to their erupting laughter. I’ve watched them treat my daughter kindly, and with mutual respect.

I’m sure that they don’t remember, and maybe their mom doesn’t even recall, but these boys were on my daughter’s first sports team–a co-ed YMCA basketball team when they were four. And you know what I remember? I remember that the twins always tried to pass it to my girl, even though she was the only little girl on their team AND she was more worried about breaking a nail than she was about getting the ball. They cheered for her and included her. They were kind.

In the last two years, since they have become good friends, the boys have embraced my daughter’s half princess/half tomboy attitude. They ride bikes and scooters to “The Blackberry Patch” where they are detectives, solving garbage related mysteries. They have neighborhood wide scavenger hunts (I cannot even begin to say how amazing their mom is!) and they make crazy loom bracelets and ask my food allergy prone daughter over for dinner, often. They are thoughtful and polite–the kind of kids you want to have around.

They are exactly the kind of boys that you want your daughter to know, when she goes from being a little girl to a young woman–and that makes me both sad, and happy. I will miss them, and I know that she (and their other close friends) will miss them, and so I am sad that they won’t be right down the street. But I am also incredibly thankful and happy that when my daughter was just starting to figure out who she was, she knew some amazing, kind, sweet, sensitive, thoughtful, playful boys, who will inform the way she sees the opposite sex for the rest of her life. They couldn’t have given her a nicer gift.

Well, there I go, again with the tears. I expect that these won’t be the last tears I shed for my girl, when it comes to boys, but I sure am thankful to have had the chance to cry these.

Books, Books, and More Books

So, for those of you that don’t have young children, you may not know that March is Reading Month. We kicked off the annual word-fest with Dr. Seuss’ Birthday on March 2nd, and both the Elementary kids and the Middle Schooler have their own special reading calendar that they are supposed to follow, with special school-wide activities and fun dress up days.

Around here, every month is reading month, but we’ve been spending some extra time on it, what with all of the extra assignments, and it is really quite exciting to watch the kids really start to get it. Our 6th grade son has a map of the U.S. with 50 different assignments to accomplish, throughout the month. Some are as straightforward as “Read a Fantasy Novel” or “Use no screens, except for homework, for one day.” Others are a little more in-depth, such as “Follow a recipe and bring in samples for the class” or “Memorize a poem and recite it to your teacher.” Yesterday, he had to write a fan letter to his favorite author and send it, after showing his teacher.  What was really cool? It has just come to my attention that his favorite author is one of my favorite authors: Brandon Sanderson. I love him for his Mistborn books, finishing The Wheel of Time series, and The Stormlight Archives (Words of Radiance just came out! Hooray! And it is 1100 pages long! Hooray!) My son loves him for Steelheart and Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians and the Infinity Blade books, but I hear the things that he enjoys about them, and I know that someday soon, he’ll be reading the books that I love. He has never been much of a reader, up until recently, and I really love that he has found someone who speaks to him. It pleases me.

Our eldest has always been a big reader, and she has found an adoration for all things John Green. I can totally relate to this, as I think that he is a stunningly accurate, honest writer of teenagers. He gets them, and they love him for it. We are both dreading and looking forward to the release of The Fault in Our Stars when it hits theaters in June. Like so many others, we’ve both shed a few tears over that one. She’s reading An Abundance of Katherines right now, and I look forward to her review.

Our nine-year-old has just graduated from Magic Tree House books to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Three times, today, I caught her reading when she was mid-painting on a project, in the middle of a t.v. show, and just now, when I checked on her in bed. I cannot begin to express the joy that finding them stealth reading gives to me.

Our youngest, a kindergartener, is just finding his way in the world of words. We are reading Redwall aloud, at night, and every once in a while, over my shoulder, he will find a sentence that he can read. Tonight, it was “Try to be brave like your mum and dad.” I wasn’t even to that point on the page, yet, but he was looking, finding meaning, and discovering, all on his own. And, I’m not going to lie–the fact that he is fully absorbed and engrossed in a book about sword wielding mice and badgers with cudgels pleases me like a kid on Christmas morning.

As for the grown-ups–my long-suffering husband is slogging his way through my second novel’s manuscript and doing his best to put up with my inability to accept criticism. I am reading Before They Were Hanged by Joe Abercrombie, which is the second book of The First Law series. I’m finding that I really, REALLY enjoy his books–mostly because they are such excellent character studies. You really come to understand the psyche of his characters, none of which are clearly in the good or bad category. He writes an ensemble of gray protagonists, often gritty, often brutal, but you really get to understand their motivations in a way that many books don’t give you. It isn’t rainbows-and-unicorns type fluffy fantasy, but it is fantastic in its ability to make you believe that the characters he writes are real, even if you wouldn’t want to meet them in a dark alley.

Writing-wise, I finished the first, revised draft of Whirlwind and have since sent it off to my beta readers. This is the tough place, anxiety-wise, for me. While I wait for feedback, I definitely start to second guess myself and develop a pretty good case of Imposter Syndrome. All will be well, though. That’s what revisions are for, right? I’m also working on a re-write of A Sown Wind, as well as beginning the outlining, brainstorming stage for book three, which I am thinking of entitling, When Gods Toss Dice.

In non-wordy stuff, I cannot recommend “True Detective” and “Black Sails,” enough. Both shows have really drawn me in, and I was sad to see the season finale of “True Detective” come so soon. We are also cruising through the last four episodes of “How I Met Your Mother,” and looking forward to the return of “Game of Thrones,” next month.

How about you? What are you reading? What are you watching? Where do you get your inspiration, and what stories speak to you? Enquiring minds want to know.

Week in Recap — Happy Super Bowl and some fun, word related stuff

What I am reading to myself: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie — Dark, gritty fantasy with engaging, flawed characters. I’m not too far in, but it is keeping me up past my bedtime, so that speaks highly.

What I am reading to my kids:  Pippi Longstocking and Charlotte’s Web (see below for anecdotal awesomeness)

What I just finished: The Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence — I wrote up a review on Goodreads, which you can see below. This book is in my head. It’s hanging around, poking at the cerebral cortex. Jorg likes to stab things, and I think he’s checking out my hypothalamus. This is not a book for the faint of heart, BUT it is a really, excellent read.

Where I am at, writing-wise:  Finished a read-through and minor edit on A Sown Wind, this week, as well as churning out about 12,000 new words on Whirlwind. I’m feeling the end creeping closer, but those pesky knights keep spoiling the cream. See below for more on this, too.

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

So, lately I haven’t been so faithful with the blogging, and I apologize. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve gotten a lot of writing done on Whirlwind. If not, well… screw you. 😉

So I thought I would just do a recap of what’s been going on at Casa Filak, what is coming up, and that sort of jazz.

Firstly, I have to say, “Go Broncos!” I love the gladiatorial feel of football season, and I am usually sad to see it come to an end, but I am really happy for Peyton Manning. He isn’t a spring chicken, anymore (although, I am loathe to admit that he is only 3 and a half months older than I), and at this stage in his career, this may be his last dance. I think there is a pretty solid argument that he is the greatest quarterback to ever play in the league, and to be the first QB to ever win rings with two different teams would be a fitting swan song.

Second, I have to give a shout out to Worldbuilders. If you haven’t heard of them, they are the fantastic charity started by fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss. This year, so far, in their annual fundraising drive, they have pulled in over $500,000 dollars in donations for Heifer International, from geeks, all over the world. They are giving away some pretty fantastic prizes to those who donate, in a lottery-type format, and there are still two days to donate. Check out Pat’s blog for more information, or to just feel the love, because… wow. It is pretty awe inspiring to see so many geeks doing good for the world.

Book-wise, I have gotten a lot written this week, and for the most part, I am feeling pretty good. CAVEAT –  I have these characters–a group of knights. They’re good men. Loyal, headstrong, opinionated men. AND THEY KEEP BUGGERING UP MY STORY! I kind of want to hold up a little sign that says, “Zephyrs, I am not your b*$#@!” Except, well, I am. Because without them, my story has a broken backbone. And, as I’ve said previously, I sort of enjoy the way that characters highjack the story line, on occasion, but seriously, boys, this is becoming an epidemic.

As everyone in the whole country knows, the weather has been a bit horrific, as of late. We had three snow days in a row, where we live, and even my hubby took a day off, because our road was impassable. But something cool happened, while the kids were off.

My five-year-old son LOVES to read and be read to, which is awesome, but until this week, we had stuck to picture books. He enjoys a trip to the library, where we stock up on good reads, and we read two, or three, or four, each night. His nine-year-old sister gets in on the act, too, although we are usually reading a chapter book aloud to her at bedtime, too, and she is always reading one to herself, as well. (The big kids read, too, but they’re way to cool for mom to read to them, these days.)

Anyway, so the little man wants to watch Charlotte’s Web on one of the snow days. After it was over, and we were talking about it, I said, “Did you know that Charlotte’s Web was a book, first?”

He gave me this amazed-stunned look and asked if we owned the book. We did, and I found it on the shelf. He flipped through it for a few minutes and said, “It only has a few pictures.”

I agreed, and I said that we could read it out loud, a chapter at a time, if he wanted, instead of the picture books that we usually read. He was hesitant, but his love of Wilbur got the best of him.

After the required argument between siblings (Big Sister: “I’ve already read Charlotte’s Web, can’t we read something else?” Little Brother: “Shut up! You stink like Templeton’s rotten egg!”), we decided to read BOTH Charlotte’s Web and Pippi Longstocking. So we read a chapter of each a night, and it is awesome.

But that isn’t the best part. The best part is watching Little Man find words that he knows on the page. It is watching him absorb the story and beg for more (I’m not going to lie, we’re up to two chapters of Charlotte’s Web, most nights). It is having him beg for more story, as he gets out of bed in the morning. It is recognizing that he is changing from an observer, to a reader.

This is the last time I will watch this transformation in one of my children. This is the last of my brood to move from mundane, to literate. This is monumental, and heart-rending. This is as good as it gets.

*sob* I have a book to write, just after I finish looking through baby albums and eating therapeutic chocolate. Have a great weekend, and “Go Bronco!”

Muggles, Beware.

Alright. Before the “Stacey is a Death Eater” rumors get started, let me put this out there. I am not Voldemort, but I am a firm believer that magic is just as important in a child’s life (or in any life, but today I am talking about kids) as faith and science are.

Science (i.e., the laws of physics, gravity, and all that) form the very basis for physical existence on this planet, so, you know… pretty important. Faith, whether it be religious or spiritual faith, faith that your family and friends are there for you unconditionally, or faith in yourself, is likely the most important mental property that any person can possess, because it feeds our inner self, even when we are starving.

But magic gets a bum rap.

Magic is written off as fantasy. Magic is discarded as make-believe, or even lies. And don’t get me wrong… though I talk a good talk, I don’t ACTUALLY believe in wizards and spells and all of that, but I do believe in magic. I believe in the power of the creative soul, and I believe that feeding it with a healthy dose of magic beans once in a while does a person’s metaphysical body good.

So, it’s Christmas time, and I’m reading all of these posts about people telling their kids that there is no magic, that Santa isn’t real, and hey… that’s your prerogative. I’ve heard people say that they don’t want to lie to their kids, or that it takes the true meaning of the holiday and turns it into something commercial, and I get that, sort of. I’m not a religious person, but I’m down with Jesus. He was a good guy, and in the same way that I talk to my kids about the civil rights movement on Martin Luther King Day, I like to tell them all of the reasons why Jesus was a great man, who did good things to help people, and who wanted peace for his people. I would never suggest that we take Jesus out of Christmas, nor would I suggest that we take the pagan tree out of Christmas or the jolly, fat Coka-Cola commercial Santa out of Christmas. People evolve, and so has Christmas.

But, I digress. Christmas, for me, isn’t just about Jesus, and it isn’t just about Santa. In fact, I believe that Santa represents what is best about Jesus. Let’s face it, no kid is ever perfect, year round. But Santa forgives, just like Jesus. They both have pretty fantastic beards, and they both work some awesome magic. Call it a miracle, call it God’s will, call it whatever you want. To a kid, turning water into wine and walking on water is magic.

So I encourage my kids to believe in Santa, not to make them want more stuff, but to make them believe that anything is possible. When I was a kid, growing up, money was tight. But somehow, Santa always made Christmas amazing. The belief that your most absurd dreams can come true isn’t harmful, in my opinion. It just makes us dream bigger. My nine-year-old asked for a mind-reading monkey, this Christmas. Santa will not be bringing it for her, mostly because I am not The Professor from the Powerpuff Girls (and also because I am not interested in any gift that may fling poop).

However, the fact that at nine years old, she still believes that anything can happen makes me more than happy. We lose that, somewhere. We begin to doubt, and doubt is like anti-magic, crushing our dreams into brightly colored sand and changing the way that we see ourselves and the world around us. If I can keep my kids believing in themselves and their insane, crazytown dreams, even for one minute more, then staying up all night wrapping gifts in secret paper, writing notes in false handwriting, and making hoof-prints in the driveway is totally worth it.

Everyone has the right to screw up their kids in their own, personal way. I choose science, and faith, and magic, because a tripod stands up better to the storm gales. They have their whole lives to know “the truth.” For now, I’m going to feed their monkey-laden dreams with boatloads of magic beans.