Archive for Inspiration

Finding Me

Posted in Mental Health, Writing with tags , , , , , , on October 19, 2017 by Jessica Crichton

Today, I’m thinking about paying it back.

Over the course of the last year, I have had some wonderful friends step up and help me out WAYYYY more than I ever wanted to need. Oftentimes this help came in the form of money, especially when I lost my job back in March. (Did I forget that part yesterday? Yeah… it was pretty easy to believe I’d lost every ounce of good luck I ever had for a while there!) I spent a great deal of time feeling guilty for that, and trying to figure out how to pay them back. For me, money was the only way to repay money, and I had none, so you can imagine how frustrating it became. A vicious cycle of feeling not good enough. One wonderful friend even made me promise NOT to pay her back. “I don’t want this to become a burden on our friendship,” she’d said. I’d appreciated that at the time, but didn’t understand how my presence in her life was at all beneficial to her – or anyone else, for that matter. In the darkest times, while I never considered suicide (because I refused to put my kids through that) I did seriously consider removing myself from everyone’s life for their own good. After all, the only thing I ever seemed to do anymore was take. I desperately wanted to give, but I literally had nothing to offer. For a long while, I didn’t even have the emotional energy to be there for them when they needed to talk about their own lives for once.

So why did my friends still want to be my friends?

Coming out of the dark has been a slow processes, but one big step up in it was finally landing a great, stable job with benefits in July. I now have an income again, but I’m still struggling a bit to get stabilized from the financial blast effect. For that reason I still can’t pay my friends back in money.

But if there’s anything I have learned this past year, it’s that money isn’t the most important thing in life.

Finding myself again has meant a lot of inner contemplation, meditation, therapy, and other hefty mental and emotional exercise. All to answer a question that some find easy to solve, but far too many struggle with:

What is GOOD about me?

I have always been GREAT at self-deprecation. Nobody has been better at owning my flaws than me. Even when I was shown this past year just how awful those flaws can be, while it was hard to see, it was soooo easy to accept. After all, I’d spent my whole life practicing the art of self-abuse. Self-hatred was only a natural next step in that processes.

And I have never hated myself more than I have this past year.

Healing doesn’t happen when you keep ripping off the scabs. Reliving my flaws every day, hating myself more and more, I could barely breathe, let alone heal. But for a long time I didn’t think I even had the right to. And that’s where any kind of hope to do so ended. In order to even begin healing, I had to learn to believe I deserved it, and I just didn’t have that in me. My self-hatred was so strong that I literally couldn’t come up with anything positive to say about myself without automatically adding a million “buts” and negative caveats to it.

I couldn’t SEE myself.

But my friends could.

Why did they keep helping me when all I deserved was pain? Why did they stay in my life when all I could give them was a burden? If I was such a terrible person, why did they still care about me?

Knowing the answer, I realized, was VITAL in finding a way to even begin crawling out of that terrible black hole.

And so I asked them. Sometimes on Facebook, sometimes in person, but never just once. I didn’t believe the answers. I desperately wanted to, but just… couldn’t. So I kept asking. It was almost a desperation, and not at all logical. Some people got tired of it, and more than a few unfriended and even blocked me. Many stated that I was needy, overly emotional, and shared too many personal things. Others never would be able to answer at all. My first ex, and father of my children, asked me “do you even HAVE friends anymore?” (I still don’t blame him for that, but to understand why you have to know details, and I won’t be giving any.)

But there were a few very special, wonderful friends who refused to give up on me. They answered my questions every time, always with the same answer, though sometimes stated differently.

Why did they keep helping me when all I deserved was pain?

Because I helped them in the past.

Why did they stay in my life when all I could give them was a burden?

Because I deserved friends and light in my life.

If I was such a terrible person, why did they still care about me?

Because I wasn’t a terrible person at all. Because I was a good person, and they loved me for me.

After a while, the questions and answers turned into conversations. They reminded me of things I did for them in the past: Listening to them when they needed me. Giving them food or helping them clean their homes, or teaching them things. Even being a source of inspiration as a writer and – and this was the hardest to accept – as a mother. Most of these things I had entirely forgotten about. I was good at remembering every terrible thing I had thought, done, and felt, but terrible at remembering anything good. My friends were my memory, and they helped me begin to see myself as a whole human again.

In the end, though, it was one of my children who finally broke through and let the full, glorious light in, by showing me a video he said he thought I needed to see. You can find it here, but warning: it may trigger some deep pain if you have ever hated yourself. That said, it is mighty in the healing department too. It’s funny though; I didn’t cry until my son turned to me and said, “Don’t listen to the demon, Mom.” Then everything came pouring out, and my children held me as I cried.

Even now, writing that brings tears. But they are good tears. Healing tears.

I’m still pulling myself out of the shadows. Some days they overwhelm me, even now. But my friends, and my children, have shown me how I not only CAN pay them back, but how I have paid them forward in the past. Not with money, but with the Me I forgot I was. The Me they reminded me of.

And you know what? I kinda like her, too.

The Demonization of Feel

Posted in Books, Shiny Happy Musings, Writing with tags , , , on November 14, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

I just realized a great big flaw in my writing. It’s not subconscious — in fact, I have forced myself to do it on many occasions as it goes against my natural instincts — but I didn’t realize how detrimental it was to my work until recently. I have forced it upon my writing because this flaw has long been seen as a strength, not just by me, but by many people in our current society (at least, in America where I am). What is it?

The demonization of feel.

So often lately I hear people say things like, “don’t be so emo”, “what a whiner!” and “nobody wants to hear your bitching”. The idea seems to be that with maturity comes ice-cold logic and the ability to bury any and all feelings, especially the negative ones. Nobody wants to be an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on anymore.

And especially nobody wants to admit that they sometimes need that, too.

Like many, I have seen my emotions as something to be ashamed of, because I have been told this over and over again by the society around me. In my characters, too, I have pulled far back from their emotional development because, “readers don’t want to hear a bunch of complaining”. My characters had to be strong, tough, and above all, emotionally self-sustaining.

In other words, they had to be inhuman.

In The Counterfeit Zombies of Noc, I delved further into emotions than I ever have before, showing Tab as extremely vulnerable. I worried the entire time that maybe she was being too whiny, crying too much. But then I thought, in her situation I would certainly be crying too. In fact, most kids her age would be crying at the VERY least. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t making Tabitha a whiner, I was making her human.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There can always be too much of anything, and I have certainly found myself rolling my own eyes at certain people who can’t seem to ever say a happy, thankful, hopeful word to save their apparently horrendous, soul-sucking lives. But there’s a difference between being an emotional vampire and never admitting — even to yourself — that you have emotions in the first place. A happy medium is needed here, as it seems to be needed more and more these days… everywhere.

People have feelings, and contrary to popular opinion there’s nothing wrong with that. But if we can’t support each-other, even in the hard times — especially in the hard times — then sooner or later we’ll all find ourselves just as cold, alone, and two-dimensional as the unemotional fictional characters can can’t seem to care about.

The Five Best Things about Raising Kids Poor

Posted in Family, Family Life, Kids, mothers, Parenting with tags , , , , on September 11, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

cuddle

I see a lot of blog posts about parenting out there, and many of them are a lot of fun to read, laugh with, and relate to.  Still, these are often written about subjects to which I am woefully unrelatable, such as picking the perfect nanny, or how to get your kid into an ivy-league college starting in preschool. Now, I’m not saying these things aren’t relevant; I’m sure for many parents they are, or else they wouldn’t be written about. And I would never be one to judge any parent (unless they harm their children — that deserves a lot more than judgement, as far as I’m concerned). However, I am pretty sure I am not the only mommy out there who’s parenting world is a bit different than the perceived norm of soccer practices and brand-name baby carriages.

As I have written about before, I am not what one would call… well-off. Actually I’m not even middle class. Of course, when one says this, one is usually expected to follow up with reasons why being poor is a terrible thing, how they want to win the Lottery one day, how the world is awful and judgmental, etc.

I’m not going to do that.

As I said before, I’m not the only parent raising their children in what America calls poverty, and we have all heard quite enough about how horrible it all is. Heck, we’re quite aware of it in our own lives thank-you-very-much. But what I haven’t heard much of is the good things. The happy things. The wonderful day-to-dayness of parenting poor (as opposed to poorLY — that’s a very different thing). So, for myself and my fellow penniless parents out there, here is my list of the top five BEST things about raising un-monied children:

5) Our Kids Have to Learn to be Thankful

kidsgarden

I’m not saying that those parents who are better off can’t teach their children to be meek and thankful, but I am saying that poor kids don’t really have a choice in the matter. My own children have learned from day one that they won’t get everything they want in life, not because I don’t want to give them all their desires, but because I can’t. Seeing that Mom would like to give them what they want, but still can’t do it, not only shows my children that the world won’t just give them whatever they desire, but it makes them far more thankful for what they can have. Though any parent can teach their child thankfulness, poor parents have the automatic default of showing their kids — in real time — why hard work is important.

Which brings me to…

4) Our Kids Get Daily Lessons in Reality

kidspool

This is similar to #5, but not exactly the same. See, I am divorced from my children’s father as well as poor. This isn’t something I’m particularly proud of, but life is the way it is. However, it gives me a myriad of lessons to teach my children in order to improve their futures:

“Why are you and dad divorced?” “Because we got married too young — don’t do that.”

“Why are we so poor?” “Because Mommy didn’t do anything to get ready for having kids before she had you. Go to college. Get a career, not just a job. Be ready for your kids.”

My children get these lessons on almost a daily basis. My high school junior is planning college with a view towards a career, not just a degree, and my sophomore has said that she WILL get a PhD… because Mom now has a Master’s and she can do better. I’m proud of my children, what they have accomplished and will accomplish. I am also a natural spoiler. If I had money, my children would most likely be learning some very different lessons… and not the best ones.

3)  Family Time is AWESOME

familytime

I’m sure going to the spa, or Disneyland, or beach house, or whatever is a lot of fun for some families. I’m even sure my family would enjoy such a thing. However, we have some pretty awesome family times ourselves.

For example, there are times when we do have some extra cash, so we have things like a T.V. and video game system for family-time livingroom sleepovers with popcorn, game tournaments, and family movies. There are also some great free, or close to free, family outings that we do on a regular basis. Here in Spokane there is a HUGE free fountain in the central park downtown where kids can run through and splash and have a blast. We go there often when it’s warm, packing a picnic lunch from our own home stores of budgeted groceries. This costs about $3 — for parking. We also go camping, which is a WONDERFUL time to not only give our kids some great memories, but spend real time with each-other without the distractions of T.V., laptops, or even cell phones. This usually costs a bit more for gas and some extra campy-style food, but we have some free campsites we like to go to, so that the total cost for an entire weekend of family fun is only around $40 max. Usually less. Wintertime offers parks for sledding with home-brought hot cocoa, or family game night with mommy-made kid’durves (usually tiny peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches and chips).

Of course, this isn’t meant to say that our family times are any better than anyone else’s, but it is to say that yeah we have it. And yes, it can be AWESOME. Still…

2) It Takes Work

JScience

So, you might be saying “how the heck is this a GOOD thing?” Let me explain.

I am not going to sit here and say I know what it’s like to raise kids with money. That would be asinine, and a lie. That said, I DO know myself, and I know that if I had money to spare, I’d probably take as many shortcuts as possible to make my parenting life easier. However, I don’t have money to spare, and so I have to take extra time to spend quality moments with my children. Between job-hunting, bill paying, and the everyday stress of not knowing details about the future state of either, my kids could easily get lost in the shuffle. I have to make a concerted effort to remember to give my twelve-year-old the scraps of cloth and holey clothes I find in the laundry so she can practice her sewing skills. I have to work hard at planning creative birthday parties around a non-existent budget, to sign my kids up for the free programs at school so they can go to cross country practices and sing in choir, to plan a special fun meal with nothing more than a loaf of bread and some frozen hamburger, to stop and hug my kids, even when my mind is racing with anxiety over how the electric bill is going to get paid…

My kids aren’t stupid. They span in age from 6 to 16. They see things. They hear things. They know Mom and Dad (my new husband) are stressing out. But they also see past that. They see the love. They see the dedication. They understand that no matter what, they are the very most important thing to us. And they know this because it takes so much work to keep their lives as happy, carefree and normal as possible, even while our own feels like it’s falling apart.

1) Our Kids are Compassionate

sisterslove2

Again, let me qualify this with the fact that I am not saying wealthier kids can’t be compassionate. What I am saying is my children have empathy for those in need, because they have been in-need themselves many times. We have been to the food bank where my kids have given other kids the donuts they just got, because maybe those kids don’t have a big sister who will bake for them later. My now sixteen-year-old daughter, when she was only eight and very shy, stood up for a friend who was being bullied because she herself was bullied so often for wearing the “wrong” clothes. My nine-year-old son shares everything he gets with his six-year-old sister, because he knows that maybe neither of them will get it again any time soon. I have been complimented in public, not for how well my children behave, but for how well they treat each-other. The words from one particular old lady will forever echo in my mind as one of the greatest moments of my life: “It’s so wonderful to see your children together. It’s obvious that they love each-other very much.”

Am I bragging? Maybe a little. 😉 But I have a sneaking suspicion that if my children hadn’t had it so rough growing up, they wouldn’t be so soft now. Sure, my influence and lessons have made an impact, but again, I am a natural coddler. If we had money, my kids would quite possibly not understand what it’s like to be in need, to be downtrodden, to be on the outside looking in. And without that understanding it’s very difficult to sympathize — let alone empathize — with others in the same position.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I want to remain poor for the rest of my life. Like the vast majority of people, I want the best life I can have for myself, my husband, and my children. This is why I have worked so hard to earn my Master’s (which I just received last month, hence the lack of job at the moment). Still, I’m a little tired of seeing only the bad side of being poor. Poor parents aren’t bad parents, and we aren’t always miserable, either.

In fact, sometimes being a poor parent is pretty danged great.

On Using “Big” Words in “Little” Books

Posted in Writing with tags , , , on May 27, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

While I was signing at Auntie’s Bookstore this weekend, a lady came up to me with a unique compliment. She said she liked that I used “malicious” in my title, since it is a fun word to say, and it’s important for children to learn big words. Not a few minutes later I heard from a man who’s opinion was entirely the opposite. “Why,” he asked with more confusion than offense in his tone, “would you use a word kids don’t even know?”

That got me to thinking, and now I’m writing a blog on it! Gotta love technology, eh?

Suffice to say I am in agreement with the lady. To the man I would (and did in fact) ask, “how else are they going to learn the word”?

Here’s another relevant question I was asked at the same signing: “did you do a lot of spelling bees as a kid?” My answer surprised the lady: “No,” I said, “I only ever did one spelling bee, and I lost badly. I was a terrible speller as a kid.” The look on her face spoke volumes. It screamed, “how can a professional writer be a bad speller?”

And therein lies the crux (heh) of my argument.

Though I learned the basic building blocks of spelling in school, the vast majority of my current grammar and spelling prowess came from

Writing.

Writing. All the time. At some point, as I played around with my own worlds, stories and adventures, the ability to spell and use proper grammar emerged. My learning was entirely hands-on.

The exact same thing happened with my vocabulary, only it wasn’t writing that taught me, but reading.

To this day there are words I can easily use in-context which I have no idea how to pronounce. “Copse” is one such word, for example. That’s because I only know of these words from the books that used them. And these weren’t schoolbooks, they were fiction — fantasy, sci-fi, and other fun stories that I fell in love with, written by authors who didn’t worry about whether or not their readers would understand every word they used. Most of the time it was easy to guess the definitions, anyway as they were used in-context. For the ones that weren’t, I looked them up. Either way, bingo, I learned a new word! And these words meant more to me than any on a vocabulary list, because they had described something I cared about: a character, a world, an action that mattered. In mattering, those words stuck in my memory.

Do all of my young readers know what “malicious” means? Well, maybe they didn’t before they read the book, but chances are they do now. Book 2 is titled The Counterfeit Zombies of Noc. My young fans will learn that word too — along with many others inside the book — all while enjoying a good story that will stir their imaginations and excite their spirits.

That, to me, is worth its weight in gold-lined royalties.

“Big” words don’t have to be intimidating. If you use them, they will be learned. My six-year-old has a larger vocabulary than many adults I know, because we have used “big” words around her since she was born. From “mouse” to “malcontent”, all words have a definition that can be learned and used.

For fun, here is a list of “big” words I have used in my kids’ books along with a very simplified definition of each:

  • Malicious – Evil
  • Shoddy – Sloppy
  • Atrocious – Horrible
  • Counterfeit – Fake
  • Advantageous – Lucky
  • Ethereal – Not Solid
  • Duress – In Danger
  • Tow-head – Blonde
  • Martyr – Person Who Died Doing Something Heroic
  • Sentient –  Self-Aware
  • Tarn – Slimy, Wet Place
  • Cacophonous – Loud
  • Dias – A Low Stage
  • Malcontent – Unhappy
  • Crux – Important
  • Woebegone – Sad
  • Insidious – Evil in a Smart Way

Those aren’t all of them, but you get the idea. These aren’t words children are usually taught, nor are they words that most adults use in everyday life. The fear of not using them — that’s what makes them intimidating. And that intimidation is what leads to no one– kids or adults — ever learning new words at all. So how will they ever be learned if not in stories? Don’t be afraid to challenge your young readers. Someday, they may thank you for it.

And, in this world of netspeak and reality television, we as writers may very well be the last bastion of hope for the continuation of  exquisite soliloquy amongst our species.

The Self-Publishing Myth

Posted in Publication, Publishing, Self-publishing, Writing with tags , , , on May 22, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

gavin-self-publishing

Okay, I’m going to be perfectly honest here: There is one myth going around about self-publishing vs. trade-publishing that I am tired of reading. Seriously tired of it. So today I am going to give it to you straight:

No, self-publishing a book is NOT an automatic death-knell for any writer who wants to be trade published.

Yet AbsoluteWrite is still insisting that it is to anyone who asks, and most of the writers asking are brand-new to the game, so they willingly believe it. A large majority of established authors will also agree to this assertion if you ask them, and there are plenty of blogs and articles out there that continue to agree.

Now, this is mostly because it used to be true. I’ll freely admit that. But if you still believe this, you haven’t been paying attention at all. And if you are perpetuating it, you’re going down the wrong road… the road to the past.

I recently posted about an agency that has my full… for Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine. Yes, THAT Dr. Fixit. The one that’s been self-published and which I am selling right now. So what did I do? Did I conveniently leave that fact out of my query letter? Did I lie and tell them it wasn’t published? Did I somehow find a portal to a parallel universe where agencies don’t care about that? Is the agency even legit?

In short: kind of, no, no, and yes.

The original query to this agency did not mention my manuscript being self-published… because it wasn’t yet. Between the time I queried and received an answer, I made a gut-decision to self-publish for many reasons, none of which were easy. Then I got this full request, and was faced with a decision: ignore it and keep going with my own thing since it was obvious they wouldn’t want it anymore after finding out anyway, send the full without even mentioning the publishing (and attempt to erase all traces of its publication from the interwebs… yeah… sure), or… tell the truth.

I never once even considered the second option, but I’ll admit I thought long and hard about the first (except I wasn’t going to ignore it — that would be rude — I was going to write to them and apologize for self-publishing at least). Like so many other unpublished writers out there, I had done my share of research about self-publishing and found the same line spoken over and over again: “if you want to be really published, don’t do it yourself”. I knew from countless forums, blogs, and writing events, that no agent worth anything would ever ask for a manuscript that’s been self-published (unless it’s sold HUGE numbers anyway).

But this wasn’t just any agency. This was a major agency. In fact, it’s the tip-top of my choices. It’s so prestigious that I only queried them on the off-chance that maybe they’d say no to me nicely. Seriously. It was a crap-shoot.

And then they requested a full.

In the end, what choice did I even have? And what did I really have to lose? I sent the full, along with a short message that it had since been self-published.

Less than a week later I got a short reply, thanking me for letting them know, and telling me they were looking forward to reading it and would get back to me with their thoughts asap.

I. Was. FLOORED.

In one very short email, everything I knew about self-publishing vs. trade was obliterated. They still wanted to look at it? How? WHY? I was happy, for sure! But I was also very confused. How could all of those writers and other publishing professionals be wrong?

That night, I Googled for all I was worth. Here’s what I found:

According to Forbes, more and more literary agents are opening their doors to self-published writers. More and more authors, too, are finding a new way of querying by self-publishing. And PBS reports that some agents are even taking on self-published authors as their consultants.

These are only a few examples of the up-and-coming change in attitude, but you get the idea. Are all agents willing to look at a self-published book? No, of course not. But some are, and that number is growing. As it is with everything else digital, from e-mail queries, to e-book publishing, to online platform building, the savviest agents are changing with the times. Self-publishing might not be the wave of the future for all books (and in fact I don’t want it to be — there are still far too many self-published writers who don’t know the difference between editing and a blank page), but it is becoming a phenomenon that the trade publishing world can no longer ignore.

I don’t know yet what the verdict is for Dr. Fixit, but the agency has had it for seven weeks and counting now, since that initial confirmation e-mail. The website says that they reply within eight weeks, so I haven’t nudged, and I’m not planning to. At least not right now. Am I nervous? Duh. Are some days so long with the waiting that they feel like they’ll never end? Sure. But one thing every writer worth that title has to learn is patience.

Or, at least the semblance of it. 😉

One thing is for certain, though: when I hear back from them, I’ll let you know. Whether it’s a rejection, an R&R, or (holy grail of holies), an offer, I’ll post it. And you will be impressed by this agency. They have undeniable clout. And they don’t care that my book has been self-published.

Let that sink in a bit, then do your own research. Listen to your gut. Edit, edit, EDIT. Then make the choice that’s right for YOU. The future offers more forks in the road to publication than we have ever seen before. Maybe yours is a new way, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad one.

Website Overhaul!

Posted in web design, Writing with tags , , on May 4, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

I’m excited about my new look. What about you? Let me know what you think right HERE! Thank you!

Taking a Deep Breath and Jumping Back In

Posted in Books, Literature, Publication, Writing with tags , , , on November 14, 2012 by Jessica Crichton

It’s never easy to be rejected. No matter how many times it happens, it hurts. But when you’ve gotten SOCLOSE that you’ve allowed your hopes to fly higher than ever before, the fall, when it comes, is much longer.

And the impact on rock-bottom is much, much more painful.

After over a year of querying, and rejection after rejection, an agent finally wanted my work! He even told me to revise and resend! I was SO excited! And then, this:

“Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to look at the revised DR. FIXIT’S MALICIOUS MACHINE.  The manuscript is certainly improved, and the characters and narrative are colorful and entertaining.  However, there are still a number of issues that seem to us to hold the story back…”

I was numb at first. I was SO SURE he would take me on! And then the pain set in. And when it did, it was awful. Compared to the others, this was like the difference between a papercut and the violent removal of my whole hand. It wasn’t just that he had requested a revision. It wasn’t just that his interest gave me hope in my story…

It was that I had lost the excitement of waking up each day wondering of this would be the day I finally landed an agent.

That was it and all, really. Now I went to bed with no anticipation of the next day. I woke up with no reason to get out of bed. Yes, I have children and a husband and schoolwork to do, but it felt like all I was doing was the motions, without the excitement of a possible agent phone call looming over my head.

I felt myself slipping into a real depression. When I realized what was happening, I knew there was no choice: I had to fight it with everything in me.

And so I reread the rejection with a new eye. What had they said that was good? What was bad? What could I fix?

And now, taking a deeper breath than I have ever taken before, I jump back into the slush.

Time for more revisions.

I will NOT let this become my defeat.

John M. Cusick

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