Friday, January 31, 2014

Celebrate the Small Thiings: January 31st Special Edition- ROAR

We all know what time it is, no need to spell it out.  Thanks as always to our wonderful host, Viklit!

I apologize to anyone who came around last Friday wondering where I'd disappeared to.  I'm about to tell you.

Last weekend (Saturday, to be precise) I competed in my first real tournament.  It was in Atlantic City, NJ.  I was in a division with black belts from other schools, doing other styles.  Unfamiliar with the chaos that is typical of tournaments I felt way out of my element.  Not to mention scarred out of my mind...

I was having a panic attack as soon as we got there and the prospect of having to wait until that afternoon to compete was more than I could take so I volunteered to judge to try to keep my mind off of it.  Judging can be anxiety provoking in it's own right when you have limited experience with it, but I think I did an ok job and I was really grateful to have the focus off myself.  Until my friend came over to inform me that they'd just called my division.

It was in this case that the typical chaos of tournaments actually worked in my favor.  After finishing weapons for my age bracket they should have moved onto forms (my division).  But instead they moved up to the next age bracket and called them to do weapons... and then forms... and then sparring.  I actually ended up with quite a lot of time to prepare.

I knew my form- memorization wasn't the issue.  And practicing it a few more times wasn't going to make me balance any better on the unusually cushy mats or help me stick a particular move any better.  But listening to my song- that helped.

What's my song, you wonder?  Well, I'm not afraid to admit it because it inspires me.  It's Katy Perry's Roar.  If you're not familiar with it, it goes like this:
"I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter.  Dancin' through the fire.  Cause I am a champion and you're gonna hear me roar.  Louder, louder than a lion.  Cause I am a champion and you're gonna hear me ro-ar!"

I played that and then repeated those lyrics over and over in my head.  And then I went out there and did my form.  I'm pretty sure it was the best rep I've ever done.  I finished and I knew it was good and I felt this overwhelming sense of accomplishment.  Cause my anxiety didn't get the best of me.  Cause all that practice paid off.  Cause I actually got up there and did it.  Because I roared.

I didn't expect anything else- that was enough for me.  However good the other competitors were, whoever took home a trophy- none of it mattered.  The only person I was really competing against was me.  Or, more accurately, against that voice in my head that says I can't do it (whatever it may be).  I beat that voice, and that was everything to me.

I didn't really watch the other competitors too closely, but the bulk of them looked pretty impressive.  I didn't think I'd be doing anything other than bowing out at the end.  So when they called my name I was genuinely surprised- I won third place.

I've never had an easy time of believing in myself and my list of awards is a short one.  Plus this was my very first tournament outside of the comfort of my own gym- going up against really tough competitors from other schools in an environment that was crazy chaotic and  intimidating.  And that fact that I performed at the level that I did was a big, big deal for me.

Like I said, I really was excited for the right reasons- because I did well, for me.  But I'm not gonna lie and say I don't care about being able to say that I took third place.  That's something that's instantly recognizable as significant to anyone- even those who don't know about the internal battle I waged just to be able to get up there and do it.  But now you all know what's behind that little trophy, and what it means for me to roar.

Happy Friday, all!



Friday, January 17, 2014

Celebrate The Small Things- January 17th

It's Friday and time to Celebrate the Small Things with our one and only Viklit!  Click on the link to sign up and hop!

This week I'm celebrating:

My New Job  I'm not gonna lie, it's been a disconcerting week.  I knew this job was going to be different- outpatient fee for service is a very different animal than what I'm used to.  But I think I forgot to mentally prepare myself for the amount of waiting involved.  I set up my office, got my pictures hung on the wall and my boxes unpacked, figured out how to do what was needed on the computer and then I waited.  And waited... and waited...  I don't think I ever realized how crazy one can drive oneself whilst sitting in an office with nothing to do.

I knew things would take a while to build up, but I didn't connect that with the reality of what it would look like until that happened.  The good news?  My co-workers have all been terribly reassuring and understanding, since they all went through it themselves.  And thanks to the intakes this week and the referrals they are all making my schedule for next week is significantly busier.  It'll be a while yet before I'm at full time, but I have hope that that time will come sooner rather than later.

And in the meantime, even with all the waiting there's still a lot to like about this job.  I'm really digging my new co-workers- they're intelligent, capable and all super nice.  I can see myself becoming friends- real friends- with them in the time.  And my office building is a gorgeous space.  And there's a lot of exciting stuff in the works so in time it should be great.  So in the end I do have a lot to celebrate.

New Year, New Me  I've got my black belt test coming up in June and I am woefully out of shape for it.  Not to mention my first tournament competition is next week (eep!).  Plus I put on some weight over the holidays (who didn't?) and I really need to lose it.  All in all?  Something's gotta give.

So I joined a gym.  I signed up on Sunday and with all my mornings free I've managed to go every day since.  The classes have been kicking my ass- I'm sore, I'm achey and I'm acutely aware of how out of shape I am.  But I feel really good about it.  Because if I stick with this?  Not only will my black belt test be the best one yet and not only should I do well in tournaments but I might actually get the physique I've always dreamed about but never did anything to really obtain.  I might get the confidence I've only ever dreamed of having.  I might get, you know- get healthy.

I know it's easy to think all this the first week- the test of time will determine whether or not these dreams come true.  But the first step is often the hardest and just getting to the gym and investing the money in going regularly has been huge- so that's real cause for celebration.

All in all, there's a lot of exciting stuff in the works and I'm hopeful that next week will bring even more cause for celebration.

What about you all?  What are you celebrating this week?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Graphic Novel Review: The Sandman Volume 2: The Doll's House

Important links: Neil Gaiman's Site and info on the series and this volume

"We have seen stranger things in dreams; and fictions are merely frozen dreams, linked images with some semblance of structure.  They are not to be trusted, no more than the people who create them."

That's the opening of this volume, placing you smack-dab in the middle of this strange, sometimes chaotic, but always uncertain realm of dreams.  It's clear from that opening that Neil wants us on our toes the whole time, warning us that it would be foolish to trust anything we see within the pages that follow.

Those pages make one glad for such a warning as from the get go we find ourselves disoriented.  After a recap of the events of the last volume, told to us by a mysterious figure who fills us with intrigue, we are suddenly thrown into the deserts of Africa where tribes still carry out coming of age rituals.  One of those rituals is a story- one so valuable that it is only ever heard once and only ever told once.  And it reveals the back story of a character we saw ever so briefly in the last volume- once consigned to hell for reasons we learn of now.

And then, much like the last volume, we are once again thrown into a series of stories- all connected, but all different.  Everything from a man made immortal simply so that one of the endless can have someone to talk to, to a serial killer convention, to nightmares and dreamscapes misplaced from the realm they belong in, to a house full of lost souls all looking for something beyond their grasp.  Each new character is as strange and captivating as the last and we find ourselves unable to get a firm footing with every new introduction.

It begins to reveal a little more about our title character, Dream, and brings out other layers of him.  As much respect as he does appear to have for the mortals whose dreams he reigns over he has other characteristics which challenge one's adoration of him: he is prideful and vengeful.  He carries out certain deeds which can irrevocably alter lives without second thought.  He ignores the suffering caused by these deeds and makes declarations of other deeds to come.  I can't say he's becoming more three dimensional as I imagine that by the time this series ends he will be fleshed out in far more than just three dimensions.  Unbound by the limits of time, space or meaning we struggle to grasp who he is with every new revelation about him.  And we left in a state of constantly wanting to learn more.

On the technical side, the dream-like quality of this work exists beyond the events of the story.  The panels don't follow a grid- they change shape and layout with almost every page and sometimes it's very hard to follow the progression of words as the pictures swirl around the pages and disorient you.  And those words themselves are so dream-like it can challenge one's perception, as it's meant to.

"we're just dolls.  We don't have a clue what's really going down, we just kid ourselves that we're in control of our lives while a paper's thickness away things that would drive us mad if we thought about them for too long play with us"

Try reading that in an eerily quiet office with no one else around and tell me it doesn't screw with your head.  And yet, you want to read more, don't you?  Learn more about those things, those beings who could drive you mad if you think about them for too long.  Dive further into the abyss, as it were.  As trippy and disconcerting as this boundless world is it's one that you can't help but want to explore, want to learn more about, want to lose yourself in.  (And getting lost in there is so easy to do.)

In the end I'm left with the same feeling I had at the end of the last volume, and the same question.  Dazed, and wanting to know where the next one will take me.  Needless to say, volume three is next on my list.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Celebrate the Small Things: January 10th, 2014

It's time for another weekly celebration hosted by our own Viklit.  Click on the link to sign up!
Today is my last day!  As I wrote yesterday, today is my last day at my current job before moving on to bigger and better things.  It's sad, there's no way around it.  I love my boss and my co-workers and when it comes time to say goodbye to them I fully expect to start crying.  You can't spend this much time with a group of people and not get attached, nor should you- life is about connecting with people.  So I'm fine with being sad today because goodbyes are important.  And I'm celebrating every great memory I'll take with me from my time here.

I start my New Job on Monday!  I'm excited and scared and giddy and nervous and a whole variety of other emotions.  It's going to be very, very different from my current job and I know it's gonna take a while before I get a clue as to what I'm doing- but that's ok. I got to meet my new co-workers yesterday at a group supervision meeting and they're all really, really nice and every one of them offered- several times- to help me out in any way they can, reassuring me that when they started they didn't know what they were doing either and promising me that they'll help me get my footing.  Plus they all said- again, several times- how happy they are to have me joining them.  I think it's gonna be really good, on so many different levels, and I am just thrilled.

Karate  I've been insanely stressed out this week, as is to be expected.  Thinking about all the things I have to get done before I leave, packing up the office, trying to get the last of the HR paperwork for the new job faxed in, etc, etc.  And I went to karate on Tuesday- my mind racing with all of these things and generally feeling as though I could explode.  And when I walked out my mind was clear.  Absolutely zen-like empty.  I felt so calm and peaceful and just really freakin' good I couldn't believe it.  I've marveled at this phenomenon several times in the past but it still seems like an all-out miracle every time.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't know how I survived so long without it.  It keeps me sane.

How about all of you?  What are you celebrating this week?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

It's The Endings Blogfest!

This blogfest is in honor of L.G.'s 2nd blogging anniversary and before I talk about my ending I want to take a moment to talk about how awesome L.G. is and how insanely happy I am that she's been blogging for two years and plans to continue to do so. 

Anyone who knows L.G. knows that she is one of the most supportive people in the awesome blogging community we call home.  She's also an incredible writer- from her Fiction Pieces to her serials to her 26 part story for the A to Z challenge last year she's proven herself to be an incredible writer and I am so, so grateful to know her.  Happy blogoversary, L.G!  Here's to many more!

Now, onto my ending: Tomorrow is my last day at my current job, so this blogfest is sort-of perfect timing for me to reflect on that.

First let me assure you that I am super-awesome-fantastically-over-the-moon excited about new job.  It represents a great opportunity so far as career growth, financial growth and practicing a lot of things I learned in grad school but haven't been able to put into practice in the settings I've been in thus far.  This current ending is one I've chosen in order to make a new beginning.

But that doesn't mean I'm not sad about it.  Anytime we get attached to something we feel sad when it ends.  That's just the nature of it.

My last job, the one before this, was the worst job I have ever had.  I'm sure a lot of people use that phrase capriciously but trust me when I say it- I really, really mean it.  I have never been so unhappy in my entire life.  Not even when I was going through my teenaged angst-ridden years.

Leaving that job and coming here was like emerging from a dark cloud.  It wasn't just that I was doing therapy again or that my experience made me comfortable in a setting like this- the air itself was clearer.  I'd come into work, look out my office window and feel happy just because the sun was out.  A sunny day did absolutely nothing to lighten my mood at my last job.  In fact, it made me more likely to despair because I knew where I was spending that sunny day.  But here, there was hope.  There were reasons to be happy.

Number one is my co-workers, and my boss. They are- and again I swear I'm not exaggerating here- the best group of co-workers I have ever had.  It isn't just that I respect them professionally or that I enjoy the camaraderie of all dealing with the insanity together.  It's that I actually enjoy talking to them.  Countless afternoon chats in offices where we might start by talking about something work related and quickly veer off into unrelated topics about whatever.  Lunches out for people's birthdays.  Our monthly potluck where we'd all meet for delicious food and delightful conversation.  Celebrating the holidays for the past few years has included special potlucks with them and it's going to be very strange without that now.

I have no idea if I’ll be lucky enough to like my new co-workers as much.  The environment I’m going to is a very different one and I’ll be much more independent in my work tasks which means less interaction with co-workers.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be shared lunches or office chats, it just means change.  And the change of not seeing these people everyday will be a tough one.

The other thing I’ll miss, as strange as this sounds, is this company.  It’s the first company that ever made any kind-of effort in terms of employee satisfaction.  They organized health fairs every year where local health vendors would come and give us stuff in order to attract new business.  A free massage, free granola or juice, a consult from the local chiropractor.  They had another vendor fair around the holidays so you could get a jump on your holiday shopping- right at work.  I’ve given blood at work multiple times (and given the frequency with which I give blood that’s a huge convenience.)  And of course the company Christmas party, the going-away parties for the higher-ups, the organized fundraisers for people suffering a loss.  They made a real effort and I haven’t seen that before.

In the end, I am nothing but grateful for the time I’ve had here.   And though I move onto bigger and better things I do so with the awareness that I am lucky to have spent some years here with this group of people. 
I will miss them.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

IWSG and The HeadHunters Race

It's time for another installment of the Insecure Writer's Support Group hosted by our own wonderful Ninja Captain Alex and co-hosted this month by Bob Milne, River Fairchild, Julie Dao and Sarah Foster!  Please take a moment to thank our lovely hosts for their support!

I'm keeping my insecurities brief as I've got big news to share with you all.

It's the new year and I'm struggling to put a mountain of intentions into practice.  To write, everyday.  To read, everyday.  To make time everyday for the things I realize I need to do.  I fell into a lot of bad habits over the holidays, like I'm sure we're all prone to.  I ate WAY too much.  With time off from work I fell into the habit of sleeping late.  I allowed myself to slack on a lot of things- writing included.  And now I'm trying to get myself to rebuild good habits.  It's a slow start, to say the least.  But I have faith in myself.

Hopefully next month I'll have some real action to report- and some insecurities that will undoubtedly arise from that.  But for now, I'm simply praying for all of us to start the new year with steadfast faith in ourselves.  Follow your bliss, forget about the rest.

And now, onto the big news!  My friend Kimberly Afe just released The Headhunter's Race on January 3rd and today I'm featuring the amazing world she created by sharing with you an excerpt, character interview and info on Kim's journey to publication.  I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I did! And don't forget to enter the rafflecopter for your chance to win a copy of the eBook + the SAS Survival Handbook and  a copy of the eBook + a $25 Amazon gift card!  (See below!)

Excerpt from The Headhunters Race

This excerpt is from the day the race starts and Avene is getting ready.

                Hours later, when the birds start chirping, I know it's almost time to wake up. I get out of bed and change into my special clothes. The ones I've been saving for this day: a sturdy pair of jeans and a man's blue flannel shirt. Underneath I wear my white fitted tee-shirt, depicting a crudely drawn skull. I added the crossbones bearing a set of daggers with a nearly dried-up marker I found a year ago. It represents my mantra for the race: stay away from me or I'll kill you.

            I tie my sheath around my thigh, re-lace my boots with longer and sturdier cord I found on a pair of men's boots in the goodie two shoes clothing pile, and then gulp down several handfuls of water. I wipe the droplets from my mouth while I pace like a caged panther. A few minutes later I slug down another five handfuls before I remember to fill my water bottle.

            Zita leans up on her elbow. "You're sure you want to do this?"

            "I have to, Zita. It's our only way out. The only way we'll be free."

            She throws off her cover and leaps to her feet. "Well, we better do something with that hair. They'll start calling the prisoners out soon."

            Zita snatches our slop container from the table. She fills it with dirt from the corner and mixes in a bit of water. "I'm not sure how well this will work," she says, stirring it with her finger. "Sit."

            I sit on the ground cross-legged at her feet. She kneels beside me, takes a small lock of hair, and rubs mud all through the strands. The stringy tresses stick together, cold and wet against my cheek. After one side of my head is finished, she steps back and surveys her work. "Nope, this isn't working. Your roots are still too light."

            "Why don't you wash her whole head in it?" says McCoy.

            I stiffen. Leave it to him to think of dunking my whole head in mud.

            "You're a genius!" says Zita. She grabs my arm and pulls me to my feet. "Help me," she says to McCoy and I cringe at the thought of him touching my head when I'm a direct competitor. He might send his ninja blade across my neck.

            He grabs the sink, half full of water, water I need to drink, and dumps three quarters of it into the corner. "Hey, I need to drink that!" I say.

            "You can drink ours," says McCoy.

            Right. I'm not going to drink theirs. He'd love that. Especially now that he's going to have to hunt on his own and the only way he knows how is by poaching off me.

            Zita stops short of pouring in handfuls of dirt. Instead she goes to the fire pit and scoops out gobs of ash. She swishes it around with her fingers, stares at it like she's not satisfied, and goes ahead and dumps in a handful of dirt anyway. "Okay, bend over, girl."

            I lean over the sink while Zita pours the murky mixture over my hair and massages it in. It's gritty and gross.

            "Hand me that old shirt in the corner," says Zita.

            I'm looking upside down at McCoy while he retrieves the old shirt she uses as her dust rag. She wrings out my hair and then places the shirt over top and squeezes out the excess water. "I wish I had a comb," she says, flipping my head up and steering my behind back to the ground.

            "It's okay, I can use my fingers," I say.

            McCoy dashes into their room. "Boom has one, hold on."

            I lean my head back in defeat. He's determined to help me, to make me feel obligated to help him in return, but his niceties aren't going to work on me.

Character Interview

This interview is with Avene, the sixteen-year-old main character in The Headhunters Race.

Q – What’s it like living in a fend-for-yourself prison?

A – Its hell.  Especially if you’re the stepdaughter of the man who sentenced every last person in there to life.  We drink dirty water, scavenge for usable items, and barely get enough food to sustain us.  I have to hunt whatever bugs and rodents I can find to supplement the slop they dump in.

Q – How can you hunt in a prison?  

A – Hunting inside the prison is not easy.  There isn’t much to hunt considering we’re on the inside and most animals are smart enough to stay on the out.  Fighting for slop is worse though.  But the place is run-down and there are plenty of openings for small animals to find their way inside.

Q – Is it true that you are missing a body part?

A – *Sighs* Figures you would ask me about that, but it’s true and it’s not really all that noticeable.  It could’ve been worse if it weren’t for Verla.

Q – I’m so sorry.  Speaking of Verla, she was a tough woman, how did you meet up with her initially?

A – There was no meeting up with Verla.  She decided if she wanted you around or not and I guess I was lucky enough that she took me in.  Otherwise, I’d be dead.

Q – Do you miss her?

A – I miss her every day.

Q – What about McCoy?

A – What about him?  Do you want to know why he annoys me so much?

Q – Yes.

A – That makes two of us.  

Journey to Publication
The Headhunters Race has a bit of a long journey.  The idea was born on June 26, 2011 after a Zelda game commercial inspired me.  The commercial was brilliant and I thought why can't they make a movie that cool?  And then I thought, why don't I write a cool adventure myself! 

So I brainstormed this story with my son over a dinner of spicy spaghetti a couple of nights after the idea came to me.  We worked out the entire novel:  the characters and their motivations, the world, and the details of the race as I frantically wrote it all down.  My husband and daughter also helped me brainstorm items that I needed worked out.  I then spent a little while playing around with Avene's voice and then wrote like crazy.  I finished in December of 2011.  I actually started having critique partners read it in November of 2011 and began querying agents in January of 2012 after more revising.  I also entered it into a few popular contests around the blogosphere in early 2012.  Then I took a very long break due to life circumstances with hubby’s heart and moving.  Early this year I got back into writing.  I’d been thinking about self publishing for quite awhile so when querying a few more agents and a handful of publishers didn’t work out, I decided to go for it, and now, 2 1/2 years later, the book is out there!  Wahoo!

Author Bio
Kimberly is the mother of two awesome kids, wife of the nicest man in the world, and her dog's best friend. She works by day and writes middle grade and young adult science fiction and fantasy novels in her spare time. She lives with her family in the beautiful Sonoran Desert.

Website     Goodreads     Twitter     Facebook     Blog   Amazon

Please join me in wishing Kim success and rabid fan love for this amazing release!

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