I’ve been thinking

If you’re on my personal facebook, or even follow the Amber Marie Writes facebook, you may have seen this already, but I felt it worth repeating here. I had a bit of a rough year last year, as did everyone. It hasn’t gotten much better this year but I’m pushing through and I’m determined to make something good this year. This post kind of came to me after I saw a graphic in my memories and I thought it was important enough to share here with maybe a little more detail than I’d put on my facebook. Some of it is a little difficult to talk about but the overall idea is about making art out of the difficult stuff that happens.

As most of you know, if you’ve paid any attention at all over the last year, I lost my Dad March 13th of last year. What only my brother knows, is that the night before Dad died, Damien and I were at the hospital until two in the morning. We were emotional and trying to distract ourselves. I had been gearing up for Camp NaNo which happens every year in April. I had written out an outline that I had spent the last couple of months creating from a random thought into an actual story. It wasn’t easy but dealing with everything those last couple of months with Dad gave us, it gave me something else to focus on while working nights. So, my brother and I sat there, three foot from my dad, talking about this outline, talking about my ideas, to distract us from what was happening in the bed right next to us. Dad died the next afternoon. And despite everything that happened in the years leading up to that moment, and no matter how many time we told ourselves we were, we weren’t ready. I wasn’t ready.

Then the world shut down in almost the same breath as we lost Dad. We were trapped at home. People were scared. I was grieving. Hard. I had no idea what to do and my brain desperately was searching for something to do. So a couple of weeks later, when April started, I did what I had planned to do. I did Camp Nano. I set goals, and I smashed them. Quickly.

It had been a very long time since I had finished anything besides a short story. I’d get almost to the end of something and then I just couldn’t finish it. It was frustrating. I started to feel like that with this but I pushed on. I made myself write every second I wasn’t working, or helping the kids with school, or cleaning the house. I did my best. I distracted myself to escape the pain. And this amazing thing happened. On April 25th, 2020, I finished Hold On. Sure, it was just a first draft. Sure, it wasn’t anything spectacular. It was just a piece of fanfiction that I may or may not publish anywhere. It was for me. I wrote my emotions out. I took that grief and turned it into something beautiful.

My goals, as you can see, were simple, 10k words minimum. That was my goal. just something on paper. Anything. Create Art, which I created a lot of art. I really did. And to finish it. Which I did. 25 days and I finished it. Ending with 18 chapters and a total of roughly 63, 457 words. I have never won a full NaNoWriMo before since I started competing in 2013. And the goal there is only 50k in 30 days. I wrote 63k in 25 days. It was huge.

That feeling allowed me to keep going. It allowed me to keep writing and to write everyday. When it’s not a NaNo month (April and November are when I participate), the timeline I give myself is somewhat more relaxed. And by the time October of last year rolled around, I had finished 3 stories, one was primed to go to my editor, and I was working on three more, as the ideas struck. I was making art, so much art, I had perfected my writing process. I was doing so well and I knew, without a doubt that I was going to kick NaNo’s ass in November. If I could do it in April, I could do it in November.

Then my Mom died. And it was, ugh. I shut down. Immediately. It was like my brain had a moment where it went “We’ve already done this, we are NOT doing this again!” I tried to do what I’d done earlier in the year, but I’d stare at the screen and couldn’t make the words come. I just couldn’t. They were gone. The words, the ideas, they were still there, I could feel them but they were silent. For once in my writing life, the voices that guide me were silent. And it was deafening.

I didn’t do NaNo last year. I barely made it through November. Dad’s funeral, finally, then Mom’s the next day. It was, a lot. Then the kids started acting out. Jay almost missed Thanksgiving. Emily hated her 16th birthday, even though I tried. Emily has been acting out since. Sneaking out, and taking off for weeks at a time. This has been constant since November. It hasn’t made the words come, if anything they feel farther away.

I’ve started editing again, because despite everything, life goes on. As much as I’d love to sit and never have to process the things I put off at the end of last year so that I wouldn’t have to deal with it, life doesn’t work that way. So, while I still can barely write, I’ve been editing. I’ve been plotting. I will make it through whatever I have to, and not lose my identity as a writer. I have to, because who am I if I’m not?

My 2k20 Camp NaNo Goals graphic was in my memories recently, and I saw it before I’d even had my first cup of coffee and when I saw it, I immediately remembered that sense of pride I felt when I was done. I felt my chest swelling with it again. I felt my shoulders squaring and my head lifting just a bit. It may be just a simple fanfiction that got me through a large portion of my grief. 63k words that I wasn’t sure I’d ever show to anyone. But I’m so glad that I did. It was officially published on August 31st of last year. Since then I’ve gotten 22 comments telling me what a great story it is. 22 comments telling me I was good at this. 22 comments that helped me get through the hardest year of my life, so far. As of yesterday, I’m up to 107 kudos, which if you read anything on AO3, you know that isn’t that great, but it’s not bad either. And the newest Kudos was just yesterday, according to my email.

I created something that will last. I created something. I took my grief and shaped it into a stepping stone for my goals. This stone may be a bit harder and I’m still working on it. I may be juggling more than one stone right now, but that’s all they are. Stepping stones to my dreams. Stepping stones to my goals. Each painted a different color of memory. I can take this, and I can use it. Art is emotion after all.

If you read all of this, thank you. It’s really just to remind myself that even when it hurts, even when it feels like you’re going to break, you never know what’s going to happen next and that next thing, may be everything you ever needed.

My Hive Mind

Every writer has a community of people. These people are our soundboard, problem solvers, supporters, ego boosters, beta-readers, editors, and whatever we happen to need while we are working. They are usually fantastic. I want to introduce you to mine.

So, my Hive Mind is made up of people that I’ve met at different points in my life and they all are amazing on their own, or even as just friends. They are all different too, in different stages of life and that helps get different opinions and outlooks. It really helps. They all have their own lives as well but are amazingly supportive of me, as I am of them. Once, they convinced me to rewrite a whole story that I was almost done with, just to add two characters. They’re amazing.

First, is Loca. Loca and I have known each other since Boot Camp, way back in 2003. We’ve been amazing friends ever since. She isn’t a writer, but she is the ideal person to read what I’m writing and tell me if it’s good or not. She represents my target market, but she’s more than that. She’s been integral in several of my stories and the first time I started talking to the man who is now her husband, was about a gun for a story. She is quick to tell me if something is stupid, or doesn’t make sense, or isn’t true to the character so far. She’s also full of ideas when that happens. She has so many ideas on how to fix it. When I’m feeling bad about my writing, or down on myself, she’s quick to pick me up, not with flowery words or reassurances, but with just the right amount of sass and “girl don’t bullshit me” and it’s perfect.

Doom Panda, there isn’t much I can say about her that I haven’t already told her to her face. We became friends when another friend from Boot Camp introduced us. (They’re now engaged and I cannot wait for that wedding!!!) He’s still wondering if that was a good idea or not because Loca, Panda, and I have a habit of ganging up on him to tease him mercilessly. Panda has become my family. She tells it how it is. She listens to me complain and whine and tells me, “but Cookie, you’re amazing!” She may not be a writer, but she is another creative soul. I love our talks where we just throw random bits of creative nonsense at one another and see what sticks. Sometimes others cannot follow our conversations, but we know. We know what’s going on. She’s my editor friend, she points out grammatical errors and spelling inaccuracies. She tells me when things don’t make sense and she genuinely falls in love with the characters that I create. I can always count on her for good ideas when I’m stuck. Even if all they do is make me laugh. (Don’t forget my love, the Plaza, in June).

Next up is the infallible Pele. Pele is my writing friend. Pele is my writing partner. We are working on a series together, and you guys will get to hear all about them the beginning of next year. She’s the one that I go to with the technical side of writing. She’s the one I complain to when the words won’t flow because she gets it. She understands how that is, intimately. She also has a great understanding of how I work when I’m writing because we are writing something together. She’s helped me craft the world that Noctivagus is set in over the last decade. Together, we have created characters so intricate that they feel real. I will commonly tag her in things on Facebook with just initials of characters and she knows exactly why. The other day it was a post about Lisa Frank makeup. I didn’t even have to say more than her name and she knew exactly what I was thinking. She is amazing and I couldn’t do anything without my Parabati and best friend Pele.

The newest member of the team is my friend Stichi Lee. Stichi has probably the most important job. She listens to me prattle on and on until I work out a problem or until I have understood what I’m writing. She gets to hear the story in real time, and often she’s the one I read chapters to to make sure they sound good. She has her favorites and has already declared which ships she will die on. She is the target audience, just like Loca, without any of the time to read because she’s always so busy. Her other important role, she supplies me with new music almost constantly. She works nights so it isn’t uncommon to wake up in the morning with fifteen new songs with notes attached with which characters she thought of when she heard it. If I need a specific song to convey an emotion so I can write, she has my back. She is one of the few who have read Noctivagus in full. Before I submitted it to the editor. Not that everyone in the Hive Mind doesn’t also have access, she was just the only one with time to read it while she was quarantined, as she had nothing more than a head cold and couldn’t work from home like everyone else.

These four ladies make day to day writing so much easier. But they aren’t the only ones. There is also my brother, who helps me solve problems logistically thinking. He’s another writer with no time to write. And my very good friend Hookerabati, who actually (through a weird turn of events) gifted me the character of Reid from Noctivagus. She was the one who got me writing again after a dry spell that lasted years. She cares as much for these characters as I do. Sometimes she is more protective of them, and proud of how far they’ve come since their initial inception. My Dad, who comes by once a month just to have lunch and discuss our writing. He isn’t’ my target demographic, but he’s a wonderful storyteller. Lastly, my editor. She gives me life. She gives me hope that I didn’t write garbage and that everyone else is just lying to me (I know, I know, you aren’t). Her messages make me feel about ten feet tall and she is helping to smooth out the rough edges of Noctivagus so I can attempt to get it into reader’s hands. I would be lost without my Fairy Wife back in Cali, or my Wifey Wife here in Michigan, they give me ideas and are always there no matter what I need.

I am truly blessed with the little community I have collected. There are so many more that aren’t mentioned that LOVE to hear about my writing. They are constant support, my sisters for example. The one has watched my stories grow from crap fanfiction drabbles that never made it out of the notebook to the work I’m doing now. The other, never has much time to read but supports me none the less. She brings me beautiful notebooks and peens that write so beautifully.

What kind of Hive have you put together? Who is your biggest help when you’re writing? Let me know, I want to hear about them!