Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Promo & Giveaway of humor stories/children's novel

The author Luke Alistar (who also just happens to be my fiance) is running several promotions and sales and giving away free ebooks this December and January. Among his books on sale are a collection of forty comical stories and a middle-grade modern fantasy novel, both of which have been popular among families across the country. In addition, he is releasing his second volume of comical stories in January and is holding a holiday story contest, with the prize being a free signed copy of the new book. Check his blog for coupon codes, links, and details about the promotions and the contest: http://lukealistar.com/2012/12/03/free-books-discount-codes-a-contest-and-a-giveaway/

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Perfectionism. Right now it's not very likeable.

I get mentally restless a lot. My brain rarely shuts up. There is always something in my head screaming for attention- do this! Do that! Do everything at once!

Sometimes it's a good thing. I'm very prone to procrastination, so having a nagging mind-voice telling me to get things done is good.

But lately I have been realizing something else about myself and that mind-voice.

I am a perfectionist. I want to do everything that I can [im]possibly do. And when I'm not able to, honestly, I feel like a complete failure. When I don't finish my to-do list quickly, I get frustrated. When I listen to, or talk to, someone who is doing something that seems so-amazingly-important-and-epic, I look at myself and the tiny-by-comparison things I'm doing and feel like a dud. If I can't, or don't, do X, Y, and/or Z (and do them excellently, too!), I somehow feel like I don't measure up, like I'm not a worthwhile person. The list goes on.
Needless to say, this is a constant battle.

So I'm wondering, readers, is this something you struggle with as well? How do you manage to not drive yourself crazy (or at least not into a sulky I'm-a-horrible-person mood?)?

My fiance keeps telling me to let stuff go, but that is so hard when for some reason I think everything I am/should be doing must be done or I and what I do becomes worth little more than a Ritz cracker. Heh. He even brought me a book, Martha to the Max, written by somebody like me who somehow figured something out about dealing with this possibly-useful-but-turned-awful thing called Perfectionism.
I'm looking forward to reading it. Because dealing with this constant mental push-and-pull is, well...making me frustrated, basically.
Such a vicious cycle!

Chazak,
- Hannah

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Forget & Not Slow Down



[This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Kingdom Pen Magazine]

Forget & Not Slow Down

No, this isn’t an article about Reliant K’s song by the same name. Borrowing from their title, however, forget and don’t slow down.
            How does this apply to writing?
            Well, it falls under something I’ve been learning about recently: acceptance.
            In my current novel, my main character is an artist. She wants to go to art school. That is her dream. I thought her price to accomplish the story-goal would be losing her hearing, but kept getting this feeling that going deaf wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t enough of a price, because going deaf wouldn’t change the outcome of her dream.
            Instead I kept having this horrible thought that maybe something worse should happen that would destroy her dream. A specific something. For her goal in the story to save herself and her friends from an awful situation, she would (inadvertently) have to give up one of the things she needed most to accomplish her dream.
            Ouch. That really hurt. For several months I tried to ignore that thought, tried to shove it out of my mind, but it wouldn’t leave.
            A very good friend of mine and I were talking about my story, and I ended up telling him about my problem. Quite frankly, I whined about it.
            He not only agreed that my MC should experience this other, worse idea, but said something that surprised me. He said, “You need to accept it yourself before it will work in the story.”
            Excuse me? I’m pretty sure every writer has that one pet story, that one character they feel awful about doing anything mean to. This story and character are my pets. A lot of bad things have happened to Raine, and each time I write another chapter, it hurts me to hurt her.
            What is this about acceptance?
            Merriam-Webster’s first three definitions of the word define acceptance as:

1 : an agreeing either expressly or by conduct to the act or offer of another so that a contract is concluded and the parties become legally bound.

2 : the quality or state of being accepted or acceptable.

3 : the act of accepting : the fact of being accepted : approval

So why do we, the authors, have to be able to accept what happens in one of our books before it will work?
            After I thought about it for a while, it began to make sense.
            Uncertainty will show up in your writing. I know that from experience, from times where I have danced around writing certain scenes because they were a bit outside of my comfort zone and I couldn’t bring myself to be forceful enough. Those are always the sections my writer-friends pounce on as being weak and ineffective. I couldn’t accept that, this is what is happening, and it needs to be shown.
            Lack of acceptance will weaken your plotline. This too, I’ve learned firsthand. Tentative thrusts into uncharted territories never make for compelling stories. For it to work, and work well, one must be fully immersed in what is taking place.
            Don’t ignore the intuition that tells you, this is what needs to happen. It needs to be worse, much worse. Take it seriously and think about it, and if you realize it is correct, no matter how hard it is…
            Forget you dislike the idea. If it will make your book better, what is there to dislike?
            And don’t slow down. Keep writing, even when it hurts.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Day of prayer for victims

A friend of a friend is asking that people join her for a day of prayer/fasting on November 17th for the victims of human trafficking and abortion.
More info is available here. Please join!

Chazak,
- Hannah

[I hope to get back to regular blogging soon. Promise!]

Friday, October 19, 2012

Red Memory [part 2 of 2]



The other side, the side I was trained to kill, found me. I was half-dead, wandering aimlessly, incoherent. That’s the only reason they didn’t shoot me on sight. I don’t know why they didn’t execute me after I failed an interrogation. Maybe it’s pity, pity for “the crazy girl”, or maybe they are hoping that someday I’ll answer their litany of questions. They’ve fed me, clothed me, and are attempting to “help” me. But they keep me locked up, like an animal.
            My half-hearted suicide attempts probably haven’t helped my case. It’s no wonder they think I am insane. Some days, I think I am. Insane from the memories, the bloody red ghosts that won’t leave my mind, the memories that remind me that I am nothing more than a machine, a broken machine. And also, a monster.
            I don’t want to be a monster. I want to be that little girl again, the one from the few happy memories I’ve managed to retain. It may sound funny, but I swear the other images and sounds in my mind are trying to drown out the happy ones. Hell tearing down heaven. Dark swallowing light.
            Every week they try to talk to me. They call it helping. Every week I don’t know what to say. I don’t know where to start. How can I begin to tell them what I’ve seen, what I’ve done, and what I’ve become? They would have me executed if they knew. That thought doesn’t bother me. I would tell them, just to get a death sentence. But I don’t know how. I am trapped inside my own head, held into a vortex, a black hole, by the force of a different kind of gravity.
I am imploding upon myself.
            I’ve been killed and left alive.
            My clothes are left damp with sweat and I’m left trembling as my vision returns to normal, as my memories leave my physical sight alone. A thin line of grey light on the dusty floor tells me it’s almost time for someone to open my door, and, depending on the day, give me a meal or steer me down the long, narrow hall for my weekly talk where I don’t talk.
            The thin shaft of moonlight shows me exactly what I needed to find out: I’m not alone. There is an enemy in this cave, and he is staring directly at me. He reaches for his handgun, but I’m quicker. I lunge forward and stab him. He struggles. I use the force of his struggle to make his end come sooner, twisting the blade deeper into his chest. He cries out in a strangled, gurgling voice. His blue eyes go blank, his full weight slumps against me, his blood is hot on my hands. I kick him off, wipe my knife and hands clean on my pants, and stride further into the cavern.
            Metal grates upon metal. I look up from behind my black hair, forcing myself to unclench my fists and to not begin hyperventilating. It’s a male assistant in baby blue scrubs.
            He smiles. “’76, it’s time for your counseling session.”
            Without a word I get up and follow him out. My palms sting. I glance down and realize I was clenching my fists so tightly that my nails drew blood. Oh. Great. One more thing for the people here to see. What will they do to “protect me from myself” now? Remove my fingernails? I shove my hands into my pockets. Maybe they won’t notice. I stare at the floor, stare my way down the hall, watch the flooring change from cement to dark green carpet, and continue staring at the floor even after the assistant gives me a gentle push into a chair. The door closes a moment later.
            “’76,” the counselor, Aimi, says, her voice smooth like water. “How are you this week? Any changes?”
            I shrug, all of my hopelessness and dead confusion wrapped up in that one little movement.
            “Look at my eyes.” She prods, with that voice. Not in a nasty way—though her insistence annoys me—but in a way that makes me think she might actually care.
            Aimi asks for eye contact every time. And every time, like the fool I am, I give it to her. I slowly lift my gaze until it meets hers. Gold-green meets brown.
            “This week is worse.” Her voice holds no question. Just a statement.
            I shrug again and look away. A flash of red catches my attention and I jerk my gaze back up, then curse myself—I moved too fast, was too noticeable. She will see, and question.
            Red flowers, in a vase on her desk. They weren’t there last week.
“See?” Mommy says, handing me a tiny red flower. “You are like a flower. Flowers grow out of the muck and the dirt and make the world beautiful.”
Where did that come from, that memory? I haven’t seen that one before. A new one that is good? It’s hard to believe.
A flower. Me, like a flower, making the world beautiful. No. I’ve only made it darker.
“’76? You like my flowers, hm? Would you like to take one with you when you go back to your room?” Aimi sounds interested.
I start to shake my head, but then hesitate. Confusion swirls. I like the flowers—they gave me something good to think about. Maybe they would help. But the words in the memory are a lie.
Or are they? Could I do something to make the world beautiful? Even just a little bit? The thought is too good to be true.
“I don’t…I don’t know,” I mumble.  
“What does it make you think of?” She whispers. Fabric swishes against leather; she leans forward.
“I…a red flower.”
“That’s it?”
            “Yeah.” I suppress a sigh. “That’s it.”
“Does it make you feel anything?”
I shrug and try not to stare at the flower.
The door is shoved open, making me jump as it bangs into the doorframe with a crack. Aimi jerks to her feet and I whirl around.
A white-faced man is standing in the doorway. “There’s been a raid,” he puffs, “by the guerrillas. They’ve taken children. Including your son.”
Aimi shrieks, covers her mouth with her hands, sinks into her chair. “Collin,” she whimpers. “My baby.”
Searing pain, like the twisting of a knife, stabs through my chest, almost making me gasp. Another memory written into my mind.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but—”
“No…no…thank you.” Aimi’s voice is strangled, full of tears and shock.
My vision starts to fade out. I grip the edges of my chair. No, not now, not now…
“See?” Mommy says, handing me a tiny red flower. “You are like a flower. Flowers grow out of the muck and the dirt and make the world beautiful.”
“I am?” I stroke the petals of the flower, dividing my attention between its softness and Mommy’s face.
“Yes, you are. Flowers are strong and beautiful. They are beaten by rain, whipped by the wind, burned by the sun, and chilled by the frost. But they thrive.”
I smile at Mommy and tickle her neck with the flower. She laughs and smiles back.
My muscles spasm and I jerk back to reality. Aimi is staring at me through glassy eyes. Beaten, whipped, burned, chilled…tortured. But they survive—they thrive. Thrive and make the world better.
I take a deep breath, reach up, brush my hair back. When I draw my fingers away, they are wet. I was crying?
“Aimi,” I manage to eke out. My voice is hoarse and quavering. My throat tightens and my stomach flutters. “I can get your little boy back.”
Tomb-like silence.
Thirty heartbeats.
Then, “You can? How? Who are you?”
I look down, twisting my fingers together, around and around. “I was a child-soldier. I know the ways of the guerillas better than I know myself. I can get him back. You fight fire with fire. You fight a kidnapper with…a kidnapper.”
“’76,” she struggles to stay calm, but she can’t hide her hope. Her excitement. Her apprehension. “Who are you?”
“I don’t know. They took away my name. Call me…” I pause. “Call me Memory.” 

---


The cool, moist air feels good against my face and fresh in my lungs. The darkness, void of even moonlight, is peaceful. Soft. It makes the lines of the building ahead more gentle, maybe a tiny bit friendly. But no, that’s taking it too far.
I creep closer, timing each step to avoid detection by the motion-sensor that sweeps the perimeter. They actually let me out, decided to trust me. Why, I don’t know, unless it was Aimi’s tearful pleading.  But no army commander would let that override logic. So they must have had a logical reason. Either way, I’m here now.
Each foot of ground covered brings back a flood of memories, and not the good type. Fighting them is sapping my strength, but giving into them would overwhelm me and leave me useless, curled up on the grass. So, I fight.
I feel oddly free. My heart is beating fast but steady, pulsing blood through my veins in an even rhythm. My muscles feel light and ready to spring into action, like coiled springs. I feel alive, even though I am fighting my own mind with each second.
Is this what flowers feel like? Alive, even though they are fighting against the elements for their life? Is this what it feels like to be doing something worthwhile for a change? To bring life instead of death?
Upon reaching the building, I slink over to the nearest window. All is quiet. The single sentry is at the other end, and won’t make it to this corner for at least two minutes. Pull out my laser-cutter. Slide it along the sash of the window. Edge the window up, up, up a bit more, just enough that I can slip through. I climb up, and drop down to the other side, my feet making no sound when I land on the bare concrete floor of the hallway. Calfskin boots help with that.
I pause, but only for a second. Left, I remind myself. All is silent, almost too silent. It sets me on edge. I would much rather have noise, so I know what places to avoid. But whatever. Collin is waiting. With my back to the wall, I make my way to the new-child room. Outside of the door, a guard is sleeping.
Taking a deep breath, I clamp my hand over his mouth and slit his throat. The darkness hides the blood, for which I’m glad. With the way my memories have been acting up, I don’t know how I would handle seeing it. Even killing him about did me in. But it had to be done. Hooking my arms under his arms, I drag him out of the way, leaving the corpse in the nearest closet.
The sun makes the bodies stink. But I can’t leave. None of us can. We were told to wait. Wait without moving. The dried blood on my shirt smells metallic. I’m scared. What if they don’t come, and we are left with these bodies forever? Eight is too young to die.
I shake my head, try to clear it, try to send the memories scattering.
Now it’s on to finding Collin. There are only a dozen children in the room, only twelve tiny mats lined up in a row, with twelve lumps under twelve blankets. My throat tightens. I wish I could take all of them with me. How can I leave the eleven to these monsters?
Maybe I can come back. Until they are all out.
Satisfied with that thought, I search for Collin. Aimi showed me his picture before I left. He’s tiny, she said. I find the smallest lump and lean down, peering at the child. No. It’s a girl. I move my way along the rows, finally locating him at the very back. His little face is pale, etched with fear even in his sleep.
I crouch down next to him and place my hand over his mouth. “Collin,” I whisper right next to his hear. “Don’t move. I am going to take you to mommy, okay?”
He stiffens and his eyes spring open. He starts to wiggle.
“No,” I murmur, placing my free hand against his bony chest. “Don’t move. I am going to pick you up and take you home to mommy, but you have to be quiet, because it’s a secret, okay?”
Collin nods, wide-eyed. I scoop him up and hold him tight. He wraps his arms around my neck and buries his head in my shoulder. I like it, and that surprises me. It’s as if…he trusts me.
I wrap my arms around Mommy’s neck. I can feel her smile. It’s funny how I can feel Mommy smiling. Her face moves against my hair. That’s how I know.
Another good memory, a new one? I blink, then refocus and take a step forward.
We make it outside without a problem. This is too easy, I decide, frowning. A definite feel of uneasiness settles over me.
Then it happens. Floodlights chase away every streak of darkness within nine hundred feet. Collin screams. People start shouting, at me, at each other, threatening, commanding, demanding.
I ignore them and run. Collin bounces against me with each stride. I hug him closer, shift his weight to my right hip, and plunge ahead. I can’t die. He can’t die.
I can’t fail.
Gunfire rips through the night. I swear to the mother I can barely remember that I will make her proud. Somehow I will make it through this, like her red flowers, I will be strong.
Chink. Zing. Swoosh. Bullets make divots in the ground around me and whiz past my head. I zig zag. Erratic targets aren’t good targets. Five hundred more feet, if I can just make it five hundred more feet past these floodlights and into the darkness…in the darkness hides backup, a team sent to watch what goes down, to cover me if necessary.
Why, I don’t know.
Return fire blazes out of the woods toward the building. Somehow I’m still not hit. One hundred feet left to go—
White-hot pain tears through my back and chest. I fall forward, choking on a scream. No, no, I can’t be shot. I have to keep going. Collin cries out in fear as I almost drop him. Stretching out my hand I catch myself as I go down on one knee. I can’t breathe. I can barely think. Another streak of fire, through my ribcage. An agonized cry rips itself from my throat and I feel shame.
Is this what it feels like, what it feels like to die a failure? A monster? A broken machine?
Red flashes before my eyes. Wet heat spreads across my chest, down my back. My lungs are heaving.
No. I have to keep going. I stagger to my feet, only to collapse.
“Run,” I tell Collin, releasing him and shoving him toward the darkness, towards the tree line. “Run! Mommy wants you!”
He stares at me. “What about—”
“Run!”
Collin runs, his short, choppy little stride surprisingly fast. I hope he’s fast enough. Black mixes with red along the edges of my vision. It’s getting harder to breathe. A bullet lands in the grass next to my head.
Mommy falls like my tower of blocks. My hands are covered in hot blood and I smile. She smiles back. The bodies stink. I hate myself, I hate everything. It’s funny how I can feel Mommy smiling. Officer Morill strokes my cheek and I want to gut him. Don’t see me, bad man—
Hands grasp my arms and pull. I cry out. They caught me.
I’m going to die.
But I was going to die anyway.
“Hold still!” A voice shouts. “We’ve got you. You’ll be okay. Don’t panic.”
I can feel urgency in the hands, hear it in the voice. I’m being picked up, carried, am I being rescued? The sounds of gunfire lessen. Pain jolts through me with every movement. I’m losing more blood, feeling faint, feeling like I will die.
“Is he safe?” I choke. “Collin?”
“Yes, yes, he’s safe. Don’t speak.” The voice, a man’s voice, is soothing.
I relax. I didn’t fail. Maybe I am good for something after all.
Several moments later I am lowered to the ground. Lights shine all around me, and I shut my eyes against the harshness of the light. Hands poke and prod their way across my body. I have to clench my teeth to keep from screaming. A needle pricks my arm. The whole time a soft, feminine voice talks me through it, tells me what’s coming next, tells me to relax, to stay calm, that the bullets missed any important organs but that one severed an artery, but not to worry—I should survive, provided I remain calm.
“Is she okay?” It’s Aimi.
I open my eyes.
“She should be. She needs to stay calm.” The soft voice replies. I find the owner of the voice—she’s poised over my arm with a bag of blood replacer.
Aimi mouths something that looks like thank-you, then turns to me. “Memory, I am so sorry…”
“No…” I whisper. “Don’t be.”
“Thank you.” She smiles, her eyes full of tears. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. What changed you?”
What changed me? “Your red flowers.”
Aimi blinks, clearly confused. “My red flowers?”
“Yeah. They gave me back a memory.”
“See?” Mommy says, handing me a tiny red flower. “You are like a flower. Flowers grow out of the muck and the dirt and make the world beautiful.”
“I am?” I stroke the petals of the flower, dividing my attention between its softness and Mommy’s face.
“Yes, you are. Flowers are strong and beautiful. They are beaten by rain, whipped by the wind, burned by the sun, and chilled by the frost. But they thrive.”
I smile at Mommy and tickle her neck with the flower. She laughs and smiles back.
“Spin me, Mommy!”
Mommy giggles, stands up, and spins me around until my tummy hurts from laughing.
I am Mommy’s flower. For always and forever. It makes me happy.



Red Memory, copyright (c) Hannah Mills 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Red Memory [part 1 of 2]

Red Memory is my most recent short-story. The initial paragraph was inspired partly by some images I had collected on Pinterest, and partly from the music video of Blown Away by Carrie Underwood, watched per request of a friend.

I had no idea where it should go after the first paragraph popped into mind, I just knew I loved it and that I had to write a story before I went insane.

This is the result. Enjoy!


Thursday, September 13, 2012

When Describing



When describing, it is so easy to simply say what it looks like. The bare-boned facts. But what about the facts we might be missing?

Right now I’m at the library, working on various writing projects—editing, critiquing, blog posts, etc. It’s pretty straight-forward to describe. Bookshelves. Windows. Tables and chairs. That pretty much sums up this portion of the library.

Or does it?

What if I were blind? What would I say then?

Now that’s something to think about.

It smells, the library does. Very slightly pungent, a mixture of cleaners and ink, I’m guessing. And probably carpet too, since I’m sitting on the floor. The carpet is rough, though not uncomfortable. It’s covering cement if I don’t miss my guess. Outside a caretaker is doing, well, something: there is a consistent banging noise on the other side of the window. The lights and air conditioner hum softly in the background. The book-scanner beeps to my left, and from that same quadrant I hear someone coughing, and the occasional footstep or squeak of a rolling cart. I lean back against the wall and feel the texture of the wallpaper against my arm. It has little lines running parallel to the floor.

What if I could see, but was deaf?

The sunlight, combined with the overhead lighting, is cheerful and calming. On the wall to my left hang two canvases, paintings of flowers and grasses and inscribed with quotes. Beneath them are two green-and-brown checkered chairs and a little table. The chairs have an almost metallic sheen to the fabric. Directly in front of me are two wooden tables and eight chairs, and beyond that, four rows of bookcases. Hundreds of books line the grey metal shelves in neat rows, the hardback copies all shiny in their plastic jackets, all different colors and all united with a white sticker smacked across the bottom portion of their spine. Behind and to both sides are windows at least seven feet tall, with four panes and wooden trim. The wallpaper is beige and green that looks almost tan from a distance. The ceiling is compose of white tiles, and the floor a multi-color Berber, a jumble of brown, tan, copper, blue, and green. I can’t see anyone from where I sit: it’s as still as a morgue.  

Did my original description accurately depict the library?
Yes. It did. If you’re into the utilitarian style.
Did my two following descriptions accurately depict the library?
Yes, they did too.
Each description holds value and importance in its own right: each gives a different picture from a different perspective.

What if all three descriptions were combined? Tastefully, of course, to avoid sensory overload.
Talk about an explosion of detail!

While I don’t claim to be an expert…this is what description is all about. You don’t toss your audience the bare bones of description, you give them the babyback ribs—the meat, what makes the bones more than just a stick of calcium deposits and marrow. While it’s more work, it’s more fun too. Really looking at a place is different than simply seeing it. Closing your eyes and really feeling, hearing, and smelling a place is different than just looking at it. 

All aspects are important, and each one helps paint a clearer picture of what it is like to physically be somewhere. 

So why  not use them all to your advantage?