Zenith of the A-to-Z Challenge


So here we are at Z, the zenith of the A to Z Challenge, and what a trek it’s been. Trying something new can have its ups and downs, but if you move forward through it, you’ll learn something, even if it’s only that you don’t want to do whatever it is again.

Which isn’t the case with this challenge, by the way. Next year I am definitely back in, it’s been a blast.

There are so many ways for us to push ourselves. People do it physically, signing up for a marathon, for example, and then putting in the miles to make it to the finish. We can do it as writers by trying a new form, a new genre, a new idea that will take new skills to bring to life. Or we can take a look around and, with the help of others, like Precious Monsters’ Jolie Du Pre, discover the challenges right there waiting for us to take them on.

Each one of them is a personal mountain, and each time we conquer one, we reach a personal zenith. And “conquer” doesn’t necessarily mean you need to win it, or even complete it. Sometimes the conquering is just in the trying.

Thanks to all who have come by during the challenge, whether once or often, and thanks for all the great comments and insights. I hope to keep seeing you, here and on all of your awesome blogs.

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It’s a Yes for Y


It’s a simple word, only three letters, but “yes” can do more to change the course of things than just about anything else. I’m a naturally cautious person, so my default is on no. Taking risks; trying new things; neither comes easily to me.

Sometimes I have to fight myself.

But last month, I saw a post about the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. And in that discussion, someone talked about Camp Nanowrimo. And shrugged my shoulders, threw caution to the computer, and signed up for both. Yes and yes.

Not very like me at all. I didn’t weigh the pros and cons, I didn’t analyze every aspect, I didn’t scrutinize all the angles. Nope. I clicked the links and signed up. And I’m really glad that I did.

I’ve made substantial progress on the young adult novel I’d been working on, and then I put it aside to start a sequel to my cozy mystery. That’s two books taking shape.

And then there’s this challenge. I’ve read such a diverse range of interesting blogs, and blog-met so many great people. It’s shown me the fun side of blogging, building little communities with people everywhere, all over the world. How cool is that?

Yes can be scary. It can be intimidating, and no can feel infinitely easier. But there’s so much promise in yes.

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Crossing Off X


All right, let’s just start with a megadose of honesty: X is going to be a stretch. Words that truly start with X are not ones that flow easily into conversation. Like xylophone. Or xenophobia. Or Xanadu. Hmm. Xanadu. Let’s go with that one.

Xanadu was not always a place with a roller-skating Olivia Newton John. It is a place of beauty, a place of perfection, like Shangri-La, Arcadia, or my favorite slightly problem-prone utopia, Eureka.

It seems ingrained in us, as sentient beings, to imagine a place where everything is beautiful, where all are needs are met without problem, where pettiness and cruelty don’t exist. Yes, I realize I kind of nudge Eureka out with that last part, but still, to each his or her own utopia.

But utopias are one of those things you can’t think too much about, because the moment you introduce the real human element, they seem to fall apart. There are wide swaths of science-fiction based on this quirk of human nature. We can have utopian environments. It’s the utopian people who seem to be the sticky part.

But still, it’s nice to dream of a place, gorgeous and untroubled. And we can keep them there, in that realm of things not quite real, our own private Xanadus.

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Waning A-to-Z Blogging Challenge


Waning is the perfect word for both the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge and my resolve to complete it. Of course, we’re in the far-off dregs of the alphabet, down to a letter with which I’m well acquainted, given my last name. Oh how I dreaded the call of things being done in alphabetical order.

Oh what a revelation reverse alphabetical order was. Of course, the letters in the middle are doomed to stay firmly there, no matter which end you start. Poor Ms.

Back to W. Only a handful of days left, or fewer really, if you have particularly large hands. It’s funny how sometimes it seems easier to sit down when you have the finish line in sight, but still we’ll alphabet on.

I can’t wait to see what people come up with for X. I can’t wait to see what I come up with for X.

Waning isn’t an entirely bad word. It denotes the end, conclusions, wrapping up. Tailing off. Even the moon herself is subject to a little waning now and then.

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Very Vacant V


My brain today is a vast, vague void, which, when you think about it, is kind of appropriate for V. Perhaps it’s a little bit of the weather, because it is gray and somewhat flat; perhaps it is the incessant sound of drilling into concrete, because they are working on the facade of my building.

Either way, it feels as though my mind has undertaken a voyage without me. I hope it’s somewhere nice. Colorful, maybe.

So I’m left to fend for myself, here on my own. But that’s what it’s like, sometimes, being a writer, isn’t it? It’s not the times when the work flows forward, springing from flying fingers as though written by someone else, it’s the times that you sit down and face the cursor because it’s time to do so. Now and again, you find your brain returns. Once in a while, it even brings souvenirs back from wherever it’s been, ones that can veer your work in an entirely new direction.

Creative work isn’t always about the creativity. Sometimes it’s about the work.

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Here’s Looking at U


U, like its good buddy, Q, is one of those letters that if you stare at it too long, it starts to look strange. Like really strange. Like it’s from an alien language strange.

U is particularly good at undoing things. It’s also understanding and ubiquitous, showing up everywhere once you look for it.

But out of the universe of U, I want to hone in on unique. It’s a great word that that has had its greatness flaked away by the frequent application of “very.” “Unique” is absolute. Something is either one-of-a-kind or it is not.  It cannot be oner-of-a-kinder.

Unique’s another one of those words whose level of compliment can shift with mere inflection. “Oh, how unique,” can be said with a slick coating of condescension. Flip it, and it can be an exclamation of delight. “Oh how unique!”

Even though it’s a word that is or isn’t, is on or is off, without degrees in between, it’s a word of nuance.

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T Holds the Truth


Truth is a funny thing. We each have our own version of it, the one that plays from behind our own eyes. Even so, there are some things that objectively, fundamentally true: the Earth revolves around the sun; the tides come in and the tides go out; and gravity will always pull you down.

But there are universal truths beyond the physical world, universal human truths, and when we find them in the arts, they hit something in us, set off some kind of vibration, and we know. They come in any genre, they can strike us from the most unusual places, and discovering them is a revelation.

Yesterday I talked about the movie “Shawshank Redemption,” based on the novella by Stephen King. Within it, it carries a truth about real human connection, about friendship. “Orange is the New Black,” the hit Netflix series, reveals the truth of humanity in everyone, including the people we never much think about.

Literature hoards truths, whispers them to us as we turn the pages, real or virtual. We see not only who we are, but who others are as we cloak ourselves in their lives. Visual arts make us stop, make us consider, as they freeze the truth in a moment in time. It’s the truth in the isolation, the loneliness of Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks”  that has inspired so many parodies.

No matter what you write, or how you create, you must be honest at the core of your work. It’s that truth that resonates.

Have you found an unexpected truth in a book, a film or TV show, or art?

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Slippery S Switches Subjects on Me


So I’d planned, ever since deciding to take on this challenge, to talk about science-fiction for S. It’s a genre of the impossible, a genre of what might someday be. It’s a genre of prescience, with writers like Ray Bradbury foreseeing our screen-based culture in Fahrenheit 451; Margaret Atwood foreseeing a cultural shift with The Handmaid’s Tale and a genetic one with Oryx and Crake. How we are practically living in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

I meant to write about that.

And then I caught an unintentional glimpse of “Shawshank Redemption” playing on TV yesterday, and I think I have to talk about Stephen King. I am compelled to talk about Stephen King, because his crafting of a story is magnificent.

His books sometimes dip into the sci-fi realm, so he’s not that far off my intended target. But it’s his portrayal of character, of humanity, in whatever position he places them, that makes his work miraculous.

Stephen King, like the writers above, was pegged into a genre early, and was dismissed in terms of serious writing for most of his career, simply because he chose to write about what terrifies us. It’s an interesting quirk of genre writing: it most often shows us exactly who we are or where we’re going, and yet it is somehow seen as inferior.

There’s nothing inferior about any of these writers. There’s nothing inferior about the way King pulls you in and holds you there relentlessly.

Feel like some funny sci-fi? Try Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only). Or download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities. It’s free!

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Give it a Rest, R


It might be a strange pick for a Monday, but I’m choosing “rest” for R. It’s something we neglect, it’s something we put off, and it’s something we all need to keep doing what we need to do.

Yesterday, I did nearly nothing. I didn’t really work on my novel. I didn’t blog. I watched the “Cloneversation,” the pre-season two “Orphan Black” special, followed by the stunning premiere, with the intention of getting on with it afterward.

Afterward never came.

I felt as though I was sitting on a sofa made of molasses, my hand powerless over the on/off button on the remote. I caught up on some shows sitting on my DVR. And then I started watching a marathon of “Lindsay.” You know, the “docu-series” about Lindsay Lohan. I was a slug and it felt…


I can’t say that today I’m perfectly energized, because some Monday mornings are just like that and I’ve stopped with the cheat-code of alertness, caffeine, but I do have more space in my brain today. My mind was moving boxes while I watched Lindsay sorting through hers. No really. I think half the series is her unpacking. Or packing. Whichever.

When it’s your own brain that stops you dead, it’s only polite to ask it why. It’s probably telling you, you need to rest.

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Q’s the Quirkiest Letter Around


Writing this post for the letter Q, I realized something. If you look at a list of Q-words (I was perusing my thesaurus for further inspiration, not sure if I wanted to go with my original plan), Q, particularly lowercase Q (q) starts to look really weird. I mean really, really weird. Some might even say quirky, which was my choice for the day before looking at the thesaurus.

But trust me. Try it. You brain will keep adding a tail and making a g out of it.

Back to quirky.

It’s like offbeat’s fun cousin, something that has its own way of existing and likes it just fine. Quirky doesn’t go for conventional. Quirky knows how to get attention, wanted or otherwise. Quirky has a good time, no matter what it’s doing, and stands out from a crowd while doing it.

Also like offbeat, sometimes people use the word as a sugar-coated insult. Sometimes it comes out as though it’s something you shouldn’t want to be. Well, let me tell you, if we didn’t have our quirks, we’d all be robots. And not the Bender-from-Futurama-good-kind-of-robot, either. I’m talking the pile of bolts from the assembly line that isn’t powered by the consumption of beer.

Futurama’s a really good show. But I digress.

Quirkiness fuels our imaginations, it sparks the “what ifs” that sometimes others can’t see. It gives us a slightly different camera angle on the world, and that’s all you need for a whole new view.

Quirky reader? Try Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only) and The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management.

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