Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Writer's Kiss of Death

Always keep reading. It's a stalwart mantra, one that's been drummed into me - and rightly so - by published writers, colleagues, agents, and editors on multiple platforms in the last four years. You'd think this would be a no brainer for the woman who, as a girl, would walk home from grade school nose deep in a book. And who, present day, has been known to snatch a paragraph or two at a red light. Yes, I pay attention to red lights. Occasionally, I even wave at them as I go by...

Books. They do a body good.
I was the kid who read by flashlight long after my parent's patience had ended and Light's Out! echoed down the short hallway from their bedroom to mine. In the fifth grade, I stacked The Outsiders upright behind my textbook to read during Mrs. Luxembourg's class. Oy, what a harridan. In the eighth grade, I hid the burgeoning covers of my old skool romance novels face down on my stack of books to, unsuccessfully as it turned out, avoid getting mocked for my reading material. If I start reading a book at 9 o'clock with the avowed intention to ONLY read for an hour, I know I'm deluding myself, right up to the 2 AM mark when I turn the last page. I will fight sleep, snap at loved ones, ignore my cats when wrapped up in a good book. I always have something on me to read, usually more than one item too, and to leave my house sans a book or magazine is equivalent to going out without my girdle - if I was a 1950s housewife.

Here is my shameful confession: I haven't read a book since April. Hello, my name is Kiersten, I am a bookaholic who has not read a book in three months.

Oh. The horror.

Reading is essential. Yes, all right, it's fundamental too. Yeesh. But for a writer, not reading is the kiss of death. Reading enriches writing; by experiencing the excellent - and occasionally seriously crappy - writing that is out there right now, particularly in romantic fiction (the excellent part, not the crappy) (tho I guess that's there too), one hones and shapes one's craft. I whole-heartily subscribe to this philosophy.

And yet. See above.

The Leaning Tower of TBR
I read a review today on Heroes and Heartbreakers for Loretta Chase's upcoming new release Scandal Wears Satin and realized to my chagrin that despite my mad worship of her writing and books, I have yet to read Silk Is For Seduction, her first novel in this series. It teeters on the top of my leaning tower of TBR along with Carie Lofty's Flawless, Zoe Archer's Devil's Kiss and Roxanne St. Claire's debut contemporary Barefoot in the Sand. I salivate for these books. Not to mention that an unbroken binding is like the wag of an accusing finger from the publishing world. What is my dang problem?

Well, there's the fact that I'm gutting the center of the WIP and restructuring the arcs all of which must be done by RWA Nationals. As you can see by the ticking countdown clock to the right, that outstanding event is coming lickety split, hence my impending aneurysm. And then there's the Internet, specifically social media. I'm never not hooked up to something, even if it's only the caffeine-fueled IV in the crook of my arm that goes by the name of Twitter. Sleep. Sleep comes into play from time to time. I gots skillz, baby. Mad skillz. But even I need to sleep or so I'm told. I should just have my sleep removed and be done with it, but then my Id might manifest in the form of a green oversized demon who could then kill and destroy everything in its path, except - no, wait - dammit, Whedon already beat me to that. Of course, there's Lost Girl and my recapping duties therein, but really, when I think about it, it actually helps infuse what sleep I get with lovely, wolf shifter related dreams....what?! Finally, there's guilt. Oy, da guilt. Every time I plan to read a new book, I think of all the things I should be doing instead, like, say, one and two and three above.

What really sux is that I am deeply missing out. Missing out on excellent stories and storytelling. Missing out on juicy word choice and complex characters. Missing out on honing my craft by examining the paths of those who go before.

Is there something you like to do, something you not only enjoy but is also essential to your work in one way or another, that you're not doing? How do you deal? Leave a comment. Win a book. It's that easy.

Standard disclaimer applies. They make me say that. Images courtesy of Google Images.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Not Polish for Nothin'

Summer has slammed into New Jersey like damn and wow with all three Hs - hazy, hot, and humid - in full account. All I have to do is take one step out of my personal wind tunnel created by cross-posted fans and I'm awash in a perpetual coating of sweat. Lovely.
It's better in October!

Thus I enter the hair dryer-free portion of my calendar year when I pin up my bangs and roll down my windows and let nature and 75 mph on route 287 dry my hair for me instead. But the rest of me still has to get out of the apartment in a reasonably presentable state for the day job.

Yesterday morning, I grabbed my necklace and sandals and immediately plopped myself in the wind tunnel to cool down from that massive exertion. Needing both hands for sandal wrangling, I put the necklace on the bed behind me. I mean, how far could it go?

Pretty dang far, because the irksome thing vanished. Poof! Like some pissed off brownie swept in and snatched it. Honestly, I was so baffled, I spent about .5 of a second seriously considering that possibility. Hollis, perched on the end of the bed purring as she does during my morning ablutions (how did I wind up with a morning cat?!), couldn't be bothered to care, though she was not happy when I shifted her to see if perhaps her ample belly had smothered my necklace when I wasn't looking.

Commence ten frustrated, increasingly sweaty minutes of looking for the stupid thing. I had to decamp without it as I needed to hit the grocery store on my way in to the office for the week's provisions. I went to the store, got to the day job, and proceeded through my morning set up routine. En route to the office kitchen to toast my bagel, I felt something dangling down my leg.

Yup, it was my necklace, which had managed to hook itself on and around the button of my trouser pocket. The back pocket. On my butt cheek.

This means that I sat on it whilst driving, walked around the store with it dangling from my rear, and ditto during the long walk from my car to my desk.

I am not Polish for nothin'.

My boss bravely performed de-butting duties, laughing like a loon all the while. When relaying this story to my friend, she stopped me to point out that somewhere along the way, I'd also lost an earring! (Later found on the floor of my office.) If ever there was a day a should've stayed in bed...

Maybe this is the beginning of a new jewelry line - charms and jewels to adorned the buttocks. Dangling chains to shape and accentuate the gluteus maximus. 'Cause that's the part of my anatomy to which I really want to call attention!

I ended up in the office kitchen guffawing as my bagel toasted, wondering what the rest of my day would bring, how it would ever top this, and whether I'd survive if it did.

Honestly, you can't make this stuff up.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Social Media Links and Tips

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of converting my organically grown know how of social media into a workshop and delivering it to my local RWA chapter, the New Jersey Romance Writer's of America. No one threw tomatoes or called me a fraud, so result!
I promised to provide them the links I showcased during the presentation. But should they alone have all the fun and brain-aneurysm inducing infodump?
Perish the thought.
Below are listed a few places to find some of the tips and information from publishing professionals that helped guide me to be the social media goddess of all I survey that I am today. OK, so maybe just a demigod. All right, fine, compared with these people, I'm barely a sidekick, but even the sidekick gets a showcase episode once and a while.
A broad tip of the fashionable hat to author Caridad Pineiro for leading me to some of these links in the first place. She absolutely has her own chair in the social media pantheon.

Links to Social Media Tips for Writers

Pinterest: 13 Things Writers Should Know by Rachelle Gardner, agent


Ten Things I Wish Authors Knew About Twitter by Angela James, Carina Press Executive Editor

Who to Follow?

Here are several places to find the handles of publishing peeps who you may wish to follow on Twitter grouped by categories.


Literary Agents:

Digital Publishing List:

Twitter Book Trade Directory

Good Twitter Hashtags to Follow


Feel free to add your own social media suggestions and recommendations in the comments below.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Overcome by Obsession


Overwhelming. Overpowering. Overheated.

No, I don't mean the fragrance.

We all have it, that one (or two or three) thing(s) that we can't let go. That habit, that object, that one kind of food, that quirky behavior that stretches the bounds of reason and makes our inner id chortle with glee.

I have an addictive personality. Not that you become addicted to me (though, come on, admit it, you really do), but rather that on the rare occasion when I truly latch onto something obsessively, I am a total goner. No half way mark, no moderation. Complete and total blow out. Though I do wonder why my obsessions can never be about something good like exercising regularly or writing 10,000 excellent words a day.

Because I am who I am, most of my bat-crap crazy levels of obsession occur around media - movies, television shows, and books. We have a term for it in Romancelandia - to glom or glomming. I glom, you glom, he, she, it, gloms. (Sidebar: speaking of conjugation, five years high school Latin and the only verb I took with me is efficio: to make out. I make out. You make out. We make out....)

Glomming is what occurs when one discovers a new-to-you author whose writing hits all your happy spots and that's before you find out he/she has a lengthy back list of work for which you must now set aside your entire life and glom onto these titles in order to immediately read them all back to back to back. When glomming, one loses all sense of time and place outside of the obsession. I call this the James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser effect.

In television, this translates into lost time watching marathons of a show's DVDs, which can span multiple seasons back to back to back if so available. Ditto movies. And that's before we get to the Internet communities that dish and squee and generally happily lose their collective shit over a found mutual love for a shared obsession.

I am nearly gone and absolutely lost in Lost Girl as my newest obsession. You may have noticed as subtlety is not a virtue I tend to cultivate. When I stumbled on the show's U.S. debut in January, I was not prepared for how quickly I would get sucked under its spell. And while not perfect (this is me managing expectations, but if you like urban fantasy genre, you should totally go watch it), it hits my empty Whedon spot on multiple levels and that makes me only too happy to shrug eh - whatever at those glitches and move on.

There is no zealot like the newly converted and boy howdy, did I tell the world about my new obsession, warning my friends and family that I was/am totally aware of how absurd I sound and yet I could/can not stop it. One night during the LSFW conference last month, my friends pulled up pictures of the show on an iPhone so they'd know what I was yammering on about, and collectively burst out laughing at the manic expression that came over me at the sight of sexy, sexy wolf shifter Dyson in situ.

You gotta be able to laugh at yourself, guys, and I excel at it.

I gotta say, I was not prepared for the emotional black hole that arrived after I watched the Lost Girl Season 1 finale in January. I was in mourning for nearly two weeks and an absolute nightmare to to live with, I promise you. Huzzah, show, for turning my insides out with emotional turmoil. I managed to limit my downward spiral to a total Twitter meltdown after the finale aired for U.S. audiences this past Monday night. Personally, I think that shows growth.

It's been a long, long time since I went this far down the obsession rabbit hole. Not like this level of madness can last for long without a restraining order eventually coming into play. By that point, real life is (hopefully) already on the job, dialing me back from the abyss. Yes, I realize how ridiculous it all may sound to someone who doesn't quite Get It, but that's the point. Obsession is ridiculous. Ridiculous and crazy and consuming and often inescapable.

Here's the thing - I freaking love it.

Hot tattoo alert!
I love writing my stream of consciousness recaps for Heroes and Heartbreakers as though there are 300+ people sitting around me laughing and snarking along (plus it lets me write off all my Internet data mining as research. Win!) We're having the best conversations in the recap comments, deconstructing character and motivation, laughing at the sharp dialogue, deep pathos, and shallow digs, reveling in the woman power that is Bo and the sexual frankness the show promotes through her character, not to mention the greatness that is Kenzi and her wicked sharp words, while marveling over Dyson, the big bad wolf boy who hits all my hero hot spots, and his smokin' back tattoo.

I love having passion for something again and the inspiration it breeds in me. I love the romance and the fantasy and converting my friends to the show so they can go mad with me. I love meeting and chatting with other fans (dear Lord, I am a fan) in the great online community that's developed on Twitter (holla!). I love that this is a media savvy cast who not only greatly appreciates their faedom, but interacts with them online and occasionally in person at events. I love the strong, true work they are bringing to this show every single week and that thrill that sparks my veins and makes me silly grin when one of the actors who has entertained me so well in and made me care so much for this show and these characters follows me on Twitter.

I seriously dig the crazy.

Because that's what it takes, what's required in order to create art in any and every incarnation. It takes crazy obsession - with your medium, with your content, with your characters, with your craft, with the voices in your head and the images and word pictures they evolve into on your screen, on your page, on your canvas, or on your stage. We need to dive down the rabbit hole to find the weird rooms with strange food and, OK, sometimes slightly perverted or off-kilter characters in order to produce something magical.

We need to be overcome by obsession in order to create greatness.

By the look of things, I am well on my way.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tis the faeson. Today's detailed recap for Lost Girl episode 12, (Dis)Members, or as I call it, The Rich and Succubus, is up at Heroes & Heartbreakers. How did I react to the super spoilerific love scene embedded below? "I am a puddle on the floor." There is beaucoup romance tonight between the big, bad wolf boy and the sexy succubus, all of which left me with a ridiculously giddy grin on my face on every re-watch. Check out the clip, or even better, go watch the episode on SyFy channel, then come read the recap and chat with us about what's sure to be fleeting happiness for our heroes.

Once you go fae, you never go back.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lost Girl - Faetal Justice: Succubus on a Mission

Another week, another post about Lost Girl. Today's post facto detailed recap for Faetal Justice is up at Heroes & Heartbreakers. We're already chatting mightily about the goodness that is a shirtless Dyson, a snarky The Morrigan, and deep, if perhaps lightning fast, relationship progress on the Bo and Dyson front, making me a happy, happy recapper.

Look! A clip!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lost Girl - Fae Day: Judge, Jury & Succubus

Some day soon, I'm going to have a non Lost Girl post on this site again, but until then, go to Heroes and Heartbreakers for my detailed recap on the latest episode Fae Day. Bean sidhes and goblins and trials - oh, my!

See a sneak peak of the episode below, which thankfully includes some hot wolf this time...not that that's a deal breaker on anything - but it helps!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lost Girl Recap - Vexed

Vexed is the best episode of Lost Girl yet, a game-changer, and I may have got a tad overzealous recapping but day-am. Filmed as the original pilot to sell the series to the network, it also had the hottest cold open I've ever seen that wasn't on pay cable, emotionally charged, integral to the mythology of the show, and seriously sizzling. The recap is live at Heroes and Heartbreakers so click on over...and you can start with the preview below.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Still Happily Lost in Lost Girl

It's Tuesday morning, and you know what that means - my Lost Girl recap for last night's episode Arachnofaebia is up at Heroes and Heartbreakers.

Check out the tense clip below and then head on over for the recap!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Jersey Girl Went to Texas...

I went to Texas. Seeing that in print makes my eyes squint and my head tilt. It's weird. Innocuous, Out of place. Me. In Texas, which always sounds in my head in William Shatner's voice from Miss Congeniality: TEX-ASS!!

I went to Texas because, as I *may* have mentioned before, I was a finalist in the West Houston RWA Emily Awards in the romantic suspense category. This is the first time I've finaled in a writing contest and I wanted to enjoy the experience to the hilt. Since I came home a winner - I did!

We made a weekend of it, the four of us: historical romance writer Vicky Dreiling who had pushed me to enter the Emily in the first place, myself, my conference wife Anne Baker, (who brought me this great push me button that says things like "Go for the gold! But not in a mean way! Go for it in a character-building way!" and the magnet to the right, which I think we all can agree is deliciously apropos), and Harlequin writer Kristi Gold, whose North Texas accent had a blast with my Jersey ears. We laughed, we talked, we ate and drank and talked about the publishing business and writing and then laughed some more. Good friends are the things that get you through the hard times - but it's a blazing joy to have good times to celebrate with them too.

Emily Pin
The members of West Houston RWA were utterly warm and welcoming, rolling out the Texas and romance hospitality all at once. I had such a lovely day among them, meeting new people, talking about romance, and pitching to agents. Such warmth and instant camaraderie is a unique aspect of romance writers. We're not perfect and any time you get a bunch of women together, the claws almost always will come out eventually whether in private...or, with us, usually in print. But on the whole, the support and generosity in the romance community is one of its finest and most enduring traits.

I love to fly. I love being above everything, as though the whole world has stopped, all the dramas that fill my life pausing while I'm in the air. I love having the unknown ahead. When I drove through Ireland in '99, I didn't even have hotel reservations anywhere.Wherever I landed was where I stayed (made for some interesting nights, I'll tell you). There was a freedom in that, fear sometimes, utter and total panic once or twice, but excitement and liberty above all.

The trip out

I haven't flown anywhere for a few years now, but this short trip to Houston was enough to spark my wanderlust. I'll be in California this summer and Arizona after that and I can't wait to get going.

World's above

Sure, I dread those evils of flying we all live with these days: the boarding and the squishing and the bag fees and the dark thrill of being crammed into a tiny metal tube and propelled into the air 30,000 feet above the earth. I actually love take offs and landing, the thrust of power, the success of wheels touching down again. Once I'm settled in my seat and the window shade is up and the air is clear to the horizon - ah. There's a whole 'nother world up there.

Still, I could never be an astronaut. My rampant imagination would work overtime on all the ways I could die before ever breaching the atmosphere and I'd hyperventilate at the first glimpse of a space suit. But when I'm on a plane, I fully understand the passion astronauts have for space travel, the driving need to return to space almost from the moment they land. It must be an extraordinary thing to look through one of these tiny windows and see the entire world laid out before you in celestial banquet.

There's an oil platform...somewhere
I had the rare treat of being able to meet up with a wonderful Internet (and now real-life) friend that Sunday. She drove us down to Glaveston and the Gulf Coast in seriously crappy weather and we had a great time babbling away to each other. Our sunny moods defeated the cold and cloudy day and we parked and walked along the shore line as I snapped shots with my reluctant Canon camera until in desperation, I finally reverted to the phone cam. What an absolute treat it was to see a visit a new body of water and pick up unique rocks and shells, like I was a kid again at Sandy Hook.

I went to Texas. And I won the contest. And I saw the Gulf. And it's not even March yet. Who knows what else 2012 has in store for me?

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Lost Girl at Heroes and Heartbreakers

Remember how I said that I was totally obsessing on the new (to the U.S.) series Lost Girl? No? Come on! It was just last week!

Well, someone noticed (ahem) and now I'm the official recapper for Lost Girl over at Heroes and Heartbreakers. I've been dialed in to the H&H web site since its debut as it celebrates romance (yay!) in all genres, sub and otherwise, but doesn't limit itself to novels alone, looping in great TV shows (Downton Abbey!) and movies too. It's a fantastic forum community and I'm thrilled to join its staff of bloggers.

My first recap post went live today and you can find it here. Please head on over and take a read even if you're not into Fae and succubi and hot werewolves (what's wrong with you?! ). Lost Girl is ably filling the gaping hole in my television life left by the lack of Whedon, and I'm having a fantastic time with the recaps.

I hope you will too.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Coping My Way Through January

The month of January is tough. It's long. It's dark. It's pissy. For me, it's full of doctor's visits and medication renewals and wondering exactly how long I can get away with not taking down the Christmas tree. Here are a few coping methods I developed this year to get to that glorious day of 31.


Justified (Tuesdays at 10 PM on FX): Justified is back. All hail Elmore Leonard, Graham Yost, and Timothy Olyphant.When the cold open of the season opener is a Boyd and Raylan fistfight in the Marshals' office, I know it's gonna be a banging season. But then, when is it not? The dialogue feels particularly sharp this season and I can't tell if that's the writers hot on their game or if those are the pieces lifted from Leonard's new Raylan novel. As long as it this fast and furious, I don't think I really care either way.

Lost Girl: (Mondays at 10 PM on SyFy):
An urban fantasy show, newly imported from Canadian, about a orphaned succubus named Bo who was raised by humans and has suddenly discovered the world of Fae to which she belongs. Divided into Light and Dark fae factions, Bo remains Switzerland while filling the gulf between sides (and her wallet) by acting as a PI. I am totally hooked on this show. The writing is sharp and funny and Bo kicks-ass with the best of them. This is the closest I've seen a show get to a Whedonesque oeuvre without blatantly copying it. Yeah, it's got some dodgy CGI and Bo and her wiseass sidekick Kenzi wake up with perfect hair (so shiny!and such lovely braid combinations!), and polished make up, including what may be the heaviest eyeliner application I've ever seen, and I grew up in the 80s... in New Jersey. But I'm loving it all the same.

Definitely Not Chris Martin
The pub that serves as neutral ground between the fae factions is called The Dal Riata. I wrote one of my first Celtic history papers in Oxford on the Dal Riata migration. Super major points. Plus there's a hot werewolf and I am totally into his voice. Yes, his voice, all low and rambly. No, I'm not lying. (OK, the tat on his back is totally hawt too). And the man to wolf transition in the second episode was sizzling. Since I'd missed the character's name in the first episode, I took to calling him Not Chris Martin (NCM) because he reminds me of Coldplay's lead singer, and now it's stuck.

I love me a good back story. The murky mystery of Bo's intrigues me and I also really like that, for once, the will-they-or-won't-they manufactured sexual tension between Bo and NCM is out the window in the very first episode. Hey, she's a succubus. The woman needs to feed...


Train: Drive By.
I love Train's songs. Either they're full of pep and jaunty lyrics or they're beautiful love songs whose words break your heart into tiny, erudite pieces. Drive By is their latest single; I downloaded the day it was available. It's a song about a one-night stand that quickly turns into something more. The minute I heard the chorus I was sunk:

Oh I swear to you, I'll be there for you
This is not a drive by-i-i-i-i

Just a shy guy, looking for a two-ply
Hefty bag to hold my-i-i-i-i-i-i-love
When you move me, everything is groovy
They don't like it sue me,
Mmm, the way you do me
Oh I swear to you, I'll be there for you
This is not a drive by-i-i-i-i

Seriously, I'm bopping in my bed as I write this. They had me at "groovy." 

Daughtry: Renegade.
Daughtry fills a certain slot in the rock oeuvre, namely the one Creed left behind with Scott Stapp and is still scrambling to reclaim now that he's back in the fold. Whenever I hear a Daughtry song, I think of the expression on his face the moment he was cut from American Idol several years ago (I saw the news clip; never ever watch the show). He was so shocked, so completely dumbfounded that he was being cut. Yet, that was likely the best thing that could've happened to his career. He's had a cavalcade of hits and even tho they sound, to me, like variations on a theme, I enjoy the fact that at least there's not an auto tuner involved.

Renegade is the first Daughtry single I've bought. From the hard-driving rock beat, to the stinging lyrics, to the barely restrained, vibrating compulsion to get the hell outta town and get on with it, I am in.

Don't you wanna feel like a rebel?
A renegade on the run?
Real live wire in the cross fire ridin' shotgun

Not talkin' 'bout a deal with the devil

I said nothin' about sellin' your soul
But call it what you will
If you start to feel out of control

Here we go

Can you hear the sound of the turnin' wheels?

Burnin' the road like it's never been donec
I'm breakin' out of this town like a renegade
So baby, get ready to run

Don't have any time here left to kill

Don't wanna go down like the settin' sun
So let's break out of this town like a renegade
Can't wait another minute, I'm right here ready to run



Multi-Grain Peanut Butter Cheerios
No, you read that right. Peanut Butter Cheerios.

When I was a kid, I used to drag the Cheerios box around with me (honey nut, natch). A few years ago in the Weehawken apartment, The Mother laughed to see me doing it again. Hey, comfort is as comfort does. To this day, one of my Dad-dad's running gags is to ask if I'm having Coke with my peanut butter and Cheerios for breakfast. Finally, I can say "yes" and not be a smart ass about it (although I fail to see the fun in that.). Plus, they're GOOD FOR YOU!

I've been noshing on this wonder of modern culinary science at the day job office and if you threw in a small carton of milk and an afternoon nap, it'd feel like Kindergarten all over again. Yum-my

After last year's endless snowfall, to have a blizzard on Halloween and 60 degrees on the first of February in New Jersey is nothing short of - well, screwy. It's really screwy. But we're loving it, and I'm breaking out my lightweight shirts and soaking up the Vitamin D while it lasts. In related news, I anticipate having another head/chest cold, say, within a week.

Got any not-so-secret ways of coping with the January blues? Lay 'em on me. One randomly chosen commentator will win a book to wile away the ever-fleeting winter hours and a candle to light the way in case the power goes out.

Disclaimer: January did not pay for this endorsement. Neither did Train, Daughtry, Justified, Lost Girl, or Peanut Butter Cheerios. Though I'm willing to talk terms with Raylan and/or Not Chris Martin. Call me.

Disclaimer part deux: All images courtesy of Google Images.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Man Candy Monday - The Ginger Edition

I'm on the Man Candy Monday blog today, talking about men of a certain flare. There's a certain panache ingrained in men of the ginger variety, and these guys have it in spades. Come by and have a look! Then join us tonight on Twitter at 9PM using the hashtag #ManCandyMonday as we celebrate these seasoned men.

Damian Lewis
Daniel Craig

Ewan McGregor

Fassbender (Click on shot for more)
Tony Curran

Max Martini
 [All images courtesy of Google images]

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name Is Just As Thorny

Most people do not say my name correctly on the first try. Many don't get it right on the second or third attempt either.

It usually goes something like this:

"Hi, I'm Kiersten."
"Oh. Nice to meet you, Kerrsten."
"Oh," person says, clearly giving up and beginning to think I'm an uptight snot for insisting. "OK."

Usually, I'm a duck and this is where I let it roll off my back. Every so often though, like a cicada hitting its 17th year, I become uber sensitive to it. I had a choir director named Gordon who would use ever-changing versions of my name except the correct one, and I (fondly) called him on it until he eventually pleaded for a dispensation to which I magnanimously said, "no problem, Grover".

It's a respect issue and honestly, how hard is it to get right? First of all, I just pronounced it for you. Parrots could, well, parrot it back to me correctly given half the chance (except for the Norwegian Blue, but he has his own set of problems). It's even spelled phonetically! I'm mean, nobody calls Kierkegaard, Kerrkegaard, right? Of course not, because that would be silly.

I grew up in the 80s in a land of Jennifers and Stephanies and Christines where I was almost always the odd one out. The over-sized bifocal glasses, a Dorothy Hamill haircut, and a tendency to wear striped tops with plaid pants didn't help. This was also a time when it was quite popular to have stickers and notebooks and jewelry that featured your name. No revolving kiosk of name stickers at The Hallmark Store ever had KIERSTEN - believe me, I looked. Society conditions us to conform from the a very early age, and above anything else, I wanted to be normal, with a normal name that everyone got right the first time and not the strange girl with the weird name.

Thus in my early adolescence, I went through a phase of wanting to be called Kris; short and sweet with no need to buy that extra vowel. Two fundamental issues stood in my way: 1. I went to school with the same kids I'd been with since kindergarten who would never, ever call me Kris, and 2. The few times people did use it, I forgot they were speaking to me. Kinda important to answer to the name by which you wish to be known.

Ironically, I have a myriad of nicknames, from K to K-squared to Kik and KiKi to Squirt the Flirt (thanks sis) to, well, you don't need to know that one. Suffice to say for someone in a love/hate relationship with her name, I failed to grasp the fact that the people who loved me most rarely used it themselves. My ever-evolving personality had carved out names of its own.

Are we defined by our names? Or do we do the defining? Do we display name-associated characteristics from birth or do we grow into their prophecy? Dickens famously named his characters to reflect their personalities. Scrooge, Cratchit, Havisham, The Artful Dodger, Fagin, Drood, Fezziwig. In my own writing, I've both set out with one name for a character only to end up with someone different, and stayed with the same name all the way through to the happily ever after.

By the time I hit college, I'd come to own my full name, to enjoy the cadence of its five syllables, to be proud of the uniqueness of its spelling. Perhaps I finally realized I'd left normal behind a looonnnngggg time ago (seriously overrated). Or maybe it was because the naming of children had gone full circle until the stranger the name, the trendier the child.

And I do so like to set a trend.

Last week, my landlord's husband called me Kris (spelling mine). He always calls me Kris and after the first six months at the (no longer) new address, I stopped taking note of it. This is a man set in his ways, which more often than not are blurred by too many Pabst Blue Ribbons. He's not gonna get it. But last week, it struck a chord. That's not my name. And I remembered that lonely girl who just wanted to be normal with a normal name.

That's not who I am anymore.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

January 11, 1913

Ninety-nine years ago today, 
January 11, 1913, 
my grandmother, 
Frances Litzenberger Krum, 
was born. 

My nana taught me to watch Wheel of Fortune (though my heart belongs to Jeopardy) and how to cheat at pinochle. She loves to read; my first Harlequin romances were thanks to the collection on her bookshelf in the middle room of the Philadelphia row house where she raised her family. To this day, I can't think of her old phone number without the Ivy Ridge code in place of the first two numbers. She wrote short stories for many years until her hands and eyes began to fail. Some of my earliest memories are singing K-K-K-Katie with Nana. 

When I moved back to New Jersey in the late 90s, I would go down to Philadelphia to have lunch with my grandparents and dinner with Nana, (combined visits ended with my parents' divorce) sometimes only hours apart. We would order cheese steaks from Fiesta Steaks (it was always Fiesta) and sit around the kitchen table and talk. For all her concern about my weight, Nana was always trying to feed me; if nothing else, peanut butter crackers could always be found in her old breadbox. In the fall, I would try to take her on a long drive back up through Slatington where she was born to Walnutport where she grew up in a house alongside the Erie Canal, a stone's throw from the Lehigh River. Those trips became more difficult when she moved into assisted living, but her will to move and do and live continues to outlive her body's ability to do the same.

Our last big trip was during one of my sister's rare fall visits when drove down from Jersey, picked up Nana and drove out to Jim Thorpe, PA. As we wound our way up the turnpike and through the mountains, Nana started singing "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain." Always game for a song, I threw in the echo and joined her in the tag. There was a pause as she settled into contented silence. After another quiet beat, I sang "She'll be riding six white horses when she comes" and from the front passenger seat came the laughing echo "when she comes". We sang our way up into the mountains, shifting to hymns and arguing about word choice and laughing, always laughing.

In 2008, when my own mother was so very ill, I took a solo trip down to Philadelphia, a beautiful spring day. Nana and I drove down East River Drive, the sun sparkling off the swollen Schuylkill River. For once, Nana was eager to park and walk along the river, or at least as far as we could before the flooded walkway stopped us. We sat on a stone wall and soaked up the sun, a rare moment alone when we could talk uninhibited (this was the time she told me about the dream she had where she was abducted by aliens, another post entirely) and simply enjoy each others' company.

Halloween 2010. I had picked up some holiday headbands at Target for my mother and I; a witch's hat for her (Freudian much?) and cat's ears for myself (natch). We went to Philadelphia that Halloween weekend and as per our system, took my Nana to her local Target where she likes to sit in the cafe and watch the people as we talk. Mom put her witchy headband on Nana and I wore my cat ears and Nana and I wandered through the store together so decorated, earning smiles and laughter from strangers along the way.

Last year, Nana suffered the latest in a series of strokes, the residual effects enough to require her move into the full on nursing home in her facility. It's been hard to see her since then, to watch the women she is struggle to come to the surface in the prison of her failing form.
Since she turned 80, Nana has claimed she didn't want to live to 100 - her own mother, my Granny Litz, was 104 when she passed away - but, fortunately for us, God has so far had other plans. But she's  not done yet. In the six months since her stroke, she has improved greatly. I saw her over Christmas, and naturally her first words to me were "you've gained weight" to which I replied, "yes, thank you for pointing it out. Really, you're too kind." She chuckled, "yeah, yeah" and there she was again, my Nana. She may not lead with trump again or sing a full chorus, but she's not done yet.

Not by a long shot.

Happy Birthday Nana. 

You've had one hell of a ride.