Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Fairytale Journey

On November 25th, 2009, I was in a parking lot, waiting for my older son’s preschool class to be over for the day. Before I had to drag my sleeping toddler out into the cold, I spent a moment typing on my blackberry the first line of a story I had floating around in my head. “Much farther north than most humans would dare settle, December unleashed its relentless fury.” Until that day, writing as a career was just a far-fetched fantasy. But having one sentence down was a step I had never been brave enough to take before.

I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a writer. My experience was quite the opposite, actually. I never kept a diary as a child. I wasn’t even an avid reader. I preferred playing outdoors and I survived the long New York winters with Mario Brothers and Disney princesses. Reading and writing were both chores that went along with schoolwork.

By high school, though, I came to realize that my high grades were not due to brilliance, much to my dismay, but because I could write those thesis papers, expository essays, DBQs, creative projects, and get “A’s” on top of them. But I never had a passion for journalism, I despised all study of grammar, and I liked but didn’t love the “great” literature I was exposed to. And I was raised to be practical. I wanted to graduate from college and find a job. I was a true child of the Renaissance, good at everything, phenomenal at nothing, but I had to choose. So I picked biology as a major.     

College for me was like a day job. I never lived on campus. I would go to class, do the work, and when I went home, “life” began for the day. Again, writing was just part of work–lab reports, papers for my electives–and it helped boost my grades, but the bulk of my achievement was measured with exams.

I did pretty well in college with biology, so I assumed I had made the right choice. I never asked myself if I enjoyed the content. I did…enough, I thought. I would never love science as much as music, art, English, history, or psychology, but I didn’t see that as a problem. I believed I’d be able to pursue other interests in my “down time.”

Then came graduate school. I was doing so much science around the clock that I could barely stay awake in class. There was no down time. And here’s what happened. While trying to cram facts, theories based on facts, and theories based on theories into my head, the information just wasn’t taking root, and the creative side of my brain kept getting louder and more resentful. If any of my former co-workers ever looked over at me and thought I was in my own little world, I probably was.

           Thanks Eileen and Mike for your creative genius/computer wizardry 

The first “book” I imagined was a sci-fi thriller. I don’t remember the details. After I left school, I had to put the writing idea away for a while. Life intervened. I had a baby by this point and I was working in a genetics lab full time. By 9:30 at night, when my near sleepless firstborn FINALLY called it quits, I was too exhausted to watch television, so writing was out of the question. But, during those long experiments, my mind kept wandering to the idea that fairies seemed underrepresented in the fantasy world. And I knew why. Tinker Bell, circa 2007, was the fairy world representative, and what appeal did she have to an adult audience? Not much. And so, Christopher and Joseph MacRae were born. I had the basic storyline in my head for two years–two modern-day American brothers who believe they’re human, their missing fairy father, his evil fairy-queen ex-wife, and Cassiopeia, the fairy princess who thickens the plot in every way.

After I wrote the first line of Fairy Tale, the project idled until after the New Year. But then, thanks to improved cellphone technology, I could write anywhere, anytime. The true birth of “Pyxis” began in the microscopy “caves” of Skidmore College. By the third chapter, there was no turning back. I woke up before sunrise, went to bed late, and was chased in my nightmares by the very villains I had created…and they’re pretty nasty. In other words, the story wouldn’t rest, and essentially, it wrote itself. By August 2010, my rough draft was complete, and I was stoked. It was one of those “best day ever” feelings, something I had never experienced in all my years as a scientist.

After that, I tweaked, revised, trimmed and fattened the manuscript, and then had some family members help me out. I considered their feedback and revised it again. When I decided it was “finished,” I attempted to find an agent, and the process was heartbreaking, especially after one of my first letters received a promising response. But nothing ever came of it. And the rejections letters kept piling up at a time when my husband and I really needed a lucky break. I was also looking for a job again, in science. I had two major interviews, but they led to more rejection. By my thirtieth birthday (April, 2011), I was at an all-time personal and career low.    

Fortunately, my husband received a life-changing promotion at his new job. So we moved out of New York and left some of our problems behind. My career issues didn’t exactly go away, but the pressure to find employment was off. So I continued writing–I never really stopped–and I finished The Rising Star, the second book of the Fairy Tale series.

By 2012, I was pregnant (again), and spent my “free” time editing and entering book one, Winter’s Bite, into a few contests. Rejection then took on a new name. It was called “feedback.” It’s one of those things new writers can’t get enough of, until they do, and then they wish they could give it back in the form of some very choice words. Was it all bad? No. There was a fair amount of positive or constructive feedback. However, there were a few judges out for blood, and I overwhelmed myself with their reviews at a time when I was emotionally and hormonally unstable. The experience culminated in a disastrous meltdown at a Friendly’s in Bennington, VT. Luckily, my sister came to me with the idea of this blog at the perfect time. For my health and wellbeing, I needed a lightweight distraction from the series. So I spent the summer before Emily’s birth blogging about my pregnancy.      
                                              Emily Rose: A Pregnancy Story

Once life plus one stabilized to some extent, I revisited the contest feedback. I took what I could from it and ignored what I disagreed with. Then I embarked on the most ambitious revision project to date. The work was tedious and more challenging than I expected, and early on, I had doubts the corrections were necessary, or even possible in some cases. The point of view of my book (omniscient) wasn’t wrong, per se, but it didn’t meet “industry standards” (third person, limited). But I kept at it, sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, and ultimately fixed what I once worried wasn’t fixable. By the fall of 2013, I called the project “finished,” once again, and despite my initial qualms, it was better than ever.

So why did I continue with a path so full of rejection, self-doubt, and heartache? Why didn’t I just get a paying job, go back to school, or succumb to the mommy-brain-drain powers of Dr. Oz and Days of Our Lives? The answer is simple. Because in every Fairy Tale character there’s a piece of me–the brooding loner, the analytical smartass, the optimist who refuses to let darkness prevail. And so their story deserves to be told…

And while Fairy Tale: Winter’s Bite is in the hands of an editor, I’ve been wearing in my sexy sweatpants, firing up my Keurig with the dedication of an addict, and cranking up the heat both real and imaginary, all so I could take a trip back in time to Gloucester, Massachusetts, 1979. There, I met up with Scott MacRae, the patriarch of my fairy dynasty, and the one who started it all–an epic fantasy war and a forbidden love affair with a human–and I let him tell his own story in Disgrace. It’s free on Wattpad, http://www.wattpad.com/story/11656358-disgrace. You don’t need to join the site to read it, but feel free if you’re ready to catch the new wave in indie publishing. Plus, I’m always on the market for new groupies J.

For more information about the Fairy Tale series, check out my new author page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alicia-Britton-Author/351622061645290). In the “about” section, I’ve posted a summary of Winter’s Bite and a brief excerpt. Please stop by. Let me know what you think. And go ahead. Be a fan. I dare you!

Lastly, I want to thank my dedicated readers–Carissa, Eileen, Greg, Katie, Steve, Brooke, Janet, my editor, as well as Leo and Mike for taking a look at my synopsis. Without you, Fairy Tale wouldn’t be as grammatically correct (Carissa), romantically succinct (Eileen), action packed (Greg), or logical (Steve). And thanks to all my future readers, like you. Anyone who has read this blog post in its entirety must have some interest and you are certainly worthy of mention!



P.S. This photo is just for fun. Thanks again, Eileen and Mike. I think I laughed for a good ten minutes when I saw this for the first time...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Million Dollar Babies

      How many distressed babies does it take to pay a CEO? 12.  Cheaper by the dozen? Is there a discount for multiples. The recent remarks by AOL's CEO Tim Armstrong really hit close to home. In case you didn't see the news, here is an article about his original comments. 

Click here for the response from one of the mothers of said distressed babies.

      We lovingly call our twins the million dollar babies. I spent 6 weeks hanging upside down in the hospital, then when the twins were born they had 26 days of NICU time between the 2 of them, which all in all was a lot less than it could have been.  Thank God we had health insurance through my husband's employer since I had been unable to work through the majority of my pregnancy.

     When I first found out I was carrying twins, my mind automatically imagined bed rest and NICU stays.  At my 20 week ultrasound, I went in so excited to find out the genders of the babies.  My husband and I had agreed to a moratorium on the name discussion till we knew for sure what we were looking at. I left that appointment being told I was on bed rest for the foreseeable future. To add insult to injury, I was told that my baby girl had a heart defect, and may not make it.  The words "selective reduction" were used.  I don't care what your stance is on abortion.  When you are carrying 2 very wanted babies, the thought of killing one of them and simultaneously putting the other's life in jeopardy is not  something you want to think about. But I suppose Tim Armstrong would have had me cull the herd rather than shell out for a "distressed baby".

     Obviously this man has never felt the pain and anguish of having your babies whisked away before even get to look at them, as he was stitched up post c-section.  He has not had to lie in recovery, shaking from post operative hypothermia, and beg the nurses to check on the results of his baby girl's EKG and sonogram.  He has not had to walk the length of a football field one day post surgical to the NICU because the nurses were on the shift change and too busy to get him a wheel chair when it was time to feed the babies.  He has not felt the anguish that is leaving the hospital without the babies that he carried inside for too short a time. He has not had to take one baby home, leaving one behind. He has not had to beg his husband to take him back to the NICU at 10 pm for one last feeding of the sick baby still at the NICU, because  there is another baby at home that will keep him up all night. If he had gone through that, he would not be so quick to judge.

     Does he think that any mother would want a baby to have to be in the NICU.  No one would wish that for anyone. Conversely, if it were his baby, wouldn't he want everything possible done to ensure that baby had a chance at life?

     Tim Armstrong has apologized, but I don't buy it.  I think he needs a little sensitivity training to be sure.  Maybe he should go visit the NICU at his local hospital (and perhaps even donate a bit of his $12 million dollar salary).  He should bring some food for those families who are in crisis.He should sit and talk to them, and look in their weary eyes that are red from crying.  He would then know that no amount of money was too much to protect these delicate lives.