Just a couple of writers on a road trip through life. Hop in, hold on, and don’t forget your rain boots.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Ringing in 2013: Resolutions and Other Nonsense

It’s New Years Eve. Yup! Soon we will see DUI checkpoints all around town; the bars will be packed full of people partaking in a fair amount of good cheer, and noise makers will sound around the globe at the stroke of midnight. Happy New Year! And what is in store for us in 2013? Well, usually we pick a litany of goals, call them New Year Resolutions and then promptly fail at keeping them within roughly a month. Why do we do that? I blame commercials and celebrities, and well, I blame anything other than my own lack of commitment and motivation. Because who really wants to blame themselves? I’ve heard the saying that when you point the finger, you have three fingers point back at you (Don’t worry. I’ll wait while you try it). But you know what I say? When you point the finger, that person better take the blame because your hand easily looks like a pretend gun and you talk them into playing Cowboys and Indians with you and act crazy by hollering, “bang! bang!” Kind of like when you were a kid, but you can’t play that anymore because it isn’t politically correct, which kind of sucks because I liked playing that game. I was awesome at gun draws, but whatever. I digress.
So, picture this. You are sitting at home watching your favorite show and that Weight Watchers commercial comes on with Jessica Simpson or Jennifer Hudson saying just how easy it was for them to lose weight through Weight Watchers. We get inspired and want to lose weight too. We think, yeah. This will be easy, but then it isn’t at all. Why? Well, if I had a bunch of money like those two celebrities, maybe losing weight would be easier. I mean, in real life we don’t have nannies, a personal trainer, a landscaper, an interior designer, a personal assistant, and a private chef.  We work hard! Some of us work 80 hours a week, keep a clean house, make meals for their family, keep their yard maintained by themselves, and figure out how to organize their own social calendar just to name a few of the things we normal people do. With all these responsibilities, it is no wonder that we fail. So, I have a proposition. Yes, a radical solution to a complex problem.
I say we start a campaign to get celebrities to fund just one of these “life helpers” to us, the little guys.  Give me your personal chef, Jennifer Hudson. Give the next person your nanny, Jessica Simpson. I bet you it will make losing weight through Weight Watchers that much easier. What a concept!!
I think I need a red hooded cape like this
But in all honesty, we should really take it easier on ourselves regardless of the resolution or maybe we should go for something totally insane. I mean it. I’m going to resolve to organize a flash mob in 2013. Or maybe I will create my own alter ego and spend some time in the shoes of said alter. I think my alter ego should wear a cape like red riding hood, or a tiara. Nah. Tiara’s are a sign of refinement and that is something I am definitely not. Although I think my alter will have a job at an organic applesauce shop and will talk with extreme exuberance about the various varieties of apples and smell of cinnamon-y goodness. My alter will wear hemp shoes and carry a leather purse—a walking contradiction. Should I mention that I already own the hemp shoes?  Oh how fun!  But really, I guess I should probably decide what I want to resolve to accomplish this year because 2013 is breathing down my neck. And I’m torn about what to choose. Regardless, I’m going to try to be realistic, or maybe not. Because succeed or fail, I will have one thing to fall back on, an epic 2013 resolution.
 Happy New Year!!
Stephanie D. Birch has served pancakes in the Flapjack Olympics. She plans to flip again in the 2013 games with has no plans to retire. She has not used performance enhancing substances to attain her pancake flipping sports career.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Holiday musings and other craziness

I felt like writing something today and sharing it with y'all. I'm off script, because it's not my day to post but it's also the Sunday before Christmas so I'm thinking most people are busy anyway, so what the heck.

My best picture face

I’ve got another face growing on my face. You can’t see it yet but I can feel it, hovering there under the surface like the gopher from Caddyshack, waiting to emerge and mock me. It always happens near the holidays, when there’s the highest chance of photographic evidence. I’ve managed quite sneakily to ensure that there aren’t many photos of me in existence by being a photographer and having the nicest camera that no one else (conveniently) is able to use. I hate having my picture taken. Not because it steals your soul—it does, but that’s not why. It’s because I always make a weird face in pictures because I hate posing. I like silly or goofy pics but if you want me to be serious forget it. I have a look that’s one part boredom, one part confusion and just a dash of defiance and mild constipation.  Fun for the whole family. 

Super cool poser type kid :-)
Little kids like having their picture taken (not babies though—babies are the cutest but super rude about photos) and beautiful thin people, but everyone else pretty much hates it. I know because I walk with a camera most of the time, and about ninety percent of adults will say no please, I hate having my picture taken. And since digital cameras were invented, if I do convince someone not to flip me the bird for five seconds so I can snap off a shot, they always want to see the picture after it was taken and then they want you to delete it because they always think they look fat or ugly and they don’t appreciate me saying that it’s not the camera’s fault if they are fat and ugly so why should I delete this picture that I took? People actually hate that comment.

This morning it is so windy and stormy that I’m quite concerned for the poor little elves and reindeer enslaved by a so-called jolly fat man. They shouldn’t be out in this kind of weather. And I know always in pictures and storybooks it’s all beautiful moonlit nights and lots of stars and whatnot, but in reality they must hit bad weather more often than not. And why no one ever protests this whole fiasco is beyond me. Where is PETA? Where is OSHA? Where is CPS? Okay so I don’t know who is in charge of protecting elves. Legolas, maybe. Or is that crossing mythical genres? I don’t know.
Totally good elf protector

 But anyway I feel sad thinking about poor Dasher and Dancer and Rudolph. Not Prancer though, he seems like kind of a jerk, based on the movie. And Comet and Cupid and Vixen but not Donner either, because he makes me think of the Donner Party which not only wasn’t a fun party but even though I know Donner probably doesn’t eat human flesh I can’t be sure so he’s out of luck on the sympathy front. Zombie flying reindeer would be exceptionally dangerous during the zombie apocalypse. Anyway, Donner is out. Blitzen too, because he sounds like a big football player or Nazi but I’m not sure why. I hold him responsible for leaving Rudolph out of the Reindeer Games. It seems like something Blitzen would do. 

I think about things like this near Christmas time. Because I’m concerned. Because I care. Because I don’t actually like the idea of flying reindeer and fat men in my chimney. That sounds sort of dirty. But really. What if the structural integrity of my roof is compromised by the weight of the sleigh and the reindeer and an obese man jiggling his belly like a bowlful of jelly around on top of it? And who jiggles jelly, anyway? I just spread it on toast without shaking of any kind. That seems uncalled for. And not very merry. And this is a merry time of year, despite people who try to ruin the merriment.

Normal reaction to me with a camera
When I say Merry Christmas, I mean it. I am not politically correct. I think people who throw major fits about that kind of thing are jerks. Because I don’t say “Merry Christmas” in a way that secretly means “Screw you and your stupid beliefs, you should believe what I do and I don’t really want you to have a merry anything, I am just saying it to be a jackwagon.” If I wanted to call you a jackwagon I would. I would just walk right up and say hey you are stupid and I hate your face. But I don’t. Merry Christmas just freaking slips out, people! I say it because I think you look like a nice person and I want to wish you some cheer. All you gotsta say is hey, I’m Jewish, and I will be like cool, Merry Chanukah friend. Or hey, I’m Chinese, and I’ll be like happy December or whatever, I respect your beliefs and I think you're cool, and my words were only meant to convey my sincerest well-wishing on you today. It’s like when you say happy birthday to someone and instead of saying thank you they’re like I don’t celebrate birthdays. Okay, jackwagon, I retract my good vibrations that I was sending your direction, and am now sending you a voodoo curse that will cause a rash on your giblets. Because obviously that’s what you want and deserve. You’re welcome. 
Crazy hair elf type kid

I Googled all the holidays in December, so here’s a list:
  • Ramadan (Muslim)
  • Eid al-Fitr (Muslim)
  • Saint Nicholas Day (Christian)
  • Eid'ul-Adha (Muslim)
  • Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexican)
  • St. Lucia Day (Swedish)
  • Hanukkah (Jewish)
  • Christmas Day (Christian)
  • Three Kings Day/Epiphany (Christian)
  • Boxing Day (Australian, Canadian, English, Irish)
  • Kwanzaa (African American)
  • Omisoka (Japanese)
The guy who has to put up with me

I have to say I’m actually all kinds of curious now about all these holidays. Boxing Day sounds fun and sort of violent, which I’m okay with. Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe sounds like an awesome party with good eats. Maybe I’m generalizing but ever since I decided that Cinco De Mayo is about the best party ever because it involves mass quantities of delicious Mexican food, I have been all over anything that has a built-in excuse for tamales and margaritas. Epiphany Day sounds like a time when everyone should walk around with a giant light bulb over their head that periodically lights up every time they have an epiphany. That would be awesome. Anyway. Happy holidays in a very sweet, sincere, politically correct way to all my friends and their diversity. And please don’t yell at me if I accidentally throw you a Merry Christmas once in a while. It’s spoken with the best of intentions, I promise. Because if I say that to you I love you or at least like you a little, and wish the very best for you all the time, not just in December. 

Julie Simmons-Wixom is most likely completely toaster-strudel nuts. You can email her or just leave a comment about her craziness. She likes it. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Awesome/Fail List

The time of year people classify as ‘the holidays’—basically  from the last week in November until after January 1—is filled with events, ideas, traditions, both good and bad. The Writer Freaks have decided to compile a list of things we love and things we hate about this time of year. Things that make us do a happy dance, and things that make us have face-melting breakdowns like in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when they open up the Ark and everyone’s face melts. We were going to do a pass/fail but it got confusing because when you say ‘pass’ it sounds like you’re passing on something, not like it’s a passing grade. So anyway, this is our Awesome/Fail list for ‘the holidays’. We hope you enjoy.      

  • Awesome: Classic Christmas movies—White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life
  • Fail: Remakes of Christmas movies or any new ones on the Lifetime Channel starring Melissa Joan Hart, Jenny McCarthy or Mario Lopez. 
  • Awesome: Christmas lights and decorations, especially when you sneak into people’s yards and pose inappropriately for photos with their inflatable decorations.
  • Fail: Christmas light displays so blinky and bright they induce seizures and draw traffic from miles around 
  • Awesome: Christmas baking and eating
  • Fail: Christmas calories and pounds. Actually that’s an epic fail. We hate feeling like we shouldn’t eat all the goodies, but they’re so delicious and they come around only once a year and especially stuff like Julie’s grandma’s famous fudge and her pecan balls (plus ‘balls’ – hee hee) that we only get a shot at once a year. We feel like we would gladly forego any treats for the entire year just to be able to eat whatever we want at Christmas. 
  • Awesome: Watching kids open presents and be so super excited
  • Fail: Watching kids freak out, fight, throw fits, and generally meltdown because of over-stimulation and too many goodies coupled with the fact that they know Christmas is only once a year and once it’s over, they don’t know what to do with themselves. Much like birthdays or getting married, it’s like a huge letdown when something you’ve been waiting for and anticipating for an entire year is over. 
  • Awesome: Christmas trees and inside Christmas decorations 
  • Fail: When the cat runs up said Christmas tree and knocks it over, or when the dog thinks the ornaments are for chewing and ends up latching on to chew, buts get a piece of the light strand and gets shocked. Or how about when the cat eats your Christmas garland and throws it back up on your bed.    
  • Awesome: Christmas Carolers in old time-y clothing, hot cider, cookies and joy at the local Main Street tree lighting. 
  • Fail: Seeing a bunch of middle aged women performing a dance routine to “Gangnam Style” in the middle on the town during the tree lighting festival.This really happened. Ugh. 
  • Awesome: Making up words to various Christmas songs or making fun of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” with your friends and family until you get mega belly laughs. Stephanie’s favorite is the fact that this song demands that you bring some figgy pudding and that guests won’t go until they have some. Such a demanding crowd! 
  • Fail: Hearing Lady Gaga’s version of White Christmas. That doesn’t induce laughter, it just makes us sad. Especially when she adds her own weird verses about snowmen and their coal eyes. When normal people talk about snowman eyes it isn't weird, but when Lady G does it... well, it's a little creepy. 
  • Awesome: Christmas light hunting with the family while cuddled in blankets in the car with a thermos of hot cocoa.  
  • Fail: Living in a neighborhood where there are not outside Christmas lights. 
  • Awesome: Finding the perfect gift that says, “I really love you a whole lot” without breaking the bank. 
  • Fail: Over-indulged children and adults that get all the latest electronic gifts, diamond jewelry and really, who gets a new car for Christmas? Come on! Seriously? If anything, we want that giant red bow that comes with the car. Can we get two please?

    What are some of things that are awesome of totally fail for you during the holidays? Share one with us. We can all laugh, commiserate and just plain ol’ have fun reading your light-hearted lists.  

    Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, Happy Chanukah, and for the Politically correct folks out there, Happy Holidays from the Writer Freaks.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine...

The Mayan calendar ends in two days, and there are massive amounts of concern about it floating around on the interwebs. I should care, but I don’t. Because I’m finished. It makes me shaky to say that, but it’s true. I finished a manuscript. A full, novel-length manuscript. 

Also hard to make but super cute
Analogies make me happier than a tick on a wet hound dog, and this writing project for me was like having a baby. For those of you that have had a baby, you know that the whole nine months thing is total crap, because it’s actually forty flippin’ weeks, which is a lot of time to feel uncomfortable and host a sweet but parasitic alien in your midsection. It seems like it takes forever and it goes so slow because there are billions of little cells that have to grow, and it’s pretty complicated. Writing a novel is like that. You have to cook it up right or it’ll come out all weird and misshapen. It takes a long time. And when you write that last sentence, you feel relieved and conflicted and you want to cry and laugh and take a really long nap, all at the same time. Because you know that now that it’s complete, the real work starts.

Writing is what I do because I love telling stories and because I can’t not write. I’m compelled. But writing is also a business these days, and that part smells like a skunk that crawled under the house and died and then summer comes and heats everything up and trust me, that is some bad stink. If I wanted to go into business I would have gotten my MBA and I’d probably be floating in loads of money right now. I’d be like Scrooge McDuck and have all of it converted to gold coins and put in a giant vault that I could swim around in. But I would give it away too. I have all kinds of things that I could do with money, but mostly I’d end up buying stuff for people and giving it away.  And probably starting a non-profit ninja school, so I can have my zombie killing ninja army all ready for the apocalypse. Oh and I’d make a bunker and fill it with stuff, like beans and rice and Twinkies, for the end of the world. Because that’s coming up too in a couple days and also I’ve been watching way too many doomsday preppers shows. I like the idea of prepping for a zombie apocalypse more than an entire world destruction type scenario. But anyway. Not the point. The point is, business is not my strong suit. I have to get someone to draw a cover and print out the pages and sew them together and hand them out in exchange for money and stuff, but the idea is so boring and annoying and makes me pull my hair out that I want to cry. I spent a year making this darn manuscript baby and now I have to put shiny Hello Kitty stickers all over my baby and sell it. Ew. And that’s the feeling you get after you’ve completed a novel. 

I allowed myself some time this week to decompress and work on other stuff. After you have a baby people are generally super nice to you and considerate, and they bring you ice packs and Top Ramen and don’t make you do housework or anything.  So I took sort of a mini-break, (ish—as much of a break as someone with three kids can take) and didn’t write for a few days. I let my brain rest. I’ve actually finished manuscripts before, but bad ones. This one is actually good. I wrote one when I was nineteen, but I realized that how bad it was about a year after I wrote it. Like over-the-top, melodramatic horrible. And when I was twenty-five I wrote another, and that one was closer but still derivative and trite and unrealistic. And it wasn’t fantasy fiction or sci-fi, so unrealistic is bad if your genre is chick lit. In the meantime I wrote a lot of short stories, and those are easy and they flow really well. And I enjoy writing them and they only take a few weeks from start to finish, so if they’re terrible I don’t feel bad for wasting a year of my life writing something terrible.

But anyway. This one is done and it’s not awful. I’m actually willing to let people read it. And I’m blogging again, which is good. Stephanie has been carrying the Freak load here for a while, with me having a death in the family and then a novel-finishing breakdown, but I’m ready to start talking about the next phase in this process. The end of the world can wait—now I have a book to get published. Which is almost scarier. 

Julie Simmons-Wixom is not a medical professional in any capacity and her pregnancy advice should be largely ignored. But if you want to discuss novel pregnancy and birth, email her at juliekwixom@gmail.com. 

Have you finished any huge projects lately? Comment below, and tell us all about them. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Best Advice I Ever Learned Came From my Dogs

Remi and Scout are
wise beyond their years.
Everything in life is just past
the fence, so enjoy the ride and
go for it!

I like advice. Typically on my terms, but I enjoy good advice. I read a lot of articles online and do research on just about everything. I even researched the Consumer Reports best rated toaster. That is how crazy I am. Now if someone walked up to me and said, this is what you need to do, I wouldn’t listen because to me, it is all in the respectful delivery, the wisest words, the most informative terms. And as a writer, it is important for me to listen to the advice of other fellow writers. This is why I love books like Bird by Bird and The Zen in the Art of of Writing. They are dripping with advice and I try to incorporate it in my writing as much as possible, but sometimes advice can be bad thing. We must learn to take what we like and leave the rest.
You’ve met this kind of person: the person who HAS to tell you how to do something that, in their view, is the "only" way or the “right” way. They bend your ear and insist you listen. They insist they know best. And as you sit there listening to their unsolicited advice, you realize that if they took their own advice, it would do them a world of good. And you marvel at how these people don't want to take advice from anyone else either. And you? You end up irritated and angry over all of it. If anything they drove you far, far away from wanting to take their “advice.” So you see, advice can be good and bad. But recently I learned something important and it rocked my world. I learned how to live the best life. It was the best advice I ever got and it came from my dogs.

Scout Sonner Birch

Remington Trailblazer Birch
My dogs trust their instincts. They know when someone isn’t a good person because they pick up on cues that humans are otherwise too preoccupied to spot. They sleep when tired; they play hard. They love getting out and going for long walks. They love a good tasty treat. They love to cuddle up on the bed; they get excited when their humans come home. They love with their whole heart and forget about my mistakes as if they never happened. They do not judge, they do not care about money or what kind of car I drive. As a matter of fact, they don't criticize my writing either. Just so long as I vow to love them with my whole heart, they will be always be there and they do it with a happy wag of their tail. And so it is with my writing process. If I get out and walk, if I indulge in an occasional tasty treat, if I rest when I need it and play hard (meaning write with all my heart), I will get to where I need to be in life and with my writing. Hands down my dogs have provided me with the best life advice ever.
Thank you Remi and Scout. You sleep at my feet and cheer me on to write more, to write better. You are my example to live by and I will do my best to be a good human and heed your advice.
Stephanie D. Birch is a Weimaraner-loving nut that would willingly lay down her life for her fur babies. If you don't know why being owned by a dog is such an amazing thing, email her at birchwordnerd@yahoo.com. She is currently working on a children's series entitled Remi and Scout's Short Tails.

Friday, December 14, 2012

To the Victims and Families of the Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut has rocked this nation, but none so much as the families directly affected. Our thoughts are with all those involved in this shooting. Your loss is being felt everywhere and we grieve for you knowing it isn’t enough. Enough would be to turn back the hands of time to protect your young children, the staff members, the innocents. There are no words that can adequately express our sorrow because we know that yours is greater. This terrible thing that has ripped through the heart of our country will never be forgotten; your pain will never be erased. Instead, we vow to stand by your side, to be your shoulder to cry on, to embrace you with what comfort we can offer, to be your friend. Today we remember the victims, their lives and the families torn apart by this senseless tragedy.  
Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families during this difficult time.
The Writer Freaks

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

No Offense

That spray tan makes you look like an Oompa Loopa, no offense. Really? No offense? Well aren’t you shocked ‘cause here I am offended.

Some people are easily offended and some aren’t. It is the way of the world, I suppose. Some of the worst offenders are celebrities. That crotch shot of Britney Spears all those years ago was just gross. And we all asked, what was she thinking? Then there was the rantings of Mel Gibson to his girlfriend that would make even Marilyn Manson blush. We asked, what the heck is the matter with you? What about Kanye West’s spotlight stealing of Taylor Swift at the VMA's? We said, come on dude. Really? And the latest? Miley Cyrus’s new short hair cut and scantily clad body at some music performance. Now honestly, I’m not sure why we all think this is such a big deal. I mean, she is an adult. Well, by years on this earth she is, maybe not otherwise. The point in all of this is simple. We all get offended at certain things at certain times. And what we learn is that we all make mistakes, but we leave the really giant ones to the celebrities. It’s more fun that way. But what if it isn’t a mistake? What if it was on purpose?
You’ve probably heard the saying, art imitates life. Sometimes I think this line is so true and other times I think it is a load of hog wash. I mean, have you seen some of the stuff artists produce? While it is pretty, I don’t especially think I can apply it to my life. Once I went to MoMA with my husband. One particular artist placed a bag of kitty litter in the corner and called it art. What?! If I did that, my husband would ask me why I left the kitty litter out and didn’t put it away?! And how is this imitating life? I think it is imitating an inanimate object, but whatever. Needless to say, its meaning was lost on me, but I wasn’t particularly offended by it. There was, however, some art on the bike path at Venice Beach in Southern California that I was instantly offended by. It took me a minute to calm down, but I somehow managed to walk away without going completely postal. I won’t say exactly what it was because its content isn’t appropriate here, but it was bad and it offended me big time. And I think that was the point. They got a reaction and a strong one at that.

What do you think? Creepy or beautiful?

Someone once told me that it isn't art unless people love it and hate it with the same amount of gusto, that if you offend someone, you are on the right track. I have a perfect example. I love this painting my mom had commissioned for me as a gift. It hangs proudly on my living room wall. People have one of two reactions to it: 1.) they think it is the most beautiful painting they have ever seen, or 2.) They think it is dark and creepy. There is no middle reaction with this painting. People either love it or hate it. Another example, I hate when an author kills off one of my favorite characters in a book. Or have you ever read a book where one or more characters disgusted you? Even with this blog, I seemed to have managed to offend a few people with what I write. Recently, I wrote a short story and embellished a family member’s death a lot. My husband said I would likely offend my family. It gave me pause. Should I write it anyway? Does this mean I am on the right track? Passion is passion. You can love my work with a passion, or hate it with equal measure.
I did end up changing my story a bit so as not to reflect this family member in any way, but was it the right thing to do? Artists must stay true to their craft, even at the risk of offending someone. I’m not suggesting that you go out of your way to offend someone. That would be totally malicious and that isn’t a good thing. But we should try to go for shock and awe. It imitates life, like art is supposed to do. Humans are unpredictable, which is why human behavior is so fascinating. And our fascination with human behavior is excellent material for artists of all kinds to imitate in their own medium.
So, go hence forth and create art that will shock and awe. You might offend some people, but it wouldn’t be righteous art if it didn’t.
Stephanie D. Birch is creating an epic board game called Shock and Awe. While it hasn’t been picked up by Hasbro yet, she is making plans to make an infomercial starring a drunk Joan Rivers and perhaps a Kardashian. To hear more shock and awe stories, contact her at birchwordnerd@yahoo.com