Here’s to Another Decade

Recently, the notion that we’re reaching the end of the decade has been popping up all over my newsfeed, together with the invitation to reflect on what we have achieved during those ten years…

I don’t like the word achieved. There’s a certain amount of pressure riding on the meaning. Who defines what counts as an achievement? And if I didn’t achieve enough according to whoever’s definition, am I a failure? Either way, I thought I might still look back, recollect, maybe dwell a bit on all the things that happened. There were some really awesome things among them. Maybe even an achievement or two.

Here we go, in not much of a particular order.

  • Had a fun pregnancy, with drama doctors who sent me, as we say in German, from Pontius to Pilate panicking over kiddo’s size and weight and insisting I needed a C-section because such a weak, tiny child would never survive a natural birth, completely discarding the less than weak way she was kicking around inside me, or the fact that low birth weights are normal in our family. In the end I cancelled all the extra ultrasounds but accepted the C-section. Side note: C-sections make for a very interesting experience when the anesthetics don’t work. I spent a good part of that surgery hallucinating, and missed my daughter’s birth. She turned up half a kilo heavier than expected and perfectly fine, proving all the crappy measuring wrong, which was how I completely lost patience with everybody and released myself and her early from the hospital.
  • Finished writing the book my brain had been toying around with ever since something like 1991. Sent it to the one German publisher I would have liked to be published with. Got rejected. I still have the letter somewhere.
  • Thought I might do the Cambridge Advanced Exam, did a prep course, got told to try the Proficiency Exam instead, did that, somehow managed an A.
  • Realized writing might be more fun in English. Went and translated my book, rewrote it once again in the process. Joined an international author community, expected to be ridiculed and torn apart, got accepted instead. Learned a lot, made wonderful friends, polished the book up and published it myself.
  • Got a dog.
  • Lost a cat and promised myself to never, ever get another. Got two about half a year later. Did a drawing of one of them and am almost proud of it.
  • Experienced what it feels like to want to get into your car in the morning only it’s not there anymore because someone came around at some point during the night and stole it. Got a new car. Still pissed off, because some of my favorite tapes were in the glove compartment.
  • Experienced what it feels like when the emergency light starts flashing on your dashboard and the car suddenly slows while you’re doing 130km/h on the highway. Twice.
  • Saw both kids off first to nursery, then to elementary school. Saw one of them move on to secondary school.
  • Wrote and published another ten books, and three themed anthologies together with other authors. Book #11 is already written, but probably won’t see the light in this decade anymore. I’m waiting for the beta readers to get back to me, and then there’ll be another round of editing or two, or thirteen, but at least the cover is as good as done, the dreaded blurb aside.
  • Got a niece.
  • Tried to make it as an English teacher. Found that I was horrible at it, because I can only explain stuff to people whose brains apply the same off-kilter logic as mine, and I have no patience at all.
  • Started working as a translator.
  • Met my heart sister and soulmate, who takes me travelling whenever the two of us need a break.
  • Went and visited in real life some of the author folks I met on the internet. Found them to be great friends and awesome people I wish lived a lot closer.
  • Decided to stay in Germany at least as long as the kids go to school here. Don’t want them to have to leave all their friends behind.
  • Flew a helicopter.
  • Got a tattoo.
  • Aged ten years. Turned 42. Have all the answers now. Not.

There’s a good chance I forgot something, or someone, really important…

Anyway, all in all, I guess it was a pretty awesome decade, so here’s to the next. May it be good to you.

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Sorry I’m Writing

If you’ve been wondering why it’s been a while since my last blog post, the reason is quite simply that at some point during the summer holidays, a new story wedged itself pretty firmly into my brain, so yeah, sorry, can’t post, am writing.

For the first time in about two years, though, I don’t feel like I’m in charge. It’s more like the story is writing me, or, to paraphrase from a conversation with another writer, the characters aren’t taking me home, they’re dropping me at the edges of town, telling me to get a taxi. Which means I just let events spill onto the pages knowing full well there’ll be hell to pay in the editing. However, today I’ve finished the rough, lousy, pathetic excuse also known as the first draft, so I thought I might signal that I’m still alive. This is how the book may or may not look like. I’m still working on the cover, so don’t judge yet. Or maybe do, after all, I have to admit that I’m already rather fond of it.

It’s going to be sort of an urban fantasy/fairy tale/mythology crossover, dark and dirty in parts, hopelessly optimistic and naive in others. There’ll be bad words and futile romance, Scottish twins and a Greek diner, suburbs and the sea. The latter probably isn’t too much of a surprise when the book is going to be called Selkie…

Right, that’s it from me, I’ll be back at the writing desk if you need me. Have a glorious autumn.

 

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Days in Tarvisio, or The Things We Do For Our Kids

This summer, when we asked the kids where they wanted to go, they surprisingly said “mountains.” Not that they’re much into hiking, it’s just that ever since we took them to Tyrol, Austria, at one point in the past, they’ve been associating mountains with finding pretty pebbles in riverbeds, and skulls stuffed into hidden crevices in stone walls, and they’re constantly craving more pebbles and, naturally, more skulls.

Don’t ask.

I remembered my own hiking days as a kid with my parents, and a bit of internet searching did the rest. We ended up in Tarvisio, Italy. First things first: Go there, and do it now. They’re currently polishing up the area to make it attractive for summer tourists. Skiing, thus winter tourism, is in decline, and everybody needs to make a living somehow, but as beautiful as the place is, it will soon be brimming with people, so visit it now, as it might not be as beautiful much longer. There’s already quite a large bit of evidence of human stupidity; Monte Canin, a glacier once upon a time, is now a huge pile of rubble with the occasional spot of snow. The reality of climate change becomes obvious up there.

Tarvisio is a border town, complete with a weird mix of rural Austrian and Italian architecture, and impressively quintilingual waitresses. (I’m serious. One woman I spoke to was as good as fluent in Romanian, Hungarian, German, Italian, and English.) According to the kids, they have the best pizza in the world, the best lemon soda, and pretty good ice cream. (Nothing beats Zanoni in Vienna when it comes to ice cream, so any other place can never be anything better than pretty good.)

Ten minutes from Tarvisio, down a road which accidentally runs along the perfect riverbed (where we almost drowned a raccoon, lesson learned, don’t let the toys take selfies in a river), is Lago del Predil, a lake of such perfection, it’s unreal. Nestled between craggy mountains, the water is crystal clear and turquoise. It’s like straight from a picture book. I wouldn’t have minded staying there for the entire week, but the kids needed adventures, so I suggested we try the hiking trail around the lake. Four hours, it said on the tourist information sheet. Family friendly.

Yeah, right. If you ever go there, do not, under any circumstances, follow the blue or yellow markings. They don’t show the right way. In fact, they’re probably a trap, or an elaborate prank. Because after two hours of not family friendly hiking, more like semi-professional climbing, only we didn’t have any of the gear, upwards, downwards, slipping and sliding, with on occasion a tuft of grass being the only available handhold on an almost horizontal slope above a straight drop, we finally ran into a wall, quite literally, and a Belgian family who were hoping that we’d know the way. One look at their dog and our kids and that wall which I might just about have managed to climb if I had been on my own, and we knew that turning back was our only option. Of course we managed to follow yet some more wrong markings, and ran out of water, but I have never been more proud of the kids. They hardly complained, and instead kept looking out for each other along the way, passing on warnings of slippery spots and treacherous roots, and later showing off their scratches. A double helping of ice cream soothed any remaining aches. We ran into the Belgians again the next afternoon and had a good laugh together. I still regret that we failed to swap names and contact details.

The next day the kids said they wanted a calm day, a little break from that hike’s exertion. Maybe we could go to that ropes course we’d seen on the info sheet? Yes, you read that right. The kids suggested a ropes course as a cosy, sedate activity. Weird. Off we went. Our daughter dragged me onto the hardest course there was, the one where kids weren’t allowed to climb without a parent, the one she was actually too small for and needed a bit of help to reach all the safety lines and carabiners and stuff. Now, I’m not really afraid of heights. I respect them, though, and believe me… that moment when you’re on a platform, four meters up in the air, and your kid is on the next platform, ten meters away from you, and connecting you, separating you, is nothing but a wildly swinging rope you’re supposed to walk on… that’s when you realize exactly just how much you’re willing to do, to risk, for your kids. There’s no hesitation. Any fear goes on the back burner, to be examined and analyzed later. That experience alone would have made our entire stay worthwhile for me.

Oh, and in case you were wondering… yes, Harriet enjoyed it too.

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Summer Days…

…are over. Not summer as such, not yet, but the holidays are. Those bright, endless days of sunshine and adventure, of laissez-faire and savoir-vivre. How I wish each and everyone of us were able to properly cultivate that attitude, to internalize it and apply it to our everyday life. Bet you the world would be a better place.

Anyway, the kids are back in school and today, for the first time in seven weeks, I have the house to myself. Time to gather up all the loose threads I left lying around. To collect the ideas simmering on the back burner of my mind. To tidy up the desk, take up the responsibilities again, finish the promised beta reads, review the books I’ve read…

Of course I spent half the morning procrastinating. How did you know?

Should I feel guilty? Nah. Seriously. No parent who never slept in, not once, all through the holidays, should feel guilty about one lazy morning. Anyone tells you differently, shoot them with your water gun. I’ll smoothly transition back into the routine over the next days. Until then, here’s my favorite holiday pic.

 

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A Game called Fear

My 8-y-old daughter has recently attended a so-called safety training in school, the kind where kids are supposed to learn to say no to unwanted attention, and to identify bullies and manipulative strategies and such. Coach tried to make it clear to them that if someone double-dog dares you into doing something you don’t want to do, there’s a large chance they’re really afraid to do it themselves. Which of course got me to remember Marty McFly… NOBODY CALLS ME CHICKEN … but also got us talking about fear in general. About how it’s the mark of the brave to admit your fears, about Miraculix’ wise words at the end of Asterix and the Normans – I don’t know the exact quote, as I’ve only read it in German, but it’s something along the lines of how true bravery lies in conquering your fears – and about the simple fact that everybody is afraid of something.

My daughter wasn’t ready to believe the latter without evidence. Surely there’s nothing that would scare her big brother? So she devised a game. Everybody got a pen and paper, and had to draw something he or she was afraid of, and then the drawings would get passed around and everybody had to put their name with a plus or a minus, depending on whether or not it was something they, too, were afraid of.

Holy shit.

I hadn’t considered how difficult a game it might turn out to be. I do try my best to be as open and honest as possible with the kids, but there’s open and honest, and then there’s causing trauma. Do I tell them that I’m terrified to the point of paralysis by the mere thought that something might happen to them?

Do I admit my rather ridiculous fear that there are werevolves stalking me in the corridor when I wake up at night and have to go to the bathroom? Yes, I know that werewolves aren’t real, thank you very much? Judging from how neither of my kids woke up screaming in the past nights, I can still only hope I got it right.

 

Needless to say, the game was a revelation. We found quite a few things we were jointly scared of, and others only one or two of us found frightening. We talked about how some fears are simple and others complex, how some are obvious and others abstract, how not all of them are rational, and how being afraid is entirely natural and nothing to be ridiculed, even as it is perfectly okay to laugh about your silly fears together. I whole-heartedly recommend the exercise.

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The Fast-Forward Button

Sometimes I can’t help thinking how it would be nice

to have a fast-forward button

to speed us through a pain we already know

and don’t need to experience twice

because we’ve already learned the lesson

Like heartache, for instance

it will pass, they tell you

you’ll be fine in a year or so

and it’s true

Fast-forward to that point

Same with grief

a loved one’s death

or a surgery

or a broken limb

or just a nasty cold

anything you can safely say you will recover from, given time

If we could save that time

store it somewhere, for something else

something good

then maybe

maybe

we might be more generous with our joy.

 

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You’ve read the books. Now get the T-shirt.

Aaaaand here’s my second surprise, though I have to admit, this one more or less happened by accident. I wanted something palpable to commemorate the unreal fact that I had somehow managed to write and publish ten books, and then I thought, why not take my Resident Witch logo and put it on a T-shirt? What logo, you’ll ask, and rightly so, because you’ll probably have read the e-book and the thing only shows up on the backside of the paperback. Yes, I’m that bad at the whole marketing and branding issue.

Anyway, I found myself looking for ways to design T-shirts online, and stumbled across a few pages… and then it all went a bit out of hand, and before I knew what I was doing, I had an online shop for merch stuff, and my own Resident Witch shirt. Now the kids want a Resident Nuisance shirt each, which may or may not say something about their ability to self-reflect.

Just kidding. They’re wonderful kids. Most of the time.

I think I designed the shirts in a way that won’t make you feel like you’re running around a living, breathing billboard. No mention of any book on them, no interactive website link, not even my name, which means you don’t have to have read any of my stuff to enjoy wearing a funny shirt. They’re not precisely cheap, but they come with a good conscience. The company producing them takes great care to work sustainably. Organic cotton, wastewater recycling, workers who earn a decent wage, renewable energy, all that, just look here. Good quality, too. I’ve set the price to the lowest possible option, which means if you actually do purchase a shirt, I get a cup of coffee out of it, and I’m not talking fancy caramel soy latte, just an ordinary cup, milk, no sugar.

Here’s the link to get you to the shop, and a bad pic of me with my new favorite shirt. The only thing to rival my marketing skills are my selfie skills.

If you’re missing something, your favorite quote, your favorite color, whatever, drop me a line, I’ll see what I can do.

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