Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Writeapalooza: The best for 2008

Janie at Write Stuff wrote yesterday about sharing your favourite 10 articles/stories for the year. Paul followed suit and I've been mulling since yesterday about what could constitute mine. Part of me feels like I haven't possibly produced 10 great pieces of work this year (says the critic) but this isn't necessarily about 'great' work (sit down critic) but what I've enjoyed writing and working on.

So here are my list of ten.

Demon Lover
This was written on the knife edge of a deadline and is truly one of those miracle stories that is 'gifted' from the creative ether. Literally downloaded in less than 90 minutes (with almost no alterations) it was my exploration of what happens when you compromise your ethics and reset your boundaries - just how far do you go before you stop. I'm hoping in the new year that I will be able to push the boundaries of this story a little further with a short film adaptation.

Mercurial Madness
This short story was intended as my dig at the medical profession and while it has elements of that, it also explores the downfall of one woman who has all her bad karma come home to roost when she most needs help. This will hopefully be the flagship story of a new writing project in 2009.

Naphta's Mountain
Spawned from a Fiction Friday prompt, this was the first piece of fiction I wrote after reading 100 Years of Solitude and my first dabble into magical realism - a genre I would like to explore more of in the new year. This is the story of Naph and an old man who sits in his kitchen and the ethical dilemma faced when confronted with the opportunity to leave the city with some misappropriated relocation visas. Set in post apocalyptic Brisbane it was the beginning of my exploration of what Brisbane may look and how it may function after 'the end of the world'.

Voodoo Cowboy: Part One
Using the Cat Empire's song Voodoo Cowboy as inspiration this was my first conscious foray into writing speculative fiction. It may not necessarily work fanastically as a story as it stands. It contains dream elements (lettuce juice), unlike Demon Lover which was based entirely on a dream. I love the idea of my cowboy - a dude with no pigment in his skin, who is travelling on a horse, across the blazing world, descimated by global warming who is coming into his own as a shaman. I haven't managed yet to write about the guy he came across who tried to trade him Tag Heuer watch for a bottle of water. Perhaps my dig at commericalism/consumerism and where it will eventually lead us!

A Giant Falls
My modern adaptation of Jack and the Bean Stalk. It was written at the beginning of the demise of Eddie Groves (of ABC Learning Centres fame) and could possibly be further explored because it was impossible to fit everything I wanted into such a short piece. This was another contribution to Fiction Friday.

Hobbled together from 10 snippets of conversations harvested from a cafe visit, this story was both challenging and fun to write - and it turned out far better than I could have hoped. It follows the first assignment post facial reconstruction surgery, of operativeAudrey as she repatriates retired operative Kingsley. The twist comes as a reminder to us all - that you should be careful in every move you make and every decision that you bring to the fore, because you never know who it is that is watching your back. It was definitely influenced by having seen the remake of Get Smart (one of my all time favourite TV shows as a kid) at the movies.

Was one of a number of short stories that dredged up bits from my past and processed them in fiction. It was also one of a raft of short stories that had me exploring the use of the first person point of view which was something that to date (this was the early part of the year) I hadn't been comfortable with as a writer. Combined it was part of my writing that pushed me into professional and person places of discomfort.

This was the original name given to this piece - I think since it's been through various name changes and I think it's currently called '24'. I loved writing this because I knew the ending that I wanted and it was a trip for me to create the tension, the build up and then deliver the final horrific blow. Voila! The best element of this story though, was getting the feedback - to discover that I had created what I had set out to make.

Of all the stories that I've worked on this year - this has had the most amount of time and effort ploughed into it. The link is to the original story. Since posting this it's under gone a major metamorphosis. Evie (now named Graceville) is the most experimental of my stories and pushes the boundaries I believe, written in all three points of view to delinate each of the three characters. I intended to submit it to the One Brisbane Many Stories competition, but decided that I didn't have it in me to rewrite the final section by the deadline. Evie/Graceville taught me more about writing and perserverance than any other piece of writing this year and it will never be forgotten - even if it never makes it into the published sphere.

Takes a scenario straight out of my highschool years and fast forwards about fifteen or so years. The premise was to write about a character who had been wronged and never got over it. I also drew on a conversation I was privy to in my early 20's between a boyfriend at the time and one of his old school mates who was talking about seeking revenge on those at boarding school who teased and tortured him. I was surprised that so many years on from high school he would consider it worthy of air time - let along energy to plot and scheme. It also brings into question - just how safe are our identities are now that so much of our personal information is storied Just how easy would it be for one person to be wiped from existence?

Honourable mentions ....
Additionally I have to mention two other projects that have been off and on all year - 'Adam & Eve' and 'Captain Juan'. Half a dozen short stories born from my attempt to get my head around Adam and Eve in preparation for NaNo. But I realised that it was too big for NaNo and it's on the backburner for 2009. There is more research to be done, more exploration of my characters, an incomplete world to build - you get the idea. But having shared the concept with a couple of people they all assure me that it's a novel/story that must be told - so I am being held accountable for my ideas.

Captain Juan was my writers candy for the year. If I am completely honest - I loved writing Captain Juan more than I have ever loved writing anything in my entire life. At this point in time, I dont and can't imagine a professional life as a writer without Captain Juan and I thank Paul for bringing him to life in the first place and to Annie for bringing us all together to write Captain Juan as a collective. The absolute highlight of my year!

You will notice all the pieces referenced here are ficton pieces. While the bulk of my published work is non fiction (this year) I have to admit that I don't particularly enjoy writing it (especially the last piece I wrote 'The Path Lest Trod" for DTB) and I find that it saps my creative strength.

So cheers to 2008 - a year I still feel quite ambivalent about and bring on 2009 . I'll be back tomorrow with my list of '5' - books, CDs, movies and people who shaped my 2008.

PS: having compiled that list I feel a little better about my writing year as a whole!

Image found at Crux and Flux

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Year in Review

It's that time again when we pause and look backwards to see how we've fared. As this blog is now given over to writing and associated musings I wont go back over things of a personal nature - though I'm finding it hard sometimes to decide where a certain blog post would go (which was the beauty of having one combined blog where everything could go).

Rather than choose to have a list of resolutions or goals in 2008, I decided to pick and theme and to live my life by that instead. The theme I chose was AUTHENTICITY. Almost twelve months on it seems to be both a foreign idea and a familiar concept. In terms of writing, authenticity meant being true to my calling as a writer. Firstly to call myself a writer and establish with friends, family and strangers alike that it is my vocation. It still feels weird when I am introduced by others as a writer or when people ask 'what do I do' and I reply 'I'm a writer - and a Mum.' Neither are more important than the other so I make a point of mentioning both. Without becoming a mother I would never have realised (or perhaps it would have just taken a hell of a lot longer) my dream of being a writer and without writing I probably wouldn't deal with the rigours of motherhood.

Secondly it meant turning up to the page. For most of the year I've written morning pages every day - though this habit sadly went by the way during November and I haven't yet managed to reclaim it, even though I miss it sorely. I wanted to committ something to the page each week for [Fiction] Friday but I felt keenly the drain of writing short stories, of coming up with new characters and scenarios. I tried numerous tricks, books, prompts but midway through the year my creativity seemed to dry up. My creativity is back and I am also spending time rewriting and working old stories ready for publication somewhere?

Which is a beautiful segue into - thirdly, authenticity meant getting published. Sitting around on my hard drive or reaching a limited audience through this blog isn't enough. I sold my first ever piece of work with relative ease in March with the publishing of my first short story 'Demon Lover' through the Getting Hitched website. I ended the year with a rejection of my short story 'Deck the Balls'! I embarked on a self publishing endeavour with Annie to create Reclaiming Sex After Birth: the survival guide. It is probably the most difficult, demanding and ultimately rewarding project that I have ever been part of. And the journey will continue into the new year.

Authenticity as a writer has almost meant this year recognising that I will never truly be happy just as a writer. There is an innate pull towards publishing for me. There was an offer this year to do editorial work for a fleghling magazine which after lots of consideration I turned down - not wanting to be consumed and working for someone else's dream.In giving up Down to Birth, space opened to conceive new publishing projects - two of which are simmering impatiently on the back burner waiting for their birth in 2009. Replacing my passion to support the homebirth community (which will in essence never totally die) has been a committment to support up and coming writers, which these two projects do. Undoubtedly you will hear more about them very soon.

It's also meant investing in myself as a writer. This year I bit the bullet and became a member of the Queensland Writers Centre and attended The World Building short course run by Sonny Whitelaw in preparation for the National Novel Writing Month. There were others courses I would have liked to have participated in - such as the short story critiquing course but holidays and others piece of life got in the way. I spent a wonderful three days in Byron Bay during the Writers Festival which is most definitely one of the high lights of my professional year.

Authenticity for me has finally meant letting go of preconceived ideas of what it means to be a writer - namedly that writing is a solo activity. I've had the honour of collaborating with Annie Evett on two projects and Paul Anderson on one - with Captain Juan being the highlight of my writing year. The crazy pirate story was my creative life blood during my drought mid year and I look forward to spending more time aboard the La Gongoozler in 2009 side by side with Annie, Paul and the motley cast of many.

Aside from the theme of authenticity I did have some concrete goals. Firstly I wanted to have two fiction and two non fiction pieces published - which was almost achieved within the first few months of the year. Writing my final editorial for Down to Birth in late January was not my final contribution this year - with two more articles published there and another article published in the GAIA newsletter. I didn't make up the second fiction publication as a magazine I submitted to didn't end up going to print. I have a couple of short stories in the wings that I will pursue publication for in the new year.

Secondly I wanted to learn to build a website. It's something that I've always wanted to learn and I got to learn by default through the Reclaim Project. I see writing and web design going hand in hand and it puts me in good stead for the projects that are waiting to see the light of day in the new year.

Lastly I wanted to participate in NaNo again this year and am thrilled with the outcome, almost 52,000 words and completed in 24 days. Most importantly though the fact that I want to continue to write the manuscript that I started. Blue Melissae will hopefully be my first completed manuscript in 2009.

All in all - it's been a bit of a biazarre and very definitely a '1' year where I've oscillated between feeling as though I've achieved nothing and done more than I could have ever anticipated. I'm not even sure if I feel as though I'm out of my cocoon that I went into at the beginning of the year, but do get the feeling that I am nibbling my way out ready to emerge into something bigger and better.

So what for 2009? More on that tomorrrow.

Image is the authenticity mandala from Beth Budesheim and can be found at Painted Journeys

Monday, December 29, 2008

Speeding to the finish line

Surprisingly, this post isn't about the downward slide into the new year. This is about what seemed like the monumental task last night - to finish off Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver before this year ends.

At the beginning of the year, along with a committment to write, I put up the goal to read one book a month. At the time it seemed an impossible goal because I hadn't read more than a handful of books each year since Dylan was born. I realised though the writing and reading go hand in hand, and if I was serious about writing, then I needed to get realistic about reading.

In March the ante was upped from one book to two. With the exception of November, I've kept to it. In reality it means one short book and one long book - approximately 600 pages a month -which is where I don't feel so bad for completing one book in November (Snow Crash) - it was 400+ pages long and I took a fair bite out of Quicksilver as well. Deciding to take up the mantle of the 900+ tome during NaNo was short of madness, but well, whoever said that writers were sensible people.

There have been a few months where, like this month, it' a race to the finish line. The month that I read 100 Years of Solitude I closed the book a few minutes short of midnight on the final day of the month. I decided yesterday when we returned home from the Sunshine Coast and the Christmas festivities that I couldn't take Quicksilver into the New Year (bad omen, poor committment to my own standards, the fear that I will never finish it etc etc etc). With a few quiet days between Christmas and the New Year, I've laid myself on the bed and made it a priority to finish it. I also let my long suffering partner know that I 'have' to finish it before the end of the year.

What I've realised in this cram style session of reading, is I've missed the beauty and pace of most of the book because I've read it piecemeal over the past seven weeks. The plot's been diced up, I've forgotten who was who (with a cast of near hundreds that's easy to do), the build up to the action has been lost and the intrigue blunted.

Quicksilver has challenged me in ways I haven't been challenged in years. It's the thinking person's literature - a massive and impressive web of 17th century history, royal/noble genealogy, natural philosophsy (science), political intrigue and some of the best characters I've met in a very long time. One of the things I love most about Stephenson's epic book (which won the Arthur C Clarke prize in 2004 for Science Fiction) is that fact he uses many of the old spellings of words - such as connexion and phant'sy to name two. His turn of phrase is also brilliant. Hats off to Mr Stephenson also for reinventing the genre of 'science fiction' - because this is exactly what his work with the Baroque Cycle is fiction about science - with a generous side serving of piracy, royal debauchery, sex, twists, turns and recreation of some of the greatest names in history from that time.

With two more days to go I think I'll make it across the line, possibly mentally fatigued, probably left hanging on a plot ledge wanting to immediately go out and buy book two but already committed to a break with a Nick Earles' novel.

I'll be back before the 31st with a few lists - as it's been a year of lists and potentially a list of a few writing resolutions which will take full flight on the Chinese New Year (which I really should go and check the date of). Until then ... keep on reading :)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Deck the Balls: Part 2

When I arrived for the wedding solo everyone assumed Brian, my London-based boyfriend, would accompany me. I said he was caught up with work. So they assumed he’d finally join me for Christmas this year … and I let them. Now all I can see is the empty place setting at the table beside me tomorrow and the sea of accusing looks. My mother, accompanied by Annaleise and the Aunties, will drag out the well rehearsed litany of recriminations - such hits as ‘you’re too fat/skinny, too clingy/aloof, too prudish/exhibitionist’ - no wonder I can’t hold onto a boyfriend.

This year there’ll be a bonus track, ‘Why can’t you just get married like your sister Annaleise.’ Depending on how many rum balls I’ve quaffed, I’ll either back away with the lie ‘I’m happy being single’ or attack with something like ‘because I’m responsible and use birth control.’ It doesn’t really matter though, witty, scathing or pathetic - I may as well be mute. They made their minds up about my love life years ago. God’s way of damning me here on Earth.

But there’s Gran. She’s always on my side, promising me that the right man will coming knocking on my door one day. Then Mum, Annaleise and the Aunties will all have to eat humble pie. I thought that guy was Brian.

I offered to clean out my savings to buy Brian a ticket to fly to Australia. Just one Christmas – was it really that much to ask? You can justify in any number of ways, sex with your ex, even after adding a new girlfriend to the equation, but Christmas … Brian drew the line at that.

Then two days ago a tiny parcel, badly wrapped in Christmas paper arrived in the post from Brian. I surmised that his conscience finally got him. I wanted to believe Brian capable of feeling guilty for the litany of love crimes he’d perpetrated in our three year relationship. That he wanted to make it up to me.

So I dream it is an engagement ring and he will fly in to propose to me on Christmas Eve. The accompanying note had said: Open at home midnight Christmas Eve – Brian
It’s definite - I’m deluding myself.

But why the hell I’d want to get engaged to Brian at this point or any other point in the future is beyond me in the rational moments. I blame it on Christmas. The pressure of family expectations and the repeated screenings of Love Actually have made me want to believe in Christmas miracles – even if in reality they would suck.

It’s half an hour shy of midnight. I take a huge swig of rum and coke then refrigerate the rum balls. The MacAveny clan will be piling into their Holden Commodore station wagons and sedans to make the pilgrimage to St Patricks.

The credits for Carols by Candlelight roll when I flick on the TV. I settle into a hand-me-down easy chair that smells of cat pee and mildew, congratulating myself on finally saying NO to my family and midnight mass! It’s fifteen minutes into Love Actually, fourteen minutes short of midnight when the knock comes. I hit the pause button, struck by the impossibility of the situation.

If I call out and it is a minion sent by my mother to collect me for Mass I won’t be able to pretend that I’m not home. But if I stay silent Brian won’t know that I’m home. And the front door doesn’t have one of those useful peep holes.

Finally, after a second round of thumping I go to the door. It’s not family - MacAveny’s don’t thump.
“Hello?” It’s a male voice and my heart skips a beat.
Brian - I forgive you for being a love rat!
But the voice isn’t Brian’s. I open the door a fraction and peer out.
“Rebecca MacAveny?”
“Merry Christmas.”
“Merry, ummm, Christmas to you too.”

There’s an extended period of time, which might actually be shorter than I perceive it to be, where we just stare at each other. I ponder the possibility that Brian’s sent me a Santa Stripper for Christmas. He has the red hat on his head, a silly grin on his face. Brian wouldn’t! Then I correct myself – he would!

Then I see the huge backpack at Santa’s feet.

“You got Brian’s note didn’t you?” His Irish accent registers for the first time.

Irish Santa looks down at his watch and a stream of Gallic expletives I’ve never heard fly. I catch something about daylight savings, then he finally mutters, “immaculate timing Grogan!”

“You’re not Brian, and I’m guessing you’re not Santa … or a stripper?”
He pulls the hat off his head. “Sorry.”

I’m totally confused and wonder if I’ve inhaled too many rum vapours while cooking. “I think I’m … missing something here?”
“Of course … sorry. You haven’t opened up the parcel yet. I’m Hamish Grogan.” He reaches out a massive hand and crushes mine. “Brian sent me as your Christmas present.”
“Brian sent you, to me, for Christmas?”

Hamish nods like one of those stupid knickknack with their head impaled on a spring.
“Brian paid for you to travel to Australia to have Christmas with me.”
“He said it was actually more to do with your family. And he asked it as a favour – I was coming here anyway.”
“Of course you were.” And I weep tears of relief.

“Rum ball love?” Gran and I are prone on an ancient banana lounges watching a boyish bloke being chased by an over-enthusiastic group of small children, fuelled by more sugar than their small bodies can cope with.

“They’re good,” she says offering me the plate. I know and she should ease up on them, but I don’t know how to tell her. She’ll be intoxicated if she eats any more and then I’ll be accused by Mum, Annaleise and the Aunties for conspiring to get Gran drunk.

“It’s sort of like second prize in a chook raffle - when you’re a vegetarian,” and she laughs at her own joke and pops another ball in her mouth. “And if Hamish said that Brian said he owed you, I’d consider it a debt well paid.” She passes the plate to me.

“I like him.” Of course she does – Hamish is Irish. “But tell me - what shall we call him tomorrow?”

Tomorrow? I’m struggling with today!

Hamish is standing at the esky with his trademark grin and blows me a kiss. I see Annaleise miming a vomit.
“That looked genuine.”
“The vomit or the kiss?” and I take a rum ball, pause, admire my handiwork then Hamish’s butt thrust in the air as he bends down for another beer. “I think we’ll call him Hamish tomorrow.”
“Fine idea,” agrees Gran.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Deck the Balls: Part 1

I’m not sure what’s more annoying?

Annaleise’s diatribe sounding as though she’s channelling our mother - like her, she’s not coming up for breath, or the rum balls. They’re tragic. The ones I’ve managed to fashion look more like mutant globules from outer space than Christmas delights. Annaleise drones on. I try to ignore her and extricate the sticky mess that now resembles a rampant form of leprosy.

Merry Effing Christmas!

This was why I had planned to stay in London this Christmas. I didn’t care if I celebrated alone. But Annaleise spoiled it, forcing me to use my emergency return ticket six weeks before Christmas, for her surprise wedding.

“Annaleise – your bum seems to have found its way onto the bench again.”

It’s the possibly the only thing I have in common with my mother, the objection to Annaleise randomly parking her behind on the kitchen bench. She slides off awkwardly with a pout that sits poorly on her adult lips.
“Man you’re anal!”

I attempt to scoop another teaspoon of the rum rich mixture and roll it into a ball, but the situation has deteriorated further. My hands are now tar and feathered with dough and desiccated coconut. If these things don’t look edible there will be no clandestine supply of rum for me tomorrow.

At Christmas there’s always someone counting my drinks and shooting disapprovingly looks in my direction. No one will think to tally rum balls. If there is no Brian tomorrow I’ll need hard liquor and lots of it. I won’t survive otherwise. It’s OK if the crutch is heavily spiked festive treats.

“You’re meant to wet your hands first.” The advice comes after watching me struggle with the mess for fifteen minutes.
“Are you here for any specific reason Annaleise?” I’ve forgotten if there was a pretext for her unexpected visit.
“I came to remind you about Midnight Mass.” I’m certain she came to snoop and see if Brian is actually here.

I glance over at the clock on the microwave. There’s ten minutes to think up a solid excuse for missing Midnight Mass, then evict Annaleise. An hour to feel guilty about not going; followed by approximately thirty minutes to become so absorbed in Love Actually that I don’t care that my family thinks I’ve disrespected them and deserve to burn in hell.

“I’m not going.”
“You’re expected to go.”
“I’m not a Catholic anymore.”
“What do you mean you’re not a Catholic anymore? You don’t just stop being a Catholic.”
“I’m lapsed then.”
“Lapsed – more like into weird shit!”
“You’re referring to being a pagan I take it?”
“Or you’re not going to mass because of Brian?”
“Thanks for the invite but I’ve already done my Yule worship.”

Two nights earlier I celebrated the summer solstice - alone. My badly constructed straw man burning in the tiny fire I’d illegally lit in the bush near my flat. I remember trying not to transmute the straw man into an effigy of Brian or to feel a certain delight at his fiery demise.

“I’m not talking about your weirdo gatherings. I’m talking about Christmas.”
I sigh with relief at the diversion and wonder how it’s possible we’re from the same gene pool.

I finally get my hands clean to a point where rinsing them won’t clog the sink beyond repair and re-engage with damp hands. My pagan leanings have always repelled me from Father Greg’s mind numbing sermons, but this year it’s more than that. I don’t want to answer questions best left for tomorrow. Plus there’s the mystery of Brian’s gift.

“Chris going this year?” It’s more a statement than a question. The entertainment value of my new brother-in-law, ex professional AFL player, sitting there trapped in the pious embrace of the MacAveny clan, singing off-key Christmas hymns is almost an enticement to go.
“He’s out with friends tonight.”
“So it’s true he’s not really a Catholic then?”
Annaleise snorts.
“Father Greg passed him.” I’d heard only because Dad had a quiet word with Father Greg. “Don’t go getting on your soap box. Just because he’s good with his hands and not his head!”
“Yes well that’s obvious.”

I stare across the pile of potent rum balls to Annaleise’s growing abdomen. I’ve seen enough pregnant bellies on close friends to know that what Annaleise is carrying is not a honeymoon baby, like everyone is pretending it is. She blushes for a moment and then snatches her faux Gucci handbag off the bench, brushing off the accidental dusting of cocoa powder. I pretend that I’m totally absorbed in my gastronomic sculpturing.

“I’ll see you tomorrow. You and Brian.”

I’m convinced she’s put unnecessary emphasise on ‘and Brian’. She knows my terrible secret. She can’t wait to revel in the fall out tomorrow.

I don’t look up from my little alcoholic treasures.

“Just let yourself,” and the slamming door reduces my ‘out’ to a mutter.

I should panic but that won’t make Brian materialise. Wham's Last Christmas blares through my iPod, on repeat and I struggle not to cry into the last of the rum ball mixture, wishing it was me soaked in rum.

... to be continued tomorrow

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Christmas Tale - update

And so it comes to pass that I get my first rejection letter - it seems, only because I chased it up (the cruel irony of that!) I didn't nail the romantic nail on the head(if I am to believe Paul's feedback) ... but I am hoping that it is a story that resonnants with anyone who has ever had anxieties over Christmas, not just of romantic and familial relationships, but all the other things that Christmas drags up for us. It's also a long awaited return to some humour, so I hope it brings some Christmas cheer to all that read it.

I will post the story over two days, automated for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for you all to enjoy.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Christmas Tale

It's been many months since I've felt the enthusiasm to attempt to write anything for Getting Hitched (where my short story Demon Lover is published).

As a paid gig, you think I'd spend each month trying to spawn some sort of literary master piece to woo the editor there with, but after the failed attempt in April to get my email through from Tasmania, I fell off the band wagon of trying and caring. Part of me too I guess feels that writing about relationships (although all my major works are about relationships) is somewhat a lesser art form. I'm a snob - I admit it, so time to get over myself.

The December topic over at Getting Hitched, not surprisingly, is Christmas.

Over the past few days I've been making (or help make) Christmas delights such as rum balls. So this afternoon I had a story begin to take shape in my head, that involved the MC creating rum balls and the sticky mess that congeals on your hands. Merging with this was three conversations that have been had in the space of 12 hours to do with religion and what the Christmas period means in terms of that (those I had the conversations with will probably notice their influences when the story gets published - because I'm being positive here - it will be published!) Plus the usual ups and downs of family life at Christmas time and the pressures that come from it - and the crap that comes out of it!

The voice came from old home town of Ballarat ... the whole idea of wanting to escape the confines of a big town with a small town mentality, of wanting something bigger, schmicker, better - of striking out to find what's yours and knowing it will never be accepted. Ahhhh ... I can hear the tune of my own demons being sung!

But the story needed to have a twist ... and the twist came in the present that was sent to my MC. I wont spoil it, though I will ask:

What is the strangest Christmas gift you have ever received?