Thinking About

#ForwardFriday

This is me back in May of 2016. Almost exactly 4 years ago. Pre-COVID, Pre-Trump getting elected. Even with all of those things not having happened yet, my life was somehow still full of problems.

But that day I made a choice, after making many before it. But it a was a finalizing, equalizing, definitive choice.

Some might have seen the actions I made that day as simply an effort to leave my ex-husband, but those who know the truth, know that it was so much more than that.

If I have learned anything from my experiences in the last four years, is that when things end, everyone has their own narrative about “what happened”.

Well, here is mine.

Back in 2016 I did a few things. First, I typed “THE END” on the last page of my first draft of a finished manuscript. It was a painful haul. I was drawing much of that narrative from personal experience, including confusing and difficult friendships and relationships I endured during my adolescence. I was having conversations with people from that time and hoping to glean their perspective and narratives to keep myself honest.

I was also staying up all hours, not sleeping in my own bed, forgetting to eat, and admittedly letting go of my daily effort cling to and fix a person. I was also letting go of a relationship that just wasn’t working anymore.

Disclaimer: I recently deleted a few teary recordings of myself that I couldn’t bear to listen to until recently, recounting what I was going through and how it was all affecting me. It was eye-opening but I remembered what I was trying to do with all of that in the first place. I was learning to be honest with myself.

As ayemtea, I was writing poetic serials. I had an active following. Daily I would post these poems that you could probably consider productive procrastination while writing my novel. But I had a lot of words stuck in me that wanted to come out. During my teaching job, while a student was taking a test or reading quietly to themselves, I was writing. I was outlining my book or I was writing the poem that I would release that evening over IG.

When I wasn’t teaching, I was working retail to supplement my income…and having an awful experience. But it was how I filled my time. What was the rest of my time filled with? Church. Believe it or not I was very active in Evangelical circles. I was in that life mostly because I was pressured into it by my ex-husband and some friends I had at the time, but I will own that I walked into that life willingly.

I was convinced that I was doing my best to better myself. I was trying to give back and see the big picture and believe in something bigger than myself and all that nonsense. All the while I was decidedly losing who I really was. I was burying her under suffocating doctrine that I didn’t even fully believe in.

If this post is littered with links, it’s just in an effort to show how I have tried to explore these difficult chapters of my life through writing, which is something I have always either done wittingly or unwittingly. And I know it has helped me.

But it also pushes me. Once the word-well runs dry, it’s time to take action and that is what I did. I’ve made decisions like this before, and had long journeys, and struggles and have been in the wrong, certainly.

Like I said I will always own my part in whatever goes wrong because it always takes two. But that’s ultimately why, despite the litany of reasons I could give. I left because I was the only one doing that.

It was strange. The day I decided to leave, I no longer felt any of the things that kept me hanging on. It was if I had spent time working through all of them, literally iterating my life to somehow get it back on track, but it just refused to do so. I couldn’t go back to being the person I was before certain things happened. There was no going back.

And even now life is never easy, but one thing I learned is that I will never again pretend to be something I am not. It seems fun to think that you could mold yourself into someone that everyone finds agreeable and likable and great, but if that isn’t who you are, eventually the true colors come out. And you know what, that’s okay.

Love is about embracing those colors. And once more if you can’t then maybe it wasn’t love to begin with.

I’m not saying I’m not a good person. But that was the rub. The definition of good for some is a much higher standard than what it is for others. For some “good” is an impossible, inhuman standard that involves crushing your soul into a box that keeps getting smaller. And I refuse to do that.

For #ForwardFriday, think about your own journey. Do you have stories like this? Are they painful? Are you embarrassed to share them? I know, even talking about this, which I never really do publicly, was terrifying. But I have to be true to myself and who I am. I hope you can one day do that too.

#Frasier Friday

Today I will share with you one of my nerdy obsessions:

…Frasier.

There. Phew. I said it. Okay *sigh*

Honestly, there are times when that is more difficult than saying:

I’m an alcoholic. Which I’m not…

*gulps wine at noon*

Anywho, even though I am already in a support group for it,
sometimes I get the urge to do the nerdiest thing ever

and that is blog about Frasier.

So, heh, here we go.

*clears throat* So, I will try to only do this maybe twice a month.

If you’re lucky.

Today’s topic: Frasier Fashion

If you pay close enough attention, like I do, you’ll notice that the fashion in Frasier goes beyond fancy, expensive Hugo Boss ties and double breasted French and Italian tailored suits.

The entire show is a time capsule of memorable looks of it’s time.

For the purpose of this post we will focus on the women’s fashion on the show which when held up to the year an episode had aired was often right on the money.

Disclaimer: I am old (pushing 40), so I can speak on this subject with authority.

We will use the two women we saw the most on the show as examples:

Daphne (Jane Leeves)

The evolution of Daphne (Jane Leeves) is interesting. From dowdy over-sized T shirts and busy pants to skintight low cut baby-doll dresses (sometimes floral, sometimes that interesting shiny poly-blend material you could only get at Hot Topic) it was both a reflection of her character but also the times.

Note the dark tights, floral pattern, and matching choker! Back when grown women and pre-teens had the same wardrobe.


The episode where Frasier keeps “accidentally” going into her bedroom and catches her undressing, she is wearing an early 90’s fashion staple: the leotard posing as a shirt, worn with a wrap-around skirt and a vest. Did I have these 90’s fashion staples in my wardrobe. Well, I shopped at the Limited, what do you think?

This aptly named Youtube clip I found of just the exact scene I was talking about.

White long-sleeve leotard? Check. Wrap-around skirt? Check. Vest to cover up the slightly seethrough leotard so it would look like a shirt and not at all like weirdly inappropriate dance-wear? Check-check!

It’s very clear the day that the whole “wear a plaid skirt so you can look like a Catholic schoolgirl even though you are neither Catholic nor still in school or even a girl” fad hit, the next day Daphne starting wearing them complete with the inconspicuous leotard and tights just underneath.

Look at her with the puppy though, that is clearly they aesthetic they were going for…


A lot people Feminists rave now about the infantilization of 90’s women’s fashions but IMHO there was only one direction to go from the Andy McDowell dowdy schoolmarm in the over-sized dolphin T-shirt. Plus the 90’s brought us these fun trends:

Friends and Seinfeld are often great examples of what was happening in 90’s hair, but it was often art and life both imitating each other. Especially the Rachel which no one seemed to want until they saw Jennifer Anniston wearing it on Friends. But just before that craze happened we had the Elaine Benes/Daphne Moon/Andie MacDowell hair craze.

The long unruly fluff that was either tied back with both a barret and a scrunchie or in Daphne’s case, tied at the bottom to make her hair look short, tied at the top to section off the hair, or worn completely down to show off the mountain of layers she had cut in. It seemed her hair changed every week. And I was there for it since the other two didn’t seem to do much with their hair until the late 90’s.


AND THEN THE CLOUDS PARTED AND DAPHNE CUT OFF ALL HER HAIR


I remember the short-flippy (what year is this 1962?) hairstyle dropped I couldn’t wait to sport it.

Mostly because I had short hair already and this was something I could finally and easily imitate though probably not well. I was still a Junior High school kid and these were grown women with careers that I was imitating. (I still had my braces FFS!) Somehow the Rachel saved us all from death by long hair. And society righted a terrible wrong:


Roz (Peri Gilpin)

Roz was no nonsense from beginning to end. So basically her wardrobe was the antithesis of Daphne’s but that didn’t mean she was not there for 90’s fashion.

She was sporting the ball-busting successful business-woman look, which during the 90’s confusion of babydoll dresses and urban casualwear you better not be caught dead wearing in Junior High. (Thanks, Mom!)

But 3rd wave feminists ate it up with a spoon, which is most likely why Roz’s style didn’t change much at least for the first half of the show. She took the Elaine Benes look and said “I can do this and actually still look hot, even though I often complain about having to wear the pleated khakis that I dressed myself in today.”

But then something cray-cray happens and everything goes whackadoodle…

in Season 5, Roz gets knocked up. And she takes 90’s maternity wear to the next level, guys.

Nevermind what she was wearing when she found out…

I’m talking about these magnificent fashion statements:

Okay, sorry, I couldn’t resist. But I am semi-serious about this.
Whether it was the “times” or what, Roz totally loosened up her fashion sense post-baby.

Which is kind of backwards, right? Her character was a sexpot before that but afterwards she was on her way to her side-hustle as a late 90’s Victoria Secret model, who like Bulldog obviously often left a copy lying around as she was always wearing sparkles and “this is totally a shirt and not underwear” camisoles.

Bulldog: Wow! ‘Victoria’s Secrets,’ page 39. S7Ep5

Once exhausted of the late 90’s when the gaping mouth of the aughts swallowed us up post Y2K and Pre 9/11 we were having some fashion growing pains.

But one thing was certain, we were OVER 90’s fashion and flushed it down the toilet. No, we lit it on fire and HEAVED it over the balcony.

We walked it back though eventually to tailored cardigans, skirts, cropped pants, and structured blazers and pretended to invent the idea.


AND THEN IT WAS NEO HIPPIE PEASANT SHIRTS AND DRESSES AGAIN

Seriously, what was going on? I guess we tried fashion for a hot second and gave up? Did we ever have style, ever? This study of the last 2 decades of fashion leads me to believe we didn’t. What do you think? Did I miss something?

Comment below if you have any thoughts on this ridiculousness or if this post gave you nostalgic nausea…

#WritingPromptWednesday

In the past I wrote a lot of women’s fiction. Okay, I’m lying I still write women’s fiction. Women’s fiction as a genre they say is “dead”. I don’t know if that’s entirely true, people are still writing it and those books are still flying off the shelf.

That isn’t to say that other genres are less valid or even more successful or that I’m not writing them.

In fact for the past almost 2 years I have been working on a Sci Fi novel called StarTribe set in 2084 when introversion is illegal. I won’t say any more but to me that in itself is an absurd premise. Or is it?

Writing Sci Fi is so fun, not just because I use it as an excuse to nerd out over sciency/tech stuff, but the world-building is so incredibly flexible.

That has been both liberating and scary. The learning curve for me of what is “acceptable”(everything) has at times given me pause and made me get in my own way.

In fact I found myself even more blocked because the options for what I could write about beyond the story in my head were limitless.

So I went to the experts.

Thankfully I have some writerly friends who have been writing Sci Fi for a while. I told one about my premise and that I needed to create a character but was stuck. I had already a line-up of misfits in my head but I couldn’t create or formulate an image in my boring old brain of a creature who could be both intimidating and cuddly. I guess the words I used sparked an idea in this writer’s head.

He said: “Why not make a half-man, half-bear hybrid?”

“Genius!” I thought, why didn’t I think of that? But then that dusty part of my brain that sees things in black and white had reservations. A half-bear, half-man hybrid? What? Who would interact with, let alone befriend such a creature and would/could this creature exist in my world? That second question is the one that I asked my friend:

“Do you think that is feasible?”

He asked me, “Why not?”

And that had me thinking even more: “Yeah, it’s my story, why not? I mean just because something that couldn’t exist supposedly in the real world doesn’t mean I can’t just make it so in MY book.”

And that is what Sci Fi is for, to allow for those absurd details that you can somehow make sense and fit into your world.

Five Doors is a fantasy novel I am writing.

I would go back and forth between calling it Fantasy and Magical Realism, because I am so so stuck on that realistic factor. She’s a real person, with real problems, in the real world but she has these powers and other people in the world have powers too. Powers to change and dictate their fate. Some might say we already have that power but in my novel that issue is addressed: Do we? Can we?

As I keep writing, those absurd details keep cropping up. Some involve dreaming, some involve time traveling through doors, some involve timepieces that are long dead suddenly coming to life.

If I didn’t think of these details the story would be boring. It would be “just women’s fiction”.

But even the women’s fiction novel I wrote has an absurd detail in it. One that I have even felt the need to sometimes justify.

Some might think writing from life could be boring too. “I’m not a celebrity; who would want to read about my life?” But think about all the insanity and absurdity you have encountered in your life. Things you might have thought didn’t exist in this boring old world. But you were surprised by them, just as your reader would be if they read a narrative about your life.

So my takeaway, which I hope is also yours, is to embrace those absurd details and use them. And if you aren’t thinking absurd enough, think harder, you’ll get there.

Never settle for ordinary in your writing.

#Funny Friday

Improv in Writing and other hilarity.

So this past Tuesday, I sat in a Free Zoom Workshop given by the Manuscript Academy through #MSWL (phew).

It was great fun, a little intimidating but it got my heart pumping!

And the funny thing is…it was all about comedy or comedic timing but it was all about the three ways that you can use Improv to improve your writing:

Think on your feet (and don’t over-think).

This is IMPORTANT, especially if your goal is to get words on the page! The hilarious part of this is that I am usually good at coming up with clever ideas on the spot on stage, but I usually reserved my writing to take my time generating ideas where I would sit on them for a long time. But you don’t have to do that to be a good writer (apparently). Other people in the class were banging out ideas (wild ones off the top of their head) but that’s what’s great about improv, it lets you live in that crazy spot in your brain you might be afraid to live in when you are writing. In improv (and your writing) the sky is the limit.

Start in the middle of the action.

Chip gave a great example of this in his class. He said if someone came out on stage and gave you their whole backstory before they started the scene you would check out and lose interest, right? So it’s best to start out a scene when something is happening! This is advice you will get everywhere from editors, agents, and publishers too, so it’s best to listen. If you can use Improv as your framework for doing this, all the better. Even if you feel backstory is important to the scene use Improv to get the audience interested in it. Say something like: “Hey remember that time we were in this park and I tried to kill you?” That’s all the backstory you need.

Less is more.

It truly is. You don’t have the time in Improv to get bogged down by detailed description and in your writing you can always come back to it and fill that stuff in later. When you are writing and want to get words on the page, say what is necessary. Use your immediate senses. Put the reader in your head. Get your character talking and moving. That’s all you need to get things going.


My takeaways:

I need to spend less time thinking about my writing and just get in the middle of it.

I can go to any limit I want to with any character, idea, plot or setting. It’s my story, so why not?

I can get more words on the page by getting my characters to do something rather than building up the world around them.

I highly recommend checking out more of #MSWL’s events free or paid (they are affordable) I will do my best to make you aware of the free ones when they come into my inbox!

As a fun little extra I thought I might make you guys aware of a charity event that Mr. Show (an awesome collection of comedic and Improv actors you might recognize) did. The ticket is only $10 and goes towards LIFT. The money goes towards lower income families who need help during COVID.


The event is not live but the video is funny and they do some Improv in it which is a great example of what I was talking about in this post! Enjoy 😉

#Writing Prompt Wednesday

Answering the question: What does the future hold for you?

So, since I have tasked others in my group Fill the Blank Page to answer this prompt, I wanted to try to answer it myself.

Like most other humans on the planet I posted a list of New Years Resolutions for myself back in January.

Going into that list though; I knew what I was doing to myself.

I’ve always been a bit superstitious about predicting the future.

The universe typically laughs at my plans.

It does this by corrupting a milestone usually days before I achieve it.

Or maybe it just feels like that…either way, that’s always been an incredibly lonely feeling.

Going back over that list I can sense my own trepidation in writing it.
I knew what I was doing. I was trying to tell my readers:

Beware, don’t plan your future it’ll come back to bite you.

Make bite-sized goals you can easily fit in your mouth and chew!

Do the bare-ass-minimum so you can say you did something!

I wrote my resolutions list about how at the time I was so scattered “juggling multiple projects and making incremental progress in many different directions and it was difficult for me to pinpoint the exact progress I was making.” And how somehow that would all change for me if I just kept plugging away at my bite-sized goals. And I think I did that. I think I was able to do a little bit here and a little bit there and make at least a little bit of progress. I think. And we all know that very cool and amazingly fun thing that happened to the entire planet and not just me that changed everything and threw a monkey wrench in all of our plans.

It’s sad for me to share that feeling with other people; it is also sweetly vindicating and incredibly equalizing, I know, I’m a terrible person.

Heh…silly 5 months ago me. Thing is I’m still doing that. I have projects scattered everywhere. I have DIRECTION which is new, I guess. But still, I’m a mess:

I’m trying to write 3 novels at once. All at different stages of the writing process. Yes, I know I try to just focus on one, but then I neglect the other two and that’s just mean!

I know, Bad Amy.

I am building my platform. If you are in the group and are reading this blog that is very helpful but also very meta of you. But thanks! Obviously this is also still a work in progress.

I’m trying to reach out and build a community while simultaneously dusting off my old “Write and submit things to other people” bones.
And also find the right agents for my novel(s) and get up the nerve to actually talk to them.

I must say that having online resources to do that has helped. Instead of having to dress nice and take a train somewhere everyone shows up to the Zoom call without pants on.

Is the future going to be filled with me accomplishing all of these goals?

Maybe not. Maybe it’ll be filled with more fear and failure. It might even suck!

But you know what I’ve learned (incredibly) recently?

I’ve learned to embrace the suck and not beat myself up for it.

You know what though? I’m already kind of mad at myself. I needed to make content for my blog and here I am doing that. But I could have used this prompt and wrote a beautiful short story or an epic poem! But I didn’t. I accomplished something, it might not be what I wanted to accomplish but this is more than nothing. I still filled the blank page.

Yesterday, I watched Back to the Future through my 7 1/2 year old stepson’s fresh eyes. It was a red-letter day because he has actually started to be able to sit still through an entire movie and actually understand the plot. He’s bright and was asking all the right questions. But besides experiencing that milestone with him 🙂 I learned something about myself.

I learned that I never let myself change my mind. I learned that I put too much pressure on myself to accomplish SPECIFIC goals which is even worse than trying to accomplish pipe dreams.



At the end of the movie Marty is like “I never got a chance to tell you…” about the future. But he did. Doc was finally just not too stubborn to listen. Who knows when and where Doc was like “Eff, I better tape up that letter and read it!” but he did, he decided his life was in the balance and he needed to know what was going to happen to him.

You’re allowed to change your mind. You’re allowed to follow-through. You’re allowed to make lists of goals. You’re allowed to do nothing. You’re allowed to fail and make mistakes.

When you sit down at the page to write, you’re allowed to write the first thing that comes to mind every-time as long as it’s honest and it’s you.

I think at the very least, my future holds a lot more of me doing just that.

Updates!

Come join other writers in our Private Facebook group Fill the Blank Page

Soon there will be a new blog alongside this one with more diverse content

and way to subscribe to my newsletter!

Feel free to email me at amymarieayres [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions you might have about me, my content or to just have a chat!

Excerpt from FIVE DOORS

…It might appear to outsiders that Marilyn is beginning to lose her mind. When she isn’t singing, she spends all her time in dusty libraries looking up her ancestors and taking notes. Finding any book she can find about bad luck, about the devil, or Ireland’s version of him.

You know, anything remotely related to her life.

What is she attempting to accomplish here? Is she looking for answers?

Will she ever be victorious over Asael?

What does she expect to accomplish looking for legalities and loopholes, trying to get ahead of one who is omniscient?

Impossibilities, again, little Mimi. And still she will try. 

She has been documenting her life up until this point, some of it is gorgeous narrative of where she has been and what she has done, but now the writing has slipped. It’s starting to look like angry or defeated chicken-scratch. 

Lists. 

She is logging copious lists of every wrongdoing. She is connecting the dots. She is making the connections.

 This happened and then that happened. 

Trying to make sense of random patterns. Her ancestors did this as well, but the full record of the lists has been lost.

Mimi found only scraps of paper.

But how much of their fates could they control?

If only they had gone this way and not that way she might never have been born. She knows now how easy it is to prevent a birth, not even prevent but to have one stolen from her. How easy it could have been for her not to exist. For her parents to have made that choice.

She slams a dusty book shut with these thoughts and coughs waving the air in front of her. Someone makes a shushing sound. She ignores them.

“So you’ve decided to stop running, then?” Asael slinks toward her, appearing from behind a bookshelf.

Startled, Mimi attempts to respond, but he doesn’t let her, “I-”

“-Is it because you have nowhere left to go?-Is it because you’ve learned that running takes you nowhere, accomplishes nothing, especially when your end is fated-“

“-The thing is-” Mimi, defeated, simple concedes, “Yes, Asael, I have learned my lesson. There is no escaping you.”

“What finally did it, huh?” He rests his head on his hand, “Just curious. What was the very thing that pushed you to this point, my dear?”

“You were with me through all of it, you should know the answer to that.”

“Oh, surely, but-” he snickers between words, “I want to hear you say it.”

“That would give you the utmost pleasure, I’m certain.”

“Oh, it would,” he gushes.

“The very moment?”

“Yes, the absolute split half of a second.”

Mimi nods and takes another defeated breath out. She takes a pack of cigarettes out of her pocket, and lights one considering her thoughts.

Asael stares at her with excitement and wonder at this development.

“You can’t smoke in here, little one. How blasphemous!”

“I wasn’t planning on it.”

“You lit it, darling.” Asael watches her, knowingly.

Gasping, Mimi puts out the cigarette between her fingers. She doesn’t wince, her fingers numb. She waves the air hoping no one noticed her gaff. She hides the cigarette butt in her pocket and starts collecting books from the table in front of her…

How the What Reflects the Why in Whatever Happened to Maxwell, Charlie

Recently I went back through DIYMFA 101 and I am now going through the Reading modules. These modules are great, but in past run-throughs I typically didn’t have time to really commit to every exercise.

But this time around I dove right in!

One in particular is called How Does the What Reflect the Why?

In this close reading exercise, we are asked to read something of interest but closely reflect on not just what is happening, but why it is happening.

Why did the author make these intentional choices with things regarding character motivations?

Who are these characters and why do they exist in this story?

Why does it begin and end the way it does?

Essentially, we must ask ourselves as readers:

How can we keep track of these nuances?
And as writers how can implement them into our own work?


I thought for a fun exercise, I might use my most finished WIP and ask myself why did I make the choices I made?

Who are my characters and why do they exist?

Why does my story begin and end the way it does?

I addressed all of these questions and here is a sneak peak/maybe even a spoiler that answers: How does What happens in my novel reflect Why it happens?

HOW does the WHAT reflect the WHY in:

Whatever Happened to Maxwell, Charlie?

WHAT HAPPENS:

The What is: the basic plot points. Identify those major plot landmarks from Module 3: three acts, two decision points, and one midpoint.

ACT 1 Joanna is talking to Gabby; the reader thinks Gabby is her therapist. Joanna retells how she fell in love with Max. The reader learns that Max and Charlie are the same person. Joanna gives the backstory of how Charlie and Joanna meet in 90’s Baltimore and become friends. Joanna rivals with Jane and Natasha, loses her friends, loses Max, gets new friends and changes some, reunites with Max, meets Sam, uses Jayson to make Max jealous.

Decision point: Max and Joanna agree to try again. Joanna is unimpressed with Max’s efforts. Things fizzle between them. Joanna leaves high school depressed but hopeful for the future.

ACT 2 Joanna is reunited with Sam and meets Reagan in unflattering circumstances that colors Reagan’s impression of her. She meets Sasha and George and dates both of them simultaneously while her friendship with Sam deepens. She sours the relationships with those men and goes back to being a loner. Max writes her a letter that he wants to visit. He visits but says he is moving to DC. Reagan kicks Joanna out.

Decision Point: Joanna moves to Austin, TX. While there experiences a different, more productive life, but tells Gabby she came back because she missed Sam (and we learn of Sam’s child)

ACT 3 Joanna comes back to Baltimore. Max comes back as a new alter Maxwell. Sam wants to integrate Maxwell into their group. Sam sleeps with Max with Joanna’s blessing, since she is still keeping their relationship/friendship a secret.

Midpoint: Joanna is looking in the mirror the next morning and notes how her physical appearance has changed, but also how cracked the mirror is that she is looking into. Also, Maxwell is standing behind her looking in the mirror, so his reflection is also in it.

Decision point: After hashing things out, Joanna and Maxwell agree to try again. He attempts to do all the things he didn’t do for her before: take her out on dates, buy her candy and flowers, take her on trips, including her in his life and meeting his friends announcing at her job how impressive she is. The only thing he doesn’t do is tell Sam about his illness, the ultimatum for Joanna to agree to marry him. Meanwhile Joanna is getting inklings that he is only using her to further his career.

Decision point: She decides to get even with him and take back some power in her life by leveraging her job to get him fired. He gets fired and decides to voluntarily check himself into a mental health facility. We learn (2 spoilers) and out of guilt and desperation Joanna attempts to clear his name. They reunite and he forgives her and as Charlie owes his betrayal to her, and so she ultimately forgives him.

WHY IT ALL HAPPENS:

The Why is: Why do the characters do what they do? What are their motives? What role do they each serve?

The Major Characters:

Joanna lost Charlie as a friend and she is mourning their friendship when she meets Max. However, since she pines for Max from afar, she doesn’t make the connection that they are the same person until he tells her over the phone.

Joanna feels she is broken and limping through life due to her depression and what she considers hurdles to what she wants: Max. Her broken ankle as an adult is a metaphor for this.

Joanna does much of what she does in the story to either: escape Max, and who other people think she is because of him, or doing things to foster his attention when she feels she has it. Sometimes she goes looking for it, but more often he approaches her with his offers of reconciliation.

Joanna is often left feeling as if there is something she could do to remedy their dysfunctional relationship but is often at a loss as to what that would be. She finally tries to tank it at the climax but reconciles with him after remembering how much he means to her.

Charlie/Max/Maxwell.  By virtue of the story, Max is three different people and therefore might have three different motivations.

Charlie lives within Joanna’s mind. Her only real memories of him are of who he was before he came back as someone else. With the loss of his parents, Joanna is the only tie to their shared past.

Because of this, his memory of events and also when and how they occur, frequently comes up in conversation. It is always very important to seemingly sentimental Joanna that Max remember their times together and their significance. She is always pushing for his perspective.

His inability to provide it often makes it harder for her to come to terms with his flights of fancy which typically come between them and sours their love/friendship.

But Max has his moments where it is clear that he wishes he was more together, and he does try as Maxwell to shape up, be more adult and less selfish with his actions.

But Joanna quickly learns that just as Max was a cover for his insecurities, Maxwell is even more of an over-correction and so his actions never sit well with her.

Maxwell’s realization as Charlie arcs his story and makes him more likable, but as the love-interest/supposed-villain, his actions could easily sour readers who are not rooting for him.

Jane is a BFF stand-in for Joanna after Charlie’s disappearance, but quickly becomes something of a villain herself.

In true mean-girl form, it is clear Jane does not respect Joanna, nor does she really understand or defend her when she has multiple opportunities to do so.

The meanest and nicest thing Jane ever did for Joanna was to give her Max’s phone number when she admits to having a crush on him.

She does so only after she has dated him herself and deemed him “nerdy and boring” and after he started dating their popular friend Natasha creating a classic rivalry between them (more on that in a bit).

When they are deemed “Janie and Joanie” it’s clear that Joanna is unhappy with her new “persona” and never really fits in with the clique Jane is trying to wedge her into.

Even moreso when the other girls get wind of how flirtatious Joanna has been not just with Max but with the other boys in their class, and they shun and ostracize her as a result.

The relationship with Jane does wane but carries over into their late teens, when they both end up dating the same boy again (Jayson).

Jane disapproves of Max and Joanna’s eventual “courtship” and refuses to acknowledge it for a time. Ultimately she betrays Joanna, when Joanna tries one last time to get Jane on her side, ultimately destroying Joanna’s trust in everyone involved.

Jane could be seen as Joanna’s only chance to reenter the real world and come back down to Earth, but since she isn’t much a of a comfort Joanna is forced to walk away from Jane for good.

“Sam” Samantha ( and a bit about Reagan) Sam is easily a foil for Jane as she has more of a playful, kooky bad-girl persona. She isn’t mean, supposedly because she isn’t “intelligent” enough to be conniving and not because she doesn’t have any hard feelings for Joanna. The reader knows better.

We learn exactly what and who Sam is when she first meets Joanna by happenstance at the dance where Jane and Joanna are finally done with each other as friends.

Sam foreshadows their eventual BFF relationship and even gets inklings of Max’s existence though she doesn’t meet him face to face until he becomes Maxwell.

When Sam and Reagan are reintroduced (as sisters and in tandem) we get the full impression of how Reagan is a foil, an obstacle and a new villain in Joanna’s life. The first major climax in Act 2 is when Reagan kicks Joanna out forcing her to make the decision to become someone else.

Sam and Joanna have a bit of a dysfunctional relationship themselves, Sam is clingy and touchy feel-y and Joanna often feels trapped by her, and even is negatively influenced by her.

Yet we see glimmers of how this relationship is one of the best Joanna has had so far in the novel and what a good, solid friend Sam is to her.

A few of the minor characters:

Gabby: a therapist trope (but a good one!) she helps Joanna navigate her narration of her life story and tries to keep her reliable and accountable. There is a twist with Gabby but I won’t put that here!

Joanna’s mother: Nameless and almost as distant of a character as her father, she is the seemingly only grounding force in Joanna’s life that reminds the reader Joanna is only a child through much of this yet still forced to make adult decisions.

Joanna’s mother is a cornerstone for understanding her relationship with her father, and why she approaches certain situations with fear and trepidation rather than assertiveness. Her mother serves to point out the changes in her, and her ease with letting Joanna grow up and move on points to how Joanna doesn’t feel she has roots anywhere.

Natasha: The third part of the love triangle and initially the ultimate obstacle to Max. She also aids in the readers confusion with Max’s decision-making as she is thoroughly unlikable. Max is afraid to break up with Natasha though doing so would be the only thing to regain Joanna’s trust. An important foil/villain in Joanna’s life.

Nelly: Sam’s 4 year old daughter, and the “reason” Joanna moves back to Baltimore, she is also a great Fool.

Nelly is very possessive of her friendship with the “moon” and doesn’t want to share the moon with anyone else. Joanna can relate but doesn’t pick up on the irony of how weird it is that she relates to a 4 year old.

Nelly is an excellent representation of the passage of time, and how these characters are exceedingly emotionally immature despite having a small child in their care. Nelly also humanizes Maxwell integrating him so seamlessly into her own life, But she also sees him as larger than life much like she sees the moon or a Ferris wheel.

Why is the author writing this piece? What is its purpose and message?

Well I am the author so I will let you in on the secret!

Joanna is forced to ultimately reconcile with herself. She has the realization that even though she doesn’t have DID diagnosis she has also become three different people in her efforts to better herself. Her relationship with Charlie/Max/Maxwell is also a circular one often represented by things like Ferris and bicycle wheels.

When she realizes that all of her ill will is due to her own memories of the past and her inability to let them go, she finally starts her arc. Joanna is not a hero but a villain of her own making in her desperation to no longer be the protagonist.

Her realization that another person’s life is also at stake might be a touchy thing for readers who want Joanna to pick herself up and focus on her own well-being.

But the realization is that she cannot achieve that without coming to terms with her own mental health and her own choices. She does not want to end the story a victim so she embraces her pain, forgives the villains, and moves on.

If you want to know more about Whatever Happened to Maxwell, Charlie? and about other projects I am working on, email me!

amymarieayres@gmail.com

How To Talk About Your Writing

Has this ever happened to you?

You are having a conversation with a friend, colleague, coworker, family member, hairdresser, etc. and it comes up that you are a writer.

And they ask you one of (or some hybrid of) these dreaded questions:

  • What are you working on?
  • What do you write?
  • Can I read something you’ve written?

If you are unprepared you might respond in a particular way and the way you responded may leave you feeling like this:

Man, I have been there. More than once! It’s awful.

But when you are in that situation you learn a valuable lesson:

Talking about your writing is almost more important than having written.

We’ve all practiced our TedTalk about our book in front of the mirror (Oh, not you? Well, imagine you did this)

…and yet when we are face to face with the prospect of condensing, explaining, reiterating…

we…

we just suddenly…

hmm…we…

…run out of words?


Well, it’s tough! Your brain is full.

It probably doesn’t have any more room for a 280 character-condensed version of your 400 pg manuscript that you can quickly spit out at people as they walk by you.

Or put on a sandwich board as you parade up and down the street.

(Yes, I know that’s not how marketing works.)

But here’s the thing, you have to try. You must have something at the ready when people ask you.

But going back.

How many of you don’t like talking about your writing because:

  1. You assume no one is interested.
  2. You feel like you’re bragging.
  3. You feel like you come across as one of those millennial hipsters who never got around to getting a real job.
  4. You don’t like the conversation to turn into a sales pitch.
  5. You feel like (oof this is the worst) that talking about your idea gets it out of your head and into someone else’s head and now you have to hear their unsolicited opinion of your precious work?

Did you raise your hand? Sorry, I can’t see you.

Look, these feelings suck.

And though they aren’t derived from nothing, to be a successful writer you have to get over them.

So how do you fix this icky problem? How about 5 easy steps.

Step one: Stop being afraid.

*laughs in writer* No, seriously, stop.

It’s not a good look. I know you think you look all broody and wise and reclusive and hip and other words that might pertain to the image you have of yourself, but you just come across as a jerk.

That’s right, I said it: a jerk.

A jerk being someone who is not necessarily mean, but someone who is not very bright.

Sorry for the tough love, but if you don’t get past this step (where I lived for a very long time) you will never move on to step two.

Step two: Reflect on what you have written.

What kind of stuff do you write, what’s your genre, what inspires you, why do you write in the first place, who are your favorite authors (I know, ugh), think about all this stuff though (maybe even write it down, you writer) so that when someone asks you- you have an answer!

Step three: Talk to other writers; ask them questions and see what they say.

Seriously, learn from them. If they are super confident about their writing, why is that? Is it because they love sharing what they do and not hiding it from the world?

I know, weird, right? Seriously, though, learn from these people you will find it will change your perspective on your own writing forever.

Step four: Have a mock conversation.

I know, gross, but this really works. You can pick a writer-friend and that’ll make it easier. In fact, do yourself a favor and talk about writing with other writers on a daily basis

In doing so, you will build up the muscle required to speak with civilians.

Step five: Write some blurbs and pitches.

Because first of all, you’re going to need them anyway. And when you start querying, pitching and moving towards publishing you want to have a good idea of what you are doing first. It never hurts to practice.

Most people can’t promise you a magic bullet solution to this, but I can!

And only because it’s really a matter of getting out of your head and getting out there. And once you do that, you’ve done it.

So get out there and…