Reading People

As an author one of the most important things that we do is read people. It’s how we build characters; how we bring them to life. We watch and listen to how people around us act and react to situations. We look for clues in body movements, in eye movements, in the tone of their skin; we see the wrinkles around their lips, their cheeks, by their forehead or bridge of their nose, around their eyes.  We watch for the placement of hands and arms, to the way they are facing, to the strain or relaxation of their chest and shoulders, or the point in which their feet are directed. We listen to the words they use, the inflections of voice, and the volume in which they speak to determine how they are feeling. All these clues reveal what is going on inside a person.

Many times, as humans, we pick up on these clues without thinking about it. For instance, we know someone is uncomfortable if they are fidgeting or flushing a shade of darker pink in their face. People can sense the uneasiness without picking apart all the details, but what happens if that person is not in front of them, like in a book? That’s where paying attention to those details is crucial.

There’s a big rule in writing that says, don’t tell me, show me.  It’s a tough art to master, but when an author can see the difference that’s where a story really pops. And to the point, that’s where reading people comes into play for the author. If we write something like: Jessie went to the store and was frustrated about her favorite ice cream being out of stock. That gets the words across in the scene and tells you what’s going on, but does it convey an image in the readers’ head? Not really.

But what if we wrote: Jessie walked to the store, sweating the entire way. Smacking her dry lips together, she yearned for something cold and sweet and made her way to the freezer full of Ben and Jerry’s. She scanned the shelf, Cherry Garcia was no where to be found. Her already racing heart, pounded through her hand holding the glass door. With a grunt, she slammed the door, and stomped away. That shows the reader so much more without actually saying Jessie was frustrated. It’s telling them through bodily clues that Jessie was  sweating from a walk and smacking her lips together, drawing attention to the fact that she was hot and parched. Scanning the shelf shows the reader she’s looking for her flavor in particular. And when she couldn’t find it, she had a surge of adrenaline and noradrenaline that created anger, which made her throw the door closed and stomp away. The reader feels her frustration of not finding her favorite flavor of ice cream and why she became angry without the author saying she was frustrated and angry. Describing what was happening to the character brings the readers into the story even further, making them part of the character instead of just being an outsider watching a two-dimensional scene.

Beyond writing, I’ve personally found this trait of being able to read people’s body language, tone, and look in their eyes to assess who they are, what’s going on, and can I trust them? As many of you know, I tend to use actors as my inspiration for my characters. I study their movements and words, not just on their roles, but in interviews and social media.

While writing Falling for Sacrifice, I used This is Us actor, Justin Hartley, as my inspiration for Evan Corbett. On the show, Justin plays actor Kevin Pearson who has dealt with being a pawn for his Hollywood series, The Manny. I was able to tap into that for Evan and his role in the dating reality show, Love At Last. Mind you, I wrote my book during the first season of This is Us where not too much was revealed about Kevin. The second season is when they really got into the meat of his character, which is very odd because I was still able to pick things up about him for my character. Like how his focus was on how he looked rather than what his talent was. I wrote this passage in Falling for Sacrifice specifically :

And where he might be in shape, the only thing he ever did with his muscles was show them off on screen. He barely used them for backbreaking work, except for today.

 

Now, as the third season of This is Us has gotten going, I came across this little gem of a quote:

Let’s just say, I was floored and called my editor right away, shrieking about how I wrote something extremely similar and here was Kevin saying it in the actual show many months after I wrote it.

Watching this scene and hearing the quote made me feel so proud. I read this character correctly. I watched how he slept with just anyone at the beginning of the series, how apprehensive he was when his producer made him do a scene shirtless rather than clothed, and how he made sure specific tiny muscles could be seen before filming a crucial scene for a movie. All of that told me that he was unsure of himself, but obsessive at the same time, so therefore he worked out for the looks rather than the ability to lift three boxes at a time. Those clues from the show told me how Kevin was feeling without saying this specific quote until now.  (So Mr. Hartley, if you are reading this… how awesome are you that you had insight into you character that you could portray that feeling three years ago and keep it going all this time. Congratulations, sir. Thank you for your talent, that triggered my own.)

In conclusion, if we as authors do our job right, study people, study their body language, hear their tone, see their personality through their actions, then our characters will be that much better off in the long run. A well-rounded character can make or break a book,  despite the plot and what flowery words we use. If we have a flat character, we have a crappy book, and no one will buy it.

 

 

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Fan Fiction Friday: The Underworld – Milah’s Story

In the same light as the Rapunzel story I posted back in August, I’m fixing some of the plot mistakes, holes, or just bad story writing we were subjected to in Once Upon A Time. Yes, it’s my favorite show but there are flaws. Today, in particular always bothered– not having Killian and Milah meet in the Underworld. Killian/Captain Hook spent over a century avenging Milah’s death and in the last moments he never got to see her again and she was banished into the River of Lost Souls. None of that was right, in my opinion, so I fixed it.
As always, a lot of the dialogue was taken straight from the show – which I DO NOT OWN.

The Underworld: Milah’s Story

Red sun shone dimly through the curtain in Milah’s room; the alarm ringing out a moment later. It always happened that way. Purgatory, The Underworld… whatever one called it, constantly stripped one of the small joys of daily life away little by little, like sleeping for that extra minute in the morning.

Climbing from bed, the dirt floor under her feet was cold and gritty, uncomfortably lodging between her toes. That only meant one thing, it rained last night; not enough to flood the place, but just a bit softening the sturdy ground even inside. One of those drawbacks of being forced to live in the woods and not in the town setting nearby which compared to the year it was on the living earth, 2016.

Awful, vivid memories bombarded her all too well of the life she lived up there. She dwelled in the same rotting hovel, with the same dreary walls, and the same bleak outlook for the future. At least he wasn’t around. Rumpelstiltskin. Her cowardly ex-husband. The man who killed her. Hades was a cruel god, making her free from Rumple’s clutch, but still trapped. The least he could’ve done was to give her a view of the ocean like she had on the Jolly Roger for nearly a decade, but no. Hades took pride in keeping her miserable, as if he sided with that dark imp ex-husband of hers. All Milah ever wanted was peace from him and the life Rumple had sidled her with… was that too much to ask?

Tying her long, wavy hair in a thick ponytail, she dressed for work. She’d shower when she got to the bus company, for there they actually had hot, running water and a clean floor. Looking around the room, she sighed. None of the items inside were hers, even after living here for over one hundred years. Her world was forever incomplete and unsatisfying. She had no one and nothing. Those days when she was alive seemed like a dream, rather than a real life that had truly existed, especially those days she took her freedom and sailed away from Rumple.

“Killian,” she let herself say softly aloud, sitting at her small table, boiling water for breakfast.

Not often did she allowed herself to think about him and their time at sea together. It hurt too much to remember those gorgeous days full of sun, adventure, and yes, love. When she thought of Captain Killian Jones, though, Baelfire—her young son—crept into her mind alongside the roguish pirate. His precious little face, dirty with the day’s dust and whatever he ate from the forest, berries and the like; big brown eyes always greeted her smiling. He had no idea of the hell she’d gone through with his father, dealing with his whining and lack of help, which eventually led to Rumple weaseling into a deal where they couldn’t have any more children together.

Baelfire also never knew how torn she’d felt every single day she sailed the seas without him with the right man by her side. Killian would’ve been the perfect stepfather to him, so strong and bold, unafraid of authority. He might have been a pirate, but he wasn’t thieving scum. Rumple and his slimy, cowardly ways of getting out the right thing to do was crummier than a devious pirate any day.

She used to dream of Bae running toward her, searching for her, but no matter how loud she’d yell or how close she’d make it to him, they never could reach each other. More than dozens of times had she woken up in Killian’s arms screaming and crying for her little Baelfire.

“We’ll go back for him,” Killian would say. “We’ll take him in the night. No one will know.”

“But what if he hates me? What if that spineless, little man has poisoned him against me?”

Killian would kiss her forehead and guide her back to the warmth of his chest. “Shh, love. Let’s not think about that. Sleep now. We’ll make a better plan later.”

*

The day they finally had returned to Middle Mist, she and Killian had split up hoping Rumple would hear of the pirate’s arrival and head for the docks, so Milah could make her way to Baelfire. Their plan had worked, Rumple was gone, but so was Bae; the hovel was empty. The same dirty home she lived in now in the damned Underworld.

From the fire, Milah pulled her now hot kettle and mixed the steaming water with the packaged oats she’d bought the day before. The grains, water, and powdered milk coagulated together making a thick gruel in her bowl. She pushed it around the ceramic into a ball and choked down the bite, and contemplated the same things she mulled over every single day: where was Baelfire? How can she make amends with him? How can she get out of this place? Then again, she deserved her fate. She abandoned her child and came back for him too late. Had he gone to the Ogre’s War? Or was he dead from some kind of plague? He was a curious child, often getting into trouble when he should’ve been careful. Hell, maybe he’d he smartened up and left his wretched father too. Whatever the outcome of his life, Milah never knew it, never saw him in the Underworld… and probably never would. Her Bae was either lost to the fire or free to the light, or somewhere in this purgatory, hidden from her.

Frustrated like she always was, she stood and tossed her bowl in the basin, oatmeal and spoon included. She had to go. Slipping on her on her coat and scarf, she stepped outside and immediately was overcome by a heavy oppression weighing down the air. Oh no, she thought, that magical force only happened when the worst of the worst joined the realm, and lately that’s happened far too often. But this feeling was different; it was as if doom settled a heavy cloak of lead across her shoulders. She shivered, turned, and locked the door.

*

An hour later, after arriving at work and leading the school children to their bus, she found the source of the oppression. Standing there across the street, dressed in a debonair suit and long wool coat was Rumpelstiltskin – and not the one she knew, cowardly and pathetic. No, this man was dark, frightful, and cunning – a version of that slimy creature he’d become the day she was killed. Strength—her mental strength—had to be resolute when dealing with this Rumple.

She set her jaw in a hard, crossing the street, leaving the children. “What do you want?”

As slick and sly as those conniving businessmen who’ve been through the realm from time to time, he replied, “I have an opportunity for you to go on a romantic adventure to save the man you once loved.”

Add delusional to that list of qualities, she thought, and sneered. “You?”

Rumple grinned. “I’m talking about Killian Jones.”

No, she gasped to herself. Killian couldn’t be dead. If he’d lasted this long alive with the waters of Neverland running through his veins, then something dreadful must’ve happened to end his previous life. She swallowed the hard lump in her throat. “Killian? He’s here?”

Rumple’s left brow twitched toward his hairline. “He’s receiving some special attention from Hades. I need to retrieve him.”

Too many thoughts ran through her mind. If Killian was here, maybe Baelfire was finally here as well. And if that was so, then this was her chance to leave. She could see Killian one more time and apologize to Bae like she had wanted to for over a century. Her whole world was about to change and yet that heavy cloak felt no less lead-like. It was fear… fear of change. “I-I’m supposed to watch the kids,” she blurted out, not knowing how else to get out of his proposition.

“Well, they’re dead anyway,” he retorted, not allowing her to back away. “It’s quite simple really. Can you stand helping me, if it allows you to save him?”

Milah glared. He was still pathetic. “Fine. What do I have to do?”

Gesturing a path in front of him, Rumple said, “Follow me and I’ll explain. We’ll be meeting the third member of our party in just a moment.”

Third party? For Killian? The captain she once knew didn’t have many friends, especially not anyone who’d risk rescuing him from the Lord of Death. Killian Jones was a commanding pirate above deck and a quiet lover below with her. Only then would he reflect on a brother and mother he’d lost in the past, but that was it. Perhaps it was one of them searching for him. No, that couldn’t be it. They would’ve sought him out before now.

“Did he find another love?” she had to ask. Another woman who loved him like she once did could be the answer. Her heart clenched at the thought.

“You really think he held a flame for you all this time?” Rumple taunted.

“Of course not. I’ve been dead for over a century. I’d hope he’d found someone to love him.”

Rumple gave a long, slow eye roll in reply. “How heart-warming. Well, my dear, Milah, your wish has come true, for he has and wait ‘til you meet her.”

Sweeping his arm, Rumple motioned toward a woman walking their way. Blonde, beautiful, and quite young, she was not what Milah was expecting to be the newest love in Killian’s life. “Her?”

Rumple’s lips spread into a cad grin. “Yes, her. Come, let me introduce you.”

The woman stopped in front of him, familiar with Rumple as well, but showed no signs of recognition of Milah. Had this woman never heard of her? That seemed unusual. If she were Killian’s love, wouldn’t he have mentioned her in one way or another, Milah wondered.

“Miss Swan, there’s someone I’d like you to meet,” Rumple said to the blonde. “This is Milah, my ex-wife… and Hook’s ex also. She’s also Baelfire’s mother, of course.” Milah’s felt her eyes twitch the more the woman’s jaw slacked open with each of Rumple’s details.

One look at Rumple and Milah saw the smug joy he was getting at humiliating not just the woman but her as well. Her eyes were wide and embarrassed even. But why? Milah had no clue.

Rumple faced her, continuing. “Emma knew him as Neal. They had a torrid affair, which resulted in a scandalous teenage pregnancy… in prison.”

Oh. That’s why.

“Yeah, well—,” Emma began, but Milah had had enough.

It was one thing to be in love with Killian but Baelfire. Her innocent, sweet, darling Baelfire tarnished by a woman young enough to be her three times great-granddaughter. “So you’ve been with my former lover and my son? Is that right?”

Emma’s stunned expression was enough to gain her a touch of sympathy. To Milah, it was obvious she’d never put the relations together. “Huh?” she uttered.

Barging back into the conversation, Rumple and his controlled grin, lavishing in both of their degradation, said, “I’m sure we’re all going to laugh ourselves sick about this one day. I suggest you follow me before this gets even more awkward.”

Awkward was an understatement; one could cut the stagnant air between them with a dull sword. Despite the feeling, both Milah and Emma fell into line behind a sniggering Rumple.

They arrived at a large, blue house outside of the downtown area in relative silence. It wasn’t until they reached a white picket fence did Emma reveal that this was, in fact, her house. “The way in is here? So, the gates of hell are in my house?”

“As was the stone of Excalibur. Let’s just say the pirate has a knack for real estate, targeting hidden value,” Rumple quipped.

Doing her best not to allow jealousy to consume her, Milah chose to be the bigger person. Instead, she doted on the fact that Killian had found a lifetime kind of love with this Emma, especially since she picked up that he had bought the house for her. Milah couldn’t get him to leave his ship, nor did she ever try. She loved the sea as much as he did. But for this woman, he’d left his boat for a house on a plot of land. Yes, that was a lifetime love if she’d ever seen one.

Inside, they paused.

“Basement door?” Emma asked, before a latched portal under a narrow staircase.

“Basement door,” Rumple repeated in reply.

Emma opened the door and reached into the empty space in front of her. A burst of magic repelled her touch immediately. “It’s a barrier alright.” She nodded toward Milah. “So what is she going to do?”

“Joining hands will be fine,” Rumple said, and reached for Milah’s hand.

Frightened and unsure of what was beyond this barrier, Milah took his small, cold hand.

He squeezed. “You first. I can extend the aura around us, making the living undetected.”

“Are you sure this will work?”

Rumple cocked an eyebrow of disdain. “Do you doubt the Dark One’s magic?”

“No,” Milah said, defiantly. “I doubt the word of a coward that he’s actually here to find, not fight, a man he couldn’t defeat over a hundred years ago.”

“The pirate and I have had our differences, but this isn’t one of them. We get him, and I get to go home to the wife I love and cherish, so let’s go.”

Emma stretched her arm taking Rumple’s opposite hand. “I’m willing to trust him this time, if you are?” she asked Milah. “I’ll protect you. I promise. You have my word.”

Kind green eyes stared into hers. This woman was a stranger to Milah, but she trusted her far more than she did her ex-husband. Milah nodded. “Thank you,” she said, and started for the door descending into the bowels of the Underworld.

“The spell’s gone,” Rumple announced when they could go no further below. “We’ll be able to pass through on our own now. Thank you, Milah. You can go back to protecting the dead children.”

Without so much as a good-bye, Milah was finished with him and turned on her heel to leave.

“Hang on,” Emma said, halting her. “Milah, we couldn’t have gotten this far without you. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” She didn’t know what else to say to this woman. The one who took her place as a companion both of her loves – maternal and romantic.

“And there’s something you should know,” Emma continued. “Your son, Neal – Baelfire, when I was on my way down here on the river, I had a sort of vision of him. He talked to me.”

“Baelfire?” Milah delighted at his name. “What did he say?” she asked, her eyes filling with tears. After all these years, finally she had word of her son.

A quick glance at the man who sired that son, she saw a sneer across his face, as if angered at the thought that Emma hadn’t bothered to share this with him before now.

Emma shot a glare in his direction, she too sensing his disdain. “I owe you nothing for what you did,” she snarled, then faced Milah once again. “He said, he’d moved on and that he was happy. Whatever he had to resolve… he did it.”

Pride threatened to burst her unbeating heart. “Thank you,” Milah gushed. “Thank you so much.” Emma owed her nothing—nothing at all, yet she’d given her the best gift she could’ve ever received. Her beautiful son had moved on without unresolved hate toward her. A weight like that of a two-ton boulder left her shoulder. Tears spilled onto her cheeks. She was free. Free to leave and finally join him, her Baelfire. She could feel it.

Not yet, Milah decided, studying the determination on Emma’s face.

“I hear water this way,” she said.

“That would be the River of Lost Souls,” Milah supplied for her. “We can take it to where Hades will have Killian,” she slipped in there.

“I’m sorry, we can take it?” Rumple interrupted. “If you think we can get the pirate back, I doubt he’ll swap the blonde for the dead woman.”

“You might be The Dark One, but you are still an idiot, Rumple,” Milah insulted, rolling her eyes. Put in his place, she turned to Emma. “I have my reasons. Let me come with you.”

A smile bloomed on the young woman’s face. “Okay.”

*

The boat ride was a silent one, three people on their own mission toward the man who linked them all—Killian Jones. When Milah said she had her reasons, she meant it. Emma had told her she would protect her from Rumple’s tricks, but who would save Emma? She was needed for Killian, and since the doorway to Olympus wasn’t opened the moment Emma granted Milah’s reprieve for Baelfire, she knew then what the last bit of duty she had to fulfill—deliver love to Killian. She couldn’t physically give him the love they once shared, but she could bring him the love he was destined to have. She owed him for giving her exactly that when all her hope was lost while she was alive.

“Here,” Emma said, gliding the boat into a narrow slip. “This is it. He’s down here. I can feel it.” She hopped onto solid ground, wasting not a moment for the boat to stop, and Milah smiled. Emma loved her Killian even more than her own safety on an unsteady boat floating atop a poisoned river. Seeing her so determined, Milah remained in the boat, staring down the devious man she once called husband.

And like she suspected, Rumple called after Emma. “I’m not leaving the boat. It’s too valuable, especially if I’m to get to Belle by nightfall. You’re quite capable of getting the pirate on your own, I’m sure.”

A sickening feeling in Milah’s gut clenched tighter than it had the moment she first saw Rumple across the street an hour ago. No, she did not trust him at all. “If he’s not moving, I’m not either.” As much as she’d love to set eyes on the man she once loved so much, he was no longer hers. “If Rumple tries anything, I’ll give a shout.”

Dragging his eyes to the cavern’s ceiling, Rumple added, “And don’t even think of using magic. Hades would notice anything this close to his home base.”

Emma nodded and took off in a run through the archway that read ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER.

“I was serious, you know?” Rumple said turning slowly around to face her.

“I beg your pardon?”

“The pirate doesn’t love you anymore. He gave up the idea of you, the moment he met her.” He tipped his head in the direction of Emma’s path. “So if he’s your unfinished business, then you’re stuck here.”

A scowl set on her face. “Killian was never my unfinished business. It was Baelfire.”

“I’m not buying it,” he chuckled. “If it were, then why didn’t you disappear after Miss Swan gave you his news?”

Rolling her eyes, she gave into his persistence. “I could have. I felt the absolution of guilt leave me, but I stayed on because I don’t trust you with Emma.”

“Me? Not the pirate?”

He was hopeless. “No! For the last damn time, I have nothing left of Killian in my heart. What is there, is a debt of gratitude for the freedom he gave me. Without him, I was stuck in a hellish future with you. So what I’m here for is to give him what he deserves… a chance with Emma. And I will protect that with all my being.”

“As well you should, as cunning a minion of mine that he is.” Hades’ voice echoed in the hollowed cave.

“EMM—” A surge of magic and Milah was struck dumb and frozen. Rumple was taken—gone from her sight in a flash of blue. The water flowed, the boat bobbed; the bats, high above, flapped their wings leaping from crevice to crevice, still she couldn’t move—not even blink. Where were they? Rumple and Hades she meant. Hell or Emma and Killian.

Fear settled in her core, when suddenly she felt her muscles loosen and Rumple reappeared. Milah leapt to the stone dock. “What was that?”

“Nothing you need worry about.” He smirked and raised his hand, cupping it and rotating it sideways as if he were going to encircle those long fingers around her neck.

“What are you doing?”

He moved closer.

“Rumple.”

Bargaining was useless.

“EMMA!” she finally yelled.

Rumple’s magical grasp, clutched Milah’s neck, cutting off the air from entering her lungs. She scratched at the invisible grip, beating on the force holding her breathless. Her vision darkened, the pressure built in her head.

“Stop!” Emma’s voice bounced off the cave’s walls, followed by a whoosh of hot air. Rumple’s magic countered by hers.

Milah fell to the stone floor with a thud. She sucked in precious air, as her vision slowly returned in the shape of a man she’d only seen in her dreams.

“Milah, are you all right, love?” his deep, velvety voice asked.

She blinked and reached up, touching the bloodied face of her Killian. He was here, in front of her—beaten, but handsome nonetheless. “Killian,” she whispered.

“Aye, love. It’s good to see you again.” He smiled. Tears fell from her eyes.

From behind him, she heard Rumple continuing his fight with Emma. “Stay out of this, Miss Swan. This is between me and Milah.”

“Emma?” Milah questioned to Killian.

“She’s got this, don’t worry.”

“I’m not. She’s strong, just like you. She’s perfect for you,” Milah had to say it. Despite the two magical beings going against each other, none of this situation looked promising for her. Rumple was too powerful, especially with Hades on his side, something Emma knew nothing about. Milah had to say her piece now. “I loved you Killian, back then… but she loves you now and forever.”

He nodded tightly, overcome by the acknowledgement. His one good eye, glossing over with the sheen of an unshed tear. “I know.”

“I won’t let you hurt her,” Emma shouted to Rumple, an undeniable strength behind her voice.

Helping Milah to stand, Killian locked his arm around her waist. “And neither will I.”

“Well, isn’t this a happy reunion?” Rumple was surrounded. His angry face red and lined with the dark creases of a caged animal. “And one that will never continue.”

He spun and shot a whip of magic into Milah’s chest. She flew from Killian’s grasp, rushed backward in a crashing hit.

“No!” Killian shouted, scrambling and reaching for her with the tips of his fingers.

She struggled to keep hold. “It’s okay. Go. Get out of here,” she said and let go, with the image of Killian running to Emma’s side as she hit the water.

From the moment she sank into the river, lost souls enveloped her, taking her lower and deeper into the water. Despite wanting to panic, a calm took her over. After centuries of guilt for Baelfire and longing to see Killian one last time, she was finally free. Peace warmed her. No fear filled her. She trusted the peace inside.

A light suddenly came over her the further she sank, and what was below her feet became a swirling vortex of rushing water. What was happening?

Caught in the whirlpool, she was sucked through to the other side. She was dry over here, her clothes were the ones she was buried in; her hair in rich spirals, cascading down her shoulders over her white peasant dress. Looking to her feet, they were bare as she watched the muddy bottom of the river dissolve into a field of grass.

Lifting her head, she found herself in the middle of a field on a bright, and warm summer’s day. Wheat surrounded her and not too far in the distance between two towering cliffs, was the ocean, crashing blue waves and all.

“Mama?” A rich man’s voice came from her left.

Milah spun toward the sound, finding a tall and handsome, brown eyed man, complete with a cropped beard, and white, toothy smile. She knew those eyes; knew that smile. “Baelfire?”

He nodded. “Yep, it’s me. I heard you. I saw your selfless deed. I asked Zeus to save you.”

“Oh Bae,” she gushed, and threw her arms around her son’s neck. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Mama,” he replied with glee.

Milah leaned back, cupping his face in her hands. “Forgive me for leaving you when you were so young and helpless.”

Gathering her hands in his, he kissed them both. “Mama, I forgave you a long time ago.”

And he had, she felt the peace, felt the love exuding from him. From a lifetime of death without him, she finally had what she’d always wanted: a world without Rumple, and a love in her life she could trust and share for the rest of eternity.

50 Things That Make Me Smile

In no particular order

1. Children’s laughter – From babies to teens, hearing true laughter from the innocent little ones of the world is a joy unto its own.

2. Puppy sounds – Is there anything cuter?

3. Animal videos – From otters climbing on kayaks to pissed off cats defying their owners and knocking over glasses on a table – I freaking love them.

4. Flourishing gardens

5. Nature hikes

6. Bonfires – whether on the beach or huddled up in the backyard, there is nothing better on a chilly night.

7. Watching birth videos – human or animal, watching a being become a mom is a pure wonder.

8. Christmas – I love the feeling of home, love, and the spirit of giving.

9. Cold, blustery nights – nothing is better than getting all cozied up with a warm pair of pajamas, a hot bowl of soup and crusty bread, watching movies with your family.

10. Braiding hair or having hair being played with – I think this comes from having sisters. It was a bonding time to do each other’s hair.

11. Being in the midst of history – I mean this in two ways – visiting historic sites and thinking about who was here before and what happened there or witnessing an event you know will be in the history books for decades to come.

12. Ice cream

13. Cake

14. The sound of crusty bread straight from the oven

15. Seeing an animal you never thought you’d ever see in the wild. It’s such an awe and privilege to witness an animal in its own territory.

16. Superheroes

17. A book – okay one of my books – straight off the press. Best feeling ever.

18. Waking up after a blissful night’s sleep.

19. Rush of watching a movie or show you’ve been waiting to see for months.

20. A new song I fall in love with.

21. Getting a grumpy or shy kid to smile or wave at me.

22. A baby’s toothless grin.

23. Fat baby rolls – I just want to bite them.

24. Soldiers coming home from overseas

25. Old Vets being celebrated.

26. Jewelry when it’s first out of the cleaner. It’s so sparkly.

27. Babies when they taste new foods. Good food or bad – their reactions are priceless.

28. Finding a new crush. This goes back a while and the last real person I had a crush on ended up being my husband, but I still love actor/musician crushes now. They aren’t the same as they were when I was younger because I will always love my husband more, but still it’s so fun.

29. Road trips that start at sunrise.

30. Big bath tubs! Lots of bubbles.

31. Rainforest like showers.

32. My balcony in the spring when it looks like I live in a tree house.

33. Doggies greeting owner after a long separation. Their excitement is pure joy.

34. Visitors!

35. Fall leaves in various colors.

36. The smell of a campfire.

37. The first bike ride of the spring.

38. Thunderstorms

39. Soft rain falling through the trees.

40. Meeting a favorite celebrity and finding out they are sweethearts in real life.

41. My son, who is now taller than, coming in for a morning snuggle before school.

42. A good cup of tea on a cool day.

43. Peanut butter on anything

44. An hour long conversation with a new friend or a friend you haven’t spoke to in a long while.

45. Getting a new personal best in weight lifting.

46. Planning a Halloween costume.

47. Taking pictures

48. Spectacular skies be it rainbows, sunsets, sunrises, storm clouds.

49. The first snow fall.

50. Hugs and kisses from the people I love.

What are some things you love? Let’s keep the list going in the comments.

Grief and the Positive Person

Being positive and happy can be a difficult one sometimes. To some people it comes easy – they are bright, joyful, and bubbly no matter what the situation. They’re the ones who see the good side of tragedy, who point out the silver lining in a dark cloud, who can infuriate you if you aren’t in a good mood at all. I’m usually that person. I’d like to think that because of this trait is why, those who are having a bad day need cheering up they come to me.  But what happens when it’s me who’s having the bad day? Who do I turn to?

My friends who know me, already know this so forgive me for saying it again…but I lost my little dog last week. He was killed by a car going 50+ mph in a 30 mph zone. He had his leash on. The leash was wrapped around my wrist and my fingers. A dog barked across the street. Marley barked back, wanting to play so bad. I turned my wrist and opened my hand for a nano-second to pull in more leash so he stayed close, but that’s all it took. He felt the loosening of tension and bolted. The car didn’t slow down, didn’t stop, and never turned around to see what he hit. My son and I witnessed the whole thing. We were beyond hysterical. Numb. Wrought with overwhelming grief. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, I cried anytime my memory replayed that moment like a video on boomerang… BUT… here’s what I found out about the people around me:

My neighbors are beautiful people. All but one neighbor, who keeps to himself, came to see how my son and I were. Our two closest neighbors were actually with us during the aftermath, holding us, cradling us to her so we didn’t see and hear what was going on behind us; while the other neighbor helped with the accident with the woman who owned the dog Marley was barking after, and the man in the car behind the offending vehicle, stopped traffic to protect Marley’s body from further harm. I am forever grateful for all those people.

My longest known local friend dropped everything she was doing and rushed over to care for us. Her son (my son’s friend) was there for Cameron, while my friend took her leadership skills as a school principal and directed the neighbors, the phone calls, and relaying the details so we didn’t have to keep reliving it. She also took care of the grimmest details, like what to do with our dog over night. She became my voice and strength when I didn’t have any.  She is my superhero. I love you my dear friend.

The next day, my son wanted normal back and asked to go to school, so I called the office and once again they had nothing but my son’s best interests at hand. The secretary took it upon herself to email my son’s team of teachers and tell them what had happened the night before, as well as the guidance counselor. Cameron said they checked on him and gave him their own sympathies. His friends that did know about what happened, kept his spirits up, making him laugh and joked around with him.

Meanwhile, at my work – a market called Hy-Vee, some people had seen my post on social media about Marley and offered hugs and condolences, but what shocked me were the ones who had just heard from the grapevine and they were there too, doing the same thing. My store’s motto is “a smile in every aisle”, well on October 11, 2018, it was “a hug in every aisle.”

My Human Resources manager bought a potted flowering plant and presented it to me. I don’t know if she thought of it this way or not, but there was a significance in choosing a potted plant versus a bouquet… bouquets dry and wilt – they die. As long as I take care of the plant, it will continue to bloom and grow – they live. That significance was not lost on me.

Social Media… oh social media, you two edged sword, you can make people crazy, you can hurt people with your words without even knowing who they are or you are there for them at their darkest moments. Marley had his own Instagram account, his own following. Some were other Pomeranian owners, some were just people who loved the little furball, but everyone that Marley had touched in one way or another poured out their sympathy. On Facebook, he received 183 comments and recognitions (likes, tears, hearts). I always thought people – especially Facebook friends – thought I was just one of those crazy dog owners, but somehow that little face had brightened so many lives that when his had ended, they were all there showing their support and love to us. Whether I know you personally or have met you online, all of you lifted our spirits.

My family… my extended family, as distant as we are geographically they called making sure we were okay, checking up and rechecking on us daily. I could call them just crying and they let me. They told me that it was okay to be dark and blue and not to worry about what others thought. They all knew what it was like to have a pet and love them more than anything.

My husband didn’t witness the accident. He was there for us afterward. His loss was different than ours, he missed the little guy, but didn’t see what we did. He understood the extra level of hurt we had and helped me through every hiccup, every nervous attack, every crying jag I went through.

All these incredible people became the safety net beneath me when I needed them the most. None of you let me or Cameron fall lower than we had already been. And me, the positive one, the bubbly one, still found the silver lining through a horrific tragedy. I’m not perfect, I’m not always positive – and this week was the proof – I hurt too, but for all these reasons above are why I can write this blog today. You brought me through. You held on to me. You made me positive even when I wanted to crawl into a hole. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

PS. I did not intend for this blog to go this way. I was going to make a list of things that made me happy so I, too, stayed happy, but my head and fingers led me in another direction. I still want to do that list though… next time.

The Unconditional Love of Animals

I thought I’d take the time and talk about something I truly love–animals. There are only two animals that I dare not go near– mice/rats and snakes (okay make that three– mosquitoes too); I don’t like them, they freak me out, but if you like them then all the power to you. Anyhow, back to my point. Animals– as humans, we can learn from their behavior… pets especially. If you own a pet and you are kind to the animal, feed it, give it water, take it to the bathroom, and give it attention, they are loyal. They’ll snuggle you and play with you; they’ll generally want to be around you. Animals show unconditional love in return for the love you show them.

But if you yell at a pet and hit it or kick it, neglect it and leave it to wallow in its filth, they will cower, withdraw, and not want to be around that situation. An odd sense of loyalty (or a chained collar) may keep that pet around, but if they were nature, they’d run away.

We, as humans, are the same way. If someone is there for us when we need them, if they help us through a situation– physical or mental, if they put their well-being on the line to help you then the trust we have in them grows.

A perfect example of this is the time I realized I truly loved my husband. We had been dating a while, and he was the first to say, “I love you.” I had said it back, but my heart wasn’t completely there yet. That was until the day I got sick for the first time with him. He took care of me, helped me, and comforted me without a single hesitation. I knew right then and there that he was it. He loved me unconditionally and in return, my heart enveloped that love on a deeper level then just saying “I love you”.

Adversely, I’ve had people I thought were friends (sadly, I can think of a few people that fit this bill, from old school or church friends, to guys I thought liked me), I opened up to them, shared things with them, and yet something in their lives kept them snappy and mean. No matter how many times I tried to please these friends, they’d treat me unkindly. I couldn’t go to them when I was hurt, I couldn’t confide in them out of fear that they’d use my words against me. My trust waned. My heart closed. I recoiled and fought against them, or left to free myself from their hurt.

Shouldn’t we all be like that? An animal wouldn’t stand for constantly being beat down and neither should we. We should treat others like we would want to be treated ourselves. That’s why the age-old verse is called The Golden Rule… because it’s valuable knowledge that should be heeded: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

Animals know this unspoken rule internally and perhaps we could take a lesson from them. Love all who love you and be free from those who beat you down. And when in doubt, hold a puppy to cheer you up.

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Fan Fiction Friday: Silly Traditions

Submitted by Christina Gist

Town legend says on Halloween, if you carve the initials of your crush into a pumpkin and leave it on the pedestrian bridge in the park, if it’s meant to be, the pumpkin will mysteriously disappear by morning. Killian does the carving. Emma makes sure he believes the legend is true, and steals away the ES pumpkin she watched him leave there.
PS: this is based on an alternative universe with the Once Upon a Time characters.

Emma laughed as she watched Killian struggle to carry his pumpkin purchase across town. It wasn’t a huge pumpkin, but it was large enough that carrying it home was a rather awkward feat.

“Are you really going to give in to that ridiculous tradition?” she asked.

They’d already carved their own pumpkins for tonight’s festivities, (something they did every year since they’d met back in middle school.) so this was an extra that he’d tacked onto his list of things to do before Halloween was over. “You know that’s just a silly legend, right?”

Killian chuckled. “Legends come from somewhere, Swan.”

“Yeah,” she rolled her eyes. “They’re fun things to tell the kids. There’s no real magic about it, Killian. I thought you were twenty five… not twelve.”

“You’ll see,” he told her, as they walked up to his house. He set the pumpkin on the front porch, then pulled her into a bear hug.

Emma hated it when he did that. It always reminded her of what she could never have. Truth be told, she’d tried the whole pumpkin thing when she was about fourteen. (Not that she’d ever admit it to anyone.)  It was a local legend, that you were to carve your crush’s initials into the pumpkin, then leave it on the pedestrian bridge in the park on Halloween. If it disappeared by morning, it was meant to be.

Her KJ pumpkin had sat untouched.

Now, he was probably going to be equally heartbroken, when his MG pumpkin suffered the same fate.

Killian was head over heels for Milah Gold back in high school, and just three months ago, she’d returned to Storybrooke after her divorce. Emma couldn’t help but notice all the extra time her friend had been spending with Milah since her return, and now, he was carving a pumpkin for her.

It hurt on so many different levels.

“I’ll see you around, Swan.”

“Yeah,” she gave him one last squeeze before pulling away, and making the trek to her own home, three doors down. Ready for the first wave of trick or treaters to bombard the street.

She was sitting on her own porch just a few hours later, the last costumed child long since packed up, and taken home, when she saw him come out of his house, pumpkin in his arms. He loaded it in the back of his truck, then looked over at her house. He gave her a sheepish smile, followed by a wave, almost as if he wasn’t expecting to see her there.

He wasn’t gone long, and upon his return, he quickly made his way over to her place. “You look excited,” she said.

“Perhaps a bit nervous,” he commented. “Should I go out first thing tomorrow, or wait until a little later in the morning?”

Her heart stung a little, but she smiled anyway, “I doubt you’ll get any sleep. You’d better go at sunrise.”

“Would you like to come with me?” he asked.

How could she say no? He looked so happy. She had to be there for her best friend. After all, he’d dealt with all her disastrous relationships. The least she could do was help him find his true love. “Sure.”

His grin was a mile wide when he thanked her. After a quick goodbye, he took off towards his house.

Then, her heart dropped. What if the pumpkin was still there tomorrow morning? He’d be crushed!

Not wanting to see her friend’s morning ruined, she decided giving him a little something to believe in was better than the alternative. She waited until all his lights were out, then made her way down to the park.

There was only one, lone pumpkin on the bridge, and Emma thanked her lucky stars that fate hadn’t decided to have her looking through a sea of them. She took a quick glance to make sure no one was watching, then approached the pumpkin with the big ES initialed on it.

Wait. ES?

Her heart skipped a beat as she stared dumbly at the pumpkin, lit up with a little electronic tea light. This was impossible…Killian Jones was her best friend, and had absolutely zero interest in anything more. He was in love with Milah…right? But clearly, the initials said “ES.” Maybe Edith Smith from the post office? She was cute, sweet, and adored by everyone. Why wouldn’t Killian fancy her?

Deciding she really didn’t have much time (or heart) to mull it over, Emma grabbed the pumpkin, and made her way home.

“Swan!” Killian pounded on her door the next morning -bright and early- as promised. Emma made her way to the incessant knocking, and glanced at the pumpkin, sitting proudly on the kitchen table. She wanted to smile, to believe that the ES was truly for her, but there was a sinking feeling in her stomach that it was probably meant for someone else. Plenty of people had those initials.

“Come on, Swan!” Killian shouted again. Emma sighed, and greeted him at the door.

“Morning,” she smiled, hoping it looked genuine.

“I got you coffee, love,” he held up a large tumbler. “I’m afraid it isn’t that pumpkin spice you seem to enjoy. My coffee maker isn’t exactly fancy.”

“Thank you.” She took the tumbler, and for the first time since last night, she began to feel at ease.

Unfortunately, that feeling didn’t last long. When they reached the bridge in the park, and Killian noticed his pumpkin was gone, he wasn’t able to contain his excitement. “I told you!” he exclaimed, running over to the spot where he’d placed the pumpkin. “I told you there was always something to the legend, didn’t I?” He looked over at her, and frowned, “what’s wrong?”

Emma hadn’t realized she’d started crying. Quickly, she wiped her tears away, and shook her head. “Nothing. I’m happy for you, Killian,” she said and started crying again when he rushed back to her. The part of her that wanted to congratulate him was silenced by the part of her that was ridiculously in love with him.

“Don’t cry,” he said as he pulled her into a hug. “I’m sure it isn’t that terrible.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” she asked, a little laugh escaping through her soft sobs.

“I mean, we’ve known each other for most of our lives,” he said, still not making much sense. “Nothing has to change-”

“Killian,” she interrupted. “One of us has no idea what you’re trying to get at.” His efforts at comforting her were only making things worse. What did he mean ‘nothing had to change?’ Everything was going to change!

“The pumpkin.” He let go of her, and pointed to the empty spot. She frowned, remembering the strange initials, and realizing all over again that she was probably losing her best friend to some girl named Edith Smith. Now he was trying to assure Emma that they could still be friends even though he’d found his true love. Killian looked back at her, and started talking again, “I left the pumpkin, and it’s gone…and…” He frowned when he noticed she was anything but happy. “Emma-”

“I’m happy for you,” she lied. Edith was damn lucky.

“Bloody hell,” Killian laughed. “You’ve no idea who’s initials I carved…and you’re upset because…you think it’s someone else.”

“What?”

“Don’t you know, Emma?” He hugged her again, and held her so tight, she thought she might not ever catch her breath. “It’s you.”

“ES?” she guessed, hoping it didn’t give away the fact that she was the pumpkin thief.

“Emma Swan,” he confirmed.

“But…I saw you hanging out with Milah-”

“Milah started working at the restaurant that my office manages,” he said. “So, yes, I see her quite a bit, but it’s strictly business. Like I said, I carved ES into that pumpkin.”

“Not Edith Smith?”

“Dammit, Emma.” He was laughing, so his words didn’t have any bite. “I’ve been in love with you since the day we met.”

“But,” she sniffled, “when I carved my pumpkin… it never disappeared.” She told him about how much faith she’d placed in the legend when she was fourteen. Old enough to know better, young enough to still have hope.

“That’s why you believed this tradition to be silly.”

She nodded, and he held her even tighter.

“Emma… if I’d have known, I would have grabbed that pumpkin the second you placed it.”

She froze, and pulled away. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” he smiled. “That you aren’t as sneaky as you think you are, deputy. I knew you’d be curious if I mentioned my plans, and I knew if I really laid it on thick, that you’d steal my pumpkin just to make me happy.”

“That’s a complicated way to tell someone you like them,” she said.

“Aye,” he shrugged. “But… we’ve been friends for so long, and I wasn’t quite sure… so I figured if you didn’t feel the same way, I could claim the ES stood for Edith Smith.”

Emma wasn’t sure what to say. For years, she could only think about how much she wished Killian would share her feelings, and now, he was basically telling her they’d both been idiots the entire time. “Do…” her voice cracked as she tried to find it. “…do you think…”

“It’s meant to be?” he asked.

“Yeah.” Her answer was barely above a whisper. What if things didn’t work out, and she lost the one person she loved more than anything?

“I think you worry too much,” he said.

“So… now what?”

“Perhaps we can just take it a day at a time?” He looked down at his shoes. “I mean… if… that’s what you want…”

Emma tried not to giggle when he scratched nervously behind his ear. It was adorable how shy he could get sometimes. Even now, when they were both confessing their feelings for one another, he was unsure. “I think that sounds perfect.”

She couldn’t help but smile when he gave her the same sheepish grin he’d given her the night before. He shuffled his feet a bit, and chuckled. “I suppose we could start with breakfast?”

“How about we start with something I’ve been wanting to do for years?”

It didn’t take him long to figure it out. That morning they shared their first kiss, and when they exchanged their vows the next autumn, neither questioned whether or not it was meant to be.

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As always, if you have a fan fiction you’d like to submit, please visit my CONTACT ME page and send me a note. It doesn’t matter what group you fan over, just send them over. 

And just because I love these characters, here’s a little insight into the world of Jennifer Morrison, Colin O’Donoghue and pumpkins.

The Writer or the Prophet?

Life imitates art, right? That’s how it’s supposed to happen, but boy, when it does, it really creeps me out. I don’t think of myself as a predictor of the future. I simply create stories that are both realistic and incredible. The following are examples of when my writing actually came true and definitely contains spoilers, so if you have not read my books and DO NOT want to be spoiled, then stop now and turn to another article of mine…. here’s a good one for you, it’s one of my favorites: As the Ornaments Turn

If you proceed, you do so at your own risk. I don’t want comments saying I wrecked my stories for you.

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The summer of 2014, I was researching for Falling for Freedom and contacted an EMT friend of mine, Doreen Sullivan, to create a fatal car crash. I needed the driver to live and the passenger to die. The driver was a male and husband to woman in the next seat over.  This crash was vital to my story and I needed it to be specific. Doreen and I worked out that they had to be in a small car, the sunroof needed to be open, her seatbelt had to be undone and he had to be secure.

A few months later, Doreen called me shocked as hell, freaking out over an accident she heard on the news.

The driver and passenger of the car that veered across the median, identified as Timothy Sotis of New Haven and Jacqueline Denning of East Hartford, sustained serious injuries. Sotis had to be extricated, and Denning was ejected from the vehicle. 
In the first crash, reported at 6:49 p.m., a Hyundai Elantra, headed east on I-84 veered off the road, shot through grassy center median and became airborne, then struck an Audi S4 Quattro traveling west near Exit 40 in West Hartford, police said. The crash caused a chain reaction that involved three other vehicles. –Hartford Currant

Luckily, none of these people died, but they wrecked just like the people in my book. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that at all. Sorry people of Connecticut if I predicted your car crash.

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My second story happened only five days ago. Falling for Sacrifice ends on a very happy note, with Evan proposing to Isabel instead of giving a thank you speech at the Academy Awards, and he does so with her mother’s ring.

Much like in the case with Doreen, my friend Ann-Marie Zammit, who helped edit my lovely work of art, texted me on Sunday night frantic over whether I was watching the Emmy’s or not. When I said, No, she said I had to watch right now, because the end of my book was coming true right on live tv.

I ran downstairs and sped through the DVR to get to the proper place to see Glenn (which is also the name and spelling of Evan’s father in FFSac) Weiss say in his speech, “Jan, the reason why I don’t want to call you my girlfriend, is because I want to call you my wife.”

The audience erupts, the girlfriend is crying, and when she is brought to the stage, Glenn kneels and with his mother’s ring that stayed on her finger for 67 years of marriage, he proposes to his girlfriend. It was incredible.  I had chills. Annie is blowing my phone up with texts. It was amazing! Just watch…

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Lastly, and this is actually just an added bonus. Everyone knows I love Once Upon A Time, and most of you know that I based my character Rhys Hannel on actor Colin O’Donoghue. Rhys is a driven stockbroker or investment banker, if you will, who dates high-classed women, drinks fine scotch, and drives a Maclaren of all things. He’s raucous and cunning, and his company unfortunately is taken down by insider trading.

Well, being the diligent author/fangirl that I am, I sent Colin a copy of Falling for Phoenix. I don’t know if he read it, or passed it along, or gave it to his wife… who knows. But about a month after I sent it to him, one little comment popped up in his convention panel in Denver, CO, that made me wonder if he had read my book. Colin was asked, if Captain Hook was cursed in season one (which he wasn’t — he didn’t arrive in Storybrooke until season two and he wasn’t cursed, so no cursed persona) what job would his cursed persona have?

In the past, Colin has answered this question from anything from a plumber and a car mechanic, to a fish and chips restaurant owner. Always something blue collar and using his skills as a working man. But this one panel, he said something very different… he said an investment banker. Yeah, I died. I remember I was munching on some popcorn watching the panel and choked on my kernels. It’s not really the same thing as the other two stories, but it’s still really cool!

 

 

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Have you ever had a story come true? Tell me about it in the comments.