WIP Excerpt

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After my grandfather’s death, I took the stepladder from its place on the garage wall. Up in the rafters, I found old bottles with dead flower bouquets, and a wooden box. I took everything, replaced the ladder, and swept away my footprints in the pea stones. My grandmother was still alive, and my aunt might take anything out of the house or any other building on the property.

It was a rough handmade box, like something my grandfather had carved before he even became an apprentice woodworker. There were newspaper clippings, photos, and a postcard. A woman stood at what seemed to be the edge of a cliff, with little boys surrounding her knees. Someone had written Morton shaky pencil over one dark-haired boy. I touched the name. Most heartbreaking, someone had scratched out the face of my great-grandmother, probably, I thought, my great-grandfather’s second wife, after my great-grandmother died in childbirth. There were no other pictures of my great-grandmother in existence.

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I am an amateur at doll photography, but I love it. It’s fun, and it gives me something creative to do that doesn’t “matter” in terms of my career. No, actually, it does matter, because I sell photography and all photography improves my skills. Photography is my side career. Writing is my life.

I finally got shoes for my Tonners. These ladies are an ongoing project. I was only able to afford them because they were both sold nude (the sellers removed their original outfits to sell separately to try to make more money) and they both have rooted hair (no wigs to buy.) Their official names are Lizette and Miette. I renamed the Justine and Vivian. Justine is the younger-looking doll in the blue dress. When I saw this Miette, I had to have her because she has cinnamon-colored hair like the character Vivian in my Empire State Vamps series, and she has brown eyes. After I got Justine and saw her lifelike amber eyes and long eyelashes, I didn’t think I’d like a doll with painted eyes and eyelashes. But I LOVE Vivian/Miette. She looks like my character as a young woman, before she became a vampire.

In my books, Vivian’s 17-year-old daughter was murdered, so she feels a strong motherly instinct towards girls Justine’s age. (But this is all just immature adults playing dolls, right?) I’ve had Justine since January. Since she arrived with no clothes, I had to dress her, and I got SUPER lucky and found an Ebay seller in my state who collects Tonners and makes gorgeous outfits for them for $10-$13. She even made a nightgown to my specifications. Over the last three months, I’ve bought several dresses from her, and we got to chatting. She’s 60. She collects the dolls for her granddaughter, and she makes the clothes to supplement her income. (Again, totally immature adults playing with dolls.)

It was sort of a destiny thing. I had already bought Justine’s long blue frock, and then the seller posted the same dress in a different color and pattern. I wasn’t going to buy it . . . until I found the Miette. And I thought how vampire Vivian loves clothes and would have loved to do the matchy-matchy thing with her daughter. So I bought the matching dress. And I bought underwear and stockings from TheDaughterWhoSews on Etsy, and just last week I bought shoes from Facets by Marcia.

I’ve always collected dolls. I’ve never had the kind of dolls you buy wardrobes for, and accessories, and create “bedrooms” for on your nightstand. I’ve never had dolls that had real personalities. They’re like children–but vampire Vivian would drain me dry if she knew I said that about her.

I’ve been so busy with work lately that I have had almost no time to work on my books. My only relaxation has been Justine and Vivian. I took Instagram pics, of course, but tonight I took some shots with my “real” camera, my Canon Powershot SX20IS. I liked the color shot so much that I took another in sepia, then used the camera’s photo editing software to up the saturation.

So this is what many grown-up doll collectors do. I hope that you like the pics and that you understand doll collectors a little bit better.

 

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Dolls and the Importance of Play in the 21st Century

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Dolls have evolved drastically since I was a child in the 1970s. Of course there are still many traditional dolls on the market, but in general, dolls are becoming more lifelike. Barbie is now available in inexpensive curvy versions and every race and skin tone.

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She’s also available in articulated versions like Made to Move Barbie.

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This was an important decision on Mattel’s part because doll photography is such a huge hobby among collectors, and many of us can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars on BJDs or don’t like the melancholic expressions of most BJDs. (Please don’t take me to task for BJD hate; I think BJD artists are incredibly talented and I’ve seen BJDs I’d love to have. I have three Monster High repaints that were done by a BJD artist. They just don’t have the extreme sad look of some BJDs.)

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For those unfamiliar with doll terminology, BJD stands for ball-jointed doll/Asian ball-jointed doll. Most BJDs have facial expressions similar to anime characters.

Doll artists strip the factory paint from the faces of Monster High dolls and repaint them to look very much like BJDs. Many doll artists start out with MH dolls, perfect their technique, and move on to BJDs. I got lucky and found a new doll artist. My repaints cost $26, $50, and $65. Most repaints start at well over $100.

Why would an adult collector pay so much for repainted mass-produced dolls? They’re unique works of art. A good repaint shows a bit of the artist’s personality. To me, the most important aspect of a repaint is the eyes. It takes great skill to paint authentic eye highlights. Hair is also important. Most doll artists reroot the cheap factory hair. This is a painstaking process. If you ever see an expensive repaint and are shocked by the price, imagine the hours that the artist spent bent over that doll’s head, replacing thin, matted hair with thick, natural looking hair. It’s hard to find short-haired fashion dolls in stores. I bought my first repaint because she has a short bob like me.

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As I said, people who repaint dolls or paint new dolls are artists. It takes a lot of talent, practice, and knowledge to turn a cheap mass-produced doll into a work of art, and it’s possible to supplement your income significantly with doll sales. This is one reason why a child’s interest in dolls and art should be encouraged.

Children love Monster High and Ever After High dolls because of their differentness. These dolls are not about teaching little girls to be good mommies. These are dolls designed for imagination play and to celebrate uniqueness. Quirks. Things we were taught should be subdued in past decades. Monster High and Ever After High dolls are bold, strong, unafraid of living in a world that doesn’t accept them. They’re diverse. A few dolls are disabled. Others wear scars, or accentuate their uncommon features.

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Some wear glasses. This is so important to kids who aren’t “normal.” It’s a stand against the blonde Caucasian abled dolls that people my age grew up with.

I’m Caucasian and have hidden illnesses: asthma, depression, OCD. A doll can’t address all those issues (that I know of) but when I was at prime doll age as a child, it was hard to find a brunette fashion doll. I still have a brunette generic doll from my childhood, a Polynesian Barbie with black hair, and a “Flower Princesses” Evil Witch doll with black and purple hair. The dark-haired doll was the villain back then. Now I seek out dolls with dark hair because it upset me so much as a child to have nothing but blonde dolls. I realize this is a minute problem compared to the total lack of black, Asian, and Latina dolls until recently, but it did matter to me.

I had baby dolls. My mother bought them for me, and I don’t recall asking for them. I wanted the fashion dolls. When a child is playing with a Monster High doll or a new Barbie, they aren’t preparing for life as a housewife/househusband/parent. They’re creating stories in their mind and acting them out. All my years of acting out stories with dolls helped me prepare for a writing career. Consider the upcoming Wonder Woman movie and the associated dolls and action figures. Children who get those dolls aren’t going to use them to play house.

There’s an attitude that careers based on using imagination aren’t real careers, that you can’t make a living off your imagination. This is obviously false. Look at doll designers, fashion designers, and the illustrators and animators who make cartoons and movies based on doll lines. These people love what they do and they make money. Not everyone makes a living wage (although they should) but these are not immature adults who just want to “play with dolls.”

I know people who design stunning high-fashion doll clothes based on the clothes featured in designer fashion shows. I also know grandmothers who passed their love of collecting on to their grandchildren and who make clothes for expensive dolls (like Tonners) to supplement their income.

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Sewing was not something of great interest to many young women until OOAK dolls came into vogue. Now girls and young women are buying sewing machines and learning hand-sewing techniques to make doll clothes. The ability to sew is an invaluable skill. It can lead to a career in fashion design. It can lead to being self-employed with an Etsy store and one’s own fashion line. It can lead to a job in a boutique, altering prom dresses, wedding gowns, bridesmaids’ dresses, and grooms’ and groomsmen’s’ clothes. Weddings and proms will never go away. Small businesses depend on people with a passion for sewing.

Invariably, at some point, a child will take a pair of scissors to a doll’s hair. I’ve done some doll hair restyling as an adult. We’ll never not have a need for hairstylists.

My love for dolls began with paper dolls. My mother would cut the picture of the baby off the side of the Dreft detergent box when it was empty and give me the doll to play with as a paper doll. All companies need illustrators to design logos and marketing campaigns for their products. Every website needs visual content. I used to trace my paper dolls so that I could design outfits for them. Paper dolls haven’t made a big resurgence yet, but coloring books for adults are hugely popular. Dolls and paper dolls can start a child on the path to a career in art. No matter how much people attempt to dismiss art careers as irrelevant, no matter how much people try to push the idea that only a tiny fraction of people will succeed as artists, there are always art careers out there for people who can draw a coloring book or illustrate a video game. Video games aren’t going away. Who knows what may inspire a child to learn video game illustration? And let us not forget book covers. Even an eBook needs a cover illustrator.

Action figures and Funkos are hugely popular among adults. Someone has to draw a design for each one.

Comic books are still very popular. They wouldn’t exist without comic artists.

Our articulated Barbies, Monster High dolls, Ever After High dolls, Tonner dolls and other high-end fashion dolls would not exist without engineers. It takes great skill to design the body of an articulated doll.

The adult who collects dolls and keeps them in a display case, never touching them, is becoming a myth. Adults who buy BJDs, Tonners and other poseable fashion dolls, and repaints of articulated dolls do so for the purpose of photography. Doll photography is an incredibly popular hobby, and the people who love it do not skimp on cameras.

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Doll photography can lead a child to an interest in general photography. No matter how many smartphone cameras there are, there is still a need for professional photographers for portrait studios, paper magazines, online magazines, websites, stock photography, business websites, newspapers, yearbooks and books.

Oftentimes, doll collecting is a relaxing hobby that allows adults to put the stresses of life aside for a little while. Dolls can also inspire children to pursue many career paths. It’s time to stop discouraging children from playing with dolls and mocking adult collectors. Dolls have served various functions for millennia, and now dolls are planting the seeds of inspiration in the minds of children. If your child loves dolls, that’s a good thing. Stand by and watch their imagination grow and bloom. You never know where that love for dolls will take a child.

“Ain’t Nobody Else Going to Read Them”

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My mother and her older brother started cleaning out my aunt’s house today in preparation for it being put up for sale to satisfy the nursing home bill. I was unable to go and help  them today because I’m drowning in freelance assignments and still fighting bronchitis. My aunt’s house is hot and, after three years, dusty.

I asked for a few things from the house: a rag doll, teddy bear, a stuffed (toy) dog, my aunt’s sewing box, a handmade wooden box containing my grandfather’s paperwork as a railroad employee and then a barber, and my aunt’s memorabilia from President Obama’s first campaign.

My uncle despises President Obama and looks at Trump as a validation. A wealthy white male validation. He couldn’t keep his mouth shut when he saw my mother putting the Obama mailings into her purse.

“What do you want that crap for?”

My mother, wanting always to keep the peace and still afraid of her older brother, said “Robin likes Obama and she doesn’t like Trump.”

(My mother also likes Obama and doesn’t like Trump, but I’m used to being thrown under the conservative family bus.)

My uncle responded: “GOLLLEEE.”

When my mother located the specific book that I wanted (An Introduction to Literature, Fiction-Poetry-Drama, Barnet-Berman-Burto) my uncle told her to take every book in the house because “ain’t nobody else going to read them.”

The book that my mother brought to me is a college literature textbook. I wanted it because it contains A Rose for Emily by Faulkner.

My aunt had wonderful taste in decor. She could have been an interior designer. She worked as a waitress for 30+ years before going back to school to earn her R.N. degree. She worked in the same nursing home where she spent the last three years of her life.

Why do you want that crap?

Ain’t nobody else going to read them.

When I recover from this bronchitis, I’m going to my aunt’s house with my mother, alone, and rescuing the books.

 

 

Let Children Enjoy Childhood

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I had an unpleasant encounter with a male STEM proponent, and it’s been on my mind for days. Not because I’m anti-STEM or science. I’m definitely pro-STEM and science, and I think that boys AND GIRLS who show interest and aptitude for science and math should absolutely be encouraged to pursue those interests.

Please note that I said ENCOURAGED. I also believe that kids who want to read fiction, write stories, write poetry, draw pictures should also be encouraged to pursue their interests. Even if they want a  doll or other traditional toy for their birthday instead of a chemistry set or a microscope or a telescope.

When I was in elementary school, I read some of Rachel Carson’s work, and I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist. That lasted a couple of months until I read a book about nursing careers, and I decided that I wanted to be a nurse. Then I started writing stories. And I knew what I wanted to be was a writer.

My father and grandfather gave me a healthy interest in the outdoors: plants, animals, birds. My grandfather used to point out the constellations to me. That and the year we studied astronomy for a semester in elementary school left me with an amateur’s fascination for the skies.

I still played with dolls every day.

Dissecting frogs and giant worms in science class revolted me. I think I failed that semester. I wanted nothing to do with the class any longer. I tuned out.

I have great difficulty with math. This started in the fifth grade when I had a teacher who actively disliked the kids who didn’t “get it” right away. If you needed extra help, she had no time for you. So I often turned in blank math tests well into high school and no one tried to help. I wasn’t getting it, so I wasn’t worth anyone’s time.

What saved me was art, history, civics, and English. When I was 16 I was in a car accident caused by a drunk driver and couldn’t go to school for a month. A math teacher came to my house and tutored me after school. When I went back to school, I was put into a remedial math class. I learned the basics that I had missed in elementary and middle school. With my high grades in the arts and humanities classes, I graduated in the top third of my class.

By that time I had been interested in folklore for a couple of years, and I read everything on the folklore and religion shelves. And trashy romances. And I still collected dolls.

I attended a four year private university and majored in English: Writing Studies. I had to drop out after three semesters due to financial aid cuts. My grandmother paid for me to go to community college. I graduated with a two-year degree in Paralegal Technology.

Now there aren’t any paralegal jobs here . . . unless you’re willing to work part-time under the table. I’d rather stay at home and write.

I’m a (paid) freelance writer by day and an aspiring novelist by night. In between, I’m a darned good amateur photographer, I’m still interested in astronomy, and I developed an interest in mycology as an adult living in a house in the woods with a stunning variety of mushrooms popping up in my yard in late summer and fall. The mushrooms are what made me go out and buy a good high-end camera and that got me interested in photography.

I still collect dolls. I’ve had a couple of people get very upset with me because I’m a 44-year-old woman who collects dolls. I don’t understand that. Adults play video games, read comic books, collect comic books, collect Funkos, collect action figures. So what’s so wrong with my dolls?

I think that the doll issue is so misunderstood by people outside of the doll community that it deserves its own post, so I guess this will be a two-parter.

I’m going to end this (because I have to go write an article for an addiction recovery center that helps people stay clean after detox) with a brief anecdote about a woman my age that I met in kindergarten. After decades of wondering what happened to her after my father put me in a different school, I reconnected with her last year. She’s brilliant. She has a fascinating career in STEM and a wonderful family, and she’s still dealing with emotional issues caused by an overbearing father–almost a stage father–who decided that since she was very good at math and science, that was her life path. And he gave her no choices. And she can’t even bring herself to come back to this town to visit me because of the bad memories of her early school years. She speaks regularly about giving her children the real childhood she didn’t have.

It’s just as cruel to force a girl who finds dissection fascinating and wants a microscope for her birthday to play with dolls because science isn’t “ladylike” as it is to take the doll out of the hands of the child who loves it and hand them a chemistry set that they do not want.

My father was a bastard, but somehow he managed to strike a healthy balance in types of play and education. He taught me to play chess by the time I was in the third grade. My grandparents added to my fascination with history. I regularly drive past my grandmother’s decaying childhood home and I want to know everything about how they really lived.

I’m as well adjusted as can be expected considering those couple of awful teachers I had at crucial points in my education. But I had a great history teacher in high school and a great English teacher in middle school and I think that they saved me. They, and the high school art teacher who said “draw what you want” and gave us a variety of media, and Mrs. Briggs, the math teacher, who tutored me while understanding that I was never going to be a math teacher. But my art teacher made me believe I could be an artist, and my history teacher gave me a fascination with medieval history (one of my other casual interests is archaeology, particularly from that time period) and my English teacher told me that I could be a published author like her.

I learned about archaeology and skeletal facial reconstruction from a romantic suspense novel that I read in high school.

I want teachers like the ones who encouraged me for all children. I want the teacher who sees the girl carrying the Rachel Carson book to guide her in the direction of environmental science.

But dammit, if that girl–or boy–also loves their Monster High collection, no one should belittle her or try to make her feel ashamed for liking dolls.

I’ll try to get to part two tomorrow, but I have a lot of content to write for the addiction recovery center.

I guess writing little stories in the 2nd and 3rd grade wasn’t a waste of time, huh?

Ann Wilson, Queen, and Writing

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I have been laid up for three days with the worst chest cold. We had two weeks of spring temperatures, everything started pollinating, and now we’re under a winter storm warning. Last night I was so delirious that I had a dream about being at a music festival in Central Park in the 70s and Queen and Heart were playing. Roger kept trying to hook up with Ann, but she had a baby and blew him off to go back to the hotel after the show. I dream about Queen a lot.

ANYWAY.

I have been struggling with my vampire books and struggling to write a story about a witch without any vampires sticking their noses in, and I got stuck in my all of this has been for nothing, you can’t salvage the vampire manuscripts, you can’t write about anything but vampires, you’re screwed.

I woke up at two in the morning, and I was so weak that I couldn’t sit up or cough. Thank goodness my mother was still up, and that she had the strength to pull me into a sitting position. I spent the next three hours coughing, you know, that burning, croupy cough. In between periods of coughing, I kept thinking, I really want to write. I know how to fix all the things.

I hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink in 12 hours, but I wanted to write.

Now I’m up, and I’ve figured out my problems. The last third of book one of The Empire State Vamps is weak. I rushed through it. I have to rewrite it.

I have a good beginning for a story about fairies and changelings, set in the present. I think that’s my strongest story in progress. I need to do some plotting and outlining.

I have a good idea for a story about a witch. I have a good beginning. I don’t want to lose my momentum, but I have got to get this vampire book ready. I thought it was ready to query. It’s not. I was right for not just “putting it out there,” as people kept pushing me to do.

I have a lot of work to do and I’m still sick and very tired, and it’s frustrating. But I did start reading a new book last night that hooked me immediately (it’s about books and writing): The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. It’s the perfect book for a wintry weekend of getting my strength back. And more resting means more thinking about stories, plotting, and dreaming about Queen.

The Wind and the Lion

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Apparently March is coming in like a lion this year. We had a thunderstorm last night. Now the wind is roaring around my house. I feel it to my right through the drafty old windows. I think I’ll need extra blankets tonight.

This blustering wind reminds me of fairy tales. “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down.” Those were real concerns for people in sod or stone houses with thatched-roofs.

I think that it’s good to feel something like what our long-ago ancestors felt, sitting by the fire with their livestock. We’ve forgotten how hard day to day survival was a thousand years ago. We’ve forgotten how hard day to day survival was 100 years ago. I’m 44. In a farmhouse on a lonely country highway, my great-grandmother built up the fire, and took an extra quilt to the children all in the same bed, and my great-grandfather, maybe, maybe he sat in a straight-backed chair with his shotgun across his knees because you never knew what might come out of that roaring night.

You never know.