2022 Wrap Up/2023 Goals

I do not want to get into how 2022 went for me. It might be tied with 2010 for my Worst Year Ever TM, and the less said about that, the better. I will bust out a few stats, however, because you know I love stats. So…

  • Total Words Written: 157,000
  • Five Poems Published
  • Two Short Stories Published
  • Thirty-Two Books Read

So many of my plans and projects didn’t pan out, BUT I was in an anthology, I produced an art zine, I had my photography in a gallery show, and I had a mini-exhibition for my paintings.

My two main personal goals for 2023 are to:

  1. Stop being horrible to myself
  2. Eat three meals a day.

2023 Goodreads Reading Goal: 20 Books

Professional Goals:

  • Pass the one-million-word mark on the NaNoWriMo website (where I track everything I write, all year ’round, not just during the events). Context: I’m currently at 936,000 words.
  • I want to have posted 200 stories to the Elysian Fields fanfic archive by my ten-year anniversary (at the end of July). Context: I’m currently at 186.
  • Publish my short story collection
  • Publish part two in my YA trilogy
  • Illustrate and publish my children’s picture book
  • Do more art events and craft fairs

A New Approach

I’m told that you don’t stop growing until you’re twenty-five. That at twenty-five, you’ve apparently––finally––reached physical and emotional maturity. Which… looking back at my life… yeah, that tracks.

But when I first heard that fact, at say around age twenty, I misunderstood it (as, fittingly, I misunderstood so much at age twenty). I thought it meant that I needed to have my life figured out by twenty-five. That I must resolve all of my issues and faults by this deadline or they’d become set in stone and, not being able to change a single lick more, I’d be doomed to keep said faults forevermore.

Thank f*ck things were not quite so dire. (Twenty-year-old me was a little dramatic, can you tell?)

Little did I know that at thirty-three-and-two-thirds, I’d be able to adopt a new writing habit that would change my creative life entirely.

This new habit is ridiculously simple. So simple, in fact, that I actually came up with a very similar one myself years ago. I’m pretty sure I wrote a blog post about it then, too. I no doubt tagged it as ‘Good Advice.’ And then, of course, I didn’t take the advice until this past week, when I came across it again on a podcast. Continue reading

Feeling Reflective

I feel in a bit of a weird headspace right now. Life has been… interesting, as always. Many exciting projects. Many things falling apart. Much stress and exhaustion––you know, the usual.

I used to use this blog to get into the nitty-gritty of all of that. The exact specifics of what I was working on, the struggles I encountered along the way, and how I was feeling about all of it.

I miss that, and would like to get back to blogging a bit more. But, at the same time, I’m hesitant to address the harder stuff I’ve encountered this year as a bunch of it still feels too raw. I feel like I need the distance of time before I can talk about it, so I don’t feel quite so vulnerable. But also, I’m very aware that the things I want, and probably need, to talk about don’t just affect me, and that makes me nervous.

Earlier this year I wrote a blog post that was about my own personal growth and journey, that just mentioned someone else in passing, and that person––whom I love deeply––was hurt by my mention. And although it was a complete misunderstanding, my intentions don’t matter much. If they’re hurt then they’re hurt, and I’m sorry.

I’ve been fairly gun-shy on getting too personal ever since, and now I feel a little in limbo. Not sure what to do.

Dear reader, shall I begin again?

On Laziness

I have noticed a trend, both in people I know personally and others I follow on YouTube, and it’s been slowly driving me nuts. It’s a trend I mostly see in women who not just work hard, but overwork themselves to the point of burnout several times a year. And it’s this:

If and when they finally do take a break, they say some variation of “I’m having a lazy day.”

No. You’re not.

You’re resting. You’re recovering.

There is a difference, and it’s a significant one.

Even if you think you’re saying it as a good thing, e.g. “I’m having a lazy day because I deserve it,” the word lazy is negative. Because definitionally, it’s a crappy character trait.

Rest, however, is a good thing. Not just a positive thing, but a necessary one.

You’re not lazy, you’re TIRED.

You need to give yourself a break in more way than one, and avoid falling into the trap of feeling bad or guilty for doing it.

Sincerely, someone who learned––and is still learning––the hard way.

Shooting My Shot

Forgive the repetition if you’ve already heard this news via my newsletter or social media, but I have been given what I think is a really great opportunity––but I need help in order to take it.

Some of my photography has been accepted into a gallery show in October, but I don’t have the means to cover the gallery fee plus the cost of actually printing and framing my work.

So, long story short, I’ve set up a crowdfunding campaign to help raise the funds.

You can find all the details here.

I’m of course open to any and all questions.

Finding Mylo and Míng

In case you missed my newsletter and/or my announcements across social media, this is just a short post to tell you that I recently released my first art zine.

It’s called ‘Finding Mylo and Míng’ and is about the journey I went on to start making art as an adult, develop an art style, and create my first characters.

The zine is a short, 22-page, full-colour book the size of a comic (6×9 inches).

It’s for anyone interested in getting started with illustration, and/or people who enjoy cute images of animals.

Available via Amazon (USUK), Barnes and NobleBook DepositoryBookshop.orgWaterstones, and independent bookstores if you ask for it.

See below for a flip-through.

Man of the River

I wrote this for the Waterways Storymaking Festival, and it wasn’t chosen to be shared anywhere, so I decided to share it here myself.

It is all true.

I never met my paternal grandfather. He’d passed on before my parents were married, long before us kids came along. But when I think of waterways, my mind is immediately drawn to the Upper Bann, and to the somewhat eccentric man who spent many of his years quite literally on its banks.

Outside the tiny village of Rathfriland, my grandfather lived with my grandmother and four sons in a tiny cottage––two rooms total, with a mud floor and a waterwheel on one side. The tiny scrap of land on the other side had no railings. No fence. Just six feet between the front door and the water’s edge.

One of my uncles almost drowned as a toddler. And as with so many of my family’s stories, I have no idea how any of us made it this far.

Yet, here we are. 2022 and the McKee genes live on.

I remember my dad taking us to that cottage. Through the then knee-high nettles to the spot where he could look up and point out the very tree from the infamous fishing incident.

My grandfather tried to be a man of efficiency. Emphasis on tried.

One time, after a few too many drinks, it occurred to him that it might be a waste of time to eat dinner and dessert as separate meals, so he tossed one atop the other and ate them as one.

And proceeded to throw them up as one, a few short minutes later.

It was with a similar burst of inspiration that he once decided to go fishing. Not with a rod, or a net… but a shotgun.

You read that correctly.

And it went about as well as you might expect.

He climbed a tree, hung out on a limb over the Bann, and waited. Then, when a fish swam within reach, my grandfather fired––and the recoil sent him out of the tree and into the water.

Needless to say he was none too happy upon hauling himself out, scrabbling up the river bank, utterly soaked to the skin.

The river took his shotgun, but we’re likely agreed on that being for the best. Especially when you consider this is not the only shotgun/river anecdote about my grandfather, past down in laughing voices and with shaking heads.

It was the summer of ’69 that my grandfather packed up the family and headed for the bright lights of Bangor, but I’ve got a funny feeling his soul is back there in Rathfriland, on the banks of the River Bann, even now.

Maybe he’s still hunting for his gun.

2022 Take Two

I know most things never go completely to plan, what with life getting in the way at every turn, but my gosh has the first half of 2022 been the opposite of what I hoped for. Thinking on it as a whole, I’m left feeling disappointed for opportunities I reached for and didn’t get, and frustrated for projects I didn’t complete. Looking part that into the details, however, I can see there were good points, too.

In the first half of this year I:

  • Wrote 65,000 words––considerably less than I usually pen in six months, but still sixty-five thousand words!
  • Attempted Veganuary for the first time (and did better than I expected)
  • Got the third Belfast Writers’ Group Anthology out into the world (FINALLY!)
  • Published the first Perilla Magilla book for CL Scott
  • Became a moderator of Elysian Fields, an online fan fiction archive of almost 25,000 members

I also lost pretty much the entirety of my June to COVID––but I was fully vaccinated and I’m still here to tell my story, so I have that to be thankful for.

My Goodreads Goal is on track (11 books read off my total of 20 for the year), and I have been working on my art, as planned.

I’ve had art mentoring sessions via Zoom that were really helpful, completed a bunch of Skillshare classes that were also really good, and attended some in-person art classes that were… let’s just say not up to the standard of the Zoom and Skillshare lessons.

So a mixed bag! Maybe not even too bad, considering. You might be wondering why I’m feeling so down about the year so far, all considered, and to answer that, I point you at the three things still currently in the pipeline for 2022:

  • Life Lessons: Book Two in my YA Trilogy
  • Girl Imperilled: My Short Story Collection
  • An Art Zine

I had planned to have all three of these published by now, and if things had worked out, I’d currently be writing book three of my trilogy, but that’s been pushed to next year.

Which is frustrating, as I’ve said, but I’m also trying to be gentler with myself this year. One of my goals was to actually chill more, and I think I’m maybe a little better on that front. Either way, we’re now in July, having crossed over into the second half of the year, and I’m considering it a fresh start.

Let’s go onward from here!

Reflecting on Buffy, Spike, and ‘That’ Scene

Recently, I became a moderator of Elysian Fields, a fan fiction archive that focuses on the relationship between Buffy and Spike (aka Spuffy) and has around 25,000 members at the time of writing this. Not long after that, the mod team were asked if we wanted to be interviewed as part of an article for Polygon. A few of us said yes and that article is now live, which can be read here.

I hadn’t wanted to do the interview via Zoom but instead wrote to the author of the article, Katie. Below is what I said in full.

I’ve been very public about writing and enjoying fan fiction, to help counteract the taboo some people feel about it. As with many other taboos, I never really ‘got’ why people felt shame about it. But that’s perhaps off-topic.
What draws me to fanfic, in general, is satisfaction. Either I’ve seen a really great movie or read a great book and want more, or I’ve been left frustrated by something and feel the need to fix it somehow. I’m a massive control freak, so fixing things that others wouldn’t consider broken is kind of my jam haha. Outside of fan fiction, I write novels and poetry and short stories set in my own worlds, so words are very much how I relate to everything.
In 2019/2020 I did an English Literature course that required me to read A Streetcar Named Desire, and the ending left me so upset I went home and wrote an epilogue that offered a grain of hope for at least a couple of the characters. I’ve done that in a few different fandoms, but for the most part, my heart is with Buffy. As to why, I’ll need to give a little background.
I was fourteen when the show ended in 2003––such a pivotal and transformative time in a lot of people’s lives. I was navigating what it meant to be a teenager in the modern age while living with parents who considered so much of society evil, from the music on the radio to the shows on TV. That included Buffy––and even tamer things, like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and the first Harry Potter films. I wasn’t allowed to watch any of it. But, given the effects of a, frankly, negligent and emotionally abusive upbringing, I did not have a whole lot of other options for what to do with myself. I didn’t really have friends. I didn’t go out. I was terribly depressed, sometimes even suicidal.
My brother would sometimes watch Buffy (the rules never seemed to apply to him), and so sometimes I was able to catch it, too. And it grabbed me. I became obsessed. Here was a show that dealt with real-life traumas (death and heartbreak and betrayal), albeit via the medium of puns and a fresh twist on vampire lore.
The character of Spike drew me in most of all. The complexity of his character––how he could be furious and honest and seductive all at the same time. And he cried! It was revolutionary to me to see a man, no less one seen as ‘cool’, to show his feelings. Being able to feel things alongside him and the other characters helped me process things in my own life. It was a lifeline, getting me through some of the hardest years I’ve had so far.
And I don’t think I’m alone in that. I think that’s why people stuck with the show, and why it’s still finding fans even now. I don’t have the hard statistics for how the number of fics and members of the community have changed over time, but I feel confident in saying we’ve stayed strong, and our archive in particular is still growing.
With regards to Seeing Red, I have a lot of feelings, and some of them contradictory. On the one hand, I think the topic was an important one to tackle and, as I was saying about taboos, earlier, not left in a place of silent shame. However, I find ‘the bathroom scene’ incredibly hard to watch, and I don’t think the show handled it well at all. We never got to see Buffy and Spike properly address it on screen, and that’s a huge disservice to both the characters and the fans. I feel like the showrunners actively hurt a lot of people with where they look the arc of Spuffy’s sexual relationship, not because it got dark, but because they left it mostly unresolved in that dark place.
I don’t mind reading or writing difficult topics. A lot of the time that’s exactly what needs to be done, and leaning into the raw, difficult aspects of a situation makes the writing stronger. But you can’t half-ass it. The resolution doesn’t need to be all sunshine and rainbows, but it does need to feel resolved. To go through this huge thing as a character and an audience and then almost never talk about it again is bad writing at the very least.
And that’s where the fans have stepped in and written their own endings. Their own resolutions. The beauty of fan fiction is that it gives those most invested in the narrative the power to control it. I’ve read dozens of stories that either change things before Seeing Red, so the bathroom scene never happens, or ones that go through the motions of having the characters fully deal with the aftermath. I’ve written both myself, and I’m not done exploring the topic. It’s that important. It means that much to me. The show saved my life, and it almost feels like, in some small way, I can return the favor.
It is my firm belief that fan fiction is not plagiarism or in a moral grey area, because it only ever adds to the source material. Say you write fanfic in some circles and you’ll be laughed at, but those same circles will fall over themselves for the latest ‘retelling’ of a classic work. The double standard would be laughable if it wasn’t so infuriating.
I think a big part of it is actually that fan fiction is popular with women, and looked down upon (either consciously or subconsciously) for that reason. I could rant about it all day, but I’ll spare you.
Let me know if you want anything clarified or expanded upon.

Confidence Tips for the Painfully Shy

Given the extreme amount of societal pressure on women to look good, in a world where the definition of ‘good’ is ever-changing, and often contradictory––where beauty standards demand you look attractive, but not too attractive, lest you bring any negative attention you might receive down on your own head (because you had to be “asking for it, looking like that!”)… Given all that? It’s fair to say even looking at yourself in the mirror each morning can be a minefield.

What, then, is one to do when you’ve chosen to follow a career path in which an online presence is expected? One where you’re expected to be on at least three different social media platforms, to post semi-regularly on each, and create some kind of consistent ‘brand’ across them?

Specifically, what do you do when you hate how you look, you hate people looking at you, and find yourself in need of professional headshots?

This, folks, is the dilemma I recently faced. Continue reading