Browsed by
Month: July 2013

Ten Must See Stops in Harry Potter’s World

Ten Must See Stops in Harry Potter’s World

Potter Stopwatch
watercolor by Jennifer L. Hotes

I woke to find a blanket of fog over the Seattle skyline and it got me in a Harry Potter frame of mind. The world J.K. Rowling created is one rich with quirks and details that beckon to be visited and revisited often. Where would you most like to explore in Potter’s world?

10) The Burrow – Home to the Weasley’s. I’d like to see first-hand the magic Mrs. Weasley employs to keep up with her frenetically busy family. Did you know their dilapidated house remains standing thanks only to a heavy dose of magic?

9) The Orphanage – Childhood haunt of Lord Voldemort in the years he was known as Tom Riddle. I’d bring teddy bears, hugs and art supplies to the orphans.

8) The Shrieking Shack – Thought by Hogsmeade citizens to be filled with evil spirits, the dusty shack once provided safe haven to Lupin on nights when the full moon turned him into a werewolf. I’d like to spend a night inside to see if anything else haunts these four walls.

7) Borgin & Burkes – Store in Knockturn Alley that sells dark and dangerous objects to shady characters. I realize I’d have to shake off some serious bad mojo after my visit, but it would be worth it!

6) House-Elf Quarters in Hogwarts – I’d like to see the living conditions of the house-elves. And who doesn’t want to see the kitchen where the elves prepare the luscious meals served to the Hogwarts’ student body?

5) The Cave – Sea-locked cavern where the locket horcrux was hidden. I’d rely on a ladder, good flashlight and spry guide to get me to this location. But, it would be chilling to explore this dank, watery graveyard.

4) Little Hangleton Graveyard – Site of an epic Harry vs. Voldy battle. And I always love a cemetery visit. Some of those graves would make for good tweets.

3) Ministry of Magic – Specifically, the Department of Mysteries, micro-specifically, the death chamber. I promise I wouldn’t push past the tattered black curtains, but I might pull them back an inch or two and peek.

2) Godric’s Hollow – Who doesn’t long to see the sight of Lily and James Potter’s last stand? Not to mention the house where Dumbledore grew up, the basement that held his sister captive and the cemetery that holds so many notable Potter characters. I’m in.

1) Slytherin Commons – Yes! This is the place I long to see most. Sunk under the waters of the Black Lake, I could spend hours staring through the glass walls in search of a merperson, grindylow or giant squid. Besides, if Wikipedia is accurate (and it oftentimes is) then the Hogwarts plumbing drains into the lake which means I’d have a chance to spot Moaning Myrtle as well.

The Time I Almost Resorted to Taking Dog Antibiotics

The Time I Almost Resorted to Taking Dog Antibiotics

(and my irrational fear of doctors)

Dog Antibiotics = Solution?

Visits to the doctor have always been a bit torturous for me. I realize I’m not the only one that has this reaction to all things medical. But, if you are not included in these ranks, imagine yourself on Tax Day without having filed, or being pulled over by a police officer for speeding in a school zone and then you will understand the raw panic doctor appointments make me feel.

As children nothing traumatizing ever happened on our yearly checkups, except for the immunization uncertainty, I suppose. Whether by design or accident, I’ll never know. But when told we were going to the doctor our first question was always if we had to have shots. And my mother never had a solid answer. This made for a squirmy, stressful visit. As I waited to find out my fate, booster or no, I thought about the school nurse who sometimes delivered red dye sugar cubes to some kids. How did I get on THAT list?

As a college student, I had the responsibility of my own health thrust upon me. I continued to make annual checkup appointments, but was at the mercy of the university health clinic and the doctors-in-training within. Again, nothing horrible stands out, just a few awkward moments that don’t bear repeating here. And I really want to repeat those moments here. But, I won’t.

Fast forward a decade. Mother of two, the monthly and then weekly trips to the ob/gyn should’ve desensitized me to my fear. They didn’t. I arrived early for those appointments so I could sit in the hallway outside the office and will my blood pressure to lower, my heart rate to slow. I didn’t want the doctor to mistake these mild panic attacks for a more serious medical disorder and rush me to the hospital.

Even now I’m scared to visit the doctor. In fact, aside from my annual checkup, I have to be pretty miserable to make an appointment, and near death to show up. Ironic, considering I drag my children for every scratch and cough isn’t it?

I always fear my naturally sunny disposition, even when horribly ill, works against me. As a psychology student, I remember learning about something called the ‘halo effect.’ According to Merriam-Webster, the halo effect is the, “generalization from the perception of one outstanding personality trait to an overly favorable evaluation of the whole personality.” In simple terms, it means that if a person looks healthy, a doctor may deem them healthy. Of course, medical schools train young doctors to be aware of the halo effect. Maybe they don’t let looks influence them, but I have learned to work things in my favor.

Back Camera
My blurred view of Quincy through my infected eyes and sinuses.

Prone to sinus infections, I have paid half of my children’s college funds out to co-pays on first and then second visits to the doctor, only to receive a pat on the shoulder and a pep talk about letting my system fight the infection on its own. Yeah, right. As all mothers know, we get no sick days. Our docket of responsibilities never shrinks, even when our heads pound with a hot, angry infection. So, on that third visit to the doctor, desperate to leave with a prescription in hand, I make it a point to hide my inner friendly-wendly, wipe the makeup off my face and lips, muss my hair and speak in a tone of voice three notches quieter than usual to convey how gravely ill I am. It works most the time.

On one occasion it didn’t. And that night as I lay in bed, warm washcloth draped across my forehead I fell into a fitful sleep. I had a dream that I was in a general store somewhere in Mexico. I sprinted down the aisles and scooped boxes of antibiotics into a grocery cart. It was like the shopping sprees of old game shows, except the goodies were mexican antibiotics. I woke, desperate to find one of those spanish-labeled boxes on my nightstand, but all I found was a cold cup of tea and a container of Vicks.

I wandered down to the kitchen and glanced at the pet drawer, the one that held claw trimmers, hairball ointments, brushes and rawhide bones. At the bottom of the drawer behind the spiked collar that failed to keep my dog from pulling on the leash during walks I found a vial of unused dog antibiotics with the name ‘Quincy Hotes’ typed across the label. I gripped the red prescription bottle and counted back four weeks, when the vet had given the medicine to me (to me!) in case Quincy’s ailment got worse over the weekend. I shook the bottle and the pills rattled around inside. They sounded fresh.

I coaxed my sleeping dog downstairs and held him up by his front paws on the floor scale to get a semi-accurate measure of his weight, 65 pounds. I was roughly double that, give or take. I figured if I took twice his dosage, I would be fine. It might be a tad over the required amount, but this was one hell of an infection. Now was not the time to skimp.

I shook the bottle again as I swallowed down a spoonful of yogurt. I gave Quincy the rest of the Yoplait and cracked open the lid to his meds. It was a fair trade. I held two pills in the palm of my hand and hesitated.

Something came to mind about baby aspirin. And how if you feed it to dogs, they can die. I sniffed the pills because I forgot I hadn’t been able to smell for the last two weeks. They seemed like people antibiotics, just bigger. Right? I worried about what might be inside these pills that I wasn’t meant to ingest. I almost slipped them in my mouth, and then I pictured being rushed via ambulance to the hospital to have my stomach pumped free of dog antibiotics. I returned the pills to the vial, left an overly dramatic message on the doctor’s voicemail and went back to bed.

The fourth visit paid off. I left, human prescription in hand and got better in a few days. I threw away all of Quincy’s old meds so I’d never be tempted again.

I still don’t handle doctors well. They make my stomach bubble and my hands shake. Maybe I’ll outgrow it by my fifties.

Lucky? No, it’s all because of you.

Lucky? No, it’s all because of you.

“Lucky Gumball Machine,” watercolor and pen by Jennifer L. Hotes © 2013

Five years ago I had a dream about teens breaking into a cemetery on Halloween to rub graves. Since then, everything in my life has changed, and everything is the same.

My children have grown. We’ve said goodbye to a few loved ones, moved, tackled puppyhood and made new friends. All of which has impacted, both good and bad, the completion of my first novel, Four Rubbings, based on that long ago dream.

Like the teens in my dream that stumbled around the cemetery in search of a grave to rub, I too was seeking something. In secret, I wondered if the dream had the makings of a book. I recalled the family member that said years ago that I should write and I dared to dream. Thank you to my sister-in-law, Stacy.

And then one day I mentioned the idea to my ever-pragmatic husband. When he didn’t laugh, I found I had the courage to take baby steps toward becoming a writer. My husband said something that day about good ideas. He said, most people that come up with great ideas for an invention, a work of art, a book, a business never see it become a reality. He told me to see my dream through to completion. It would be a piece of advice I would grip tight in my fist for the next four years. Thank you, my husband.

My youngest child, always busy, never content to sit and watch the grass grow, takes after me. I learned early on to always carry an activity in case we were ever caught someplace with ten minutes to spare. That is how I formed the habit of keeping a sketchpad and pens inside my purse.  In fact, I wrote most of my novel on those handy sketchpads in the minutes I waited for my children to be released from school, or as I waited outside their music lessons, or as I watched their sports lessons. Thank you, dear one.

Two years ago, when my book began to take shape in earnest I found the actual act of writing to be grueling. To sit in one place and immerse into the heads of my characters wrung me out. (writers call this ‘butt in the chair time’) Concentrating at that level was a skill I didn’t have, not yet. In the days when the words were hard to come by, I found it easier to print off the chapters I’d written and mark them up with my red pen. I frittered away valuable writing time editing old Uncle Samstuff. My eldest daughter caught me one day, hunched over the latest print out of my infant book and she said, “Mom, get the story down.” (dramatic pause) “Only you can tell this story. Stop looking backward.” Her worlds brought to mind that old poster of Uncle Sam. He was pointing his finger at me and saying, “I WANT YOU to finish your book.” I vowed after that to get the story down, by God. Thank you, loving eldest child.

When I finally got the story down, I sent it to five courageous beta readers. I asked them to be harsh, to mark down when they stopped reading and jot down why they paused. (i.e. The chapter drug on too long. Decided clipping toenails might be more fun…) I wanted brutal honesty from them.

The day I mailed those manuscripts, I broke out in hives, head to toe. Fellow writer and step-mom extraordinaire, Kate suggested I read Stephen King’s book, On Writing as homework as I waited to hear back from the betas. This incredible book ignited my editing process. I reference this amazing book when I’m asked by others how to write a book. Thanks, Kate!

My betas were supposed to be brutal, remember? Well, mostly the betas cheered me on, all but my father, Gary Riley. My mostly blind father who is one heckuva writer himself, worked through my massive opus with one semi-functioning eye. As he finished chapters, he sent critiques, painfully candid assessments. Often, after reading his emails I would take a long shower and cry. His words hurt, but were meant to make the book better. He saw it could be so much better than it was. The backbreaker, was when my father referenced a passage where I share with the readers the dark and eerie side of one of the characters. He asked if I wanted to be a writer, or a mom that writes.

He explained how that particular chapter could’ve been so powerful and dark, but he sensed that I held back, picturing my teen reading it and getting nightmares as a result. That night I had a vivid dream. In it, a witch appeared. She stooped over the base of a massive cedar and chiseled at the ground with a crude knife. When she caught me watching, she rushed at me in a cloud of black smoke. I woke in a puddle of sweat, a scream lodged in my throat. I called my father that morning and told him I wanted to give people nightmares. He encouraged me to rewrite the story with authenticity. Thanks, Dad.

My dear friend, Danelle Conners, aka DM Darroch, author of the Inventor-in-Training series I illustrate, offered to do a developmental edit of my book. Like a Brazilian wax job, I’d heard of it, but never had one. I gave her my baby and held my breath. A week later over a cup of tea, Danelle asked me about my characters. I described each of them lovingly, they had become such dear friends, all except a fifth teen, Bree. I didn’t like her, not until the very end of the book when she had a transformation of the heart. Danelle leaned in and asked, “How would it feel to take her out of the book?” And I smiled. I asked her if I could and she said it was my book. I could do what I wanted. Over the next week I plucked Bree out of the book. I meditated/prayed/contemplated the empty spaces until the direction came to me and then I wrote. And it made the book better, way better. Thanks, Danelle.

Winter of 2012, I began to ready the book for self-publication. I was delayed in some areas and didn’t make my self-imposed deadline of April 15. That same week, standing in line for a ride at Disneyland, I got an email from Booktrope Publishing. They wanted to publish my novel. Thank you, God for the delays to my self-publishing venture. And thank you Booktrope Publishing for choosing to publish Four Rubbings.

Toddie Downs stepped forward to express an interest in being my editor. She worked through the novel, sending it back to me in batches marked up in Word with comments and suggestions. The margins were bloody with her opinions. They were valid opinions, strong opinions and usually funny to boot. An example was when one character, Blaze was so excited about something that he found he couldn’t stop jiggling his leg. Toddie said that barring a physical affliction, yes, Blaze could quit jiggling his leg. There were times I hesitated to hit the ‘accept’ button on her comment because that would mean the end of her funny aside. Her sense of humor and candid look at the book elevated my writing to another level. She is amazing. Thanks, Toddie Downs.

Finally, last but not least comes you. You are the cyberfriend that has chosen to spend time on my website, read the posts, comment, share links and encourage me behind your computer monitor. I think of you often. I find myself asking what you might like to see or read next here. Thank you for supporting my dream. Thank you, reader.