Lately I have seen a few articles out there about what reading does to your brain. It’s fascinating, how it triggers certain areas of your brain into action. Unfortunately, I don’t have anyone to perform these tests on me, so I’ll just go into what I feel and why reading a book feels so much like my sugar addiction and trip to the gym.

For some books it takes a few chapters–others, a few pages. But when that connection to the book hits, I can’t put it down. It’s all I think about. When at work, my finger itches to open the book back up. Before going to bed, I promise to only read a few pages, but end up reading five chapters. I try to push the feeling away by promising myself I’ll go to the gym and read there (kill two birds with one stone, of course!), but if the connection is strong enough, that’s not enough. I’d have to stay at the gym for three hours or more, just to finish one more chapter, one more page.

Once I get into a book, talking to me is like talking to someone who hasn’t eaten all day. “Leave me alone,” I’d say, if I felt inclined to put the book down and talk to you in the first place. Yes, I’m that girl.

When I was in high school and college, I’d pull out a book and read at the back of the class. When I was in the fourth grade, I got put in timeout when my mother found me with the book Frindle inside whatever book it was I was supposed to be reading for class. I used to carry two books in my purse at all times–one I was reading, and one so that when I finished the first I wouldn’t be left in the dark. My iPad (with the Kindle app) is my best friend when it comes to reading; Mike used to laugh at me for carrying it everywhere, until I found myself in the hospital with nothing to do but read.

Once I hit that point in a book, there’s no going back. Good writing, bad writing, good story, bad story. The moment I sink into the book, I’m gone.

Of course, it doesn’t work for some books. I don’t like autobiographies. There are books that I want so badly to read, but I can never get past the first few pages. I keep them on my shelves in hopes that one day I will be able to read them.

It’s worse for books like Harry Potter. The Magicians. Tamora Pierce books. Books with magic in them. I also find it’s often books for younger audiences, young adult and at times middle grade. I start to read them and I’m hooked. It’s hard to tell what book it will be, where the tether will be so strong that once the book is over I feel empty inside. And I mean it–empty.

My Hogwarts letter never came. When I was a kid I tried to see if I could change into an animal like they did in the Animorphs series. While reading The Magicians I had a fleeting moment where my hope was reignited that magic like that does exist–that is, until I realized that I wasn’t close to smart enough to be selected.

When books like these are over, I walk around in a daze. My brain is still rolling around in the world the book created, and I find myself wishing, just wishing it were still true. The feeling doesn’t recede for days, sometimes a week or more. I just pick up the next book and do it again.

That is the type of book I want to write.

  1. Baking lots of cookies. Chocolate chip, chocolate chip peanut butter and snickerdoodles specifically. It’s very hard to not eat cookies that surround you, did you know?
  2. Baking lots of cinnamon buns. Did you know the main ingredient in cinnamon buns is love? I say this because they’re made of lots of butter, and we all know what butter is made out of (cow love).
  3. Decorating my house. This includes John Deere Christmas decorations, a stocking my grandmother made me, my red typewriter, a snowman that talks to you when you pee, and Santa’s face on the toilet. You’re welcome.
  4. Working. Working so much my brain hurts. Unfortunately, not working means I don’t make money.
  5. Did I mention cookies?

Soon I’ll have something worthwhile to post, like finishing my book (possible in a few weeks) or social commentary on society (less likely).

  1. Every time they ask for your date of birth and name, try a different name. See if they will still give you the same meds. (Did you know they have to do this with SALINE?!)
  2. Hijack a wheelchair. Go forth and enjoy life on the un-carpeted floors.
  3. Miss your animals like crazy.
  4. When they ask you if you want saltines or graham crackers, choose graham crackers. What they’re not telling you is that the graham crackers are teddy grahams. (WIN!)
  5. Don’t even attempt to sleep. Chances are your bed will adjust every five minutes you sit still.
  6. Watch the Disney channel. If you’re like me, you’re probably the only person on the entire floor watching Good Luck Charlie.
  7. Try to enjoy wearing the sexy night wear known as a hospital gown. If you’re lucky like me, it’ll even be a bit broken. Do not worry, this only adds to the sex appeal. Who isn’t attracted to a loose-fitting gown that allows the occasional view of a breast? That’s what I thought.
  8. Enjoy the view of your ER doctor. There’s not much else to do in the mean time, anyway.
  9. Don’t freak out about the iodine contrast. It feels like the way a shot of borboun feels in your stomach, but all over your body. Warm.
  10. Never let people make fun of you for how heavy your purse is ever again. You never know when the iPad you carry everywhere will come in handy. Better yet, you might as well carry a phone charger in there too.
  11. Smile at strangers. It’s a little overwhelming there.
  12. Be nice to your nurses. Unless, of course, they’re the evil kind.
  13. If they ask if you want a turkey sandwich or graham crackers, take the graham crackers. The turkey sandwich tastes like yeast. (Did I mention they’re Teddy Grahams?)
  14. Don’t call the hospital asking for someone who doesn’t want to see you. They will call security on you. (Yikes!)
  15. If you have to be wheeled around in your hospital bed, at least ask them to go faster. Make a ride out of it.

I bothered with a lot of anonymity in my last post, though it wouldn’t be hard to find me. But here’s the difficulty I’ve had lately:

What name do I want to publish with? Am I truly going to go forth with J.D. McLaughlin? Or will it be Jessica McLaughlin? My legal name?

I can tell you this–it will not be made up. It will not be based on the name I will share with my future-husband. It will be my name, I’m just having trouble deciding which.

If you search the internet for my legal name, the first few pages will be me. The later pages will likely be references to me, and then slowly it will filter out the hyphenated name combination. You will be able to find (though not see) my Facebook page. You will be able to see where I went to school, what my major/minor was, any papers I presented. You will be able to find out where I went to high school. Where I last worked. Once upon a time, you would have found my phone number, my address, my boyfriend’s name, my mother’s name, my father’s name, my childhood address–all without even having to pay for it. I’ve done considerable work to stop the latter from happening.

It’s not that I think you are a stalker, but that I’ve dealt with a stalker’s likeness before and I’m not sure I want to repeat it. (That’s a story for another day. All I can say is ditch any “crazy” you are dating right now! We both know you can see the warning signs.)

At any rate, I’m very easy to find. But that’s not even why I am using J.D. McLaughlin. It comes down to one thing:

My career.

It feels silly saying career like I actually intend on having one. I suppose I do. I’d like to make more money, be successful at what I do. Add value to a company, teach others. But the other side of me wishes that I could work from home, or exercise and write from home. That’s not the reality for me, and I wasn’t raised to have that.

I wish.

But I guess I would, one day, like to have a career of sorts. And just as strangers can find my name anywhere, so can employers.

Let’s be honest. I don’t write erotica, but I’m not a prude. I don’t write anything overtly political; I try to keep my personal beliefs mostly quiet; I try to be diplomatic about my interactions with all people. But sometimes what I write is dark, and you never know how a future employer might view what you have on the Internet, whether it’s a story or a harmless Twitter post using a bad word.

Some companies even try to get their employee’s passwords to be able to see what they’re not showing everyone.

That, to me, is the danger of the Internet and my name.

Having said that, when my story was published at Kazka Press, I shared it with one of my close co-workers, and she shared it with a few more. It ended up being shared with a project manager and no one seems to like me any less since, and everyone was very congratulatory even if they didn’t “get it.” So there’s something to be said for that, which is that support can take you a long way.

I’m going to be giving up a lot by not using my name. Like I said–one search of my name and the first few pages are all me. I could make it easy to find anything I’ve written, anything I’m talking about. It’s like using search engine filters but only using three names and a hyphen, all without quotes. Plus, I have a stack of business cards all with my legal name on them.

But I need to choose soon–now. I’ve already started my way down this windy path of J.D. McLaughlin, and I’m going to have to earn my keep there to make it so that every search brings you to me on the first few pages. Or I’m going to have to change my name here going forward.

I wonder if anyone else has these questions?

It’s not about pride or shame. I will share my work with others and I will promote it and I will do everything I need to (once it’s written, of course). It’s about protecting myself and realizing that I am still very young, I have a lot of life ahead of me, and life is expensive. As you may know or realize, as the case may be, writing rarely pays well.

Also, even if you have a relatively common last name, think of someone you know with a remotely unique name. Search them on Google. It is frighteningly easy to find people, even if you know only a detail or two. And even more frightening is how difficult it is to get information about yourself off the internet and out of search engines.

Trust me. I’ve tried.

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of going to the Western Maryland Indie Lit Festival, which was definitely a unique experience for me. It was the closest thing to a writer’s conference as I’ve ever been, though it was nothing like a writer’s conference by any means.

However, there were a few good things that it offered, and I’m glad I went up to attend this and meet new people, and drink a beer with a good friend. Here were some of my favorite aspects:

  • Networking. Until you get me talking, I’m a shy and awkward individual. So I can’t say I networked too much, but I think this opened up a new realm of possibilities for me. There were a few people who I would like to say remembered my name, or at least my face, and a few people who I would like to read their stories and reach out to for a, “Loved it!” note. If I do, of course, love it. It’s a start.
  • Indie presses galore. Indie presses, local reviews, just writers selling their books. There was a definite push to support each other, and I can appreciate that. It was nice to talk to a few of the presses and, largely, just see what they were up to.
  • A window to the other side. By this I mean a lot of these writers and publishers and editors had met each other at the Maryland Writer’s Conference. They had an instant connection from that last time, and they all had an even more intimate connection from being on the other side, with published things and the ability to say, “I wrote a book. What have you done?” None of them said this, of course, but right up close and personal I was able to see how that connection works. I imagine it’s like showing up for a sorority to see if you can join in, and you get the sense of what it would be like to be One of Them.
  • Indie publishing. Being called the Indie Lit Festival, it was no surprise then that indie publishing was discussed, from signing on with a smaller press to doing it on your own. I didn’t learn anything that punched me in the gut with surprise, but I heard a few interesting tidbits and learned about some interesting sites that I’ll want to keep in mind for the future. No surprise, though, that everyone touted the same thing, whether you go Big Six or Indie or Self-Published: Writers market themselves.
  • Further writing opportunities. This was the kicker for me. On top of meeting people, I got to hear about a lot of other great events happening in Maryland and even Pennsylvania (I go up to Pittsburgh a few times a year, so it’s always an option). Among them are a writer’s retreat, a Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror conference for next September, and a writer’s conference in Pennsylvania next June. I have a lot of saving up (and writing!) to do.

Now, those are the general thoughts. Here are some people and presses that stuck out in my mind, and though I haven’t had a chance to read anything yet, they’re on my bucket list. I’ll start with the presses and people I got books from. Read the rest of this entry »

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