Saturday, December 20, 2014

Weekly Update: 12-20-14 The Dreamy End

As the year ends, I find it harder and harder to focus on tasks. My mind dreams ahead to all the possibilities of 2015. One of the things I started to look into was learning German. Even I know how difficult it is to learn a langage on your own, and I half expect to fail at it miserably. But it's also a new challenge, one I haven't had in a while. I want to go to Germany in the next few years, but for me, it's not enough to simply enjoy the pretty buildings. I have to understand the culture of the country, and that means having even a poor understanding of the language.

In the meantime, I'm planning local day trips to satiate my travel bug, while I save money for a European vacation. I'd like to do a library crawl, catch some festivals, go to museums. Often I try to sneak in some research for a story. Last year, I went to Big Bear to soak in some setting for Company. This year, I'd like to do some research on Indonesia for Counterfeit Diamond.  Not the easiest culture to find.

I've also been cleaning the house, baking cookies, watching movies, subbing for Japanese, making cards, and hanging out with family and friends. In short, everything but writing. That's fine. Writing season is closed for the year and probably won't re-open until 2015. By which time The Changelings will be pubished. And I'll be another decade older. Hooray?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Dissecting Fantasy: Heaven and Hell

"The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven." --John Milton

This isn't an article about the afterlife.

This is an article about writers, especially fantasy writers, creating their own representation of Heaven and Hell in their work. You can build a setting so wonderful your readers will wish they can buy a ticket there for their next vacation, or so terrible they will shiver with fear.

Heaven

"On earth there is no heaven, but there are pieces of it." --Jules Denard

Although I use Heaven in this article, for the sake of contrast, another way of putting it is Home. It's a place where your characters feel loved and accepted, usually a place of peace and truth and beauty. The beauty does not have to be extravagant or perfect. A cracked vase with a single wildflower can be more beautiful than a silver urn overflowing with roses. It's the heart put into the place that makes it special.

The importance of Heaven is twofold. First, it gives the audience some place to care about and to feel safe in. When that place is threatened, the audience feels that tension. Another use of Heaven is to manifest ideals and themes. It can be a utopia, a place to aspire to.

Some famous representations of Heaven include Hobbiton, Rivendale, and Lothlorien in the Lord of the Rings, Hogswarts in the Harry Potter series, Shangri-La in Lost Horizon. But my favorite versions of Heaven probably come from the writings of Laura Ingall Wilder, who drew such a vivid portrait of the landscape of the American pioneer, it inspired a thousand games of make-believe.

Hell

"We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell." --Oscar Wilde

Hell, by contrast, is any setting comprised primarily of pain and misery and dread. It is a place where natural human relationships are strained, perverted, or broken. It may be superficially beautiful, but it is rotten to the core. Whereas Heaven inspires the audience's love, hell provokes fear.

Hell is the ultimate obstacle. It will test your protagonist on every level. It serves as an object of dread; if Heaven is what your protagonist seeks to gain, Hell is what they want most to avoid. That said, as an author, you'd do well to toss them into Hell at least sometimes. If the hero's don't confront Hell, they don't deserve Heaven.

Hell is probably easier to write, since we have many more real world examples and since, while people might disagree on what Heaven looks like, we all have a pretty good idea of Hell. Popular examples include Mordor in Lord of the Rings, the arena in The Hunger Games (where the games are played), and, well, Hell in Dante's Inferno. My most frightening vision of Hell was in George Orwell's 1984. I had nightmares for a week.

How to Build Your Own Heaven or a Hell

1. Draw on your own loves and fears

"To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Heaven is usually built on love, hell on fear.

When you start to draw these places up, you should begin with yourself, what you love, what you fear. If you simply steal the trappings of other people's visions of heaven and hell, without bringing in your own emotions, you'll be left with a dull facade.

For example, if you love animals, incorporate that into your version of heaven. I, personally, like art, culture, and history, so into the pot it goes. In The Changelings, I drew upon my experiences in Japan to create a festival that, for me, represented the heavenly aspect of that particular group of people.

As far as fears, I tend to draw on failure, rejection, brainwashing, loss of control, and things of that nature. I find that cult environments play heavily in my version of hell.

Don't overdo it. Don't try to throw in everything at once. Also be careful to make sure your love and fears can appeal to a wider audience. I have a phobia abut butterflies, but I doubt I could evoke fear with a horde of raging Monarchs.

2. Location, location, location

"Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company." --Mark Twain

This is a bit obvious, but Heaven and Hell are settings.

Not necessarily physical ones, though. If you're literally doing Heaven and Hell, you're dealing with the afterlife. Or you could do a dream world or a virtual reality. In cases where you're not dealing with physical limitations, you may still want to set some specific ground rules, so that your writing isn't all over the place.

If you are creating a physical landscape, what sort of environment? Land, sea, sky, underground? Hot, cold, temperate, humid? Wild or civilization? City or country? Woods, mountains, grass, swamps, river, lakes, volcano, islands?

Rather than picking and choosing places at random, you may want to look at the characters, ideas, and scenarios you already have in your head. For example, if your character is a mermaid, Hell might be a desert or any stretch of land far from the ocean. If you know your character values freedom, Hell might be a prison.

For some reason, the strongest representations of Heaven and Hell that I've read about have some element of isolation. In Heaven, this isolation protects it from evil or corrupting influences. In Hell, this isolation helps keep the evil from running rampart; but once you're there, you can't get out.

One thing you may want to consider, then, is a barrier. It can be a physical barrier, like mountains, desert, sea, or a physical wall. It can also be something more abstract, like magic, existence on a different plane of reality, secrecy, or obscurity: no one knows about this place.

3. Origins and History

"The safest road to hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without sign posts." --CS Lewis

I, personally, like to know the origins of everything, whether or not I share it with the readers.

If you're only dealing with a wild, natural landscape, no further explanation might be necessary. But if there's any human (or non-human) involvement, you may want to think about who built the place and why and how.

Heaven, I like to think, is built on the foundation of love, so think about what the great passion of the builders may be. What sort of ideals did they hope to embody? What obstacles did they have to overcome and sacrifices did they have to make to create the place? Are they still working to better themselves even now?

With hell, it's a bit more complicated. Unless you have beings that are pure evil, most people don't set out to build a place of pain and suffering. So what happened? What went wrong?

You could begin with a fear. People were desperate to protect themselves, and in that desperation, they did something stupid, like hand over power to a dangerous man or shut themselves into a system they can't get out of.

It might begin as a kind of bitterness or hatred to a certain group of people that grew and grew, until it became ever more demented. It might begin as a beautiful ideal that got perverted somewhere down the line. Maybe the place was a normal city, but complacency and indifference allowed criminals to take over. Maybe greed got the better of the people.

There's all sorts of scenarios you could come up with.

4. How Did I Get Here?

"To be willing to march into Hell for a Heavenly Cause" --from Man of La Mancha

So now that you've got your Heaven and Hell, it's time to think about how your character gets to these places. One of the simplest ways is to have your character start off in either your version of Heaven or Hell. That way, one location is given right off the bat.

A person starting off in Heaven might experience a fall from grace and be ejected or they might voluntarily leave to seek out greener pastures (before discovering there's no place like home) or they might be forced away from their Heaven in order to protect it, rather like a soldier might.

They might be violently ripped away: captured, kidnapped, enslaved, orphaned. Or it might be that Heaven gets destroyed from the beginning and they might have to seek a new paradise or build one from scratch.

On the other hand, they might start off in Hell. An orphan or slave might, through brains, cunning, skill, spirit, daring, or sheer luck, find himself propelled out of his horrible situation. Or, perhaps he, like his Heaven counterpoint, is forced out, due to war or other external forces. Maybe he's rescued from his situation.

Another option is for a character to stay in the same basic place, but have either that place, or their perception of that place, change. Even Heaven can become Hell, if taken over by bad management, as Hogwarts was under Voldemort. Or perhaps the character starts off thinking they're in Heaven or in Hell, but as they see more of the world, they get a new perspective.

Perhaps a great catastrophe comes to the place. War, for example, can make even the most peaceful place into a Hell. Or it could be a natural disaster or (in the case of virtual reality) maybe some bug in the system.

If, however, a character actually has to seek out Heaven or Hell, consider why. Hell usually pops up as an obstacle the character must go through in order to get to Heaven, but if the character intentionally seeks it out, there must be a reason.

In classical myth, heroes make trips to the underworld (Hell) in order to retrieve a loved one's soul or to seek the advice of one long dead. There can be valuable treasures in Hell, as well, enough to make the trip seem tempting. Or perhaps they want to destroy Hell and can only do it from the source.

The last thing to consider is that the character may never actually enter Heaven or Hell. The places may exist as an aspiration or as a threat, and maybe the mere mention of them is enough.

5. What Can Threaten Heaven?

"If you're going through hell, keep going." --Winston Churchill

Heaven, at least the kind found on earth, usually has a sense of fragility to it. Whatever is good and peaceful and loving and beautiful can always be destroyed. One of my favorite passages from Lost Horizon sums up this fragility nicely:

"It came to him that a dream had dissolved, like all too lovely things, at the first touch of reality; that the whole world's future, weighed in the balance against youth and love, would be light as air. And he knew, too, that his mind dwelt in a world of its own, Shangri-La in microcosm, and that this world was also in peril. For even as he nerved himself, he saw the corridors of his imagination twist and strain under impact; the pavilions were toppling; all was about to be in ruins."

In this case, it takes only a shift in the hero's perception, that causes the whole thing to collapse. One generation might build their ideal, only for the next generation to reject it. Passions cool, causes are abandoned, community ties become too much work. People leave.

Of course, it might, more directly, be attacked.

Hell, like any good enemy fortress, likes to appear unassailable, but, unless you're writing a depressing Dystopia in the vein of 1984, it usually has some weakness built into it. If Hell is built on deceit and people discover the truth, that power is broken. If it is built on fear and people find courage, that power is broken. If it is built on hatred and people forgive, that power is broken.

Change can happen anywhere and in the blink of an eye.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Weekly Update: 12-13-14 More Rain

Rain smattering on my window woke me up at 4:30 yesterday morning. I can't remember the last time rain woke me. I want to say sometime when I was living in Japan, but I doubt that was it was that far back. The sight of rivulettes puldsing through the gutters alarmed me enough to throw off the covers and check on the dogs, but they were tucked deep in thir houses, where the rain couldn't hurt them

This is the second week its rained, which means, for California, we are in the middle of the wet season. This is how little used to rain we are: when I came to school on Friday, with a jacket and umbrella, the secretary and her assistant spent five minutes debating the best route I should take to get my classroom without getting wet. Later in class, a student broke the unspoken rule to roll up the blinds and stare in fascination as the droplets that fell. At little after noon, when the drain stopped, the students were still amazed by the sight of sunlight breaking through clouds and shining over puddles.

* * *

Last time I wrote, rather tongue-in-cheek, about procrastination. Then I decided to take my own advice, so to speak. My whiteboard is stacked with a gloomily long To-Do List, but I seem to want to do every task that isn't urgent or important. Things like: writing my daydreams in my 
idea journal, starting my Christmas shopping, studying Japanese, and planning a trip to Europe I want to take in 3 years. Meanwhile, I've put off the thing I need most to do (Formatting) off to the weekend.

Despite this, I did finish reading/ critiquing the whole 200 page mauscript of Company, and the beginning of the Originals, start re-writing the first two chapters of Three Floating Coffins, and held down three substitute jobs. I did do a little bit of formatting stuff done, too, such as reading the Kindle Direct Publishing contract and making sure the cover loaded properly. So it ended up not being that hopeless of a week. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mastering the Procrastination Shuffle

Feeling overwhelmed?

Do you have 10 projects, 5 crisis, and 0 time to deal with any of them? Do you feel the overwhelming urge to flick on the TV, go to You Tube, surf the web or even read a book--in short, anything to put off the task in front of you?

You're in luck. Procrastination can be your friend as well as your enemy. But only if you master the art of the procrastination shuffle.

What is the Procrastination Shuffle?

Basically, it's putting off the things you really hate to do by getting done other, less urgent stuff. Used properly, it can be a great tool for motivating yourself. Used improperly... well, at least you get something done.

Step 1. Make a List

Write down all the things you need or want to get done in the day, the week, or the month. Make sure you include little things, like doing the dishes or walking the dog. Does the list look too light? Add more stuff.

Step 2. Stare in Horror at the Impossible

Feel that anxiety squirt in your belly as you realize there is absolutely no way to get everything done. Not feeling it yet. Really envision what kind of effort it will take to get everything done. Let that dread sink into your soul.

Step 3. Chop Stuff Off the List

Mentally decide which things are least likely to get done, don't need to get done, can wait until a different date. For big tasks, chop them into smaller pieces. Make up a new list if needed.

Step 4. Assess the Feasibility of Your List

Do you think you could get everything done on the list and still do the daily stuff to keep you alive and hygienic. Things like eating, sleeping, showering, brushing teeth, taking bathroom breaks. Can you do everything, but only if you run around like crazy and utilize every second of the day with maximum efficiency?

Good. You now have a reasonable list.

Step 5. Judge the Tasks

What tasks are most pleasant, which are boring, which tasks frighten you deep down where you can't admit it, which tasks do you hate with an undying passion? Which tasks are long, which tasks are short?

Step 6. Gauge Your Mental Energy

Are you feeling brave? Happy? Cranky? Lazy? Scared?

Step 7. Find the Most Amicable Item on Your List

If, for some reason, you are feeling you can tackle the world (in which place, you don't need the procrastination shuffle), go ahead and choose the hardest item on the list. For the other 90% of the time, choose something fun or short or easy or just the least horrible.

Step 8. Do Said Item

Step 9. Congratulations!

Celebrate the completion of this Herculean task by slashing the item on the list, disemboweling it like a mountain, obliterating it from existence. Or for the less violent, draw a smiley face to signify your enemy is now your friend.

Step 10. Evaluate Your Effort

How long did it take to do the task? Shorter than you thought? Longer? Was there any kind of crisis that popped up you had to deal with or additional steps you didn't anticipate. Add those to your list and cross them off too.

Step 11. Use the Quick Burst of Happy Energy You Get from Accomplishing One Task to Propel You Into the Next One

If you don't feel happy, you probably need to go back to Step 9. Celebrate. Really feel proud of yourself.

Step 12. Repeat Until Bedtime

Step 13. How Did You Do?

Take a look at your list and count the tasks completed. How great of a percentage did you get done?

100%-75% Wow, you are awesome! That's not even procrastination. That's efficiency.

75%-50% Pretty good. Pat yourself on the back and pour yourself a glass of chocolate milk (or beverage of your choice).

50%-25% Hey, it's something. Maybe you had a crisis or overestimated yourself. Maybe you ran out of energy or took a very long break. It happens. Live and learn.

25%-1% Could be better. At least you got something done.

0% Okay, so you got distracted and all your good intentions went out the window. The good news is that you should be nice and relaxed with a large store of mental energy. Tomorrow's another day.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Weekly Update: 12-6-14 Rain

On Tuesday morning, a rare phenomenom drizzled over the air of Southern California. Rain. It spattered and drenched the asphalt in sparkling black puddles. I got to use my umbrella for about the fourth time since I brought it from Japan. It didn't stop my backpack from getting sopping wet. My post-it notes are still wrinkled together.

I had four days of substitute work. During that time, I re-read my Three Floating Coffins story and tried to figure out future corrections. Good lord, I have to re-write the whole first half of my novel. The second half is better, but I still need to tear it up and re-write key scenes. Formatting for The Changelings is proving more troublesome than I thought. And I haven't even begun to get a Christmas shopping list together.

All in all, I'm feeling pretty stressed out this week.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Weekly Update: 11-29-14 Thanksgiving

A whole year of watching Chopped has cumulated to this very moment: when I must take Thanksgiving leftovers and rearrange them into a delicious meal. Today I took the insides of a very dense coconut cream pie, added cranberry almond crunch cereal, cranberry sauce jello, and whipped cream and made a parfait. Not many points for creativity, but the flavor was good!

* * *

Since my siblings migrated to Washington and Oklahoma, Thanksgiving was a small affair, with only my mom, dad, aunt, uncle, and me. Since I thought it ridiculous to make three or more pies for only five people, I eschewed the traditional pumpkin pie and made the pies we all agree on: custard and coconut. I also made a pumpkin cream cheese roll, so that pumpkin was represented somewhere.

After eating, we played an old school board game called Airport, which was sort of like Monopoly. The goal is to stick your airplanes on the most desired routes before they fill up and you get kicked out. My dad, the money master, hit a string of bad luck and could not hang onto his cash. I chose good routes and started winning, until an ill-timed maintance kicked me off three of my best routes. To add insult to injury, my mother and aunt teamed up to kick me off my routes. By the time we quit, I had twelve airplanes and no place to put them. And my aunt won instead of me. Grrr....

* * *

November has been a production month. I produced 57,500 words of The Originals for NaNoWriMo, as well as editing/ formatting The Changelings, and making several Christmas cards. As I head into December, my focus will shift into organizing for the new year. Now I have to read all the stuff I created, do a self-critique, and figure out what I need to re-write and how. I also need to get my business stuff in order. And Christmas shopping, of course.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Weekly Update: 11-22-14

In a burst of writing, I wrote 7000 words yesterday (28 pages) and got my word count up to 50,333, the required limit to complete Nanowrimo. But I'm not done yet. I have a few more days left in National Novel Writing Month and a few more words I'd like to get out.

It felt really nice to sit (or, in my case, lay) down and just write for hours at a time. I hit a vein of inspiration and feverishly mined it until it had run out. By the end of it I had a bit of a headache, and I fet wired, but in a good way. There is an obsessive part of my brain that likes to get lost in a different world for hours at a time. When its triggered, it clings to the object of its obsession and not let go.

Case in point: last weekend, I popped open The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug DVD, and watched the entire movie, all 10 hours of behind-the-scenes extras, and the entire movie again with the director's commentary. Of course, I knew it was a risk, allowing my Middle Earth geekdom to show its face, so I planned for the event by getting out my stamping supplies. I put together 25 Christmas cards, plus 4 sparkly dragons. So it was not an entire waste of time.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Weekly Update: 11-14-14 Movies

It seems like I spend the whole year waiting for that slim space in time between November and December for all the holiday movies to come out. I used to like watching summer movies, but there's only so much comic book films I can take. Of this year's crop of movies, sadly, all I have seen is:

1. Divergent
2. Maleficent
3. The Maze Runner

But this Sunday, I'm off to see Interstellar in IMAX. It's one of the bumper crop of holiday movies I hope to see in the next two months. This is my wish list for the season:

1. Mockingjay
2. Big Hero 6
3. The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies
4. Into the Woods

If I watch them all, it will double my movie-viewing list.

* *  *

Tonight the Friends of the Brea Library had a Volunteer Appreciation Dinner. I ate nice Italian food, brainstormed ideas for promoting the bookstore, and in general learned more about the organization where I volunteer.  

I had three subbing jobs this week, which isn't bad, considering that Tuesday was a national holiday. I'm also up to 32,500 words in NaNoWriMo. Tomorrow is the Writer's Forum for my Brea Library Writer's Club. Should be fun.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Taking a Bit of a Break...

Early on, when I began this blog, I got in the habit of postig twice a week. On Friday, I do my "Weekly Update," which is basically a summery of what I've been up to, and on Sunday I try to post "Content," which can be anything from travelogues, to book reviews, to research on the writing industry, to my own little insights on writing and fantasy. The content portion takes at least 2-3 hours to write, often longer than that. That's why I need the whole weekend to work on it.

This month, however, I'm dealing with Nanowrimo, editing/formatting The Changelings, and working as a substitute. Plus, there's the holidays coming up. So I'm going to take off the month of November. Not completely--I'll still do my Weekly Updates. I'm just not sure I can get to writing and posting new contewnt at this time.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Weekly Update: 11-7-14 RIP Aunt's Favorite Chair

A cry broke through the blare of the TV. It was my aunt's voice, echoing from the front room. She sounded surprised, like she had seen a large spider or spilled her Diet Coke on her lap. Sensing no alarm, I finished coloring in a gingerbread man for my Christmas cards, before venturing into the front room to investigate. What a sight beheld my eyes. My aunt, sitting in her favorite black massage chair, had toppled backwards on the ground.

It seemed the massage chair had decided on that particular Tuesday that it wanted to spend the rest of its days (not many, by any reckoning) being a horizontal chair instead of a vertical one.  Being reclusive, it had not decided to communicate this fact with my aunt until the moment of its resolution. At that point it issued a loud crack, and the deed was done.  My poor flustered aunt was like a turtle upside down on its shell, kicking and embarassed.

I helped her up, and we examined the massage chair. Alas, it was set on its retirement, and neither sweet words, threats, nor glue could coax it upright again. My aunt was desolate. Even now she mourns the loss of her beloved black chair, with frowning face and tight shoulders.

* * *

You know how last week, I said that substitute jobs were hard to get in November? Apparently, I spoke too soon. I worked 4 days this week and have 2 more scheduled for next week. Thank goodness I got a head start on Nanowrimo last weekend, or I'd be falling behind. Right now, my word count is hovering at around 20,000, which sounds impressive, but only covers one "short" story and part of a chapter. I still have 4 more chapters to go in order to meet my goals.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Book Review: Ophelia

Title: Ophelia
Author: Lisa Klein
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Romance, Fan Fiction

Summary

A motherless girl, neglected by her father, grows up to become the queen's favorite and catches the eye of the handsome young prince. It would be a fairy tale--if it weren't a tragedy.

Elsinore is a web of deceit, plots, madness, and betrayal, and young Ophelia soon becomes caught in the middle of it. But this maid of flowers isn't as passive and innocent as she seems. As her beloved Hamlet becomes consumed by the thought of vengeance, Ophelia faces a choice. Will she bind herself to her beloved's fate? Or will she steer her own destiny?

Review

William Shakespeare's Hamlet is a tricky play to figure out. So much depends on how you interpret the characters. I, personally, found Ophelia to be obedient, idealized, and boring--right up until she goes crazy and kills herself. But, as Lisa Klein says, "If Ophelia was so dim, what on earth made Hamlet fall in love with her?"

In this reinterpretation, Ophelia is an equal of Hamlet, every bit as capable of witty wordplay and deceit. Lisa Klein makes good use of events leading up to the play and the things that happen "between the scenes" to flesh out her character and twist the plot. Though Hamlet remains essentially mysterious, his feelings toward Ophelia are clear.

Other supporting characters, on the other hand, get less characterization. Laertes, despite being Ophelia's brother, is hardly present. Horatio, an important character, acts stoic and doesn't express much emotion. Queen Gertrude is lovingly portrayed, but a key question--why she married Claudius--remains unanswered.

The world is believable and well-formed. Klein manages to retain the flavor of Shakespeare's language while keeping it understandable to a modern audience. One of my favorite parts came during the courtship phase, when Hamlet and Ophelia banter suggestively like any romantic couple in a Shakespeare comedy.

Now, I don't think I'm giving much away when I say that Ophelia doesn't die. One major hint is the fact that it's written in first person point of view. Also, a quick glance at the prologue reveals that she's alive to receive news of Hamlet's death. While leading up to the tragedy, the story is fun and vibrant, having the full force of Shakespeare's plot behind it. After the tragedy, the story drags.

The last 100 pages introduces new characters, new settings, and new conflicts, but there doesn't seem to be much of a point to any of it. The string of incidents very loosely continues the themes madness and the unfair double standard of men and women. I had an inkling of how Ophelia might get a happy ending, but I had to wait until the epilogue to have it confirmed and the one brief scene just didn't satisfy me.

So basically, if you skip the final 100 pages and read the epilogue, you'll be fine. I think, on the whole, it's an interesting interpretation and a fine companion to Hamlet.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Weekly Update: Halloween 2014

Happy Halloween!

If I were a more fun and interesting person, I suppose I'd dress up and do something.  At least buy a pumpkin and carve a jack-o'-lantern. But Halloween has never been my holiday. My favorite part has always been turning off the lights, hiding from the trick-or-treaters, and eating the leftover candy for myself!

Yesterday, as I drove home from the library where I volulnteer, the glow of the sunset was the color of a fresh pumpkin with a splash of cranberry juice. It harkens to the coming of November. Substitute jobs are rather seasonal. In October they were falling in my lap like ripe apples, but in November, I have a feeling I'm going to have to fight for them. I ended up getting one job on Monday, and that was about it for the week. 

But November also brings National Novel Writing Month, so whether or not I get jobs, I'll be keeping busy. I very rarely rarely finish a novel for Nanowrimo; for me, the 50,000+ words barely covers a fourth of my novel. Also finishing up my last edits for The Changelings and getting it formatted--I hope. 

My Pubslush Campaign was successful, and I made $575 through donations, $531 after fees. I'm really excited. Thank you to all my supporters for their generosity and kindness. You're all awesome!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Two Maps and a Banner

Once Upon a Time, my sister got married. One of her friends from school, Michael Boyd, attended the wedding and, as per my custom, I talked his ear off about my work in progress and showed him some badly drawn maps I'd sketched. Michael took these rough sketches and turned them into a beautiful map, just for fun. I was astonished.
 
Fast-forward a couple of years, and I still remembered the map. I contacted him and asked to draw not one, but two maps for my world. He did these in less than a month and threw in an absolutely adorable Gryphon banner just for fun.
 
I'm so using this on the spine of my books!
 
 
I want to show you his maps, but first I want to give you an idea of what he had to work with.  I handed him my hand-drawn (because I can't use photoshop) scanned maps with about ten pages of notes attached. He turned them into works of art.
 
My Terrible Version of the Map of the North
 
 
Michael's Excellent Version of the Map of the North
 
 
My Terrible Version of the Map of the South
 
 
Michael's Excellent Version of the Map of the South

 
One of the things I really appreciate is the intricacy of details. I described some of my key cities to him and he actually took the time to put it on the map. If you squint at Brenton, for example, you can see a tiny church in the north, just like in my story.
 
Great work Michael!
 

Author Photos

A couple of weeks ago, on a warm Sunday in October, I took a stroll in the park to get my picture taken. Although not strictly necessary, it's nice for a writer to have a professional photo for her "About the Author" page. Besides, it was fun.

My photographer was Michele Powers of Power Shots Photography, a local and a friend of my aunts. networking netted me a bit of a discount. All 12 photographs can be viewed on my Facebook album, but here are some of my favorites.

#1: Sitting in a Tree


Because, old as a I am, I still love to climb trees, and I think there's something very organic about a fantasy writer sitting in nature.

#2: The Professional



This headshot looks professional and flattering. It even captures a bit of my signature braid.

#3: Sitting on a Bench



Well, I think this is cute. I think my smile and expression turned out best in this shot.

Any favorites? Which on do you like best?

The Epic Saga of the Bookmark

Who knew bookmarks would be so much work?
 
 
I wanted to make cute little bookmarks as prizes for my Pubslush campaign and as a general marketing tool. I'd seen a billion commercials for printing business cards and thought it would be just a matter of signing into one of their websites, picking a format, and uploading some pictures.
 
No, and no.
 
The only bookmarks I could find were generic, non-personalized one that cost about $5 each. Fortunately, my aunt told me that she'd just gotten some business cards printed from Ed Wait of HiFi Ink on Etsy. She thought he could print them and he could. $57 for 250 one-sided bookmarks.
 
One problem. He couldn't design them, just print them.
 
At this point, I was already dealing with formatting, editing, and running said Pubslush campaign, so Aunt LJ graciously took charge of the bookmarks. I told her what I wanted and she photoshopped about four different versions. She also coordinated with Ed about printing issues, like having a 1/8 inch bleed around the bookmark, making sure the fonts were outlined, and other things I couldn't begin to fathom. 
 
The bookmarks also came out with a long green strip on one end. I wanted them on the smaller side, but that would have cost twice as much. So my aunt ordered them long, and when they came, she whipped out her paper cutter and hand chopped all 250 of them.
Wow.

It was so much work for both LJ and Ed, and I'm so grateful for their patience and time. I think the bookmarks are beautiful, and that's what matters. But secretly, I'm glad I didn't have to do all the work myself. Yay for delegating. :)

Last Week's Update: 10-28-14

I got a little sick last week.

A sinus headache collided with stress sickness, resulting in a cloud of mucus in my brain, completely cutting off my ability to focus. Naturally, this came in the middle of 4 scheduled subbing jobs, and by Thursday I felt like a zombie. I took Friday off and crashed.

Crashed like a computer giving the blue screen of death. 

I try to present an organized, discipline face, but underneath it, I am a lazy, mad-scramble mess. This October I'd been doing a fairly good job at balancing subbing jobs, brainstorming, editing, business reseach, chores, and even a little socializing. Such balance was doomed. All it took was one little wobble. Sickness led to getting behind. Getting behind led to feeling overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed led to procrastination. And once I stared into that abyss, there was no going back.

Fortunately, I'm back now, healthy and refreshed and trying to pile together the scattered leaves of my life.

* * *

This week, I've received author's photos, my final map, and my bookmarks. I'll be posting all these very soon. I'm so incredibly grateful for these talented people who  have lent me their skills in order to help make my dream a reality. I'm going into my final 3 days of my Pubslush Campaign. So far, I've raised $575. I'm feel humbled that people would chose to give up their money to help me create my first book.

In other news, I've decided that on January 2nd, 2014 I will release the Kindle version of The Changelings, exclusively on Kindle. By summer the next year, I will have a printed physical copy of my book available for sale.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Short Story Review: Superhero in Disguise

Title: Superhero in Disguise
Author: Kitty Bucholtz
Genre: Romance, Fantasy

Summary

"Finally, a place where I can be myself. No more hiding."

For Tori Lewis a new apartment means having the freedom to live without disguising herself. But when, on Halloween night, a Zorro-costumed stranger rescues her from a purse-snatcher, Tori finds herself falling for him. Love means hiding who she is all over again. Or could this be the start of something more?
Review

"Superhero in Disguise" is primarily a romance with a little superhero stuff tossed in. Now I'm not a huge romance reader, but I do like them every now and then, and this was fun. I started reading and couldn't put it down.

Maybe because it was originally meant as the opening chapters of her novel, but "Unexpected Superhero" seemed a lot more developed than a typical short story. There are hints of Tori's dark past, hints of a world where superheroes are rumored, hints of our masked man's secret fears. None of these play much bearing in the romance, but they did tantalyze me and leave me wanting more.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Weekly Update: 10-17-14

In a surprising twist, gray fog has been spied in the morning.  Between this and the mildly cool weather, it actually feels like autumn. Suddenly all the pumpkin-themed snacks at Trader Joe's seem inornantely appealing. Visions of Thanksgiving pies and Christmas cookies dance through my head. I can't wait to pull out the old cookbooks and  root through for some fresh new finds.

The beginning of the week started off with a couple subbing jobs that required very little work on my part. On Tuesday, I read all of Neal Shusterman's The Dark Side of Nowhere and still had time to scan a couple writing articles. (By the way, I've enjoyed everything Neal Shusterman wrote.) I thought I had everything under control until Thursday, when my ancient ipad decided to delete all my documents. Fortunately, I had backups on the cloud. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to access them. So I fell behind.

My Pubslush account is now at $550. I came into the crowdfunding expecting nothing, and I feel incredibly grateful for the support. :) I've kept to a strict regiment of brainstorming for Nanowrimo and reading The Changelings to my aunt to check for final mistakes. I worked 3 days this week and I messed around with formatting. So I got some stuff done.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Short Story Review: The Lost Eyes

Title: The Lost Eyes: A Prequel to Forecast 
Author: Elise Stephens
Genre: Fantasy, Short Story
 
Summary

They were called Los Ojos--the eyes--men and women granted long life and mystical abilities. When
a couple of clay-diggers discover their lost doorway, will their power be reclaimed or lost forever?

Review

"The Lost Eyes" serves as a prequel to Forecast and introduces hero Tobias Randolph. I never read Forecast, but I didn't have any trouble with it. The short but helpful introduction goes a long way in explaining who the main character is.
 
The story has a nice Indiana Jones feel to it. Mysterious artifacts, mystical powers, and a love interest entangle in the story. The story is set in Cuzco, Peru in 1889 and Elise Stephens makes good use of its lush setting. Spices in the market, colorful skirts and parrots, and ceviche create captivating images for all the senses.

I was slightly confused in the opening chapter. Two peripheral characters are introduced, and I had trouble distinguishing which one was the point of view character. But once Tobias entered, he anchored the story with his strong perspective. There was a lot of good stuff crammed into this little package. A fun read on the whole.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Book Review: Perfect Ruin

Title: Perfect Ruin
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Summary

Protected by a forcefield of winds, Internment floats in the sky like a perfect bubble: innocent, sheltered, and safe. Who would ever want to leave?

Even so, thoughts of the ground fascinate Morgan Stockhour. She dreams of peering over the edge but knows that if she gets too close she'll be tempted to jump. That's what happened to her older brother, Lex. He lost his eyesight in a jump and has since grown cynical to the world.

Still, Internment is enough for Morgan, who has her best friend Pen and her betrothed Basil to keep her company. But when a girl her age named Daphne Leander is found brutally murdered on the train tracks, a series of troubling events cause Morgan's beautiful world to crack and shatter. There's no place to hide and no escaping this small enclosed community--or is there?

Review

On the one hand, Perfect Ruin reads like a work of Dystopian fiction, with the seemingly perfect society hiding dark secrets that the heroine must either fight against or run from.  But if this is a Dystopia, it's the gentlest one I've ever read. The horror of a Dystopia is that an all-powerful regime crushes the individual's spirit and severs natural human relationships. I didn't get that here. Was Internment perfect? No. But it wasn't ruin, either.

To be honest, I kind of wanted to live there. The society was a comforting combination of old-fashioned ideals and modern conveniences. The worst aspects of it--like a controlled birthrate and mandatory fianc├ęs--could be explained by the limited land and resources. Even the "evil leaders" turned out to be surprisingly human.

I found myself liking the characters a lot. I enjoyed Morgan's whimsical thoughts, and I felt her strong bond with her family and friends. No one was perfect; the characters had weaknesses and the families had secret shames. But they genuinely cared for each other and I found them relatable and appealing.

It was good I liked the characters, because the book, while not slow, wasn't fast-paced either and did sometimes lack tension and suspense. For the longest time, the most interesting events seemed far-removed from Morgan, who was too small and insignificant to play much of a role in them. It wasn't until over halfway through the book, at what I call the honey incident, that bad things crashed into her: hard, fast, and personal. After that, I couldn't put the book down.

Hones, I thought this book a nice cup of tea and scones. Warm, cozy, sweet. But it was just adventurous enough to keep me entertained. I want to read more.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Weekly Update 10-10-14

I hate reading my own work out loud.

It's like holding a magnifying glass to my prose. I question every sentence, every punctuation mark. In this case, that's kind of the point. I've been reading The Changelings out loud to my aunt in order to do one final edit before I start to format. My aunt's a poet, so she's helpful at catching awkward phrasing and suggesting alternatives. Once we get into the chapter, it's kind of nice, because I can just ask directly whether or not something works instead of having to always guess.

But getting started always kills me. So I have my little ritual. My aunt sits on her favorite massage chair and I lay on the floor (which I find comfortable) and I hold onto my aunt's old stuffed Eeyore for moral support. Because I don't care how old you are, it's always nice to have something to squeeze when you're anxious and afraid.

Reading The Changelings out loud is one of the new things I've added to my schedule. Last week, I set up my End of Year Goals and, as the weather cools, I'm trying to get things done in a burst of fresh speed. I'm brainstorming for my upcoming Nanowrimo, finishing up Three Floating Coffins, and attempting to research formatting. I've also set up a bank account for my publishing company and  I'm trying to get an author's photo taken on Sunday. Plus three subbing jobs this week at Brea Olinda High.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Knit Hats for Pubslush

There's a new prize in my Pubslush Campaign!

My good friend Michelle Knowlden, who writes cozy mysteries and knits cozy hats, has graciously agreed to donate fifteen of her unique creations to my campaign.


These fedora-style, roll-brimmed caps were actually inspired by the cover art for The Changelings. They come in forest green, soft beige, and earthy brown. The subtle weave of greens and browns in the band mimics my main character's hazel eyes. It's one of my favorite parts.


For $15 you can get one of these beautiful hats and a bookmark, just in time for Christmas. All money I receive will help me pay for producing my first novel for publication.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Platform and Marketing

“You must learn to market without marketing. No one wants to hear, ‘Buy my book.’ Everyone wants to hear, ‘How are you today?’ ” –Gayle Carline from her lecture “Self-Publishing Savvy”

Whether or not you publish traditionally, more and more the burden of marketing is falling on the writer. It’s important to build an audience and communicate with them, in a way that feels genuine, not gimmicky.


As soon as you decide you want a career in writing, you should start working on your platform. If you (like me) you got a late start, begin work ASAP. You don't have to tackle everything at once. Just do what you can and do it with all your heart.

What is a Platform--From an Expert


A platform is one of those things authors and agents like to throw around. Since I'm not exactly sure of what it is, I'll let author Kimberley Grabas define it.


“ ‘Platform’ is used to describe the variety of ways that you use to connect to—and engage with—the ideal readership that is most receptive to your work. It’s also the amount of influence you wield, the level of visibility and authority you have gained, and the deepness of your connection with your readers.”


I like to think of it your platform as a super high tech diving board that launches your little book in the vast pool of readership. If you're lucky it lands with a splash among the perfect audience. If your launching device doesn't work properly, your book falls flat on the concrete. Lucky for you, your book isn't a person, so you can try again. Tinker with your platform until it's just right! 


That's all well and good for a general definition, but what does it look like concretely and how on earth do you attempt to build one. Kimberley Grabas breaks it down into five basic steps.


5 Steps to Building a Platform 

  1. Define and Build Your Author Brand (This is your promise to your readers of what they can expect from you.)
  2. Identify Your Target Audience (Who is most likely to buy your book?)
  3. Set up Your Author Website/ Blog (This will be your home base from which you can launch your campaign)
  4. Start Building Your Email List (Your lines of communication with your target audience)
  5. Establish a Presence on Social Media (Emphasis on social; they want to know about you, not get bombarded with ads for your novel)
She elaborates on these steps in her ebook, The Quick Guide to Building Your Writer Platform, which you can download for free by subscribing to newsletter. It costs you nothing. If, for any reason, you are uncomfortable with this, her website provides the same basic information.


Other Marketing Ideas

Build the Best Product Possible


This means taking the time to write and re-write, over and over again; paying for professional editing; commissioning a simple, elegant cover that attracts readers' attention and fits with your brand; and formatting it correctly so that the interior is easy to read.

Connect with Other Writers and Groups

Joining writer's groups or finding groups devoted to your genre is a great way to meet people who will be interested in your writing and supportive of you. You can lean on older, more experienced writers for wisdom and advice; learn about new trends in the field; network for free-to-cheap editing and critiquing; and generally benefit in many different way.

Use Metadata

Metadata refers to the tags and keywords that an audience interested in your book can use to find you. If used correctly, your audience will come to you.

Get Reviews

Positive reviews are really important to attracting new readers. 

If you want a nice blurb, you can ask an author in your genre that you know (see Writers and Groups) to write one for you, although it's common courtesy to give them a free copy of your book, six months to read it, and a warm thank you. If you're bold enough, you can build up a relationship with an author you admire and ask them to recommend your book.

At the grassroots level, you can ask your fans for reviews. You can write a review of your author friend's book in hope they review you back. (Author Sonia Marsh said she did a video review and posted it on You Tube to make herself stand out.) 

Just remember to be ethical about it.

Free Giveaways

The point of giveaways is to, hopefully, have more people read your books, review your books, and spread positive word of mouth. 

Amazon has deals where people can download free books and Goodreads have giveaways. You can also host your own contests or raffles, although you might think about including something beside your book. Maybe a small gift card. Or, if you have a crafting hobby, something you made.

Amazon also has something called the Kindle lending library, wherein readers can read for free, but you still get royalties.

Create an Event

You can host a contest, create a book launching party, or give a lecture. Nowadays, it's usually not enough to sit around and sign books. You need to create value.

Good hospitality is key to the event, so remember to bring food and drinks. Sonia Marsh told a story (which I recounted in my blog) of how she got to local businesses to donate food and prizes. If you can network your way into free stuff, go for it. Also, make sure you bring business cards, bookmarks, fliers or some other physical thing an audience can take home, in case they want to look you up later.

Videos and Podcasts

This can include everything from book trailers, to reading chapters of your book out loud, to showing off a skill you have. Heck, it might not even have to do with your book. Just give them a chance to see you.


Build up a Body of Work

It's usually not enough to write one book and stop. You usually need to build up a body of work. At Barnes and Nobles, I noticed prolific authors took up so much room on the shelf, it was impossible not to see them. It's still the same in the digital world. The more you produce, the more your name pops up.

In this way, writing series can be helpful. You can also build up a body of work by writing short stories. Short stories have a secondary bonus, in that you can write one connected to your novel, give it away for free or cheap, and hopefully intrigue readers into investing in the larger world.


Be Generous and Grateful

What goes around, comes around. If people help you, always remember to thank them and pay it forward.

Free Resources on the Web

Your Writer Platform (http://www.yourwriterplatform.com/) Even if you don’t subscribe, this website offers lots of articles for building your platform


“9Ways to Promote Your Writing Without Being a Jerk” by Brian Hutchinson (http://positivewriter.com/promote-writing/) Easy to read article for beginners

"7 Tips for Metadata Magic for Self-Publishers” by Betty Kelly Sargent (http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2014/09/7-tips-for-metadata-magic-for-self-publishers/) Thoroughly explains what metadata is

“5 Ways to Build a Powerful Email List” by Jeff Goins (http://goinswriter.com/build-email-list/) Intermediate advice, not intimidating

“MarketingYourself: Social Media Marketing and Creating an Online Presence” by Scott James (http://blog.pubslush.com/author-education-series-10a/) Specific advice for serious authors

“FreebieStrategies for Indie Authors” by Sabrina Ricci (http://www.digitalpubbing.com/freebie-strategies-for-indie-authors/) Chock full of links, references, and personal experience