Friday, August 30, 2013

What is the Best Writing Environment: three things I need to be creative

On the show Sunday Morning this week, they discussed various atmospheres in psychiatrist’s offices. The piece proposed the philosophy behind everything from the color scheme to the artwork hanging on the wall. It suggested that the patients were subconsciously influenced by the room. A room that was white or grey was more welcoming and calming than one with bright colors on the walls. One psychiatrist had a series of pictures depicting the dropping of an atom bomb. While some would be disturbed by the picture, he suggested that others would be comforted with a bit of chaos. 

The segment made me think about my writing environments. I always write on a laptop, which provides the blessing of mobility. When I feel stuck, I often will change locations seeking new inspiration. It never really occurred to me that the decoration or the “feel” of each place might in fact be the cause of that inspiration. Yet, as I thought of the article, I came up with three commonalities between my favorite writing places.

The first is that the place cannot have too many distractions. I have always loved the idea of writing in a coffee shop. However, in reality this is not the best location. There are too many noises and distractions. If I’m writing where others can see me, I tend to get self-conscious, which is the biggest distraction of all. This summer, I tried writing in a library. This again seemed like the perfect option. What could be better than a room full of books? After all, I love the smell of books in libraries. I found myself needing to adapt the environment before it worked. I needed to cut out even the distraction a public library housed. 

The only way it worked is by my second commonality: the need of music. The only time I write in silence is when I’m doing this blog or when I am writing in the early morning. However, if I want to write for longer than a half hour, I need music playing in the background. I’m not sure what it is about music. In theory, it should be a distraction. But, as I’m writing, I zone out the words and listen to the melody. It helps me tap into the tone of my scenes. But, it is also a controlled distraction, cutting out the clutter of everyday and replacing it with something I want. 

Lastly, my writing space needs to have access to the internet. As I’m writing, I often need to look something up. That could be as simple as the definition to a word, a picture to help me describe a location, or a quick reference check. Without the internet, I find issues arise that I cannot address. This always stops my creative wheels. 

I would imagine the writing environments change depending on the person. However, I now start to wonder if we all need similar subconscious stimulus to help the creative juices flow. I would definitely watch a news piece about that topic.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Blog of Information

One of the blogs I love is the Bookshelf Muse. There is a wealth of information provided on this blog. Most of it has to do with how to describe physical attributes differently. I know I tend to struggle with how to describe a "thin" person as something different. How would you describe arms or backs in a way that is clear, appealing, and doesn't' take an entire paragraph?

I wish this blog was in book form because I would buy it. I hope you find it as enjoyable as I do!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hardest Part to Writing

This week's question comes from Angela:

What is the hardest part of writing?

For me, the hardest part about writing is the second guessing. I am constantly questioning if my work is "good enough." I can see how this would be somewhat humorous. Good enough by what standards? I have readers who have enjoyed my novels, told me they can't put them down. I have been accepted into The Odyssey writing classes twice now, which they only accept 14 applicants worldwide. One would think this would help my confidence issue. But it doesn't.

Most writers will say rejection is the hardest part to handle. I would agree, but anything said in a letter is much nicer than what I can say to myself. However, I often extend some of the criticism I've heard to tear myself down. I have even been known to use the "tips for good writing" blogs I've been reading to tear myself down. I'm not doing that so therefore am no good. Or it may implant a doubt that wasn't there before. I am constantly asking "is this good enough?"

I'm not sure where the negativity toward my own work comes from. I think it's partly because I am a perfectionist. And writing is not really something that can be "perfectly" mastered. There is always room for improvement...which is what my mind always tells me. I think it's also because, when I began writing, I did so in secret. I had already lost most of my friends through girl drama (middle school is a horrible place!). I didn't want to ostracize myself even more. By hiding my talent in the beginning stages, I never really developed under confidence. Now, even though I have had the feedback, it doesn't seem to counteract those first beginning years of darkness.

I think writers all have different demons that cause them to struggle. What is important is not that we have difficulty, but that we overcome whatever it is. I have learned to filter my own thoughts. Some are valid. Others, maybe not. To overcome my particular demon, I have to look for outside help. I have awesome readers to assist me. I can throw a chapter or an idea at them and hear what they have to say. They won't tell me it is good if it's not. I know this. Therefore, if they tell me my complaints are not valid, I know I am just tearing myself down again. It also helps build confidence. I would be nothing without them.

The key to writing is to power through. It should not be "easy." If it is, then real magic is not happening. it is through the moments of difficulty that I can push myself to grow.

**Please submit any questions you have so I can answer them here. Just fill out this form and send it in. Anything writing, publishing, or my books related. Then I will answer them one at a time every Wednesday right here.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

No Single god of Weather

This weekend I watched Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters. I, of course, loved it because it has such a wealth of accurate Greek mythology. In the movie, Percy and his friends are traveling across the sea into the Bermuda Triangle (which they call the sea of monsters). Storm clouds began rolling in and they contributed that to the monsters. It got me thinking.... What Greek god would be in charge of storms?

Zeus has lightning, but not really weather. Poseidon is blamed if a storm happens on the sea, but he doesn't have dominion over "storms" in general. What I found interesting as I searched is that there is no single god of weather. The following site provides a nice list of different Greek gods in charge of various aspects of weather, most of which are wind related. So, when a catastrophic weather event happens (like a hurricane or a blizzard), one god/goddess may be blamed, but it really is a team effort.

I guess it wouldn't be good to provide a god of one event (like a tsunami or volcanic eruption) because they don't happen often. Who would remember the name of that god if it is so selected? From a writing standpoint it would be a bad idea as well because what will stop that god from taking control?

The idea of gods coming together to take out mankind is within mythology. In Plato's version, the gods come together to take out Atlantis by sending earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, sending the island below the sea. This idea is so unnerving, I can see it as a good apocalyptic movie. Someone should talk to Steven Spielberg!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Monday's Quote: Dennis Lehane

“There's something ugly about the flawless.”~ Dennis Lehane

Our society expects perfection. A famous person walks out of their house without makeup or perfect hair and it is slapped on most magazines. We expect people to behave perfect and have perfect appearances and perfect lives. We expect their jobs to be perfect and their friends to be loyal. I think this is an ugly thought for a few reasons. First, it doesn't exist. Life is full of complications and flaws. That's what makes it difficult as well as fun to maneuver.

I don't think I'm alone in my opinion. Most movies that showcase the "perfect" society often turn out with the character "breaking free" of a society that seems very twisted. I'm thinking specifically of the movie "Pleasantville." Everything was pleasant. Everyone behaved the way they should. Innocence ran rampant. And yet the movie seemed to indicate that something was wrong. The people were bound by their perfections and their life was somehow in black and white. The moment they discovered flaws, the people turned to color.

Often times, beauty is in the flaws. I think it is good to remember that, especially in story writing. No one wants to read about a perfect life. We want to see the flaws. More importantly, we want to see how our characters overcome them.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

The Three Characteristics of a Successful Writer

I have to start by saying that the topic of this blog makes me want to laugh. I by no means think of myself as an expert. In fact, I probably should put that as a characteristic of a successful writer. The moment we think we know it all (in any field) is the moment we should get out. I also want to laugh because most lists I find online are not least to me. Therefore, I have started to become leery of reading posts about the top suggestions.

However, I discussed what makes writers "real" this week. Therefore, I thought it would be a good idea to follow up with traits in the writers I know. These are not the only traits, just a few…and certainly not mandatory.

1. Write Every Day. I stated before that I used to buck this "rule." I was afraid of the advice, thinking that would turn what I love into a chore. I embrace this advice now for two reasons. One, if I don't make it a priority in my schedule, then life gets in the way. I have to work, I have to take my dog to puppy training classes, I have to...I have to. Then, after a year, my book remained unwritten. Two, the more I write the easier it comes. Writing definitely follows the "use it or lose it" philosophy.

2. Does Their Research. This one was not so blatant to me when I first began writing. I thought I could just come up with an idea and spit it down on paper. I didn't understand why people would say writing was hard. Typically, writing isn't what is hard. Making the writing believable and worth reading...that's where things get tough. I read a blog this week where the writer was giving advice on how to write fight scenes. She said she could tell someone who had never been in a fight before because their character takes a fist to the face and doesn't even recoil. As I become more serious, I am finding that writers have to do a lot of research...on everything. It's not just for the historical fiction writers. The story needs to be believable down to the smallest least enough to fake it. There is such a thing as too much research, so get enough to make it believable and move on.

3. Has a Support Group. Writers tend to think the profession is solitary. And, I agree that unless you are a "team" writer, then ninety percent is done alone. But, I have also found that I would not be in this business anymore--in fact would have left a long time ago--if it weren't for my support system. They tell me the rejection letters mean nothing; those people just missed their opportunity. They tell me that my writing is great. They tell me to keep pushing and bringing out my next novels. They propel me forward, encouraging me to continue when I am tired and feel like life would be easier without writing. This can be family, friends, or even a group of fellow writers. But I believe we need someone!

There it is. My list of traits of successful writers…and I didn’t even attempt to try to define what success is. :)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bragging: the longest series I've read

I have mentioned the longest series I've read before, partly because I absolutely love this series, but also because I am proud of the accomplishment. The series is Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. I actually read them on my Kindle, and am behind on purchasing the book copies. Yes, I am one of those people.

I am proud because when I was in elementary school, I refused to read Harry Potter for one simple fact: it was 7 books. That felt like too big of a commitment. (Now I say I can't read them because I've seen the movie so know how they end) Anyway, I just finished the ninth book in the Dresden series and laugh at my previous assertions.

I don't think I could get away with not reading series if I was a teenager today. It seems everything is at least a trilogy. So, maybe if Harry Potter came out today, I would have chanced the seven books. I still can't read the entire series back to back. My attention starts to waver and I have to take a break. But, I have found another longer series by Ilona Andrews called the Kate Daniels series. Good so far. Maybe in a year I will be far in two series. My teenage self would be marveling!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What Makes a True Writer

The question for this week comes from Debra:

What is the difference between a writer and a writer "wannabe"?

I'm going to try to answer this question as politically correct as possible. :) The easy answer to this is that a writer is anyone who writes. This can be for fun or for pursuit of publications. What I find in the business is that the writing industry can get a little self righteous. People start proclaiming that they are "true" writers because of such and such.

For example, I tend to write on a schedule nowadays, but as a teen I didn't. Therefore, if I wanted I could say that I was a far superior writer back then because I wrote out of "passion" and not "routine." Likewise, I could stand on a platform now and say I am far superior because I actually get work accomplished by working a schedule. What I find funny is that writers do this about smallest of things. They brainstorm and therefore are better at blah blah blah. They have a connection with some writer group so they are better than others. They write stories with meaning and not just "for fun." The one that causes the most conflict is what type of published author someone is. Traditional versus Independent published causes heated debates in most writing circles many times.

For me, I try to accept anyone as a writer. Some are not my cup of tea, but then again I may feel others write much better and I can learn from them. Bottom line, we all create something in an effort to entertain. I'm not sure why the writing groups fall victim to the debate on who is better. I have to admit that a few years ago I would get suckered into the debates. Now, I try to avoid them. The debates happen anywhere. Even Stephen King is quoted putting down Stephanie Meyer's writing. My explanation for the nature of the debates is that the world is so competitive in writing that we feel the need to promote ourselves. Only, I think we forget that while we promote ourselves to the industry, we are all in it together. We are all writers because we write. We are all trying to "break in" and have our work read. Therefore, no one is far superior.

So, to me, a "wannabe" writer is someone who proclaims themselves as a writer. They wear the funny outfits, walk around with a notebook in one hand and a pencil in one ear. They do not hesitate to criticize others because they are "a writer" and therefore know best. But, and here's the key, they haven't written anything. They haven't written a short story, a poem, a novel. They don't look into the profession, they don't try to learn or grow. They live just to reflect an image and--in my experience--to tear others down.

I know my definition may be different than others. But I know there are a lot of good writers out there, and they come in so many different forms. The writing world is changing and authors are changing with it. I think the key is to remember that writers love to create. We love to dive into our own stories/worlds. It is what should pull us together. So don't let definitions tear us apart.

**Eeek!!! I need more questions to answer. If you got one, please fill out this form and send it in. Anything writing, publishing, or my books related. Then I will answer them one at a time every Wednesday right here.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Helios: god of the sun

Within my Atlantis series, I always refer to the sun as Helios. The reason is I wanted to make my culture stand out from typical Earth. In other words, if my characters all swore in the same manner and called everything by the same name, then what would be the point in switching to another planet? They should have cultural differences. The easiest cultural difference would be to recognize their Greek background.

Helios was actually an easy switch. In classic mythology, Helios was one of the Titans (these were part of the original gods before the Olympians came around). Their jobs were a little more simplistic than the Olympians, which seem to span every aspect of life. I always liked the idea of Helios. He rode a chariot across the sky driven by six steeds with fiery wings. His job was to start from his home in the eastern ends of the earth, ride across the sky into the land of evenings and into a fiery bowl that would transport him back to his home.

What I find interesting about Helios is that his job is very methodical. Besides the steeds with fire for wings, his job is ordinary. Yet, even as simple as it sounds, his job is one of the most important. I think this applies to "real" life. Some jobs are mundane and boring. In fact, I know I wanted to quit many because they were not interesting enough. But the backbone of companies or even society are built upon these jobs. We cannot function without them. Therefore, Helios is one of the most important gods, even though he does not have a place on Mount Olympus.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Monday's Quote: Nicholas Evans

"Life isn't about what happens to you, it's about how you handle what happens." Nicholas Evans

This, of course, applies to so much in life. That's why I like it so much, and probably why everyone else did also. In writing, I feel I need it stitched into a pillow or hung on my office wall. This is good motivation for those up and down moments that come with the profession.

Writing is all about how we handle rejection letters. Do I let them tear me down and stop me from trying? Or do I learn what I can from them and move forward? Do I let one bad review stop me from writing? Or do I weigh it's value and then move forward.

Life is about obstacles. I told a student once that I didn't care if they failed. What defines a person is what they learn from failure. Those who make the same failures over and over are not successful in my eyes. It is in rejection that we can analyze, adapt and grow. So, yes, life is not about the list of things that happened to me. It's how I handled and, hopefully, overcame them.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Writing a Villain: they should be more than just "evil"

When I first wrote the Curse of Atlantis, I sat down with Donald Maass. I know most probably won’t know him, but he’s a big time Fantasy agent—has his own agency in NY and bestselling books for writers. It is one of the times I am glad about my unworldliness starting out. He was the first person I ever pitched my novel to, and only the third person to ever even read a piece of it. I about died during the process. Believe me when I say I would have had I known who I was sitting in front of…or at the very least chickened out.  Anyway, I remember him being impressed with the work, but he told my characters tended to be black and white. He said to mix it up, make it messy. I’ve always tried to remember this advice. 

Villains, if they are not Disney or comic based, are supposed to represent real people, and real people are not driven to evil for evil’s sake. Therefore, while stories do have the character that lives to destroy the protagonist, the best stories, in my opinion, are those where the villain has justification. What makes them a villain is not a lack of humanity. What makes them a villain is that their goal somehow contradicts the protagonist’s goal. 

Looking at The Curse of Atlantis—although I always feel funny analyzing my own work—in the first scene King Menelaus is in the process of killing Pandora’s family in a fire. In the first version, he does so just because. He felt no emotion, but he has a reason. He believes Pandora to be the Curse of Atlantis. He believes she is responsible for the innocent slaying of countless peasants. He also knows the only way to “force” her to transform is to upset her. Therefore, he kills her family. Is it something a “good” character would decide? Probably not. But he is not a good character. He makes questionable decisions. That’s why he’s a villain. But he is still human. Mr. Maass suggested that he has a moment where he questions the actions. He’s human. A child is screaming in front of him, crying over her parent’s death. He’s just made her an orphan. If she’s not the curse, then he is more than just a horrible human being. He would question his actions until she changes. 

I think that stretches into any story. Think about Batman and The Penguin. The Penguin was a boy who just wanted to fit in. He was driven to hate and violence. Villains have a history that has shaped the way they make decisions. Even still, some believe what they are doing what is right (typically the opponent in a war). The character is still a villain, still an obstacle for the protagonist. They may still make questionable decisions (and probably kill more easily than most) but they should be real. Make it messy, because life is not so easily classified.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Top 5 Villains

Since I've been talking about Villains this week, I wanted to show my top five that I love from both movies and literature.

5. Darth Vader
 No villain list is complete without Darth Vader. He is dark. He is mysterious. But, what I like about him is that he serves a purpose. He is the villain, and yet he is not the mastermind. He is a servant. Sometimes, the worst of characters are not the ones in charge, but those who follow. I think that is wise for us to remember even in life.

 Brilliant, and manipulative, he is a great villain because he is good at reading people. He plays into their weaknesses, trapping them into his psychological games. He has very little good qualities about him, but, rather, enjoys torturing (and eating) people. What makes him a great villain is how good he is at it. In fact, even when the protagonists get what they want, it feels as if Lecter still comes out victorious.

3. Milady from The Three Musketeers.
I didn't find a good picture of her, mainly because the newest one is the actress who plays her in the newest movie and that doesn't follow the book. I love Milady in the book because she is so conniving. She is always trying to position herself, never letting anyone know what her true motives are. She has a hidden life, and is able to rise from nothing to a woman in power using her mind and her deceptive skills. I love that about her. She, of course, is a villain because of her methods and her lies. She uses people for her own gain, which is not admirable. But her tenacity makes her good opponent for the protagonist.

2. Scar from Disney's Lion King
Disney has mastered the art of the complex villain. Scar wants to be in power. He has jealousies and ambition. His mode of getting what he wants makes him a villain. No one can kill their brother to obtain the throne and come out as a hero. He also hangs out with dark creatures that serve him and enforce his dark nature. I'm sure psychology classes could go in depth about how he got the scar and how it could contribute to his personality. What I like about Scar is that he is not a psycho. He is just a dark character who choose to put his wants above all else. But, feeding into his jealousies is what ultimately is his downfall.

1.Iago from Othello
 The picture I chose is my favorite actor for Iago. He is smart, manipulative and two faced. He has his own motives, but he is ultimately driven to take down Othello. In other words, he doesn't want power or social gain. Just vindication for what he felt is a wrong done against him. What makes him wickedly sweet is that Othello trusts him. He is able to play the friend to Othello's face all the while plotting against him. But, Iago is a complex character. He has reasons for what he does. He is not just a horrible person driven by horrible desires. He is, by far, my favorite villain.

Tomorrow, I'll get into what I feel makes these villains withstand the test of time. What makes them good examples and what traits make a "good" villain.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Writing in a Different Genre

This week's question comes from Angie:

Do you write in a different genre and if so, what?

The quick answer is that I currently dabble within two genres. Fantasy with my Atlantis series and Paranormal with my stand-alone novels, like the Lord of Nightmares. I contribute this to a simple fact: I sort of fell into writing Fantasy. I had never really read a traditional fantasy novel, just children's books with a little fantasy in them--think about it, most Disney films I would classify as Fantasy; genies and magic carpets, talking animals, dwarfs. Anyway, I began writing in the Suspense genre because this was the focus of my reading. I wrote two very short novellas as I dabbled with writing. Then, out pops The Curse of Atlantis. Since then, I have broadened my horizons into reading the Fantasy genre, but I like Urban Fantasy a lot more than the dungeons and dragons plotlines. Paranormal is still in my "suspense" background, but brings the inhuman into the conflict.

I guess the follow up question would be if I would ever go back to writing Suspense. I think my answer would be no. I have discussed before that each genre has their own elements. I don't agree with the cookie-cutter approach, but there are certain expectations (from agents but also readers) if I want to classify my work as Suspense, Mystery, Romance, and such. I have found the niche for the genre's I write. It would take a lot more research to figure out the Suspense genre. Not to mention, a whole lot of time following cops around--which is not as glamorous as the show Castle makes it sound. :) That way there is truth behind the plots. Plus, I like the insurmountable odds the supernatural adds to a plot. So, I am happy with my two.

The second reason I like this question is because it borders something I have heard from countless agents and publishers. Writers need to pick their genre. They mainly say this with regard to one story. The story can't be a romance slash mystery slash fantasy slash sci-fi and sell. In fact, once authors start talking to agents about their "blended genre" story, the agent more than likely discards them. There are those rebel authors who want to buck this, but I for one agree. If the book can't decide what it wants to be, then that causes me to wonder how focused the plot is. That's not to say I can't add elements of the genres to the plot. Mine always have a touch of romance and maybe some mystery/suspense. But I wouldn't classify them as those genres. That is not my market.

This idea stretches, though. Some believe a writer should only write in one...maybe two...genres--period. The idea comes from one, perfecting the genre and two, building an audience. I consider myself to have a broad reading appeal, however there are certain genres I don't read or would hate to read. If writers want to gain a following, they need to stick to one genre to keep and grow readership. At least, that's the argument. I don't have to worry because I am happy with my genres.

**I am down my last questions next week. If you got one, please fill out this form and send it in. Anything writing, publishing, or my books related. Then I will answer them one at a time every Wednesday right here.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Hades: the villian of the Olympian Gods

When I think of "villains" within the Olympian Gods, I always think of Hades. Most would say this is because he is the god of the underworld. However, in Greek religion, all souls travel to the underworld. So, associating Hades with the devil is not entirely accurate. However, there is something creepy about a god that spends all of his time with the dead souls beneath the ground.

Hades is weird for a number of reasons. First, he prefers to stay in the underworld. Therefore, when the other gods met on Mt. Olympus, his throne would be left vacant. When I was researching mythologies in high school, I actually found very few with him in them. So why classify him as a villain? It all comes down to one mythological tale.

Hades caught a glimpse of young Persephone as she was frolicking in the fields. His desire for her causes him to kidnap her and bring her into the underworld. Most of the Olympian Gods ignored the issue until her mother, Demeter, sent the entire world into a state of winter due to her anguish. The story goes that, because Persephone ate some pomegranates, she must split her time between Earth and the underworld.

This story presents certain "villain" character traits:
1. he is selfish and will maneuver for his own interest at the cost of others
2. he does not care about the feelings of other people
3. he is willing to take drastic measures to get what he wants
4. he excludes himself from the social norm (the sign of a psycho, I think...)
5. he prefers hanging out with dark characters (like a three-headed guard dog)

There it is. My defense of Hades as a villain. But, as all interesting villains, he does have his own goals, reasons and personality. He is a complex god, but most definitely also a villain.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Monday's Quote: Oscar Wilde

"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."~ Oscar Wilde

This quote was by far the most popular last week on Twitter and Facebook. I think what attracted me to it was the idea of being myself. In middle school, as I began writing, I quickly hid my passion. I found the masses did not think writing novels in my spare time was "normal." I rarely shared my interest with those outside my inner circle. This had a lot of backlash, the most important being on my confidence. I think it took me much of my writing career to get over the decision to pretend I was someone I thought my peers wanted. So, embrace who you are.

The second part of this is, of course, humorous. However, I think it also has a good point. I cannot be someone else, no matter how hard I try. I can't write in the same voice. I can't behave in the same way. I can't enjoy the same things in the same way. We are all unique individuals and that is okay.

A good thought on this Monday.

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Friday, August 9, 2013

A Reflection on Teachers

This week, a lot of students are returning to school in my neighborhood. I love this time of year. Kids with back packs line up at the end of the street waiting for the yellow limousine to escort them into a house of knowledge. Don’t get me wrong. I would never—ever—go back. Sure, there are no bills and responsibilities, but then there’s the drama and social ridicule part that is just not worth the return. I wouldn’t mind being a student again, though. In fact, if there were a profession where I can learn all day, I would be right there. 

Of course, thinking about school causes me to think about teachers. I graduated from college with a teaching degree. I majored in English, but minored in mathematics. Therefore, I teach mathematics. It’s a supply and demand thing. Anyway, when I first stepped foot in the classroom as a student teacher, I was completely unaware of a teacher’s power. As I took my first teaching job, I slowly started to learn. Now, I recognize the huge influence—for better or worse. 

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you will know I began writing as a result of a teacher. In fact, if I hadn’t had her class in the sixth grade, I often wonder how my life would have turned out. Would I even be writing? I don’t know. I enjoyed a poetry unit in the fourth grade, but that didn’t cause me to write. It’s the questions they form Sci-Fi books over—well, those are probably bigger questions that appeal to a wider audience. Even after the sixth grade, teachers guided me. My seventh grade English teacher would read my short stories and critique them. Knowing now how much work an English teacher has, I wish I had thanked her more. My ninth grade English teacher called me a genius—not true but a nice stroke to the ego. Even today, my history teacher helps me find sources for my research. I truly believe, no matter how much family support I got, I would not have continued if my teachers hadn’t encouraged me. They were the only outside feedback I allowed for myself, so their opinion held more weight. 

Stephen King writes about a teacher who rolled a story he wrote up like a newspaper and asked why he wanted to waste his time on such trash. He says that voice stayed with him well into adulthood. Thank goodness it didn’t stop his pursuit. 

Teachers have power, even if they don’t want it. Students are developing not only who they are, but also how they view the word. And, unfortunately outside opinions have more worth in a teenage mind. I would not be a writer without teachers, and—while some days I might curse them for helping me discover such a competitive passion—I am forever grateful to them all. So, for all my teacher friends remember: with great power comes great responsibility.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

My Writing Space

A lot of posts the past few weeks have referenced my inspiration. Therefore, I thought it would be nice to share a picture of my writing space. This weekend, I got to sit down and write about 5,000 words in my newest Atlantis novel. I love this time of year with the storm clouds rolling over the desert.

I know a lot of writer's who have an office. I even have one. But I never write in it...well, not if I want to write for a long period of time. My preference is to write in my living room with music playing and candles burning. There is nothing else that gets my ideas flowing better. It could be because I began writing that way, but it really speaks to me.

Feel free to share what space you write in. Is it a library? Coffee house? Or is there some other place your muse hangs out?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What To Do with Writer's Block

Today's question was also from Marge.

Do you get writer's block and what do you do to overcome it?

I don't know any writer who could honestly say they have never encountered a block. In fact, I joke someone is not truly a writer until they have overcome writer's block. When I first started blogging, I posted a section on writer's block. Therefore, I'm going to try to make this different than that post.

Writer's block is caused by a few things. My most common block is (maybe subconsciously) I am unhappy with my plot. Typically, I have to sit down and fix that issue in order to get out. Another one I have found recently is that I haven't done my research. I'm not really sure what the culture of my characters is like and therefore do not know how to showcase my ideas for the plot. Again, an easy fix. What I decided to do here is give three strategies for the "really stuck" writer's block that sometimes emerges.

1. Talk it out with someone. I know a lot of writers who actually give the opposite advice. They hate to share their ideas for a few reasons. The first, of course, is a fear someone will steal it. The second is that it will add on pressure to finish and thereby shut down the creative process. And final, the only one I really accept as a true reason, they feel it will cause the "newness" to wear off and they will get bored. For me, I need to talk through my problems. I always go to my mom. She is someone I can trust--hopefully that would be true for anyone--and she is someone who is willing to go down the idea road with me. She comes up with her own solutions or simply listens to me rant. And she never gets mad that I don't take her ideas, knowing she helped spur my own. Talking it out lets me work through the problem and how to plot my way out.

2. Write even if it's crap. I have heard this advice given a lot in a different form, "don't edit while you write." I don't like that suggestion because, for me, if a word is misspelled or a sentence comes out crazy bad, then I have to fix it right then and there. Otherwise it hovers over my ideas as I try to continue, mocking me, displaying a neon sign to my subconscious that says it is wrong. But, turn off the voice that says the scene isn't working or is boring or just isn't "flowing" right. That's what revisions are for, especially if you're blocked. Getting out of the block is the most important thing, and sometimes to get out you just have to force yourself to write. In creative writing courses, they would tell me I had to write non stop for fifteen minutes. If I got stuck, I had to write "I don't know what to write" over and over. I didn't believe the remedy, but it never failed. Three or four of these sentences and ideas sparked. I'm not saying to write gibberish to that extent, but just write.

3. Walk away and read, watch TV, etc. Sometimes I am blocked (especially at the start of a novel) because not enough ideas are present. Therefore, I have to walk away. Enjoy a good book or catch up on TV shows. These don't even have to be in the genre I am writing. In the process, I am introduced to someone else's ideas. That always sparks mine. I can be sitting watching/reading a situation completely unrelated and inspiration will strike--something I never even thought of before under the pressure of my computer screen's glare. So, as hard as it is, walk away...just don't let that stretch into more than a week. Otherwise, you may never go back.

Above all, have faith your ideas will come again. I hope these tips have helped!

**I am down to two more questions scheduled. If you got one, please fill out this form and send it in. Anything writing, publishing, or my books related. Then I will answer them one at a time every Wednesday right here.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Meet Athena: God of Knowledge

In Arizona, most schools are starting back this week. Therefore, in honor of this, I wanted to highlight the Greek god of teachers. Much to my disappointment, there are no Greek gods of teaching. It is kind of depressing and yet also poetic. Teaching tends to be an underappreciated profession in today's society. Apparently it was the same in Greek mythology.

The closest god that comes close is Athena, the goddess of wisdom...among a long list of other things. In our society, we also put wisdom on a pedestal. We state freedom is linked to an educated society. Teachers tell students they must think for themselves, not follow another's opinions. Knowledge is key. Many do not stop to think how this knowledge is obtained. As adults, it is expected to be gathered independently. Read a book, vary your sources, open your minds...etc. Do everything you can to help gain knowledge.

But, when we are young, the optimum avenue is through good teachers. So, today, I just want to take a moment and thank all of my former teachers. You helped shape not only the person I am, but also my writing career. You are the backbone of our society and the key to our future.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Monday's Quote: Orison Swett Marden

"All men who have achieved great things have been great dreamers." ~Orison Swett Marden

This quote speaks to me because it is how I have always lived my life. It's easy to give up and settle for ordinary. I can accept that competition is too great, that the publishing industry is becoming too complex, that I will not achieve all that I desire. While I accept we must understand that this is a possibility, it doesn't mean we shouldn't reach for the stars.

I love my family. They are what drive me to continue to dream big. I dream of huge success. I dream of reaching countless people with my writing. I dream of being the best image of myself that I can. The point is, I dream. I accept that the probability Hollywood will make a blockbuster movie out of my novels is teeny tiny, but that doesn't stop me from dreaming. Because, who knows? If I set it as a possibility, it might actually happen. If I never strive for the best, I will never be the best.

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Friday, August 2, 2013

World Building in Fantasy Fiction

When I first started writing, my stories were a mixture between fantasy and mystery/suspense. Therefore, I still mingle with mystery writers. A few years ago, I told people the benefit of writing fantasy is I don’t have as much research. Mystery writers need to know the difference between a revolver and a pistol. They need to know how detectives typically conduct investigations. It might even benefit them to stay up to date on the new technology trends in solving crime. So, they not only have to come up with a good plot, but they need to do a lot of research to make solving it believable. Fantasy…we just make it up.

But fantasy is not without its effort. The most important aspect of fantasy fiction is something we call world building. Readers expect a civilization with a culture already set up. Think of J.R.R. Tolkien. He has a whole book published just on his world building research. He went into such depth, he even created his own language called Elvish. He knew the politics between each creature as well as the layout of the land. None of this had to do with the ring, but it helped when the characters interacted on the journey.

I read a blog this week in which the author said he plotted out three centuries worth of history for a book that takes place over the course of four years. World building is part of why fantasy novels are so big. Where most books let fans escape in another’s story, fantasy lets them escape into a completely different world. Therefore, this place has to feel real. The author has to know every aspect of their world. Most of this research will never make it into the novel because that would be boring. Yet, if the author knows it, then events will reflect a culture and history that spans beyond a plot.

When creating The Curse of Atlantis, I began with the kings of Atlantis. I even drew little pictures of each. No, I will not post them here because my expertise is stick figures. From there, I set up the countries. What are their names, culture, education, beliefs? Basing on reality helps the believability. I did geography next, something I need to learn more about. The trouble is that I tend to research in parts as my story progresses. Otherwise, I can see an endless bout of research that never leads to an actual novel. Therefore, remembering how these countries were set up to begin with is difficult. I discovered this difficulty turning the book into a series. In each novel, I want to examine the countries in more depth. So, the second novel takes place in Zeus and the third (I’m currently writing) goes into Artemis. I find my lack of notes challenging.

So, my recommendation for world building: be very thorough and very organized. It’s a lot of effort, but the end result is a new, rich world readers will enjoy.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mapping in Fantasy Fiction

My post tomorrow is going to address a big topic in fantasy fiction, which is world building. The first place I always begin is in the layout. What does the world look like? Where is everything laid out? I find myself to be a very visual person, so this helps me keep things straight. It also helps me to know that if the character went north to get to a certain spot, then, fifty pages down the way when they go back, they will have to return going south. In the Lord of Nightmares, it was important for me to know where Ramsey's was located as well as other important settings. My characters had to have good direction if they've lived in this world for many years, therefore so did I. What I also find is that creating maps helps me map scenes and drive the plot. If I know there is a café that everyone loves, then I can write a scene in that café. Introduce the world and advance the story, that's the key.

Two maps I created are displayed on my Twitter feed. The one on the left is the map of Atlantis (also published in the book). The one on the right is the map of the game world in Lord of Nightmares (not published in the book).

The one I decided to showcase here is the map of Zeus. In the sequel to the Curse of Atlantis, my characters travel to Zeus to help with political unrest left over from the major war with Atlantis. This map helped give me a feeling for the nature of the land as well as the cultural aspects of the cities.