Wednesday, October 30, 2013

No NaNoWriMo for me

We are quickly approaching November, which is crazy to think about. This year is almost complete. As I have become more involved in the writing community, I have discovered this thing called “NaNoWriMo.” When someone first asked me if I do this, I thought it was some new technological thing. I quickly learned that November has been designated National Novel Writing Month. The idea is if you write 2,000 words every day, then by the end of the month you will have a 60,000 word novel. 

I might not like this idea on some levels because none my novels are that small. I range between 80,000 and 100,000. Before I get chastised, I must note that my genre is fantasy, which means my books are actually on the “smaller” side. Therefore, finishing 60,000 words would not finish my manuscript, but I contend that it would take me pretty close.

I like the concept of this idea. I just disagree with the application. At the moment, my writing is back down to microscopic. Therefore, my world is a little dark and my frustration levels a little high. But winter is always the hardest month for me to wake up early and write. It’s just too dark outside! So, I like the idea of making writing a priority. Drop the excuses. Drop the whining, and “just do it!”

But, what I dislike about this bandwagon is the implication that writing a novel is so easy one can just spit it out in a month. Most people I talk to either gave up half way through November, or wrote a novel and trashed it at the end of the month because it was no good. If you are someone who was successful, or know someone who was, please let me know. But I think the idea to write 2000 words every single day is a steep goal. To be successful, a writer would have to spend months prepping for the writing part. They would have to research and build plots, characterization maps, and outlines, etc. Then, they might have a shot. But, I know myself. I’ll plan, get half way, and my characters will throw a monkey wrench into the idea…or something doesn’t quite work. 

Writing is tough. It should be. It isn’t something you can spit out and drink a latte after—and I think it’s a disservice to suggest it is. It’s kind of like saying I want to go run 26 uncharted miles and be successful. I know Stephen King says he does not spend more than three months writing a manuscript, but everyone writes a little different. 

So, set realistic goals for myself, yes. Make writing a priority and write every day, yes. But, I will not be participating in NaNoWriMo. Instead, I will take the time to get back on track. For me, slow and steady wins the race. But, I do wish all those willing to try the best of luck starting Friday!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday's Quote: E.E. Cummings

"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~ E.E. Cummings

Life is taken so seriously now that I'm in "adulthood." I have responsibilities. I have obligations. I have jobs...yes, plural. I am finding as I get older that I want to cherish life more. I was walking my dogs passed a soccer field near my house. I saw a group of teenagers throwing a football back and forth. That got me to thinking. When was the last time I "played"? I can't even remember the last time I just sat back and enjoyed my life. No responsibilities. No worries. Nothing in the back of my mind bugging me that I need to do something. Just sit. Just listen. Just laugh.

Life is short. That concept is proved time and time again. It also shouldn't be taken too seriously. We need to laugh. We need to enjoy. A wasted day is one without laughter is an idea that goes deeper than just burning calories by laughing. It's about finding an appreciation. I know I need to be reminded of that time and time again. Maybe one of these days I will put it into everyday practice.

I'm wishing you all joy and happiness during this holiday week!

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Friday, October 25, 2013

The Difference between Reader and Writer Perspective

When I was little, I both loved and hated English class. I loved reading and discussing stories, but I absolutely hated sharing my opinion. Why? Not because I was shy…which I was. It was the reaction I would get from my instructor. It didn’t matter what grade or what teacher, I would share my thoughts and they would say “Well that’s…interesting.” After becoming an instructor myself, I now have sympathy for my teachers. There are times when students say things that throw me off. Sitting in silence to gather my thoughts is almost worse. So they went with this phrase, every time.

I used to think it was because I was weird. Again, I probably am considering I find enjoyment writing novels in my spare time, but not the point. Now I have realized it is the difference between how a reader and a writer approaches a story. I have fun conversing with my friends more than I ever did in English class. I don’t have to sensor my thoughts and try to mimic what the teacher wanted. I can openly share my position. And, what’s even better, is I can start to see the difference. 

I think of plot structure and characterization when reading. In fact, going through all of my reviews on Goodreads, I can see the stories I gave less stars to always revolve around fallacies in the set up or unrealistic plot lines. As I read, I cannot help trying to predict where the author is going. I’ve gotten pretty good, but love the stories that still are able to surprise me without cheating by withholding all the information. My mother, on the other hand, gets wrapped up in the emotion. She is along for the ride. 

This week, I finally got to encounter my “reader” side. I have been looking forward to Allegiant by Veronica Roth for some time now. I was so happy when it released this week. The first shock to my system is she changed points of view. I felt put off by it. As a writer, I could see the necessity of incorporating another viewpoint, but as a reader I wanted to exist only in the same head that brought me to this point. Then, I started to criticize her with my “writer” side, focusing on the technique of sticking to points of view. That is…until I realized that I am guilty of this. I switched points of view between The Curse of Atlantis and its sequel (hopefully out next year). I started writing the story without switching, but it became necessary to the plot to make the change. 

This is what reviewing books is all about, I think. The writer always has reasons, and most have to do with the structure of a plot. The reader always reacts with emotion to the ride itself, not looking at the nuts and bolts. The joy is when these two approaches synchronize.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Change Swearing to Match Story

I read a blog last week that suggested fantasy novels shouldn’t resort to characters who swear by modern standards (I tried to re-find the article and of course couldn't). It’s not an ethical debate. It’s a matter of enhancing the period of the piece. I actually agree with this assessment. Part of what annoys me about HBO series is the language. I dislike it not because I am “proper,” but rather because having a medieval King drop the F-bomb is distracting.

Clip Art Provided from Microsoft Word
In literature, the job of the writer is to encourage a suspension of disbelief. In other words, my job is to make my readers forget they are in a made up place with made up people. Fantasy has a little more room to play than other genres like mystery. I can have a character jump over a ten foot wall and not have my readers question the action because that’s how I’ve set up the world. If it was a typical case on CSI…not so much. This goes a little backwards when discussing the action of swearing. In a mystery, a character with a potty mouth does not ruin the “reality” of the book. Yes, there is debate by writers on whether making a character swear is part of his “characterization,” and if it needs to be written, but that is a completely different debate. 

In fantasy, the worlds are different. The trouble with a character throwing a modern swear word into the mix is that it brings the reader back to reality. If I have a modern phrase, then I am in modern times and if I am in modern times there then really shouldn’t be wizards and dragons. The same can be said for clichés. I once had a character say “Don’t freak out, okay?” Sounded okay in my rush to throw the scene down, but was picked up in my critique group. That’s too modern. She’s supposed to be from a completely different world similar to our 1700’s. That phrase didn’t work, it ruined something.

The article suggested playing with the time piece to create new swear words. I did this for The Curse of Atlantis. People are called “son of Cerberus,” a three headed dog of the underworld. Still a dog…and still not something someone would want to be the spawn of. Nor would my characters like to be called “minotaur,” a human with the head of a bull.  “Cerberus Waste” is another one I liked to use. I think it added flavor to the book, sticking with the time period. For example, Harry Dresden in the Dresden Files always says "Hells bells." Again, still swearing, but in a "wizardly" way, which enhances his character.

What phrases would your characters use? What swears would they rely on? Or, is there a phrase you read that struck you as interesting? It is a pain to think about sometimes, but well worth the effort. Sometimes these little things go a long way when enriching a piece of writing.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday's Quote: Bill Cosby

"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone."~ Bill Cosby

In the writing profession, we can get caught up in trying to please our readers, editors, publishers, trends in the market, etc. In fact, the number one cause of writers block, in my opinion, is trying to please too many people. I think this is valid because in almost every list of tips for writers that I have read, somewhere they mention writing for yourself.
Writing a story is hard enough without the critique's brain turned on questioning everything that is written down. If I pursue a writing task, whether it be a chapter of a novel or a short story, I am never going to finish if I'm thinking of others. The only exception to this rule would be if I am writing for a magazine. For instance, some have themes or topics they cover. But, even in these cases I let the conditions mold the idea and then I turn off the demand as I'm writing.

So, don't try to please everyone. That's a sure way to fail. I agree with Cosby on this one, and not just in writing.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Are Clowns Nice or Scary?

There is a yearly event held around Halloween in Tucson, Arizona, called Nightfall in Old Tucson. I went one year and it is a neat place to visit if you are in the area. It takes place in Old Tucson studios, where much of the old-time westerns were filmed. The event is somewhat kid friendly, although there are “ghosts” with impressive makeup work who will follow you around the park. Then there are the haunted house areas that are geared more towards adults. I believe the one that left an impression on me was called Inferno. 

Again, the visuals were pretty impressive. We had a group of five people going through. I was in the back with a friend of mine. We quickly discovered that the back of a group is not fun. These are the people who get picked on. We were a little jumpy by the middle of the walkthrough when the scariest thing happened. My friend betrayed me and let some man in a clown mask come out of the corner and around her. He then stood silently with his head next to my shoulder. I first had that feeling that creeps up the spine… something was not there before…someone was watching me. Then I turned and two inches from my face was a wicked clown mask. I am not ashamed to say I screamed, and then pushed my friends (who were admiring the view in front of them) through the rest of the maze in a run to escape. I was looking over my shoulder for weeks after. 

Remembering this event, I started wondering…when did clowns become scary? They started out as such sweet characters; happy, in need of drawing out a laugh. I know some kids are afraid of clowns now, but I always contributed this to the sadistic things we make clowns do nowadays. I think part of it has to do with the same contrast I discussed earlier in the week. Clowns are supposed to be innocent and happy. But it’s pretty scary to think of a clown that is joyful while killing someone. 

Who first came up with this idea? Sure, we could blame Stephen King’s It. But was he really the first? Did everyone love clowns before that movie? What about The Joker from the Batman comics? Somewhere there was a transformation in this character. I see more “scary” clowns than I see traditional anymore. In fact, there was a restaurant in my hometown with clowns lining the shelves in the dining area. There was nothing wrong with them, none menacing. Yet, the place became known not by their name but by “the place with the freaky clowns.” They have since removed the collection.

So, have we left the era where clowns are happy and fun? Are they now defined as only scary? And, if so, does that ruin the contrast that made them so scary in the first place? Some things to ponder on the weeks leading up to the thirty-first.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Scariest Stories for Me

I often think that October would be the favorite month for the writers of horror. After all, the goal of most horror writers is to completely freak out their readers. I tend to stray more toward the suspense genre for one simple fact. To me, horror is starting to feel like an excuse to showcase gore. I guess without the gore, then the genre would be called “scary” instead of “horror.” I do understand there is a gory aspect to horror, but I still desire a plot. 

I was watching American Horror Story: Coven last week. I thought it was meant to be because just a few weeks ago I was complaining there weren’t any witch stories. I gave up hope for this show when they showed a witch digging out the spleen…or some organ like that…of their torture victim. I can survive that scene if it weren’t for the feeling that I was missing a plot of the episode. Don’t get me wrong, there was one, but it wasn’t enough for me. Now, this show is hugely popular, so I know it is a matter of taste. To me, it felt like the show was going for the shock value rather than to really creep me out. 

That got me to thinking. What really scares me? What will cause me to look over my shoulder and feel shivers run up my spine? The answer is simple. It’s not the psychopathic killer that tortures victims (unless it is true story cases, which send my imagination running). It’s not goblins who eat people or vampires or demons. The ones that get to me are the stories of the spirit world.

I probably have always been afraid of ghosts and such, but I blame the 2002 film The Ring. The girl crawled out of the TV, flickered across the screen, and killed a character. I didn’t sleep for a week. I kept staring at my TV expecting it to turn on with the creepy girl with hair covering her face. 

While I said demons don’t scare me, I will say this is not entirely true. There is one type of demon that crawls across my skin. That is the child demon. There is something about the sweet, innocent voice belonging to such a dark character that unnerves me. In life, we like to believe children are the one thing we can always trust. They will never betray us…try to get their way, yes, but not openly betray us. They are innocent. This corrupted by a deadly beast is just too much for me to take.

So, as we make our way through the month that celebrates fear, I’m curious. What are the topics that scare you?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday's Quote: Pablo Picasso

"Everything you can imagine is real."~ Pablo Picasso

I was excited to find this quote because I don't often find quotes by artists. Most of what is out there is by authors (for obvious reasons) and political thinkers. But this quote is so good because it is simple and yet has a powerful message.

Anything is possible. A few episodes ago on NBC's "Parenthood," a woman battling cancer said "You don't wait for anything...this is not the dress rehearsal. This is it." I think this idea goes right along with the quote. Anything is possible. Imagine it, believe it, and do it. This is not the practice round. There are no "do-overs" and there are no "start again's." So let yourself imagine. Let yourself believe. And then make it real. Such an inspirational idea!

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Evolution of the Zombie: the monster or intelligent being?

Three weeks ago, I discussed the evolution of the vampire in literature and television. That got me to thinking about the evolution of zombies. Seems fitting, with it being October and all.

I find zombies come in two different forms. The first is the mindless monster that runs around eating people. I, for one, never understood this concept. In vampires, they drink blood because it is a symbol of life. Therefore the action would create everlasting life and youth. But to eat someone has no other allusions…it’s just horror. This feeling stems from two sources. The first is the predator/prey dynamic. Humans don’t have to worry often about being eaten by an animal…and when we hear a rare case on the news we tend to think it stemmed from idiotic behavior. The idea of being pushed out of the top of the food chain and hunted is probably the scariest feeling. The second source of horror is the aspect of cannibalism. Zombies are something that used to be human eating another human. And isn’t it interesting that the action of eating another is what makes zombies no longer human? Or maybe it’s just me…

The evolution of this particular character has been to turn them into robotic soldiers of sorts. One Dresden Files book I read recently showcased zombies as monsters controlled by a powerful wizard as his own personal army. It was an interesting concept, but still left the undead as unintelligent. 

When a program wants to break a stereotype, they go for the intelligent zombie. Think of the newest Sprint commercial in which the zombie becomes offended at the saleswoman throwing out a stereotype. It leaves a sense of comic relief in the commercial mainly because this goes against the “monster” image we have. 

But, you don’t have to look hard to find a thinking zombie. I would venture to say the first “zombie” would have to be the monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. From high school through college, I had to read this novel three times. This would be great if I had liked the book, but it has never been my favorite classic. It was doomed on the first read when I discovered there was no character Igor. Then, I discovered that Frankenstein is not the name of the monster; that Dr. Frankenstein is a bit of a whinny, spoiled baby; and that the monster is probably the most intelligent character in the novel. Aside from Shelley, the other thinking zombie I could think of is from Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods. One of the characters is enchanted after death and walks around as a rotting corpse, but still a thinking human. Just a note: both of these cases do not involve cannibalism.

As with anything in literature, I am always fascinated with the evolution. How did the zombie mold from Shelley’s free thinker to the mindless monsters? Even more interesting, I can’t find a genre split between the two forms. Both wander through horror as well as fantasy. Happy October, everyone!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

SyFy's show Continuum: how it highlights Sci-Fi trademarks

This weekend, I was visiting a friend of mine. We ended up watching a SyFy network’s show Continuum. Being a fantasy/paranormal writer, you would think I’d venture into the SyFy realm more often. Truth is, it’s only recently I realized this network hosts a lot of its own shows…and they are pretty good. The show is on its third season, but through the beauty of Netflix, I was able to watch the first two episodes. 

The show takes place around 64 years into the future. This seems like a lot, but I started thinking about the changes between now and 1950. Sure, fashion and cars have changed. Computer technology has certainly changed dramatically. But it is arguable if our way of life has vastly changed. I believe Back to the Future had us in flying cars by now. Instead, I discovered that the show, while not set a long time into the future, held true to a few must-haves when writing a futuristic piece.

1. the presence of space suits. I find this funny on a few levels. First, everyone else was wearing normal business suits. The officers, however wear this nifty gold suit that protects them from bullets and simultaneously is a super-computer. But, I did ask my friend…why the skin-tight space suit? Besides it being a hallmark of science fiction, I have to say I’m not sure. But, the technology certainly was pretty cool.

2. questionable government control. I see futuristic dramas go in one of two directions. The first is the big-brother avenue. I think we are still leery of our freedoms being taken away by a dictator…even if that dictator comes in the form of a group instead of one individual. Our fiction, therefore, always warns us of this. This show, however, takes the second approach. The world is now controlled by corporations. I don’t see this as much in literature, but it is still an interesting concept. Our society…at least in the US…is built on capitalism. There is even debate on how politically linked big corporations are to our candidates. It isn’t a large leap to say corporations will take over…just think what would have happened if Donald Trump would have run for president (or even won…yikes!).

3. the advancement of technology…which is cool and yet scary at the same time. I think the appeal of science fiction is its believability. And it is this believability that leads to the devices actually emerging years after publication. A good example, I am currently reading Orson Scott Card’s book Ender’s Game. In it, they reference “desks” that the kids take around to play games and learn. At first, I was like “why don’t they just call it an Ipad?” Then I realized the publication of this book is 1985. The internet wasn’t even widespread back then, let alone handheld computers. That's pretty cool. What makes this technology also scary is that it always references a robbery of freedom. For instance, the show uses retina readers that make it almost impossible to commit a crime. Sounds great until one thinks about what else the readers can discover…what privacy is forfeited. 

Science fiction is fun in the possibilities it presents…even if it has to stick to the science fiction trademarks (which kind of goes back to the cliché discussion from earlier). And, while I am a few seasons behind this show, I think this is a must-see for any Sci-Fi fan. Has anyone seen more episodes (again I only watched two so far)? Is it worth me checking out the seasons?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Monday's Post: William Faulkner

Look who's running late this morning! :) Today's quote:

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore. ”~ William Faulkner

I love quoting the classics from time to makes me appear cultured. In actuality I've only read a couple of Faulkner's short stories during my BA. He is a difficult author to understand with all of his hidden meanings. However, I think this quote is pretty straightforward.

I think the trouble I have making changes in my life stems from me being a complete coward. I need a safety net. These can take various forms depending on what decisions I'm trying to make. But, what I find is that before I attempt a dream or a life goal, I have to have one hand holding onto something stable...typically the past I'm trying to leave. I envy those who can leap. For instance, a friend of mine moved to Mexico with her mother without having a job, knowing where they were going to stay, etc. They just had faith and moved. Granted, she had some family in the area, but she said a prayer and set out on adventure. The same friend decided she wanted to do a mission in Africa...and she did it.

Me, I have to make sure the time I left would fit just right with my schedule. I have to plan and make sure everything will be okay. I would never move without having a job lined up and all my ducks in order. The trouble with this? I don't find changes in my life very often. Don't get me wrong. Responsibility is a good thing. But, I think Faulkner is right. If I desire a change in my life, sometimes I have to let go of the past and just take a leap of faith. Easier said than done....

Friday, October 4, 2013

The All-Zona Book Fest: Guest Post by Jude Johnson

A few years ago, I met this lovely lady through a Tucson writer's group. She has since started her own writer's organization and is hosting a multi-author book signing in November that I will be a part of. I wanted to give her the opportunity to share this event. So without further ado....

The All-Zona Book Fest

Treasures are all around us. Sometimes it’s hard to see them because of all the noise and hoopla of media blasts, but they are here. They are local Arizonans who have been published, sometimes independently, sometimes by small publishing houses, and sometimes by The Big Houses.  They write in all genres, from fantasy fiction to historical nonfiction, from romance to murderous mysteries, from humorous whimsy to adrenaline-rush adventure.

Book festivals are a great way for readers to discover these hidden gems--and for the authors to mingle with potential new fans. To that end, Gecko Gals Ink (a group of five spunky Tucson authors) has banded with Mostly Books Bookstore to stage the first ever All-Zona Book Fest. Scheduled for Sunday, November 17th, the Book Fest will be held at the Tucson Sheraton Hotel and Suites, in their Sabino Ballroom at 5151 East Grant Road in Tucson. Open to the public (free admission!)  from 10AM till 4 PM, The All-Zona Book Fest will showcase authors from Goodyear, Oro Valley, Phoenix, Sierra Vista, and Tucson, including Nancy Turner (These is My Words, Sarah’s Quilt). We are hoping Jennifer Lee Carrell (Interred With Their Bones, The Speckled Monster) and Mark Kelly (Moustronaut) will also join us; their schedules are not confirmed at this time.

Have you been to a book festival? Some offer panel discussions, others offer readings, and some just offer the opportunity for you to meet one on one with a special wordsmith who just might catapult your imagination into another realm. While our format for the All-Zona Book Fest is still under construction, we can promise a wonderful selection of books in different genres and a chance to chat with their creators.

If you are a published author who lives in Arizona at least half of the year, please consider joining in the fun. Check out our blog at for information and how to get a registration form. Space is limited and the deadline to register is November 1.

Readers, mark your calendars and plan to check out a treasure trove of new books!

~Jude Johnson
Gecko Gals Ink, LLC

Thanks again to Jude for guest posting here. If you want any further information, you can check out the event on her blog: or the Arizona Daily Star event calendar:

You can also check out the independent bookstore helping in the event:

Hope to see you all there!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My Regrets: A List of What I've Learned as a Writer

I was actually going to post on a different topic this morning, but like most of my writing times, inspiration for a different topic struck me. I was driving the hour commute this morning and started pondering life decisions. That got me to reminiscing, which does lead to regrets. I always try to tell my students to learn from their “mistakes.” I say that success in life is not judged by the wrong turns and the failures, but by if we learned from them or not. With this mindset, I try not to regret my decisions in life. They have all lead me to where I am today. More importantly, they have all made me who I am today. I would not be the same writer, the same person, the same anything without those decisions. So, to say I would take them back is a hard statement for me to make. But, I do have slight regrets on the “what I should have done” side. I decided to build a list for anyone looking to publish.

1.       Do your research. I heard this a lot going into the writing field. It doesn’t always have to do with the story, though. Do your research on who you are querying. I always equate these to the singing competitions on television, because I still feel they are an accurate portrayal of the path toward getting published. Let’s say someone is a gospel singer. They wouldn’t go onto these shows demanding to sing only gospel. It’s not the audience base. Now, I’ve known of a lot of singers who leave these shows and start a career in the Christian market, but they tailored their songs for the show. Know who you are pitching to.

2.       Know what it means to be an independent author. This new form of authors includes those who self-publish (either straight to e-book or by a self-publishing house). I have come to admire these authors tremendously. I think most people sit back and think this is a lazy way of publishing. I heard one agent say these people didn’t have the strength to battle through the traditional way and took the easy way out. I have since learned that she was either ignorant or an idiot. True, some people get into the self-published route because they think it’ll be easier. But do your research. These people work hard. If done right, the authors have to be a writer, publisher, publicist, speaker, everything. They have to make sure they edit and re-edit. They have to find people to make good cover designs. They have to know how to sell. They have to format their books and edit again. This step should take a few months, not a few seconds, if done right. I don’t know if I am worthy to join with the likes of these types of entrepreneurial people, but am tempted to try.

3.       Have the courage to accept that maybe the rejections have a point. I once heard a woman say at a conference that there is a reason works are rejected. Sometimes it’s stupid reasons like it’s not the right time or it wasn’t the right fit. But, sometimes it is because the work is not quite right, but with work and training can become awesome. Again look at the singing and dancing reality shows. Some people come on and are not quite there. But then they come back in another season after training and BAM, they win it all. Have the courage to really look at the work and ask if there is something that can be improved. Are you almost there, just waiting for the one piece of training that can push it through?

There we go. My reflections for the morning. I hope they are of some help. Are there any regrets or words of wisdom you have found over the years? Please feel free to write them in the comments below.