Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday's Quote: Amy Bloom

“You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful” ~ Amy Bloom
Photo taken from her Goodreads Profile

I think I love this quote for two reasons. The first is obviously a “love yourself” message. I think this is actually missing from society today…at least in the US. I heard a news segment last week that was discussing a children’s camp that was trying to teach kids not to say negative things.

The first of this is the obvious criticism of other girl’s looks. But the story went further. What about someone saying, “Look at her hair. It is so much better than mine.” I love this quote. You are different. You are not “supermodel” perfect. But, with Photoshop and such I wonder if anyone is. We are perfect for our flaws. I like that.

The second reason I love this quote is because it also points toward the type of characterization I’ve been discussing this past year. Characters need flaws. That is what makes them relatable and interesting. A flawed character can drive a story much better than a perfect one.

I am imperfect, irreversibly flawed…and I am beautiful because of this. That is a statement to live by.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Character Interview: Pandora

In an effort to revamp the blog, I decided that Fridays will be focused on the story. I will try to bring you a nice mixture of character interviews, character journals, and eventually a blog-based serial. I hope you enjoy the change!

An Interview with Pandora

When was the first time you found out about your ability?

I think it was always there. It’s a little hard to remember my childhood, I think because of all that happened, but one of my first memories of transformation was when I was a toddler. My dad and I were out walking behind our house. I was wobbly on my legs to begin with, but I tripped over a rock. When I landed, I was on four paws. I felt such a rush. The wind brushed through my hair like my mother’s comb, only it was all over my body. I could smell the sweetness of the meadow flowers. I could even hear a field mouse scurrying over the dirt meters away. In many ways, it was freeing. My father must not have minded because I don’t remember him saying anything. He just chuckled and continued our walk, telling me not to fall behind.

Did you have to learn to be a wolf? Did your father teach you?

Training Immortals is always an interesting thing to me. When the Committee was around, they would assign Protectors to train, but they often didn’t pay attention to ability. But my case was special. My father was Immortal. In fact, my father was a wolf breed. I never discuss it because most Immortals have unique traits. But I was born from him. I share his Immortal genes. That’s why my sister could change into a wolf. Yet, I don’t remember him ever teaching me how to change. I just did. It’s kind of like how babies learn to walk and talk. Nature takes over. I needed guidance on when was appropriate, but it was just a part of me.

How did you feel about your gift? Did it scare you?

Changing into a wolf form never scared me. It was always freeing. The only time I ever got scared is when I had to deal with the trauma of losing my family. The experience messed with my memory a little. It twisted some things and blocked others. Then, with everyone accusing me of horrible actions, I had to sort out what was fiction and what wasn’t. But changing never scared me. No. Sometimes it was my only way to escape into something different, to take a break from the human world and its responsibilities.

Which form do you prefer and why?

That’s hard to answer. As a young child, I preferred the wolf form. I felt safe. As a girl, I had little to defend myself with. As a wolf, I was a natural fighter with instinct and a manner of defending myself. Now, I find myself embracing the human form, probably because it can get lonely as a wolf. I’m not really a part of the natural world. I can’t communicate with other wolves. I can’t immerse myself in their world. And, while I don’t exactly belong in the human world either, at least humans can’t sense my difference, not unless I show them. I have learned to embrace human relationships. The wolf tends to be a barrier to this.
Pandora's Stories: Atlantis Cursed and Zeus Defended. You can also check out a mini journal I started after Atlantis Cursed.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What I'm Reading: a strong female lead with Illona Andrew's series.

To piggyback off of my post on Friday, I thought I’d discuss a particular series that I enjoy reading: Illona Andrew’s Kate Daniels series. A friend of mine actually pointed me toward it. I know I’ve discussed it here before, so I’ll try not to repeat what I’ve previously said. 

Photo taken from the Official Website
The first thing that captured me is the unique premise. I think that is true for any series. It has to be different than anything out there. The world has to be intriguing and not boring. Familiar is boring. The unique world here is that magic swings in and out with technology. I can’t think of another story where this dilemma exists…and it certainly adds a roadblock to the plot at times. 

So, the plot snagged me, but what hooked me is the main character. Kate Daniels begins the series as a mercenary; only, people pay her to get rid of magical beings. What I like the most about her characters is that she can fight with the most ruthless of the boys. But, more importantly, they respect her. I think the problem a lot of writers have when creating strong character is to write a lack in confidence. She doesn’t have to convince them, in fact doesn’t care what they think. She knows she’s good. 

Another aspect I love about her is her wit. She has snazzy comebacks. Again, she doesn’t try to pump herself up with them. She merely knocks them down a peg with a short phrase. She was battling a thug, I think in book 2, and said, “You know I do this for a living, right?” It stuck with me because I remember agreeing that the guy should just give up. 

More importantly, she is human. She doesn’t know all the answers walking into a situation. She goes into a battle with confidence she can win, but she doesn’t have all the answers. In her personal life, she makes mistakes. Again, it amounts to a lack of perfection. 

I think this quality is important in any characterization (even if we’re talking about a superhero in a comic book). If she can take on everything and everything goes well for her… that’s boring. Sure she faces some interesting things, but without that doubt of success on my part why bother reading it. 

When the discussion came up last week about a lack of strong female characters in fantasy and sci-fi fiction, I immediately thought of Kate Daniels. I think she works as a strong female because the author is actually the result of a husband and wife writing team. But, I don’t think that means both genders have to combine to make this happen. I think we can all write strong females with the traits above. But I also feel we need to remember one important fact: she is still a girl. She still wants what girls want. She still thinks like a girl. This is not a weakness…but certainly can add a comedic value to the plot.

What traits do you look for in strong female leads? What strong female characters do you love?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday's Post: Maurice Sendak

“There must be more to life than having everything!”~ Maurice Sendak

Taken from his Harper Collins website

I love this quote because it speaks to this whole idea of what do I want out of life? Is it to be successful? Is it to have "enough" money? Is it to have fame? Is it to have the respect of others? I like this proclamation. There has to me more to life than achieving "everything." Because, even if we obtain these material things, does that actually lead to a satisfying life?

I would think not. I think, especially in America, we forget that life is not about stuff. It is not about awards on the wall and money in the bank account. Life is not about getting everything we desire at that moment...or at least it shouldn't be. It should be about the relationships we build. It should be about the mark we make.

So, I want to remember to enjoy life. I want to remember not to work too hard achieving "everything" that I forget to live!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Are There Any Strong Female Leads in Science Fiction and Fantasy?

I read an article on a discussion group online this week that posed the idea that current cinema won’t portray “strong” women in science fiction or fantasy films. I immediately thought of all of the strong women I love to read in literature. 

Lieutenant Karen Murphy in Jim Butcher’s Dresden File series is a very strong woman. She is not only physically fit, but also portrays confidence. She’ll grab a gun and fight vampires right along Harry’s side and that is totally cool.

Then there is Kate Daniels in Ilona Andrew’s fantasy series of the same name. Again, this girl is confident and can kick some serious butt. In fact, without spoiling anything, she has to prove her worth in the hierarchy of a Shapeshifter community and does so with dramatic flair (while not portraying herself as too superhuman).

But, the article mentioned specifically movies.

So, I had to think a little harder. With some help, I did find “strong” women in modern film. The first is Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. Okay, so the first film she was highly sexualized with humungous (hurt my back just looking at them) boobs—although, I believe this was to match the video game. In subsequent films, she was more normal looking. And, interesting at least to me, they might have sexualized her a bit, but she never really hooked up with anyone…and still kick a lot of butt. 

Then there’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Zoe from Firefly. Again, both of these women were not overly sexualized, they did not fade into the plot, and they remained a strong influence. Now, Buffy did have a romantic relationship with a vampire on the show, however this did not stop weaken her. Both women held their roles and established their dominant presence on the show without the need of a male lead to support them.

During this same debate, another article was brought up where Neil Gaiman is interviewed on this idea of “strong women” and why they are lacking in film. I actually like his position. Women are just people. When talking about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gaiman raises the question of whether she was strong because she could kick through doors. He says those who believe this are missing the point. 

So, I started to ask myself. What does “strong woman” actually mean?

Here’s what I came up with. A strong woman has confidence. She can lead people through difficult situations because she believes in herself. She is smart and wise—because these seem to be different ideas. I don’t think strength necessarily means she can beat up the boys. In fact, I don’t mind if she has a boy by her side helping her fight, but what makes her strong is that she won’t back down. But I think compassion and softness can still be strengths. She’s a girl, after all. 

My only hope is that people can say the women in my books are strong and don’t simply serve to propel male characters forward.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How to Perservere When Doubts Come

I am curious if other authors/writers follow this trend, but I go through different stages. I go weeks at a time when I think I am worthy and a great writer. I can’t wait for people to read my work. Then, it never fails. This crashes and I start to doubt. Should I continue the whole writing career? Am I any good? Am I worthy? 

Excusing the vulgarity, I saw this picture passed around Facebook. I love it because I completely can relate. I know that this specifically references the writing/editing process, but it also relates to the whole idea of being worthy.This brings me to the main purpose of this post.

Most writers will say that 1. Writing is hard work and 2. You can’t be successful unless you persevere.

I think the first saying relates not only to the writing process, but also the critiquing process….maybe they are part of the same beast.

As a writer I have critiqued, I have been critiqued and I have read critiques. When reviewing books, I often find myself spouting off critiques I’ve heard in any of these three categories. Sometimes, I think it makes me too critical for my own good. Writing is tough. It’s tough to hear the criticism and judge what has value. It is tough to then change/improve writing styles. It’s tough to develop realistic yet entertaining characters that are not flat. It’s tough to create a page-turning plot. Writing is just plain tough. 

Yet, all of that effort is useless if we give up. That’s what I keep telling myself. I can never be successful if I don’t continue this dream. I will never see my desires if I stop. I think I’ve mentioned before. I may never get it either way, but success is not even an option if I give up. 

So, what can writers do to get through the cycles of doubt?  I have three things that I rely on. 

1. Have a great support system. I know I will not survive without those people closest to me demanding I never give up. They validate me and yell at me when I think of quitting. “You can’t give up until you are at the top of your game.” That’s what one always says. It’s my current motto. 

2. Turn off the critic. Typically I doubt because I am criticizing something. Right now that’s either my writing or marketing abilities. I have to turn off this critic. I “change the channel” so to speak and walk away for a while. 

3. The power to believe. This does not mean trashing others to build myself, that just spurs my depression. I change my way of thinking. I forcibly say I belong and I believe until I finally accept that once again. It sounds stupid, and probably has more to do with my faith, but it eventually gets me back on track. 

Writing can have challenges and disappointments. But we all pursue it because, hopefully, there will also be great rewards at the end. What are your strategies to continue with your passion?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday's Quote: Jenny Han

“Would you rather live one perfect day over and over or live your life with no perfect days but just decent ones?"~ Jenny Han
Jenny Han
Photo taken from her Goodreads profile
I discovered this writer last week when searching quotes for my Twitter feed. I think I found another great quote source considering the selection. This quote in particular stuck with me all week. One perfect day or multiple decent ones? I think I relate to this because people are always saying "Be careful what you wish for," and this quote has that undertone.

One perfect day. In order to be perfect, I would guess I'd have to get everything I ever wanted. The stars would align and I would be happy....but for one day, because the implication is that everything will go wrong after that one day. But, for that day, if I made it to the New York Times bestseller.... I don't know.

I think this goes back to the idea of what makes someone "happy." Is it one great moment, or should life be more than this? I, for one, think we should see the joy in all the little moments. So, while my days at a distance look "decent," there is joy in them all. Do I ever have the rocket-to-the-moon moment? Maybe not. But do I need that to be happy? Probably not.

My ultimate goal is to get through this life and look back without regret. I want to say I lived. I want to say I enjoyed the ride. I don't want to say I had one shining moment in the midst of darkness.

Do you agree? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, June 13, 2014

How I Start Writing a Novel

I’m in the beginning phases of a new novel. I think it’s because I’ve been doing this blog, but I’ve started to think more on my process. It’s scary because I tend to be a little scattered. In fact, I’m not sure if I write a story in the same way each time. 

Some would argue that I could write faster if I adhered to a plot outline or a characterization chart, etc. This may be true, but I am too stubborn to change my ways. Part of me says I shouldn’t fix what’s not broken. The superstitious part of me says if I try messing with my process then I will somehow shut down the creativity. So, I guess I am doomed to continue in my haphazard manner. 

With that being said, there are certain elements that do stay consistent. Typically, I start with a question. It can be in depth, but it can also be simple. Defending Zeus posed the question, What happened to the country of Zeus after the war? From there, I enter the pondering (typically involving research) phase. 

I find there has to be four elements for me to exit the pondering phase and actually start writing.

1. I have to understand my main character. If their background comes into play in the story, then I will do an in depth look at where they come from. What motivates them? What do they fear? What do they consider their biggest strengths/weaknesses? Is this perception the same with how others view them? What secrets/insecurities do they hold? I don’t put this effort into all my characters, just the major ones.

2. I have to know the world. Most of my novels, even the paranormal ones, have an alternate universe. I like the control such a world brings. Yet, because it is not “real,” I have to understand this place. What does it look like? What is the society like? What type of people fills this world? Is there political struggles? 

3. How does this whole thing start? I normally wait until the first scene comes to me. Typically, if I know the world, I know the character and I know what plot related question I am pondering, then the first scene will normally emerge. I can now begin writing. However, I have to have the last element before I am comfortable diving into the plot.

4. How is this going to end? I may not know the details of what I’m writing. I might not even know anything else in the middle. But I have to know the last scene. In Atlantis Cursed, I started with her family being burned and knew it would end in a courtroom. 

Sometimes, I’ll start with just a feeling. For instance, I know I want certain characters to die or I want certain outcomes to happen. So, I will actually think about the ending before the middle is ever a possibility. I am not comfortable until I have a definite ending.

I hope you enjoyed my attempt to organize my creative jumble.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

My Time at Phoenix' Comicon 2014

This weekend, I went to the Phoenix Comicon. I have a lot of writer friends who talk about going to these conventions all over the country, but I had actually never been to one. My initial idea of a “comicon” was that it was a place where fans come together to celebrate comic book characters. I would also accept movie characters to be there because there are a lot of movies based on comic books. 

It wasn’t until I actually started to pay attention that I realized comicons were really anything within that genre. In other words, anything sci-fi and fantasy are welcome. So, at this year’s comicon, I got to hear Jim Butcher speak, which was a thrill for me. 

I also got to meet Mark Sheppard who plays Crowley on the TV show, Supernatural. I heard a woman speak about how to create masterful pieces of art using water color. Finally, I also heard one of the prop creators for movie franchises such as Ironman, Star Trek and The Winter Soldier. 

What fascinated me about this convention was the amount of creative people present in one place. For instance, I marveled at the woman’s water colors. She had created one that was a cross between a dragon and a fish. I was impressed by the creativeness of her creation. I know that may sound weird coming from a writer, but she had so much detail, down to the last scale and eye color, and that blew me away. 

Even the prop creator had his own talents. He was given such minimal desires for different props in a particular movie. For instance he was told to create a weaponized bracelet for Scarlett Johansson’s character Black Widow. He then came up with a something that shoots mini blades and could throw a ring to choke people. And, again, the detail of how he rationalized how each element worked fascinated me. 

There are actors who have their own creative edge, just like the writers. Everyone was contributing to this one genre with the same intent to entertain and thrill their audience. And yet, everyone did so in different ways. But, isn’t that what this industry is supposed to be about? In a world that grows darker every moment, each element is trying to provide some relief. 

I think this goes back to that argument that everyone has their own talents. Even in the writing field there are those who are masters at description or characterizations or dialogue, etc. Too many times we try to compare ourselves. I need to be able to create monsters like that woman or detailed weapons like the prop guy. In actuality, we don’t need to be just like them. We need to be our own identity. 

What did I carry away from Phoenix’s Comicon? The world is filled with unique individuals with similar interests. We all want to be joyous. We all want to be entertained. But, most of all, we all have different talents. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Monday's Quote: Neil Gaiman

“There are so many fragile things, after all. People break so easily, and so do dreams and hearts.”~ Neil Gaiman

Photo taken from his Twitter feed
When I started teaching teenagers, I began to realize the truth to this particular quote. I have been blessed with a family who supports me without hesitation. I don't think I would still be writing without them. There are just too many things that can convince me to stop.

It never fails, I go through periods of doubting my own ability. I doubt whether I deserve to be on bookshelves or if I am "worthy." I go through these cycles of confidence without any outside influence. So, compile that with any negative words, and I am doomed. Even if I hear a thousand good words, one negative has the power to break me.

This quote shows me that I am not alone. I only hope I am not one of those who take away other's dreams. Perhaps it is a good thing to keep in mind as we interact with the world. We are all fragile and all in this together. I like that idea.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Maleficent Should be Evil

I went to see the movie Maleficent last weekend.

**Spoiler Alert** If you haven’t seen the movie, you might want to stop reading.

I would say there are two evil “witches” from literature that really freaked me out as a child. One was the witch from Rapunzel. What bothered me the most about her was that she not only tricked the Rapunzel’s prince, but then she poked out his eyes. It was so cruel and vicious that the picture remained in my mind even until this day. Much like Hollywood tends to do, they made her not quite so evil in Disney’s version, Tangled. At best, the witch in this movie adaptation was a little over-controlling, and vain, but not really evil. 

Downloads | Maleficent | Disney Movies
Taken from the official website
The second one was Maleficent. I think it was a Disney cartoon version of the story, but I remember there being a song that crept me out. But the whole dressed in black, green smoke, pure evil part of her character made me cringe. All the other witches in fairy tales were either justifiably evil or just a “bad” person. Maleficent attacks Sleeping Beauty for no other reason than she is just pure evil. Her look, her actions, everything bordered creepy and just plain scary to my young mind. 

So, when I saw there was a movie adaptation coming out, I was so excited to be freaked out ounce again. I had high hopes after seeing the Snow White adaptation a few years ago, Snow White and the Huntsman. I think my problem with Maleficent is that they took the evilest character and tried to justify her. Not only did they try to justify her, they had her come full circle. There were two modern themes present in this film: 1. People are not born evil they are made but can be redeemed and 2. “Fairy Tale” love at first site doesn’t conquer all, but rather a love much deeper than romance. 

I actually like these concepts. In Disney’s movie, Frozen, they teach that the first guy who seems like “the one” is not and that the second guy we might not be attracted to at first really is the right one. I love that concept because it is more real. My problem with the movie is simply that they took an already existing character and basically made her good. She strayed for a moment, but she learned the lesson of her ways and came back to being good. 

It was too easily tied together for me. Let’s say she did have a moment of evil and learned the error of her ways. She should still be a changed person in the end. She did a horrible thing. She should be somewhat scarred. But, ultimately, I think our politically correct society has lost something by justifying her. Sometimes there are no answers in life. Sometimes people are just plain evil. In the original version, the good fairy helps provide an escape from the curse, so good can always trump evil. That’s still worth writing about.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Three Things ABC's "Shark Tank" Has Taught Me

So, I’m not religious about watching ABC’s Shark Tank, but I enjoy watching it from time to time. What fascinates me about the show is that I have learned more about the realities of the business world from this show than from any of the business courses I’ve taken. I’m not knocking the courses, but those really are “textbook” knowledge, which—I find—is a lot different than the real world. I actually wish this show was around before I started trying to sell my books or interact with publishers. So, I decided to list the three things this show has taught me about marketing in the “real” world.

1. It’s not just about sales, but it’s about how long those sales took. This is one thing that the book industry might not look too closely at, but I have found agents tend to look at this as well. I’ve sold 1000 books in a month sounds a lot more impressive than 1000 books in 10 years. I’m not docking the milestone of 1000 books. But, with the emergence of independent authors who can keep books published for a long time, I think it is something to consider. What I found through the show is that sales don’t just signal money, but likeability. Are you “trending”? I still find that concept weird, but that doesn’t make it any less true. 

2. People may not like you, but that doesn’t mean you won’t work out. I saw an update show that revisited people who had a appeared on the show. One didn’t have any takers and yet is now making multi-million dollars. Another one only snagged one shark while the all the others marked the deal as a mistake. Just like the first, this person was making a decent living as they watch their business continue to grow. Now, granted, they had a nice TV show to help launch their exposure, but not everybody on the show “made it.” What this showcased is that while some may adamantly believe you are not going to “make it,” that doesn’t mean they are right.  

3. All success falls on the product. I’ve seen some awesome pitches, but everything falls apart when the sharks further examine the product. I’ve also seen some horrible pitches that result in a successful deal and business. I think many will admit that, while being a good marketer will help, the number one influencer on success is a good product. We need to gain exposure and maybe some people to back us, but ultimately if the product is not good then the career will fall flat. With social media, careers can end even faster. So, it is important to put our best foot forward.

Ultimately, I believe it is important to be authentic. Also, let’s talk about our books often, but don’t be self-centered. The world demands we prove ourselves, which is hard. It’s an uphill battle, but one I’m willing to fight. What have TV shows taught you?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Monday's Quote: Maya Angelou

"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."~ Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou
Photo taken from her Goodreads profile.

I was saddened to hear of Maya Angelou's passing last week. Most know I do daily quotes through my twitter feed. Whenever I am looking for good quotes and having trouble, I always looked to Maya Angelou. She was so full of inspiration and insight. I admired her strength, her wisdom and her eloquence. She was one of those writers I always aspire to embody in my own work.

Of all the quotes, this one is my favorite. I think it's because it relates more to my life. In high school, I was the shy girl in the corner who didn't want any attention. I was content living in my own world and not interacting with the outside world. It took most of my twenties to grow outside of my shell and break into the person I am today. I like to think I accomplished a lot of my goals because of these changes. This quote reminds me of this, but it also reminds me that I am not alone. We often see success and the end result, but we rarely see the hard work that took place before the beauty. This is something to always remember.

Rest in peace Maya. The world will miss you greatly.