Saturday, August 1, 2015

Emotional Kidnapping and Why It Can Be a Good Thing

Let me tell you a story.

Actually, let me tell you about this dream I had. Many Most of the details are fuzzy and forgotten, because it was a dream, after all. But it goes like this:

I am a part of a group of women who are going on an adventure. We are excited, nervous, scared, and a little sad. We’ve been told we are saving our families, but also that we are never going to see our families again. We were only given minutes to prepare to leave and I had a garbage bag full of clothing that my husband grabbed from the dryer.

Gathered with my friends, I dump out my bag o’clothes to see what supplies I had, and out falls my Simon’s Spiderman blanket with armholes cut into it.

Cue Hiroshima in my heart and I crumple to the ground, sobbing uncontrollably.

My alarm goes off and my eyes open to a soggy face as I was crying in my sleep.

It took me fifteen minutes of sobbing into my pillow to get control of myself that afternoon so that I could get ready for work.

Thinking about it now makes my eyes leak a little bit. My heartbeat speeds up and I feel myself breathing just a fraction of a bit harder.

Something else that happened last week that has me thinking.  Okay, back story: I had two cats for ten years. I was single and fancy-free, and love animals, so these were my kids (in a totally not neurotic way). A few months before I met my husband, there was a fire at my home and the cats were so sickened by the smoke that they had to be euthanized (the story is really more traumatic than that, but  it’s not the point).  Pebbles, the older one, was a fairly unique-looking cat. Her name actually comes from rock, not the Flintstones.  I still miss her terribly; she was a pretty awesome little friend.

So I’m walking out from my office the other day, and as I approach my car, there is a cat sitting on my hood. She looks exactly—EXACTLY—like Pebbles. She sits there and stares at me, and I stop in my tracks and stare at her, for a long time. Then I remember that I need to go home, and my cat is dead, so this is not my cat. I sort of shoo the cat off my hood, but she won’t jump down. I pick her up to put her on the floor and she immediately starts purring, this loud throaty purr just like Pebbles used to do. Again, something in my brainheartgutsoul activates and I’m back on the first terrible days after the fire.

What is it that causes these reactions? Better yet, since we’re writers, how do I make YOU feel what I feel? I can tell you about my dream, and while I can still taste the air I was breathing when I saw that blanket, it’s much harder to get YOU to feel that way. Part of what makes us love stories is feeling those genuine emotions as we vicariously live the adventures or misadventures of the characters.

So what can we do?

I’ve discovered that some of the best places for “real” writing advice, meaning advice on “real” writing—novels and the such—comes from sites catering to business people, advertising writers, bloggers, etc. One such website has an interesting/useful article, “Hijacking Emotion is the Key to Engaging Your Audience,” by Helio Fred Garcia. He talks about how our brain is actually 3 “brains” working together, and sometimes not cooperating at all. Our physical survival depends on the instinctual reactions to stimuli and so our brain tends to pay very close attention. The same systems are linked to our emotional responses—so the attention carries over. Mr. Garcia says the following:

The default to emotion is part of the human condition. The amygdala governs the fight-or-flight impulse, the triggering of powerful emotions, and the release of chemicals that put humans in a heightened state of arousal. Humans are not thinking machines. We’re feeling machines who also think. We feel first, and then we think. As a result, leaders need to meet emotion with emotion before they can move audiences with reason.

Pretend I’m grabbing my red pen to cross out “leaders” and add “writers.” Let’s replace “reason” with “plot” while we’re at it. The part of our readers that dives into the story is the emotional, instinctual brain. Once we’ve established that salience, we can amaze them with our clever plot twists and flowery wordplay.

How do we activate the amygdala and establish the tractor beam to pull the reader irrevocably into our story? Here are a few ideas, gleaned from all over the place:

*The “bang”—Helio Garcia talked about suddenly playing very loud music when it was time for his class to start. The resultant startle “hijacked” the amygdalae of his students and they instinctually focused their attention on him. We can do the same thing by beginning our story with some sort of “bang”—the awesome first line that awakens the amygdala like a tap with a defibrillator.
          “It was a pleasure to burn.” FAHRENHEIT 451, Ray Bradbury

"The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.” THE GUNSLINGER, Stephen King

An extended example of the “bang” can be found in I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER by Dan Wells. He starts with “Mrs. Anderson was dead.” One would think that this would be the “bang.” It’s not. The bang comes after a short explanation that she died naturally, and it was two days before something tore the guts out of another of the town’s citizens. Everyone else was killed by “The Clayton Killer.” The rest of the bang is the next line, “Well, most of them. All but one.” 
             
The hairs stood up on the back of my neck just typing that, and I know what happens in the book. There you go—amygdala activated like Leslie Hall’s tight pants (Google it. Totally not writing related but you’ll get the metaphor).

*Relatable/sympathetic characters.  I was talking about this one the other night with a coworker. Stephen King’s THE MIST has the most relatable protagonist ever, for me—a parent, stuck in a terrible situation, with a child asking “Are we gonna be okay?” Trust me. Every. Single. Thing. that happened to that dad, I was right there. When the Things happened, I felt what he felt. If you haven’t read it or seen the movie, I’m not sure you should. It left me traumatized—because I related SO much to the dad. That’s pretty powerful stuff right there.  So how do you do it? Play on commonalities. Show, don’t tell. Add personality to your characters. KNOW your characters, so that even if you don’t write it all in your story, you are intimately aware of how they would react to situations. It shows in the story when you know your people that well.

A corollary to this is to make characters who are so terrible, such train wrecks that you can’t help but hate them. Then you turn them loose on all the other characters and make sure to mine the crap out of their emotions.

I read an article somewhere from a Facebook link about why we HATE Professor Umbridge so much more than we do Voldemort.  Who didn’t get a pit in the bottom of your stomach when Harry was called into her office and she smiled that hideously benign smile? I know I felt the ickiness much more viscerally towards her than towards He Who Shall Not Be Named. It boils down to the fact that most of us haven’t had our parents killed by a dark wizard, or seen people eaten by a giant snake. But just about everyone has had a teacher, boss, parent, or other authority figure be cruel and vindictive when there was no escape, just because they could. The “evil” doesn’t have to be soul-eating world annihilation—the mundane cruelties of life’s regular villains will do the trick just as well, if not better.

There are so many more methods to “hijack the amygdala”—I chose the ones above because they can be done right in the first few pages of your story.

The sooner you do them in your book the better, as a matter of fact. You want to grab onto that little almond-shaped gold mine of grey matter as soon as the first page is turned, and then Never. Let. Go.


Go forth and conquer!! 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Why We Love the Bad Boys


Ah, the romantic and intriguing Byronic hero. Girls swoon over him and guys aspire to be like him.  Who can resist the dark, brooding character that hides in the shadows? Modern literature and pop culture are littered with examples:


Batman,
  








(Dark Knight)


Edward Cullen,

















(Twilight)


James Bond,












 (007)



Han Solo,

















(Star Wars)



Captain Jack Sparrow,









(Pirates of the Caribbean)



Severus Snape

















(Harry Potter)



and, for you anime fans, Edward Elric.











(Fullmetal Alchemist)


Why are we so drawn into these characters struggles? Why does our attention and hearts bond to them whenever they walk across our pages or our screens? Let’s go back to the beginning and look at what a Byronic hero consists of.

The Byronic hero, while still the antagonist of the story, is the antithesis of what we consider a hero to be.  Their characteristics are not exactly admirable, yet if well done, the reader likes them anyway. There are several traits, mostly unattractive, that these dark heroes share:
  • Intelligent
  • Cunning
  • Ruthless
  • Arrogant
  • Depressive
  • Violent
  • Self-aware
  • Emotionally and intellectually tortured
  • Traumatized
  • Highly emotional
  • Manipulative
  • Self-serving
  • Spiritually doubtful
  • Often reckless or suicidal
  • Prone to bursts of anger
  • Decidedly prone to substance abuse
  • Dedicated to pursuing matters of justice over matters of legality
  • Given to self-destructive impulses (study.com)
 Take Edward Elric for example. The series Fullmetal Alchemist is centered on the science of alchemy. (Remember this is all fantasy and this stuff doesn’t really exist.) The number one rule in alchemy is that you cannot create something from nothing, meaning that things don’t just appear out of thin air. Alchemists can break apart materials using their powers and reassemble said materials into something else, but there is always an equivalent exchange. Most alchemists use a chalk drawing on the ground in order to channel their powers, but the Elric brothers are different. When they were only ten and nine, they committed the Great Taboo: they tried to bring someone back from the dead using alchemy. In a desperate attempt to regain their beloved mother, the two brothers learned the law of equivalent exchange the hard way. Edward lost the lower part of one of his legs, and Alphonse lost everything: body and soul. Seeing what he had done, Ed dragged his bloody body to a suit of armor and bound his brother’s soul to it, in exchange for his right arm. (Again, all fantasy.)

Alphonse, waking up as a suit of armor and seeing a mutilated Ed, saves his older brother by taking him to a nearby neighbor. For the rest of the series, Edward struggles with the fact that it was his fault his brother has to live life as a bodiless suit of armor. Edward gets outfitted with a metal arm and leg and he has such a strong will and sense of determination, he makes a full recovery after just one year instead of the projected three.  Edward and Alphonse start working for the government as State Alchemists in order to have access to restricted materials they would otherwise not have. Taking the weight of the brothers’ mistake on his shoulders, Edward leads the way to finding a way to get their bodies back.

At the age of fifteen, Edward has literally been through hell and back. He isn’t perfect. He makes plenty of mistakes, and gets beaten to a pulp on multiple occasions, but he is clever enough to win the battle in the end, or at least escape to fight another day. He is quick to anger and often broods about his past mistakes. There is a moment when his childhood friend starts to cry after seeing a secret scrawled message. When Edward asks why she is crying, she says, “Because you won’t cry. Someone has to.”

I think part of the reason we connect so well to Byronic characters is because we can relate to them. Unlike the usual hero in fantasy or romantic fiction, these tortured heroes are in no way perfect. They make mistakes, and they suffer for those mistakes. They get knocked down again and again, only to get right back up. They fight, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because they believe in the fight. Really, they don’t even want to be the hero, but there is no one else who can do what they can do.

Also, Byronic heroes are incredibly complex to create. There is a skill to making a character dark and brooding without coming off as whiny and self-absorbed. There have been series where one of the main characters is supposed to be a Byronic hero, but he has no redeeming qualities. Just a piece of advice, if you are going to purposely make someone unlikable, he has to have something to make the audience connect to him/her.

I love reading about Byronic heroes. There is something about seeing someone fight and claw toward a goal that is inspirational. We all have struggles, but in order to reach our goal, we have to keep pushing. It’s never going to be easy, and there will be set backs, but with perseverance, any dream can come true.

Below is a clip from Fullmetal Alchemist. It’s a bit of a spoiler, so if you plan on reading/watching the series, just skip to the end of this post. Or if you don’t mind, keep reading.

*SPOILER ALERT*
Ok, so you’re still reading. You have been warned…
In this scene, Edward has gone through the Door of Truth for a second time where he finds his brother, Alphonse’s emancipated, yet alive, body. It shows that there is still hope for the two brothers to return to normal. Near the end of the clip, through sheer stubbornness, Edward fights against the little hands of Truth that are pulling him back to reality to make a fierce promise to his brother.


Looking at this from an outsider it may seem cheesy, but trust me, this scene is a tear jerker.

*END OF SPOILER*

So what other Byronic heroes can you think of? What do you think makes us love the dark hero? Also, do you think a Byronic hero could ever be a female protagonist? I look forward to reading your comments! 

Monday, July 27, 2015

My Vacation Crisis and How Writing is My Therapy

I need to apologize for my absence the last few weeks- I had been preparing for my family to go on vacation to Florida (12-hour drive from our home in VA) and then last week we were there, so I was a bit busier than usual.

Our week was great fun- that is, until the end. That was when my littlest, who had turned 3 while we were there, started having trouble breathing. An Urgent Care visit turned into an ER visit, which turned into a hospitalization. Needless to say, it was stressful. We had to extend our trip to ensure we could bring her home healthy, and I spent Friday night sitting in a chair in the ER, Saturday talking to doctors and nurses and caring for my little girl, and Saturday night sitting in our van as we drove through the night to get home.

When considering what to write about today, I realized how much writing is like therapy for me, and I need some therapy right now. So I decided to kind of decompress my emotional state through some writing, and I hope you'll understand.

Friday

Persistent cough like an engine that won't start. Sparkly hazel eyes dulled to a half-close.
Sleep. She needs sleep.
Lying on the bed, eyes closed but chest heaving. Sleep brings no repose, no relief- she must be dreaming of running from monsters because she can't catch her breath.
Can't…catch..her…
Wake her up. Scoop her up. Tiny heart galloping in a tiny chest, everything working so hard just for each…little…gasp.
I have to save her from the monsters and my heart knows this. It begins to gather speed in the chase.
Into the car. Traffic won't move. Where am I going? No familiar oaks or wood fences here…nothing but palms and stucco and mouse-eared signs. And traffic. So much traffic.

Get to the clinic. Empty. Fill out this form. Give us ID. Wait.
For what?
Check her vitals…tachycardia…doctor come listen…this isn't right…she's too small for this…
Take her to the ER.
Right now.
Don't wait.

Moving through darkness now…searching for hospital lights. More palms. Sticky heat. Make the turn.
Crowded. Chairs filling with people. They're all so big. So loud.
She is so. so. small.
Still gasping. They ask her to wear a tiny mask so she doesn't cough on anyone.

Sit there. Listen. They write. Ask. Write some more.
Can I take off the mask please Mommy?
No, you have to leave it on while you're here. That's what they said.
When I get home can I take it off?
Yes, when we get home.
Wait.
Come back. What's going on?
Can't you see? She can't breathe!
She can't breathe. She's too small.
Phone to ear we need a room she's working too hard to breathe kick someone out we need that room now.
Follow me.

In the room, on the bed, shirt off, gown on, glowing toe measures her pulse which is making the machine make an angry beeping complaint at having to keep up with her tiny racing heart.
When did this start? Any fever? Asthma? Has she been sick?
Doctor…nurse…respiratory nurse…chest x-ray...breathing treatment…oral steroids…
Can't get that heart rate down.
Monsters won't stop the chase.
Another breathing treatment. Watch the heart rate…180…170…still too high.

She sleeps. I sit. My chair with a millimeter of padding and two hard arms, like a tiny cage.
I'm cold. Is she cold? I get us blankets.
She sleeps.
I don't.
Doctor comes in, goes out.
Nurse comes in, another breathing treatment, goes out.
Her heart finally slows, but it comes at a cost. She's not getting enough oxygen.
95...93...92...
Put her on oxygen. But it's not enough.
Doctor says it's all he can do. Time for her to go.

Early, Early Saturday Morning

Needle in her arm, she screams, thrashed out of her peaceful slumber by a stabbing pain. The nurses and I pin her down. I'm sorry I'm so sorry I'm sorry it'll be over soon you're doing so good you're so brave you're so small
I love you.
She sleeps.

I don't.

Wait, wait, and wait some more.
Whenever she tries to get more comfortable the sharp stab of the IV snaps her back to confused frightened painful consciousness and I have to hold her arm and she doesn't understand why and she fights me and screams I want daddy. Me too, I want to say. Me too.

As the sun starts to change the color of the shaded windows from dark gray to light I see them coming with my blurred vision, black shirts with colorful important-looking patches and crackling radios hanging at their hips. They bring a yellow-and-black-wasp-colored rolling bed that buzzes and changes height at the push of a button.
Mom, you can lift her into the bed.
Come on, princess. We're going for a ride.
Sleepy, questioning eyes.
Giant black straps awkwardly placed across her tiny little body.
Look, you're almost as tall as me on that cool bed!
It's an adventure. It's fun. It needs to be just a fun adventure I tell myself. She can't know. She's too small.
I smile at her.
She smiles back.
So brave.


Into the ambulance, bump, bump, bounce, bounce, sway, sway, and we're there.
Engine humming, smell of exhaust, sticky heat, sliding doors, cool, sleek hallway.
Elevator, 6th floor, glass-covered city skyline out the window.
Hospital meets Disneyland, purple room, smiling blonde nurses. So gentle. So kind.
She's so small. They know.
Pancakes and Lucky Charms for breakfast, soft bed, cartoons on the TV.
Doctor kneels down to talk to us in soft, gentle tones.
She might be able to go home today. Yes, please.

Listen to her breathe. Listen some more. And listen again.
Breathing treatment, mac-and-cheese for lunch, roll the IV cart down the hallway to the playroom where we play with a pretty pink princess dollhouse and we forget about being sick for a little while.
Drink, drink, drink. Fluids so important- keeps the monsters away.
Listen to her breathe. Listen some more. And listen again.
Breathing treatment, chicken nuggets and French fries with ketchup for dinner.
Listen to her breathe. Listen some more…until…

The monsters are gone.
She can go home.
She can finally breathe.

And now I can too.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rock on


By Beckie Carlson
Do you ever get on of those nagging thoughts that just won't go away? Maybe it's a problem you can't figure out. Or maybe its worrying about someone you care about. Maybe it's wondering how you got to this strange life you live. It plagues you at night...interrupting dreams of River Dance with Brandon Fraser, or reruns of New Girl. It's annoying.

I've never had that. You all are weird.

Seriously. I have had a tickle of a thought the last few weeks. It's been something that pulls at my heart strings a bit. I don't have an answer (surprise) but I feel the need to ask the question.

As you may or may not know, I have lived all across the Southern United States. Being in Aerospace, we moved around quite a bit. I've met some wonderful people all across this beautiful land. I'm not great at keeping in touch with people, but I do check up with them on FB. Before that....yeah, I sucked. It is neat to be able to peek in on people I used to see at the school or church regularly, without having to pick up the phone and make awkward calls. I hate talking on the phone.

So, lately (three years or so) I've noticed that several of the women I've know from the various states, have gotten divorced and left the church. I look at these women and I see them as I knew them. They were my visiting teaching companions, my kids primary teachers, scout leaders, etc. They were, in my eyes, spiritual giants. I looked up to these women because they knew stuff. They understood it. They would bear their testimonies and I could feel it. I admit, I leaned on them a bit when I was weak.  What happened?

I know that several of them had awesome husbands that ended up cheating on them. Sometimes with other awesome women I looked up to. How does it happen? How does a person go from being rock solid in the gospel, to leaving it all behind and living another life?

I look at their beautiful pictures of strapless evening gowns, new weddings, strategic tattoos....and I wonder if they ever wake up in the middle of the night and ask themselves where they are. How did they get to this strange life they are living?

There are a lot of single people out there. They all have their reasons for being where they are. The choices we make are ours. No matter what choice anyone else makes, we are still accountable for ours. I'm not judging anyone here. My heart hurts for these beautiful women. Sure, my husband died, and that was hard. It is still hard. But I couldn't do it without my testimony and the gospel in my life.

Maybe I'm weak? Maybe I need that rock to build on. Maybe, it takes strength to hold on to it.
Cause I said so.

Photo credit: www.shop411.com

Saturday, July 25, 2015

PiBoIdMo - 8 months later

By Lacey Gunter


I have heard several differing opinions about the good and bad of NaNoWriMo.  Since I have never participated myself, I do not know how useful it is. I have, however, participated in PiBoIdMo - Picture Book Idea Month - for the past two years and I can tell you it has been immensely helpful.

The best thing about PiBoIdMo is that it keeps me writing year round.  I am a much better writer when I am consistently practicing the craft of writing. This is a far easier task to accomplish when I have a well of ideas I can just draw from, than when I am just shooting from the hip.  If nothing else, I can look over my list of ideas and that alone will get my creative juices flowing much quicker than when I don't.

Just this week, eight months after PiBoIdMo,  I started another picture book that was based on one of my PiBoIdMo ideas. Not every book I have written since last November has been a PiBoIdMo idea, but nearly all of them have. Without those ideas I do not think I would be able to achieve my writing goals for the year. 

Another great thing about PiBoIdMo is that you are coming up with many more ideas than you could possibly write in a year. So it is not nearly as hard to feel pretty successful at PiBoIdMo as I imagine it is with NaNoWriMo. You only have to be on top of your game 1/4 to 1/3 of the time to have an entire years worth of good ideas.

Then there are also the obvious benefits of comradery and building connections and friendships. I have reaped these benefits too.

Hmmm . . . As I have been writing this blog post and thinking about PiBoIdMo it has even got my creative juices flowing and thinking about how to solve another writing problem I have, ideas for blog posts. I think this year as I do PiBoIdMo, maybe I will do a BlogIdMo too. Perhaps then I will be writing beautifully year round, both online and off. I can hardly wait!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Taking a Stand on Self-Editing

by Patricia Cates

Do you ever dream you are walking a tight rope with your writing? You can't see the forest through the trees. You are on the brink of a break and you hear your own voice calling out from a cliff top saying, "IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE LOST IN EDITING…editing…editing…? HELLO...Hello...hello...IS ANYBODY THERE…there…there…?” 

photo courtesy of theguardian.com

Guess what? There's actually a lot of us trekking out there! I know it's quiet but if you look really hard you can see us way out in the distance. Grab your binoculars and take a looksee. And guess what? There is a really convenient set of zigzagging redwood stairs that lead right to camp. (And hey we're in the company of about 250 scouts to the east so we're extra safe.) It sure feels good to know that there is a terrific group of fellow writers right here to help guide along this path. 

Looking back through MMW posts I noticed that the last time any of us bloggers delved into the subject of editing was back in March of 2013, so I thought I’d mention it again. There you'll find a terrific post by Mandi worthy of another read. It mentions a book entitled “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King. I am always looking to improve and emphasize the need for confidence in this area.

So last month I was fortunate enough to share my blog post with Sue Grafton. I mentioned to her that she was an author whom I admired and thought of, when I was in need of streamlining and refocusing. Her style is straightforward and flows well and her characters feel like family.  She was gracious enough to give me a bit of advice to share here with everyone. Although it wasn’t a huge interview, this is what she told me:
“Trimming and editing is essential. I think it’s fabulous to write from the heart---almost stream-of-consciousness---while you get that first draft on paper. After that, you have to be ruthless. I think of it as taking 00 sandpaper to my work. I tend to edit and revise as I go along, but I’ve been at this for over 50 years.”

How wonderful to get advice from such a seasoned author. It just solidified my stance on this entire writing process as being such a deeply personal one. She says "YOU" have to be ruthless. That means that you have to edit your own work people...and maybe with some sand paper. Our books are our babies. They originate from our hearts. Do you want to entrust them into the hands of a stranger, or a software program? Her example is one that I hope sticks around for a very long while.
Are you a writer who self-edits? If so why? Do you love it? Are you maybe a little bit of a control freak? As most of you know it can be super time consuming, but when it’s your passion, it’s just what you do. For those who detest editing, when you need help, where do you turn? Of course you know it’s imperative to find someone you trust implicitly. If this is you please make sure it's someone you can collaborate with in a marriage type way.

I don’t know about the majority of you, but I love editing. That’s why hours go by that feel like minutes. It is such a blast. And yes I am a control freak to the max. So when I found out about all of the editing software available for purchase, I was pretty ticked. To think that there could come a day when we potentially are all replaced makes me fume and cringe at the same time. This lack of a need for humans I assume started somewhere around the time of the assembly line, and has since advanced to computers doing all of the thinking (and now apparently robots.) I truly would like to see this sort of technology fall flat on its round silver face and stay the heck away from our precious little literary world.
I will surely never be caught buying any editing software, but I can see the temptation for people who struggle with this aspect. These programs do promise to cut down on time spent, but remember that a content editing job is one that takes insight and emotion into the author and the characters.

Additionally the power in self-editing is what keeps the novel true to you. How many times have you read a book where you felt like the voice changed midway through? I have put down a few best-sellers over the years, due to the fact that the first 3rd of the book rocked it, and then it felt like someone else completely was writing the thing. Super disappointing. My question is always a resounding why?

What I also feel is that sometimes there are just too many talents out of work and I want those jobs saved. What a jolly slap in the face these programmers are virtually giving to the very folks who wrote their textbooks for them! Whether it is the entry level job of a copy editor or someone getting a part time freelance gig proofreading, the wonder of words for many of us is the passion in life that keeps us occupied and consumed. For some mom's it is often what helps a family make ends meet. The pay is rarely great, but even if that little is taken away, it will be a sad day indeed.

Okay enough said. In conclusion my advice today is simply to enjoy staying lost in the wilderness of editing. Work on it. There’s a breathtaking view from the rim of the canyon. Take it all in before it’s lost to developers.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What Makes Someone an Author?

So, my husband is pretty much the coolest husband on the planet. He might not be my favorite person when he forgets full length, important conversations we've had. I may also want to beat him with a pillow when his snores keep me up at night. But not only does he support me with my crazy writing dreams, he believes in me more than I do.
When he talks about me to his coworkers, friends, or even random people he meets, he tells them I’m an author. He doesn’t specify that I’m unpublished, or that I probably won’t be published for at least a couple more years. He just straight up says with a pride I hardly ever see in his eyes, “My wife’s an author.”
I used to correct him. “I’m an unpublished author.”
“So?”
Now if you knew my husband, you probably couldn’t imagine him saying “so.” He’s more of the smart-talking, sounds more like a grandpa kind of speech, type of guy. In fact, if I want a character in a novel to sound smart and older, I pay close attention to how my husband talks.
But he’s so dead set on making me believe that the distinction of published or unpublished doesn’t matter that he uses my own more teenager like language to get it into my head.
I’m an author.
Guess what? So are you.
I’ve seen how hard people are on themselves for not being published yet. I’ve done it to myself. Being published is a goal, but is it what will make you happy? No, because we like to write. So who cares if you’re not there yet? You are still an author.
Being published doesn’t make your work magically happen, nor does being published make your work better. You make your writing better. You make it amazing by putting in the effort despite the crazy busyness that is our lives. When you get published, you will still have to work hard. You will still wonder why the heck you’re putting yourself through the insanity that comes with our chosen profession. And you will still wonder if you are good enough (P.S. you are).
So, whether you are unpublished, published, finished with a book, written an entire series, still on your first draft of your first novel, or whatever, remember that you are an author. And don’t let the word “unpublished” make you feel like you’re less of one. Unpublished to me just means I have all the potential in the world. I am not yet branded by agents, nor am I confined to a specific genre. I can write whatever I want. It’s freedom.
So can you have the goal to be published? Absolutely.
Should you let yourself think you’re less of an author because you’re not published yet? Nope.
You are an author.

Isn’t that awesome?  

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Buttons on your underwear



By Beckie Carlson
The last two weeks have truly been a gift. No, I didn't finally get to go to Italy or lose those ten pounds. I went on an adventure, right in my own home.
It started two weeks ago with a strange beeping noise that came from my refrigerator. I opened the door and waited for the massive beast to tell me what it wanted, but it just kept beeping. It didn't even get louder or more specific like you are supposed to do when talking to someone that doesn't speak your language. I pushed a few buttons, opened and closed the door a few more times, ate some grapes and decided it probably needed a new water filter. I think you are supposed to change those every....two years? (6 months)
Feeling very grown up and responsible, I headed upstairs to the computer and ordered a new filter. I  opted not to order the two-pack, simply because I was feeling cheap. I patted myself on the back for being so amazing at problem solving and returned to my day.
Two days later, the refrigerator decided it was too much work to keep cold. I'm pretty sure it was feeling under appreciated because it hadn't had a bath in a few weeks (months) and was just throwing a fit. I had the girls clean it (they didn't) and started looking on YouTube for solutions. More back patting occurred as I bought a shop vac and cleaned the coils. (Did you know you could do that?) That should do it! (chest puffing and a bit of strutting might have happened.) I also used the new shop vac to clean out the couch. I found a bag of money from a fundraiser my son did five years ago. I was being rewarded for my efforts already!
Apparently, having clean coils makes the freezer jealous. It decided to go on strike with the refrigerator side. This is where I really put on my "I'm an adult" hat and called the home warranty office. "Remember that warranty I purchased TO COVER MY FRIDGE?" They didn't remember. Everyone that worked at the company had been afflicted with amnesia that only covered the months around when I purchased the FRIDGE WARRANTY. My adult hat turned backwards and I started yelling. It wasn't pretty, and frankly, wasn't effective either. I called a repairman.
The repairman was incredibly helpful. According to him, my fridge was broken. I needed to give him lots of money and he would try to find the part I needed. He assured me that it was a part that was no longer made and it would take months to get it, if it came at all. But, please, give him $700.
Don't judge me, but I was skeptical. I called a friend who found the part I was told I needed online for $80. Huh. When I called the repairman back and asked about this miracle, he assured me it was the part I needed but that the online store was full of liars that would take my money and never deliver. Sounded kind of like....well, I told him it was worth a shot! I ordered the part.
I might have forgotten to mention that during this saga, my air conditioner went out. No biggie....its only 1000 degrees in Mesa in July. "Just get in the pool, kids!" The home warranty decided they could cover the air conditioner, so they were redeemed and the hit-men were called off. For now.
Back to the fridge. After a week, the part arrived! Feeling very smug, I pulled it from it's cute little box and pulled up the YouTube video on how to install it. The lady at the online store had said most people install this part themselves. I figured between me and my brilliant children, we could do this. The weird part was, what I had in my hand and what was on the video was....slightly different. Or possibly, HUGELY different. Poop. My adult hat was crumpled and in the corner. My back was not getting pats. I was ready to throw in the towel.
I called a friend and got a deal at an appliance store in town. I went in, picked out a new fridge and set up delivery for the next day. It was money I didn't want to spend, but I was going to be fat and broke if we kept eating out twice a day. No fridge is a big deal, especially in the summer when all you want is veggies!
The next day, I got a call during my training from the fridge installation guys. Problem. (of course) The fridge couldn't be installed because the electrical outlet had to be higher and there was water everywhere. huh. I thought I had noticed water in the dining room.... I convinced them to take the old fridge anyway and leave the new one in the garage. I would deal with it later. Pause. Another call. Apparently, when the installation guys had turned off the water main to the house to unhook the fridge, it had frozen and they couldn't turn it back on. That's weird, but okay, I'll take care of it.
Fast forward three days. We've been without a fridge and without water at my house. We have all gained ten pounds each from eating fast food garbage, and I've had more repair trucks in front of my house than Mike Holmes. A very nice plumber (dressed to the nines by the way) comes to assess the water main. He cannot figure out why the installation guys touched the water main. He showed me the little valve, complete with INSTRUCTIONS, that turned off water to the fridge. Huh. He was nice enough to write all this information on his bill of $362 to repair the handle on the water main the guys had broken off. I think I'm gonna share that bill with the appliance store. Just for giggles.
So here it is, Sunday. It's a beautiful day. I'm feeling thankful for this day of rest to spend with my family and go to church. I feel very blessed that I have a home and running water and health. I've learned a lot over the past two weeks. It takes a lot to care for a home by yourself. It's not my favorite thing, but I'm glad I am able to do it, even when it is hard. I'm also grateful that tomorrow, if I'm lucky, I'll have a fridge in my house again. And this time, I promise to give it more quality time...cause I said so.
Photo credit: www.applianceconnection.com

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Some thoughts on writing, poetry, and other stuff

I have a thousand ideas for my contribution to this blog. Some of them have been floating in the ether for so long they are no more than wispy tendrils of thought; others hit me like a ton of bricks and I can't stop thinking about them. But tonight, I was looking through older posts making sure that a particular thing I wanted to say about poetry wasn't something I'd already said before, and I read a few of my older posts. To make it even better, I read the comments to those posts.

I won't go into all my posts. You can do that if you'd like. But I did learn something amazing. As I read those words, first of all, I felt eloquent for the first time in a long time. Some of that stuff is pretty good! I also heard my voice speaking so lovingly to myself, sounding like a long-lost friend, encouraging me, making me laugh, and reminding me of important truths. Here are a few:

--Don't stop starting over
--What you are is enough
--Remember that you were put on this crazy planet to change it for the better--and if God didn't think know you could do it, you wouldn't be here
--Practice makes perfect, even when we hate practicing so much because we're not perfect.
-- You've spent your whole life becoming who you are, and who you are is wonderful! Let that line shine!

I could go on. My point is that these are things I have forgotten. Scratch that. I haven't forgotten them. I've buried them in my mind and heart under giant piles of inferiority complex, laundry, and to-do lists. Reading them has already strengthened me.

How great would it be if I were writing like this in my own personal journal? How wonderful if I could read the words I wrote as I read the scriptures or pondered the words of the Prophet, and then when I had a hard day, I could gain strength from my own thoughts and feelings?

Of course, when I say "I," I mean "we." :)

Now, another thought--my original one. It's simple and it's not mine:
Wow, that's even related to my previous thoughts. How great is that?

Back to a sister from the old, pre-split Westside Stories chapter of ANWA. She said, more than once, to "write your truth."  I know this comes from Ernest Hemingway. Here is his full quote, discussing what he did when he got stuck in writing. He would tell himself:  

'Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.'

So when we are writing poetry, we start with truth. We seek for truth. Sometimes it is with flowery words, sometimes we fit our truth into metered patterns and forms and sometimes we don't. I've said before that my poetry is for me, and that holds true. When I read it, after the fact, I'm often transported to whatever place and time I occupied when I wrote it. If I share it, I do so with hopes that it will help someone else to understand themselves through their reaction to my words; but if they don't, it's okay. Years later, I'll come back to it and find self-understanding and deeper meaning again and again. In that way poetry is like those old blog posts; voices from an old friend who knows me better than I know myself and is reaching out to leave me little treasures of wisdom. 

What have you learned from your writing? What gems of self-discovery have you found? 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

Supposedly, a picture says a thousand words. But what happens when you combine a chain of pictures, add dialogue, and combine it all into a series long story arch? Ta da! Comic books.  Expand and elaborate the comic book story, and you have a graphic novel. Oh, and if the comic book originated in Japan, it would be considered manga (pronounced mon-ga.)

The work and collaboration that goes into creating a comic book or graphic novel is astounding. Not only must the author have a clear idea of what they want, they must articulate it in a way that an illustrator understands. In traditional reading, if the author leaves out details, our minds fill in the blanks. A graphic novelist and the illustrator must team up to give the reader a complete picture. I have a friend who has done just that. He wrote a story, found an illustrator who enjoyed and believed in the story. Now they have a complete comic book ready to be published. Of course, they have to go through the same rigorous publication process as traditional book authors, but I believe they can do it.

Now for the million dollar question: do graphic novels and manga hold a candle to traditional books?

In my humble opinion, I think graphic novels and manga are amazing. It’s a different way of storytelling that combines art with words. Will they ever truly take the place of regular novels? No, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have value. Looking at it from a teacher’s perspective, graphic novels are an attention-grabbing way to introduce reading to kids who struggle with traditional books. Graphic novels also introduce a visual aspect to reading that will help those who prefer to learn visually. In this light these graphic novels provide a gateway into the literary world.

I have read quite a few blogs and forums that bash the use of graphic novels and manga in the classroom. They acknowledge the fact that it does entice children to read but contend that the content of graphic novels and manga are unlikely to really stimulate higher thinking. They argue that pictures are already there in front of the student, thwarting the readers’ use their imaginations to create the scenes and characters. Another criticism is the restricted point of view in a graphic novel.  Standard novels have a variety of viewpoints:  allowing the reader to see into the character’s mind, to feel what one or more characters is/are feeling, to understand what they are thinking, or to be totally mystified and surprised.  On the other hand, graphic novels usually (not always) have a third person omniscient point of view. To some readers, it seems as if graphic novels are constrained.

I will admit that I love the way my mind can create an entire world just by reading a series of letters printed on a page. It is a type of magic that only novels possess. On the other hand, graphic novels have their own type of magic. They are usually quicker paced and read just like a television episode plays. We get to see the different characters, put names to faces and enjoy their subtle facial expressions.  Graphic novel writers can introduce complicated plot lines without too much confusion. Plus the artwork is amazing and powerful. I mean, just look at this!


Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan

Also, writers of graphic novels can explore hard -hitting subjects such as drug abuse, loss of a loved one, and war in a real and tangible way. The lion picture above is from a graphic novel about a pride of lions that were in the Baghdad zoo. Due to the war in Afghanistan, bombs were dropped in April 2003, destroying the zoo, particularly the cages housing the lions. Suddenly the lions are faced with freedom and a war they don’t understand. This is actually based on a true story, and I recommend this to teen and adult readers who want a different point of view of the war in Baghdad. It is a beautiful and heart-wrenching story that the author and illustrator brought to life through a combination of their words and art.

There have been numerous research studies done about the benefit of using graphic novels in the classroom. One such study was done at the University of Oklahoma, which showed that graphic novels may improve memory and be more effective in teaching than traditional textbooks. Participants in the study were divided into two groups. One group received information from a traditional textbook while the other group got to read about the same information constructed into a short narrative in the form of a graphic novel. After reading, the participants were given a short quiz over the presented material. Low and behold, the participants who read the information from the graphic novel were able to recall a greater amount of information, including direct quotes! If you would like to read more on this study, follow this link. This is just one study out of many that shows the benefits of graphic novels.

While I don’t think that graphic novels will take over the literary world, I do believe they have a valuable spot on our shelves and the shelves in schools. Whether we think of them as a gateway for further reading endeavors, or as a tool for comprehension, it is hard to deny the worth of this type of writing and the impact it has on readers.


What do you think? Would you allow your children or students to delve into the world of graphic novels and manga? Do you think graphic novels hold the same amount of literary worth as traditional novels? Let me know what you think! 

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