Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Once Upon a LORD OF THE RINGS Panel...

One of the perks of my day job is working with faculty who teach really interesting subject content. This semester I had the privilege of doing a library session for a class studying Tolkien and LORD OF THE RINGS. Even better, I've been invited to a panel discussion on Halloween to talk about Tolkien's impact on literarture and culture. And, I'll be able to dress up.

To prepare, I'm reading the THE HOBBIT to refamiliarize myself with Tolkien's language. I love how he inserts the real within the fantastical, much how Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling do. That they're all British is probably no coincidence--British humor has a way of depicting very straight, narrow, and normal characters in absurd situations, and making it all engaging and amusing. Something I strive for in my writing all the time.

But what really got me thinking is how Bilbo decided to embark on his adventure in the first place. His mother was a Took, known for welcoming the unexpected, whereas his father, a Baggins, was very accustomed to routine.

It's the classic head vs. heart scenario. The Baggins part of Bilbo doesn't want the adventure, but the Took part of him craves it. Much like my writer/librarian divide. The librarian in me loves the routine of my job, the security of it. The writer in me (more at some times than others) yearns to break free. And then the librarian remembers how scary that is (and reminds me that I get to do cool things like be on LOTR panels).

As writers, we are all embarking on our own adventure. Even the published among us are carried on various roller coasters.

So we have to find a way to sync our heads and hearts. Marry our Tooks with our Bagginses. And the best way to do that is to focus on the writing--which remains constant, no matter where our rollercoaster adventures take us.

So, go, and be free. Write what you love. Listen to your Baggins. But don't deny your Took.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Interactive Book Trailer: Jonathan Stroud's THE SCREAMING STAIRCASE

The book trailer for Jonathan Stroud's THE SCREAMING STAIRCASE (the first in the Lockwood and Co. series) is probably one of the best I've seen--because it's interactive. And, it's perfect for Halloween.

Go ahead and give it a try:

And here's more information about the book itself:

When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood and Co. step in . . .

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.

Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

Set in a city stalked by spectres, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humour and truly terrifying ghosts. Your nights will never be the same again . . .

Happy early Halloween, everyone!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Let's Start a Mutual Admiration Society

This morning, I ran into a coworker who goes to the same place I do for physical therapy and massage. Apparently, my physical therapist told her that I was one of the bright spots in her day. I was completely flabbergasted! It was excellent to hear, especially because her impact on my life (my stress, and my physical pains resulting from said stress) has been life-changing.

I told my coworker that she was also filled with 100% awesome, because she is. And because she is, she told me of something that I can only give her credit for. She mentioned that she and a friend established a "mutual admiration society." And, as a result, she and I established one right then and there. I suppose I have one, of sorts, with my physical therapist too.

In addition, a student contacted me to let me know that I had reignited his passion for school and research. And I realized how people can touch one another in small ways, every day, sometimes without even knowing it.

I started thinking about friends I really admire. And authors I admire. Especially those who reignite my passion for life, writing, and other things.

So here's a list of a few. I will also be tagging them on this post, in case they want to pass the baton to others (and keep the admiration going!):

Angelica R. Jackson - An excellent writer and critique partner. She also runs an annual auction, Pens for Paws, to raise money for Fat Kitty City, a no-kill animal shelter. How cool is that?

Alison Kemper - Like Angelica, as a crit partner, Alison really helped me hone my craft. And, she's also a librarian! Her debut novel, DONNA OF THE DEAD, is forthcoming.

Erin Kellison - Erin gave an excellent workshop at a local writers' meeting. She's super nice, and really knows her stuff. Her most recent novel, SOUL KISSED, is now available for purchase on Kindle, Nook and Kobo. And, she also has a book in the Dark and Dangerous Box Set, which releases tomorrow, October 17!

Gini Koch - A whirlwind of greatness--and also gives excellent workshops. She writes everything--including supermodel aliens and ghosts in retirement homes. Her newest book, ALIEN RESEARCH, will debut in December.

Eliza Green - An author kind enough to let me in on some knowledge of Irish culture! Her debut novel, BECOMING HUMAN, can be found here.

FeakySnucker - Another fellow writer/librarian who makes me laugh hysterically. She also agreed to be interviewed on my blog (forthcoming).

Jennifer Baker - An excellent writer and friend--and one of the sweetest people I know. She also writes flash fiction at Femme Fatale.

T. Michael Martin - Wrote THE END GAMES. Excellent writer and vlogger with an awesome YouTube channel.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg. I'll likely do a follow-up post with other names. So, happy Wednesday, all, and be sure to spread some love.

Who do you admire and why? Who helps you reignite your passion? Feel free to comment.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Conserving Brain Energy...Odds are, We'll be All Right

There's nothing like the common cold to help with perspective. When I perused my new novel pages written pre- and post-illness, I found something surprising. Post-illness--they were (at least from a line-edit standpoint) relatively flawless. But pre-illness, when my brain was tired and stretched to its maximum capacity--it was like Forrest Gump wrote my pages.

This got me thinking. As writers, we are constantly encouraged to keep our butts in those seats and write often as humanly possible. And for the most part, this is correct.

But there is a breaking point. Things constantly pick at our brain every day--work, job, kids, family, traffic, government shutdowns, lions, tigers, bears, oh my. The Internet (and Facebook) are particularly good at this. Each thing takes a piece and doesn't give back. So by the end of the day, your brain is only running on about 15% capacity--because the other 85% got left behind with all the other stuff.

This post from Kathleen McCleary on Writer Unboxed says it best, and epitomizes the importance of taking long breaks. She had to take three months off from writing before inspiration struck again. Even when she was asked to produce another book right away.

*Gasps* I hear from some of you. "Missed opportunities," you whisper. I know. Because it wasn't all that long ago that I would have said exactly the same thing.

But not chasing after every little thing doesn't equate to lost opportunity. In reality, it's the opposite. Constantly running around is what really breeds those missed chances--because you're so worn out and so ragged that you can't function enough to capitalize on the opportunities that do come your way.

So, relax. Conserve that brain energy. Take that break, especially if your mind and body urge you to. Rest. Play. Live. Experience. Nothing will fall apart. Nothing will blow up. Odds are, things will be all right, as this song from the Barenaked Ladies states so well:

Sure things go wrong, but I’ll take my chances
Odds are long, so why not play?

(full lyrics are found here)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Elysium: The Dangers of Relying on World-Building Alone (Beware of Spoilers)

I'll have to admit, I was excited when I saw the trailer for Elysium. Very cool premise. A select group of rich people live on a utopian, heaven-like space station called Elysium, while the rest are stuck on Earth, with high pollution, sickness, overpopulation, and poverty.

But when I saw the movie, I realized that's all it was. A premise. NPR movie reviewer, Linda Holmes, says it best: "One of the great threats to any film is that the people who are making it live too much inside it. Just as you learn to navigate a city without looking at signs, they learn to navigate the world they've built so well that they forget to make it comprehensible and important for people who have just arrived."

Because building a world is not the same as building a story. Elysium establishes a set of rules, and then forgets about them in order to flesh out the plot. About three storylines are running at any given time--and they get so tangled that they often negate one another. Such as (beware of spoilers):
  • The citizens of Elysium seem to have no compassion for those on Earth. Wouldn't some assist the people that come through looking for help? Certainly not every one of them are rich, self-centered bastards.
  • Why give Matt Damon's character radiation poisoning when his would-be girlfriend also has a sick daughter? Only one of these is needed to establish the objective of trying to get to Elysium and get healed.
  • And then there's a guy with a samurai sword set to kill everyone and everything. He's probably the most two-dimensional guy in the whole movie, and he's the one they decide to keep around (even after they explode his face off and bring him back to life so he can kill the more plausible, more layered villain).

This is something I have to be very careful of in my writing. It's not enough to create a fantastical world with really unique things in it. It's more important to give the story cohesion, realistic motivations for the characters, and real obstacles for them to face. There has to be a reason for everything to fit together the way it does.

So, when you're looking at the stories you've written, be sure that:
  • Your protagonist's motivation is related to the setting you've created--and the protagonist is affected by it in a realistic and plausible way.
  • You've deleted story layers that don't belong (even if you love them really a lot).
  • Your world "rules" maintain consistent throughout the story.
  • Your secondary characters have a bigger role than just standing in the world they've been created in. What are their motivations? How do they affect your protagonist?
As Linda Holmes says, "However important the point you want to make, you rise or fall on what happens on the stage you've built, not on how immersive an experience that stage creates."