Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Don't be an Individual

Just in case you've been living under a rock for the past week, it is my duty to inform you that the Third Writers Platform Building Campaign is now live and that yours truly has joined in. (Because yours truly doesn't have nearly enough commitments going on.) I've placed my name in a Fantasy group and in an Adult Fiction group, possibly because I hate myself. The other night I spent hours going through all of the Fantasy signups, checking out blogs, following, commenting. (By the way, is anyone else having trouble with the follower widgets not showing up when you go to someone's blog? I had to refresh many of them up to 10 times for it to display. It's a bit frustrating.) I've yet to get through the Adult groups, but I will!

 I have to admit that I'm disappointed that it isn't a crusade anymore. Crusade is a much more interesting and evocative word than campaign. But then again, I suppose it can't be a crusade. It saddens me, but the final one already happened.

Great movie? Or greatest movie?

To go along with the idea of networking, I'd like to host some guest posts and/or interviews of other Fantasy bloggers here during the challenge. So if you'd like to either submit yourself to questioning (without the small room and bright light, I promise) or just write about a preferably fantasy related topic of your choice, please comment below and let me know how to contact you.

I find it's amazing how many awesome blogs were out there that I'd never seen before. I'm very excited to get to know more people. There are several new followers here. (Hi!) And so it seems like a good idea to do a sort of "getting to know you" post for the campaign trail. I'll almost certainly regret this later on.

Who am I?

There are two sorts of people in the world. Those who, when they hear the words "who am I", immediately think "24601" and those who don't. I am part of the former, happy category. (Or maybe it's just me. Who knows.)

Holy crap, I need one of these.
Let's Get Personal

I like to say that I am, first and foremost, a wife and mother. Nothing will ever come before those two things. My wonderful husband and my four crazy, rambunctious, beautiful children are and always will be the most important things in my life. And this leads me to some stuff I don't normally like to talk about, but it's a huge part of who I am.

You see, I didn't have a very happy parental situation when I was a child. I suffered through two divorces before my biological father abandoned me and my mother's third husband took up the slack by adopting me. Apart from making me somewhat messed up, these experiences make me a strong proponent of a stable home environment for children NO MATTER WHAT. Divorce is wrong. It is evil. It tears the hearts of children into little pieces and much of the time it's for no greater reason than a parent's so-called happiness.

I'm not saying that if you've been through a divorce that it's your fault or that you are evil. Far from it. My mother divorced twice and it wasn't her fault. Her first husband was abusive of her and of my brother and myself. Her second husband was dangerously unstable. Fortunately for her, the third time was the charm. But for me it was too late my then. I was, and still am, irrevocably damaged. So I guess what I am saying is that  you'd better have a damn good reason for putting your kids through divorce. Something greater than your personal happiness.

You've Been Warned

That's an understatement.

I am a firm believer in and seeker for Truth. I suppose I believe that truth is the most important thing in the world. Because of this I tend to be very passionate about and strong in my opinions on various subjects. If the subject is something I care about I usually put a lot of thought and research and careful discussion with my husband into it. So when I come to a conclusion about something, when I believe in something, I suppose I can come across as something of an argumentative know-it-all. I'm not one of those people who thinks that everything is relative and everyone is entitled to their own opinions about everything. I mean, you're perfectly free to state your opinions. And I'm perfectly free to disagree with them strongly.

And, alas, I do tend to disagree with a lot of things that other people say. It's something that I observe more and more as I travel around the blogosphere. I don't think like most people. I can't be sure if it's just me, or if there is a subset of people out there who do think like me but are much more quiet about it. (If you're out there, don't be shy!) Some might call my thinking old-fashioned. After all, I like the fantasy genre because, to paraphrase Tolkien in his essay On Fairy Stories, I prefer horses to cars, castles to apartment complexes, bows and arrows to guns, Elves to environmentalists, Kings to presidents, and priests to "spiritual people". I also prefer beauty to starkness, verisimilitude to "realism", the transcendent to the mundane, hope to despair. And I am an enthusiastic supporter of creative and financial freedom for writers rather than the shackles that publishers try to weigh us down with.

I try not to be argumentative or too negative, but I am always compelled to be fully honest in my thinking. I've gotten through life by just keeping my mouth shut when I didn't have anything nice to say, but it works differently around the blogosphere. All I've got here are my words. But in keep with all this, I welcome, even encourage, intelligent and respectful discussion and debate on any subject. I tend to be sarcastic, though my sarcasm often tends toward the self-depreciating. It is never (intentionally) aimed at others.

Don't be an Individual

I have found in recent years that I'm an individual and I'm not entirely sure that I'm happy about it. Being an individual often seems to me like such a lonely position. I find myself sometimes longing for the sense of community that characterized the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians. I guess that's part of why I'm here in the blogosphere. To meet people and make friends and become part of a community. I'm hoping the campaign will help with that.

Now, if I haven't scared you away by now, here's a hilarious video from which I stole the title of this post:

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Logical Fallacies of Writing: Necessity

I see this around the blogosphere a lot. When do you need backstory? Only use as many descriptive words as are necessary. I need to include more characterization. Only include exposition when it is necessary to the plot. I need to learn to show not tell. Don't include anything in your book that isn't 100% necessary, cut out everything else. And many more iterations of the same basic idea.

Well, I'm here to tell you that the idea of what is and is not necessary in your story is a False Dilemma.

Elements of story (like backstory, prologue, characterization), building blocks of writing (like exposition, descriptive words, dialogue) or even specific elements of your story (a certain character, a particular scene, a paragraph of description) are not either necessary or unnecessary. Because let's face it, this is fiction. And there's no such thing as "necessary" in fiction. Everything is unnecessary include your entire story its self. Every word, every sentence, ever character, every plot point is essentially unnecessary.

But that's ok because the point of reading fiction is not what is "necessary" but what is pleasurable. Fiction is entertainment or possibly even art. You don't ask yourself "is this necessary" when writing. You ask yourself "does this make for an enjoyable reading experience".

Now you're down to the question of what is enjoyable, which is much better. As we all know, this is going to be subjective and trying to please everybody will only please nobody. My personal opinion is that the author needs to write the story that they would enjoy themselves.

So if you like backstory, then include it. If you like a certain plot point, include it. If a certain descriptive phrase is pleasurable to your ear, include it. If you think a certain plot point make the story more enjoyable, include it. And so on. Don't be intimidated by the idea of what is "necessary". Focus on what is fun and pleasurable and beautiful.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

That Creative Spark

Today I'm posting for Christine Tyler's Sparkfest! She's asking the following questions:

What book made you realize you were doomed to be a writer? 
What author set off that spark of inspiration for your current Work in Progress?
Or, Is there a book or author that changed your world view?

I meant to post on multiple days this week to address the various angles of these questions, but, alas, it just didn't turn out to be practical time-wise. (It's been one of those weeks... by which I mean every week.) So instead here's one really, really long post (you've been warned) telling you everything you never thought you wanted to know about me and why I write and how I came to this point in my writing journey. It wasn't so much about a spark as it was a single glowing coal that somehow slowly spread into a bonfire. Let me tell you all about it.

From "Reader" to "Writer" to "Author"

I started, as most of us do, as a reader. My home life wasn't particularly pleasant during my childhood so I hid in books. I was a shy child who lacked any sort of self-confidence at all which meant that making friends was like one of the dangerous tasks that are always given to heroes in myths. I found it was easier to absorb myself in books. Stories and characters were my friends. But for several years worth of voracious reading it never occurred to me to turn my own hand to the craft.

It finally began, I believe, when one year in elementary school we had an exercise for Spelling that required us to write a story based on some of the words we were learning. I forget what the words were, but I wrote a silly little story about a female Indiana Jones type character and her search for an illusive artifact. I dashed it off without a thought, it was just a school assignment, but my mother enthusiastically praised my writing skills. And I realized that it had been fun. So for several years I wrote casually, just for the pleasure of it, stories which mostly were never finished. But I didn't want anyone to read them (especially the embarrassing Indiana Jones the Girl stories that were my guilty pleasure) and spent a lot of time waging a war against my mother for control of my papers. She knew most of them ended up getting thrown away and would always go through my garbage. Eventually I started tearing everything up into little pieces. Ha! Take that! Still, writing to me was just a game played by a lonely girl who wanted to forget how miserable she was. 

Then I encountered The Lord of the Rings. Those books changed my life irrevocably, and not just because they eventually led me to finding my wonderful husband. But it was upon reading them and being transformed by the magic of them, that I knew I HAD to write. It wasn't a game or a casual pastime anymore. It was a need. I was compelled to try and create an imaginary world of my own. Ah, but I had started with Tolkien and so everything I wrote and imagined was so, so very pathetic compared to that ideal. Not to mention the blatant plagarism. I was new to the fantasy genre at that point in my life and I had no idea what I was doing. I'm afraid those early stories were uncomfortably similar to LOTR, right down to having a character named Arwen. Yes. Seriously. 

But I am grateful for those days.I think all writers go through a plagiarism phase when their creative brain has been soaking up all the stories you've read for years but you haven't yet written enough to have found your own unique voice and style. So your brain resorts to recycling all the stories you've loved the most. Some authors even manage to get published during this phase, but I think it's better to work through it in private before you submit your work to publishers. I hope that all the time I spent writing Indiana Jones fanfiction and LOTR-esque imaginary world fiction has sufficed for myself. 

Still, during all this time it had never entered my mind that I could write professionally. It was all personal and private and I didn't want anyone else to know about my writing much less read it. So what was the final catalyst that made me think in terms of writing for an audience? Probably my husband. He was the first person I knew who has very similar taste in books and whose opinions I trust. (He'll probably laugh at that bit.) He took my writing seriously, encouraged but never pushed me (as my mother had), and seemed genuinely interested by my ideas. 

Even so, it took me a long time to accept all this. I made many jokes about "When I'm an international best selling author we'll be able to..." and it was funny because I was able as close to actually writing a whole book as I am to becoming a famous chef. (Read: not remotely.) I had a lot of vague, nebulous ideas floating around in my head all the time, but they just weren't coalescing into something I could feel passionate about bringing to reality.  The extra spark that finally made me think that I could, possibly, actually be an author whose books other people read came from an unexpected source. 


My husband had recently been on a Tim Powers binge. He read some of his books and told me about them, but I remained uninterested. Sometimes I think he takes my indifference to various things he enjoys as a personal challenge. (Am I right?) So after I refused to read Declare he took a different tactic. (I'm assuming it was deliberate anyway. I can't be sure, but he's sneaky that way.) He took out another Powers book from the library and briefly mentioned it but didn't try to push it on me. (I respond notoriously badly to anything that is pushed on me.) He just left it lying around. And of course I picked it up, because it had Anubis in the title and I am a bit obsessed with Ancient Egypt.

Now, for the record, this book is nothing like the kind of stuff that I want to write. It involves time travel and secret societies and black magic and thieves and beggars and Mamelukes and an interesting take on werewolves. It ranges from this century to  the 19th century to the 17th century and back to the 19th. Wikipedia calls it a "time travel fantasy novel" but that hardly seems a sufficient description. It's one of those books that transcends genres, while I have my sights firmly set on writing mythopoeic fantasy.

However, it set certain ideas loose in my head and it made me realize that my love of Egyptian mythology could give me a lot of great fodder for a fantasy setting. It made me aware of aspects of Egyptian religion that I hadn't known about before. And after putting in a little research, it led directly to the idea behind my WIP tentatively called The Last Light.  

Since then the ideas have been constantly inundating me and I've been collecting them and massaging them into something I think can be really amazing. I've never been so excited about writing in my life and that's why I started this blog. Not only to share my enthusiasm but to keep me from giving up. I really want to see this through. I want my stories in people's hands and I'd like it if they were willing to pay me for it too. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ensign Sarah McCabe, Reporting for Duty

And I totally look like this in the skirt:

Crap, she wears red, doesn't she?

The other day I commented to my husband that I had no idea why I had signed up for a Star Trek blogfest because I'm not a huge fan of Star Trek. "I must have a disease," I commented. "I can resist signing up for them. How am I going to list 5 favorite episodes and characters?" My husband's reply? Easy. And he began rattling off awesome episodes from The Original Series. (The only Star Trek series I've watched completely.) And he's right of course. It wasn't so long ago that we watched all three seasons of TOS (now I fell like a real geek) and I did enjoy it quite a lot. And to my surprise, while looking through a list of TOS episodes, it was surprisingly easy to pick out 5 that soared above the rest.

So here is a list of my favorite episodes of TOS and the characters that made them stand out, in no particualr order...

The Squire of Gothos

The Story: The crew of the Enterprise is taken prisoner on an unfamiliar planet by a powerful being who calls himself "General Trelane, Retired" and acts like an English gentleman. At first he seems to only want to show them a good time, but when Kirk refuses to play along the good squire shows his dark side. Refusing to let the crew escape, he puts Kirk on trial for treason and sentences him to hanging. But just before Trelane kills Kirk two beings of energy show up who turn out to be Trelane's parents. They scold him to messing around with people, apologize to Kirk and disappear with a childish, whining Trelane.

The Character: Trelane is just a fun character. He has a lot of charm and vitality and also his fair share of wickedness. (Children in a nutshell really.) And it's always interesting to see Kirk go up against a threat that seems ridiculous but is actually more dangerous than he knows.Trelane alternately acts like an impetuous child, a gracious host, and a sadistic judge. In a later Star Trek novel it is revealed that Trelane is actually one of the Q Continuum, which makes him even more interesting.

Amok Time

The Story: Spock's biological clock is about to go off and he has to get back to Vulcan to marry his betrothed before he dies. And what we see of Vulcan in this episode is just so exotic and alien and fascinating. But due to his fiancee's devious maneuverings, Spock is forced to fight Kirk. Kirk cannot possibly win so McCoy fakes his death. Spock meanwhile rejects his fiancee because of her games and goes back to the enterprise to suffer whatever fate awaits him for killing Kirk. The look on Spock's face when he sees that Kirk isn't really dead is one of those few classic moments when Spock's Vulcan composure lifts and we can see how much Kirk really means to him.

The Character: Spock. This episode shows a lot of unexpected emotions in a character usually ruled by logic. And while we all love the stoic Spock, it's nice to see him break. The glimpses of Vulcan culture also help us understand the forces that shaped him. Seeing where he comes from makes Spock even more interesting and sympathetic.

I, Mudd

The Story: This is a follow up episode to Mudd's Women, which was also good. Harcourt Fenton Mudd is basically an interstellar con man. He has crash landed on a planet full of androids who take him for their king. To get revenge of Kirk for their previous run-in, Mudd has one of the androids, Norman, hijack the Enterprise and bring it to him. His plan is to leave Kirk and his officers on the planet and take the Enterprise for his own. But eventually it is revealed that the androids will not let Mudd leave. After studying Mudd, they have decided that humans are too destructive. Their plan is to leave their planet on the Enterprise and basically take over the galaxy, becoming the caretakers and police of the human race. 

Kirk and Mudd and others work together to defeat the androids by being illogical, which apparently causes the androids to short circuit. It makes for many hilarious scenes and great quotes like the crew dancing around and Spock talking about logic being a little bird. Eventually Kirk causes Norman, the android in charge, to overload by posing the Liar Paradox to him. 

The Character: Mudd is a great comedic character. From the beginning with his act as an honest trader with a thick Irish accent, to his gloating "reign" as Mudd the First, to his torture at the hands of a reprogrammed android copy of his dreaded wife. You almost feel sorry for him at the end, until you remember that he want to maroon Kirk and crew on his prison planet.  

Space Seed

The Story: The classic show where Kirk and crew first encounter genetically superior madman Khan Noonien Singh. I have to admit I find the idea of the Eugenics Wars proposed by Star Trek to be quite fascinating. I mean, if you were a genetically altered superbeing wouldn't you try to take over the world? Of course you would. The gradual discovery of Khan's nature, the treason of one of the Enterprise officers on behalf of this incredibly dynamic man, and the elegant solution that Kirk comes up with make this a great story.

The Character: Khan is just awesome. And Ricardo Montalban is perfect in the role. Are there any ladies out there who wouldn't at least think about betraying Star Fleet for him? He's got a lot of charm and personality and exudes an air of confidence and power. Yeah, we can't blame the Lieutenant for her choice. Khan was such a great character that they couldn't just let him be. They had to take him out in a blaze of glory in The Wrath of Khan movie. Can you imagine his story ending any other way?
A Piece of the Action
The Story: The Enterprise discovers that a developing world has accidentally been tampered with by humans  and has modeled their culture entirely on a book called Chicago Mobs of the Twenties. To fix this blunder Kirk, with Spock at his side, is forced to bluff and bluster his way through an obstacle course of competing mobs who are determined to get their hands on the Enterprise's technology. 

The Character: Kirk. Kirk is just so glorious in this episode as he hams it up while pretending to be a mobster himself and resorting to negotiating with the planets residents on their own terms. Kirk is just THE CAPTAIN. End of story. No one else can even come close to his awesomeness.To paraphrase something my husband recently said: All Kirk and No Kirk make Kirk, Kirk.

What do you think? Did I nail some of your favorites? 

Side Note: I'm putting off posting for the Sparkfest until tomorrow. I hope that's ok.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Miscellaneous Paraphernalia: Blog on Fire and Giveaway Winner

I once had a teacher in middle school who greeted us everyday by telling us to put away our miscellaneous paraphernalia, by which he meant everything not relevant to his subject. Ever since the phrase has stuck with me. And so when I decided I'd do a post on the weekend full of all the little odds and ends that don't really deserve a post all by themselves (blog awards, blogfest announcements, writing updates, links I'd like to share, etc.) the phrase naturally came to mind. So here it is. This week's miscellaneous paraphernalia.

Amy at The Ramblings of Amy has passed on an award to me!

Thanks, Amy! I certainly hope my blog is on fire... but, you know, in the non-literal way. This time around these questions were attached to the award:

1) Are you a rutabaga?

No, but I may or may not be a truck.

2) Who is your current crush?

Would it be too sappy to say my husband? It would. All right then, Freddie Mercury.


3) Upload a heartwarming picture that makes you smile.

Not sure about heart warming but it makes me smile. Partly because on of my WIPs has a character based on Seth, but he's nothing like the picture above.

4) When was the last time you ate a vine-ripened tomato?

Never. Ew. Tomatoes are fine as sauce but nothing else. 

5) Name one habit that causes other people to plot your demise?

 Probably being an insufferable know-it-all. I maintain that I am NOT a know it all. I would never claim to know anything unless I had personally verified the information recently. I AM a bit obsessed with never being wrong though (I blame my father) which is why I go out of my way to be right. I suppose it comes across badly.

6) What is the weirdest, most-disgusting job you've ever had to do?

 Mom. It DOES NOT get any weirder or more disgusting than the stuff I have to deal with. Like the time I came downstairs in the morning to find that my 3 year old son had apparently been cooking in the middle of the night:

We think he was trying to make pancakes.

7) Where da muffin top at?

 Illogical! Illogical! Please explain! You are human; only humans can explain! Illogical!

8) What author introduced you to your genre?

J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings changed my life in several ways.

9) Describe yourself using obscure Latin words.     

Beatus, Directus, Fidelis, Gravitus.

Now my former Latin student husband can show up and tell me how I've used those words incorrectly. Well, he can go an complain to the random internet list I grabbed them from and give me a break.

And now I am passing the award on to...

TL Conway of TL Conway Writes Here
Nicole of Write Me a World  
Miss Cole of Miss Cole Seeks Publisher 

I found the blogs of these lovely ladies not so long ago and I've really been enjoying them. Keep up the good work, gals!

And now, with the help of, it's time to announce the winner of my Wonderland Blogfest Giveaway! The numbers have spoken and the lucky winner of the gorgeous handmade paper and the guest post/interview spot is.....



Congratulations. I'll contact you at your blog to work out details. 

Tomorrow I'm scheduled to participate in two more blogfests. 

There's Ellie Garrat's Star Trek as We Know It Blogfest:

  • Leave your name and rank on the linky below (i.e. scienceofficergarratt).
  • On August 22nd post your top five Star Trek characters and episodes and/or films, and tell us why you love them.
  • Warp your way over to as many of your Starfleet comrades as you can and comment on their choices.
  • Spread the word on all hailing frequencies, and feel free to post the image on your blog.
  • Wear red at your peril.
And then Christine Tyler's Sparkfest:

What book made you realize you were doomed to be a writer? 
What author set off that spark of inspiration for your current Work in Progress?
Or, Is there a book or author that changed your world view?

And there are prizes!

  • There will be three Amazon Gift Cards ($15, $10, $5) awarded to random participants!
  • The blogger who writes my favorite entry will get an interview on my blog so they can tell us more about their awesome source of writerly inspiration!
  • By networking with other writers, you gain followers and comments for your own blog.

There's still time to sign up before tomorrow! 

So does anyone know of another blogfest happening tomorrow? Then I'd be like d'Artagnan with his three duels in one afternoon. Ha! Masochism FTW!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

And Now, A PSA for Bloggers Everywhere

First things first. I do not claim to be the most awesome blogger on the block. I don't claim to "do it right". I'm not writing this post as a blog author... except you know, in as much as I am currently authoring this particular blog post, but you know what I mean. I'm approaching this topic as a person who follows 148 blogs (through blogger, not sure how many blogs without that follower widget I have in my favorites, but the numbers are always growing) and reads a fair few posts every day. Of course, I am but one reader and these are but my opinions. Take them for what they are worth. This is my message to you, bloggers everywhere.

Things that Really Bother Me

Let's talk comments for a moment, because that's the catalyst that drove me to writing this post. Comments are one of the fantastic things about the whole blogging format. Being able to receive feedback right there after your post, and respond to that feedback, being able to communicate so directly, so easily with your readers, to engage in interesting discussions about the content you've posted. Comments are your first way to connect with your readers. There's so much opportunity there. But so often the comments seem to be a poorly used tool. For instance...

1. Word Verification

Yeah. I know. Spam. But, really? Are you attracting so much spam that you really need this? I know my blog hasn't been around long and doesn't get a ton of hits or anything, but I've never had word verification on and I've never had a comment from a spambot. I did once have blogger decide a comment from a perfectly legitimate blogger that I follow was spam for no discernible reason. I also once had someone post a comment on my blog to shill a contest he was running on his website, which I decided to mark as spam myself.

Honestly, I don't really believe that spam is that much of a problem. Not enough to warrant the inconvenience and annoyance of word verification. Please turn it off. I don't care if you embed comments or have a popup or a separate page for comments. I just hate word verification.

"Dear reader, please leave a comment! I love comments so much! They're the best! And you'll be the best for posting one! But first please prove to me that you're a human."

If I want to prove I'm human I'll go to the Bene Gesserit and their Gom Jabbar.

But you know what I hate even more?

2. Comment Moderation

This is the one that might cause me to snap and go on a bloody rampage at some point in the future.

I've read your post. It was a good post. I like you. I want to support you as a blogger and give you a little well deserved feedback. So I type out a comment. Maybe it's just a quick little comment to show you that I'm reading and enjoying your blog. Maybe your post has really inspired me or made me think. Maybe I write a long comment discussing the ideas expressed in your post and my own opinions on them. Maybe we could have an awesome frelling discussion. Except...

"Thank you for your comment. It might be posted after the author decides whether or not it's good enough for their blog."

I'm sure that's not what bloggers are thinking when they turn this feature on, but as a commenter it's what it feels like when I encounter it. And you know what? When I see this the first time on your blog, I'm about 95% less likely to comment again in the future. I'm also about 50% less likely to read your blog at all. Because you've effectively eliminated a big part of the point of blogs for me: connection and interaction through discussion.

I just, for instance, commented on someone's post that had been up since yesterday morning and didn't have any comments there. Then I realized why. They hadn't approved any. Wow. I'll think twice before commenting there again.

It doesn't get any worse than that. Though there's still...

3. Not Responding to Comments on your Blog

I think this is a really important thing and one that a lot of bloggers just don't seem to do at all. I read plenty of blogs where there are a bunch of comments but even a day later there's absolutely no response from the author.

And there's no excuse for that.

Some bloggers apparently respond to comments via email. Well, that's nice I suppose for those who regularly check their email. But only the commenter knows (if they've checked their email) that you responded. No one else who reads your blog know. To them (read: me) it looks like you're not responding. But even if I assume that you are responding with an email, it still looks to me like you're not interested in engaging in a discussion.

On the other hand, when I see blogs where the author personally responds to each and every commenter right there in the comments it seems like the author is open to discussion and looking for connection and interaction with their readers. In other words, it looks like the author is a more personable, engaging, person. I am more likely to read their blog. I am FAR more likely to comment on their blog. I would totally be up for meeting for lunch with this person and spending an entire afternoon in conversation about the ins and outs of the writing life. In other words, they seem like they could be a friend.

This is something I know I have to work on myself. I do put in an effort to respond to commenters and I say "Huzzah!" to anyone who really tries, even if they don't manage to respond to everyone. God knows that we are busy people. Sometimes I sit down after a long day and stare at the screen trying to think of how I can respond to a comment but my brain is so fried from dealing with demanding kids all day that I literally cannot put together two written words. But as with anything, it's the thought that counts.

And the principle stands: taking part in the comments on your own blog makes you look like a better blogger.

4. Blogfests

I love blogfests and I really enjoy participating in them. And I'm really grateful to the people who host them. I look forward to hosting some of my own someday. But let's get something straight. If you host a blogfest, you should comment on all the entries.

I know this isn't exactly a rule. It's certainly not written down anywhere. But it's basic courtesy. Yet recently I've participated in two blogfests where the host did not comment on my entry. One of those blogfests was hosted by multiple bloggers. None of them commented on my entry. That doesn't exactly make me feel appreciated for taking part. And if these bloggers hold blogfests in the future, I'm certainly going to think twice before signing up.

And that brings me to...

5. Ignoring the blogs of people who follow and comment on yours

Now, I'm not exactly the knight in shining armor on this one. There are some people who follow me and comment on my blog but I don't really follow them. Generally this happens when I just can't really find anything in common with them or what they write. Sometimes I go over to their blogs and read a few posts and I just can't think of anything to say. It happens.

I definitely do not believe in following someone just because they follow you. That's a hollow, meaningless connection. And I'll be honest, I only follow people if I enjoy their blog or if I feel we have things in common and especially if I think there's real potential for connection and friendship between us. I'm not looking for numbers here. I don't want people to just click that follow button like a robot, without thinking twice about whether there's something they like about me or my blog.

But I do seek out blogs that meet those criteria for me and I follow any blogs that do and I try to comment on any posts that resonate with me in anyway. But here's what happens sometimes...

I find a blog I really like. The blogger is a writer in my genre or a related one. I really enjoy their posts and their point of view. I comment as often as possible, especially whenever I feel I can contribute to an intelligent discussion on the subject of the post. But  no matter how many times I do this... that blogger NEVER comes back and comments on mine.

And I'm not sure WHY. Do they even look at the blogs of people who follow and comment on theirs? Do they not see anything interesting on my blog? Are they not actually interested in getting to know other bloggers? What do they blog for then?

I don't claim to have any answers. But maybe at some point in the future I'll post a list of the things I think a good blog should do. (As soon as I make sure I do them all.)

In the meantime, don't forget to stop by this post for my first ever humble giveaway in conjunction with Sylvia Ney's Wonderland blogfest. You've got until midnight on Saturday to win!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wonder of Wonders: A Giveaway Blogfest!

It's the Wonderland Giveaway Blogfest!

Sylvia Ney of Writing in Wonderland had this fantastic idea to celebrate reaching 400 followers. To spread the love, she is asking those who signup for the blogfest to host a giveaway on their blog. The participants get to decide what they want to give away and how they want to do it. So far, as of writing this, there are 14 bloggers who will be giving away stuff as part of the blogfest.

It may be the Wonderland blogfest, but in a way it reminds me of Hobbit birthdays. (For those of you unfamiliar with The Lord of the Rings, Hobbits don't receive presents on their birthdays, they give them away. That way you have a pretty good chance of getting at least one present once a week.) So I had to join in. This will be my first giveaway ever and at first I wasn't really sure what I had to offer, but with the help of Sylvia's excellent suggestions I think I've come up with something good. At least, I know I'd want it! 

Item One: Your choice of an interview or guest post or book review here on my blog. (Mostly because I think it would be fun for me to branch out and do one of those.) But that's not the good bit. Here's the good bit...

Item Two: 18 sheets of handmade paper decorated with a Celtic motif that I bought some years ago at a Renaissance Festival. Unused, obviously, and kept protected in a plastic folder since I bought it.There is just a bit of gentle wrinkling on one page. It's regular sized, like computer paper.

It's really lovely stuff. In fact, it's so pretty that I just can't bring myself to write on it. So it sits, languishing. It would really love a good writer to give it some use.

Just to be clear, the winner gets both items. 

And I'm going to make it extremely simple for you to get it because this is my first giveaway and I'm not sure I can handle needless complication. So anyone who leaves a comment below from now through Saturday the 20th will automatically be entered to win. I will announce the winner next Monday.

So make sure to leave a comment below and a way for me to contact you if you're the winner. (I'd be happy to come find you at your blog or by email.) And don't forget to stop over at Writing in Wonderland to check out all the other giveaways going on today. Good luck!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Love and Hate are just the same side of a different coin...

Today is the day and while I'm getting my post up later than I wanted, here it is!

Hosted by Tessa of Tessa's Blurb the object of this blogfest is to post a selection of our writing demonstrating hate in some form. There are prizes for the winner and it's not too late to get involved. You've got the rest of the day! Go sign up!
Here's my entry from my current WIP.

Imagine if you will: a sky filled with brilliant, multicolored stars; a primeval forest thick with vegetation, a huddled mass of men, women and children bearing what belongings they can carry in sacks upon their backs. 

And me. 
I lift a burning torch high over my head, casting light and shadow all around. The people scramble for the shadows. They are afraid. So am I. 

There is the snap of a branch behind me. My body tenses: fight or flight? I turn to see the figure of a friend approaching. The light of my torch flickers on his face casting strange patterns. The face is a monster. It is an animal. It is a god. It is a man. It is Lenwe. 

"Narmer," he says with more solemnity that I have ever seen in him. "I have come to say goodbye."

His words surprise all response from me and for moments I stand dumbstruck.

"I am staying here, in Finias," he says and waits for the meaning to burn its self into my mind. "You must go without me."

"No, Lenwe, that can't be..." I struggle for words. I can't allow this to happen. I must find a way to argue, to convince him again. But I cannot summon reason to my aid. There is too much fear in the air tonight. "Lenwe, you swore to me, we would do this together."

Lenwe looks distressed. His eyes will not meet mine. "I cannot go with you, Narmer," he says weakly. "I cannot."

And then I see far behind him in the shadows of the trees another figure. I know it is she. She has made him stay. She has always hated me. I meet her glance under the stars and I spit on the ground. She says nothing, but I can see her mouth curve into a satisfied smile. 

"Lenwe, don't listen to her!" I beg, though I know it is futile. He has always been caught in her web. "You have to get out of here! You know what they will do to you if you stay!"

"I'm not a target," he protests. "Not yet anyway. But you are, Narmer. You must not abandon the plan because of me. Go and find a new land... away from all this darkness and terror. Go and I will be happy knowing you have escaped."

I must give in, for the sake of those who follow me. Months, years worth of arguments never assailed his devotion to her. She has loved him as much as she hates me and she has made him hers. My brother.

We embrace for the last time in our lives. "To the horizon," he whispers in my ear. And then he is gone, with her. I watch them walk away and wonder to myself if such love and such hate can truly come from the same heart. I will never know the answer.

And that's it! The (current) new beginning for my WIP that I've been struggling with so much for the past few weeks. Let me know what you think. Then go read the other entries and give them a cheer.

Also this month I'll be participating in Sylvia Ney's Wonderland Giveaway Blogfest. That means I've signed up to host a giveaway here at my blog and all the other entrants will be doing giveaways on their blogs as well. It's a giveaway blogfest on a grand scale. So stop by on the 16th to see what I'll be giving away and how you can get it! Or go sign up at Sylvia's blog to get in on the giveaway action yourself.

Later on, I'll be part of Christine Tyler's Spark Blogfest discussing how I decided to be a writer, what inspires me as a writer and what books changed my worldview forever. There are prizes involved, so don't hesitate to follow the link and sign up!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What does your writing look like?

The other day I made a post that asserted that authors must write whatever way feels natural to them, not the way Editors and Agents and so called writing experts tell you to write. (When they tell you to write a certain way.) And I said that, for instance, when authors are told to write "lean prose" (like Hemingway) against their instincts and their voice, they will often strive for this:

but end up with this:

On the other hand it's perfectly possible to strive for this:

but end up with this:

Are you scared yet?

But I don't actually want to get into a long debate about prose styles today. I want to know about you.

What does your writing look like? What do you want it to look like? And do the two match yet? Do you think you're trying to write against your grain because of advice you've received? Or do you try to let your creative brain take over completely and do what's natural? Are you happy with your prose?

For myself, I think I'd like my writing to look like this:

with a bit of this:

and maybe some of this:

But I'll admit, I'm NOWHERE near there yet. I know I've got a long way to go and the only way to get there is practice, practice, practice. (Just one reason I like joining blogfests that make me write something. The challenge really stretches my writing muscles.) I may have a long way to go to get where I want to be (and since I'm a perfectionist I'm not exactly making it easy on myself. See photos above) but I know that I am making progress every time I sit down an write. That thought makes me happy and keeps me going. As well as the encouragement I've received here every time I post something I've written. (Writing bloggers rock!) One day I'll have Sophia Loren writing. I just know it.

So how about you? Feel free to make your own post on the subject if you want to include hot pictures. ;)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Thoughts on... "Muscular Prose"

The other day I was reading a blog post where someone was listing their goals for their query. One of the goals on her check list was "muscular prose" with the addendum "tightness at the sentence level". When I read that, something clicked in my mind and I began to contemplate the phenomenon of muscular prose.

The idea of "muscular prose" or "lean prose" as it is sometimes called became popular with Hemingway. According to this article, Hemingway was given four rules to follow during his time as a reporter for the Kansas City Star:

1. Use short sentences.
2. Use short first paragraphs.
3. Use vigorous English.
4. Be positive, not negative.

The article quotes Hemingway as saying of this writing method:

"Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I’ve never forgotten them. No man with any talent, who feels and writes truly about the thing he is trying to say, can fail to write well if he abides by them."

 ...not quite what I meant by muscular prose.
 And now I'm going to explain why I think it's a BAD THING that the idea of muscular prose has become so entrenched in the publishing industry as the "right way" to write everything.

All writers are different.

With all due respect to Hemingway, his statement above is naive. He got lucky. He was given a set of rules and for some reason they worked for him and he was successful. But that's the exception that tests the rule.

All writers are skilled in different ways, see things in different ways, think in different ways. And as a result of being different people  with different gifts, all writers choose different words, different sentence lengths and structure, different ways of communicating based on what feels natural to them. This is called "voice". Each writer has their own voice, which simply means "how a particular author writes".

There is no one way to do anything that works for all writers. There is only the way that comes naturally to you, the way that works for you. And the more you try to write like someone else instead of yourself, the more you will fail. That's why all those people who promote fool proof methods for writing great books are scam artists.

For instance, the author of the article I linked to above attempts to compose two examples demonstrating "muscular prose" versus more wordy prose. The results are interesting to say the least. Here's his "positive" example of muscular prose:

The sun rose over the sea. It was a crisp, breezy dawn. I harbored my hangover near the pigpen.
 Now, I don't know about you, but my impression of these three sentences is less than stellar. "I harbored my hangover near the pigpen" is pretty good. It's clear, to the point and even has alliteration. (Everything is more awesome with alliteration.) However, "The sun rose over the sea" and "it was a crisp, breezy dawn" are sentences that have no life in them. They fall completely flat. In fact, they're so forgettable that by the time I got to "I harbored my hangover near the pigpen" I'd already forgotten what the setting is and I actually had to read it a few times before I realized how clever the use of the verb "harbor" was since he's near the sea. Overall, this writer is really trying to provide a good example of Hemingway's style and utterly fails. Because it's obviously not coming naturally to him.

Onto the second example, of "verbose" prose.

The late summer sun peeped over the liquid horizon, decided the coast was clear and stretched into the morning sky. I watched it emerge and glaze the rippling sea with jaundiced quicksilver. It was a crisp clear morning, the dewy grass soft underfoot, providing pleasing moisture to counter my desiccated innards. A brisk sea breeze brushed foam from choppy wavelets, blowing salt-scented air overland to season the stench from a nearby swine-pen and thus compound my gastrointestinal in-brawling.
First, the writer is clearly trying too hard and ends up making this an obviously far too extreme example.(ANY writing style taken to an extreme is bad, unless you're writing comedy.) That said, the author can't help, even in his attempt to write badly, coming up with some really lively metaphors and imagery. I LOVE the sentence "The late summer sun peeped over the liquid horizon, decided the coast was clear and stretched into the morning sky." It's so vivid and the words are strong. Here I can really see what he's describing instead of my mind just glazing over it in boredom. "Dessicated innards" and "gastrointestinal in-brawling" are fantastic little descriptions as well. The writer clearly has a gift for it and I hate the thought of him being convinced that he needs to write the way he did in the first example to be good.

The point is that how you write depends on who you are and you should never write the way someone else does if it doesn't fit your talents. A writer who attempts to use Hemingway's style against his own nature will aim for prose that looks like this:


but end up with prose that looks like this:

You don't want that do you?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Mythological Quote of the Week

For the first time since I began this blog, the Quote of the Week will not come from Ancient Egyptian literature. My recent research took me in a very different direction, North and West, to the mythology of the Emerald Isle. This might give some insight into the inspiration for my current WIP.

The following poem is from the Leabhar Buidhe Lecain or the Yellow Book of Lecan, written around 1400.

“The Tuatha Dé Danann of the precious jewels,
Where did they find learning?
They came upon perfect wisdom
In druidism (and) in deviltry.

Fair Iardanel, a prophet of excellence,
Son of Nemed, son of Agnoman,
Had as a foolish offspring the active Beothach,
Who was a hero of cleaving, full of wonders.

The children of Beothach, —-long-lived their fame-—
The host of valiant heroes came,
After sorrow and after great sadness,
To Lochlann with all of their slips.

Four cities,-—just their renown-—
They held in sway with great strength.
On this account they passionately made competition
For learning their genuine wisdom.

Failias and bright Gorias,
Findias (and) Murias of great prowess,
From whichi battles were won outside,
(Were) the names of the chief cities.

Morfis and noble Erus,
Uscias and Semiath, ever-fierce,
To name them,—-a discourse of need--
(These were) the names of the sages of nehle wisdom.

Morfis (was) the poet of Failias itself,
In Gorias (was) Esrus of keen desires),
Semiath (was) in Murias, the fortress of pinnacles,
(And) Uscias (was) the fair seer of Findias.

Four presents (were fetched) with them hither,
By the nobles of the Tuatha DO Danann:
A sword, a stone, a caldron of worth,
(And) a spear for the death of great champions.

From Failias (came) hither the Lia Fail,
Which shouted under the kings of Ireland.
The sword in the hand of the nimble Lug
From Gorias (it was procured), -— a choice of vast riches.

From far-away Findias over the sea
Was brought the deadly spear of Nuada.
From Murias (was conveyed) a huge and mighty treasure,
The caldron of the Dagda of lofty deeds.

The King of Heaven, the King of feeble men,
May he protect me, the King of royal parts,
The Being in whom is the endurance of spectres,
And the strength of the gentle race.”

Friday, August 5, 2011

Passing on the Love

I am always flattered and thrilled whenever I receive a blog award. It's a confirmation that, yes, I am doing something right here and people are enjoying it. There's little that makes me happier than that thought. And that's why I'm a writer.

Recently Nicole at Write me a World, an excellent blog, sent this award my way:

Nicole had this to say about me: "Sarah is a fellow fantasy lover and blogger-extraordinaire." Well, gosh. My blogging really hasn't been up to par lately, but I'll take this as motivation to get back in shape. Thanks so much, Nicole!

The goal of the award is to spotlight up and coming bloggers who currently have less than 200 followers. The rules of the award are:

   1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
   2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
   3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
   4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
   5. And most of all - have bloggity-blog fun!

Choosing who to pass awards on to is always the toughest part. But here are a few blogs that I think are very deserving:

...then she writes~ Heidi Windmiller is a self acknowledged "work in progress" with unique insights into the writing experience.

I Need to Write~ Theresa is a new blogger with a wonderful passion for writing.

Claudie A.~ Claudie is another devotee of fantasy with a lot of valuable knowledge and techniques to share.

Christine Rains- Writer~ Christine is a fellow "geek, writer and stay-at-home mom". The Trifecta of Awesome.

The Pen is Mightier~ Taylor Roseberry has the most beautiful header and a great blog. I find myself just gazing at that header though.

Speaking of having less than 200 followers, I have to say that since I only started blogging in February I am amazed by how well this venture has been going. I really expected to be shouting into the wind, my words lost to everyone but my dear husband, for a long time before I actually garnered any readers and commenters. This whole experience has been more than I ever hoped and you, all of you all over the blogosphere, are awesome and I love you.

As my follower count inches higher, I've decided that once I get to 200 I'll attempt to hold a blogfest of my very own with prizes and everything. I have a great idea for the subject. So that's something to look forward to and hopefully I'll get there before the end of the year!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Progress? I laugh in the face of Progress.

Ha ha ha! 


So at the beginning of Row 80 I set myself a pretty steep goal. I have utterly failed.

I did set out on schedule to begin writing my new story. And I've tried. I've written I don't know how many beginnings. I made decisions about POV (I've decided to go with first person, since this is a story centered around one main character) and figured out more about the plot and how I want it to work, I worked hard on a map as well, showing on it the changes to the land that this story will bring about. But I could not write the actual story. I couldn't get into the MC's voice. (Which is kind of a problem with first person.) 

I tried a popular exercise that seems to help a lot of bloggers I read: casting your characters as an actor or actress to help visualize them. I cast my MC, whose name is Narmer, but it just didn't feel right. It didn't help. I was starting to get desperate. 

Then last night I had a breakthrough. I realized (remembered, really) that it doesn't matter to me what a character looks like. I don't need to see them, I need to hear them. If I can hear their voices then the dialogue flows like water. So I needed to cast a voice for my main character. And as soon as I thought that, I realized I had already heard his voice recently. I just hadn't recognized it for what it was at the time.

We don't have TV in our house so my husband and I usually get our visual entertainment through We watch a fair amount of anime on there and we have been watching (and just finished) the anime show Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok. (A cute, less than serious show with some very funny aspects.) There are two versions of Loki in the show, a child Loki and a teen Loki. Teen Loki's voice was very distinctive, and I responded to it on a visceral level. (Voices have always affected me that way.) But it wasn't until early this morning that I knew why: his voice was the voice of Narmer. I can hear him now. 

So I am very excited to make a fresh try at writing my story tomorrow. I think it's going to come this time. I set my goal at 1500 words a day at the beginning of Row 80. I'm going to be more modest from now on. 1000 words a day is fine to start out with. If I can get to the point where I easily meet that goal every day, I'll up it later on. 

Alright, let's try this again!