Independent Bookstore Day, April 27th

On Saturday, April 27th, the country celebrated Independent Bookstore Day! For the past five years, independent bookstores have thrown parties, offered treats, featured guest authors, created kid events and scavenger hunts, and so on and so forth. This one-day national party is meant to celebrate each bookstore’s uniqueness and get people into the stores instead of buying books exclusively online.

Iowa was no exception. Prairie Lights Bookstore had treats and special items available for people who stopped in during the day. The Haunted Bookshop had special deals on books. Next Page Books had giveaways, delicious coffee and treats, and tickets for the Music of Harry Potter at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids. I mean, who wouldn’t want that?

I spent my day as one of the featured authors at M and M Books, a lovely little place in Cedar Rapids that I’ve learned to call home. Owned and operated by Bill and Ursla Lanphear, M and M Books is a beautiful place to bring community together. It’s run by incredible staff who really care about their customers, authors, and each other. In the past year, they’ve featured author signings, author readings, and book clubs. They’re always evolving, finding out what’s best for them and the community, and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.

Saturday, though rainy and cold, didn’t exactly put a damper on things. The store was filled with amazing treats (some made by Dana Beatty) and dozens of gift baskets ready to go out to customers who signed up for the newsletter or bought books at the store.

Sweets
Picture by Dana Beatty
Gift baskets
Picture by M and M Books

Local author Jane Melloy and illustrator Mary Campbell showed off their books in the morning, followed by a lovely appearance from Prima the Alpaca who looked stunning even in her wet coat.

Prima

While Prima busily greeted guests at the door, author M.L. Williams and I presented our books at a table and talked with a great group of locals. I had such a wonderful time sharing information about my story with new people and talking with a U of I student both about my writing process and The Iowa Writers’ House and The Writers’ Rooms. And of course, I always enjoy spending time with M.L. who, despite his grumbling, is one of the nicest people I know!

Myron and Erin

Also, my skull pen holder was a huge success. Who would have thought that a care package gift during my first college course, After Hamlet, would be such a big eye catcher.

Pizza was provided for everyone near lunch time, which was much appreciated and unexpected. Bill and Ursla really know how to take care of their guests!

Finally, Andrew Ridker, author of The Altruists and the big headliner, wrapped up the day with an incredible discussion about his book and a signing session. If you haven’t had a chance to check out The Altruists, go to his site and take a look. I loved his reasons for writing it as it definitely speaks to my generation.

Randy

So, despite the sleet and snow, it was a wonderful day, and I can’t thank M and M Books enough for all their hard work and their dedication to local authors. This is truly a great bookstore, and I hope that if you’re in the Cedar Rapids area, you’ll take some time to stop by and say hi. You never know what treasures you’ll find on their shelves.

The Calm Before the Storm (A Game of Thrones Discussion)

Game of Thrones season 8 demonstrated a common theme of the “calm before the storm” of battle. Before everything goes to hell, the characters get their final moments together.

Note: Be warned, for this post is long and full of minor spoilers.

Readers and watchers have waited in anticipation, counting down the days when Game of Thrones would return to the screen. Theories and speculations bombard Twitter, Tumblr, and other social media outlets, some reasonable, others extremely far fetched but still fun. It’s hard not to see some advertisement or merchandise about GOT when you get online.

Finally, on April 14th, we returned to the iced-over world of Westeros.

And responses to the show were lackluster.

In fact, many people have complained that the first two episodes were merely full of dialogue and nothing actually happened. There was no fighting, no epic dragon battles, nothing that entirely felt like GOT except for the random sex scenes and witty banter. With the trailers promising epic fights, it’s not surprising that people would feel a little disappointed that they didn’t get that action immediately.

However, I think people fail to see what GOT did do for us.

The show demonstrated a common theme of the “calm before the storm” of battle. Before everything goes to hell, the characters get their final moments together. For anyone who has seen the show or read the books, we know that George R. R. Martin is pretty merciless. No one is safe, so this may be the last time we get to see our beloved characters that we’ve followed over the years.

Episode 1 does a wonderful job of bringing characters together again who haven’t seen each other since the first season. All the still-living Starks are finally back at Winterfell. Arya and Jon reconnect for the first time since the tender moment in season one when he gave her Needle. Jon gets to see Sansa and Bran. It’s heartwarming and something many people have wanted to happen. At the same time, we get a lot of call backs to season one:

  • Arya leaping in Jon’s arms to hug him
  • The Starks greeting a ruler (Robert/Dany) at the front gate
  • Jamie and Bran sharing a moment at the end of the episode, an echo of when Jamie shoved Bran out the window
  • A boy climbing the walls/tree of Winterfell to see the approaching royalty

It’s a nice reminder of something we haven’t seen for so long.

Episode two goes deeper into character development, giving them a chance to share one last moment together before the coming battle. For the first time, enemies-turned-allies  break bread together. Think of the scene around the hearth with Tyrion and Jamie (Lanisters), Tormund (Wildling), Brienne of Tarth (once a knight for the Baratheons then a protector of the Starks), etc. This is a profound moment, especially when Tyrion jokes to Jamie about how he’d love to see the look on their father’s face if he knew they were willing to fight and die at Winterfell. There are no Houses at this point, just people coming together to fight for the living.

You also get many special moments for individual characters:

  • Brienne is officially knighted by Jamie
  • Arya has sex for the first time with Gendry
  • Arya and the Hound reunite after she left him for dead (which is just a funny scene)
  • Jon, and then Dany, learn about his true heritage
  • Theon returns after leaving Winterfell in shame and pledges to fight for them and protect Bran.
  • Sansa shines as the Lady of Winterfell and a defender of the north, despite Dany’s claim to the throne.
  • Brienne and Jamie share a tender moment when he promises to fight for her.
  • Podrick sings a song to pull the episode together (wonder if Ed Sheeran will cover that one too)
  • Missandei and Grey Worm pledge their love and a future with one another

Yes, the episode is filled with dialogue. No, there aren’t action scenes or daring quests for us to talk about. But the depth in what we do receive with the characters can’t be ignored.

Books and movies are known for this “calm before the storm” so writers can make the readers/watchers feel and care about the characters before the inevitable battle. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Harry talks with his deceased loved ones before his fight with Voldemort. It’s a slow, quiet moment where he has to face his fear and he knows he has his family to back him. Likewise, he talks with a ghostly Dumbledore to understand his purpose in the battle, and in the world, before the final fight at Hogwarts. In Lord of the Rings, we get moments with the characters preparing for battle and saying final goodbyes or offering encouragement. In the Hunger Game series, more than once Katniss gets quiet time with her family or Gale or Peeta before everything goes to hell. Think about Katniss and Peeta kissing in the cave before they threaten to both eat the poisonous berries. These scenes are what helps us connect with the characters and makes us care what happens to them. Game of Thrones has done this many times like when Rob and Talisa sweetly agree to name their unborn child after Eddard Stark just before the horrible Red Wedding scene.

So why such a negative reaction to GOT season eight? Could it be because fans had to wait over 500 days to see a brand new episode? Is it because we’ve just gotten so use to the blood, guts, and death that we’re not used to character development anymore? Who knows. I personally enjoyed the episodes because I know when the battle comes, and the characters fall, I’ll at least have had some closure in their relationships with each other. I’ll care what happens. And I’ll mourn deeply for them.

I do this in my own writing, not just for my readers, but for myself. I know who isn’t going to make it, and I want to make sure they have a chance to say what they need to say before they die. It’s closure for me as the writer as well. Here’s a character I’ve spent months writing about who’s no longer going to be with me. Of course I’d want to find a way to say goodbye, and I do that through the “calm.” In the same way, I want the chance to say goodbye to the characters I’ve watched for several years before they pass (and before the show ends).

You’ll get your battle next week, I’m sure. And I think, in the end, we’ll appreciate the two episodes we got with our characters before the series comes to a close.

Wolf Pit Draft Complete!

I did it.

After 6 grueling months, several weeks of depression, and enough overtime at work to last me a lifetime, I finally finished the first draft of The Purple Door District: Wolf Pit. Book 1 clocked in at about 76,000 words. Wolf Pit? As of now, she’s a whopping 99,000 words. Granted, she still has to go through editing, but I’m headed in the right direction.

So what does this mean for the final piece?

Ideally, I would like to publish Wolf Pit by December 2019. I’m not officially making this the date, as it’s going to depend on a couple of things.

1. I’m attempting to get accepted to #writementor with my YA fantasy book Dragon Steal. If I’m selected, I’m going to spend the summer working with a published mentor to get my book in shape for an agent showcase. That means PDD might have to get pushed back a bit.

2. Editing. Editing takes a lot of time and the book is longer than the first one. I need to do my revisions, I have to send it to my co-world-creator, AE Kellar, to pass her inspection, I need a few sensitivity readers to look it over, not to mention my main editor Leona Bushman will have to rip it apart so I can rebuild it. And after that, I have proofreaders who need to review it. That all takes time, and I don’t want to rush it. So, if I don’t make the December deadline, I imagine it’ll be ready by early 2020.

I’m sure I’m going to get the stink eye from some of my readers and a scolding from fellow authors. Why is it taking me so long to put out a book? Well, there are a few factors. I work a 40+-hour job each week, volunteer for The Iowa Writers’ House, and I’m a Director of The Writers’ Rooms. On top of that, I spend time marketing my main book, querying Dragon Steal, blogging, interviewing authors, etc. It all takes time, and when writer’s block or depression hits, that means it’s going to take even longer. I honestly don’t take many breaks from the computer. I’m usually always doing something when it comes to writing, even if it’s not for PDD specifically.

Believe me, it’s not that I don’t consider PDD a priority, I just have to make sure I pay the bills and put food on the table. And at the same time, I have to take care of my mental and physical health, which have both been up in the air over the past year. I wish I could write as a full-time author and produce more, but at this point in my life, that’s not a possibility. So while I hate to delay the books, it’s something I just have to do. That’s why I try to keep my patreon updated so that people have short stories about the characters they can read while the book is in production.

Now, that all being said, what’s Wolf Pit about? (Spoilers: If you haven’t read PDD 1, I suggest you not read the book promo).

Tess Montgomery isn’t your typical member of the Chicago wolf pack. In fact, she’s not a wolf at all. She’s an adopted fire magus of the pack and thus doesn’t always “play by the rules.” When her father and her best friend Nick are kidnapped in what the parahumans assume is a Hunter operation, Tess’s pack is thrown into turmoil. With Alpha Paytah unable to step outside the bounds of his new position as Violet Marshall of Chicago’s Purple Door District, Tess takes the reins to plan a rescue attempt.

Meanwhile, Nick and his fellow wolves find themselves in a world of battle and bloodshed. The Hunters have set up an illegal fighting pit where the strongest survive and the weakest are traded or killed. It’s all Nick can do to keep up the spirits of his packmates and help them escape. Or survive long enough until they’re rescued.

Unfortunately, Tess’ rescue mission fails spectacularly, leading to her capture. She finds herself the unwilling guest of a local Hunter named Arjun. Handsome, charming, and deadly, Arjun tries to convince Tess that not all Hunters are the enemy.  He even offers to help her find her packmates. But is he true to his word, or does he have his own wicked plans in mind?

As you can see, there’s a lot going on in this book and many POV switches so you can experience what’s happening both in Tess’s world and Nick’s. It was a challenge to provide equal time to both, but I’m hoping it works out.

I’m really excited to share the cover and the story with all of you. The cover I’m planning to release on May 1st, 2019 in its full glory. Those of you who are patrons, however, get to see it early 😉 That’s my gift to you since my story this month is going to be a bit late due to finishing up PDD.

I want to thank you for following me on this crazy journey/adventure, and I hope you’re excited for Wolf Pit.

Meditation and Writing

Those of you who have followed my blog long enough know that I like to periodically spend time talking about mental health. As someone with depression and anxiety, it’s important for me to find ways to relax my mind so I can heal and also focus on my writing. Most people also know that I suck at self care, and it’s something I’m trying very hard to learn.

Recently, I started attending group therapy that focuses on the mind, body, and soul. I always thought I was awful at meditation (I still struggle with it), but the more I work at it, the more I realize how much it calms me. Sometimes I use my own writing as a form of meditation, typing out a stream of consciousness without any concerns about my language or where I’m going with it. I do that when I talk about my dreams, or if I’m having an episode where I just really need to get my emotions out. I generally call that my angry poetry phase.

But I digress.

Meditation is a habit that I think we can all benefit from, so I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned, and other kinds of meditation I do to ease my stress/anxiety.

Deep Breathing

This is probably one of the best and easiest ones to start out with. Whenever I get worked up (or wake up from nightmares like I did last night), I try to focus on deep breathing. Sit in a relaxed position and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. You want to focus on making your belly feel soft. My guide suggests that you whisper “soft” when you breathe in, and “belly” when you breathe out. Try to do this for awhile. Even 5 minutes of deep breathing meditation can really help. It certainly helps me get through a bad work day.

Here’s a guided meditation that can help.

Music and Mindfulness 

Once you have the breathing down, try to be mindful of your body. I like to put on soft music, usually water mixed with song or music that focuses on peaceful sleep. There are also a ton of apps on your phone that you can download that have guided meditation or songs. The app Calm is a great example.

Lie down (or sit) in a comfortable position and turn on the music. Then focus on feeling each part of your body. Your arms, your legs, your fingers and toes, your head. Loosen each muscle one at a time and focus on your breathing and relaxing your body. Guided meditation can help you focus. Make sure you think about your body and don’t let your mind wander (easier said than done for us writers). If it does wander, that’s okay. Just pull it back into the moment.

Only have a few minutes? Try a quick 5 minute meditation for things like anxiety.

Imagery Meditation 

One of my favorite forms of meditation is something I didn’t exactly realize I was doing until I talked with my therapist. Imagery meditation is essentially when you create an image in your head and focus on that. It could be imagining light coming down and wrapping around you. It could be picturing water or waves crashing against rocks. Maybe you see yourself on a beach or in a forest. Or, in my case, I imagine a garden that only I can enter. Focusing on each detail gives your mind something else to think about other than stresses or anything else that’s bothering you.

Here’s a guided video for example.

Animal Meditation

Okay, so this might be something that I made up, but I think animal lovers can understand where I’m coming from. There are moments when I pet my birds or preen them where all my stress just goes away. The same thing happens when Aladdin, my sun conure, sleeps on my chest. I can feel his breath and his little heartbeat and it calms me. I find myself relaxing and focusing on them and their happiness, and it makes me happy in return. Imagine doing that with a dog or a cat. I bet you wouldn’t mind spending 10 or 15 minutes doting on them.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, often a more peaceful mind helps with my writing. The ideas flow more freely without bundles of anxiety and depression distracting me or clouding my brain. I’ve been playing meditative musical tracks while writing, and I can feel my anxiety go down while I work.

Writing can also act as a prelude to meditation. If you’re upset or filled with a bunch of emotion, write it out. Say everything you’d want to say without fear that someone is going to read it and judge you. Doing so can help you clear your mind and make you feel freer. It opens you up to meditation and writing your story.

To be honest, I usually find myself relaxing so much with the guided meditation, that I just fall asleep. As someone who struggles with sleep, I’m not going to complain about that. I’m quite new and rusty with it, but meditation has already started to help with my depression. I hope it helps you as well.

If you have any meditative practices you’d like to share, post them below!

Let’s Talk About Fanfiction

I’m sure you’re probably already squirming in your seat at the title. Fanfiction? Bleh! Who wants to read that?

You’d be surprised.

Fanfiction, for those who don’t know, is literature created by a fan of a TV show, book, movie, comic, etc. Fans like to put their own spin on the stories, create different theories that might not necessarily be canon, or even insert themselves into the show/book through a personal character. These pieces are posted on sites like Fanfiction, Wattpad, Commaful, and more. Check out more places at The Ultimate Guide to Fanfiction and Fanfiction Sites by Joanna Smith.

So what’s the problem with it?

Well, there are many complaints about fanfiction including: “You’re just taking someone else’s writing and making it your own. That’s not real writing.” “Fanfiction writers don’t know how to write.” “Fanfiction writing is awful.” “The stories aren’t canon.” “Fanfic is just loaded with Mary Sue characters.” “The stories are sexist.” “The stories are too gay.”

I’m not going to argue with some of these. Yes, people are indeed taking a known world and making it their own. It’s true, sometimes the quality of writing isn’t very good. No, often the stories aren’t canon because people are coming up with their own theories. And yes, a lot of Mary Sue characters pop up randomly.

As for there being too many gay stories…sorry, folks, but I’m totally fine with that.

Fanfic writers are almost treated as badly as the people who like Pumpkin Spice flavored things in the fall. How DARE someone enjoy a movie/book (or flavor)! What’s the problem? If someone loves or is inspired by a story so much that they want to write about it, then why not let them? Allow them to enjoy the idea that they can see themselves in the world they love, or they can shift the elements around so certain characters are paired together, or forgotten characters get more screen/page time. It’s not hurting anyone. If you don’t like it, then you certainly don’t have to read it.

Now, I realize there’s a lot of really bad fanfiction out there (due to poor grammar, storytelling, character development, and unsavory themes). I’m not going to say every kind of fanfic is okay, especially not when it deals with things we find taboo even in books we read today (ie. graphic rape scenes, child pornography, under-aged sex stories, etc). But if you’re complaining about poor plot, writing, and character development, how do you think people learn to improve? By practicing and getting critique.

When I started out writing, I read a lot of Fanfiction and wrote some myself. Was all of it good? Oh, heck no, but the thing is, the stories other people created helped me fall in love with the world even more. I’m going to use Redwall by Brian Jacques for example. This book series was my bread and butter. When I couldn’t get enough of the published stories, I went online and read as many Redwall fanfics that I could find. One time, I stayed awake all night in my parents’ room because I had to find out what happened to these new beloved characters. My dad woke to get ready for work and found me staring, wide-eyed, at the screen. Did I get any sleep that night? Nope. Did I fall in love with characters, the Redwall world, and weep for fan-made characters? Oh, you better believe it.

Fanfiction also taught me how to adjust my writing. I learned, grammatically, what was right, and what was wrong. As I wrote my own stories, people would poke at holes in my plot or offer me advice (sometimes in the form of a trolly comment), which helped me rethink what I was writing and fix my story. I got to delve into a world I already loved, with characters I created (or borrowed), and I also learned more about writing along the way! Fanfiction also helped me meet friends and other writers.

Roleplaying through a Redwall site actually introduced me to my co-writer.

Now, there is the controversy about people writing fanfic and wanting to publish it. Actually, someone kind of did do that *coughE.L.Jamescough* but at least she changed the names and setting a bit. Personally, I don’t think people should publish fanfiction independently or traditionally as it is the creation of another author. However, I see no harm in sites providing ads or “tokens” that provide a little compensation to writers courtesy of their readers. That’s not too much different from someone running a patreon campaign and getting readers to pay a certain amount each month to get a sneak peak at a new fanfiction piece.

But I know this is something that’s heavily debated, so feel free to leave your opinion below.

When it comes to my own books like The Purple Door District,…write fanfic to your heart’s content. If my characters and world inspire you to create stories of your own, then you write them and share them with friends! Practice your craft. My goal as an author is to encourage others to write, even if it’s in the world I created. I’m not going to lie, I have checked a couple of fanfic sites just to see if anyone has had the inclination to write something based off of my book.

Let the fanfic writers enjoy the stories and create ones of their own. Long after the original author is gone, her legacy will still live on in her books, and in the stories that her fans created of her series. What an amazing way to be remembered.

I say, write on, fanfiction authors. Write on!