How to Find an Agent: 101

Ah, literary agents. Those elusive, mystical creatures that you can only find at the end of a double rainbow. Or at least, that’s what it can feel like to a new author. After the excitement of completing your book has worn off, it’s time to take the next step to find an agent (if you’re planning to go the traditional route). Yes, you can still query certain small presses and publishing houses directly without an agent, but you have a better chance of getting your foot in the door if you have someone praising your book.

So, where do you start?

Books:

  • Favorite Books: Look at your favorite books that match the genre of the manuscript you’re trying to publish and take note of the publisher. From there, you can do a search online to see what agents work with that publishing company. If the agents accept similar books, they may be interested in taking a look at yours.
    • Some publishing houses don’t require you to have an agent. DAW, for example, accepts unsolicited fantasy and science fiction novels. So if you don’t want to take the time to find a literary agent, that’s another way to go about trying to get your book published.
  • Guide to Literary Agents 2019: This book, along with those in years past, can help you select an agent. It guides you in preparing a query letter and introduces you some of the current agents who are seeking submissions.
  • Writer’s Digest: Whether it’s in magazine form or online, Writer’s Digest always has a plethora of information about the writing world. They even have their own section on locating literary agents and will sometimes promote particular agents in their printed magazines (which I highly recommend). Not only that, they provide great advice on how to prep yourself to query agents/publishers/editors.

Query Tracker and #MSWishList

  • Query Tracker: This free site is a great way to scope out publishers and agents. Not only can you see who is or isn’t accepting queries, you can categorize what fields you’re most interested in (fantasy, YA, romance, etc). You have to sign up to do a specific search for an agent, but again, it’s free. The people on this list are considered legitimate agents as well, so if you hear about an agent who might be a good match for you, run their name through Query Tracker first.
  • #MSWishList: This site shows the manuscript wish lists of agents and editors and also provides advice on writing query letters. An editor is a good route to go as well because they may be able to connect you with an agent. Scroll through and see who’s interested in your genre and click on their names to learn more about them and what literary agency they represent. Also, make sure to put their names through Query Tracker for additional information.

#Pitchwars and #Pitmad

  • #Pitchwars: This is a Twitter mentoring program that happens once a year.  Published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each to mentor. The mentors then help the writer perfect their manuscript to prepare it for an agent showcase. Participating agents review the lists of books and will make requests. This year’s Pitch Wars mentee application window opens on September 25th and will stay open until September 27th, so get those manuscripts ready!
  • #Pitmad: This is a “pitch party” on Twitter where writers pitch their completed, polished, and unpublished manuscripts in tweets they share throughout the day. Agents and editors make requests by liking or favoriting the pitch, which means you can query directly to them. Keep in mind that you have to be unagented to participate. #Pitmad happens quarterly, and the next one is actually this Thursday, June 6th! To learn more, check out the site, or you can read my past entry, Brace Yourselves: #Pitmad is Coming.

Make Literary Friends

  • Whether in person, through twitter, facebook, or instagram, try to make literary friends. Sometimes the best way to find agents is by learning about them from other writers. You can also follow agents on twitter and see when they’re looking for manuscripts to represent. And believe me, most of them are nice and won’t bite ;-). Just be yourself, and don’t harass the agents about reviewing your manuscript. Be patient. Just like you needed time to write it, they’ll need time to read it.

Important: Before you even begin reaching out to agents, keep these things in mind:

  • Look for an agent who represents your genre.
  • Take note of the agent’s submission requirements, because everyone has something different.
  • Make sure you have your manuscript polished and ready for review. If they make a full request, you don’t want to have to tell them that you’re not done.
  • Book summary: complete
  • Pitches: complete
  • Query letter (without the personal info directed to the agent): complete.

I hope this helps you take the next step to getting your book traditionally published. Remember, you’re not alone, and I believe in you.

Colors and Symbolism in Writing

Color and imagery play such important roles in all forms of media. They can enhance how we might view a character or act as a device for foreshadowing. Some colors can blatantly symbolize who’s good and who is evil, or denote where the character’s loyalty resides. While it’s easier to see on tv and in film, it’s just as important in books.

First, what do the colors mean? Taking a look at Judy Scott-Kemmis’ website Empowered by Color, she outlines the different emotions created by color.

  • Red: Generally this is the color associated with passion, sex, energy, and ambition. But it’s also the color of anger (which is generally why people might have heightened emotions when sitting in a red room).
  • Orange: Social communication and optimism. It can also be a more negative sign of pessimism.
  • Yellow: Color of the mind and intellect but it can also suggest impatience and cowardice. (Maybe this is why the mind stone in Avengers is yellow).
  • Green: This is the color of balance and growth. Though it can also be a sign of jealousy/envy.
  • Blue: Tranquility, trust, and peace. Some rooms are painted this color to help people feel calm.
  • Purple: Imagination (both creative or impractical)
  • Pink: Unconditional love as well as immature and girlish
  • Brown: Down-to-earth, protection, and comfort
  • White: Purity, innocence, completion
  • Gray: Compromise
  • Black: Mystery, secrecy

Keep in mind, this is one person’s view of color, but it seems pretty universal in other studies (though with some minor differences).

How do these colors come to play in stories?

Good vs Evil

Let’s start with Star Wars. Generally the Jedi Knights wear white/beige clothing while the Sith are dressed all in black. As a character slips to the dark side, their clothing color seems to change (ie Anakin Skywalker). Of course, it can be argued that Luke was wearing black at the beginning of Return of the Jedi, so was that meant to throw us off or hint that perhaps Luke could still slip to the dark side?

Their lightsabers, as well, seem to play a part in good vs evil. Jedi wield green (growth) and blue (peace) lightsabers while the Sith use red (anger).

When we’re told stories, it’s not uncommon for the good character to wear white clothing to represent purity while the villain is cloaked in black/darkness. Obviously this has led to discussions about how this just reinforces racism (white = good, black = bad). So some writers have tried to move away from this trope. Or, so-called bad characters are starting to have redeeming stories told about them (ie. the film Maleficent).

Color and World Building

Color also plays a big part in world building, as some societies are built directly around color. Let’s address Avatar: The Last Airbender. Each of the nations (earth, fire, water, air) have different colors to denote their different kingdoms. Earth Kingdom wears brown, yellow, and green. Water Tribe wears blue, purple, and white. Air Nomads wear orange and yellow. The Fire Nation wears primarily red, brown, and black. They each have their own distinct color, and it works well with what we’ve learned about what the colors mean. Green/growth and brown/down-to-earth seems very fitting for the Earth Kingdom. Blue/peace, purple/imagination, and white/purity works well for the Water Tribe, while red/anger and black/mystery embodies the Fire Nation.

The world of Harry Potter does this with the houses as well. Gryffindor is red and gold. Ravenclaw is blue and bronze. Slytherin is green and silver. And Hufflepuff is yellow and black.

Star Trek also plays around with colors. Now, each ship or generation kind of varies their uniforms, but in general blue = sciences, yellow = command, red = you have a death wish. But in all seriousness, if you look at articles about Star Trek like “The Take” you’ll find that every person wore a specific uniform designated to their station. Unfortunately, the red shirts just often went down to the planet and never came back.

Foreshadowing 

Colors can also be used to foreshadow events, or show a character’s progression or regression mentally. The big example I’m going to use is from Season 8 of Game of Thrones. You can skip ahead if you haven’t seen the season yet and don’t want spoilers.

***Begin GOT Spoiler****

In the case of Daenerys Targaryen, her color scheme changes drastically along with her mentality. In Episode 1, she wears pure white clothing. She is in the north, with her lover, ready to fight a battle to save the people. She still has her best friend, her mentor, and her two dragons. Her intentions are pure. Between episodes 2-4, her white clothing takes on red lines. They just fought a battle and she watched someone she cared for deeply die before her eyes. Not only that, she starts to realize she doesn’t have the support of the people like Jon Snow. Then she loses her best friend and another one of her dragons. Episodes 5 and 6, her clothing shifts to red and black during the burning of King’s Landing and her ascension to the throne. In previous seasons, she had mostly worn white, blue, and browns (purity, peace, down-to-earth), and in the end, she goes mad while wearing red (anger) and black (mystery). It was a beautiful, though tragic event, of what was to come.

***End GOT Spoiler***

Another element of foreshadowing comes, again, from Star Wars. When Anakin first starts his training, he’s in the traditional white or brown Jedi garb. But as the story progresses, and he starts to slip towards the dark side, his clothing changes to black. The last time we see him whole, he’s fighting in black attire against Obi-Wan in white. After that, he’s left in his Darth Vader suit just so he can survive. We watched through color as he slipped away from the light to darkness.

These are just a few reasons why you might consider using colors in your story. For lack of better words, you paint a broader and more beautiful picture of your world when you add in these elements. From color meanings, to symbolism and foreshadowing, there’s so much you can play with.

 

Fantasy and Society (OWS CyCon)

Introduction 

I’d like to offer you a warm welcome to my blog. I write what you want to read, so feel free to drop a topic below! I hope you enjoyed visiting Timothy Bateson’s blog. If you haven’t stopped by, make sure to check him out!

My name is Erin Casey, and I’m an urban fantasy/YA fantasy/medieval fantasy writer. My first book The Purple Door District came out December 2018, and the next book in the series, Wolf Pit, will be released in December 2019. To learn more about my series, and all the other projects I’m doing, find me on my website, twitter, instagram, and facebook.

If you’ve come here from OWS CyCon, you can find my booth here. If you’re new to OWS CyCon, CyCon is a weekend-long book online convention where you can meet authors, vote on book covers, check out interviews and readings… all without putting on pants! I’m also involved in cover wars, character wars, and several panels. Be sure to visit the CyCon website and Facebook events acting as the hub for all of our events. Sign up for our newsletter or RSVP to the event to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the bookish goodness we have to offer. Be sure to visit the Fantasy Sci-Fi Reader’s Lounge, especially on Sunday, May 19th from 11am-12pm when I’ll host an author takeover event. 

Now, with all the logistics out of the way, let’s get into the heart of the blog post!

Fantasy and Society 

Whether you write epic fantasy or urban fantasy, you have to find a way to integrate the fantastical world into “normal” society. How you do that depends on several factors of world building. We’re going to talk about a few of these in hopes that they’ll get you started in developing your fantasy world.

Who Knows? The first question to ask yourself is who knows about magic and your “not human” characters (we’ll call them parahuman in this case)? Are your parahumans just starting to come out in society or are they a secret hidden away from the government?

For example, in The Purple Door District, society is starting to learn about parahumans. There’s a government section that is specifically devoted to the parahumans, though they generally keep to themselves unless otherwise needed. The way parahumans can find each other is by going to Purple Door Districts, safe havens that are marked by purple-colored doors, or purple-colored items at the front of the building. In this case, some people know about the parahumans, and others don’t. They try not to announce themselves because Hunters lurk in the shadows, people who think parahumans are an abomination and want to kill them.

What about your world? Whether society knows about your parahumans or not can play a major factor in the danger your characters may endure.

Jobs/Economy: What kind of jobs do your parahumans have (whether they’re “out” or not in society)? Are werewolves more likely to take on heavy-lifting jobs like construction or maintenance work while suave vampires are more adapt to being lawyers? Do you have places that are run by magic (think of a coffee shop that’s powered by magic and produces drinks with potions that help with stress, anxiety, weight loss, etc.)? Or do their abilities not influence where they work or what they do? Note: If you find the idea of a fae-run coffee shop interesting, check out my story Coffee Chaos on wattpad.

Introducing Your Readers to Your World: Once you have your world established, how do you want to introduce the magic and society to your readers? Some writers will introduce a character who is human or not very aware of the parahuman world and slowly integrate them, and the readers, into the world. In other cases, you can use someone who knows about the world but has a very different view of it to help your readers adjust. Stick with some familiarity so that the readers don’t feel completely overwhelmed.

Government: As mentioned, The Purple Door District has a government faction that knows about the parahumans and keeps them in check. What about your world? How is the government involved? Do the parahumans have to watch their backs? Are they free to roam in society as they are? Does your world resemble X-Men where some government officials call for sanctions against them while others want to protect their rights? It’s good to figure this out ahead of time because it can help you know just how much trouble you can get your characters in with or without government involvement.

How Powerful Are Your Parahumans? Do they have abilities that could threaten all of humanity? Think of Professor Xavier and Cerebro and how his ability almost took out all humans/mutants in the 2nd X-men film. Are there fae who have their own world and government and could easily take over humankind? Or are your parahumans more like groups of vampires and werewolves who can be considered a threat but can’t take over the entire world? Knowing this allows you to figure out how society might either accept or fear the parahumans. You can also play around with the characters who have different power levels. How would an overpowered character react to a situation vs someone who is weaker? Figuring out how you can integrate the fantasy element into society will help you further develop your characters.

These are just a few elements to think about when you’re integrating fantasy into society. One thing to keep in mind is that you want it to be believable. Know why parahumans act the way they do, or why society treats parahumans a certain way. Be creative, and most importantly, have fun!

I hope that you found these tips helpful. If you want to learn more about integrating fantasy into society, take a look at Kayla Matt’s blog.

Happy writing!

 

How to Ruin Character Arcs A La Game of Thrones

Note: This post is dark and full of spoilers from S8E5.

Sunday treated us to the fifth episode of season 8 of Game of Thrones, and it left watchers and readers raging. Between Dany activating “Mad King” mode and burning King’s Landing to the ground, Jamie going back to Cersei, and Cersei getting the fastest, easiest death of most characters of the show, it left people wanting. And lighting pitchforks.

Now, let it be clear, it’s not that the episode didn’t go the way I wanted that has me upset, it’s the destruction of the character arcs that has my blood boiling as much as Dany…or any of her victims for that matter. This episode–frankly the last two–have shown a gross break away from the character arcs that we’ve grown to love over the past 8 seasons. In one episode, these fleshed out characters get a 180 makeover leaving us all feeling a bit whip lashed.

So let’s go through and talk about just how our beloved characters were ruined.

Daenerys Targaryen

Yes, ladies and gents, we’re going to pounce on the Mother of Dragon(s) herself first. To begin, I’d like to say that I’ve read an incredible article about how Dany’s fall into madness makes sense, and I suggest you take a look at it. Check out “Game of Thrones”: Don’t be shocked by Daenerys– her King’s Landing turn was very much earned written by Amanda Marcotte.

In summary, in the article, Marcotte explains how Dany’s descent shouldn’t be a surprise to us as George R.R. Martin, and the show writers, have hinted at her fits of rage more than once in the series. From killing the “masters” to free the slaves to frying Sam’s father and brother, Dany has shown she doesn’t handle people disagreeing with her ideology very well.

But, here’s the caveat. Dany started out the series basically as a brood mare for her brother to help him gain power. She was married off to Khal Drogo where she was subsequently raped and taken advantage of until she learned how to bend him to her will instead. She started from the ground up, learning how to find a foot hole in a situation that would otherwise see her as a captive.

Throughout the series, Dany’s main focus has been going to Westeros and claiming the Iron Throne which is her birthright–up until we learn that Jon Snow is a Targaryen of course. She works on building her army through taking command of the Dothraki, freeing the Unsullied by killing the masters, raising her three dragons, and swaying people to her side, all the while fighting to convince everyone that she’s not like her deranged father. Robert Baratheon sends assassins after her when she’s just a girl because of the threat she poses (what if she truly is like the mad king)? And yet she survives it.

Varys makes a point to say that when a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin to see on which side it lands. Dany could have become a powerful queen or an evil dictator, and unfortunately, the latter came into play. And it’s maddening. It makes sense that with the loss of Jorah, two of her children, and her best friend, Missandei, that she would go into a spiral of rage, but that doesn’t mean she had to go all Mad King. While she–along with many characters– has demonstrated violence towards those against her, she’s also shown mercy, love, and caring.

The thing that angers me the most is that the writers set it up that the fact that Jon doesn’t want to boink her is what sends her over the edge. Can we please stop the themes of women going crazy because they’re scorned by a guy?

When the Lannisters surrendered at King’s Landing, that should have been it. I would have understood her wanting to go after the Lannister army, and Cersei of course, but to destroy the entirety of King’s Landing along with all the innocent people within? It seems contrary to her character. She’s fought all this time not to be her father. She has one dragon, one child, left, and she puts him completely at risk to take King’s Landing and destroy all of the people. It doesn’t do her character justice. She basically destroys the very thing she’s come to claim. If the city is burnt to the ground, who’s going to serve her? Never once in the series (that I can recall) has she intentionally caused the deaths of children or mothers. And yet here, she destroys every single one of them, and without any remorse.

This isn’t the Dany that we were presented with.

Jamie Lannister

Where to begin? We all hated Jamie at the beginning when we were introduced to him banging his sister followed by him shoving a kid out the window to protect their secret. Great moral compass there, Jamie.

But, as the seasons progress, we get to see him and Brienne together and learn that he killed the Mad King to save King’s Landing. He didn’t want to see people burn to death, so he stuck a sword in the man and became the loved and hated King Slayer. Through their relationship, we see a softer side of Jamie. He loses his hand protecting her. He swears to fight by her side during the battle against the Night King. He abandons Cersei (granted, she gave him a death threat) because he doesn’t believe in what she’s doing and how she’s hurting the people. He meets Bran again and tells him that he’s not the same man he once was. And then Jamie shows even more growth by being with Brienne and bedding her, treating her like a woman rather than some object. He even says he’ll stay with her while the battle at King’s Landing happens.

And then…he finds out Dany is going to kill Cersei, and he does a 180 and runs back  to Cersei.

Wait, what?

Didn’t he just get a death threat from Bron that he’s been hired by Cersei to kill Jamie and Tyrion?

Oh, but no, your sister and bed buddy is in danger, so let’s forget the woman that you fell in love with, and new moral compass, and race your butt right back to King’s Landing. Right before Dany massacres everyone.

Nice.

The debauchery of Jamie’s character continues when he sees the devastation that’s happening at King’s Landing and he does nothing to stop it. Jamie, the King Slayer, the man who murdered the Mad King to save the people, just shoves his way through the crowd to get to Cersei. He fights, and almost dies by, Euron to get to her. And in his final moments, he holds her, comforts her, and confesses his love for her as they’re crushed by rocks.

BY ROCKS.

So much for not being the “same man.”

This is not how you end a character’s arc. He literally had everything going for him at Winterfell, and even after Bron threatened him, he had no intentions of going back. But the moment he hears Cersei is in danger, he throws all his morals aside and rushes to her. Hell, he’s demonstrated more loyalty to Tyrion by helping his brother escape the cells than he has to Cersei, and he still chooses to be with her rather than to fight at his brother’s side.

Bad call, writers. Bad call.

Tyrion Lannister

I was rooting for you, sir, I really was.

First off, what happened to the “I drink and know things” Tyrion that we were treated to in the first few seasons of the show? A man of witty words, fascinating quips, and enough intelligence to lead an army into war at the Battle of Blackwater Bay. He became Hand to Dany and seemed to remain the same Tyrion for awhile.

And then season 8 happened.

Suddenly, Tyrion has turned into a bumbling fool who can’t anticipate what’s going to happen in battle. He’s constantly apologizing for his mistakes to Dany, underestimating his sister and her supposed good will, letting his brother go and run back to Cersei (thus betraying Dany), and selling out Varys which he’s never once done before.

Varys has been one of his closest companions and a fellow adviser through this all, and yet when Varys demonstrates his hopes of Jon being the one on the throne, Tyrion rushes to Dany to let her know and Varys pays the price. Granted, it’s treason. It makes sense. But since when has Tyrion had an issue with treason (ie. killing his father on the toilet, freeing his brother, turning against the Lannisters, etc).

No, we’re left with a man half the character he once was (no pun intended), and with little intrigue and all hot air. Tyrion’s character hasn’t been done justice whatsoever, and while I do appreciate that he did try to save the people of King’s Landing, if he’s so smart, he probably should have realized his queen wasn’t going to listen to him and go bat-shit crazy, destroying everything he knows and loves.

Tyrion, my friend, you know nothing.

Jon Snow

First off, pet the damn dire wolf, Jon Snow.

There, I said it.

Okay, I think we can all agree that Jon is very much Mr. Broodypants who doesn’t have the best battle tactics, and craves to be the hero. Even if he doesn’t want the Iron Throne.

We’ve spent all of Game of Thrones getting to learn the honorable Jon Snow. Friend to Wildlings. Killer of white walkers. The mighty warrior of the Battle of the Bastards.

The knower of nothing!

Okay, scratch that last part, at least until season 8.

I’ve cheered for Jon up until this point. He’s demonstrated leadership in his fight against Ramsey, and his quest to capture a white walker to convince Cersei to follow them into war (even though he was probably a fool to believe she’d actually do it). And despite his poor battle tactics in the fight against the Night King, he’s at least stayed true to his character. He wants to defend his people and the North. He wants to protect all of Westeros from these demons.

And then he finds out his lineage, and suddenly Jon is just incapable of reason. He blindly follows Dany to fight at King’s Landing, pushing men who are already exhausted from the fight against the Night King. He doesn’t necessarily agree with her tactics, but she’s “his queen” and he’ll do what she says. In the fight against King’s Landing, he at least gets back some of his honor and tries to stop his people from killing the civilians, but it’s like he’s lost any sort of power or sway that he actually has over the situation. No one is listening to him (unless they’re running from the fire-breathing dragon). And despite warnings, he just blindly follows along. Like a sheep led to slaughter.

I don’t want his character to end this way, not as a puppet to Dany or to his own ignorance.

Maybe he should have stayed with Ghost and Tormund in the North.

This is what you get for not saying goodbye to your dire wolf, Jon.

 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Author Interviews

Whether you’re a blogger interviewing an author, or an author responding to a blogger’s questions, it’s very important that you both provide quality and professional work when it comes to interviews. I’ve been interviewing authors for over a year now, (and been interviewed as well) and I’ve noticed a few things that both help and harm the interaction. So I’m going to divide this up between Do’s and Don’ts for both authors and bloggers.

Authors

  • Do
    • Provide all material requested from the blogger the first time around.
    • Edit your responses (spellcheck/use proper grammar and capitalization) so the blogger doesn’t have to fix it.
    • Provide high-resolution pictures for yourself and your book covers.
    • Get your material to the blogger on time.
    • Answer all the questions (unless otherwise agreed upon) and provide interesting information. One-word responses won’t engage the reader or the interviewer.
    • Post the interview around to your social media platforms and give the blogger credit.
  • Don’t
    • Badger the blogger about when your interview is coming out or keep requesting changes (unless you have a book coming out and need to provide a sale link).
    • Act rudely towards the blogger. They’re doing you a favor by creating the interview for you.
    • Answer questions dishonestly
    • Cut down other writers or bloggers in your answers.
    • Ghost the blogger.

Bloggers/Interviewers

  • Do
    • Get questions to the authors when promised.
    • Provide a designated day that you’ll post the interview and stick to it.
    • Provide the author with a link to the posted interview so they can share it around.
    • Review the answers before you post it on your site in case of errors or controversial responses (depending on your site’s dynamics).
    • Answer any questions the author might have about the interview or provide clarification.
    • Be honest to the author about what they can expect (are you posting the entire interview or just portions of it?)
  • Don’t
    • Act rudely towards the author. You two are trying to work together to help one another.
    • Post the interview late or not at all.
    • Ignore the author’s concerns if something is posted incorrectly in the interview.
    • Ghost the author.
    • Promise a posting date until after the author has provided their material. (I’ve missed posting interviews because authors didn’t give me their information in time).

These are just a few ideas to keep in mind while interviewing and getting interviewed. Bloggers and authors should remember that they’re working as a team. Together, they can provide exposure to each other. I’ve read far too often how authors have lashed out at book reviewers, bloggers, or interviewers for petty reasons. Bloggers can’t post interviews without authors, but authors can’t gain exposure without the help of bloggers. Work together harmoniously and you will both succeed.

If you both find that you’re on completely different pages, then it’s also okay to politely agree to go your separate ways. What it comes down to is respect. We’re all professionals here, and it’s important to treat each other like people and not invisible faces.

 

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!