cats, Encouragement

How To Get Through Life Like A Cat

Take the road less traveled. Sure, it’s tempting to go down the path others have already been on for ages; the pawsteps before you are clear and easy to follow, and most of the dangers that may come, you’ve been warned about. But nothing will make up for what you’re supposed to do in your own life, for jumping onto the path destiny has set for you and you alone, regardless of whether it’s planned or prepared or expected or not. Don’t worry too much about what others think you should or shouldn’t do. Find your own road, and proudly put your pawsteps on it.

Remember to play. Chasing that butterfly or leaf is valuable. It reminds you to let go of worry and fear; you can’t control the world, you can only control how you react to it. The sun may not always shine, the butterflies may not always be in the mood; but keep memories of those times in your heart, and bring them to your mind when the wind is cold and the dark is frightening. The playful moments will come back.

Sometimes we all just need to sit in the grass. When it’s a warm, lazy summer afternoon, and the desire to lie in the grass and roll on your back and splay your claws outweighs the obligation to change the litter box or fill the food dish, you have reached pure serenity. Take advantage of it. Revel in it. The duties will still be there later; and guess what, maybe they can wait.

Stop and breathe. Don’t think so much about that impending rainstorm or whether your humans will remember to take you to the vet for those shots, that you forget to appreciate that comfy couch or the fact your fellow cat let you have his treat the other night. Life is not always a bowl of shrimp; so we need to decide to live calmly, with dignity and confidence. Keeping your head is only for the better.

Get yourself a chair that fits. Don’t automatically try to squeeze yourself into the worn out lawn chair they’re throwing out next week, because it seems the couch and the beds are always taken up by human kittens or a laundry basket (that sleeping in means getting yelled at). Don’t think you have to settle for less than the best just because it seems to be the only option. Dig a little and discover an unused corner of a closet where you can knead an old afghan into the right position, or the top of that shelving in the basement where they store the camping supplies. Find what works to give you a little bit of heaven.

Naps are important. We keep telling our humans how much they need their sleep — and how much we need ours, and somehow they don’t quite get it. Sleep brings rest to muscles weary from climbing trees, soothes frayed fur, and rejuvenates our ears and tails, so we can maintain that amazing balance and awareness of our surroundings. We imagine it provides similar benefits for humans. So, everyone, nap.

Whatever you’re facing, you can do it. You are stronger than you think. Don’t just hide behind the garage or in the bushes and wait for another cat or a human to come chase away that neighbor dog or the nasty crow trespassing on your turf. Bristle up that fur and raise your voice in your most intimidating yowl. You have it in you; the blood of lions and tigers runs in your veins. Don’t forget it.

 

Advertisements
community, Encouragement, reading, writing

How to Name Your Characters

Image result for fantasy art

This is definitely an issue for writers. When you create characters, you go through the same process that expecting parents do — you want to give your “child” a name that you like, but that also fits in with your family, society, culture and the time period you’re all alive in. And it’s important to get these details right, because it helps your reader relate to the characters — and we all want that to happen, right?

So, here are some tips on how to find great names for your fictional babies:

Consider the time period your character was born in. Not the year you’re setting your story in, but when the person was born — this is mega-essential because most people are given names that reflect what’s going on at the time of their birth, not when you’re actually describing the plot. For example, The Order of the Twelve Tribes (my series) is set in present day, but most of the characters are between 15 and 45 years old, and their names take that into account. A middle-aged man or woman in 2017 would have a name that was popular in the 1960s, and their adolescent children would (most likely) have names that were big on parents’ radar at the start of the 21st century.

Image result for fantasy art

Be sure to decide on your character’s ethnic/cultural background, and remember that when naming. Maybe your story’s set in modern America, but if your people are immigrants or belong to certain religions, their families may have wanted to pay homage to that by selecting a name from “the old country” or a religious tradition.

Fantasy/sci-fi names don’t have to sound “fantastical” or “alien.” Lots of readers struggle with this, especially in sci-fi or high fantasy novels. It can really trip up the flow of reading if you have to stop and sound out a name every other paragraph. If you’re writing about an alien race, how about mixing similar words from foreign languages — example, French and Spanish, or Latin and Italian — but not including too many syllables, to come up with names that sound unique and part of that culture, but that your readers can also pronounce. (Marie Lu’s The Young Elites and Veronica Roth’s Carve the Mark are good examples of this technique.)

Image result for fantasy art

It’s more than okay to use names that aren’t exactly “in fashion” at the moment. When I was researching this subject for my own characters, I discovered that people really seem to like using popular names over and over.

And I’ve found there’s this trend in recent fiction recently, where it’s apparently mandatory to call every heroine a variation of Isabelle, or every hero a version of Alexander. Okay, not every single book/series, but is anybody else thinking this as they read? And quite frankly, it ticked me off, because I really like both of these names and was already planning to include them in my own work. Anyway, after having established several of my characters with classic/common names, I decided to try to “diversify” more with the rest.

Image result for fantasy art

Visit websites and conduct up-to-date research. Nameberry (Google it) is extremely helpful, not just for name origins and meanings, but explaining the history of the name’s use, whether it’s so intensely popular that it could take a break from the cultural public eye, and even offers alternatives. And the site also has lists of popular baby names given in the UK, Ireland, France, etc.

And remember — don’t stress about it. If you feel like you’re about to have a nervous breakdown over getting your characters the “perfect” names, then you’re trying too hard. Trust me, it doesn’t have to be “perfect,” it just has to fit your story, the background, and your fictional friend’s “feel”.

And don’t forget, taste in names is like taste in salad dressing — it’s very subjective, and no matter how marvelous you think your narrator’s name is, there will always be somebody who goes, “Ehhh, I wish she was called Bernadette.”

Image result for fantasy art

blogging, books, Encouragement, reading

Reading Slumps

Image result for cute animals reading

What’s a reading slump? Only the most terrible thing in the world, ever, for a bookdragon. And yet, they are inevitable. Every now and again, you’ll realize that you just don’t feel like reading anything.

Your usual styles/authors/subjects just aren’t sparking interest. You feel terribly bored, or let down by a genre, or you simply crave something different, yet every new book you take a look at feels destined to fall flat.

Now that I’ve struck terror into the very depth of your souls…

Here are some ideas on how to get through a reading slump.

Image result for cute animals reading

Don’t push yourself too much. If you feel like you should be reading, there’s simply no need to feel that way. A major reason I’ve decided not to do ARCS is because I don’t want to be on a deadline and not inspired to read the work in question. Even as an author, someone who relies on volunteer reviewers getting a critique out in a timely manner, I still totally support bloggers who choose to limit the number of ARCS they include in their schedule.

Try something outside of your usual loves. If you tend to gravitate towards contemporaries, pick up a historical fiction. Not sure if steampunk is your thing? Give it a go. Never read a James Patterson or a Kristin Hannah? It’s what the library is for.

It’s actually okay not to read anything for a bit. Yes, you heard that right. If you go for a few days, or even a few weeks, without finishing that novel on your shelf that you started last year, truly, the world will not end, I promise.

Attempt a re-read. Not sure anymore what happened in book 5 of Harry Potter? Book 3 of Percy Jackson? Do you have Me Before You or A Monster Calls marked as “read it” on your Goodreads account, but you’re honestly not sure if you’re just thinking of the film versions now?

Related image

Now, what about this dreaded prospect?: You’re a book blogger, so putting new content on your site kind of makes it necessary that you read new stuff. Well, in the event of a reading slump, I have you covered there, too.

Find a related topic to discuss. Like a trend in publishing that bugs you — like if there are dystopias everywhere, or road trip novels, but you’d really prefer to see an uptake in pirate stories or new sorts of mythological/legend re-tellings.

If you like to do tags, catch up on a few of those. Or join a weekly theme that doesn’t rely on recently completing a new read. Top 10 Tuesdays are usually good for this, because the theme often relates to books you’ve already finished.

Consider reviewing a book you read a long time ago that you decided not to review before. Maybe because it was a novel outside of your usual genre, or was it a biography, or a collection of poetry? There’s no rule about the type of reading we “have” to be reviewing.

Image result for cute animals reading

The most important thing to do is: don’t panic. It really is all right — and probably natural — to hit a reading slump. And it happens for all kinds of reasons — whether your life is busy, or the latest publishing trends just aren’t your thing, or even looking at a towering TBR makes you go, “Meh.”

One day, this will be over. I promise.

Image result for cute animals reading

art, community, Encouragement, writing

Sending Out The Call

Image result for wolf

…Or, The Post That May Get Me In A Lot Of Trouble. And yet, I’m fairly sure that won’t stop me from going forward.

Lately, I’ve been coming across some pretty intense (and very important) discussions on “Christian media” and whether it’s actually effective, helpful, or even valuable to its own audience. And these discussions are happening among believers in the Christian doctrine. Since I count myself among that set of spiritual principles, but also as an artist, I’ve encountered several problems with “Christian” entertainment before. And this is something we need to talk about.

A lot of Christian musicians, writers, and other sorts of artists feel extreme pressure to only produce certain content in their art. If they cover a “taboo” topic, or include an image or wording that some in the Church find offensive, they are worried about being branded as a “heretic” or a “blasphemer.” (Now, is it just me, or aren’t we past the time when Catholics and Protestants put each other to death in the city square?)

Apparently, labeling something “Christian” means that it will already cover the issues of Biblical teachings and modern churchgoing lifestyle that most believers should know and/or generally follow. And often it seems to point a finger at those in the denomination or the faith that “aren’t measuring up.” It isn’t affirming of the message that the Messiah came to die for all of us, while we were still sinners. Nor does it present anything appealing or encouraging to non-believers.

Personal note time: I don’t read Christian fiction anymore, because I simply can’t relate to finding a husband being absolutely more important than anything else in life (even more than God, apparently); or to non-believers always being presented as drunks or child abusers or corrupt in business (since plenty of non-Christians are in fact very moral and very nice people); or to believers never getting angry or making a mistake that wasn’t forgiven at the drop of a hat, just because they prayed for God to show the other person they were “being unreasonable” (ahem…).

Not that absolutely all Christian fiction is this bad. But way too much of it is. So I’d rather spend my precious free time reading something that may not point to a spiritual lesson or spell out something of religious importance, but that provides lots of thought in the areas of growth and love.

Image result for wolf

As artists, who are supposed to be creating and finding new and innovative ways to share our art (and our passion), we are continually being put in a box. As I attempted to finish the final draft of Volume 1, I explored the possibility of trying to get a Christian publishing agent, and was more than a little horrified by what I found. Too many companies informed prospective clients that “good Christian literature does not include swearing, sexuality, violence, any mention of other religions, the supernatural (even angels and demons), or reference other literature/music/art that is not Christian in origin and nature.”

Excuse me?! Have any of these people actually read the Bible, and discovered just how much violence there is, references to who “lay” with his wife, mentions of about 17,000 other cultures and sets of beliefs, and TONS of angels and demons?! And isn’t one of the major teachings of the New Testament that part of LOVE is respecting people who have a belief system/lifestyle/background you don’t agree with? Didn’t Jesus of Nazareth say that you could go to temple every week, follow all the instructions of the priests, and still be a sinner with a wicked heart if you ignored the beggars and the cripples on the street or didn’t give the repentent prostitutes a second chance?

This type of attitude among a lot of modern churchgoers is why I also don’t write Christian fiction. And believe me, I have worked way too hard on my “baby” to see it shoved into a corner of “not worth reading” by so, so many if it was labeled “Christian fiction.” Especially considering that most of the Christian publishers out there would call it “blasphemy” because it’s in the fantasy genre. (Haven’t they ever heard of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis?!)

Not that my series will be known for loads of profanity or explicit sexual references or graphic violence. But, somebody needs to tell me why, just because I write about faeries and unicorns and dragons — and angels and demons — I can’t call myself a Christian. And they need to have evidence that trumps the Gospels, which proclaim that my Savior came to die for autistic fantasy writers, too.

Image result for wolf

Too much of the current Christian entertainment market is full of cheesy, unrealistic, dull, and even offensive portrayals that need to stop. I know for a fact I am not the only one who feels this way. That I am not the only one who feels the world as a whole needs to return to a higher moral standard, and that faith needs to be allowed to play a greater role than just “preaching to the choir.”

I don’t want to drop anybody’s names, in case you aren’t prepared for that; but if this is an issue that you face, as a believer and an artist, please raise your voice. To those of you who already have, thank you. We can band together to develop a place where our art is allowed to exist without discrimination, to reach all sorts of people through love of a shared interest or hobby, without in-fighting or unnecessary restrictions.

So, I am sending out the call. Let’s hear you.

Image result for wolf

Autism, blogging, Encouragement, family, Parenting, writing

Mothering and Writing

IMG_0384

So, this was the next most-voted-for on my Twitter account poll. For those of you who don’t follow my Twitter feed and may be wondering what the blazes I’m going on about, I’m referring to the fact that, while I was sick, I truly had no energy/time/inspiration, but knew that eventually — like, when I was no longer sick — I would desire to post something on the blog (if nothing else, so you all knew I was alive). Anyway, I decided that the honorable tradition of asking your readers really wasn’t such a bad notion; so I placed a poll on Twitter — “what do I post about next?”

And, here we are: *mothering and writing*.

As most of you know, I am beset on a daily basis by two underage beings, one small, one taller than me, who are both under my charge and my jurisdiction. In human speak: I am a parent. (To three if you count the cat.) So, I spend a fair amount of my time cooking for the small thing, cleaning up after his destruction, making sure he participates in his physical and speech therapy home sessions, and that he doesn’t conquer Mars without a signed permission slip. (Oh, who are we kidding, Muffin sets no score by what I grant him permission to do.)

And White Fang, when he’s not in school, needs constant reminders to finish his chores, finish his homework, eat something, and prepare his dirty laundry for the washer, because he is a teenager and Minecraft is more important than anything else. And so, between all of this, there are days when writing (which I have now turned into my livelihood) becomes the challenge.

How do you balance being a parent with being a writer? the unnamed pollsters were undoubtedly yelling at their screens (and praying for answers they could use in their own lives). Well, I truly hope I don’t cause more yelling, but the fact is, not one thing works for everybody, and I can only relay what has worked (generally) for me, and honestly wish you blessings on your schedule and accomplishment.

027

First, it’s all about time management. If your kids are in school, then you have the chance to dedicate the morning or the afternoon (on that day with no errands or chores or appointments) to writing, or editing, or goofing off on the internet and calling it “research.” But, no, seriously, when you have the opportunity to work, don’t squander it on trying to find the best middle name for your protagonist or determine what breed of dog their great-uncle owned in 1989. Just write — the major stuff, like the plot — and even if you end up cutting out a lot later, know you’re at least you’re making progress.

If your kids are still small (like Muffin), and need more attention than the ones who walk and talk and can do a lot for themselves, take advantage of naps, or find a babysitter for Wednesday afternoons — just write when you can. If you need to type everything because of ease or quicker achievement, do so. (Personally, I prefer to start with paper and pen, because working around the random scribbles when a pen was stolen, or an occasional grubby fingerprint on the page, is a lot easier than trying to cope with the computer being turned off when you’re halfway to your word count goal for that day.)

If you can, take a short vacation by yourself, and create your own writer’s retreat — send the kids to grandma’s once a month, or go to a favorite cafe once a week. (The latter sort of thing never works for me, because I can’t concentrate when I’m around other people vocally debating whether they want mocha or vanilla shots in their espresso.)

024

Something that really helps me organize and plan my schedule and my plot is participating in Camp NaNoWriMo (which isn’t the contest, but more like a workshop). You can find like-minded individuals to bounce ideas off, whine to, or cheer each other on. Thank heavens it’s only twice a year ( because I also need to do marketing, and blogging, and take showers and even leave the house once in a while). But every few months, it’s important to make sure I’m on the right track with my WIP, and not wandering off into Neverland following a totally unrelated minor character or origin story for their pet lizard.

And it’s a really big deal to remember why you write. Is it a hobby, something you can put off for weeks at a time, and honestly be all right with? Or is it a sort of calling, a venture that you feel is necessary to include in your life? Do you dream of seeing your work in print, for the world to share? If so, then you truly need to put in the effort.

IMG_0310

blogging, books, Encouragement, Fantasy fiction, Mental Health, reading, writing

The Life of a Self-Published Author

Image result for animals writing

So, I am quickly discovering that writing a novel and getting it ready to print through the company of your choice may be the easy part of being an indie author. (And it’s probably the most enjoyable — most of the time.) After the printing part comes the part where you need to sell several (at least) copies, to help pay for the costs of everything, so that you can justify writing more because, see, your first book sold!

This means marketing and advertising. Are there ways to go about this for free? Thankfully, yes. There are blogs (your own or somebody else’s), social media, and my new personal favorite, becoming a Goodreads author and developing a profile/page there.

Goodreads is an amazing tool. The site is pretty user-friendly (take it from me, who only understands the very basics of how to do things like customize a webpage), and you can do stuff like have discussions with the community, host giveaways (with the minimum amount of work on your part), and connect with other self-published authors. All of this helps build your reader base (if I use the word “fan” here, I’ll start freaking out too much), and spreads the word about your publication(s), and it can be free if you wish.

The instructional section aside… I am beginning to flail a little — both good and bad — with regards to how much effort must go into the marketing part of this whole deal.

First (to get it over with, and give you something to look forward to) the bad: There are moments when doing this all by myself feels rather daunting, and it makes my blood pressure go up, and it’s a bit hard to catch my breath. Sometimes when I look at the list of readers who have added my book to their TBR, I am still shocked, and amazed, and utterly terrified — because what if they don’t like it?! 

That’s a chance any author takes, though — whether they scraped and saved every spare penny for 4 months to get their novel to print, or whether they have a six-figure salary coming from a big-name publisher and plans for book tours established. And, remember, you can’t please all of the people all of the time — so, it’s just a fact that, based on personality or preference for style/genre/how many dragons are in a single book, some readers just won’t care for your work.

Image result for animals writing

And when you don’t have a signed contract through a big-name publisher, resources will be limited. You may need to be in the employ of something other than “writing” to help keep the literal lights on, which means that time to write/plan/market may be a valuable commodity. Book tours just won’t happen if you can’t even afford a bus ticket to the nearest big city. And if you’re a family man/woman — like I am — there are other things to take care of — school, cooking, cleaning, homework, doctors’ appointments, needing to be home at certain times of the day to let the physical/speech/occupational therapists in.

Before all of this makes you hyperventilate, remember the immortal and so important words of Douglas Adams: DON’T PANIC.

There is always a silver lining. Always another way, it just requires slowing down and breathing and repeating the above phrase a few times.

So, here’s the good of this situation — When you’re a self-published author, you have complete control over the entire venture. Nothing gets edited out of your work that you really, really wanted to keep. Don’t feel like going on tour to St. Louis or Minneapolis or Baltimore right now? Don’t have to. You only interact with the Goodreads folks as much as you choose to. Hosting a giveaway is not essential.

I didn’t even start off with an e-book. (I’m working on it right now, but when I first started the proofreading/typesetting process, I knew tackling two formats at once would be the metaphorical death of me. So I decided to focus on hardcopy to begin with, and just wait for the digital stuff.)

The important thing is to recognize your limits, and not take on too much.

Image result for animals writing

Otherwise, it is an extremely satisfying thing to bring up at dinner parties — “Yes, actually, I wrote a book. I’m a self-published author.” Self-published — meaning your literal sweat and tears (and maybe blood?) went into creating this actual physical thing (in traditional or e-book form) that people can read and share. It’s like having climbed all of the mountains in the Adirondacks, or graduated from a Masters degree, or raised multiple children — it’s quite an achievement. Be proud of it. You earned it.

(By the way, I’m giving myself a lot of this same advice.)

So, as I go back to working on Volume 2, nervously awaiting the feedback on Volume 1, getting the digital copy together, and reciting DON’T PANIC like a mantra, I’ll also do my best to remember that this is just the start of something I’ve been waiting a very long time for.

Sure, there were bumps in the road. But I survived. Honestly, I still can’t quite believe it. But now that cool things are happening in spite of the negatives…well, believing it may become easier.

There’s still a lot to do; but also so much that I have now completed.

And that is certainly worth celebrating.

Image result for animals typing

community, Encouragement, Fantasy fiction, Mental Health, writing, Young Adult fiction

How To Get Through Those Writing Quandaries

01d96-img-wallpapers-candle-light_water-priyadarsh-sarwade-77691

So, you’re a writer. You know this to be true because you have completed a novel, a series of short stories, a graphic novel, picture book, or magazine articles. (Yes, it all counts. You deserve the title.) Anyway, as all writers are aware, sometimes there are, shall we say, difficulties with undertaking our task. You just can’t think of how to make that character three-dimensional, this plot twist believable, or figure out where the next bit of backstory should go. Does this create occupational issues? Yupper.

And we have all been there. No matter how long you’ve been doing this, or how brilliant you are, eventually one of these challenges is going to smack you in the face and leave you reeling. It’s just a sad fact.

Today, however, I am going to (hopefully) provide some insights into how to overcome such obstacles. (If any of these actually work, please do let me know…)

Open magic book with the light. Eps 10

Step away from the document causing so much heartache. Yes, truly, this makes sense. When the inspiration just isn’t striking, you simply can’t force it to appear and be amazing. And if you do attempt to force it, most likely it won’t be your best work, and your whole project could suffer.

Stop worrying about what “has” to happen, and let the story tell you where it’s going. Don’t be afraid to make those notes in your notes — that a certain character has to change his/her destiny (the destiny you assigned), because it would be too cliche, ill-fitting, or not authentic. That’s important. Change can be good.

Be productive with something else. Leave your document/notebook/laptop someplace safe and go for a walk, take your kids to the movies, or go on vacation to Shanghai. Some time and space away will help refresh your neurotransmitters.

Do some independent research. By “independent,” I mean skip the traditional routes — like encyclopedias and peer-reviewed publications — and try flipping channels or surfing fanfiction sites. I’m completely serious. This has worked in my own endeavors. While suffering from a long-lasting case of writer’s block, I sat down with junk food and the History Channel, and heard an archeological theory about a topic I was interested in that I’d never heard before — and it spurred me onwards to delve deeper, and ultimately come across a unique perspective for one of my plot twists.

92e01-ba-tea-and-books-wallpaper-800x600

Ignore whatever’s bugging you about your WIP. Remember that this is a fictional world, that you created, and you do have the ability to put it on hold (without causing it to crash into the sun). When you return, renewed and less annoyed, it will still be right where you left it (in terms of plot holes and flat characters) — but you’ll be better equipped to correct it. Realize it doesn’t matter if it takes you a day, or even a week, to figure out what to do about that potential love triangle, or whether shifting your setting in this chapter is actually necessary to the flow of the story.

Don’t try to follow a formula. For example — it is not required to write a YA novel that features stereotyped characters and a cliche plot (ill-planned love triangles, cardboard female protagonists who swoon over the first cute guy to grace their path, or an underground rebellion to squash a tyrannical government). Further thoughts — if your story is genuinely about a girl torn between two great guys, find a unique way to address it. (Maybe one love interest leaves her, but she doesn’t want to choose the other by default, so she ends up with a totally new guy 5 years later?)

Be bold in your editing. It is totally okay to decide, “Wow, that’s really crap,” or, “Hey, it’d be so much better if I…” when you’re going through your first draft again. Not only are there no laws stating you can’t change your mind about your goals for/views of your masterpiece, it’s healthy to do so. Your characters may let you down, or you realize the setting just isn’t as cool as you first hoped, or your passion for version A of the plot just fizzles out. All of this is perfectly acceptable, and none of it means you can’t hack it as an author.

Happy writing, everyone!

00c48-1a