Encouragement, writing

Let the Rebellion Begin!

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Recently, I had an interesting experience.

I’d decided to join a “writers’ group” in my local area. (Note: I’m not anywhere in this post stating where that is at the moment, nor calling out any particular individuals. That’s not the point of this discussion).

Anyway, I gathered pretty quickly — after a couple of meetings — that the way this group had been operating was not really what I was looking for, nor how I understood the concept of a “writers’ group” to apply.

Each month, a theme would be assigned, and the group would, on their own, write something related to the theme, then they’d all meet up again. After everyone read what they’d brought, the conversation tended to go off into non-related tangents of memories, social issues, and eventually what the next month’s topic should be.

There was absolutely no feedback given on each piece regarding literary elements, tone/voice, characterization, setting, atmosphere, or plot. Of course, many of the pieces did not have a majority of these aspects, as we were all (bluntly) told that the group traditionally focused on autobiographical, non-fiction content (nothing more than journaling, really).

No one present (except for me) has a work-in-progress. I was also told (again, point blank) that sharing fiction with the group wasn’t really appropriate.

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Excuse me? Isn’t this the whole idea of people who like to write gathering together for the purpose of writing? To explore, to learn more, to hone your skills in the craft?

I also noticed that others were interested in the exploring, the learning, the honing part, and that they appeared to be shut down by one, very vocal voice.

Ahem. Please pardon me while I clear my very fiery bookdragon throat.

So, here’s what I’ve done: I’m looking into starting my own group, which actually would focus on the craft of writing.

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When you’re passionate about something as wonderfully varied and diverse as literature, that passion should not get shoved away by a pushy minority declaring what “fits” and what “doesn’t.”

It’s exactly why we have genres. If you want to write historical fiction, go for it! A contemporary romance, sure! Murder mysteries! Science fiction! Epic fantasy! Poetry! A collection of Post-It notes you left taped to your irresponsible teenage children’s foreheads! Sure, why not?!?! Whatever you want to write about, chances are, somebody out there will want to read it.

And why can’t we do this in a number of ways? Novels. Essays. Magazine articles. Poems. Novels of essays and articles. Blog posts. Fiction. Non-fiction. Combining the two. Fictionalizing real events in your life — with plenty of plot and dialogue and pithy puns.

The “rules” for what and how writers “should” write are treated very loosely these days, and I’m glad for it. We get to share so much with the world by expanding definitions and conditions.

Trying to box in people’s creativity just doesn’t work.

Experiencing this the other week really threw me.

And then I decided to do something about it.

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This will probably turn out to be a big undertaking, and I’d appreciate your prayers! I’m honestly not sure what lies ahead as this venture gets underway, but I’m excited, and hopeful!

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Autism, community, Encouragement

The Non-Fiction Future Additions to How To Be A Savage

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Recently, I did a couple of things. I asked Twitter if anyone would be interested in reading an inspired-by-real-life-but-definitely-not-autobiographical account on autism in blogging format or something. And then I asked whether it should be fiction or non-fiction. Like, facts about ASD and various treatments and such.

The polls indicated people would be extremely into reading a combination of both.

And I thought, “Oh, okay. That’s…err… Why did I set myself up for this??”

Then today, I stumbled on an autism blog share, and as I was reading some of these posts, I realized: There isn’t just a public interest in us sharing our life stories. There’s a need. 

It’s only been about 50 years since most children with low-functioning autism were officially diagnosed as minorly psychopathic, and generally locked up in institutions.

It’s only been 10 years since diseases like measles and rubella that were nearly eradicated have made a solid re-entry into the Western world, thanks to an epidemic of people not vaccinating their kids, based on one, non-scientific study claiming that the MMR vaccination causes autism.

It’s only been a few months since I saw a book in which the mother of an autistic teenager supported forced sterilization of her son has a 4-star rating on Amazon and Goodreads.

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And it was only today that I read an article from the New York Times reminding all of us — or informing us for the first time — that Dr. Asperger was in fact a Nazi who sanctioned the deaths in concentration camps of the very children he diagnosed. And we still put his name on the part of the spectrum he supposedly discovered.

Dear God in Heaven.

Adopting a cavalier attitude towards my privacy, I have henceforth decided thusly: When I come to compose my various Wattpad-age entries of How To Be A Savage into book format, I SHALL include factual stuff about diagnosis, treatment, the NTs-who-hate-us experiences, the dark side of our condition, all of it.

This feels daring. It feels scary. It feels like the right thing to do.

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For the longest time, we have been led to believe that anything outside of the norm is dangerous. Even when it isn’t. Even when it’s simply different.

We don’t need to be encouraged to fit into the world. The world’s pretty messed up, in case no one’s noticed. I’d so much rather stand out — and hopefully makes this crazy planet a better place.

I am so tired of being told we need to “overcome” our autism. Of hearing that we have a “disability.” Of being looked down on.

Who’s with me?

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Encouragement, reading, spiritual growth, writing

A Discussion on Writing Spiritual Journeys (Part 2)

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Hello again! So, today I’m finishing up the discussion post I started last week, delving into how we authors can effectively incorporate our faith into our work without seeming irritating, preachy, or off-putting to readers. But today I’d like to take this post in a slightly different direction.

Many of us who write with a certain spiritual or religious message or theme in mind are drawing on the faith we grew up in. For lots of people the world over, religion is as much a part of who we are, in terms of heritage, as our eye color and height.

But the religion we’re born into may not be the one we embrace our entire lives. I’m not here to debate conversion experiences. I’m more interested in addressing covering this topic compassionately and objectively in fiction.

Yes, that’s right, I said objectively. If you’re writing a fiction piece that includes a character or characters that have changed their spiritual beliefs and practices, your focus needs to be so much more on the characters’ tale than your own personal testimony. The reason for this tactic is, again (vitally), not turning off readers who may not agree with your beliefs or worldview, but still want to read your fiction.

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As someone who came from a generic Christian background (as far as morals and traditions went), then spent a lot of time researching other religions, I think this is a big problem among Western “Christian market” publishers. As I mentioned before, I don’t like the way Christian novels are geared specifically towards people who are already churchgoers. That turns fiction that should be showing non-believers the beautiful teachings of Jesus of Nazareth into its own little niche culture. A niche that outsiders don’t necessarily feel comfortable jumping into.

And that feeds into the even bigger problem the modern Church already has, of people seeing us as a narrow-minded, unfriendly, keep-to-ourselves, stuck-up sort. That hardly teaches the world that the Savior came to die for everybody.

When I was young and exploring (and by the way, there’s nothing wrong with that), I came across a variety of people of a variety of religions. Some of the churchgoers were horrible, hypocritical, and very prejudiced. Others were awesome, warm, caring and tolerant. Some of the people I met from “fringe” or minority religions were very tolerant towards Christians; others thought the Church had committed too many terrible crimes, and weren’t about to forgive that. The biggest takeaway I got from all this was that the world in general has become so caught up in who gets the Earthly power and control and authority, that they no longer are concerned with matters such as a Creator, our purpose here, and can we communicate with that being.

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Since that was what I was looking for, I found myself much more drawn to reading from the source (rather than getting stuck in the political plays). I read up on the pantheons from ancient Greece and Rome and Egypt and Britain, on Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism. I was an equal opportunity researcher. I found some things I thought were really wonderful (like the idea of personal deities or saints that would take care of your specific needs in finances, health, etc. — indicating that the belief in a merciful, benevolent divine being is not sold simply by televangelists). Other stuff I wasn’t too fond of (the practices of animal sacrifice, for example).

Anyway, as I went, I discovered there are a lot of issues with mistranslation, history being written from only one point of view, and traditions shared between a number of cultures, and that all of this has created a hodgepodge of what we today call Christianity. These days, there’s no such thing as “pure Christianity” — unless your only goal is to follow the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament.

Not that this is a bad goal. Not at all. However, human beings have certainly distorted what’s “acceptable” (forcing Jews to convert, when they’re stated in your own holy writings as God’s chosen people, is just not cool), and what’s “real” (the ongoing debate on whether miracles still happen is raging somewhere as we speak), and it’s quite unfortunate.

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What I’d like to see much more of in fiction penned by Christian authors is a respect for other religions, a tolerance for characters who haven’t been “saved,” and a true love (not condemnation) portrayed for the homeless drug addict your narrator passes on a street corner. Remember, folks, Jesus went to dinner with prostitutes and happily hung out with non-Jews. He treated everyone as worth his time and he listened to them. He appreciated their belief in him more than their social class or status. Too many people who go to church every week, always tithe and never miss a Bible study — in real life and fiction — are never seen at a soup kitchen, an animal shelter, or bringing dinner to the Muslim family down the street.

If we feel that fiction is a great tool for allegories and encourage deeper thinking on spiritual matters, then let’s do that. Let’s include characters from different religious backgrounds, do our research and present non-stereotyped, healthy, loving portrayals. Let’s validate someone’s worth as a person from a non-Christian, non-monotheistic background, while we hope to show that a God they’ve never heard of loves them and wants to help them.

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Encouragement, health

In Which I Become An Episode of a Medical Drama

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But it was an episode that ended with Patrick Dempsey coming out to the waiting room to announce all was well.

Okay, not really Patrick Dempsey (but wouldn’t that have been cool if Derek Shepherd of Grey’s Anatomy had been my surgeon? which wouldn’t have happened, though, as he was a neurosurgeon and I had a GYN issue…anyway…)

But, yes, everything went well. Sure enough, there is nothing wrong with my stomach or digestive system. All the pain was being caused by a blockage in my uterus, which was pressing against other organs and creating pain.

Today I feel a lot better than I have in months. Literal months. No bloating, no indigestion. Yes, I am sore from the incision, and my throat hurts from the breathing tube, and my muscles are stiff and achy after the anesthesia wore off (which they warned me would happen).

I’ve been able to keep down some soup and crackers and tea, and I’m still tired, but I have a flat stomach for the first time in easily six months, and my side doesn’t hurt for the first time in nearly a year.

The official problem is endometriosis, which is a bit tricky, but treatable. Most likely, there will be further treatments, maybe another operation in the future if the initial treatments don’t take. But for the moment, I am certainly healthier than I was.

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I made it through the worst part so far; recovery will be a walk in the park compared to all the suffering of the last many weeks. Last night I could actually lie in bed in almost any position I wanted and be comfortable. This is a huge stride in the right direction.

Today is a snow day here, as we received the latest blast of snow and ice. Nothing really serious for our area, which is great. Muffin is at grandma and grandpa’s, probably playing in the snow. White Fang is bingeing library DVDs.

Outside it’s white and beautiful and cold, and quiet.

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I still have a ways to go. There are things that may happen in the future that will still create problems. Hopefully not, but I remain realistic. Though optimistic, as I now have a concrete reason for what was going on, and since it’s finally been isolated, and there are options for treatment. I no longer have to wait and wonder and suffer.

The anesthesia took effect pretty quickly, so I remember absolutely nothing after being wheeled through the surgical registration area. I have to say, I almost wanted to overhear something about the conversation between the doctors and nurses during the procedure. Or at least experience some cool trippy dreams while being under.

(Kidding, by the way. Mostly. Don’t do drugs, kids.)

Here’s what I do remember before I woke up: I was with the Doctor (10, for those of you wondering), and he had this box, and it had something important in it, and we were running up a mountain, towards where the TARDIS was parked. Hey, I’ll take that, too.

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For all of you who have been monitoring my progress and keeping me in your prayers, thank you. Don’t sign off just yet, however, as I have a feeling we’re not quite to the end of this.

But today I feel like I’m at the start of a new beginning, and it’s been a long time coming.

And I am grateful.

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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.

 

community, Encouragement, reading, writing

How to Name Your Characters

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.”

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blogging, books, Encouragement, reading

Reading Slumps

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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