Making the Impossible Possible: Creating the Rules of Magical and Futuristic Worlds

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This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. I attended last year and had so much fun, but this year I was pleasantly surprised to see many panels for writers (comic/graphic novel panels, and fantasy/sci-fi panels) as well as a big turnout for literary guests. I was lucky enough to meet Patrick Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicles), Kendare Blake (Three Dark Crowns series, Anna Dressed in Blood series), and Marko Kloos (Frontlines series) and get them to autograph their books for me. But while there, I attended the Making the Impossible Possible panel which focused on writing and worldbuilding for authors of fantasy and sci-fi.

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The following authors participated in the panel and gave great advice to aspiring fantasy and sci-fi authors: Charlie N. Holmberg (The Paper Magician series), Emily R. King (The Hundredth Queen series), Marko Kloos (Frontlines series), J.D. Horn (Witching Savannah series), and Jeff Wheeler (Legends of Muirwood series).

The format of the panel was the moderator, editor Jason Kirk, posed a total of six questions to the panel of authors. Keep reading to find out what was asked of these fantasy and sci-fi writers as well as to see what their responses were. I found their responses to offer great advice and writing techniques to better improve my own fantasy and sci-fi writing.

Question 1

Each author in this panel writes their own rules to govern the worlds they create. How does this work when the same rules don’t apply, even though you may be writing within a similar genre?

  • “You need to choose your main character as a one in a million type of person. You need to write your characters as the person who brings the magic to the world and not necessarily have been the chosen one.”
  • The general discussion around this question discussed how it’s important to have governing rules within your world, but to not let them overshadow your characters. Let your characters shine through in the world they surround themselves in.

Question 2

In Fantasy or Sci-fi we often find that the main character always tends to be exceptional. So, if no one is exceptional is there no story?

  • “In Sci-fi, you play within the confines of that structured society. Nobody is different from each other since they all have the same governing laws of physics and biology applying to them. So, the characters in this genre work within their existing system to prove their abilities or skills.”
  • The authors on the panel discussed how it would be even more interested to see more work of fiction in fantasy and sci-fi who fall out of the “exceptional” phase and are characters that work harder to prove themselves versus having everything be naturally gifted to them. It even makes the character more relatable to the reader, no more what fantastic setting the character may be placed in.

Question 3

Every author has their own writing process. Do you start with world-building or do you start with the character or the plot or themes?

  • “Start with the character, then the world becomes a crucible for them.”
  • “Your characters act depending on what the world is and the action or reaction they do becomes the plot.”
  • “Look for the tension, the drama. Ask yourself, why do we follow these characters? Why tell this story in the first place? First find the drama that the character will face.”
  • “If the world is complex enough, all these conflicts come up naturally and then the character, character’s motivation, etc. will follow.”

Question 4

Does your world need to be completely believable to make it work?

  • “As long as you don’t break the suspension of disbelief.”
  • “I can excuse sloppy physics [in Sci-fi] if the story, the plot, and the characters are absolutely believable.”
  • “It doesn’t have to be so much as believable as it has to be intoxicating enough to completely pull you in.”
  • “Don’t overdo the details to try to make it as ‘realistic’ and ‘believable’ as possible. Too much in the details can cause a big learning curve for your reader and can prevent them staying with your story.”
  • “Build the world and characters quickly so you hook the reader in. The strength of your story are your characters who provide the real emotions, real reactions the reader can connect to despite them being in an impossible world.”

Question 5

How do you solve your mistakes?

  • “Take a slice of humble pie from your critique partners.”
  • “Incomplete or sloppy world-building will lead to mistakes. If you ask, what does my character do now? Then you didn’t do enough world-building to throw enough cool things at your characters.”
  • The panel then gave examples from their own work where edits and proofreading provided great feedback for their novels in which they had to go back and rewrite certain parts to make the story turn out better.

Question 6

What tip do you have for aspiring writers?

  • “Think outside the box. It’s all about originality. Do something that’s less expected.”
  • “Don’t try to chase trends. Don’t write to market it. If the book is good, it’ll have its own market.”
  • “Just tell your story. Keep going.”
  • “The world around you can create something different. You don’t have to create something new, you just need to write it in a new way.”
  • “Read what you like to write. It keeps you immersed in your world. Steal little pieces of what you like and make them into your own.”

The panel was then opened to take questions from the audience. Here are a few of the questions that I found to have really good advice in their answers.

  • How do you build a society in your stories? This was answered in 4 parts.
  1. “Ask yourself, what type of government do you want? The kind of government you create governs the rules and freedoms your characters are subject to.”
  2. “What weird customs or traditions do your characters partake in? Create a history for each tradition.”
  3. “Everything is a result of what has come before. Make sure your society has a history.”
  4. “Do real research of Earth’s own history, then tweak it and make it your own for your story.”
  • How do you organize everything when you are working on a current novel?
  1. “You need a story Bible! It’s just 1 document where everything is stored and you can do a quick search.”
  2. “Use Scrivener. This allows you to keep you draft, research, notes, and edits all in one document.”
  • How do you write mundane tasks to make them see fantastic?

“Write characters’ reactions to that task. Like in Harry Potter, Harry thinks the dishes washing themselves in the Weasley’s house is magical and fantastic, but Ron just thinks it’s completely normal.”

This was such an amazing panel to sit on and I hope you found their advice to be inspiring and helpful to your own work. Below you can find the Goodreads page for each author named here so you can check out their work and get hooked onto some fun new series.

Kendare Blake

Charlie N. Holmberg

J.D. Horn

Emily R. King

Marko Kloos

Patrick Rothfuss

Jeff Wheeler

Book of the Month: A Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

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February is known as the month of love since Valentine’s Day falls in it. And what better book to pick for this special month than an LGBTQ, historical-fiction The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. This glamorous book manages to fit the first-love of a young gay boy set in Europe in the 1700’s into an action-adventure story.

As the book jacket explains, “Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.”

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Set in the 1700’s, this novel somehow explores many modern-day themes and issues. In fact, I like the comparison of Monty’s grand tour year as the equivalent of the modern-day gap year young adults take after high school before embarking on their studies in college. This book also uses the historical setting to present modern-day themes that today’s YA genre would want to read in a book. These include child abuse (Monty’s relationship to his father, Lord Montague), alcoholism and gambling (Monty’s prolific lifestyle), racism (demonstrated through Percy being high-born yet also being a black character), disabilities (as seen in Percy’s epilepsy and the stigma that comes with his illness), sexism (Monty’s sister Felicity faces sexism as her gender undermines her intelligence and skills in medicine), and LGBTQ (which is illustrated in Monty’s sexuality and his crush on Percy).

I think what impressed me most about this book was how modern it felt within the constraints of the historical narrative structure. I really enjoyed the setting, it gave a fresh take on the similes used in the novel. Sometimes, after reading page after page of YA, you can come across a lot of the same metaphors and similes, but due to this novel’s setting I felt like I was coming across new comparisons that showed off Lee’s writing skills yet perfectly tied into the world-building of this story. It adds this charming, glitzy, old-world glamour feel into it.

The other great thing about this book is how it feels like it’s a little bit of everything – romance, comedy, action, adventure, murder-mystery, historical-fiction, and gay/LGBTQ. And if you like books that travel to other countries, then I highly recommend getting the audio book version of this novel. I listened to this book as an audio book and the voice actor did such a fantastic job at creating these authentic accents for all the various characters ranging from British to French to Spanish accents was just amazing and delightful to hear.

If you are a fun of captivating characters, then Monty is the right guy for you. Lee created such a strong, unique voice in the character of Monty. She manages to capture this entitled, sassy teenage voice right from the beginning while simultaneously making you like it. But this only makes it so much more wonderful for the reader to see Monty’s transformation from the exploits and troubles he endures along the way.

If there is one thing I would critique, it happens to be something that also ends up working in favor for the novel’s plot. I thought the grand tour would be more of this glamorous trip but ended up being a fleeing escape since they are on the run and less of a tour. I felt disappointed because it wasn’t what I had expected, however it also worked in favor of the reader because there was no guessing where this story was going. I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next and I couldn’t ever guess the next thing that would happen. It felt truly unpredictable in the adventure/action portion of the plot, yet the romance side of it however was plenty predictable but in a good, happy-ending kind of way.

If you are in need of some good humor, some witty banter, and fun all-around then this book should definitely be on your To Be Read list.

4 Ways Audio Books Can Transform Your Day

 

audioBook1Saying audio books are better than printed hardbacks/paperbacks can easily be damning in certain circles. But before you click away, just hear me out. Do you ever find yourself not having any spare time? Let alone, time to sit down and enjoy a good book? When I’m having a busy work week it’s nearly impossible to fit in an hour or so to open up a book.

My New Year’s goal is to read at least one chapter a day. But by the third day in January, I was failing to fit in my chapter a day. Then I discovered the audio book section in my local library. Normally, these can be pretty pricey, especially if you get the CD format instead of the MP3 drive version, but both of these beauties are completely free with a library card. And I was pleasantly surprised to find a varied mix ranging from current bestsellers to the classics.

There are many ways to use audio books if you think you don’t have enough time to fit reading into your schedule. And whatever genre you are interested in, there’s an audio book for that. Need self-help or motivation books. Check. Want to read a suspenseful thriller? Check. Or, need something with a little romance? Check, check check.

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One great use of an audio book is to listen to it on your daily commute to work. A 20-30 minute drive can turn into 40-60 minutes of reading (or listening to) a book a day. And with the right book, your daily commute will become more enjoyable.

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My second favorite way to listen to an audio book is to download it onto my phone and plug in my headphones and listen to it while I walk my dog. My library has MP3 digital audio books available to download, but you can also try Amazon or Audible to find any book you want to listen to in a digital download format. I try to walk my dog everyday for 20-30 minutes, so this is just another way I squeeze in more reading.

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Also, another great thing about the digital download of an audio book on your phone is that wherever you go your book will be right there with you. For example, if you have to go to appointments where you have to wait, like a doctor’s office, then this is just another way to squeeze in more reading and pass the time.

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A fourth way to incorporate an audio book into your daily life is to listen to it while doing chores or errands. I think I can say that no one looks forward to doing chores, however listening to an audio book helps me get them done with less complaint. I simply download the book on my phone, plug in my headphone, and I’m off to wash dishes or vacuum.

While I love having the feel of a paperback in my hands, right now with my schedule, audio books are a life saver and they help e enjoy many parts of my day.

The Perfect Book and the Perfect Night in on Valentine’s Day

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This Valentine’s Day, my husband and I will be taking a break from the hoopla that is Valentine’s Day. So, instead of putting pressure on each other with gifts and dinner reservations, we’ll be staying in and hanging out at home. And if you find yourself at home too, then I have the perfect book to keep you company, because who needs a Valentine when you have the perfect book.

Tucker Shaw’s Oh Yeah, Audrey! is a well-written easy read that pairs Audrey Hepburn’s most infamous character Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s with your inner fangirl in this sparky and delightful novel.

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Just as the book jacket states, 16-year-old Gemma Beasley runs away to New York City for 24 hours to meet up with other Holly/Audrey fans to see a special anniversary screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But best laid plans can and do go awry when Gemma gets swooned off her feet by a real-life Paul Varkjak. Gemma lives her New York minute life by following the mantra of “What would Audrey do?” but ends up in situations closely similar to Holly, where she ends up around suspicious people with questionable motives.

I absolutely loved Gemma and her reactions to the things going on around her. It felt completely authentic and very relatable. I was a little disappointed in the fact that it’s set in only 24 hours. This led to little character development, especially all of Gemma’s friends and Gemma’s love interest. Because of this, some characters felt like clichés, like the fabulous gay best friend and the entitled rich-boy who thinks he can buy a girl. Actually, that last character bothered me a lot because the novel shows him genuinely pursuing Gemma. I mean, why bother having him spend month after month having hour long phone calls if all he wanted was sex? This character just didn’t add up to me.

But, nonetheless, this novel successfully delivers a story about friendship and about Gemma finding herself while paying tribute to Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly.

Like I said before, this is a fast read and can easily be read in a day. So, I recommend watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s (available on Netflix) to better understand all the book’s references. For Valentine’s, all you need is a fabulous evening. Whether you inhibit your inner Holly Golightly by wearing a black dress, black opera gloves, pearls, with a coffee and croissant in your hand, or you stay home in pajamas cuddled up with a book on the couch with a glass of wine, just remember that this Valentine’s Day can still be fabulous darling.

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And if you stay in and find yourself reading this book, just remember Holly Golightly’s advice, “A girl doesn’t read this sort of thing without her lipstick.”

What the Valley Knows Book Review

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Everyone knows the old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but I hardly live by that rule. We’re all guilty of it. We see that beautiful book cover and maybe, probably, just buy it based on its aesthetic and not the actual content of it. And of course, we are guilty of doing this, the marketing team in publishing houses are banking on you to do this. But, another thing I judge a book on is its book jacket summary. This is the hook, the promise the author offers the reader. And to be honest, this book’s pitch didn’t entice me at first, which is seen below.

“When smart and pretty Molly Hanover moves to town and attracts the attention of the football team’s hero, Wade Thornton – a nice guy with a bad drinking habit – longtime friendships are threatened, and a popular cheerleader tries to turn the school against Molly.

“The young couple’s future is shattered when Wade, drunk, wrecks his truck and Molly is thrown through the windshield. She wakes from a coma to find her beauty marred and her memory full of holes. As she struggles to heal, she becomes sure that something terrible happened before the accident. And there is somebody in the valley who doesn’t want her to remember.”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that plotline, but since I’ve lived in small towns and understand the dynamics of a community like that, I wasn’t too eager to revisit that. But as I do with all books, I read the first page to give it another chance and see if I like the voice and/or writing style. And man, oh man, is that first page one of the most gripping things I’ve ever read. It starts right in the middle of all the action, which in this case is the accident.

And as I kept reading, the overall pace felt natural and the plot kept moving in an interesting direction towards that dark secret mentioned in the summary. Heather Christie’s writing style was what kept me captivated the entire time – it’s elegant enough to feel like I’m reading adult fiction, yet it connects on a deep level to the actual mindset of a teenager. She also does a wonderful job of handling the superficial aspects of high school problems such as beauty and popularity while simultaneously diving into the underlying theme of healing in the form of substance abuse recovery, healing from a car accident, and healing from ‘something terrible [that] happened before the accident.”

I wish the later form of healing was more drawn out in the novel, but instead it was curtailed in favor of Molly and Wade’s relationship. This wasn’t necessarily a bad move, however, it left me wanting more about Molly’s recovery from that specific incident. I’m not mentioning this incident because I don’t want to give away any spoilers. In general, I think giving away spoilers are such a no-no because someone worked very hard to make sure it gives the element of surprise, and nothing’s worse when that surprise has already been ruined before the reader got a chance to read the book.

Overall, this book was way more in depth than what I had initially expected it to be. I’m so glad that first page hooked me in and I gave it a second chance because it has become one of my favorite YA reads this year.

What Every YA Author Needs to Read

These past few weeks has been quite a whirlwind since coming home from the Writer’s Digest Conference. I had the opportunity to meet and go out to a yummy dinner of meatballs (vegan meatballs, of course) with the author/speaker Gabriela Pereira. Gabriela has her own novel called DIY MFA, which really shines a light on the craft of writing as well as the business of being an author. So, it was a nice surprise to see that Gabriela had sent out her DIY MFA newsletter to us attendees that discussed an important, yet often overlooked, issue about being a writer. In this newsletter, she answers her question of the week, which is, “How many new release books should a writer read in their genre?”

I was so inspired by her answer that I thought I’d make a post of my own that combines her response, which is a simple outline that anybody can follow, with mine, which details the specific books to be on the lookout for in the YA contemporary genre. But to answer the original question, the answer is going to be different for everyone since each person has their own pacing. So, to best answer this question, Gabriela ignores the quantity you should aim for but rather focuses on the quality and types of books you should be reading. This consists of two lists – an essential list and then a customized list.

On the essential list, you need to cover your ABC’s.

A is for Anthology of Short Form Literature.

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I recommend the Norton’s Anthology of Children’s Literature for both YA and MG authors. This is a great way to get short bursts of inspiration in children’s books, middle grade and YA. I love the section that focuses on fairytale retellings in YA. It’s so fascinating and wonderfully detailed.

B is for Book of Prompts

I have yet to purchase a book of prompts, but Gabriela has great recommendations including the Now Write! series edited by Sherry Ellis. This series has specific genre-related books to help YA/MG authors too.

C is for Craft Reference

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A reference book will help you when you have questions about character development, or setting, or plot. For YA, I recommend Cheryl B. Klein’s The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults.

Now, for the customized list. This relates to what you want to write. You’ll have to follow Gabriella’s Four C’s to build up this list.

1. Competitive (Comp) Titles: These books are books that compare to your own work. It helps to know what books are already on the market that are similar to yours, since it’s useful to use comps in pitches/query letters to agents. It shows that you know the YA genre and how your book fits into it. So, for my comp title I use David Arnold’s Kids of Appetite meets Little Miss Sunshine. You only need 1-2 comps, so that’s the good thing. Just keep an eye on new books (no more than 2-3 years old) and see which book is most similar to yours.

YAReadingList42. Contextual Books: These books put your novel into context, including references and research materials. This is really important to have in mind if you are writing YA Historical Fiction, which is a booming sub-genre within YA. I currently  have these research books, for an idea I have for a MG I want to write.

3. Contemporary (Recent) Books: This reiterates the same idea with comps where you want to try to read a couple new releases in YA each year. For this though, I would try to aim for the last 18 months. That way you know who’s new in your genre as well as stay on top of trends. I really enjoyed the great depiction of mental illness and the process of recovery as a recent theme in YA in such books like Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella and The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati. But I also love the diversity and portrayal of immigrants in books like The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.

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4. Classics: These aren’t just “old” books, but rather leading books that helped create and/or shape the YA genre. For me, I believe J.D. Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye to be the first YA novel and I recommend it to those trying to master the art of tone and voice.

So, I hope I was able to narrow down Gabriella’s advice to the YA genre. I love this community of YA authors and I can’t wait to see it grow and develop as a genre. And more importantly, I can’t wait to see my writing evolve within this genre as well.

Back To School Reading List

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School is back in session. Here in Olympia, school starts on September 6th and with that, this time of year makes me long for good books with school themes. Maybe because I was a student for so long. Or, maybe, because as a teenager, school was a sanctuary from my home life. Either way, I love how schools in YA/children’s books seem mystical, as if it is its own character in the book. Hello, Hogwarts anybody? I mean, the room of requirement proves how alive and sentient the school is as a character. So, here is a list of my favorite books that make back to school sound like an awesome adventure awaiting you.

1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

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Most people hope to have an owl bring them their official Hogwarts letter inviting them to study witchcraft and wizardry. But, I had always wished to stumble upon the mirror of Erised. I was so fascinated by that as a child and I still hope to come across it someday.

2. Anna and The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

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An American boarding school in the city of Paris – check. A vicarious experience of living in dorms – check. French culture and French food – check. A cute, promising romance – check. Say no more, I’m in.

3. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

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In a world plagued by magically awesome heroes and world-building details seen in the likes of Fantasy and Sci-Fi, this novel focuses on characters that are usually seen in the background in these types of stories. You know, the ordinary kids – the non-heroes, who try to live ordinary teenager lives with ordinary teenage problems in a world where the biggest challenge of all is trying to attend prom when the school keeps getting blown up – again.

4. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

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This book does a great job at detailing what it feels like to be an outcast or misfit in your school, whether that’s because you are poor or it’s because you are a shy introvert. This story about first love perfectly showcases the dynamics of how teenagers’ homes impact their school life as well their relationships with friends and boy/girlfriends.

5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

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The story of Junior has such a special place in my heart since it parallels to my Native American grandfather’s up bringing about an Indian basketball player leaving the reservation to play for the all-white farm town high school. With a great narrative, fresh humor, and awesome cartoons, this book is bound to find a special place in your heart too.

 

5 Things I Learned at Writer’s Digest Conference 2017

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  1. Stick To Your Story

It’s easy to get caught up in your writing and naturally drift away from the heart of your story as you start to navigate the world you are building. But, is everything you’ve written related to your story, at the heart of what you are trying to write? Or, are you just writing it and keeping it in your story because you’ve written it, regardless if it fits the story or not. I guess, as Hemingway says, this is the part where you must kill your darlings – delete anything that’s excessive or unnecessary to your story, which is probably the hardest thing to do but is also the most important thing you can do for your writing. But sticking to the story not only applies to your short story or your novel but also relates to your query letter. Don’t go on and on about your book, your experience, your credentials, etc. Stick to the story by only giving the agent/editor the first act of your novel. Give them enough to know what your book is about but leave them wanting for more. It’s not easy to make a perfect pitch, but aim for 50-100 words, because as I learned from agent Janet Reid, the whole query letter should be less than 250 words. So, stick to the story.

  1. Raise the Stakes

This was something new I learned at the conference about how to keep the story going and alive throughout your novel. Always put in conflict, especially at the beginning. If your beginning doesn’t have a type of conflict (emotional/physical/spiritual) then that’s not your beginning. Keep writing until you get to that point of conflict/crisis where your character must make a choice/ a decision about what they are dealing with – that’s your beginning. To make your story feel like a page-turner, throw in conflict every 20-40 pages to either add more conflict to your character’s journey or to raise the stakes for their current dilemma. As Laura DiSilverio said, work with the “what could be worse?” mindset. You must be willing to make your character’s lives miserable. To increase conflict in your novel, make sure to define your protagonist’s goals/needs in each scene, provide opposition to these goals, give the illusion of progress, surprise with setbacks, and when that’s all done then think “what could be worse?” You’ll be surprised with what you may come up with.

  1. Revise in Layers

This seminar by Gabriela Pereira has forever changed my outlook on the revision process. I felt like I have been editing my novel/work wrong my whole life, until now that is, which is why I’m sharing this process with you because I’m sure it’ll change the way you think about revisions and edits too. Instead of going through your manuscript one page at a time and tinkering with little changes, you need to revise your manuscript multiple times but each time only focusing on one thing. First, focus only on narration: can you distinguish between the narrator and characters? (The answer is yes; you should, even for 1st person) Is your voice consistent or does it change from scene to scene /chapter-to-chapter? Next, focus on just the characters: is it clear what protagonist wants/needs? Is your protagonist making choices, or do they seem more reactive than proactive? Then, focus just on the story: do you know where your characters are heading? Is that clear? Does your story rush up at the end in a giant rush with little room for closure? Next, focus only on the scenes: do they all relate to support the overall theme? Does the story feel real? Is there too much description? Is dialogue flat or does it ring true? And for the last layer of revision, focus only on the details: can I express concept/scene in a better way? Did I use right word/sentence structure? Are there typos/errors? It’s a lot to look over, but I feel that after doing this process of revision, your story will be as thorough as you want it and as clearly written as it is seen in your head.

  1. Never Give Up

One thing all our keynote speakers emphasized was to keep going with our writing and to keep being persistent in publishing our books. One of my new favorite writing quotes came from Pulitzer Prize winner, Richard Russo when describing how to keep writing when you feel like giving up: “Every time you think the tank is empty, (you’ll find) the writing was putting more gas in the tank.”

  1. Make Friends/ Contacts

The orientation at WDC17 encouraged us to go from introverted writers to extroverted social net-workers. And, in doing so, I feel that I have made great contacts with wonderful writers who get the difficulties of the writing process and truly understand the writing journey of taking ideas and voices in your head and creating worlds out of them onto paper. So, I’ve learned it’s really important to be engaging with fellow writers and hopefully you can be each other’s critique partners and/or beta readers in the future.

Affordable & Chic Back to School Supplies

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At the end of every August I feel the start of the new school year. Maybe it’s because I was a student for so long. But August, the start of a new school year, feels like the beginning of a new year. Forget January – August is my new year, my time of the year where I need a little reboot.

And with this reset, this new start, I like to find good deals on some very-much-needed supplies. I used to get back to school supplies as a student, but now I buy supplies at this time of year to restock my personal office.

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My favorite place to go for both stylish and affordable school supplies is the Dollar Store. I got these adorable holographic writing notebooks, these planning journals with beautiful, chic designs and inspirational quotes on them, as well as packs of pens and pencils. At only $1 for each notebook and each pack, it’s a great deal! Plus, there are a ton of designs and styles if these don’t quite fit your personal taste.

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And my biggest steal was this iMac computer. I bought this computer for only $50 using he app OfferUp. It’s an older Mac desktop, sure. But I wanted a desktop for my office work without having to pay hundreds of dollars for it. So, I thought about looking for a gently used one that’s been refurbished and/or updated. So, when picking out this computer, I checked if he specs were listed as well (see end of post for a checklist of what to look for in a listing) because I wanted to deal with someone whose familiar with the technology and I wanted to make sure that this older computer was updated to the newer systems. All an older computer needs are updated specs and it’ll run just fine.

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My seller, Tom, was an amazing gentleman who let me try it out (running online searches, opening documents, etc.) before buying it. All I did was simply ask if I could try it and out he more than gladly complied. Another plus about this purchase was that the mouse and keyboard were also included in the sale. When I took it home, all I had to do was buff out previous scruffs left behind from stickers and voila this computer was like brand new.

Turned out, this computer belonged to Tom’s granddaughter and he wanted to sell it at bottom line just to get rid of it. And like I had guess from his listing, Tom was a tech guy. He had been in tech before retiring and now he buys faulty computers for cheap prices, refurbishes them, and sells them at low prices. No hidden gimmicks or anything, just a retiree with a hobby/side-job.

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So, not only did I get a great deal for a nice desktop, I got to meet the guy who made/re-made it. How cool is that? And he’s not the only one doing this. You can easily look on OfferUp and see if anyone near you does this as well. Buying used electronics is such a good, positive step forward environmentally. Electronics don’t always get recycle and can end up in landfills. So, when you can, try using an older, working electronic. Like momma always told me, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Or, in this case, “If it is broken, just fix it up.”

If you don’t feel comfortable testing electronics like I did, then try meeting in a public place (like Starbucks) and bring along someone you know who is tech savvy (I brought my husband).

Here is a checklist to help you feel more confident about buying a used computer.

Some things to look for and to ask when buying used computers

  • Does it have integrated WIFI or does it need an Ethernet cord?
  • What is its Operating System (OS)?
  • Does it have/include programs you need, like Word, Excel, etc.?
  • Does it include accessories (keyboard/mouse)?
  • Was the computer reset to manufacturer’s settings?

So, make sure to be smart this school year and find great deals and steals to help kick start a brand new school (or work) year for you.

Review of San Diego Comic Con 2017 + 10 Tips for Attendees

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As you may know from my Instagram or Twitter, last month, my husband and I had the opportunity to travel to San Diego and attend Comic Con 2017. It was our first time attending this particular Comic Con, but I have been to other Comic Cons in Seattle and in London. So, there were some interesting differences (both good and bad) between this world-renown Comic Con and the other ones I’ve attended. I thought it would be beneficial to you to create some tips if you plan on attending next year’s SDCC that can help you navigate through the crowds and get the most out of your time there.

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(The crowds inside the Exhibit Hall)

First, let’s start with an overall review of SDCC 2017. I can say without a doubt that this Comic Con is without a doubt the most interesting one I’ve ever attended. There is so much to do and so much to see, that no matter where you go or what you do you will surely be entertained. But given its popularity, this is also the most hectic Comic Con I’ve ever attended. With over 130,000 people attending, you can bet that this place was consistently crowded, which can be overwhelming to people with anxiety or for any normal person for that matter. The only thing that I didn’t enjoy about San Diego’s Comic Con was their organization. In the past, I could easily find out which artists and guests were attending days/weeks before the event. However, at SDCC, they didn’t list artists/guests that were attending, which made it difficult to know who was even going to be there. For example, my favorite illustrator Dustin Nguyen was there and I had no idea he was going to be there. If I had known I would’ve brought the graphic novels he’s worked on and gotten his autograph. I feel like the only way I would’ve known he was going to be there was if I followed on him on social media (which I didn’t at the time). But, I’m sure the sheer amount of people, events, press, and exhibitors there, SDCC did have a lot to juggle in organizing this event. I just wished they would’ve given first-time attendees more info before entering the building so we could have an easier time planning our day there.

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(The Small Press Section in the Exhibit Hall)

Now, onto the specific tips to make the most of Comic Con. Here’s a list of Do’s and Don’t’s to help future Comic Con goers navigate through the crowds and really enjoy your time there despite the large crowds.

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(The Star Wars exhibit promoting the new movie and video game coming out this winter)

Tip 1: DO plan 1-2 items you want to do/attend/see for that day. Try to have one goal for each day your there, since this will help you arrange your schedule in what you need to do to achieve that. For example, if you want to sit on a panel, then make sure you give yourself plenty of time to wait for it (i.e. 2-3 hours for a popular TV show, or 1 hour for an educational/informative panel of the industry), and then plan your day around that huge block of time. That way, you known for those 3-4 hours you will be doing that one item and you can take it easy before and after the panel and still get to enjoy the rest of your day. A great way to manage your time is to try to get at least 2 days in. I know it’s hard to get badges for certain days, but try not to fit all of Comic Con into one day. It’s just simply not possible and you’ll feel very rushed and anxious trying to fit everything into one day.

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(This statue is made entirely out of Legos and was found at the Lego Booth in an awesome exhibit showcasing popular figures made out of Legos)

Tip 2: DON’T sit on a panel if you are not really that interested in it. Otherwise you will be wasting your time (about 3-4 hours of your day) just waiting, and later you will feel like it wasn’t worth it. And it won’t be worth it if you’re not really that invested or interested in it. Since panels procure long wait times, you better be prepared to wait a long time since there are so many people who are also waiting. Also, if you are not that interested in a certain panel, it’s best to avoid it and give your spot to someone else who really wants to be there. However, if you are interested in a certain panel but you can’t get in, just know they have replays of panels later in the afternoon in case you missed it.

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(This awesome Cosplayer decided to go for a pun and dressed up as Taco Belle*wink wink)

Tip 3:  DO take pictures with or of cosplayers. This is by far the coolest aspect of SDCC. So many people dress up in cosplay as their favorite game/movie/tv show/comic book character. And it’s so cool to recognize them and see the amazing costumes people come up with. Of course, make sure to ask to take their picture. Just because they are dressed up doesn’t mean you have the right to take the picture without their permission. Most of the time (almost always), cosplayers will say yes and allow you to take their picture. And since you’ve asked, they will be able to pose/model for you, which makes your picture even more awesome! (*Note: I will be posting an entire article dedicated to the cosplaying/cosplayers at this year’s Comic Con. Stay tuned for that.)

Tip 4: DON’T touch cosplayers or their outfits without their permission. I know it’s cool to see their costumes, especially the ones that require mechanical engineering, but remember to be polite and don’t touch them or their costume. They might be uncomfortable with that or their costume might be fragile and can’t be touched by people. Just a little reminder to pass on, especially a good remember for parents to pass down to their kids.

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(My husband and I dressed up as Corvo and Emily from the video game Dishonored 2)

Tip 5: DO feel free to dress up. Feel free to cosplay, whether it’s a costume you hand-made yourself or if it’s a costume you bought from a Halloween store. You get a free pass to dress up as basically anything you want to here. No judgement being passed here. So, find something you’ll be comfortable wearing and have fun.

Tip 6: DON’T bring little kids for a whole, full day. Comic Con is a long, all-day event, which is naturally very tiring and exhausting after a long day of walking around. So, keep that in mind if you plan on bringing children to this event. It might be too much or too long for some kids. But, SDCC has dedicated Sunday as Kid’s Day. It’s also a shorter day (from 9:30-5) and has more activities dedicated just to children. So, this might be the day you plan to be with your children all day.

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(Can’t meet a celebrity? Didn’t win the raffle to get a celebrity signature? Just pose with their wax figure! Here is Jason Momoa as Aquaman)

Tip 7: DO visit Artist’s Alley. This is another cool part of Comic Con is all the artists and illustrators there who are selling their artwork. It’s cool to just look around, and if you find something you like you can buy a print. Remember though, don’t touch the art unless the artist allows you to. Think of museum rules when walking through this area.

Tip 8: Speaking of kids, DO remember to be a little mom-like and pack snacks. This is a long day, and yes there is food available inside, but remember how many people attend this? Yeah, all those people get hungry around the same time as you do. So, there will be long lines for food. But if you bring snacks, it can help you while you wait to order your food, or to help stave off your hunger a little while until the lines calm down some.

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(Getting a feel for the Oculus Rift controllers at the Marvel Booth)

Tip 9: DO make time to just check out the exhibition hall and look around at everything there is to offer. The big companies like Marvel, Blizzard, Nintendo, etc. all offer interactive exhibits to do while you are there. Sure, there will be a wait, but they tend to be really fun and enjoyable (especially the video games). My husband and I got to try the Oculus Rift game made by Marvel. And it was completely awesome! We got to play for a whole 10 minutes, and we got the chance to try a virtual reality game that turned out to be really cool.

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(The Oculus Rift Marvel Game up on the screen. The four characters you got to play as were The Hulk, Rocket, Deadpool, and Captain Marvel)

Also, you can check out the small press section and see lesser known comics being released. My favorite thing to do was to look around and buy little souvenirs for my friends. They have really awesome fandom gear (T-shirts, art, gadgets) for sale which was a marvelous find.

Tip 10:  DO talk to people. While you are standing in line, get the chance to meet new people from all over the world (we met 2 nice girls from South Korea). And while you’re talking make sure to compare your Comic Con experiences, because it’s a really good possibility that you’ve missed something. We stood in line and met a nice guy named Sydney from the press (DCCOMICNEWS.COM) who shared with us his favorite things at Comic Con which is how we ended up at the Marvel booth playing the oculus rift game. So, it’s totally worth it to talk to people when you’re in line, because they might give you a good recommendation and they’ll help make the waiting time pass by faster.

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(Our Badges for the Day)

I hope these tips will help you in your future visit to Comic Con. I obviously created this tips with San Diego in mind but feel free to apply these tips to any Comic Con you may be attending. Out of the three Comic Con experiences I’ve had, I can say that these tips are pretty universal and transferable to any comic con no matter where it’s located.