Star Wars

With the upcoming release of the latest Star Wars movie, yes, I confess that I am a Star Wars fan and have been for as long as I can remember.

I grew up on the bickering of C3-PO and R2-D2 and the clashes of sparkling lightsabers and I never knew a world without them. But behind all that, is the ages old battle of good versus evil, but also with redemption of evil and rogues with hearts of gold. But it’s that triumph of heroes over villains that makes me watch it over and over. Not to mention the original story, new experiences, imaginative creatures, and exotic vistas. I even accepted the underperforming prequels considering they did still have characters to look up to, like courageous Padme who was more than just her office of Queen.

Admittedly though, I didn’t care much for Force Awakens. I keep trying to put a finger on why, since it wasn’t the performance by Daisy Ridley who has now become a hero for a new generation of girls. And it wasn’t the exotic locales with the desert planet very reminiscent of Tatooine, or the impressive ship interiors, as well as the return of the iconic Millennium Falcon and Han and Leia, and the remote end location.

Yes, the villain who threw temper tantrums like a 5-year-old was extremely hard to take seriously and not itch to make him do a time out in a corner, but I think the largest issue I had with it was originality in the plotline. So much of it felt like a retread of the very first Star Wars movie, so much that I started to wonder if they were aiming for a remake rather than a new story. Which brings me around to the upcoming new movie.

If Force Awakens was a retread of New Hope, I worry the new movie will be a retread of Empire Strikes Back. From the previews I know there will be an extended Jedi powers training session with Rey standing in for Luke and Luke standing in for Yoda. Makes me wonder just how much else will be copied. Will there be a scene on the run with Rey hiding out in a field of asteroids?

And will there be a showdown at Cloud City with Rey and Kylo where one loses a hand and a reveal of the relationship between them will be made? (I really doubt he’ll say that he’s her father, though brother is likely. It’s amazing all the bets that are being made over Rey’s parentage. I’m still hoping for her being a Kenobi rather than trying to turn them into Jacen and Jaina from the books instead of the writers coming up with their own original ideas).

Still, all of my quibbles won’t stop me from running to the theaters to see blinding lightsaber duels on a gigantic screen, and visiting new worlds, while the iconic theme of Star Wars blasts, heralding another out of this world experience.


Gypsy Madden is an author and costume designer, living and writing in the Rainbow State, Hawaii. She is the author of Hired by a Demon.

All Hail the Pumpkin King

The abrupt appearance of pumpkins and shops clogged with cobwebs is enough of a clue to even my sleep addled brain that Halloween is nearing. I have mixed feelings about this time of year. I love the cold fogs that we get in my elevated patch of Yorkshire, those mists that soak up sound so readily and make my boots muffled as I walk the dogs with my head lamp bobbing away. The actual night of Halloween less so. Sure when I was a kid I loved the macabre festival nature, and the infiltration in the Eighties of the Americanised Trick or Treat (which no-one had heard of in Leeds until ET came along). As an adult, less so—given that my primary role is trudging around in the drizzle whilst my kids beg at doors in costume.

Now I’ve always been aware that Halloween was one of those hijacked events, a bit like Easter—where the Christian faith had built a new meaning on a day/period/festival with more pagan origins. But it wasn’t until I researched for my new book—The Spectral Assassin—that I discovered the beliefs about Halloween were especially relevant to my new book, and the Nu Knights series.
So, from the new book we discover more than we really wanted to know about Halloween from Aunt Gaynor, whilst her son Nick cringes nearby…

‘Trick or treat?’

The three children regarded Gaynor with eyes half way between hope and doubt. She tugged her shawl around her shoulders and smiled.

‘However such a wondrous festival has been corrupted by the commercial taint of Americanism I shall never know. Are you aware of the Gaelic origins of All Hallows Eve, children?’

The tallest of the children was dressed as a werewolf and he shrugged. ‘Is Gaelic what dad likes on bread at Pizza Paradise?’

‘Umm, that’s garlic, child. No, Halloween is a corruption of Samhain, the Gaelic festival at the middle point between autumn’s equinox and winter’s solstice.’

‘I told you we should’ve skipped this house,’ hissed a second child dressed in fairy wings.

‘It was held that on Samhain that the barriers between worlds were weaker, more malleable, and that those of the faerie world, and other such lands, were more able to cross into ours.’

‘Mother!’ Nick said, pushing past Gaynor. He held forth a bowl with a dozen brown squares inside. The children took them with all the zeal of picking up a dead crow, before leaving.

‘Granola, mother, really?’ Nick said.

‘I can hardly give them chocolate formed in the bowels of a multinational corporation can I?’

Nick glanced at the trio of children as they skipped off to the next cottage, and then closed the door.

***

Samhain is one of the four Celtic seasonal festivals (the others being Bealtaine, Imbolc, and Lughnasadh) and is the event marking the end of the harvest period and the commencement of the winter period. For some pagans it marks the Celtic new year (for others this is Imbolc). The belief was that at these times that the barriers between worlds were weaker—so called ‘liminal times.’ So for the Celts that was the barrier between the normal world and that of the faeries that had become weakened and thus it was a day when the faeries could more easily enter the world.

The boundaries between worlds, in the case of the Nu-Knights series ‘alternate worlds’, are often dangerously thin. These rifts are perceived by two of the key characters—Sam, and his schizophrenic older brother, Ben. In the first book—the Infinity Bridge—we learned that the rifts were windows into realities where history had taken a different course, so called alternate worlds. We also discovered that passage was possible—in the Nu-Knight’s case via use of an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse). Perhaps Samhain and other liminal times were instances where the passage between alternates was somehow easier, the rifts more frequent or more stable… And of course, in the multitude of alternate worlds, there may even be one where magic is real, and faeries are rife.

On Samhain the Celts also believed that the weakening of barriers occurred between our world and that of the spirits of the dead. Accordingly the spirits were honoured and remembered at feasts, and they also believed that the presence of spirits allowed their priests—the Druids—to more readily predict the future. At these celebrations the Celts brought food for feast, had slaughtered animals for the winter, and often wore costumes of animal heads and skins. Pieces of the bonfire were then taken to homes as protection.

The common traditions of Halloween can be seen evolving from Samhain. The apple was a symbolic fruit of the afterlife and immortality (yeah, seriously) and the game of apple-bobbing comes from the ancient feasts. More recently (as in 16th century recently) the tradition of wearing costume and journeying from door to door was observed. The costumes harken back to those Celtic feasts and were felt to protect one from the spirits by impersonating them (presumably if you had a crap costume then you’d be sleeping with the light on in case you’d offended some spirit). Agreeably in the 16th century the costumed pagans would go around singing for food rather than candy, but I was fascinated to see just how far back the costumes of ‘trick or treat’ went.

All Saints Day (also called All Hallows Day) was a Roman Catholic holy day from the Dark Ages, originally in May but later moved to November. There’s debate as to why this happened, with some historians believing that the Celts influenced the Catholics to change to coincide All Saints Day with Samhain. Whatever the reason, the amalgamation lives on as All Hallows’ Eve (or Even, or E’en).

So what does the weakening between the worlds mean for Sam, Nick, Annie, and Ben? Nu-Knights 2: The Spectral Assassin is published next month, five years after the first book. Watch out for the cover reveal soon, and then get ready for an adventure even more exciting than the first book.

 

Good People

 

The world is a seemingly dark place, with natural and man-made disasters striking almost every day. My heart goes out to all of those who are suffering the loss of friends and family members in the Las Vegas tragedy. Their wounds – as are those of others who are reeling from recent events throughout the world – are fresh, raw and exposed. I was listening to the radio this morning and something that country singer Jason Aldean said struck me. He said basically that he fears to raise his children in the world as it is today. This is a perfectly logical sentiment. As a parent, the first people I think to protect when there’s a tragedy are my kids.

On the other hand, his statement made me focus not on fear but rather on hope. How can we change the world? We can change the world by being good citizens, good neighbors, loving and forgiving family members, and joyful volunteers wherever we’re needed. We can change the world by just being Good People.

Good People turn what normally would be tragic endings into hopeful beginnings for others.

Good People love and forgive their neighbors.

Good People love and forgive their enemies.

Good People create beauty.

Good People are joyful and share that joy.

Good People stand up for what is right and stand against injustice in all of its forms.

 

Good People are morally courageous.

There are more Good People out there than you might think.

Each and every day, let us pray to God for help to become Good People. Then, let us go out and live like Good People and show our children, and children everywhere, what a world full of Good People can do.

 

Morality and the Flawed Hero

When we write a tale that involves human beings, it is likely morality will enter into it at some point. What is our responsibility as authors, when it comes to telling our tales? Do we sugar-coat it and pretend our heroes have no flaws or do we portray them, “warts and all?” For myself, I gravitate to tales written with guts and substance. Give me the Flawed Hero over the Bland Prince any day.

In Huw the Bard I describe a murder, committed in cold blood. I take you from what is the worst moment in Huw’s life and follow him as he journeys to a place and an act which, if you had asked him two months prior, he would have sworn he was not capable of committing. Sadly, this is not the lowest point in his tale. It is, however, the beginning of his journey into manhood.

Does my writing the story of this terrible act mean I personally advocate revenge murders? Absolutely not. I have lived for 64 years, and my view of life is that of a person with some experience of both the joys and the sorrows which living brings us. I believe no human being has the right to take another’s life, or do harm to anyone for any reason. Still, I write stories about people who might have existed, and who have their own views of morality. In each story I write, I try to get into the characters’ heads, to understand why they make the sometimes-terrible choices which change their lives so profoundly.

I have a responsibility to tell the best story I can, even if I am writing for my own consumption. This means sometimes I stretch the bounds of accepted morality, and make every effort to do it, not for the shock value, but because the story demands it. It is entertainment, yes; but more than that, I want the tale to remain with the reader after they have finished it. If I am somehow able to tap into the emotions of the moment and bring the reader into the story, I have achieved my goal.

In the forthcoming months, I will be launching another book in the Billy’s Revenge series, set in the world of Waldeyn, Billy Ninefingers. Billy appears at the end of Huw the Bard and is the man the series is named after.

Having just inherited the captaincy of a mercenary band known as the Rowdies, Billy is on the verge of having everything he ever wanted. However, an unwarranted attack by a jealous rival captain seriously wounds him, destroying his ability to swing a sword. Desperate to hold on to his inheritance, Billy must build a new future for himself and the Rowdies despite his disability. In keeping with the theme in this series, his tale explores the way we justify our actions for good or ill, and how his worst moments shape his life.

Toward the end of this book, Huw’s story converges with Billy’s, a small glimpse his life as a mercenary. Some of my other favorite characters will also make appearances in Billy’s tale of trouble and woe because his story and the Rowdies are the backdrops to their story.

Due to a family emergency over the summer, I was delayed in beginning my final revisions on Billy Ninefingers, but he will launch in the first week of December, in time for Christmas.

 

Nut-free Banana Bread #recipe

I not only hate walnuts, I’m allergic to them. Finding a recipe for banana bread that doesn’t get funny when you take out the walnuts is challenging. This one works and has my kids’ stamp of approval. Makes one loaf of bread, which you can slice into as few pieces as you want.

This is too many, but they look nice.

Ingredients:

  • 1⅓ cups flour
  • 1 Tbsp rolled oats
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 5⅓ Tbsp unsalted butter, softened but not melted
  • ⅔ cup sugar–brown or white
  • 2 very ripe bananas
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs

Equipment:

  • Electric mixer
  • Wire whisk or similar tool
  • Three mixing bowls
  • Something to mash your bananas
  • Scraper spatula
  • One loaf pan, prepared for baking in your preferred manner

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Combine flour, oats, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in one mixing bowl and whisk together. Set aside.
  • In the second mixing bowl, use the electric mixer to beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. This will be the bowl you add everything else to. Set aside.
  • Use the third mixing bowl to mash the bananas with the extra tablespoon of brown sugar. Set aside.
  • Return to the butter mixture. Gradually add the flour and beat together so you don’t coat yourself with flour.
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  • Using the scraper spatula, fold in the mashed bananas. Use only as many cutting strokes as it takes to combine the two.
  • Pour the batter into your loaf pan.
  • Bake uncovered for 60 minutes.
  • Turn off the oven, prop the door open, and leave the bread inside until the oven cools.
  • Remove from the pan and let cool as long as you can wait to eat it.

Notes:

  • The baking time may need to be adjusted by as much as 10 minutes in either direction for your oven. When the crusty edges on top darken to a deep brown, turn off the oven to avoid burning.
  • This recipe adapts well to gluten-free flours used with xanthan gum.
  • Adapting this recipe to vegan can be done, but I recommend instead using a recipe designed for vegans.
  • Replacing up to half the flour with whole wheat flour works fine.
  • Change this to apple by replacing the banana with 1 cup applesauce and adding 1 tsp total of apple pie spices.
  • Change this loaf to pumpkin by replacing the banana with 1 cup pumpkin puree and adding 1 tsp total of pumpkin pie spices.
  • This bread freezes well, sliced or unsliced.
  • If your bananas are frozen, make sure to thaw completely before using.

The Hero as Social Justice Warrior

Do you write what you preach? 

Are fiction authors supposed to promote their personal values? Or is the story supposed to be a self-contained entity with its own political views and separate from the author’s? Must (or should) the author reveal personal positions on every social and political issues undergoing discussion in the public arena? Or is the story just a story and everything political is thrown to the wind for the sake of the story?

The writer is supposedly imbued with a welter of imagination, able to leap tall plots in a single bound, about to stop dastardly antagonists with bare hands (obviously, on a keyboard). So it should go beyond the “write what you know” –shouldn’t it? It is the mark of a true author if he/she can make you believe he/she knows what he/she is writing about.

However, there are plenty of instances where readers get in the way. I mean that in a wholly innocent sense. If writing for a particular category of reader, the writer may shape the story in certain ways to appeal to those readers. Part of that may be, say, to use initials instead of a name or to use a pen name completely to hide the gender of the author. Because a Romance author cannot be a man…in theory. And a hardcore sci-fi author cannot be female…traditionally.

If an author is against guns…would the story be gun-free?

If the author believes in a nation having a strong military and the government protecting its citizens by militarizing city police forces, would that idea be reflected in the author’s latest book? If the author is opposed to abortion, would the character in the story who gets pregnant have an abortion or have the baby and offer it for adoption? It starts to get complicated. Or perhaps it’s very easy. Do your characters act as you would act?

And then there is the marketing question.

If an author writes books in which characters act as he/she would, hold views the author holds, act as the author would act with regard to a whole host of political and social issues, views, and positions, where does that leave the reader? Could that reader like a story enough to buy it and read it even though that reader and the book’s author may have different views on, say, immigration reform? Or do we authors censor ourselves so as to be as mild-mannered as possible and not offend anyone who just might be tempted to buy our book? Do we write so as to not alienate half the potential readership, or do we go forth boldly proclaiming where we stand on this or that issue, and hope or expect that we will be praised for our stance(s)? Tough questions–or non-issues?

Perhaps many writers, authors, dabblers in words, whatever the label, just don’t care about such matters because just writing an interesting story is hard enough and we don’t have time to be concerned about things outside the story. Or are we politely disingenuous, hiding our true nature and our true beliefs and values for the sake of that interesting story, afraid to speak out about something we feel strongly about because we worry about offending fellow authors and potential readers. Compare the statistics of recent voting and decide which half of the book-buying population you will market to.

I don’t believe fiction writers, as a clan, deal much with pushing agendas. Or do we? Or should we? Or…why shouldn’t we? When I’ve written sci-fi and fantasy, I’ve invented political systems which run the spectrum from left to right, not as a reflection of my own view of “how things should be” but only for the sake of plausibility in the story and influence on the plot.

Sure, the literary canon is full of authors who pushed agendas, who wrote dogmatic tales, who gave us strongly-worded suggestions of how we should behave, what we should think, what we should do or stop doing–woven more or less subtly through a fictional narrative that served to entertain us long enough to get the message across. And others wrote to warn us of possible future scenarios we may not wish to experience.

The world of literary imagination is both a safe space and a war zone. Reader beware.

Or are they simply stories which only in hindsight do we see a message or a warning? And if the warning may be too strong, too upsetting, too triggering, then such a book might be moved into the banned book pile. Fearing the ban, authors may self-censor, keep it clean, water it down, set it all in a land of make-believe where nothing is actually meant to be real or serious, certainly not as a commentary on the present political climate, oh no!

And yet, in this present day world of saying the right thing, being politically correct or decidedly not, what is the author’s responsibility…or compulsion? Must a novel follow a political agenda? May a work of fiction illustrate differing views on particular social issues?

Should our protagonists be social justice warriors? 

Life in the Fast Lane

As readers of my author blog, Life in the Realm of Fantasy, know, my husband and I share five children, all adults, two of whom have a seizure disorder.

Both my daughter and son were diagnosed with epilepsy when they were well into adulthood. Both have been hospitalized with severe injuries, but while our daughter’s journey with the seizure disorder has been relatively trouble free for the last ten years, our son has not had such luck.

Daughter 1 responds well to the medication and rarely has issues. Son 2 has had trouble getting his medication regulated, and his high stress lifestyle has often interfered with his ability to stay on track.

In conversation, as soon as folks hear the word ‘epilepsy’ they begin armchair prescribing cannabis, as the new cure-all for seizure disorders, and while the CBD end of the cannabis spectrum does have a miraculous effect for some patients, it is like any other medicine—it is not useful for everyone. My children are among those who do not benefit from it.

A ketogenic diet may help, but again, not every type of seizure disorder responds to this diet. However, it doesn’t hurt to try anything that may help.

Surgery is an option when a cause for the seizures is clear and operable, but for most patients, there is no discernable cause. My children fall into this group, and until a more efficient type of brain scan is available, MRIs and EEGs remain inconclusive.

Epilepsy is caused by a range of conditions that are not well understood, and it is one of the less popular afflictions for research. The way it is treated is to throw medication at it until they happen on one that works, rather like Edison trying to invent the lightbulb.

At times, epilepsy rears its ugly head like Cthulhu rising from the depths, and when that happens life goes sideways for a while. This summer was difficult in many ways, making me unable to focus on my own creative writing. Having deadlines and writing posts for various blogs on the technical aspects of writing was my lifeline, keeping me connected to the craft.

On June 13th, my son had a seizure while cooking, and severely burned his right hand. He then spent four days in Harborview, the regional burn center for the Pacific Northwest. The burns were situated in such a way they were not good candidates for skin grafts, so they healed slowly, over the next two months. In the process, I developed some mad wound care skills.

Now my son is healed, with new meds the seizures have abated, and he is back in his own home, getting on with school and a new direction in his career. This was just life, just the way stuff happens. It wasn’t a hurricane like Texas just experienced. We suffered no widespread devastation, and no one died. The creative muse has returned to me, as it always does.

I was home all last week, and still, my house is trashed. A mountain of dirty laundry lurks in the hall by the washer. Every counter-top in the kitchen has some item waiting to be put away. Two weeks ago, sand from the beach made the journey home in our clothes. Despite having vacuumed several times since then, the carpet needs a good shampooing or replacing, but that’s another story.

My editor’s hat is firmly on, and I am editing for Myrddin author, Carlie M.A. Cullen, a creative fairy tale that will be an amazing book. Revisions on my own work, Billy Ninefingers (a novel set in the same world as Huw the Bard) are progressing well. The first draft of my new series, set in the World of Neveyah (Tower of Bones), is on and off—sometimes more off than on, but each writing session sees progress.

Events in my family during May, June, and most of July temporarily stalled my creative mind. Many projects and plans fell by the way, but there was no other choice. Now, with my son on the mend and back in his own home, I am back to work. No more mornings spending two hours doing wound care, no trips to the burn center in Seattle for follow-up—all that is over and done with.

No cooking and cleaning for an extra person, no trying to find ways to entertain a bored, unwilling houseguest.

Now I am free to get up at 5:30 a.m. and edit until 10:00 or so. Then, when my ability to think critically is exhausted, I have the luxury of writing until noon. If I feel so inclined, I can do a bit of putting away, and maybe a little housework, but then I can sit and write again. This house will never be clean, but my family is once again on track and doing well, my ability to write has returned, and I am privileged to be an editor for Myrddin. This is where I get to read the best work before anyone else and hobnob with the authors.

Every life has challenges, whether it is epilepsy or hurricanes. The west is on fire, forests and grasslands burning and displacing people. Hurricanes are devastating the South. If you feel moved to donate to Hurricane or fire relief but don’t know a good, reliable organization, or for whatever reason choose not to donate to the Red Cross, you can make a donation through:

the ELCA Hurricane Relief website at https://community.elca.org/ushurricanerelief.

Wildfire Relief Fund at: http://wildfirerelieffund.org/

Your dollars and prayers will make a difference, far more than donations of second-hand goods and stuffed animals. What the displaced people are in desperate need of now is food and shelter, which your charitable donations of cash will give them.

Despite the terrible things we sometimes must deal with, life is good. The real task is to not let the bad days destroy all that is good.

________________________________________________________

Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger and can be found blogging regularly at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.

Writing a book: Researching fiction

 
This blog offering has been stewing in my mind for days now. What shall or should I talk about? A quick glance at national and international days mention it is national webmistress day this week. I happen to be the webmistress for the Myrddin Publishing website and it is going through a revamp at the moment (still at planning at the moment in afraid) but I need to face it, people don’t come here for web tips. You are here to find out about the authors right?
Some of our most popular posts are from our author Connie who talks about her writing process and our other popular posts talk about authors lives such as Gypsy and her blog about cosplay. In that vein, I’m going to talk about the research I do for writing a book.
In case you are not familiar with my fiction I write primarily fantasy with a dash of sci-fi and picture /puzzle books. My first fantasy novel didn’t take much research. I only really looked up how different cultures viewed the elements, the rest was from my imagination but my latest novel that is serialised on my blog needed a little more.
Accidental Immortal is set in the modern day but, there is always a but, unfortunately the protagonist finds herself transported across space to the ancient Egyptian colony of Duat. It is still in the 21st century but she ends up in a pyramid built during the New Kingdom. And that my internet friends is where my research hat had to be found.
I’ve never been to Egypt, I’d love to go but the threat of terrorism and costs puts me off. Luckily there are internet sites, academic journals and YouTube!
Did you know that there were sleeping platforms, raised on one side? Me neither – before doing research for this book. The building materials changed during the time the pyramids were built as well. What I also found fascinating was the Egyptians were supposed to have crude batteries. Couldn’t this have been the basis for a technology that the priesthood would keep to themselves to keep them in power? My mind was racing.
After my character leaves the pyramids  I had to look into desert tribes but it didn’t need to be exact. After all, our culture has changed tremendously since the pyramid so why wouldn’t theirs? They would have a different environment influencing them, as well as a melting pot of cultures from all the different slaves sent over to create the new world. The possibilities were endless. Add in a dragon and the story takes on a new dimension.
For my picture books, I had to research rhyming poetry but I didn’t just want to do a straight picture book. My son, I hate to say it being an ex – librarian, isn’t really into them. I created an interactive book that could keep his attention – that meant puzzles. He was three at the time but I had some cousins who were four and five and a friend who had a four year old. These munchkins made excellent guinea pigs for the puzzles. Were they too hard?
My son found the latter puzzles too difficult but I designed it so that he could go back to it later. My nails began to look a bit ragged but the answer came back. After being shown the first clue in the word search, my cousins were off completing it themselves. The response from my friend’s son made my day. “This is awesome, it has games in it!“ I should explain that as well as letter and number tracing, dot-to-dot and logic puzzles, there is also a snakes and ladders game in the middle with a link to download the pdf so people can cut out the counters without destroying the book. Phew! That gave me the confidence to publish them.
I have to say, as it was a picture book, leaning towards the ridiculous is always encouraged to spark their imagination but I also wanted them to learn something. I had to research puzzles in my chosen age range which meant giving my son lots of puzzles to try! I also had to check I had the planets right, I do feel so sorry for Pluto, downgraded to a dwarf planet. Other research included looking up the dancing twins for the dot to dot section.
I was surprised how much research even a picture book demanded. I assumed before I started that I could get away with just slapping a couple of rhymes together but it turns out you need to put your heart, soul and brain into everything you do to have something you are truly proud to call your own. The first draft iterations were deleted never to be seen again.
Research can be incredibly boring, fascinating and time consuming at the same time but I think, essential for any book I write! As I expand the Minkie Monster universe there are already three picture books, a letter tracing book, a colouring book and there is a number tracing book about to be published, I am continually learning and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Series: Minkie Monster Series
Letter Tracing: Handwriting practice for preschool and kindergarten (Letter Tracing Practice)
Christmas Puzzles: Minkie Monster Saves Christmas (Preschool Puzzlers) (Volume 4)
Space: A Minkie Monster Coloring Book
Under the Sea Puzzles: Minkie Monster and the Lost Treasure (Preschool Puzzlers) (Volume 3)
Space Puzzles: Minkie Monster and the Birthday Surprise (Preschool Puzzlers) (Volume 1)
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15 Reasons to Quit Writing

By: David P. Cantrell

It is very presumptuous of me to write about writing. I don’t make a living as a writer, I’d starve if I tried to, but I love (and hate) the process.

I love the rush that comes with ideas unfolding like a map to reveal the path within. Sometimes the words come faster than I can write and they evaporate. Just a wisp of the thought lingers behind to taunt me—I was great, but you weren’t good enough to catch me. And that brings me to what I hate about writing–the self-doubt: I’m not smart enough, people will laugh at me, who cares what I have to say.

My musing got me wondering what others have had to say about the process, which led me to a Goodreads list of 795 quotes about writing. Some of my favorites are set forth below. I hope you enjoy them.


  1. The first draft is just you telling yourself the story. ― Terry Pratchett
  2. 10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer Write.
    Write more. Write even more. Write even more than that.
    Write when you don’t want to. Write when you do.
    Write when you have something to say. Write when you don’t.
    Write every day. Keep writing. ― Brian Clark
  3. You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. ― Octavia E. Butler
  4. Anyone who says writing is easy isn’t doing it right. ― Amy Joy
  5. I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. ― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
  6. There is only one thing a writer can write about: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing… I am a recording instrument… I do not presume to impose “story” “plot” “continuity”… Insofar as I succeed in Direct recording of certain areas of psychic process I may have limited function… I am not an entertainer… ― William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch
  7. Sometimes I scare myself at how easily I slip inside my mind and live vicariously through these characters. ― Teresa Mummert
  8. There are three secrets to writing a novel. Unfortunately nobody knows what they are. ― W. Somerset Maugham
  9. Rules such as “Write what you know,” and “Show, don’t tell,” while doubtlessly grounded in good sense, can be ignored with impunity by any novelist nimble enough to get away with it. There is, in fact, only one rule in writing fiction: Whatever works, works. ― Tom Robbins
  10. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page. ― Jodi Picoul
  11. The only ‘ironclad rules’ in writing fiction are the laws of physics and the principles of grammar, and even those can be bent. ― Val Kovalin
  12. But in the wake of ‘Bullet,’ all the guys wanted to know was, ‘How’s it doing? How’s it selling?’ How to tell them I didn’t give a flying fuck how it was doing in the marketplace, that what I cared about was how it was doing in the reader’s heart? ― Stephen King, Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales
  13. Don’t over edit. Don’t second-guess yourself, or your ideas. Just write. Write every day, and keep at it. Don’t get discouraged with the rejections. Tape them up on your office wall, to remind you of all the hard work you put in when you finally start getting published! It’s all about persistence and passion. And have fun with it. Don’t forget to have fun. ― Heather Grace Stewart
  14. I’ve discovered that sometimes writing badly can eventually lead to something better. Not writing at all leads to nothing. ― Anna Quindlen
  15. The writing begins when you’ve finished. Only then do you know what you’re trying to say.” ― Samuel Langhorne Clemens

    You will find all 795 quotes here.

Writing from another gender’s POV

Writing Gender Perspective

Writing Gender Perspective

It can be downright painful to read a book that poorly represents a certain gender. If the author does not have a great understanding of what it means to be male, female, or that squishy place in between, their book will fall flat with certain people (or be just plain offensive!). It can be a tricky dance to realistically portray male and female characters and give them distinct and interesting personalities, but unless you’re planning on writing about an all-female planet or a bros-only frat party adventure, you’ll have to learn how eventually.

Misrepresenting gender can take many forms.

Sometimes authors over-exaggerate typical male or female characteristics to the point of caricature. All the women have big breasts and are obsessed with makeup, gossip, and painting their nails. All the men love muscle cars, grunt, and smoke cigars. Why do people write in stereotypes when it’s clear humans in everyday life don’t (usually) fit into a neat “males do this, females do this” boxes?

Part of the problem is due to existing media.

In traditional works of fiction—and this absolutely crosses over into movies and television—women and men are often portrayed in an exaggerated fashion. Think of Marvel comics. Even the tough women are sexualized, while the men all have rippling muscles and are usually stoic, emotionless.

In my childhood, I read Nancy Drew books obsessively. Nancy was supposed to be a strong-willed, capable detective, but whenever she got in a bind, her knight-in-shining-armor, Ned Nickerson, would swoop in and save the day. Not to mention, she was thin, blond, and attractive.

Another way gender is misrepresented is when it is ignored completely.

Although it is better to ascribe specific personalities to your character than to box them in by gender, it is necessary to take some gender differences into account. For instance, if you’re writing a book about a present-day business, a female executive will likely face struggles that her male counterparts do not. Since she is in the minority, she may occasionally feel ostracized by her male coworkers, or she may feel that she has to constantly prove herself. And her troubles may compound if she has a child or children at home, since many people still view child-rearing as primarily women’s work.

In this example, if your female exec protagonist only has to deal with outsmarting competitors and firing poor-performing employees, you’re missing a large part of her struggle. Even if it’s not the focus of your book, it deserves a mention.

I’ll give you another example of how gender differences come into play in literature. I read the manuscript of a male friend’s work in progress lately and encountered a scene that played out like this:

Male character and female character meet.

M and F characters hit it off.

M and F characters decide to go for a walk in a quiet woods.

My immediate reaction was NOPE. No, no sir, no way. Even if your female character has a good feeling about the male character, she’s been trained her entire life to be on guard and aware. She would never (unless she was feeling either remarkably stupid or bold…or she’s a seasoned karate master) traipse off into the woods with a strange man. That’s just an ugly scene waiting to happen.

So, how do you accurately portray gender?

Even though lots of problems can occur when you’re writing about another gender, it’s not impossible to get it right. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but here a few methods you can try:

Hang out with people of a different gender.

Be observant. Notice others’ mannerisms and comments. If you feel comfortable, be direct and ask questions like, “what would a male typically do—how would he feel—in X situation?”

NOTE: Of course not every person can fully represent their gender. Be strategic. If you’re writing about a female athlete, go to female sports games, talk to your athlete friends, and hang out online in forums geared toward female athletes.

Go online.

This may come as a shock to you, but a lot of people hang out online (winky face). Go to forums or social media sites where your “targets” hang out. Writing about a man in the military? Subscribe to a military subreddit, ask questions on Quora, or follow blogs written by military men.

Practice empathy.

The root of empathy is letting go of preconceived assumptions and simply paying attention. Be observant of the world around you. Listen to others’ tones of voice, their actions, the way they interact with others. Visit new places and be around people who are different then yourself. You could initiate conversations, but it’s often best to just watch and listen (in a non-creepy way…obviously).

Understand that gender traits often don’t matter.

A well-written character is a dynamic character. They are more than male, female, or something in between. They are teachers, tattoo enthusiasts, virgins, poets, wine snobs, home owners, bus drivers, parents, hamburger fans, Labradoodle owners, Russians, painters, botanists, and so much more. Your characters are defined by their occupations, interests, family history, upbringing, ethics, and a host of other factors.

Why pigeonhole your characters? They are multi-dimensional and each distinct part of them matters. YES, gender is important and should play a role in character development, but it shouldn’t play the ONLY role.

 

#BookReview: Legion Lost By K.C. Finn, review by Gypsy Madden

My blog at LiveJournal (and cross-posted to Goodreads) is where I review books that I read. So, to give you a quick taste of my reviews, I’m sharing one of my latest favorite books by the wonderful indie author K.C. Finn:

Legion Lost By K.C. Finn – I gave it 5 stars

Category: YA

 

Summary: In a dystopian future, there are interconnected cities known as the System and they are ruled over by the corrupt Governor Prudell. Our heroine lives outside of the System in a colony underground. But one day, the Underground is raided by System soldiers, and our heroine manages to escape though her mother and brothers are taken captive. Starving and on her own, she happens upon a young boy who is on his way to join the Legion. The Legion turns out to be the System run army made up of young teenagers. The girl decides to join, as a boy, and perhaps find a way to rescue her family members once she gets inside the System. But she finds that in the barracks everyone showers together, so her secret would be found out immediately, so she tries to hide herself in with the rejects. And in with the rejects she finds a new family of friends for herself.

Comments: K.C. Finn’s writing never ceases to amaze me. I love getting lost in her imaginative worlds and discovering new friends among her cast of characters. Legion Lost is a wonderful coming-of-age story with a dystopian background. I’m personally not a fan of anything to do with military, but it really didn’t bother me in this story. Having joined the military made a wonderful new set of complications that our heroine Raja had to figure her way through. And, yes, I adored Stirling. You could easily see the bashful, shy, awkward teenager, hiding behind his tough roguish captain façade. And all the other rejects had wonderful personalities, too (and especially Lucrece). There really wasn’t a character I could point to in this entire story and say they felt like a cardboard creation. Where so many of the indie YA dystopian books on the market right now read like re-treads of Hunger Games and Divergent, this one blazes its own direction. Yes, there are shades of Hunger Games in this (the corrupt government with a possibly evil leader, rebel factions itching to overthrow the established government, a heroine who grew up on the fringes and suddenly finds herself amid the struggle, not knowing who to trust, a strong heroine beating the odds, and yes, the touching coming-of-age). I hope it isn’t giving away too much, but I loved that this story had a Twelfth Night plot to it (my favorite Shakespeare play!) I can’t wait to see where the next book in this wonderful story takes us to!

You can pick up Legion Lost at https://www.amazon.com/Legion-Lost-K-C-Finn-ebook/dp/B01BKYGD00/ (Right now only $0.99 cents!)

And visit my blog at http://timelady.livejournal.com/ or https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7170704.Gypsy_Madden/blog for plenty of more book reviews!

_____________________________________________________
Gypsy Madden loves fantasy, science fiction, and anything British and adores making costumes and dressing up at conventions! She has participated in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) contest for 3 years as well as helping with the pitch workshopping thread, contributed chapters to the round robin stories of the Doctor Who Internet Adventures (DWIAs) and can even be spotted in the Naruto fan movie Konaha vs Chaos, dressed up as Harry Potter at several of the HPEF symposiums, and in LOST as a mental patient. Hired by a Demon is her first novel in print.

These re-boots are made for walking…

The latest iteration of Spiderman arrives next week and judging by the multitude of teaser trailers and quirky vignettes for sporting events it’s going to combine all the things that have made Marvel films such as success (namely humour, straightforward plots, fun characterisation, and solid action scenes).

Yet there’s a little irritation inside me that once again, we have a re-boot of the Spiderman films. Now this time there’s a commercial reason: after all Spidey was previously out-with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and then popped up in Captain America 3: Civil War in an Incredible appearance on Iron Man’s team. Yet, for me as a 45 year old comics veteran, this is my fourth Spiderman re-boot. I started in the late 1970s with Nicholas Hammond’s Spiderman, which ran as a TV series with three feature length episodes also getting a cinema release. Then, after far too long a wait, we had the three Sam Raimee films with Toby Maguire (and a great set of villains). This, along with the X-men franchise, really paved the way for Marvel’s success with their MCU (Iron Man, Cap, Thor, and the Avenger films and spin-offs). Sony tried to get back into the game after the Spiderman trilogy had wrapped up, opting to ‘re-boot’ rather than continue onwards.

This re-boot had some great features. It took Peter Parker back to being a high-school kid, agreeably a far cooler one than my memory of him in the original Ditko comics. For two films, with the Lizard, Electro, and the Rhino (briefly) as villains we had a younger fun Spiderman, yet still one that existed outside the MCU franchise. I think these films, despite having used Doc Ock, Green Goblin, Sandman, and Venom in the prior trilogy, had great potential and I was sad to see Andrew Garside’s version disappear.

Now in the latest version we have Peter quite distinctly a kid, clearly a bit of a muppet, with the influence of the egotistical Tony Stark somewhere in the plot. I like the idea of him being a kid, and I also like the idea we don’t seem to be heading for a heavy origin story at present—in the sense that he already exists, has made an appearance, and at most we’ll have a flashback story rather than having to endure the same tale for the ?4th time.

So what am I grizzling about? To anyone under 15 the Maguire Spiderman films will be ancient history, and the re-boot would at least allow a fresh version of Doctor Octopus and Green Goblin (although they would be difficult actors to top for a new bie, Heath Ledger managed to improve upon Nicholson’s Joker). It’s the idea of having to re-boot continually. It’s pervasive in films and comics and TV now. You get a sense that there is no original ideas, that the only way to write a fresh tale is to take something that was established, with characters that are recognisable, and ‘put a new spin on it.’ It gets frustrating.

Take Batman. I’m not a huge DC fan, but I enjoyed Batman when Tim Burton did it, and indeed (after taking Prozac) when the Dark Knight films came along with Christian Bale. Yet now we have Ben Affleck (who I really like) as another Batman, agreeably as part of other films. Gah! And how many times have they tried to re-kindle our waning interest in Superman? At least Wonder Woman feels fresh, having only had a TV series under her golden lasso.

Sometimes the re-boot masquerades as ‘re-imagining’: this riles me up even more! It’s like the film equivalent of a crap cover version. Westworld, The Omen, Psycho, Footloose, Fame, Alfie, Get Carter, Magnificent Seven, Annie, Amytyville Horror, Carrie, The Mummy, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, Ghostbusters. Some good-ish, some not so good-ish ( I leave that to your discretion).

In the pipeline we have new versions of American Werewolf, Death Wish Big Trouble in Little China, The Birds, Blue Thunder, , Don’t Look Now, Escape from New York, Dune, Jumanji, , Jacob’s Ladder, Black Hole, Splash, Flatliners Bill and Ted… the list is huge, and in some cases you cringe that a perfectly good film of its time is subject to a re-do that can’t be any better than the original. Disney’s current trick of live action versions of classic cartoons is a strange entity—not quite a re-boot, a re-make, or a re-do, but often something quite different and special (Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast, and Cinderella spring to mind).

It can be done cleverly. Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens is, to all intents and purposes, Star Wars: A New Hope. Droids escape with secret plans; desert living teenager turns out to be Jedi material; big scary weapon in hands of dude with mask; mentor-type pops his clogs and gives inspiration. Yet the delivery felt as if a new story was being developed, and with enough references to old characters who had all aged. It ticked the box for me.

The re-boot in superhero films, which is where we commenced, isn’t entirely unprecedented. In particular DC comics flush out their backstory with an literary enema every so often. Given that some characters have had eighty years of stories, one can easily see how the continuity becomes a real nightmare. The DC Universe evolved from the late 1930s through to 1960s in a so-called Golden Era, where cross-overs occurred, team mags developed, and several versions of the same hero were written (such as Hawkman, Green lantern, and the Flash). It became hard to rationalise how Batman was seemingly younger in the early 1960s than in the 1940s, and that the character was quite different (i.e. he didn’t carry a gun!). So in the 1960s, in the Flash, the idea of parallel universes was developed. Here we had a Golden Age Flash (with winged Hermes hat) meeting Silver Age Flash. This alternate world concept was used generously over the 60s, 70s, and 80s, with an Earth-one, Earth-two, etc, etc way of labelling. Yet that simply got even more confusing, a bit like an out of control time travel story, and in 1985 DC tried to re-boot it all by having a cross-over series called Crisis. This had promise, but subsequent stories muddied the continuity, and indeed limitations of this approach, and now each decade DC has a re-boot (Infinite Crisis; Flashpoint; the New 52; Rebirth).

Oddly it was an idea that seemed to inspire the re-boot of the X-men franchise actually in series. I gave up trying to make sense of the X-men film continuity long ago. What happens in X-men 3, then Wolverine: Origins, then X-men Origins: First Class, then The Wolverine, is so higgledy piggledy that the only option left to the writers was to blitz it all with a good old time travel/ alternate reality instalment in Days of Future Past (which I must say I thought was superb); pulling together the characters from X-men 1-3 with the First Class. Unfortunately the indications are that the character Jean Grey in X-men: Apocalypse will go onto become Dark Phoenix, if the title of the 2018 movie is anything to go by… thus rehashing X-men 3…!

Perhaps what irritates most about re-boots and re-makes is that in many cases there was nothing wrong with the original that a revised version can improve upon. A lot of the films scheduled for a re-make are ones that hold a special place in our heart: I think especially of Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, American Werewolf, and the Birds from that list above. In a nostalgic way we attach fond memories of ourselves and our lives to the era in which we saw the film, often repeatedly, and like a cover version done poorly begrudge the trampling of our past. And I do wonder whether the generation before me felt the same way when films such as 1984, Cape Fear, The Champ, The Good Thief, Miracle on 34th Street, and Scarface were released—all films I enjoyed in my youth, yet all re-makes (if not re-boots). And let’s not forget Hitchcock re-made his own film, the Man who Knew too Much… and when asked said ‘Let’s say the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional.’

What The Covfefe? What Donald Trump Did Is Exactly How New Words Can Be Invented

Covfefe, new words, donald trump

Covfefe, new words, donald trump
[Image: Supplied]
This morning everyone awoke to a new word: Covfefe. We are all talking about the new word and those not yet up to speed are furiously Googling it to find out what is going on. But, what does it even mean?

At 2 p.m. on May 31, Donald Trump tweeted. This is not at all unusual. While, sometimes his tweet might be strange, it is a known fact that the president of the United States like to get active on Twitter. It seems he accidentally tweeted something and pulled after the event. However, the internet never forgets and here is a screen capture of his faux pas:

Myrddin blog post, covfefe,
[Screen capture via Twitter]

“Despite the constant negative press covfefe,” is an interesting thing to write, it doesn’t even feel like a complete sentence.

According to one Twitter-savvy person, Jemima Sampson, this is the best definition for covfefe she could find:

 

And that, my friends, is how a new word is born in this day and age.

So, what was going on there? What does covfefe even mean?

It is assumed Donald Trump misspelled “coverage” as “covfefe.” This hasn’t stopped everyone on social media creating a definition for the new word. However, has this every happened before? Can new words actually be created this way?

new words, donald trump, covfefe
[Image by Wolfgang Sauber (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0] | Wikimedia Commons]
The creation of new words within the English language is not a new thing. For as long as people have been talking, new words have been created from old ones.

Today, everyone uses the term “smog” to describe what happens when pollution and fog combines. It is an accepted word. However, this word is a mash up of “smoke” and “fog.” What has happened with the term smog is that two words have been shortened and joined together to create a new word. This is called blending, or, more specifically, clipping. Covfefe is not this.

Another way new words can be created is by shortening words. Fax (facsimile), flu (influenza) and bot (robot) are all examples of this. While covfefe is supposed to be “conference,” the word has not been shortened here to create a new one, instead, it has been misspelled, likely in Trump’s haste to create a new tweet.

Harry potter, covfefe, new words, donald trump

 

New words can sometimes be created is by a process called “calque.” “Loan words” is another way to describe this word creating event.  Calque is when a word or phrase is borrowed from another language and used. The term “faux pas,” used above, is an example of this. Some people are already trying to associate covfefe with calque. Considering all the rumors in regard to Donald Trump and the Russians, many have already put the word into the Google translator to see if it was a calque word. For the record, it is not a Russian word. Although, Google did try to link it to the Samoan language.

Another way a new word can be formed is by a process called neologism. There are a few components to this word-forming action. Loan words is one such way neologism creates new words.

Another way is called “eponym.” Does anyone here use a Hoover or take Panadol, or wrap their food in Glad wrap? These are all examples of eponyms. What the person meant to say was “vacuum cleaner,” “paracetamol,” and “cling wrap.” However, these words take on these meanings to replace the original words. This is quite often a localized event. In Australia we use Panadol and Glad wrap. However, the U.S. would more likely use “Tylenol” or “Saran wrap.”

“Onomatopoeic” is the final way to form a word under the umbrella of neologism. This takes the sound of a word and makes it an actual word. “Ding ding” and “cuckoo” are examples of this process.

new words, donald trump, covfefe
Cyrille Le Floch, from The Noun Project [CC BY 3.0] | Wikimedia Commons]
So, did Donald Trump actually use any of these word-forming actions to create covfefe? No, what he did was misspell a word. This is very close to something called “malapropism.” This is when you accidentally use the wrong word in place of a similar word. This is not really word-forming, more an error on the person’s behalf, whether they accidentally used the incorrect word, or think that word is the correct one. And, that is not what Trump did with covfefe either.

Alternatively, what Trump did could also be associated with “chat speak” or “eye dialect.” This is where people spell words incorrectly on purpose so that they look the way they sound, or shortened to save both time and space. Anyone who has received a text that looks like this will know what chat speak is:

“B home b4 8, ok?”

What he did could also be associated with dyslexia. This is a condition where people find they have trouble reading and spelling even though they are not mentally lacking.

Once again, this is probably not quite the correct term for what Donald Trump did.

Is there even a term for this yet? Probably there is, or there will be after this event. Maybe that term will be known as “covfefe.”

Covfefe: n. When you accidentally misspell a word so badly a new definition has to be defined.

What do you think about the new word? Will it take off or is it destined to just be a curious Urban Dictionary listing by the end of the month? Let us know your thoughts on covfefe by commenting below.

[Featured image: Supplied]

Dinosaurs Among the Birds

I graduated from high school in 1971. My friends and I were so close in those years and we have held onto those connections, despite the rough seas of young adult life. We drifted apart during the ‘blender years,’ but as our children left home and our lives became more our own, we drifted back together.

Fifty years ago, we were young and wild, determined to carve our path in the world and desperate to get on with living. We were tired of the war, tired of politics, and tired of being told what to think by a media that was controlled by pin-headed men in suits. We were tired of Congress selling us out.

We were going to change the world.

We did change it, but not exactly the way we naively believed we would. Even though we were unable to solve all the problems we wanted to, we did manage to make some positive changes. Unfortunately, we were too few, voices shouting in the wind.

And now we are somewhat jaded. The country is still divided, big money still buys votes. Congress is still selling out, and the media is still owned by pin-headed men in suits. There is always a war somewhere, and it is never done with.

My generation clings to our belief that we will see positive changes, but we don’t believe we’ll live long enough to enjoy them. Nevertheless, change is inevitable and it will happen, even if, like Moses and the promised land, we stand on the opposite shore and see only what yet may be.

My old friends and I are not exactly who we were in those wild days. Now we’re an amalgamation of everything we once believed would happen and the reality we lived. We are people who survived Reaganomics, who survived raising children through the MTV years. We held down three part-time jobs because trickle-down economics didn’t really trickle down the social ladder to our rung, and we had kids to feed.

We survived the Bush years with some of our dignity intact and didn’t fold under the “you’re with us, or you’re against us” propaganda designed to shut us up. We will survive whatever comes our way with the current regime because old wood is tough wood and doesn’t break easily.

We are jaded, but we have hope, we old hippies, we old women and men who are dinosaurs among the birds of the modern, hyper-connected world. We still believe the world can be a better place for everyone. The difference is now we know we can change the world… just not in the way we thought we would.

Now we put our money where our mouth is, donating to charities and spending our retirement years volunteering in schools and hospitals. We do it in small ways, chipping away, and little by little we have a positive effect.

We lost the battle to make the world a simpler, kinder place. Our parents were The Greatest Generation, and they won the war with their firm, 20th century belief that only through technology would mankind benefit, and that somewhere a miracle drug was waiting, one able to cure every disease known to man.  It just hadn’t been discovered yet. Now the drug companies have the government’s balls in one hand and a claw-like grip on our pocketbooks with the other. That hoped-for miracle cure is still somewhere out there on the horizon, and likely always will be.

My generation was conquered, despite the struggle to keep it simple. We old hippies now embrace technology and make it ours. We do this because we must either adapt or die, and I am not ready to die. We are a wired society, and we old people have the luxury of a little free time and occasionally, extra money. So, we have become wired.

Writing is my opportunity to live in the world as I would like it to be, and it is my chance to get away from the war, from politics, from family problems. Adult children with complicated epilepsy issues, grandchildren having babies too young (did they learn nothing from my trials and errors?) –writing is my escape.

I support creativity and free-thinking on a local level. I volunteer as municipal liaison for NaNoWriMo. I encourage people from all walks of life, and from every point of view to write. It doesn’t matter to me if we agree politically or not. Everyone has a story to tell. Some stories are real and incredibly moving, and all the writer needs is the skill to tell that story the way it should be told.

They can gain that skill through participating in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Children and schools benefit year-round from writing programs sponsored by this organization. For me, November is the busiest month of the year. I will be meeting and getting to know many new people, and I will be writing the framework for a new novel.  For one month, thousands of people will be too busy writing to spend their evening in front of the electronic altar, being fed mindless pap in the form of ‘entertainment.’ Instead, they will entertain themselves and find they are so much more than they ever thought they could be.

With every new book that is written, each new magazine article or essay, the world opens its eyes a bit more, seeing more possibilities. Readers discover they are not islands disconnected from society, cocooned in dark living-rooms, unable to look away from the poorly crafted mind-porn we are force-fed.

I am an old hippy, I admit it. But I am water, wearing away at ignorance, helping the world learn how to tell its story one person at a time.

Deluxe Apple Pie Cake #recipe

This cake is full of appley deliciousness. It serves however many people you can talk yourself into sharing it with, up to about twelve. This recipe isn’t well suited to cupcakes, but it can be done.Peeling optional! Yay!

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2-3 apples, sliced and cut into chunks, preferably Granny Smith or another tart variety (peeling optional)
  • 1 tsp apple pie spice or ½ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp nutmeg, ¼ tsp cloves (or any other combination of apple pie spices to your taste up to one teaspoon)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1⅓ cup flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp apple pie spice or ½ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp nutmeg, ¼ tsp cloves (or any other combination of apple pie spices to your taste up to one teaspoon)
  • ⅓ cup cream
  • ⅓ cup apple cider or apple juice
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 egg

Equipment:

  • Large frying pan with a tight-fitting lid
  • One mixing bowl
  • Electric mixer
  • 11-inch rectangular casserole pan, or any other baking container(s) able to hold about 8 cups of batter. No greasing is necessary, but you may wish to line the pan with parchment paper for ease of removal, especially if your baking pan isn’t attractive enough for to meet your standards for serving.

Directions:

  • Melt 1 Tbsp butter in the frying pan.
  • Add apple chunks. Stir until coated.
  • Cover the apple chunks and leave them for 5 minutes or until mildly squishy.
  • Add 1 tsp apple pie spice and ¼ cup sugar. Stir until coated.
  • Cook until the juices become thick and bubbly.
  • Pour the apples into your baking container(s), but reserve as much of the liquid as possible. Set the pan aside with the liquid still in it.
  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and remaining apple pie spice in the mixing bowl.
  • Add cream or milk, apple cider, softened butter, and egg.
  • Beat with the mixer at your preferred speed until thoroughly combined.
  • Pour over apples in baking container.
  • Pour the reserved apple liquid over batter.
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes. Adjust as needed for your baking container.
  • Let cool on a rack before devouring.

Notes:

  • Keep your apple chunks uniform, as if you were making an apple pie. ¼ inch thick squares of about 1 inch are ideal.
  • Any kind of apple cider or juice will work for this recipe. If you use a spiced cider, you may wish to eliminate the spice in the cake, depending upon the tastes of your audience.
  • If you use apple juice, consider eliminating all the spices and add instead 1 tsp of vanilla to the cake for an interesting change of apple pace.
  • Although cream and butter are listed, these can be replaced with any form of milk-like and butter-like substances. However, the lower the fat content, the less delicious the cake will be, and the shorter a shelf-life it will have. For the first step, genuine butter is strongly recommended to provide flavor.
  • When reserving the liquid, also reserving some of the apple chunks works fine and can make the cake more attractive.
  • Frosting is not recommended. Anything you’d normally eat with apple pie is a better choice as an accompaniment.

Crafting Timeless Stories

Romantic love and passion are important to us as humans and also are things we enjoy in our reading.  But truthfully, novels heavy on the graphic “insert tab ‘A’ into slot ‘B’ details” don’t interest me. Neither do adventure novels with no hint of romance, I like my reading material highly adventurous and well seasoned with romance. I say this for two reasons:

  1. Graphic romance with no plot is porn, and I think we should just call it that and be done with it. It doesn’t intrigue me, so I probably won’t make a habit of writing it, but I say good for you, if that is what you write. You are smart–there is huge market for it.
  2. Conversely, adventure with no romance is a travelogue detailing a rough trip, but nothing to write home about. I want to read a tale of intense personal growth, horrible setbacks, and love that rises above all odds.

This is not to say that I don’t have my graphic moments as a writer. Anyone who has read Huw the Bard will know  there are some graphic moments in his life. But words splashed on a page for their shock value are not my style, so for me, it’s important to consider the quality of the tale. If a graphic scene appears in my tale, it’s there because it’s a watershed moment for my main character, one that forces a change in the course of their life. And, if I have done it right, each scene will intrigue the reader and challenge them, making them want to read more.

In a book, romance must have a reason for being depicted in graphic detail or it’s not interesting to me. Also, adventure must have some sort of some unattainable goal whether it is love or an object.

I like to look back at history, to see what it was about some tales that have kept the interest of readers, not just for years, but for centuries. What do these tales embody that new works should also have, to make them timeless?

Let’s examine the Arthurian Legend. From the website, www.arthurian-legend.com.

I quote: “The legend of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table is the most powerful and enduring in the western world. King Arthur, Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot did not really exist, but their names conjure up a romantic image of gallant knights in shining armor, elegant ladies in medieval castles, heroic quests for the Holy Grail in a world of honor and romance, and the court of Camelot at the center of a royal and mystical Britain.”

There we have the essence of what I think constitutes a timeless tale: Powerful people doing heroic deeds, and finding a bit of romance along the way. Set them in intriguing surroundings and dress them in metal or velvet (or both) and voila! Now all you must do is cue the magic–bring on the wise old sorcerer.

In my own work, I want the romance to be romantic and the adventure to be death defying. Billy Ninefingers, a stand alone novel set in Huw the Bard’s world, has entered the editing phase. Billy encompasses all the above criteria for a good fantasy adventure and so far, my early readers like his slightly rough-around-the-edges style.

Depending on how the editing goes, he should launch in September 2017. The cover has been designed, and we are busily arranging promotions. Hopefully, this tale of disaster, desperation, and life gone awry will please the many fans of Huw the Bard who have wanted a sequel, as Huw does have a role in this tale.

And on that note, a more mature version of Huw will also appear in a novella later this year, Knight’s Redemption, which takes place twenty five years after the events in Huw the Bard and Billy Ninefingers.

I do a lot of reading, and if I am not reading, I am writing (or cooking or doing housework, which is another story). My hope is that at some point in every tale I write, my readers will find themselves completely involved in the tale to the exclusion of the world around them. If that happens, then I have done my job.

Easter bonnets, bunnies and chocolate

Chaos while making Easter Bonnets at the Clark household.

Everyone loves Easter, right? I have to confess I’ve always been a bit meh about the whole thing. While growing up I got to watch my friends and brother chow down on copious chocolate eggs, my eyes turning green with envy as I was given a bar of carob chocolate. Yum (read this word with the sarcasm intended). I mean it’s okay – if you like eating food that tastes like cardboard with a side of mud – which I am sure has as much nutrition. Don’t talk to me about Easter bonnets either. I am sure they didn’t exist when I was in school. I never made one anyway. Well, I am now an adult and the world has changed. Lindt now do the most delicious dark chocolate bunny, which has not so much as sniffed at a glass of milk never mind gulped it down with my death in mind like the sadistic bunnies of my dooms of long ago.

As I mentioned I am an adult now and grown up enough not to indulge in the sweet temptation that is milk chocolate. I do have a munchkin of my own though. He is 4 and adores chocolate and eats it like his life depends on it. A good thing too as it is the only way to toilet train the scamp. As Easter rolls around the prospect of Easter bunnies and, their? eggs descending on our household like a demonic horde of brightly coloured foil is getting ever closer.

I also went through the annual hell of the Easter bonnet competition last week. Apparently the way to win the Easter bonnets shenanigans is to create the hat out of paper, cardboard or papier mache and let the little sprogs let loose with paint, glue, feathers, chicks, bows and glue. That is what we are supposed to do. I went to the pound shop and bought a plain ready-made Easter bonnet and let him loose with the glue and other paraphernalia that was sold there. Next year I will know better! Apparently the other key thing is to actually remember the darn thing on the day of the competition!

Maybe I should go all psycho mum and bribe the judges with chocolate? That could be the start of an interesting story line. How far could a competitive mum go? Bribery and corruption in your local primary/elementary school. I see possibilities… Just to be clear though, I wouldn’t/couldn’t do that myself. It is impossible for me to do anything illegal or dishonest. It is incredibly annoying and a severe character flaw of mine. World domination would be mine if I could just get past those pesky morals stopping me from doing anything remotely interesting. Still that is why I write, I can’t do anything immoral but that doesn’t stop the characters I make up!

Midweek into the first half of the Easter holidays (vacation to my American friends) and I’m enjoying a morning off. Oh yes, holiday club is my saviour. While my son enjoys sun, crafts, friends and play, I get to stay inside like the demented vampire wannabe that I am. My husband is sure that I can burn in the reflected light of the moon. While my son gets ‘home’ cooked meals, I get leftovers. As I am writing this, I am tucking into one of the afore mentioned chocolate bunnies. This one is gold wrapped with a bell held on by dark brown elastic. Apart from the dreaded Easter bonnets, maybe Easter isn’t that bad after all.

Slime and the Art of Raising a Tween

container of homemade green slime

 

Slime is the new craze for kids in our neck of the woods. My daughter has become an amateur chemist, learning how to mix school glue and borax in order to get the perfect, slimy result.

rainbow bubble slime
Rainbow bubble slime

In theory, slime-crafting is very easy. Mix 1 ounce of glue with ¼ cup of Borax in a bowl. Stir slowly. Knead it carefully to make the slime less sticky, and store in a covered container. Make sure you wash your hands after making or touching Borax slime.

WARNING – Do be careful with Borax, since it’s a mild irritant. Equip your child (and yourself) with gloves, and read this article about Borax safety. You can also make slime with cornstarch instead.

The first few times we made slime, the process required entire rolls of paper towels. Results were disheartening: blobs of yucky stuff and a kitchen that looked like a bomb had gone off inside.

container of homemade green slime
Green floam slime

I just closed my eyes and prayed to the slime gods that this newest craze would go the way of Rainbow Looms, Silly Bands, and those Littlest Pet Shop toys.

But no. Slime has become an obsession, and my daughter has become an expert. There are many different kinds of slime: ‘butter’ slime (add modeling clay) or ‘bubble’ slime (add floam.)

You can add food coloring for all kinds of rainbow effects. Experiment with glitter, glass beads, Styrofoam pellets. There’s no limit to the mess!

Luckily, slime-making has been relegated to the outside as the weather warms up. Miraculously, I’ve reclaimed my kitchen and clean-up is accomplished with a hose. Plus, I’ve learned to buy glue by the gallon instead hundreds of those silly little bottles.

Believe it or not, there are slime-artists out there. They sell slime on Etsy and other sites, offering all different effects. I’ve had to actually buy some of these for my kid, since slime was all she wanted for several major holidays.

In my continuing quest for the bright side, I keep telling myself this new hobby is good. The kid is learning home-grown science, she’s creating art in a way, and it’s better than being her obsessed with some stinky boy.

Yes, slime is a good thing, I tell myself as I haul out the hose and wash the patio free of glue and food coloring – again.

EPIC FANTASY *With Dragons

An Epic Fantasy* like no other!
(*with dragons)
Epic Fantasy *With Dragons
Master Dragonslayer Corlan Tang is the best in the business!
So it is little surprise that jealous Guild rivals conspired to have the sniveling Prince to banish him from the city.
Sent out into the Valley of Death – and stuck with a runaway boy from the palace kitchen – Corlan decides on a plan. He will head to the far end of the valley where he’s heard a vast marsh provides nesting grounds for the dragon horde. There he will smash their eggs and lance the younglings, destroying dragons once and for all! Then he can return as a conquering hero!
However, like any foolhardy quest, there are constant dangers and seductive detours along the way – as well as unsettling encounters with new allies, fiends, and traitors. A quest changes a man, Corlan realizes, and he finally must reconcile the dark secrets from his past.
Despite every distraction, Corlan must succeed, if only for his own stubborn sense of justice, but also so he might return home again. To achieve his goal, he must push himself onward, use his wits and guile, demonstrate his daring-do, and employ all the will and strength he can muster – for surely the gods have assigned him their harshest tests in this twisted new world, harshly cleaved from fire and quake. After all, the fate of the world rests in our hero’s hands.

[Read more about the creation of this epic work on the author’s blog.]

Cable left, Streaming right

Cable to the left of me,
Streaming to the right of me, here I am
Stuck in the middle with delight.*

 

I was luckier than many kids. I grew up in the Los Angeles area.

I know.

LA isn’t considered an ideal environment for child rearing, but I didn’t care. I was in grade school and had seven TV stations available to me. Four more than the three network stations that dominate TV in those days. The Big Three (ABC, CBS & NBC) produced most of the original content on TV and brought me some great stuff like Gunsmoke, Davy Crockett and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.

However, the small stations offered unique old movies and hokey local productions. Sheriff John’s Lunch Brigade was a favorite local show when I had a sick day at home. Crusader Rabbit and Underdog were his best cartoons. But, the old movies were better. Buck Rogers, Roy Rogers, and Tarzan were beloved stories to me.

In a way, I’m reliving my youth. Ironically, I live in a rural community today, but that no longer matters. Cable networks and streaming are the “local” stations in my world, but they have surpassed the hokey stage by a long way.

This reminiscing got me thinking about shows I’ve come to enjoy that are available because of the new sources. So, I’ve decided to share my top five “local” shows you need to see. Two caveats. I’ve only included alternate-reality genres that have premiered since 2015, and I left out Stranger Things because everyone I know has seen it. If you haven’t, you should. As far as I’m aware, none of these are available from Netflix and the other streaming service, but I suspect they will be down the road.

Okay. Here we go. My countdown of my Top Five Alternate Reality TV Shows since 2015 are:

Number 5. Preacher

My take: Quirky, unusual, strange filming and settings—yet familiar. I hesitated to watch because of the religious aspect, but I’m glad I did

Premiered: 2016
Source: AMC
Genre: Horror/Paranormal
Synopsis: After a supernatural event at his church, a preacher enlists the help of a vampire to find God and so much more.
Rating: Imdb 8.1 Rotten Tomatoes average: 87%
Streaming: On Demand & Pay per view.

Number 4. The Magicians

My take: Harry Potter and the Narnia kids goes to college, contemporary setting, witty take on the genre, fun.

Premiered: 2015
Source: SyFy
Genre: Fantasy/Magic
Synopsis: After being recruited to a secretive academy, students discover that the magic they read about as children is very real and more dangerous than they ever imagined.
Rating: Imdb 7.5 Rotten Tomatoes average: 79%
Streaming: On Demand & Pay per view.

Number 3. Legion

My take: Stephen King rewrites One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nests. The story is slowly revealing David’s powers or curse; it’s not evident yet. But I’m intrigued and want more.

Premiered: 2017
Source: FX
Genre: Super Hero/Paranormal
Synopsis: David Haller was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age, and has been a patient in various psychiatric hospitals since. After Haller has an encounter with a fellow psychiatric patient, he is confronted with the possibility that there may be more to him than mental illness
Rating: Imdb 8.8 Rotten Tomatoes average: 93%
Streaming: On Demand & Pay per view.

Number 2. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

My take: Magic saves Britain from Napoleon, beautiful sets and filming, interesting story with plenty of action, drama, and twists.

Premiered: 2015
Source: BBC
Genre: Fantasy/Magic
Synopsis: With magic long since lost to England, two men are destined to bring it back; the reclusive Mr. Norrell and daring novice Jonathan Strange. So begins a dangerous battle between two great minds.
Rating: Imdb 8.2 Rotten Tomatoes average: 90%
Streaming: On Demand & Pay per view

Number 1. The Expanse

My take: The best hard science fiction I’ve seen since 2001 a Space Odyssey. This show respects physics and portrays a realistic view of the future. Plenty of action keeps it moving but, as always, the real strength is in the characters and plot.

Premiered: 2016
Source: SYFY
Genre: Hard SciFi
Synopsis: A police detective in the asteroid belt, the first officer of an interplanetary ice freighter and an earth-bound United Nations executive slowly discover a vast conspiracy that threatens the Earth’s rebellious colony on the asteroid belt.
Rating: Imdb 8.2 Rotten Tomatoes average: 85%
Streaming: On Demand and Pay per view.

Well, that’s it. I have a list of “also-rans, ” but I’ve wasted enough of your time. Please share your thoughts.


David P. Cantrell, Myrddin contributor

* My apologies to Stealers Wheel for the rip-off of their “Stuck in the Middle with You” lyrics.