Wednesday, November 30, 2016

My Own Self Care

With the craziness of my new job, I'm in SERIOUS need of rest. You see, I'm learning new processes in an industry I've never worked in before, at the busiest time of year for this company which ALSO happens to be in the middle of the biggest procedure change in recent history.

All that being said, I've been making serious progress on my writing. Because I've been taking care of myself. It's not the same progress I made when I made time to hammer out my word count, but the quality of the scenes is exceeding my expectations.

What am I doing to get all this rest to remain productive and still manage to progress at work? Well, still watching a lot of Supernatural with my wife, playing video games, and sleeping in on weekends (finally!).

That's about it. I'm crashing just trying to get this on the page, so it's time for some more rest.

Supernatural is one of Giles' favorite shows right now. It's filling his need for Dresden-style storytelling. That's why it's so restful.

Monday, November 28, 2016

No More (Chainmail) Bikinis

Dear Artists,

For the love of all that is holy and sacred, stop drawing warrior women in bikinis. I’m tired of scrolling past your ridiculous and nigh-insulting portrayals of women running around in ancient Ugg boots and tiny steel triangles.

Have you ever tried running a marathon in your underwear? How about cutting off the heads of a thousand foes? Forget the non-existent protection of those itty-bitty pieces of armor—can you imagine how long it would take to scrub orc blood off your limbs after a couple of hours swinging the mace around? You’d never finish in time for the celebratory feast.

And then there’s the frostbite. I could write pages about the pain of blue-fingered hands freezing around a sword hilt. Whose idea was it to depict those poor Viking women leaping from their ships clad only in a few leather straps and a pointy helmet? What’s the harm in adding a pair of gloves? Everyone knows a good warrior woman is, of course, talented in the domestic arts, and therefore able to make herself a head-to-toe cable knit bodysuit. Why can’t you draw that?

Bikinis are for beaches, my friends, and no self-respecting warrior woman would wear one on the battlefield. She’s concerned with beating up the baddies and surviving, not showing off her hot bod. There are few things more shameful than catching a poisoned blade in the midriff. No, the warrior woman refuses to be brought down by anything less than true combat.

If you’d like to see what a real warrior woman should wear, look at Gambargin’s galleries. Read articles such as this one, which reminds us all that boob plate armor kills, and this one, which discusses historical mentions of women in battle. And, if all else fails, look at Pinterest boards of real women in real armor.  

Please. I’m begging you. Your imaginary heroines are begging you.


Michelle tells bad jokes and even worse puns so she can hit her daily quota of eye rolls. She’s been on a mini break from social media, but you can generally find her on Twitter as @redactionaire.    

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Still Catching Up

Yes, it's been a long week. I'm still trying to find the balance of my new job and how my writing will fit into that new routine.

As it's also Thanksgiving tomorrow, I'm going to take another pass on blogging and let everyone enjoy their weekend.

Sigh and shrug. Giles is tired, but next week will be a real blog post.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Building a Book Playlist

When it comes to writing and getting my brain track, I find that just one song can trigger a rush of creativity. I’ve posted before about great playlists and why I love making them, but I haven’t actually walked through my process.

My work-in-progress is a novella loosely titled The Gorgophones. It’s my version of an action rom-com, so I need a mix of songs that are (1) adorable and (2) action-y.

The first thing I look for is one or two foundational songs for everything to revolve around. The work-in-progress I’m currently querying uses Imagine Dragon’s Radioactive as a foundation, while my newer manuscript focuses both on the acoustic/deconstructed version of Ke$ha’s Blow* and on X Ambassadors’ Renegades.

Pandora and Spotify come in handy when you’re trying to match song styles. Every time a new song comes on, I ask myself if it would fit playing in the background of over half of the story. If the answer is yes, I add it to the list. The most difficult hurdle I run into is not filling every playlist with songs by the same four bands**. 

Some songs (like Brick + Mortar’s Hollow Tune below) aren’t perfect in terms of musical style, but I love the message of the lyrics too much to give up the song. About 75% of the time, I read lyrics of unfamiliar songs before I actually listen to them—I find that the mood of the words doesn’t always match the music and vice versa. Mixing up my approach allows me to separate what I want the music to say and what it actually communicates.  

These three songs evoke the emotions I’m trying to develop in the story:
Castle by Halsey
Stay with Me by Sam Smith
Hollow Tune by Brick + Mortar

You can also use film scores to create foundational moods, but I find that some tracks (such as anything John Williams did on the first Harry Potter movies) are too connected to the source material to feel right in my book playlist.  My rule of thumb? Hans Zimmer is magic and fits just about anywhere.  
After I’ve built the atmosphere, I pick music that represents my main character’s perspectives. Rona, the narrator, gets more songs than Lief, her love interest. For the lovey-dovey parts, I imagine that my couple is singing the song to the other person (adorable, I know). It’s just another way to get in their heads and find desires and emotions I didn’t even know they had***.

Rona’s songs:
Get Home by Bastille
Don’t Let Me Down by The Chainsmokers (ft. Daya)
Cosmic Love by Florence + the Machine
Quelqu’un m’a dit by Carla Bruni

Lief’s songs:
I Won’t Give Up by Jason Mraz
Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon
Go Big or Go Home by American Authors

After I have all my songs (usually 20 give or take), I arrange them according to mood. It’s a lot like pacing the novel—you have to be aware of how songs begin and end so that each flows into the next. Sometimes after I organize the lot and listen to it, I realize that a couple of songs were rubbish decisions and need replacing. And sometimes, I get ideas from beta readers that I have to fit in my existing playlist order.

I still need ten or fifteen tracks to fill out my list—what would you add?

Michelle’s favorite part of any art museum is the room filled with marble statues.

*I literally never would’ve thought of this one on my own—I got the suggestion from a beta reader, was initially in denial that anything by Ke$ha could represent a theme in my work, and then (after reading the lyrics and actually listening to the song) repented of my prejudice. I may or may not have the entire song memorized now. 
**Imagine Dragons, Bastille, American Authors, Florence + the Machine. 
***Other writers are certainly familiar with this occurrence—sometimes your characters are thinking something you had NO IDEA was even a thing.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

Last week, I sung the praises of librarians. I went on and on about how they are wonderful, compassionate creatures who take pity on those who are lost, literarily, and try to help out as best they can. This week, librarians are evil. Like, hold our world captive and only give information as they see fit. Evil. Thank goodness that no matter what Alcatraz Smedry says, this book is fantasy.

Alcatraz Smedry is your standard thirteen year old boy. He's sarcastic, skeptical of everything, and has an innate ability to break everything he touches. On his birthday, Alcatraz receives a gift in the mail from his parents which is weird because as far as Alcatraz knows, they are dead. The gift? A bag of sand. When his previously unknown grandfather shows up unexpectedly, Alcatraz learns that the world he is familiar with is being controlled by Evil Librarians, people whose mission is to keep information from the people and bring destruction down upon the Smedry family, who is well known for wanting to stop them. Together with his newly discovered family, Alcatraz, his grandfather, Leavenworth, his cousins, Sing and Quentin, and their knight, Bastille, must rescue the bag of sand from the Evil Librarians, before the librarians can turn it into a weapon that could destroy the entire Smedry family for good.

This book was absolutely hilarious. I mean, laugh out loud and read sections to my husband hilarious. Alcatraz is one of the most sarcastic and weirdly self aware characters I have ever come across. His grandfather curses using authors’ last names, there are monsters made out of book pages, and, of course, talking dinosaurs. And trust me, Alcatraz has a running commentary on all of them. For example, “The reader may wonder why one of the dinosaurs was consistently referred to by his first name, while the others were not. There is a very simple and understandable reason for this. "Have you ever tried to spell Pterodactyl?”

Not only is this a fantasy story, but it is also a running commentary on writers, the craft of writing, and publishing industry itself. For those who are writers, or who happen to have lots of friends who are writers, it will be even more hilarious. Towards the end, Alcatraz says, “It is a writer’s greatest pleasure to hear that someone was kept up until the unholy hours of the morning reading one of his books. It goes back to authors being terrible people who delight in the suffering of others. Plus, we get a kickback from the caffeine industry.” That one had me giggling for quite a while afterwards.

For adults, this is going to be a quick read. It is a middle grade novel, technically, but I think adults, especially those who are writers, or who happen to know an awful lot of them, will thoroughly enjoy it. Trust me, sit down and read this over a weekend. And try not to make any assumptions about the book before you do. After all, Alcatraz directly says, "I would ask you to kindly refrain from drawing conclusions that I don't explicitly tell you to make. That's a very bad habit, and it makes authors grumpy."

Emily was glad Giles recommended that she read this book. It really did give her the giggles. She may just pick up the next book in the series.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

New Job, Rough Blog

Two days ago I started a new job. My brain is mostly mush, now. So this week I'm taking a bit of a pass to make sure I do the best job I possibly can so that I can succeed in the long run.

<Insert biography here>

Monday, November 14, 2016

Building a Novel Aesthetic

I’ve always used playlists as a way to get into my manuscript drafts, but I recently discovered another way to help myself focus: art! I’m sure you’re all shocked, given the number of posts I’ve written about artists I’ve found on DeviantArt. Instead of telling you how to use art to craft a novel aesthetic image (which is really just a productive way to procrastinate), I’ll show you how I found the pictures for my work-in-progress novella.

First, my two main characters, Rona and Lief. Rona is a red-headed Scandinavian warrior who grew up traipsing the Seven Seas on her father’s ship. Since hair color can be tricky to match in aesthetic searches, I’m sticking with a blond version of Rona I found by Raph04.

Keyword trail: Viking pirate, pirate, Viking warrior, warrior woman, Viking warrior woman*

Lief is a merman cursed with magical charm biologically intended to woo bloodthirsty sirens. He has always been Chris Hemsworth in my head, because reasons. The most difficult part was finding a version of Chris that leaned towards the idea in my head instead of towards Thor or a red carpet appearance. After years of scrolling, I found this drawing by Angie-Farewell

Keyword trail: Hemsworth, Chris Hemsworth

Now to the setting. I like to pick a few images that evoke the settings or emotional motifs of the story. Since I’ve written the first draft, I know I need a ship, a dangerous ocean scene, and possibly a Greek-style temple on an oasis island.

I love this digital painting by elbardo—it shows the perfect mood of a scene when Rona and Lief think they’ve finally found a safe place to get out of the ocean. 

Keyword trail: ship, ship on ocean, Viking ship

For my second mood picture, I tracked down an underwater scene that goes almost perfectly with my final scenes. It's a digital painting by Marta Nael

Keyword trail: ocean, dark ocean, evil ocean, underwater

Google Images is often better for certain searches—and that’s how I discovered Charles Hermans’ gorgeous painting of Circe the Temptress. She’s the basis for my primary villain, and I love the look on this young woman’s face. 

Keyword trail: island, Circe, Circe island, Circe’s island

At this point, I need the rest of my villains—the onslaught of mythical monsters that Rona and Lief have to fight their way through.

One of the deadliest predators in the sea: an evil siren by M. Thompson


A Commander 2014 fan-art version of the kraken, by velinov:

And finally, an evil water horse someone pinned on Pinterest via a website that sadly hid the name of the original artist (if you can track them down please let me know!). This one was difficult to find, especially since I combined a couple of myths to create this piranha-shark-sea serpent-horse combination. 

Keyword trail: water horse, waterhorse, hippocampus, evil hippocampus

There you have it! If you have writing to do but just aren't feeling it, tell everyone you're working on a novel aesthetic! It's the perfect way to get your head back into gear. 

Happy hunting!

Michelle is terrified by the thought of a piranha-shark-sea serpent-horse and would like to apologize to herself and others for creating such a monster. 


Friday, November 11, 2016

Writing Hiatus

One of our upcoming episodes is about self-care as a writer, and making sure you give yourself what you need in order to be healthy and creative. I talked about this guilt spiral I have (that I'm sure some other creatives have, too): I get stressed, so I stop creating, which only makes me guilty and more stressed because I'm not working toward my goals.

So, since the holidays are coming up and things are busy and insane, I'm taking a step to break that cycle. I'm giving myself a hiatus from writing solo projects until January. No short stories, no novels, no essays, no poems. Giving myself permission to press pause and recover from the insanity that has been 2016, and acknowledging that it's okay to take that rest.

I'm going to try to keep up with blogging here in the meantime, but I make no promises. Words and I need to take some time apart so that we can get a fresh start soon.

So, if I don't see you or blog between now and then: happy holidays, happy New year, and remember to take some time to look after yourself and your own needs. I promise, it's important, and the creative world will be there when you're ready to come back.

Emer has mixed feelings about this hiatus, but she knows it's for the best. She'll still be working on her webcomic, Parmeshen, and some other work with co-authors in the meantime. And she's still waiting on a final publication date for her short story "Glitter Bomb," but it should be very soon!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Book Review: Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix

Ahh...librarians. The angels of the book world. When a reader is down and doesn’t know where to look for their next reading adventure, the librarian will always be there to give some advice. Newt’s Emerald was one of those happy accidents that fell into my hands because of a librarian who took pity on me and asked if I needed some help. And then, she placed six other books in my hands before I walked out the door. *sigh* I will definitely be busy for a while.

Newt’s Emerald is a Regency era fantasy/mystery/adventure that follows Lady Truthful “Newt” Newington. When the story begins, Lady Truthful has just turned eighteen and is set to inherit her family’s greatest treasure. The rare and beautiful Emerald that has been passed down among the ladies in her family for generations. What makes it special? The Emerald gives the wearer magical powers to control the weather. Unfortunately for Lady Truthful, on the evening of her birthday party, the Emerald is stolen and she and her cousins set out to reclaim the Emerald from the thief who stole it. When she arrives in London to begin her search, Lady Truthful joins forces with Major Harnett to recover the Emerald before the thief manages to discover how to use it and wreak havoc on the country.

Newt’s Emerald has all of the elements that I love in a book. It is a mystery, takes place in Regency London, weaves magic into everyday life, and features a main character who is equally strong and flawed. If you’re looking for adventure, you are not going to be disappointed. Throughout the story there is a kidnapping, an escape from a ship at sea, espionage, our heroine dressing as a man, romance, and heartbreak. Add a dragon and maybe a tsunami and you have more than you could ask for! Oh, wait. There is a tsunami. My bad.

If I could sum up Newt’s Emerald in one word, it would be “cute.” I enjoyed the fantastical elements the author placed into the story that kept it from being just another Regency romance. However, sometimes the events in the novel seemed a little too convenient and the characters didn’t quite have the development that I was hoping for from beginning to end. For example, toward the end of the story, it is made abundantly clear to Lady Truthful that her life is in danger, and she needs to stay put. Major Harnett even places her within viewing distance of the event to satisfy her curiosity, but Lady Truthful decides to abandon the room and go chasing after someone who has the ability to kill her with just a touch. This didn’t seem realistic to me from a human standpoint.

That being said, I did enjoy Newt’s Emerald. It was a fun story that read very easily and felt like a fairy tale your grandmother would have made up at your bedside. Fantastical, yes. Slightly unbelievable, yes. But that’s what fantasies are for, yes?

Emily writes almost all of her reviews sitting at the computer bank in her local library. She enjoys people watching and loves it when people ask her what she is working on. If you haven’t been to your library in a while, take an hour, go sit in a comfy chair, and people watch. It will make for a highly entertaining afternoon!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

No Excuses

This is a distracting day for a HUGE portion of the country. Part of me wants to watch the never-ending news cycle and pretend like I have NO other responsibilities.

Instead, I'm going to sit down and write. YOU should, too. No excuses. If you're a writer, go write. Now. If you're a reader, find an awesome book (like Harry Potter or The Dresden Files) and drink tea, coffee, beer, wine, or whichever you prefer.

Giles plans on going home this evening to write, drink beer, and binge-watch TV with his wife.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I love Pride and Prejudice. LOVE. I consume it in any form, be it film or short story or novel or what-have-you. So, when I recently came across the movie Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I wasn't sure what to do. Watch it and be disappointed? Leave it and forever wonder?

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, a few years ago someone convinced a publishing company to let him write a retelling of P&P…with zombies. The Bennet sisters are trained to kill the monsters, and Darcy is a zombie hunter. The whole of the plot is accented (and often changed) by the appearance of the undead. I read the book in 2010 and found it to be utterly hilarious.

Fast forward to a cool Colorado evening in 2016. My youngest sister and I stood in front of a Red Box machine, my finger poised over the “Add” button.

“It’s going to be terrible,” I said.
“Really, really terrible.”
“Let’s get it.”

Now I can give you the official verdict: WATCH THIS MOVIE. I love Jane Austen, and I don’t mind a bit of violence in my movies, so it could be that this was simply my perfect storm. The dialogue was just what you want from an Austen-based film, and the fight scenes were spectacular. That part when Darcy proposes, and Lizzie gets mad at him for being such a snob? FIGHT SCENE. That romantic dance during the ball? FIGHT SCENE. Traipsing through—FIGHT SCENE.

Of course you shouldn’t expect this to be the very height of masterful screenwriting, but what zombie movie is*? I love what they do with Lady Catherine’s character, and Lily James made a spectacular action-movie Elizabeth. It has all the classic elements we love, such as a cringe-worthy Mr. Collins and a detestable Mr. Wickham. They even gave Mary some really fun opportunities.

I know I’m gushing, but I’m dead serious. This movie surprised me with awesomeness, and I don’t want you to miss out. 

Michelle spent her day ignoring her Pitch Wars entry page by grading French homework and beginning her applications to grad school. Yay!

*I will only accept Shawn of the Dead as an answer. Period.