Category Archives: advice

Teens and cell phones

phone

I have a young teen–well, she’s thirteen, soon to be turning fourteen. Up until now, I’ve resisted the impulse to go out and buy her a cell phone, particularly a smart phone with all the texting, Internet, apps, games, and other doodads that smart phones typically come with.

Am I a hardass?  How many other parents are there out there like me who just don’t see the need for a teenager to have the latest gadget?

I think about when I was a teenager. Did I talk on the phone? Sure. Not excessively, because I generally biked to many of my friend’s houses and hung out. But occasionally I’d talk. I never had my own line. Never had a cell phone. Never had a TV in my room either, but I did have a computer, lol, a MacPlus. I used it for all kinds of things.

I don’t think I’m the old fogey standing on the porch shouting “You kids, get off my lawn!” when I say that kids these days have things they really, really don’t need. The computer I get. It’s a useful tool, first of all, and it’s so much a part of our culture now. I even get social media–Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. It’s nice to know what friends and family are up to, especially if they don’t live nearby.  Selfies?  Ehhh, whatever. Are you REALLY going to keep those photos to reminisce over when you’re older? I doubt it. Unless of course you were in the one with Ellen DeGeneres at the Oscars. That one I’d keep. Texting can be useful to send a quick message.

But when texting becomes a main method of communication, there’s a problem.

I don’t think it advances society to raise a generation of people who don’t know how to sit down and TALK to each other. I can’t think of any advantage to developing a texting skill. Nor a Candy Crush skill, nor any other silly app. If my teen texts at only one word a minute as opposed to 60wpm, I don’t think it’ll be the end of society. In fact, if she’s developing her off-phone, in-person skills, I think she’ll go farther in life.

So no, I don’t think that makes me a hardass. Maybe not the “cool” mom. But I guess I’ll see when my teen gets through high school and college and has to fend for herself.

I just wonder how many other moms out there think the same way. It seems like I’m in the minority.

And that frightens me.

Striving for Greatness

Another introspective post.

wwii

I’m currently watching the History Channel’s epic miniseries, “The World Wars.” It’s fascinating to me to learn that Adolf Hitler was almost killed on the World War One battlefield by a British soldier who had him in his sights when he was wounded. The soldier couldn’t bring himself to kill Adolf. And thus history turned onto its current path.

Something else that struck me was how much struggle some of the great leaders went through before they became great leaders. You can love or despise FDR, Churchill, Patton, or even Hitler, but they all overcame a great deal before they found success. FDR had to overcome polio and learning to stand and walk again. Churchill suffered a huge setback in his decision to send troops to Galliopi and had to reestablish his reputation. Even outside these figures from past wars, time and again we’ve seen it; the extraordinary people who had to struggle against nearly debilitating hardships before they became successful.

On the other hand, how many tales have you heard about somebody who didn’t have any struggle coming oh so easily into greatness?  Let’s see–well I suppose there’s George W. Bush . . . okay maybe not a great example.

Hmm.   Barack Obama? No huge hardships there. But I’m not fully seeing the greatness either.

Hell, even Pope Benedict XVI who wasn’t that great of a pope was briefly a prisoner of war.

So what does all this mean?

I think it means that for parents, we worry too much about providing the “perfect” childhood for our kids. Having a stress-free childhood might be nice, but if history tells us anything, it’s that those who learn to strive against adversity seem to do better in life. It’s that old “no pain, no gain.” If we allow children to take on things, yes, they may fail. They may even fail spectacularly. But it also gives them the chance to succeed.

I think it also better prepares them for the real world, when things aren’t so bubble-wrapped and things can’t be fixed by a cookie or a kiss from Mom. So basically I think in the Western world we need to let ourselves be harsh at times, not stress that life is too tough and that our kids may be struggling against something. In the end, it may lead to greatness.

Writers and Friends

It’s such a cliché. The lonely writer, locked up in his or her study, typing away at the great novel.

Friends

Writers tend to be more solitary than the rest, and with good reason. It takes a lot of time and concentration to shut yourself away and string together words, paragraphs, scenes, chapters, novels. A writer can often spend more time living inside their own head than in the real world.

So where does this leave a writer’s friends?

Too many times, it leaves them wondering where their writer friend has disappeared to.

Writers tend to have more failed marriages, more problems in relationships, etc. because they simply aren’t there. I have struggled with this as well, but I think claiming that you need your writing time is a lazy excuse. Even writers need friends. In fact, I think they may need them more than the average Joe. If you don’t have contact with friends, family, people in general, how can you possibly write about human relationships?

Then too there is the depression that can afflict writers as well. All that sitting and staring at a computer screen. Staying up late, or hiding away in a dark room.

Friends can help writers with issues like this as well.

Like many writers I find myself falling into a habit of not calling, not keeping in touch, and losing track of time. Add having a kid and a full time job on top of that, and months can go by without me seeing or talking with my friends.

Then suddenly one day I’ll find myself feeling alone and sad.

So this past weekend, I reached out to someone I hadn’t seen in over a year. Yes, we occasionally text or email each other. But that’s no replacement for actual physical meeting and hanging out. I had a great time, I feel connected once more, and I’m happier.

So remember, fellow writers, not to neglect your friends. Reach out to them occasionally. Do stuff with them. Talk.

You may find it actually helps you be a better writer. Not to mention a happier one.

The importance of branding and lettering

So the cover image for my upcoming novel, The Spirit Mage Saga: Journey to Landaran is complete now. I’ll do a full cover real and blog tour probably in a month or two once I’m closer to publishing. Today, however, I want to talk about the importance of the FULL cover design, not just the image.

You can have the greatest image in the world and ruin it with some boring lettering.

You can also have the simplest image or background, and the lettering can be your design. Hunter Games, anyone?

Either way, the fonts you use and the way you display the title and your name can make a really big difference on your book. This is particularly true in the age of eReaders, where all a potential buyer may see is that itty bitty thumbnail of your cover. Can they read the title? Author name? If you take a look at the books being sold at Walmart or your local grocery store, you may notice something in common.

Big names, big titles.

So with that in mind, I started playing around with the title lettering for my fantasy novel. Below are three mock-ups that I created without an image, so that I could focus on the letters. Keep in mind that my target audience is likely going to be mostly female readers ages 14 and up, crossing over into the paranormal market.

First version: Title fonts small (This one was okay–it has a feeling of movement. The series name is a little small, however.)

Second version: Title fonts 2 small (This one I decided it was too difficult to read the “J” and the “L” but I liked the fonts for the author name and series name.)

And Version 3:  Title 3 small (This to me brought out the best of everything. It’s easily readable but still has a fancy “L”, the series name is clear, and the author name is nice and big on the bottom. Right now, this is my favorite.)

So you can see just with these examples how various fonts can make a difference. By the way, I’d love some feedback on these as well. What do you think?

Banned Book Week: what is appropriate?

So I’m seeing posts on my Twitter feed that this is Banned Book Week, with links to various sites listing books that have been banned or suggested banned, particularly from younger readers.   http://ow.ly/p7M1s 

This got me to thinking about my upcoming novel, Journey to Landaran.

I’ve been working back and forth with my cover artist, trying to get the tone right for the cover–she kept going too light, and I had to keep telling her to go darker. There are some dark themes in the Spirit Mage Saga, including the rape and ongoing sexual molestation of a minor, death of parents, and dealing with grief and loss. The child molestation is particularly a tricky subject, because I do show a couple sex scenes, although I try to focus on the pain and horror rather than the physical details. Still, I have to ask myself, who is my audience?  The characters are fourteen years old. I know that it is likely I’ll have readers about that age.

So do I censure myself?

Let me make this even more immediate. Not only may there be teenagers who may buy and read my book; my OWN teenager will likely read it as well, when she is fourteen. She was a big fan of my first book and had been eagerly waiting for this one. She may also tell her friends or donate a copy to her school library (we also did this with my first book).

So what do I do?

I have to say, I’ve never supported censorship. Do I believe that some movies are inappropriate for children? Yes, I do. I think in particular that violent, horrific movies should be kept away from young eyes. My daughter is not allowed to see anything like Saw until she’s an adult. However, I think in America that we shelter our kids from the wrong things. We think it’s okay to see violence and bloodshed, but don’t allow our kids to see anything with nudity or sexual references. I think that’s wrong.

Look at Europe. I think they have a healthy attitude about sex. The human body is beautiful, they’re not ashamed of it, and nudity isn’t a big deal. And yet they have lower teen pregnancy than the United States. And then look at Japan. Manga, Yaoi, shouta are all commonly found and they know that teenage girls are reading highly sexualized comic books, and that’s okay. I don’t see Japan’s youth falling into debauchery. Funny enough, they actually seem more reserved. I know that’s a cultural thing, but it still shows that being exposed to sexual knowledge does not equal loose morals. They also have some extremely dark themes in movies, literature, and art. Ever watched an anime movie with subtitles that was not “cleaned up” for an American audience? Try it. You might be shocked.

I also look at some of the difficult themes addressed in what is now considered great American literature, like Catch 22, Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, Scarlet Letter–the list goes on. If you don’t teach children about controversial subjects, how can you ever expect them to make up their own minds about things? To think for themselves?

So I’m keeping the rape scene. I’m keeping the molestation and the skewed sexuality of the main character, her journey from victim through recovery and eventually health. The world isn’t always pretty. (Are you there, God? It’s Me, Margaret. The Color Purple, Lolita).

So your teen is reading Lady Chatterly’s Lover in school? Don’t freak out.

chatterly

Let them broaden their minds. Have a little trust.

Storyboarding fiction

Calvin_storyboard

So I’m researching websites for work at the moment, and one of the activities we’re doing is creating storyboards of screens that a user would move through on the website. This got me to thinking about writing fiction, and how you can use storyboarding there as well.

I do a lot of my plot design in my head–I create the scene, then let the characters do as their personalities would dictate, running the “tape” so to speak and seeing what happens. It’s like a mini-movie all in my brain. For an important scene, I may run the scenario several times, from different characters’ perspectives–not because I plan to write in a different point of view or make someone else the protagonist, but because in order to figure out what someone is going to do, you have to get inside their head. So I may drop inside my female heroine’s head and see how she’d react, but then run it again from the villain’s perspective. How would he react? And so on.

This, in fact, is storyboarding.  The only real difference is I’m not drawing it out on paper physically.

That got me to thinking. There have been times when I’ve plotted out a scene, but I don’t write it down, and when I actually get in front of a keyboard to type it out, I’ve forgotten which scenario I liked best. So maybe I should be writing them down! Or drawing stick figures–something!

I’m curious how many other writers out there have toyed with this process and if it has worked for them. If you think about it, this is a common tool used in TV and movie making. Why shouldn’t it be used in writing fiction?

Example:  Character A (we’ll call her Sasha) wants to get inside her evil boss’s file cabinet to locate the file that will prove he’s been embezzling from the company. She’s smart, brave, but rash and tends to act without thinking. So she goes into his office one day at work while he’s at lunch–only he forgot his cell phone, so while she’s digging around in the file cabinet, he returns. She’s forced to think quickly and hides under the desk, hoping he won’t notice her.

Now this could go a few ways. One, he doesn’t see her. Maybe he’s distracted by the confrontation they had earlier, or may he’s just not that observant a guy (in which case he’s not as great a villain because he’s not as talented as her). She has a tense moment, but is able to find the file once he leaves again. But maybe he is observant, and he does discover her! What then?

You get the picture.

By following the scene through different outcomes, you may find the plot you had originally thought of was not the best, not the most exciting. By exploring different options, you may find something fresh and original. We always think of the clichés. first.

So storyboard it!

Book Review: On Writing, by Stephen King

on writing 2

Book: On Writing

Author: Stephen King

Year: 2000 (10 yr anniversary edition)

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Genre: Nonfiction

I don’t read a lot of books about writing any more. Gone are the college days of memorizing Strunk and White and reading John Gardner’s book about fiction writing. But I’ve enjoyed Stephen King’s books for a long time, and I heard such good things about this book that I had to check it out. What surprised me was that much of the book wasn’t so much about how to write, but an autobiography of how a bestselling author came to be. Even when describing his childhood, King shows what a storyteller he is. There’s a lot to learn just from that.

In his “Toolbox” section, he gets more into the–oh God, here it comes–nuts and bolts of things. I like that he does mention Strunk and White and grammar in general, as well as the active vs. passive writing. I also agree with the “closed door” policy, at least in that the first draft shouldn’t have your editorial side looking over your shoulder. He gives a nice example of a short story before and after editing, which I found encouraging, because it looked like what I already do.

Some information regarding publishing is outdated, but overall, I found this a good book for aspiring writers  to read, both for information and inspiration.