My Schedule for FantasyCon 2014 in SLC – #JoinTheAdventure

Fantasy Con

I have the opportunity to be a panelist at next week’s FantasyCon 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Naturally, I’m so excited!!

My panel centers around my travel and research for HULDUSNOOPS, a middle grade fantasy and mystery series about the Icelandic Huldufólk or “Hidden People” many Icelanders believe in to this day.

The first book in the series, THE CASE OF THE SMELLULAR PHONE, is available on Amazon!

HulduSnoops Cover 51

“Iceland’s Influence On Fantasy” – Thursday July 3, 2014 @ 6 PM – 6:50PM room 150 DEF

Iceland’s compelling landscape alone is enough to inspire fantasy writers, filmmakers, and other creatives. But did you know this country’s Viking history, Icelandic Sagas, and unique culture influenced Jules Verne, J. R. R. Tolkien, and others?

Embark on this visual journey to find out more about the dragons, trolls, elves, and other beings that inspired works such as “Lord of the Rings”, including the Huldufólk or “hidden people” many Icelanders still believe in to this day. 

You may find yourself inspired to plan your own inspiring adventure to the Land of Fire and Ice!

If for whatever illegitimate reason 🙂 you can’t make it to FantasyCon in SLC, I’ll be making the rounds and posting pics. But hopefully you can #JoinTheAdventure and attend the conference.

I’ll also be posting my presentation in one form or another so check back if you’re interested (I mean, it’s awesome, it’s Iceland!).

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Iceland Cover 6

Iceland Cover 11

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Writing Morally Complex Characters

I’ve found that writing morally complex characters boils down to simultaneously setting them up to fail and succeed.

At some juncture in the story, even a “good” character should seem just as likely to make the wrong choice as the right one! Strong characters are described in layers so that by the time they reach a decision point, readers legitimately wonder what this character will decide and why.

A Few Classic Examples

To illustrate, here are some complex characters who struggled with a moral decision:

  • Will Edmond Dantès in The Count of Monte Cristo choose revenge or not? Dumas gives his protagonist plenty of justifications for revenge, to which even the most benevolent of readers can relate.
Super Old Cover for Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo

Super Old Cover for Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, Wikipedia

  • What will Marlow choose as a result of being exposed to a megalomaniac like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness?
  • In Little Women, will Alcott’s Jo March decide it’s best to chase her dreams or become more content with day to day life?

Characters Are Only As Good As They Are Illustrative

Characters who are too good may end up being no good at all to your readers! Characters don’t even have to be likable or admirable to be interesting or valuable.

“I don’t know where people got the idea that characters in books are supposed to be likable. Books are not in the business of creating merely likeable characters with whom you can have some simple identification with. Books are in the business of creating great stories that make your brain go ahhbdgbdmerhbergurhbudgerbudbaaarr.”

John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars

I don’t tend to feel inspired by those characters an author is trying to pass off as just fundamentally and naturally amazing.

For a book to be of much use to me, I want the injustices articulated. I want the character all tangled up and tripping over emotional and cognitive responses. I want the vicissitudes of weighing a difficult decision explored. I want the moral issue itself investigated beyond just the obvious, be that through internal dialogue, conversations, or plot. I want to feel the character’s failures in my gut so I can better share the successes, or vice versa.

This Goes for Female Characters, Too. Obviously!

Or maybe I should write that ‘Obviously?’ because while things are getting better in this regard, some writers continue to produce a propensity of idealized, one-dimensional female characters.

How to Write Well-Rounded Female Characters

The idea that female characters are innately good rather than having to make conscious effort to be so is societal programming and blindness, in my opinion.

On a personal level, whenever a well-intentioned man says something to this effect, it gives me the impression they are really seeking exemption from developing said virtue themselves. Bleh! This sentiment also implies that it requires less effort for a woman to choose moral goodness than it does for a man. Nope. It takes tons of effort, at least in my experience! Any character who is written with a moral dilemma tends to feel more realistic to me.

More Reasons to Explore Moral Gray Area

I’ll even go so far as to say that delving into topics of moral ambiguity is not just okay, but noble. Here’s why:

  • Fiction is a place to think and decide without having to bear the harsh, real-life consequences.
  • Human darkness is in you and me and all our readers anyway. By describing it you’re calling it out to be examined and named, rather than left to fester, shapeless and unchallenged.
  • It’s more fun! It’s entertaining and being entertaining is a valuable service to your fellow humans. It’s relieving.
  • Your higher power writes that way. Probably. I feel like mine does. The Bible? Not exactly G-rated.

My style is still never going to be as gritty as some writers’ but I have felt my writing open up when I’ve decided to be more realistic about how my characters manifest a spectrum of human foibles, manifestations of fears, cruel intentions, and deleterious motivations.

But what do you think about all this? Please add your two cents! I always benefit from it.

My Top 10 Songs About Writing – #ToWriteTo

My iPod includes several songs which are either directly or indirectly about writing. For whatever reason, they inspire me to keep going with my writing projects.

Here’s my list, in hopes that you’ll add yours (here or on twitter with #ToWriteTo). I need some new tunes!

1. Open Book by Cake – While I realize this is a song about more than a woman writing a novel–it’s about the pursuit of love–the writing theme still steals the show!

Cake - Album Cover for Fashion Nugget

Cake – Album Cover for Fashion Nugget

2. Rewrite by Paul Simon. Again, he’s really singing about rewriting his life but it’s so easy to take this one literally as well. So I do. Because the work of rewriting is enough of a pain that it needs a theme song!

Album Cover of So Beautiful or So What

Album Cover of So Beautiful or So What

3. Crazy by Seal. I referenced this song in my recent post about how I’ve tried to take my writing commitment to the next level.

Previous Post: But Are You Willing to Get Crazy? 20 Ways to Sacrifice More to Be a Writer

The Single Crazy by Seal

The Single Crazy by Seal

4. Lose Yourself by Eminem. I’m a lightweight so I do have to listen to the clean version. But you can’t listen to this and not be ready to fight for your dream. Or at least I can’t.

Cover of Lose Yourself Single

Cover of the Lose Yourself Single

5. Make It Happen by Mariah Carey. I swallowed my pride to include this guilty pleasure. I can’t deny that when I listen to this, I do indeed want to work toward my dream and make it happen.

Yes, it’s over-the-top and dramatic when she refers to doing without things in order to make it as a singer, but then, I let her get away with it because it certainly can feel dramatic like that, putting this song in the same vein as my whole Seal-and-sacrificing-for-writing kick (see #3).

Album Cover for Emotions

Album Cover for Emotions

Tower of Song

Cover of I’m Your Man

5.  Tower of Song by Leonard Cohen. Because describing oneself as paying rent in the Tower of Song, or in this case the Tower of Writing, is great imagery for the often reclusive experience of doing something artistic.

I especially love these lines:

“I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long

A hundred floors above me
In the Tower of Song…”

Full lyrics

6. Every Day I Write the Book by Elvis Costello. He’s singing about love through the analogy of writing a book but it has an endearing duality of meaning to those of us who truly are–every day!–writing books.

Cover of Punch the Clock

Cover of Punch the Clock

7. When You Wish Upon a Star by Louis Armstrong. Yeah!!!! Disney songs never sounded so good. This version may finally convince you that the universe is on your side and fulfilling your wishes, however meanderingly. Note: I believe part of wishing is working as hard as you can and not just wishing on stars.

Cover for Disney the Satchmo Way

Cover for Disney the Satchmo Way

9. Young at Heart by Frank Sinatra, Micahel Buble, and others. This song’s lyrics deserves quoting in full:

Cover of To Be Loved

Cover of To Be Loved

“Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you
If you’re young at heart.
For it’s hard, you will find, to be narrow of mind
If you’re young at heart.

You can go to extremes with impossible schemes.
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams.
And life gets more exciting with each passing day.
And love is either in your heart, or on its way.

Don’t you know that it’s worth every treasure on earth
To be young at heart.
For as rich as you are, it’s much better by far
To be young at heart.

And if you should survive to 105,
Look at all you’ll derive out of being alive!
And here is the best part, you have a head start
If you are among the very young at heart.”

10. Anything else pertaining to my current project. Right now I’m writing about Iceland so naturally I listen to Of Monsters and Men at least ten times a day!

Cover of My Head is An Animal

Cover of My Head is An Animal

So now for your writer-worthy tracks, be they about writing or not so much.

You could post what works for you to have on in the background, for example. My votes on that subject are Fleet Foxes and David Gray. Leave a comment here or use the twitter hashtag #ToWriteTo. Go!

But Have You Been Willing to Get Crazy? 20 Ways to Sacrifice More to Be a Writer

You’ve prioritized. You’ve communicated your goal to others in your life to negotiate more writing time. You’ve shown at least some discipline!

But if you haven’t committed to measures that feel a little bit crazy, you may be missing opportunities to become a more productive writer. I say this based on my experience of never getting anywhere with my writing for far too long. It feels good to finally be getting some traction on my writing discipline, so I thought I’d ramble about it today.

The more I’ve circulated among other writers, the more I’ve noticed that those who get things done often have a streak of writer-crazy. In fact, it’s very possible that Seal got it right:

“We’re never gonna survive unless we get a little bit crazy…” – Seal, classic 90s song, you’re welcome!

The Single Crazy by Seal

The Single Crazy by Seal

Some writers employ their creativity toward getting things done as if they were an interesting character in a novel–one you’d want to read about!

I want to be like those writers, not a dud. Duds don’t solve their own problems and stay in victim mode too long.

Often, they’re also unwilling to commit to significant sacrifice.

Which is not to imply that we have control over all results and conditions in our lives. But my point is that by even trying to solve our problems, we are happier than just deciding we are victims of whatever is going on.

The First Thing to Sacrifice

…is your excuses! I’m no poster child for all this, but I’ve created more time to write than many writers I know. I write creatively for 5 or 6 hours a day and usually get 9,000 words in.

To do so, I’ve had to stop feeding my internal excuses and commit to uncomfortable but rewarding innovation. I could easily not have the writing time or word count rate that I do (see my crazy dictation lady bullet below for more on how I do this). I know that for certain, because it took me a decade to get going with this writing seriously thing!

Before, I was simply not committed. I always had some thrift store that needed visiting, some tv show that needed watching “for inspiration”, or some aspect of my apartment that needed decorating.

Yet, if you asked me what my primary interest was I would quickly affirm that it was writing!

Really? Is that why I hardly ever, I don’t know, wrote?!

It’s evidence that we can be in love with something without being committed to it. At first, I’d write an hour here or there when I was in the mood. Gag!! This is the single most classic way artists trips themselves up!

To get more traction, I had to pry my excuses and lower-tier life luxuries or interests as if out of my clenched hands. I’ve had to consistently choose to write when I don’t feel like it.

11 Examples: What I’ve Sacrificed So Far

A lot of sacrifices I’ve made pivot around my decision to do without the security of a full-time job. That was scary for me because I support myself but it’s worked out fine.

I’m quick to say that I am single and without kids so I was able to commit to this decision without affecting anyone else. And yet! You know what? A lot of single, non-parental people don’t make this decision. Some of the things married, be-childed people benefit from, I surely don’t. My point is, it’s probably all sixes in the end. I had to learn to not let anyone else’s situation be an excuse for why they get to write and I don’t.

Not working full-time does not have to be something you choose. It’s just an example of doing what it takes to work it out, like these other things I’ve found useful to sacrifice:

Financial Sacrifices

  • I limit my eating out. This was pretty hard for a foodie like me. I make my own breakfast, lunch, and dinner to save money. This has actually become pretty fun. But nearly every night I have friends I could meet up with at a restaurant and I rarely join, so it’s a sacrifice!
  • I live in a small, old place. While many of my friends are buying houses or other worthy dwellings, my digs are cheap and small and similar to a college student’s.
  • I limit and economize travel. This is what I used to sacrifice for! I love seeing new places. Now that’s part of what I limit so I can be a writer. When I’ve needed to travel for research, I do so in ways which maximize adventure but not comfort. I sleep in tents, rental cars, or usually nasty hostels. This was romantic when I was 18. It’s not anymore. But it’s a sacrifice that allows me to learn and see what I want to and still be a writer!

Maybe instead of saving money you’re in the opposite situation where you should spend some money–hire that maid or personal chef!

Sacrifices of Ego

  • I say unabashedly, “Sorry, I can’t afford to do that. I’m a writer!” After years of getting a salary, I felt weird telling people I couldn’t join in for financial reasons. But the more I just said this, the more I found people were super supportive. Most cool people admire that you’re reigning in your spending to accomplish a goal or follow a dream.
  • I became the crazy dictation lady. It took me two months of practicing a couple hours a day but I trained myself to write using the Dragon dictation app. It’s uncomfortable. It uses a different part of your brain, I swear! But it tripled my hourly word count because you can talk faster than type. This means I’ve learned to ‘write’ via speaking, while walking. Despite the discomfort of people on the walking trail laughing at what I’m saying (and they do, because rambling about elves or time portals isn’t a typical cellphone conversation and people do notice). I’ve learned to have a thick skin and just smile when someone stares.

Sacrifices of Time

  • I limit my cleaning. Yup, I’m gross. Sure, I’d love to live in a cleaner place but I love being a writer more. My place is a wreck most of the time. I’m not innately disgusting, I just realize that in a given day I can either clean my floor or write a chapter. And the floor’s just going to get dirty again.
  • I limit or merge my socializing. In years past I’ve definitely tried to be at every social event, for every hour possible, even after it stopped being all that fun. Now I go to stuff I enjoy for just long enough to actually enjoy it. I also merge socializing with exercise like going on a walk, cooking dinner, or running an errand–stuff I would have to do anyway.
  • I merge reading and exercising. I go on walks while listening to audio books. I hate swimming but it’s good exercise so I bought a waterproof iPod. I get my daily laps in while listening to audio books rather than sitting around reading.
  • I limit my reading altogether. I know, this is pure blasphemy to most writers! My take on it is, that reading others’ writing is important but if you’re reading more than you’re writing, you might be more of a reader (not a writer). There comes a point where you’re consuming not producing. It’s harder to write than it is to read. That’s why we would rather read! Very few writers agree with me. But by not reading so indulgently, I create more time to write.
  • Same with tv shows. Same with movies. And I really hate it sometimes. There’s so much more I would love to watch!
  • I limit my time with other writers. Also controversial. Like many writers, I love the energy, camaraderie, perspective, and feedback from writer communities. This was a really hard one for me to reduce and nothing at all personal about anyone I’ve worked with. I just had to take a hard look at the time investment and decide to spend more of my writing time actually writing.

I totally acknowledge that even if some writers sacrificed to the hilt they would not be able to find five to six hours a day for writing. But if I’m being honest, I don’t think you or I or hardly anyone qualifies as a person with nothing else to give up. I think it’s likely that those who want to write more can find more to sacrifice without infringing on priorities like family.

Maybe not five to six hours. Maybe two. But every hour is gold to a writer, so fight for it!

How Can You Get a Little Bit Crazy? 9 More Ideas

We resist trying things that feel crazy because why? I guess it’s because we’re scared. The only remedy I’ve found is to take significant action anyway. My experience is that courage rarely feels courageous. It feels scary.

But it’s also invigorating to get a little crazy. Not irresponsible, just zany. What do you still have to sacrifice, reconsider, or rearrange, even if it feels weird at first?

Maybe not grooming yourself so much. 🙂

Maybe writing with a collaborator who does half the writing!

Maybe sacrificing even one hour of precious sleep every other day.

Maybe standing up for yourself more in a professional or personal relationship.

Maybe trying to involve your kids or significant other in your writing process (I’m sure that’s a trick), but who knows?

Maybe not working your current job.

Maybe working your current job but negotiating fewer hours for less pay.

Maybe taking the bus or train so you can write while you commute.

Maybe asking to telecommute, saving yourself a couple hours a day.

Some of those things might feel like crazy things to ask of your employer but you just never know until you try.

I don’t see myself as done sacrificing for writing. I keep finding more to trim back, more crazy to challenge myself with. So if you’ve figured out other writing productivity tricks, do share so I can up my commitment!