Monday, November 28, 2016

Joy and Wonder

Hello, everyone, and happy holidays!

Thanksgiving is over, so it's officially my favorite time of the year. The tree is up, I'm listening to Christmas music, and it's snowing outside. It looks like this:

Yes, my apartment overlooks a parking lot. But you can see the haze of falling snow and the way the maple tree looks lacy.

I'm in a good mood, despite the fact that I was out walking in this snow today because I'm enamored with the first snow of the Christmas season and because I don't trust myself or other drivers in the snow. Turns out I'm right not to; there were 2 people making turns while on their phones as I passed, and, as I said, it looks like this outside right now:

Distracted drivers on the phone, the ground covered with wet globs of half-melted ice...what could possibly go wrong? Yes, this is a pet peeve of mine. I'll tell you, I'm glad to be home for the rest of the day. No driving for me. Just writing.

The writing is going well. I'll have to do major revisions on my current work, but I like it so far despite its many gaping holes. I took a break over Thanksgiving, so I'm refreshed and ready to finish NaNoWriMo strong.

Thanksgiving was good. It was restful, and I got to spend it with extended family. We spent the holiday eating a lot and playing games, like card games, Telestrations, and bingo. Nice, chill weekend. I also may have reached a 7-minute mile while running. May have. Probably didn't. But the math is lining up too nicely to ignore.

Finally got my pics from the Haunted Half. I thought this one summed up about how I feel about maybe achieving my best time ever on the Weekend of Gluttony. I wish I was smiling more, but hey, I was a few miles into a half marathon and trying to pose as I ran.

I also saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It was good. I really liked the magical creatures, especially the thunderbird. And the niffler and occamy and demiguise. But mostly the thunderbird. Look at it!

It makes storms as it flies!

So, as I was watching, I was wrapped up in the wonder of the story and the world, just as I was with the original 7-book, 8-movie Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling's worldbuilding isn't perfect; I can list many, many issues with the wizarding world that cause some gaping plot holes. But why bother? Other people have already done it.

But I think one thing she's great at is introducing wonder to the reader. I think she does this by having a character who is new to the magical world, just like the reader/viewer is.

In the original books, Harry is new to magic. He doesn't know he's a wizard, and he hasn't been raised in the wizarding world the way Ron has. So, when he comes to Hogwarts and sees magic, it's for the first time. Everything is new and interesting to him, so he thinks about it and comments on it and is amazed by it, just like the readers are. We see his wonder, and we feel our own, and it feeds itself. Can you imagine the stories from Ron's perspective? He's grown up with magic, and sees nothing interesting about it. The first day of school would be just that: the first day of school.

For Harry, it's a step into a brand new world. And so it is for us, too. We're allowed to feel all the wonder available.

Fantastic Beasts does this too. I won't give spoilers to the plot or anything, but in case you haven't seen it yet and really don't want to be spoiled for it at all (I'm talking, you haven't even seen the trailers), then stop reading now.

In Fantastic Beasts, the No-Maj (Muggle) character of Jacob Kowalski is this character that helps the viewer see the wonder in the magical world. Every other character is enmeshed in the magical world, and even though Newt Scamander sees wonder in his creatures, he's used to them. Kowalski is non-magical and seeing the magical world in New York City for the first time. Just like us. The magic and the creatures are all new and wonderful to him, just as they are to us.

I think having a character that is new and amazed by the wonderful and amazing in a story can be helpful in establishing the world of the story. You see this happen a lot: Lucy Pevensie, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe being one example. Charles Marlow in Heart of Darkness being, perhaps, another. In both cases, the world comes alive through the eyes of a character seeing it for the first time, and it draws the readers in more.

Stories filled with wonder, like Fantastic Beasts, seem appropriate for the holiday season, when, I think, it's easier to see the world anew and appreciate magic in our lives we don't see as often. It's a time of joy and wonder and light. Before I go make some cocoa and watch the snow fall, I'd like to post this video. The #LightTheWorld campaign is put out by my church and it's all about service. The video is lovely. I hope you watch it and you have a wonderful week!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Adventures in Writing

Recently I joined a writing group. It was way overdue; I've been needing a good group for a while. After a while, I can't trust that I've really written whatever book I'm working on as well as I can; I need friends and writers who can push me to do better.

I like this group. We've met once and I like the set-up. It's made for novelists, so each meeting revolves around one writer, one book. This gives everyone plenty of time to work on their projects and for everyone to give adequate feedback.

I'm the next one up, since I'm new to the group. Here's the thing: I wasn't sure I had anything to share. I have one book with my editor (so that seems a little...out of commission right now), and another draft that is my current NaNoWriMo project and is the word equivalent of Swiss cheese combined with about six other kinds of cheese. It's a Frankenstein's monster, or rotting zombie, of a draft, and I know it's not ready to workshop.

My poor, incomplete draft.

So, I decided to send my NaNo project from last year. It's not done; I wrote about 50,000 words and then stopped because I had other projects that became more pressing. I also had no idea how to end it. Not that I had to worry about that; this book is a little longer (a lot longer) than my MG books, so I had some time before I had to worry about the ending. Since it's a new project and very rough, I'm not going to give the plot here. Suffice it to say, I wrote this thing in high school, got some education, realized my first attempt wasn't very good, and now I'm rewriting it from scratch and it's much better. And, here are some pictures that describe the story, a little:

Fun, huh? I'll talk about it more later, maybe when I've written the second half.

The adventure in writing here is that I hadn't read this draft, or looked at it at all, in a year.

Seriously. Hadn't really even thought about it. So, when I read it yesterday to make sure this was something I wanted to continue and something I wouldn't hate putting in front of my writing group, I realized I had forgotten a lot about the plot. I found myself reading it like a regular reader, not the writer.

This was an interesting experience. I was drawn into the book and found myself enjoying it. At first I thought this should be flattering, since, after all, I would hope my book would be enjoyable. Then I remembered I was the one reading it. Of course I thought the characters were fun - I made them. I designed them to be what I wanted. Of course I liked the plot - it's what I want, too. I'm the one who made this happen. I should be pleased when I'm the reader.

It has problems, of course. A year away from this draft made it easier for me to see plot holes, a lack of tension, and some moments when a character acts out of character. I don't know if I'll make a habit out of giving my drafts a year to cool, but I think I'm glad I did it on this one. I don't remember my original plans for the story, other than what I have in my notes, so I feel freer in deciding a new, maybe better, ending.

In case you're wondering, I think I can give this to my writing group. It's rough, but not a shredded mess, and I think I can get some good feedback on it so far. Also, maybe my writing group will help me figure out how to end this thing

Monday, November 14, 2016

You're Somebody

The US had an election this past week, and I've been seeing a lot of talk about it without saying anything. So, now I'm going to say something that I've been thinking about a lot, and even more post-election. It's not going to be very political in nature, but it's been on my mind and I think it's worth sharing, since it gives me a lot of hope and strength.

But first, something to brighten your day if you're as big a Disney nerd as I am:


Okay, now, on to my main post.

I'm not going to talk about politics here. I don't care who you voted for or why, and I'm not here to start or moderate any debates about whether what happened was right or wrong for the country. I have my own views, of course, but I'm not interested in sharing them here.

I understand the feelings that the results of the election have raised, as much as I am able to understand them. If you are scared, hurt, or angry for any reason, I get that. You have good reasons for having those feelings, and here, today, I hope to shine a little light into some of the darkness that seems to be swirling around in your world. I don’t know if I’ll succeed; goodness knows I’m not wise or even smart enough to tell you exactly what you need to hear, but the way I see it, all hope isn’t lost.

It may seem that way. It often does; darkness and fear aren't new things. Hate and division aren't new things. But, the good news is that whenever darkness rises, light rises to meet it and, ultimately, defeat it.

Bad times come, yes. I want to remind you, though, how many people are standing up for others and hurting with those that hurt. And I want to remind you that no law can take the compassion from your heart. No change of leader can drain you of love and fill you with hate.

Unless you let it.

Because here's the good news, the best news of all: you are somebody.

You have worth as a person, and that worth is inherent to you. You could lose everything. The world could turn against you, and you could have to stand alone and face the masses who spit at you and call you vile names and hurt you. And you'll still be someone. No one can take that away from you.

You have remarkable power for good and for bad. You have the choice of how you'll use that power. You are human. You are strong. You are smart.

You are somebody.

Now, I'm a storyteller, so I think of things often in terms of storytelling. What I'm saying here is that you are the protagonist in your own life. You're the hero.

Who else would you be? It's your life, after all, and you are somebody. You wouldn't be the sidekick, helpful side character, love interest, or even the villain in your own life. Even villains are heroes in their own lives.

So, what kind of hero are you?

It can be easy, so easy, to deny your power as a hero. It can be easy to sit back and complain about life and yet not do anything to change it. It is easy to, when you are hurt, lash out and hurt someone else. But heroes don't do that. What good does it do, anyway, to spit fire and acid at others when you're angry? What good comes of spreading insults and stereotypes? What good does it do to attack and hurt? Heroes help, not hurt. Heroes unite, not divide.

It can also be so easy to deny others the ability to be heroes. But remember, if you are somebody, so is everyone around you. Everyone you see, everyone you know, everyone you just hear about on TV, is the hero in their own life. It can be easy to forget that life isn't a video game where you're Player 1 and everyone else is a mindless NPC that exists only to help or hurt you. It's more like a MMORPG, where everyone has their own goals and quests.

Okay, that got nerdy. But I hope my point is clear.

It's not easy to be a hero; one of the hard truths of life is that if you intend to take the high road, you have to make a climb. When you step up, you may feel scared or just a right fool. But that's what heroes do. They step up. They take charge. They help, protect, comfort, and save.

No, maybe you won’t blow up the Death Star. Maybe you won’t lead a rebellion to the Capital and end a cruel regime. Maybe you won’t fight an army. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t the Chosen One. It doesn’t mean you won’t save the day.

It just means you might have to do it on a smaller scale.

There’s a lot of bad things in the world. People hurt other people. People can be selfish, and they can be cruel. It doesn’t mean you should be, or that you should stand for it. Maybe you can’t right every wrong in the world, but when you’re at the store and you see someone being harassed, you can step in. When you hear hateful speech, you can gently stop it without passing it on. If you see someone is hungry, you can correct that much, at least. If a friend or even a stranger is visibly upset, you can listen and give what aid and comfort you can.

You can stop the fight, love others (even the people who may seem unlovable now), feed the hungry, comfort the sad and fearful, give of your time and energy to help those who need you, speak out, lift, encourage, help, and save.You can have hope in the future because you know that you will act to make it a good one.

You are somebody. You have worth and you have power. So does everyone around you, so you can affect change, one person at a time, until it becomes two people, then three. The world doesn’t become good on its own. It requires people to rise up and be good, and goodness spreads just like fear and hate do. You can do it, and every good thing you do, everyone you help, and every battle against the darkness, no matter how few, will matter more to the people they help, and to you, than they would if you never acted at all.

You have power and it's up to you how you use it. You can do good. You can use your strength and talents to help others instead of tearing them down and adding to a cycle of hurt and anger and fear. Why? Because you're the hero, and as much power as you have, that much is asked of you.

The world is calling your heroic name. They're saying, "Somebody should do something about this," "Somebody needs to listen to me," and even "Somebody help me!"

You are Somebody.

Answer the call.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Book Launches and a Small Rant

Let's start with the rant, shall we? I know tomorrow is Election Day, and you might think I'm going to rant about that, but no. I have something else I'd like to talk about.

This week, I've almost been hit by cars several times, both when I was driving and when I was running. I've been doing recovery runs this week, so my pace is slower than normal, which is good because if it wasn't I might have gotten hit for real by a guy zooming out of an underground parking lot.

As for when I was driving, I was on the main road, making a left, and someone who had a stop sign telling her to wait for the cars on the main road (like me) to be clear before going. She started going when I was right in front of her.

Both of them were on their cell phones. The guy was texting; he held his phone like this:

So, yeah, texting. As he crossed a sidewalk.

The woman was talking with the phone to her ear.

Can I just say, now, please do not text or phone when you drive.


On top of the usual cars who don't signal when switching lanes or when turning a corner, I've been scared for my life.

So on behalf of all runners, I'm saying, please signal, and please watch the road.

Runners don't have metal armor protecting them. They rely on safe drivers and their own wits and reflexes, as well as lights and reflective clothing.

Runners should watch the road. Yes. I agree. They should also wear visible clothes. Agreed here, too. However, if someone is driving and texting (or calling) instead of watching the road, what good is all that?

Likewise, if a driver doesn't signal a turn, it doesn't matter if the runner is watching the road. The intent to turn is not expressed, especially if the car doesn't slow down. (I have seen that. It happens.)

Runners and drivers can't read minds. Please drive safely.

Okay, that's done. Now to the good news!

My book launch is scheduled. It's a bit early to announce, since the release is in April, but I'm gonna do it anyway. I'll announce it again closer to the date.

My book launch for Under Locker and Key will be held at the Provo Library at 7 pm on April 19, 2017.

Hooray! This has been my exciting news this past week. I hope to have more as I get closer to the release date. The book is currently on Amazon. You can preorder it, or just learn more about it, here.

I've also been working hard on my story for National Novel Writing Month. It's a fun, silly story, furthering Jeremy's adventures. I'm having fun. It's moving fast, but then again, NaNoWriMo stories tend to. Gotta get that word count in, right?

That's all for today. If you're American, go vote tomorrow! Why live in a democracy if you never voice your opinion?