New York, New York: The Dark Crystal Day

It’s 3:00 A.M. in the empty LaGaurdia airport as I type this. There’s only one bench availble in this area, and two other people are already asleep on it so I’ve claimed the corner by the vending machine as my own personal little cave.

Friday still feels entirely like three lifetimes rolled into a dream, but I have pictures, business cards and new friends to tell me that it actually happened.

To rewind, several months ago, a friend (thanks Chris!) sent me information about the Jim Hensom Company hosting a contest inviting anyone to submit a 10,000 word story prequel set in the world of The Dark Crystal. Growing up, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth were two of my favorite movies so I knew I wanted to participate. I spent hours researching, plotting, writing and rewriting, and finally turned in my story just before the deadline.

They received over 500 entries and when the announcement of winners came, I was sad to not be continuing, but excited that there was such excitement about The Dark Crystal. It actually wasn’t until a few days later that I realized that even though I hadn’t won, I’d been named one of the 20 Editors Choices. Thrilled, I printed out that screen shot and hung it above my computer and went back to work writing.

Last month I received an invitation to come to New York City to join the winner and other finalists for a tour of the puppet workshop, screening of The Dark Crystal and then a private reception on Friday October the 24th. After a whole lot of debate, I decided I had to do it and managed to sort the details with a bith of difficulty. It worked out that I would be in NYC for 20 hours, just for Friday.

So now here I am sitting in an empty airport waiting for a 6am flight to go home after a whirlwind dream of a day.

I landed in JFK at 10:30 A.M. on Friday, and then was trapped in the airport for about an hour after I climbed onto the wrong train and just went in a circle around the terminals. I finally found my way to the first stop of my trip, The Jim Henson Company Workshop.

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Now we couldn’t take pictures in the actual workshop, but it was amazing. We got to see how the various puppets are put together, and just all the work involved in them. There are towers and towers of foam, fur and other supplies all over the place. It was awesome.

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After that, I got some help navigating my way to Union Square to have some NYC pizza. It was INCREDIBLE. I ate until I was pretty close to bursting then I just wandered around the area before hopping on another train and heading to BAM for the screening of the Dark Crystal and then the reception for the finalists.

 

Before the movie we got to hear from Cheryl Henson, Brian and Wendy Froud, and Toby Froud presented his short film, Lessons Learned, which was gorgeous and a joy to watch! We then got to hear J.M. Lee, winner of the Author Quest read an excerpt, and I loved it. I cannot wait to read the full thing. The Dark Crystal was beautiful on the big screen and it was great seeing how much everyone enjoyed it. The theather was sold out.

Afterwards, the finalists went upstairs to a reception with some of the other special guests. I had a blast talking to so many incredible people, and I’m thrilled to know I’ve got some incredible new friends out of the trip. After we closed down the party around midnight, we wandered around New York to get back to one of my new friend’s hotels, and hung out at the bar just talking for a while.

Then finally, it was time to say goodbye to my new friends, and hop in a cab.

And now here I am, half asleep, but too uncomfortable (and paranoid) to sleep, so I’m writing down what happened, trying to process what an incredible opportunity this was. It still feels like a dream and I can’t get the smile off of my face.

Thank you to everyone who helped get me here, and who has believed in me, and stuck with me over the years.

 

 

Friday Review: The Book of Life

This week I’m going to review a movie rather than a book so, let’s hear it all about….BOOK OF LIFE!

Book of Life poster

BOOK OF LIFE

Full disclosure, I have been excited about this movie since I first saw a trailer for it. I love Guillermo del Toro’s work.

So I was able to go to a screening Thursday night and let me tell you, you are in for a treat if you go see this movie. It’s a great story that really paints the culture of the day of the dead in a beautiful light.

The story is, at its heart, a classic tale of one girl with two boys, best friends, who both love her. Only this time, the stakes are much higher as two immortal creatures make a wager over which boy she will ultimately wed. Maria is spirited and spunky, and causes far too much trouble at a young age so she is sent off to a private school much to the sadness of her two best friends, and future suitors, Manolo and Joaquin.

Now the whole woman as the prize issue is the main problem I had with the movie, and while Maria comments on it a few times, she never really challenges much, and for most intents serves as a background character. She’s a decent female character but she doesn’t stand out as an example of a great female character.

Manolo, on the other hand, I really loved. He is compassionate, and sticks to that compassion even in moments when it would be far easier to fall into violence and abandon his morals, but he actually sticks to them and finds a way to make them work.

One of my favorite parts is that almost no one is all bad in the movie, even the character who is at first painted as the ultimate villain comes around and is forgiven and allowed to be redeemed. And the rivalry for the hand of Maria doesn’t destroy the friendship between the two boys which is so great to see.

The music is a lot of fun (though The Apology Song was without a doubt my favorite and if you’re an animal person you’ll probably love it too) and plays an important part to the movie because Manolo so loves his music.

The message in the movie is hammered home pretty clearly towards the end: that you can write your own story no matter what is expected of you.

While there are some parts that might be a little scary for very young children (nothing any worse than your average Disney flick), I think it will be a great movie to see with (or without) kids. I went with my roommates and we all had a blast. It’s funny, sweet, and an entertaining story that will keep you wondering what’s going to happen next.

Setting A Project Aside

I am 100% for finishing what you start and powering through to the end. However, recently I had to put a project I was very excited about into a drawer and now, I’m just letting it simmer.

I wrote the first draft of a YA novel that I think has some great potential. The plan was for me to let it sit for a few weeks and then get back to work on rewrites. When that day came, I stared at the first draft and realized that I still had no clue what to do with it.

I had huge plot problems where I couldn’t decide between two very different story lines, and I still didn’t know where the story was going. The excitement had vanished, and all that I had left was a whole lot of frustration and no action.

So I’ve decided to put the project aside and work on another project that I’ve had in my mind for a while, but it still burns to not be working straight through to finish my YA novel.

Hopefully in next few months, ideas will click back into place and I’ll be on that train once again!

What do you do when a project needs to be set aside?

Apps I Love

I just got home from an amazing time at Imaginarium where I had several conversations with writers and readers comparing their favorite apps to write with or just for general use. So I thought I’d share some of the apps I love!

I like to hyper organize so here is my writing folder of apps:

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Of the ones in here,  I use Index Card and Coffitivity the most. The others are cool, but they aren’t something I use on a regular basis.

Here’s what Index Card looks like when you open it up:

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It lets you create digital index cards to lay out your work however you want. You can shuffle them around, color code them and most importantly, sync with drop box and import them into Scrivener. Fair warning, this one is not free.

Coffitivty- Take a coffee shop with you!

Coffitivty- Take a coffee shop with you!

Coffitivty is great! It lets you get the ambient noise of a coffee shop without the expense of buying coffee at these little shops. I use it all the time when I’m writing in public or just to block out some distracting noise.

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I use the items in my document section regularly, but my favorite is Documents. It lets me sync with dropbox and edit my texts. I can create a new document and type my little heart away without having to have a connection to wi-fi.   Documents

Last but not least is a to-do list app called Wunderlist. It lets me sort my to-do lists into easy to organize areas. I use it to track what I have to do at work, at home, and with writing. I even use it for long term goals, bucket list items, books, movies, and writing ideas. It syncs across multiple devices so I can add something at midnight on my phone and see it on my desktop in the morning.

Wunderlist- My favorite to-do list app!

Wunderlist- My favorite to-do list app!

So those are my favorite apps, what ones do you recommend?

Weekly Review: Servants of the Storm

Sorry about missing last week, but this week I am back to review Delilah S. Dawson’s new YA novel, Servants of the Storm. 

Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson cover

Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson

Dovey lost her best friend Carly when Hurricane Josephine swept through Savannah and left disaster in her wake. A year later, and Dovey sees Carly in one of their favorite coffee shops. Needing to know the truth, Dovey stops taking the strange white pills that leave her in a fog, and begins to see what’s really happening in Savannah. Demons are running rampant. To save Carly, Dovey will have to find her way through the hellish scape of her home to free her friend. 

Enlisting the help of Baker, her childhood friend, and Issac, a mysterious young man who knows more than he lets on, pulls Dovey into new nooks and crannies where she starts to learn just what the cost of saving Carly really is. 

I adored this book. It’s dark, and creepy with southern gothic all over. Dovey’s love for Carly reminds me so much of me and my friends at that age where we would do anything for one another and nothing would stop that bond. In Dovey and Carly’s case, not even death can sever their friendship. 

The world of Savannah is rich and vibrant without it feeling like you have to really know Savannah to understand the story. The flavor of the city is there, the old, haunting area that the tourists don’t generally get to see. It’s a great testament to the southern gothic feel for a story. 

Dovey is brave, and relentless, and she pushes the story forward past the point that she should have given up. I really found myself rooting for her, and worried about her well being. With people questioning if she’s just crazy or if she really is seeing things, Dovey has to convince herself, and her friends that Carly is out there and she needs help. 

I really recommend Servants of the Storm to anyone who likes their stories dark and twisted. A great read with a really unique concept that looks at what happens when storms are more than just a simple force of nature. 

 

You can buy Servants of the Storm on AmazonBarnes and Noble or order it through your local Indie bookstore. 

 

Introducing: Kamala

So about three weeks ago, a lovely little kitty cat showed up in front of my door and (literally) demanded to be adopted. I’ve spent the last several weeks trying to find her owners, but now, pretty much a month later, Kamala the cat is here for the long run.

I’ve wanted a cat for some time but various reasons have led to me putting it off, but apparently the universe decided to just give me an amazing, sweet cat. She’s mellow, doesn’t like jumping on things, and is happiest when she is being pet, or when she’s napping on her carpet scratching pad. She’s been a doll so far, curling up beside me and sleeping most of the night, and occasionally getting into wrestling matches with a stuffed duck.

So, I just decided to post her on up her and introduce her to the world.

So this is Kamala, named after the new Ms. Marvel, because she’s got a little lightning bolt on her tummy.

 

Tummy bolt!

Tummy bolt!

Watching me write.

Watching me write.

Not wanting to get out of bed in the morning.

Not wanting to get out of bed in the morning.

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Napping on my Marvel bag.

Weekly review: Mirrors and Magic: A Steampunk Fairy Tale

This week I had the pleasure of reading a lovely YA steampunk fairy tale set in a circus. And that is pretty much all of my favorite things rolled together! So here we go!

Mirrors and Magic Cover

Mirrors and Magic: A Steampunk Fairy Tale by Katina French

Neve is trying to hold together the circus her father always loved, but wicked things are afoot all around her. When Neve finally makes the leap to save the circus from financial ruin she steps right into a battle for the spotlight. After someone makes an attempt on her life, she starts to question who to trust as she tries to save the circus, her father’s legacy, and just maybe whatever feelings are growing between her and knife thrower Brendan.

As soon as I saw Steampunk circus, I was sold. Two of my favorite things! This take of the Snow White fairytale Neve is a delightful, hard working character who clearly loves and is devoted 100% to the circus even as it starts to fall to financial ruin around her. Brendan is wickedly charming, but certainly not a polished Prince Charming, and the characters in the circus around her are all fun, and interesting people. The fairy tale elements don’t seem forced at all, and I actually forgot about the Snow White aspect as I got drawn into the story.
The world building is truly fascinating and I certainly hope there are more stories set in this world because all of the mechanics and the wars sound fascinating! I also think this book would be great for someone who isn’t sure about steampunk because at no point are you really beaten over the head with it, more of the world around the story is a steampunk world.
Over all, this is a fun, quick read of magic, courage, and not giving up on the things (and people) you love.

 

You can buy Mirrors and Magic here.

Weekly Book Review: Bad Mojo by Shane Berryhill

So I’m starting to post a book review every Friday, so woohoo!

I really want to read more so this will hopefully keep me on target with getting lots of things read. We’re starting off with Bad Mojo, a book by a convention buddy of mine, Shane Berryhill. So without further ado, here’s your spoiler-free review!

Bad Mojo book cover

Bad Mojo (Zora Banks Book 1) by Shane Berryhill

Chattanooga is its own character in this dark urban fantasy series featuring Ash Owens, a rough and tumble redneck with a monstrous side, and his partner Zora Banks, a Southern conjuring woman of incredible power. Spooks (supernatural creatures) roam about ‘Nooga, and Ash makes his living trying to keep some of them (and himself) in line. When Ash is hired on to find a politician’s missing wife, he stumbles into more problems then he expected especially after he finds out it’s not just spooks that act like monsters.

Ash has got one helluva personality and it’s clear from page one of Bad Mojo. He’s a smart-talking country boy struggling to come to turns with his own monsters and trying to make a living in the city he loves. Chattanooga really is a huge character in this novel and holds her own as Ash travels from top to bottom trying to unravel the mystery he finds himself in. There’s a lot of time spent developing the city of Chattanooga, the various underground circles run by the Vipers, and the Zombies, and even some more conjuring folk, and the mysterious In-Between.

Ash is a big act first think later kind of guy and it puts big strife between he and his partner Zora especially as the book progresses. The way the two partners want to handle this case causes a lot of chaos between them, and it’s fun to watch Ash try to dance around his problems only to cause bigger ones.

Occasionally some of the sections of dialogue run a little long because I want back to the action, but overall this is a really fun, quick ride along a supernatural world. The lingo used to describe the creatures, Spooks and Vipers, makes the take of vampires and zombies seem fresher and unique to Berryhill’s world.

A fun read for anyone who has a taste for a smartass Southern story, and wants to see a fresh take on urban fantasy.

You can buy Bad Mojo here.

Stressed out about overworrying about being anxious

Stress

I’m an incredibly anxious person. I over worry about everything. For example, I once panicked about what I was going to wear on a flight to interview for a job in Oregon… BEFORE I had even submitted my job application for the position. I’m always thinking 15 steps ahead, and at least 13 of those steps are worst case scenarios and what could go wrong.

I live with the constant thought that people always hate it when I text or email them because I’m bothering them. I worry that I responded too quickly to a message; I worry that I responded too slowly to a message and that either option means I’m a lost cause and this person will no longer respect or like me. I wake up some mornings with a sense of doom that wraps around my neck like a wool scarf suffocating me in the middle of July.

I stress out about what’s going to happen today, tomorrow, in a month, a year, ten years, twenty years. I panic about the imaginary things I haven’t done yet, and I worry that the things I have done, I’ve done all wrong somehow. I worry that every time I mess up even in the slightest, that I’ve doomed myself forever and should just go shove my head in the ground and hide.

It’s an exhausting way to live, and sometimes it flares up in wickeder than usual ways that leave me ill, depressed, and a general mess who just wants to lock myself in my room so I don’t have to interact with anyone.

Sometimes I can write my way through it, and other times I’m so worried that what I’m writing is awful, and therefore I’m awful that I can barely write a sentence. One of the things I struggle with as a writer is building high enough conflicts because tension worries me (yes even fictional tension) and I just want things to go smoothly which doesn’t make for compelling stories exactly.

I write this not because I want coddling or anything like that (and I worry immensely that’s what this post will be taken as), but because I know it’s a problem, and I’m not going to continue to hide from it, instead I’m working on ways to manage it.

  • I run, walk, or just jump in circles in my room.
  • I send a message to someone I admire and tell them why they’re amazing.
  • I look through a folder of all of the things I have accomplished.
  • I keep track of what I do every day, and praise myself for finishing things.
  • I do yoga or just lay on the floor and listen to the sounds of a thunderstorm.

Sometimes these work, some days it’s like trying to run from a swarm of killer bees that I can already feel digging into my skin. No day is perfect, and I’ve come to accept that and to try to not (hahahaha) worry about it.

I know I spend most of my time on this blog talking about writing, but this is a part of my writing (and every day life) that I don’t mention much, and I feel like it’s time to own it. Writing on some days is like trying to wade through a locust swarm in my gut that’s constantly trying to devour me from the inside out. But the things I want to write help me make it through the storm and to the other side where I can see the non-bug-infested light again.

I wish there were some piece of advice, some great tip from a self-help book that I could pass along, but the truth is, I just sort of throw a dart towards where I want to go and blindly push forward through locust swarms and all. Some days I lay down and let the bugs crawl all over me, and some days I walk through beautiful sunlight. But at the end of the day I try to do the best I can with what I’ve got going on, and to just keep pushing forward. You’re not alone.

Cut the crap

The process of editing.

The process of editing and rewriting.

Cutting words from your work can suck. It can, without a doubt, be one of the toughest parts of the writing process, especially when you either a) have to cut a lot of words/pages  b) have to add a lot of words/pages or c) to cut huge sections and redo them.

Figuring out what can stay and what can go is one of the challenges of making your story the strongest it can be. Here are a  few things that can help (and by the way, making gifs on Photoshop is a great way to waste time but an awful way to get editing done.) These are basically things that I do once I have a first draft of a story.

  1. See what words you frequently use.

You can use wordle to create word clouds of your text and examine what words show up the most by how large they appear (and what words in general appear). For an example here’s a wordle cloud of text from a short story I am currently editing.

Wordle

With words: like, back, go and think appearing I know there’s still work to do.

Another great way to check this is to use wordcounter which will create a list that shows you exactly how many times a certain word has been used.  Here’s the same story’s results with wordcounter.

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 1.22.55 PMI think wordcounter is more practical but I just love how pretty wordle is.

2. Cut any scene that isn’t moving the story forward.

Even if you have written the best description of a thunderstorm ever to have been written, if it isn’t advancing your story then it needs to go. This can be one of the hardest parts and I usually try to save these little gems in a graveyard word document.

One way to find these scenes is to re-read your story and mark the sections you start to skim over. A better way to do this is to ask a friend to mark the sections they skimmed through. If people aren’t reading those sections then something’s wrong and it needs to hit the floor or be reworked.

3. Read your work out loud.

If you stumble, then highlight that section and go back to look at it later, but read your work out loud. You can even ‘cheat’ and have your computer read it to you; this can really highlight areas that are awkward or that drag forever.

4. Check your beginning.

A lot of times the beginning of your story will need to be cut because you started too soon and have too much just meandering until the story actually begins. You can also have the opposite problem where you start the story too late and need to go back and add information. Look at your beginning very carefully when editing.

5. Check your timeline.

Most of the time when I edit, I realize that I have three sun rises in one day, or four Sundays in a week. I’ve started writing out what happens day by day in an old planner to keep myself in line, but checking your timeline is crucial to a good edit.

 

Those are just a very, very few things that I do when I’m going through my first draft. What kind of techniques do you use?

 

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