What Is a Hero?

The panelist seemed super-human. She had drawn awed murmurs after telling us at the indie writing conference in Orlando that she had written and published over fifty romance novels. She was barely over twenty.

I was eager to hear what the prolific author was going to say, especially when the moderator asked her a question I loved, “How do you define a hero?”

As a novelist myself, I had read many definitions of a hero in how-to-write books. Many were dry and technical: “A hero is the main character of a story who struggles against overwhelming obstacles, usually for some principle, ideal, person, or goal beyond the narrow scope of his or her own ego. Heroes may be flawed but, in the end, they will always act according to their conscience, even when it means risking everything, including, sometimes, their lives.”

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Why I Banished My Ego from My Writing Process

ego

The silent inner voice that criticizes me as I write means well. It wants to shield my ego, to prevent me from saying anything embarrassing or offensive that might get me banished from the human race and possibly sent into the wilderness to survive on dirt and berries.

My ego does not understand that the only kind of writing that matters is honest writing. Mastering the art requires me to look at the world, including myself, in all its messy, multifaceted complexity.

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My Cat Counsels Me on Outrage Addiction

Weeks ago I found myself so outraged by an online news article, I had to remind myself to breathe. Enough, I told myself. It is time to be proactive. So I sat back in my sofa, massaged my temple — and did a rabid search for more articles I knew would rocket my outrage to a whole new level.

As I read, adrenalin surged. I became madder by the minute. When I had burned through my most incendiary news articles, I turned to Facebook for the solace of its snarky fury.  Before I knew it, hours had passed with my eyes glued to my smart phone. Now, blinking  up, I looked around the living room and wondered what I had actually accomplished, except for  miffing  my cat.

Some time ago she had dropped on the couch beside me a brightly colored fuzzy ball. She is the only cat I have ever met who liked to play fetch.  Now she mewled piteously as she nosed her violet toy toward me and looked up to gaze into my eyes, begging me to throw it.

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The Tightrope of Writing for Love and Pay

Money looks the same regardless of how it is earned. Money made waitressing or cutting lawns looks no different from the money you would make for publishing a bestselling masterpiece destined to survive for millennia. Maybe in the moment, when the bills are due, money seems paramount, but in the end it is the writing that compels interest, surprises, enchants, persuades, and inspires.

That being said, I must admit that when I was a child penning stories about talking animals and dreaming of being an author when I grew up, I also hoped that I would make a living at writing.

It was not because I considered writing to be an onerous chore that would only be worthwhile if someone greased my peanut- butter-and-jelly-stained palms. Writing enchanted me; Otherwise I would have chosen a different career to idealize. I imagined I would be paid because whenever someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I knew they were not asking about my future hobbies. They were asking how I was planning to earn a salary. Salaries, I thought, made writers official.

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Penning My Way to Clarity

When I first began blogging, I began all my posts without being totally certain what they would be about.  I would ask myself questions without clear resolutions. I would probe hazy memories for meaning. Then I would set off like an itinerant mountain hiker, without a map, to explore them. I liked to get lost in my prose, to confuse myself, then forge a path to clarity as I went along.

I later learned I could speed the process if I wrote about something I knew for sure, an essay I could fully envision in its finished state, like how to plot a story or what a movie was about. I could just begin with a thesis statement like I had done for essays in college, then write an outline. Those blogs would usually turn out fine, but they were not fulfilling in the same way my inefficient, confusing meandering blogs were.

That was partly because with my pre-structured posts, I never “crossed.”

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New E-book Release for Kindle: The Dragon Proofed House

Ray Bradbury said, “Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as though you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”

I love that quote. And I am tempted to whole-heartedly agree. Except video games are “dreams” made in factories, and I love video games, at least the great ones like Zelda and Skyrim. When I play them, I sometimes feel like I am “stuffing my eyes with wonder.” Is there really such a sharp divide between human-made wonders and what we consider real life? If architecture or other art can be wonderful, why not virtual worlds? Even if the games are made in factories, it is still people who make the creative decisions. And sometimes those decisions are “fantastic.”

My fascination with virtual reality is part of what inspired my new Kindle e-book, The Dragon-Proofed House. Just released, it is a blend of fantasy and science fiction that allowed me to indulge my fascination with virtual reality while also asking the question, “Can virtual reality ever be an adequate substitute for real life?” My main character Christine decides that it is better than her tragic real life, so she forsakes the real world completely for a game set in a dragon-infested town called Mirror Mountain Valley.

Here is the Amazon blurb:

They say there’s no place like home, but in Mirror Mountain Valley, they say there’s no home that’s safe from the randomized dragon attacks… except, of course, for a chosen few.

After suffering impossible losses, Christine willingly gives up her real life and even her memories to plug in full-time to an immersive virtual world where life is beautiful. The rules here are simple: gain currency, build the most beautiful house you can, and try to win a prestigious award which will allow your incredible dream home to be dragon-proofed, safe forever from the vicious and unpredictable attacks of the great dragon Cipher. Whenever the fire-breathing dragon comes along, houses crumble to dust and the owners are left behind to roam the virtual world as disconnected, bodiless spirits.

If Christine’s house can be worthy of being dragon-proofed, maybe that strange, ghostly little boy will stop haunting the edges of her vision. Maybe she can finally be free of whatever past she’s tried to bury and live happily ever after.

The only catch is the award is voted on by the elite previous winners, and their tastes are… extremely particular. Christine wants this award more than anything, but in order to make her house appealing to the winners, she has to sacrifice everything she finds appealing about it herself.

But hey – it could be worse… couldn’t it? At least it’s better than the real world.

I do not want to reveal too much, so I will stop there. But I will say the adventure is around 50 pages and it is the third installment of my Torn Curtain series of eBooks. The feedback I have gotten so far has been promising. One reader wrote to me:

It was amazing. My first thought was fantasy, yet the dragon was a philosopher, so real hard truth was there also. The mix works. I loved Christine and her strength. I loved the fantasy/realism of a darned good story. THANK YOU!

Another reader left a thoughtful review on his blog which I deeply appreciate. I have included a link to it here. In it he revealed that he could relate to my protagonist Christine because she had endured personal tragedy and he had also experienced loss.

Although I hate to think any of my readers experienced anything close to what Christine did, I love discovering how my stories change from reader to reader. It reminds me that my stories are not “fixed” once I have written them. When readers take up the story they complete it by transforming my narrative. They bring to it their memories, world views, and personal frames of reference. For that reason, no story I write will be exactly the same for any two readers and that is fascinating to me.

Thanks to my readers for “completing” my stories in ways I will never know! You have no idea how much I appreciate you! Have a happy Halloween and try to stay away from dragons. Unless of course they want to talk philosophy with you. In that case it might be wise to listen. Dragons are old. Their wings take them far and wide. They know things. And they are not always what they seem.

Buy The Dragon-Proofed House on Amazon

Why I Fired My Muse

Never trust a muse; they are more like drug pushers than art mentors. They will lay on irresistible charm to woo and addict you; then they will stand you up at coffee shops. They will disappear when you need them most and they will return when you least expect it. They will kick off their flip flops as if they never left, drink up all the milk in the refrigerator, and play loud music at 3:00 a.m. I prefer mind maps to muses. Mind maps keep their appointments. They wear shoes. They let me sleep. That is why I fired all my muses and hired mind maps.

But I must confess: Sometimes I miss the muses; they flatter you as no one else can. There is something compelling about the feeling they give you, that you are experiencing a mysterious part of yourself normally beyond your grasp, that some electrifying creative connection is happening spontaneously. Somehow not having to work for a story or poem makes it seem magical — special. It is a gift; therefore, you must be “gifted.”

But a gifted self that depends upon the whims of a “muse” is unstable. Depending upon its uncontrollable magic means that sometimes the writer is gifted and sometimes not, yet artists yearn to define themselves by their most inspired moments, not the times that their muse stood them up to go asteroid surfing.

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Carriage into the Future (Flash Fiction)

I only wanted to stay home with my cat; time moved too fast as it was. But I was only eight, so of course no one listened to my protests. They forced me into the carriage, told me to tie my bonnet tight. Time travel gets windy, they said, so hold on to the rail so tight your knuckles turn white or you might fall out, and who knows where you might end up, maybe Armageddon or a new Ice Age. The horses, already glowing bright green from the tonic, made me feel like I was in a scary dream. They were chomping at the bit and snorting; they seemed angry not to be in the future yet. They would need to be angry, my dad said, to take us where we wanted to go. “And where is that?” I asked. 

He said, “No one knows the future, my dear, whether it comes fast or slow. We are just going to go fast, really fast, faster than you can say your name. We want to see dramatic, all-at-once changes, not the tiny changes of a single lifetime where no one really sees them happening. We want our days to whoosh, not creep, to roar, not whisper. No one truly lives who lives a life that crawls, and no one ever sees its meaning until it is too late. I have vowed to never let the dull march of moments lull me into pre-death slumber, which is what happens to the time-crawling sort; it has happened to everyone I know. 

“I have always lived life on the edge,  always flying into the headwinds of change; time is no different. The future is coming no matter what I do, so instead of waiting for it, I am going to give it a nice surprise; I am going to fly into it, make its passage gale force, let its winds thrash the hair off my scalp.” Continue reading

My Newest Release, “The Mad Scientist Aptitude Test,” is Now Free

There has been heated debate about the need for more women to enter scientific careers, but no one ever talks about the woeful gender inequality raging in the promising field of mad science. Step aside, Dr. Frankenstein and Mr. Hyde. Meet Betty Sue Collins, a waitress in a wig who, frustrated with her ordinary life, sets aside med school plans in favor of pursuing a career in science — mad science. Which means being more like her brainy misfit heroes with the enticing possibility of ruling the world. But there is a price. if she wants to join the ranks of the masters, she will have to take a test — a test shrouded in mystery, one that is far more challenging than any she has taken before. She only knows that being a mad scientist will require equal parts genius and insanity, and she seeks to prove to herself and to others that she has enough of both.

This is the gist of my newest e-book “The Mad Science Aptitude Test.” It was a case of writing what I wanted to read, which is the funnest kind of story to write. Before writing it, I honestly wondered if a female mad scientist had ever been represented in literature; if there was one, I could not think of any so I decided to make history and reverse this egregious omission.

While the story is “feminist” in only the most lighthearted sense, I am usually disappointed with villainesses and female anti-heroes in the science fiction world. Too many seem to be quixotic, paper-thin stereotypes, capricious and moody for no reason. I wrote a character with issues I could identify with, despite her outward eccentricities stemming from early childhood trauma.

That being said, my mad scientist story is also a departure from the first story of my “Torn Curtain ” series. Unlike Binary Boy, “The Mad Scientist Aptitude Test” is light-hearted, comic-book-like, and short enough to read in less than an hour. I started off selling the story at 99 cents but because it is so short comparatively, I decided to make it free like my collection Becoming the Story. I do not earn much from a 99 cent book, and making it free gets it to readers who might not take a chance on it otherwise.

However, new stories are on their way. I have just finished writing Dragon-proof, the next story in the Torn Curtain series, which will be closer to the length of Binary Boy. I have also been thinking of writing a sequel to Binary Boy since many reviewers said they would like to read what happens next; I would actually like to know what happens next, too.

In addition to writing my Torn Curtain series, I am continuing to work on my sequel to Paw, which should be done soon.

A final word: Please support gender equality in the mad sciences by downloading “The Mad Science Aptitude Test” today. It is free, and it might even inspire a career change for those of you who are willing to make a daring leap. In fact, I encourage it.  I heard that world-ruling is a rewarding occupation and, with the right minions, you could probably do a much better job  than those who are ruling the world nowadays. Then again, probably so could my cat. She already rules my apartment, which gives her formidable governing experience rivaling that of the canniest dictator. Luckily for you, at the moment she is busy batting a plastic milk ring under the stove, so now is the perfect time, while her attention is diverted, to download my book, get inspired, and embark on a shady, exciting, brilliant new life of productive madness. But first, there is a test you need to take…

Download The Mad Scientist Aptitude Test Now

Why Telling Myself “I Should Write” Ruins the Experience

When I was in college, one of my favorite authors, Natalie Goldberg of Writing Down the Bones, said something that confused me. She cautioned against what she called “goody-two-shoes” writing. By that she meant slavish discipline— writing at the same time every day for a set number of hours because that is what writers are “supposed to” do. She said she had friends who wrote dutifully but she claimed that their writing never improved because they were not truly present in their writing. No genuine creative desire fueled their efforts. For them, writing was just a duty, a frigid, pious chore.

She recommended that if you ever find yourself falling into such a rut, to take a break for a couple of weeks until your mind becomes full again and you find something you really want — or need — to say; then return to writing refreshed.

I liked her insight, yet I was confused. Many prominent authors had cautioned that waiting to be “in the mood” to write was no way to make a living writing; muses were a myth. What made a writing habit, which was almost universally thought to be beneficial for writers, morph into a tedious goody-two-shoes rut? And if I took a break from writing for my mind to become “full of ideas,” what was the difference between that and just putting off writing, which I was in the habit of doing anyway?

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