Friday, July 31, 2015

Five Enchanted Roses is Finally Here!!

Is it even possible to tell you how excited I was to get my copy of Five Enchanted Roses in the mail? No, probably not.

But I was pretty darned excited!

I just sat there for 5 minutes straight, just holding a real-live-honest-to-goodness paperback book in my hands. With MY name on it!! It was a good feeling.

I want that feeling to continue. 

On Monday evening, several of the authors of the anthology were part of a launch party hosted by Anne Elisabeth Stengl on Facebook. It was so much fun!

I thought I'd include some of the questions/answers from the launch party here on my blog, as well as any other stuff that's bouncing around in my brain and needs to be let out.

What inspired you to set Rosara and the Jungle King in the Amazon?

When I sat down to brainstorm my take on Beauty and the Beast, I wanted my beast to be something different from the mish-mash beast as seen on the Disney movie. I wanted it to be some sort of actual beast, whether real or imagined. I also knew that I wanted to have my story set in an exotic location. I had done the "once upon a time in a faraway kingdom" kind of story, and since I was writing specifically for a contest, I wanted my setting to be more memorable than that.

So, I thought of settings that I was familiar with. The first one that came to mind was Japan. Since I lived in a small, rural town in southern Japan for three years, I had a lot of schema to draw on to set the tale there. And I did write a Beauty and the Beast story set in Japan. It became Ai of the Mountain. I also thought of another setting I was familiar with, not because I had actually been there, but because I had learned so much about it, and had kinda fallen in love with it.

In college, one of my very favorite (if not so useful) classes was Anthropology. I loved this class! I loved learning all about  unique people groups that I'd previously never known about up until that point. One of the people groups I learned about was the Yanomami people of the Brazilian Amazon. They captured my imagination, and I wrote a couple of short stories for creative writing classes set in a Yanomami tribe.

Almost simultaneously with the decision to use this Amazonian tribe as my inspiration, came the realization of who my beast would be -- a jaguar. Thus, Tupa, the jaguar was born!

Did you create the magic system for your story, or is truly part of the Amazon tribes' belief system?

Most of the magic in the story has to do with the Karawara spirits. In my research for more information about the Yanomami, and similar tribes of the Amazon, I came across this phrase:

Some, like the Awa, take no stimulants or drugs but go into a trance through the power of rhythmic dancing and clapping to journey to the iwa, or abode of the spirits, where they meet the souls of the ancestors and the spirits of the forest, the karawara. 

Even though, the Awa are a different tribe, I knew that I wasn't recreating the Yanomami people exactly. I was creating my own tribe inspired by them and other nearby tribes. I loved this idea of the iwa - the abode of the spirits, and the spirits of the forest, the karawara. I couldn't really find much more information about what the iwa was, or what the karawara could or could not do, so I made up what I wanted to happen. Call it poetic license if  you must - I simply call it writing.

What advice do you have for someone submitting their story for the next contest?

Here's my two cents...

1. I feel like setting was really important. Consider these setting of the stories in Five Enchanted Roses...a pirate ship at sea, a haunted abbey, the Amazon jungle. Not your typical castles set far away and long, long ago. That's not to say that you can't have your fairy tale retelling take place in a castle or a familiar location, but then something else has to be truly unique. Turn the story on its head. Make the heroine the villain, for instance. Make something ordinary into something magical, or take something everyone assumes is good - into something truly evil. 

So, I guess I'm saying to make it unique, not just uniquely yours.

2. Write the story that you want to read. I love stories that are magical. But I also like stories that take me through strong emotions, whether that's disgust, anger, rage or wonder, awe, and enchantment. Don't be afraid to be brutal if necessary. Rosara has some very brutal scenes in it that make me squirm to read them. But, so did The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. It's okay to be be a sadist to your main character. Just don't do it in real life.

So, tip number two is to write the type of story that you like to read, but it's also to make sure that there's a lot of tension. The stakes should be very high for your protagonist - like life and death sort of high.

3. Write. Write. Write. Then re-write. Re-write. Re-write. Then ask for some help.

Get your first draft out. Fast. Don't worry about stuff that doesn't make sense. 
Misspelled words? Fuggatabout it! Just write!
Not sure what you're doing or where your story is going? Congratulations! You're a writer!!

Just get the first draft done. 

Then put it away.

Like for a week. Maybe two or three. 

Then go back and revise and/or rewrite it. Look for plot holes. Look for inconsistencies. And for the love of all that is holy, make sure your story delivers on answering the readers' questions. 

What do I mean by this?

I mean, if you add details to your story - they have to be there for a reason. An important reason. 
If the room suddenly goes dark because the lights go out, you need to let the reader know why. Was it because of the presence of a ghost? Did the power go out in the whole neighborhood? Was an electrical line cut by a serial killer on the loose? 

If you write that the lights went out, and then your protagonist just lights some candles but never says, "Hmmm...that's odd. I wonder what's going on..." then you've created a question in your readers' minds that doesn't get answered, and that's not good. So, make sure you give your readers a payoff by delivering on unanswered questions. 

That doesn't mean that EVERY thing needs to be answered. If you're going to create a sequel, then you'll want to leave some hooks that lead the reader to say, "I wonder what happens in the next book!" 

Okay, so let's say you've written your story.
You've re-written it. 
You've edited, polished and revised it to near perfection - or at least as perfect as you feel you can get without some outside feedback. Guess what it's time for!  Outside feedback!!

In other words - BETA READERS.

These are trustworthy people that you can ask to read your story and give you their honest, gut-wrenching critique of your story.

They should not be: your parents, your siblings, close friends (who are not writers - unless you REALLY trust them). Why? Because they love you too much and won't want to hurt your feelings.

You need to find some people who don't love you so much.

They can still be friends, but some distance helps. 

I have found that the best beta readers are people who are - READERS. So, if someone reads one or two books a year, it probably wouldn't help to ask them.

They should also be interested in reading stories in your genre. If they read biographies and rarely read fiction, they're not going to be as helpful to you as someone who reads a lot of fiction. It's not rocket science, but sometimes in our desperation to find someone -  anyone! - to read our stories, it's easy to give it to everyone. Don't. That's a mistake. 

I also find it very helpful to give my beta readers a list of questions to answer for their critique. These questions usually center around: When did you loose interest? What pulled you out of the story (or made you say, "That wouldn't really happen?")? What was unrealistic? What part was compelling? What unanswered questions did you have at the end of the story? 

If I ask questions like this, the readers don't feel so bad being harsh real in their answers. After all, they're just answering my questions. 

And finally, keep in mind that less than half of the people who say they will help you out, will actually do it. LESS THAN HALF. I'm not joking. I know they don't intend to make promises they won't keep, but just know that it happens. Therefore, ask twice as many people to read your story than you really need. Want five people to give their feedback? Then ask 10 if they'll read it for you. You'll be lucky if you get four. That's just how it works.

So, that's my 2 cents. I hope it's helpful. 

Above all though, don't be afraid to try! 
And keep writing!!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Ring Around the Rose: Question the Last

Well, it's finally here.
The last week of playing "Ring Around the Rose" with my fellow authors of Five Enchanted Roses.

It's been so much fun to see what they write, and to answer these questions as well.

This week's final question is another two-parter. Feel free to answer it along with me in the comments!

Part I: What are your thoughts on the themes in Beauty and the Beast?

Ok. A deep question to end with.
I can do deep.


Besides the obvious theme of Stockholm Syndrome and its effects on unsuspecting, book-loving girls, I think the theme that I resonate with the most is that each of us has a beast within us.

 I think every person is capable of being 'beastly,' and it's only because of grace and the love of others that we don't succumb to the darker side within us.

That sounded deep didn't it?
I tried.

When I was creating my story for the retelling of Beauty and the Beast, I sat down and thought of essential characteristics of the story. I came up with the following...

1. a damsel, who may-or-may-not be 'in distress'

2. a beast, who is ugly without but can be beautiful within

3. magic

That was pretty much it. Yeah, there's the magic mirror and the rose and all that, but I just wanted the bare essentials. And when I got down to the bare essentials that I listed above, I began to see Beauty and the Beast all around me.

That leads me to...

Part II: What is your favorite version of Beauty and the Beast?

Now that I saw Beauty and the Beast  with new eyes, I saw these characteristics played out in many books and movies that I wouldn't necessarily have thought of as a B&tB retelling. But I say they are.

One of my all-time favorite books is now what I would consider a B&tB retelling:

Wuthering Heights

Cathy is the damsel.
Heathcliff is the beast. 
And there's a certain element of magic, or at least the paranormal.
Sadly, this retelling doesn't have a happily-ever-after for the two main characters, however, a happy-ever-after does come about for their children, so that's something.

Another favorite B&tB retelling is the movie, Shrek.
I love how the movie turns the story on its head. Who is the beast? Is it Shrek or is it Fiona?

When I realized that this too was a B&tB retelling, it opened my mind to the possibility of other characters in the story being "beastly" as well. Hmmm....what an interesting spin! 

I won't say much more, because I don't want to give away too many spoilers about my story, Rosara and the Jungle King, but Shrek really inspired my story. Now you'll just have to read it and see if you can figure out how!

And then, my favorite out-and-out retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story is a more recent novel, Cruel Beauty. (Look at the cover! Isn't it gorgeous!! Oh wait, the whole idea of Beauty and the Beast is to NOT judge a book by its cover. My bad.)

If you haven't read it, you should. Get thee to a bookstore, posthaste!  Or a library. Or Amazon. Just get thee somewhere! 

So, what are your favorite themes and versions of the Beauty and the Beast story?  Do tell!

And then go check out these other ladies' amazing blogs. 
You'll be impressed. (They are much deeper thinkers than I.)

See what KayceeSavannah, and Janelle wrote!
And don't forget to check out Hayden's blog tomorrow to see her response.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Ring Around the Rose - Question the Fifth

This week's question is actually two questions. So, we'll have question 5.0 and then 5.1, shortly.

Now for question 5.0

What was the first story you ever wrote?

Oh, man.

I really, really can't remember.

I know that when I was in 3rd grade I created a family newspaper that all of about two editions, so that would probably include my very first story.

I think the first story that I can really remember well wasn't until I was a sophomore in high school. It was the first story that was long enough to be an actual story.
It was the first story that I remember being complimented on as well.
By the cute, blonde hottie in my writing class that I (and every other girl in my class) had a crush on.

It was about a deranged lunatic who escaped from a psychiatric hospital by killing his doctor and was going on a wild rampage before dying alone and afraid in the woods.

You know, a feel-good-fun-for-the-whole-family-happily-ever-after sort of story.

Honestly, I have no idea why I wrote it.
I was a bit of a dark, twisted soul as a teenager, I guess.
Or I was just really hormonal and didn't know how to deal with it.
Either way, it was a weird story.

But, I finished it. Other people liked it.
And I realized how much I loved writing.

So, now for question 5.1

What is your favorite Pixar movie?

So, like everybody on the planet, I love to see that little desk lamp hop across the screen and shine its light right in my eyes. I know I am about to be truly entertained.

I love the movie, Ratatouille. My daughters love it as well. I love how Remy the rat has an imaginary friend in Chef Gusteau. He says a lot of poignant things like "What do I know? I am only a figment of your imagination."

But, Ratatouille is not my favorite Pixar film.

I LOVE Finding Nemo as well.
Honestly, Dorie?
How do you not love Dorie?
I love this movie so much. But now that I have my own kids, it sometimes makes me cry when Nemo gets kidnapped fishnapped. And then again when he finds his dad. And then again when we think he's dead. It's an emotional rollercoaster for me to watch Finding Nemo.

But, Finding Nemo is not my favorite Pixar film.

My very favorite Pixar movie is....


I love, love, LOVE this movie!

I love the setting.
I love all the red hair.
I love the three naked babies.
The kilts.
The accents.
The fiery tempers.

But most of all, I love Merida.
I love her spirit.
I love that she's not satisfied with the fate that she has.
Instead, she does whatever she can to be in charge of her own fate.


I think that theme of the movie really really resonates with me. I don't want to accept the fate that I felt I was heading towards. I want to change my fate, own it, and make my dreams come true.

Hopefully, without turning my mother (or anyone else for that matter) into a bear.

Don't forget to check out Hayden's blog tomorrow to see her response.
Also check back to see what KayceeSavannah, and Janelle wrote, too!