#FlashFictionFriday: remembering Mama and the year of the tipsy reindeer #christmas

HolidayTree2012Web Olympia Downtown AssociationI live in a very small town. The residents here go all out decorating their houses and yards for the month of December. It makes for a wonderful drive after dark, just cruising the local neighborhoods admiring the inventive displays.

The city maintenance department decorates the main drag through town and it looks amazing. I wish we could have those awesome lights up all winter long. They make the long, dark nights feel so much kinder.

All up and down our street, homes are decorated for the season, but our home is always quite simple in its holiday decorating–a tree, candles, a cute centerpiece for the table. Outside, my hubby puts up small lighted displays,  but nothing too fancy.

We keep it simple because we have to tear it down and put it all away over New Year’s day, and that rapidly becomes a bore.  It’s work, and I don’t like anything that falls into the category of labor.

In 2008, my mother was terribly ill with lung cancer and was living with us in her final days. She was 82, and had always been an active, hardworking woman, managing a pizza parlor, and wrangling my eccentric, alcoholic father. She had kept an immaculate home with religious zeal, and maintained her garden just as neatly.

It was a sign of just how ill she was that she allowed me to move her into my home so I could care for her.

My hubby had set up the lighted reindeer  display: three sweet reindeer made of wire and white lights. However, the snow was quite deep, and around their little electric feet it would melt from the heat of the lights, but not evenly.

The little one kept falling over, which looked awful as compared to the neighbor’s fancy displays. Every day, Mama checked on that reindeer first thing in the morning, wanting to get out there and fix it herself, but she was too frail.

The disease had taken her health, but it hadn’t taken her sense of humor. The snow provided a form of entertainment for her, and she would laugh and make all sorts of ribald comments as she watched me or my hubby try to stand the rickety Rudolph back up and attempt to anchor it  more securely into the frozen turf.

No matter how we tried, our display that year was the lamest one on the street, with our neighbors pointing and laughing at the prone reindeer as they walked to the grocery store. We would check on it and make sure it was upright before we went to bed, but it never failed–sometime during the night, the wind would blow that one particular reindeer over.

lighted-reindeerOne morning, a few days before Christmas, I was in the kitchen, and Mama was looking out the front window, talking on the phone to my Aunt Lillian. “That littlest reindeer is a terrible influence. Usually he’s the only souse in the lot, but today we have a yard full of drunken reindeer.”

Aunt Lillian said something, and Mama replied, “I’m not joking. The whole herd is passed out in the snow. Either that, or we had a drive-by shooting and the reindeer were the casualties.”

Sure enough, when Greg went out to go to work, all three electric reindeer were laying on their sides.

That was Mama’s last Christmas.

I miss her when the neighborhood is decorated like wonderland and the yard is full of snow. She loved life so much and clung to it fiercely despite the chemo and the vile disease that was killing her.

This year, snow is falling again, and we will put up some sort of display, although the reindeer have long since gone to broken ornament heaven.

Somehow, decorating for Christmas isn’t the same without them.

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#amwriting: Villainous motivation (or why should they bother?)

voldemortYou have a hero.  He/she is awesome. Your beta readers love him/her.

You have a villain. Unfortunately, your beta readers find him/her murky and hard to believe, so they don’t really understand your story. What is their problem?

The problem is not with the beta readers – you haven’t gotten a grip on that villain yourself, and therefore the antagonist has no motivation for being evil other than possessing a bastardly disposition, which doesn’t make a really compelling story.

First you need to understand what defines evil: Google Definitions defines evil as:

e·vil

ˈēvəl

adjective

  1. profoundly immoral and malevolent.

“his evil deeds”

synonyms:  wickedbadwrongimmoralsinfulfoulviledishonorablecorruptiniquitous, depravedreprobatevillainousnefariousviciousmaliciousmalevolentsinister,demonicdevilishdiabolicalfiendishdarkmonstrousshockingdespicable,atrociousheinousodiouscontemptiblehorribleexecrable;

informal lowdowndirty

“an evil deed”

noun

  1. profound immorality, wickedness, and depravity, especially when regarded as a supernatural force.

“the world is stalked by relentless evil”

So now we have an overly simplified concept of evil.

First of all, very few people are evil for no reason at all. They want something, and are willing to do nearly anything to gain it. The best villains lack compassion. Why do they lack this basic human emotion? It could be they are narcissistic and are incapable of empathy, exhibiting it only when they gain something by displaying feigned compassion.

Most people who are considered evil by society are highly narcissistic. BPDcentral.com defines a narcissist as a person who:

  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  • Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  • Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

Our villain is determined to have his own way at any cost, and to that end he/she is Manipulative. In their personal relationships they will:

  1. Employ “Gaslighting,” a manipulative tactic that can be described in different variations of three words: ‘That didn’t happen,’ ‘You imagined it,’ and ‘Are you crazy?’ This is an insidious manipulative tactic, because it works to distort and erode the victim’s sense of reality. It eats away at the victim’s knowledge of events and their ability to trust their instincts. This tactic keeps them from feeling justified in calling out abuse and mistreatment.
  2. Employ cutting remarks masked as jokes.
  3. Switch conversational topics as a means to avoid accountability.
  4. Attempt to distract you by focusing your attention on the supposed threat of another person (reporting supposed gossip about you).

It is important to understand that villains want to win at any cost, and sometimes have no concept of what they will do once they achieve their goal, as they haven’t thought that far ahead. They are completely focused just on winning.

Now that we know what our villain is like as human being, we know that most likely greed and/or a lust for power is what is driving this person.

Your task as an author is to clearly define what goal this person has set for themselves and why they believe they deserve to achieve it.

Thor-Everything-LokiMany villains don’t walk on screen as full-blown supervillains, especially in contemporary fiction and romances. They appear innocuous, even loving. You will want to slip small clues for the reader about their personality into the narrative in the beginning pages:

  1. Is he/she a liar? (Hint that they may be a cheating spouse, slick salesman, politician.)
  2. Are they a thief? (Hint that they may be an embezzler, a tax evader, or business person who profits from deliberately bankrupting their own businesses.)
  3. Do they take outrageous risks? Drop mentions and hints as to this aspect of their character early on in the narrative.

The villain is often the most complex character you will write. They must be multilayered or they can appear cartoonish.  If their goals are clearly defined and their actions in keeping with their personality, you will have a good enemy opposing your protagonist.

Whether you are writing fantasy, sci-fi, westerns, romance, or any genre of fiction, chances are you will have a villain. It is your task to make that villain come to life, and to that end, you need to know how they think and why they think that way.


Quoted and researched sources:

www.BPDCentral.com, Hallmarks of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Copyright © 2014. BPD Central. All rights reserved.

10 Techniques Used by Manipulators (and How to Fight Them), Jessica Stillman, contributor. © Inc.com July 18, 2016

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#amwriting: setting the scene: making use of maps and floorplans

cape_disappointmentOnce again I am mapping a novel. This one will most likely top out at 80,000 words in the first draft and settle back to about 75,000  by the third draft. Right now I am writing the high points of this story as a rough draft.

However, to do this right, I need to put together the background and research the most up to date maps.

This piece is a contemporary novel and is set in a place that really exists: the area of Cape Disappointment on the south coast of Washington State. It is a place I visited many times as a child, and have fond memories of. This also gives my hubby and me the opportunity to revisit the place to see how it has changed and to better set the scene in my mind.

As I am writing, I will, of course, avail myself of Google Earth. This is a great tool for anyone whose work is set in the real world. Urban fantasies, contemporary literary novels (which is what this particular book is) and any number of romance or mystery stories benefit from the author’s diligence in making the background scenery as realistic as is possible. Google Earth give you a recent real-time view of many places.

google-earth-view-of-beards-hollow

Just as if you were writing a fantasy, making the setting as real as possible is critical. When writing any tale set in a real city or place, the author needs to know the general lay of the land, even if the setting is rarely mentioned. Remember, every time the protagonist and his/her companions leave the house, they will be in an environment that should be known and recognizable to the reader. Your knowledge of place will be clear in your writing, with every casual mention.

the-house-at-barons-hollow-smallI have drawn the floor plan of the house where much of the action takes place, and also the cove, along with the beach. The weather will keep them indoors a great deal of the time, and while it’s a large house, these people are a volatile mix, with many secrets that emerge over the course of the novel.

The floor plan and map of the pool area is critical, as some overheard conversations must  take place in an area where the inadvertent listener can remain unseen. The beach itself is  a known quantity, and the places people can find privacy in the dunes are all available via the Google Earth satellites.

The towns they will be going to for entertainment are also well-known to Washington residents, and while the names of the restaurant or bar will be my own creation, the street address will have its roots in reality. I will do this, despite the fact these are the sorts of things that never get mentioned. This is to make it real to me.

The biggest research issue for me with this novel will be learning about extreme sports, such as storm surfing and rock climbing. I know about surfing, as an interested bystander, but I am reading articles and threads on extreme sports enthusiast sites, to get an idea of the mindset of people who do these kinds of sports. When I began searching these sites, I wanted to know what the people who surf the Northeastern Pacific during storms consider too hazardous to attempt, and what they are really looking for.

 

The following is a link to a YouTube video of the kind of surf my two risk-takers would love to surf, but as this story takes place during the summer, the storms will be less severe than what this little clip shows. The beach, the cliffs, and the house will be the main scenes of the action.

Storm At Long Beach, YouTube

Whether I am writing fantasy or general fiction, my goal is to have the background scenery and setting as unobtrusive as possible. I want the reader to see it in their mind, which they will if I visualize it clearly and give them just enough imagery to hang their imagination on. The reader’s ability to imagine the setting is as important as what I believe the setting to be, so I must be careful to never contradict myself, or the reader will be confused.

413px-cape_disappointment_and_cape_disappointment_light

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#flashfictionfriday: Christmas at the Drunken Sasquatch

dekuyper-cherry-flavored-brandyVampires have a sick sense of humor, especially Alfredo, although he pretends to be cultured. Just over a year ago he got me banned from here, by switching my orange juice for an orange soda… that dirty trick was more than embarrassing. Covering the cost of the damages to the scorched floor, replacing the furniture, and buying Sylvia Wannamaker a new coat ate into my hoard quite heavily.

Worst of all, I was banned from participating in November’s pool tournament.

However, I’m a dragon. We like our revenge served up cold and well calculated.

The anniversary of my disgrace has passed, which would have been the obvious day for me to seek retribution. Most people have forgotten the whole incident.

But not me.

I know I look like any other old has-been, going on and on about the glory days. While that observation isn’t real flattering, it’s true. I drink more orange juice than is good for either of my livers, and I hang out here at the Drunken Sasquatch because I have nowhere else to go.

I don’t discuss it for obvious reasons, but during my years in the Middle East, Dan Dragonsworthy was far more than just a flying battle wagon. I spent a lot of time on covert missions, and one thing I learned was how to be patient, and how to spot the chinks in your opponent’s armor.

I’ve been watching Alfredo since New Year’s Eve when Bloody Bill finally lifted my punishment. I don’t intend to harm the old blood-sucker, but I’m going to give him a taste of his own medicine. There are substances vampires shouldn’t ingest, and Alfredo may have forgotten that.

A vampire tripping on chocolate is bad for everyone. I’d never do that, even to Alfredo. Fortunately, they don’t like the flavor of it. However, they do have a passion for maraschino cherries, which can cause problems for the weaker willed vampire since those fruity morsels of goodness are frequently found wrapped in dark chocolate. With one exception, the smart ones don’t succumb to temptation inside the Drunken Sasquatch, because Bloody Bill won’t tolerate that sort of behavior.

Most importantly for my purposes, vampires can’t tolerate coffee. On tiny amounts, they tend to pee themselves copiously, which the rest of us find hilarious. Vampires get quite huffy when their vampiric dignity is besmirched.

As if MY dignity meant nothing to me.

When you want to impress Alfredo, you buy him a jar of the special maraschino cherries from Italy, made with the best cherry liqueur. He can smell maraschino liqueur from anywhere in the room and, being a vampire, he lacks a conscience.

No maraschino is safe from Alfredo.

http://cookdiary.net/chocolate-covered-cherries/

The annual Christmas party and the gift exchange drives him mad. Every witch, wizard, or elf has a recipe for that most wonderful of traditional holiday treats, maraschino chocolate cordials. These kind friends are always generous with their gifts to those of us who lack their magical culinary skills.

It’s more than his old vampire heart can stand, and despite having received his own jars of cherries sans-chocolate, he takes incredible risks.

I’ll give Alfredo credit—he’s good. I’ve watched him sneak up behind Grandma and suck the cherries out of a box of cordials without getting his fangs dirty. She suspected it was him, but could never prove it. Fangs do leave holes, but it could have been any vampire.

It takes a brave (or desperate) vampire to mess with Grandma. I’d tell you to ask the Big Bad Wolf, but you can’t.

She’s wearing him.

So, anyway, last week, Grandma and I had a chat. I got on the internet and ordered the finest ingredients. They were delivered the day before yesterday, and she immediately got busy in the kitchen.

This year, one unattended box of cordials under the tree at the Drunken Sasquatch will have cherries in liqueur with unique centers. This particular batch will be vampire safe—no chance of accidental hallucinations here. Grandma created white chocolate shells filled with Cherry brandy, with a maraschino cherry floating in the middle. Each cherry is filled with a special coffee liqueur center.

It will be a joy to watch Alfredo try to deny his culpability in this year’s draining of the maraschinos as the evidence spreads around his feet.

cherry-suisse-advert-1969I hope vampire pee isn’t too acidic, although I’ve heard the stench is an excellent Zombie repellent, and no matter how you scrub, it’s impossible to get rid of the odor. Sylvia Wannamaker swears by it in a diluted form as a slug repellent in the garden, as using it there will turn your hydrangeas the brightest blue. They don’t make good cut flowers though, as they smell too bad to keep in the house.

I’m sure a pool of vampire urine won’t be as dangerous for the innocent bystanders as when he caused me to inadvertently belch fire in close quarters.

Come the day after this year’s Christmas party at the Drunken Sasquatch (even though his cash outlay won’t come near matching the damages I had to pay when he slipped me the Mickey) at least Alfredo will be out the cost of a new pair of boots. And if he can’t find a good drycleaner, he’ll be out the cost of replacing that gaudy, lace-trimmed, purple velvet suit he thinks is so stylish.

Grandma and I are both looking forward to this year’s party. Christmas could just become my favorite holiday.


Christmas at the Drunken Sasquatch, © 2016 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

No vampires were harmed in the making of this tale.

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#amwriting: Thoughts on #NaNoWriMo2016

winners-certificateIt is the final day of NaNoWriMo for 2016. I wrote 96,603 words: ten short stories and fifteen chapters on my next novel set in the world of Neveyah. I had my winners certificate by the 23rd, but I write everyday and update my wordcount. More than sixty of the 265 participants in my region will also get their winner’s certificates, which is a very good year. Some years only thirty participants in our region make it to the finish line. On average, 7 out of ten entrants will fall by the way in any given year, because 50,000 words is a difficult goal to achieve in only 30 days, if you are not completely fired up by your novel.

Those who fall by the way are authors who discover that having an idea that would be a good book and writing that book are two radically different things. They are daunted by the amount of work that is involved.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a contest in the sense that if you write 50,000 words and have them validated through the national website you ‘win.’ But it is not a contest in any other way as there are no huge prizes or great amounts of acclaim for those winners, only a PDF winners certificate that you can fill out and print to hang on your wall.

It is simply a month that is solely dedicated to the act of writing a novel.

Now lets face it–a novel that is only 50,000 words long is not a very long novel. That falls more into the line of a long novella and is only half a novel, in my opinion. But a dedicated author can get the basic structure and story-line of a novel down in those thirty days simply by sitting down for an hour or two each day and writing a minimum of 1667 words per day.

That is not too hard. In this age of word processors, most authors can double or triple that.

As always, there is a downside to this free-for-all style of writing. Just because you can sit in front of a computer and spew words does not mean you have the ability to write a novel that others want to read.

Over the next few months many cheap or free eBooks will emerge testifying to this fundamental truth.

The good thing is, over the next few months many people will realize they enjoy the act of writing. They will find that for them this month of madness was not about getting a certain number of words written by a certain date, although that goal was important. For a very few, participating in NaNoWriMo has fired them with the knowledge that they are authors. For them it was about writing and completing a novel they had wanted to write for years, something that had been in the back of their minds for all their lives.

These are the people who will join writing groups and begin the long journey of learning the craft of writing. They may go back to school and get their MFA.

These authors will take the time and make the effort to learn writing conventions (practices). They will attend seminars, they will develop the skills needed to take a story and make it a novel with a proper beginning, a great middle and an incredible end.

They will properly polish and edit their work and run it past critique groups before they publish it.

These are books I will want to read.

It’s not easy. Sometimes what we hear back from our readers and editors is not what we wanted to hear. The smart authors haul themselves to a corner, lick their wounds, and rewrite it so it’s more readable. They will be successful, for a variety of reasons, all of them revolving around dedication and perseverance.

But when we write something that a reader loves–that is a feeling that can’t be described.

Authors must keep their day jobs, because success as an author these days can’t be measured in cash. It can only be measured in what satisfaction you as an author get out of your work. Traditionally published authors see a smaller percentage of their royalties than indies, but if they are among the lucky few, they can sell more books.

2016-placeholder-book-cover-smallThe fact your book has been picked up by a traditional publisher does not guarantee they will put a lot of effort into pushing a first novel by an unknown author. You will have to do all the social media footwork yourself. You may even have to arrange your own book signing events, just as if you were an indie.

Going indie or aiming for a traditional contract—it’s a conundrum many new authors will be considering in the new year.

However, if you don’t write that book, you aren’t an author, and you won’t have to worry about it. The concept of NaNoWriMo will jump-start many discussions about this very issue.

Today marks the end of NaNoWriMo 2016.  For many, it will be a mad scramble between now and midnight to get their 50,000 words and earn that certificate.

Some of us have completed our first draft, and some of us still have a ways to go. But we are all walking a path that is more rewarding than any high-paying job I’ve ever had.

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_winner_congrats

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#amwriting: mindwandering and the creative muse

kleenexI’ve been suffering from a heavy cold all weekend, and doing my work from bed. Me and NyQuil are once again best friends. So, imagine my surprise yesterday when I wrote what was supposed to be today’s blogpost and instead of pressing the “save as draft” button, I hit “publish.”

Oops.

So that meant I didn’t have a post for today. Thus, I have gone to the archives, and pulled up an old post, updated a few thing and voila! I have a post for today. Yesterday’s post  still there, so check it out!


When people first discover I write fantasy tales, the first thing they ask (after what the heck are you thinking) is where I get ideas for my tales.  I usually give them some song-and-dance about adapting modern relationships and values to mythological world situations and while it’s true, it’s not the whole truth.

The real truth is, these thing just pop into my head, and I think “Wow – that would be a good story.”  I will be riding in the car listening to music, not thinking about anything in particular and I will have a flash of brilliance – What if the dark ages never happened? or  How would Europe look if the Druids had conquered Europe instead of the Romans?

If I’m smart, I will write the idea down, because I’m 63 years old and the old main-frame ain’t what she used to be, memory-wise.

The flow of random thoughts really is the river of creativity for me. Letting your mind roam free and allowing the possibilities to enter your stream of consciousness (or not, as they will) is good for you.  Fifteen or twenty minutes a day of simply watching the world go by will rejuvenate you.

Some people will say, “I don’t have time to waste daydreaming,” and that’s all right for them. I personally need to throw open the windows of my mind and let the breezes clear away the musty ideas which get in the way of my creativity. For me, the path to writer’s block is paved with “I don’t have time to relax!”

Don’t get me wrong, I get up at 5:30 am and immediately begin blogging. After noon I read for several hours and then I do revisions or work on my current Work In Progress. I read before I go to sleep.  I do two weekly book review blogs besides this blog, and all in all I work 10 to 16 hours a day at this job, but it is interspersed with various household tasks and errands.  I also take the time to let my mind rest, simply watching the town go by from my back porch.

Some people call it meditation, and some people call it a waste of time.

I call it necessary.

I think of my mind as if it were an ‘idea farm.’.Just as a wise farmer allows his fields to occasionally lie fallow it is important to let your mind rest. Letting farmlands lie fallow is one of the best ways of allowing the land to replenish its nutrients, and regain its fertility. Letting your mind roam with no particular direction is essential in lowering your stress levels (!) which immediately improves your health and your thought processes.

So I guess  when  someone asks me where I get ideas for my tales I should tell them the truth:

I don’t really know!


mindwandering and the creative muse was first published on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on July 11, 2012 under the title The Idea Farm.

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#amwriting: magic and creating the rules of engagement

magicEvery now and then, new authors look at me with an awestruck expression, and say something like. “I was just  writing along, and all of a sudden my characters gained the ability to use magic. I wasn’t writing a fantasy, but now I am.” (It could be any ability or thing, but we are discussing magic today.)

It is a fact that sometimes books that were outlined to a certain storyline sometimes go off in their own directions, and the story is better for it. I haven’t experienced the sudden influx of magic into story, but I have had other random events throw a curve ball at me.

The fact is, when I sit down to write a fantasy story, there will be magic, and I will have planned carefully for it. I have three worlds with three radically different systems of magic.

In my serial, Bleakbourne on Heath, sorcerers use incantations sung to certain melodies.

In Huw the Bard people can purchase magic (majik) amulets and potions.

In the Tower of Bones Series, magic and religion are intertwined. Aeos, the goddess, has decreed that all children who begin to show healing-empathy, or the ability to use the magic of the elements must be brought to the Temple and trained, for the protection of society in general. There are rules, certain things which can and can’t be done. As in real life, there are certain exceptions, but they too have limitations. No one is all-powerful.

Once magic enters your story, you must do some foot work, or your premise won’t be believable. It’s critical that you have finite rules for limiting how magic works. If your magic rules are too elastic, or you imbue too many amazing abilities into your main character, you will make them too good to be true. Readers won’t be able to relate to their story.

Each time you make parameters and frameworks for your magic you make opportunities for conflict within your fantasy world. Remember, in fantasy, conflict drives the plot.

Without rules, there would be no conflict, no reason for the hero to struggle, and no story to tell.

First you must consider who has magic? What kind of magic–healing or offensive or both? What are the rules for using that magic and why do those rules exist? Magic is an intriguing tool in fantasy, but it should only be used if certain conditions have been met:

  1. if the number of people who can use it is limited
  2. if the ways in which it can be used are limited
  3. if not every mage can use every kind of magic
  4. if there are strict, inviolable rules regarding what each kind magic can do and the conditions under which it will work.
  5. if there are some conditions under which the magic will not work
  6. if the learning curve is steep and sometimes lethal

What challenge does your character have to overcome in regard to his magic?

  • Is he unable to fully use his own abilities?
  • If that is so, why is he hampered in that way?
  • How does that inability affect his companions and how do they feel about it?
  • Are they hampered in anyway themselves?
  • What has to happen before your hero can fully realize his abilities?

Even if this aspect does not come into the story, for your own information you should decide who is in charge of teaching the magic, how that wisdom is dispensed, and who will be allowed to gain that knowledge.

  1. is the prospective mage born with the ability to use magic or
  2. is it spell-based, and any reasonably intelligent person can learn it if they can find a teacher?

Magic and the ability to wield it usually denotes power. That means the enemy must be their equal or perhaps their better. So if they are not from the same school, you now have two systems to design. You must create the ‘rules of magic.’  Take the time to write them out.

In creating both social and magic systems, you are creating a hidden framework that will support and advance your plot. Within your magic system, there can be an occasional exception to a rule, but there has to be a good reason for it, and it must be clear to the reader why that exception is acceptable.

Another important point to take note of is this: the only time the reader needs to know these systems exist is when they affect the characters and their actions. Dole this information out in conversations or in other subtle ways and it will become a natural part of the environment rather than an info dump.

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#amthinking: Contemplations on the Sin of Hubris

hubrisI have been considering the concept of “hubris” lately. It is a somewhat rare word, one we don’t hear too often, but it is one we may be hearing more of in the coming years. It is also a word with a unique, multilayered meaning that no other word quite embodies.

Hubris is an extreme form of pride and is generally considered a sin in the world’s religions. The great Christian writer, C. S. Lewis discussed extreme pride in his book,  Mere Christianity. He states that pride is the “anti-God” state, the position in which the ego and the self are directly opposed to God: “Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

This is why hubris is such a fine quality for a literary super-villain, but a poor quality for a world leader. Yet many world leaders are gifted with a large capacity for it.

Quote from Wikipedia: Hubris (/ˈhjuːbrɪs/, also hybris, from ancient Greek ὕβρις) describes a personality quality of extreme or foolish pride or dangerous over-confidence. In its ancient Greek context, it typically describes behavior that defies the norms of behavior or challenges the gods, and which in turn brings about the downfall, or nemesis, of the perpetrator of hubris.

The way I see it: Hubris often indicates an unrealistic perception of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities. It is characterized by a lack of self-restraint, excessive vanity, and is a trait with moral and/or ethical implications. In some cases, it is so extreme that a lack of empathy and victim blaming frequently go hand-in-hand with hubris. Other people are less important, perhaps even disposable.

People possessed of hubris hear and see only that which supports their fantasy. They are deaf and blind to anything that runs counter to their unreality.

In Literature:

Paradise Lost: John Milton

FrankensteinMary Shelley

Things Fall ApartChinua Achebe

frankenstein (1)A defense mechanism against poor self-esteem, the person exhibits an inflated sense of superiority. Those possessed of hubris often refuse to accept that they are not better than the average person even when faced with proof of their folly.

Quote from Wikipedia: The proverb “pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (from the biblical Book of Proverbs, 16:18) is thought to sum up the modern use of hubris. Hubris is also referred to as “pride that blinds.”

People possessed of hubris frequently make decisions that defy rational thinking. This is not a trait we wish to see in our world leaders, but as I say, it makes fine fodder for developing the character of a literary super-villain.

The ancient Greeks had a view of hubris slightly different from the modern view: Consider the following quote:

Definition of Hubris by Aristotle

Aristotle mentions Hubris in his book “Rhetoric”:

“Hubris consists in doing and saying things that cause shame to the victim…simply for the pleasure of it. Retaliation is not hubris, but revenge. … Young men and the rich are hubristic because they think they are better than other people.”

 


LiteraryDevices Editors. “Hubris” LiteraryDevices.net. 2013. http://literarydevices.net/hubris/ (accessed November 24, 2016).

Hubris. Author: Wikipedia contributors. Publisher: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

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#amwriting: #gratitude

gravy_1The best thing about the Thanksgiving meal is the gravy.

Just saying.

And for this vegan, mashed taters and mushroom gravy are heaven on a plate.

To be vegan means I only eat plants and foods made from plants. I don’t eat meat, fish, dairy, or eggs. Unlike some people, I’m not evangelical about my dietary choice. I simply bring my own food wherever I go.

I choose this diet because I have an autoimmune form of arthritis triggered by dairy and animal proteins. I have been pain-free since adopting this lifestyle in 2012. In terms of money, it’s far less expensive, as beans are my go-to protein source, and a variety of vegetables are relatively inexpensive. Other family members have more ethical reasons for not eating animals–if you are curious as to the many reasons for choosing a vegan lifestyle, click here.

We’re going to daughter number two’s house this year. I am bringing vegan foods, as there will be several vegans there besides me. I make my mashed potatoes with lots of Earth Balance margarine (100% plant-based, unlike most margarines) and I also throw in a heft dollop of Sour Supreme (Tofutti’s brand of vegan sour cream). We don’t make mashed potatoes very often, as we are careful about the amount of fat we normally consume, but this is a special meal.

This year I am making everything gluten free that I can, because my daughter’s mother-in-law has celiac disease, and anything with gluten will make her terribly ill. I found an amazing recipe for that most delicious of comfort foods, gluten-free mushroom gravy as created by Molly Katzen. I’m also making a crustless pumpkin custard–the vegan pumpkin pie filling in custard dishes rather than in a pie shell. Wheat flour is the natural source of gluten, so there will be no wheat in anything I make and bring to this event.

I am not a fan of that well-known holiday staple, the Tofurkey, although many vegans are. I prefer to just eat the side-dishes and I do go a little wild on the vegan cheese tray. Miyoko’s Kitchen makes the most amazing spreadable cheese, and it’s all plant-based. It’s quite expensive, but for a special occasion it is so worth it.

I’m playing around with the idea of stuffed squash boats, using a savory wild-rice pilaf to stuff them with, if I can find the perfect squash. Or perhaps I’ll stuff the pilaf into those colorful little mini-peppers.

Food Network Vegan Pumpkin Pie

Food Network Vegan Pumpkin Pie

Regardless, it will be a famdamily free-for-all as four of our five children will be there along with their extended families. The grandchildren will be running wild, our daughter’s kitchen will be packed, seven conversations will be occurring at once, and the noise level will approach that of a space-shuttle launch.

No longer the main cooks, my husband and I and the other older people will keep the grandparental eye on the littlest grandkids so their parents can get the meal ready to be served. When the tables are set, and the prayer is said, we old people will be thankful for our many, many blessings.

Here in the US, Thanksgiving “traditionally” marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, but I tell you this now: Being in the company of our children and their children, and sharing this meal with our children’s in-laws is a gift more precious than anything that could arrive wrapped in tissue paper.

The dinner will be loud, and not always polite as the youngest are still learning manners. There will be the lovingly waged war between the vegans and the carnivores. We will find common ground in the mashed potatoes and the two different kinds of gravy. But chaotic and messy though it will be, it will be a table full of love and that is a dish no one can pass up. This large, noisy, sometimes dysfunctional family we have blended from so many disparate pieces is the only real treasure we have. My husband and I are filled with gratitude for every minute we have in their company, grateful in ways that can’t be expressed with mere words.

Vegan Pumpkin Pie recipe here

Vegan Gluten Free Gravy recipe here

Vegan Mashed Potatoes recipe here

Miyoko’s Kitchen|Artisan Cultured Vegan Cheese

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#amwriting: the truth about #NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo-General-FlyerEvery author knows that writing is about so much more than merely laying words down on a page.   Most people with a minimal education can do that, and can even whack out a creditable paragraph or two. However, sustaining the momentum and carrying that vision through an entire story is quite another thing.

Over the years, I’ve seen disparaging articles where people have expressed their scorn and disdain of authors who participate in Nation Novel Writing Month, mocking the notion of a “competition.”

But these naysayers are overlooking one important point: to write a novel one must begin a novel and then complete it.

If it takes a special month of writing and a group frenzy to get some people fired up about an idea they’ve had rolling around in their heads, who am I to complain?  I am a reader as much as I am an author, and I say the more, the merrier!

Take a look at some of the most well-known “NaNo Novels” of all time:

  1. Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. On the best-seller lists for over a year, turned into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, started as a NaNo novel.
  2. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. What eventually became The Night Circus began life in 2004, seven years before it was finally published, started as a NaNo novel.
  3. Wool, by Hugh Howey. Howey’s dystopian sci-fi novel is one of those credited with putting self-publishing on the map, started as a NaNo novel.

I’m not bothered by the “poo-poo on the contest” noise. Whatever gets a writer fired up and writing is fine by me, and we are all the better for the experience.

The real thing that causes angst among the elite is the notion that anyone with an idea can sit down and write the bare bones of a book in 30 days. Being an author is not being in a private club anymore, and it secretly bothers some of the stodgier “real” authors that a person of any background, religion, or ethnicity can dare to write meaningful or entertaining work, even people with minimal education.

Fear and Loathing, we call that. It’s irrational, but then no one ever accused authors of being rational! There will always be a need for more authors and more books, as once a book has been read, the dedicated reader wants a new book. It is the law of supply and demand, and publishing is a business.

The fact is, most people who begin a novel in November do not reach their goal of 50,000 words and never finish those novels. They do not have the discipline to sit down every day and dedicate a portion of their time to this project.

A great number of Nano Authors discover that doing NaNoWriMo is just like doing karaoke. They love to read, and they want to write the next Gone with the Wind, but their work reads like a tone-deaf drunk sounds when singing Wind Beneath my Wings.  They are not talented writers. But so what? The cream always rises to the top, my grandma used to say.

Because of NaNoWriMo, many truly talented people are now embarking on learning a craft, committing their time and resources to educating themselves about how to write a novel that others will want to read. Several years down the road, who knows what wonderful works of fiction will have emerged from this year’s madness?

NANO CrestI only know that I am always looking for a good book, and so I will be first in line, hoping to be blown away by a fresh, new work of art. This is why I volunteer as a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo. Every year we have new, young writers, with fresh, amazing ideas. But we also have many new older people who are writing their first novel, embarking on a dream they always had but never thought they could do.

Most who begin their novel this year will never write again. But every year a few writers  in each age group continue on after the month of madness is over. When I talk to them and hear how fired up and passionate they are, I am proud to have been a part of their writing life. They see the goal, and and are filled with the desire to finish what they started.

They have embarked on the quest to learn how to write well.

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