Book Review: The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig

I know what you’re thinking. A book review? Nah. Get thee to Goodreads! But alas, this review will be there too. That’s not why I’m putting this here. For one, I discuss my writing career here, so this seemed like a good fit. For two, one of the tips I learned from this book was not to be rigid about what I post in my blog. Just post what interests you and the audience will come! So, in a time where I’m struggling with what to write here, and doubting what you guys might find interesting from me, I’ve decided to take Mr. Wendig’s advice and post about stuff that interest me. As my audience, speak up and tell me what you want/don’t want to see. I might not change, but I’ll definitely take any suggestions under consideration. And now, onto the book review!

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The Kick-Ass Writer:1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience by Chuck Wendig

This book was two things for me.

1) It is a comprehensive collection of tips and tricks of the writing trade, told by an author I generally enjoy, who works in genres I find interesting. No offense to those wonderful writing books out there that are written by literary fiction writers. They are usually very helpful as well, but there is something more enjoyable about someone who loves to write in Science Fiction/Fantasy, discussing the best ways to make it in that field, because that’s my jam.

Tips in this book touched on a few different sections that every writer needs to know about, some of which are pretty soundly lacking in other writing books I’ve enjoyed in the past. While it does cover the basics of writing, such as setting, theme, plot, grammar, and mechanics, it also deals with query letters and synopses, and other such tools to actually get yourself published. It discusses the ups and downs of traditional publishing, self-publishing, and hybrid publishing, without dumping on any of those routes (in fact, it makes a great case for hybrid publishing). And finally, it dives into author platform (don’t let Wendig hear you discussing author platform. He soundly dislikes that term) and how to build an audience without becoming a sales bot…something I think half the people I follow on twitter could use (sorry guys! I know you’re just doing your thing!).

2) This book wasn’t just informative. It was interesting and hilarious. It was written in what was the perfect tone for someone like me, who is irreverent and sarcastic like it’s my job. And it was motivational! At a time when my first book is playing rejection bingo, and my second book is in the Unholy Lands of Edit-onia, I really needed to hear many of these tidbits. And mostly, it was just good to see that I wasn’t alone in all of my weird writerly quirks–even the published authors with the huge followings endure this crushing, soul-sucking doubt! Yay?

All in all, this book is a must read for all my writer friends, so please–check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

5 stars from me, folks. Check it out! And, if you liked this review and want more, or if you have any other suggestions for the blog, please holler in the comments section. But not really…I don’t like yelling unless I’m doing it. Until next time…

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“Not Just a Headache” accepted for publication!

people-2568886_960_720Hey all,

This weekend, I got some great news, but between the wedding of one of my best friends, and my husband’s birthday, this announcement is a little late.

A few months ago, I stumbled upon an anthology that was looking for entries. The anthology was to be by chronic illness sufferers and for them as well, and was looking for the author to write letters to their younger selves about their chronic illness journey.

Diving in, I wrote a letter to my younger self about my struggle with migraines, tentatively titled “Not Just a Headache”. This weekend, I got the news that my letter was chosen for the anthology.

There will be lots to cover in the coming months, until the anthology is released, and I will keep you apprised of all of it as I receive it.

Thank you, as always for your encouragement and support.

Love,
Justine

On Shedding Negative Influences

Choices, Choices, Choices

For a few different personal reasons, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my childhood and the way others around me were raised. As a person who has served in a leadership position with teenagers before, I find I’m often giving advice to the younger generation. From my sister-in-law, Megan, and my cousin Ashley, both of which are twelve years younger than me, to my son and his friends, I find myself talking to younger people relatively often. I have been asked often for my best bit of advice, so I figured I’d share it here and maybe explain it a little.

The only person you have to answer to about the choices in your life is you.

I may be an adult now, but I was once a kid, like everyone else. When I was a child, I often had to fall in line with the views and values of my family, in an effort to keep things calm. For reasons that are far too personal for a blog post, my family was a rocky (sometimes leaky) boat, and I often found myself making the choices that would keep the rough waves at bay. Sometimes those you’ve lived your life around teach you crappy habits. Sometimes those you’ve lived your life around don’t teach you the kind of values you need to succeed. Sometimes those who should love you the most, don’t want you to be who you are, and will do their best to stifle it–and frighteningly, sometimes they do this while thinking they are HELPING.

Young or old, the best way to combat a problematic childhood is to determine who you want to be and IGNORE THE REST. Now, I’m not claiming this is easy, or even that you have tools for it. Most people don’t when they first strike out on their own, because their lives have been topsy turvy for so long that it’s hard to figure out where to begin. It may take awhile for you to find your way out of the muck.

So where should you begin? Do you know someone whose life seems like it’s going well? Do you wish you could live a life that is as calm as theirs? As adventurous? Do you wish you had their career? Surround yourself with people like that. Talk to them, ask them for guidance, strive to redirect your life in their direction. There will always be negative people in your life. There will always be people trying to drag you down. Find the people who want to help and let them help you. Learn from them.

But more than anything, duplicate their drive. Find out what makes them tick, how they keep themselves motivated. Every single day, stay sharp and redirect yourself towards the life you wish you had but didn’t.

And those people who constantly illustrate the wrong things in life? You know them. The ones who are constantly rolling in drama, having the police called on them, constantly losing friends and family who can’t deal with their crap, who think hard work is a joke, who always look for the easy way out? Those are the kinds of people who hold you back. Because guess what? There are no easy ways out.

The only way to accomplish anything is time and hard work. And the only way you’re going to learn the best way to dedicate that time and hard work? Positive influences. So surround yourself with people who will help you find good resources. And remember that though it won’t ever be easy, you can always break away from where you come from, but you can’t break away from who you become. So put yourself and your own development first. And keep moving onward and upward.

 

“Blue Ice” has been accepted for publication!

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I have some great news today! My latest short story”Blue Ice” has been accepted for publication!!

“Blue Ice” is the story of a woman forced to confront her sister’s abusive husband at the funeral ceremony being held in his honor. It’s one of my weirder stories, and I’m really excited about it.

I’ll give you a quick taste now. Here’s the opening line.

“Staring at the waxy figure resting within its polished wooden coffin, I had to wonder why the real bastards in this world always died a bit too late.”

The piece will be published in the Spring/Summer issue of Corvus Review. For now, stay tuned for when the story goes up. I really can’t wait to share this one with you.

Thanks as always for remaining awesome and supportive!

40 Reasons Why I Write

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Relatively recently, Bryan Hutchinson issued a challenge on his blog, Positive Writer – list 40 reasons why you write. You can see his answers here. When it came about, I was in the throws of Camp NaNoWriMo. As that is now complete, and I’m taking a small break from the novel so I can attack it again in July’s edition of Nano, I needed this challenge. It’s been difficult to stay motivated, because the hits just keep coming in both my personal and professional life. So, I’m going to take some time to remind myself why I write. I hope you find my answers either interesting or inspirational. Also, I am so incredibly late to this challenge.

  1. Writing keeps my brain busy. With my ADHD, my brain is always spinning anyway, so this gives it something to work on in the background.
  2. Stories haunt me, and I have to get them out.
  3. I have had a lot of trauma and strange events in my life, and I need an outlet.
  4. Sometimes, I like to live vicariously through my characters.
  5. Sometimes, I like to bury myself in my characters so I can forget life.
  6. My son looks up to me for creating whole stories all by myself, and there’s no beating that.
  7. Writing is a strong bond I share with my husband, as he is also an author.
  8. Writing is a strong bond I share with my sister-in-law. She is also an author.
  9. Writing has helped me make amazing friendships, some that are sure to be lifelong.
  10. I like how writing makes me feel, like I am weaving worlds from my imagination.
  11. The sense of accomplishment I feel when I finally get something right is amazing.
  12. Rewriting has taught me all about perseverance. Frustration, but perseverance.
  13. I like to read things I love over and over again, so this was probably a fitting career choice.
  14. I love to paint with words.
  15. I love to listen to music, and music always inspires me to paint with my words.
  16. Clever dialogue is all around me. What would I do if I didn’t jot some of it down and use it for my own benefit?
  17. My best friend has yoga. I have writing.
  18. The creative people on my journey with me are the best people.
  19. My characters tend to be stronger than I am. Or at least, than I was. These days, I seem to be taking a page from my own book. Writing has encouraged me to be stronger.
  20. I’ve had a lot of people tell me I won’t get anywhere in this business, or something is wrong with the core of a particular story, etc. I intend to prove them very wrong.
  21. When my anxiety disorder, my depression, my PTSD rears up, writing helps me cope.
  22. Because, as a woman, and as a woman with physical and mental health issues, my voice and my individual experiences deserve to be heard.
  23. I love reading so much, and I know how it feels to really connect with a character. I would love to be able to provide that for someone else.
  24. I’ve always loved playing with voice and word choice, seeing how different an outcome I can create just by finding a more exact bit of syntax.
  25. Writing often helps me to put feelings I’m dealing with into words, to tell truths through my characters that I can’t articulate properly in reality.
  26. I honestly don’t know what I would do with all the spare time I’d get if I didn’t write or plan to write.
  27. When I’m writing I can temporarily put off other, more important chores. But not the most important ones, of course. 😉
  28. I still believe in magic, and sometimes, writing feels like magic. Like when something inexplicably comes together, and it feels like destiny, that feels like magic. That is the rare moment where I become a believer.
  29. How else can I justify talking to the people who live in my brain?
  30. I’m stubborn and I’ve said I’m going to do it, so damn it, I’m going to do it.
  31. Some of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met write, so I hope some of that rubs off on me.
  32. Sometimes, I’m not all that adventurous, so I need an excuse to try new and interesting things. Research gives me that excuse.
  33. I was already a fact hoarder. This gives me a reason to hoard facts.
  34. I hate waste, and I feel like I have a lot of knowledge and random experiences that just kind of sit around in my brain and go to waste. I want to give them some use. Like my two years working at an ice cream shop. I’m using that in my latest book.
  35. There are tons of stories that I want to read, that I don’t find out there. I’ve always been a bit of a control freak. They say, if you want something done, do it yourself, right?
  36. I’m getting to a point where rejections mean almost nothing to me. I’m numb to rejection.
  37. Unless, they come with constructive criticism, at which point I am disappointed, but I have learned to love constructive criticism and view it as encouragement and help, rather than an insult. I think writing has helped to improve my personality in that way.
  38. I have also become able to tell the difference between constructive knowledgeable criticism and insults, being led astray, and jealous attacks designed to keep a person below them. That lesson has helped me in all areas of my life.
  39. I have a side gig as an editor, and I’ve always believed that, if you are going to manage people, you should be willing to get your hands dirty. If I won’t get my hands dirty with words, why should I tell other people to do so?
  40. I love to geek out. It’s my life’s mission to make other people geek out as much as I do.

So, there are my 40 reasons! Do you need to remind yourself why you love something? Share your reasons in the comments, and thank you for being one of the people I’ve encountered on this journey, the people I write for. Thank you for being one of my reasons. ❤

Buffy Turns 20: What BtVS and Joss Taught Me About Writing

 

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Just a portion of my Buffy Bookcase

Twenty years ago today, my then-boyfriend/now-husband Ismael tried to get me to watch the first episode of a new show premiering on= the struggling WB network called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I rolled my eyes at him. He had strange taste in television and, while I loved vampires, I had never felt compelled to see the movie. I just had no interest in it. Even after that day, Ismael kept pushing. No, the series was really good. It took him by surprise. It would take me until a year later to try an episode. That episode would be the two-parter, Surprise and Innocence, more popularly known as the episode where Buffy and Angel make love and Angel turns evil. I am not being hyperbolic–I wasn’t the same person after that. Buffy the Vampire Slayer changed my life, it changed how I saw myself and who I was as a person. It motivated me and informed who I am as an artist.

 

So, as a love letter to a series I can still recite the dialogue for, I’m going to discuss the top ways Buffy changed my writing and my life. Note – Spoilers ABOUND. If you haven’t watched…just watch the show. Seriously?

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  1. Lexicons Change…Muchly. The sarcasm. The snark. The strange turn of words. I still refer to people as bitca. I’ll add ish to turn verbs into adjectives and age to nouns to make them verbs. If there’s something to be said, I’ll ‘pop culture’ it up. I abbreviate words that don’t have abbreviation. I give emotions place names, like Waah Waah Land. I reorder words to sentences in odd ways. Pathetic much? Probably, but I started this show when I was fifteen and deciding who I was going to be. Was I intending to be Buffy and The Scooby Gang? Not so much. But it found its way in and I can’t help going for some serious quirkage when I’m feeling chattish. Don’t be afraid to play with language, as long as your audience can understand you.

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2. Risk-Taking Pays Off. When my boyfriend was busy bugging me about the series, he was very interested in the fact that the principal of the school was eaten in episode six. Seriously, it was his main selling point. I didn’t get it until they turned Buffy’s love interest evil in season 2…and kept him that way for the rest of the season. This show would do anything, and even when it hurt, I loved it. Joss Whedon, the series’ now well-known creator once said, “Don’t give people what they want, give them what they need.” And he did, solidly, for seven seasons. He disappointed us, but then he gave us great narrative reasons why our sadness was necessary. And Joss’ commitment to risk wasn’t just about risking his characters–it was about risking his reputation. He managed to craft and direct very risky episodes such as Hush, an episode with only 17 minutes of dialogue, The Body, an episode entirely about the strange and detached feeling of losing a loved one, and Once More, With Feeling, otherwise known as The Buffy Musical. All very risky, all paid off nicely. Taking creative risks with your work keeps it interesting.

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3. Happy Sadness is Okay. There are episodes of this series that make me laugh out loud and cry real tears. They make me worry for the characters, and they make me cringe in embarrassment. As a teenager, Buffy taught me that the confusion of my emotions was not strange. It was just life. Life can be twisty. As an artist, it taught me that genre isn’t a real thing in art. I mean, if you want to sell it, you need to know what genre it best fills. But when you’re writing it? Write the thing. Art is about portraying our journey in a way that makes sense to us. And our journeys aren’t romances or coming of age stories. They certainly aren’t comedies or dramas. They are all those things. Well, for some of us, they may not be a Western, but you get my point. Be free. Worry about labels later.

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4. Success Does Not Come Without Clunkers. The Puppet Show. Ted. Most of Season 7…Oops. Some of the series wasn’t spectacular. There were episodes that I can only barely stand to rewatch when I do my rewatches. Which is proof positive that not everything you do is going to land with an audience. And that’s okay. BtVS is still judged as a whole and your body of work will likely be, as well. That doesn’t mean they’re all bad. Some really good lines from the series come from The Puppet Show, Season 7 led up to a spectacular ending, and Ted…well…Ted had John Ritter! So, even your missteps can yield positive results.

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5. POV is Important. The Zeppo follows sidekick Xander through a day in which he stumbles blindly through a relatively minor issue while his friends deal with some world ending cataclysm we know nothing about. You know why? Because we’re with Xander and, frankly, he has no time for this Hellmouth thing. Superstar throws you into a world where Jonathan, a relatively minor recurring character, is suddenly a star, right down to getting placement in the title credits. In the Season 5 episode Buffy vs. Dracula, Dawn, a little sister we have never met thus far, just pops up, and we’re expected to accept it. She’s been planted there and the memories of the world has been altered to include her, but we don’t find that out until later. For now, we’re just surfing through the story, trying to figure out what is going on, and it adds a sense of mystery and foreboding we wouldn’t get if we knew everything. Point of view can make or break your story. Use wisely for best results.

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6. People CHANGE. Sometimes they change slightly, sometimes they are affected by something that completely and irrevocably alters the fabric of who they are. But the most important thing is that people evolve. I’m not who I was when I started watching Buffy. Buffy was much more mature, but also more dark inside, when she finished the series. Willow was stronger and wiser. Xander was more sober and careful. Dawn was less whiny. Giles was less up tight. Anya learned to care. Tara became confident. Angel and Spike repented for their wrongs. Faith went from tragic headcase to true hero. Cordelia became a higher being and Oz became a werewolf zen master. Your characters have to be altered when they finish their journey, or else what is the point?

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7. Know When to Hold Back. Joss Whedon and the writing team didn’t know what they were scripting when they created Earshot. In Earshot, an encounter with a demon gives Buffy mind-reading abilities, which lead to her overhearing a plot to kill all the students in her high school. It was scheduled to air in April 1999. And then, a week before the episode was to air, the Columbine High School Massacre happened. A freak moment of accidental prescience. Whedon and the network hurriedly pulled it off the airwaves because escapism isn’t fun once it isn’t escapism anymore. In that vein, artistically we should pay attention to when our work may be insensitive or cruel and be sure to yank that back. Art should not be used as a sword to harm.

A more artistic example of knowing when to hold back is evident in The Body. While the series had always been for mixing laughter and tears, for this episode, there is no laughter to be had. It is forty minutes of grueling sadness because it is so truthful, in a way that art should be truthful. Examining the emotions of the main characters after Buffy returns home to find her mother dead, The Body soars as an episode that doesn’t have half of the well-known Buffy style, because it can’t. Even vampire slaying because a numb, necessary event happening despite the main focus. Despite its sense of humor, Buffy knew when to take itself seriously.

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8. Even People You Love Can Be Unlikeable. This one, I REALLY needed in my private life. The lesson was very strongly learned through the richness of characters in the Buffy Universe. I hated every character at some point. In Season 1, when Angel is all cryptic before disappearing, Batman-style, or when Cordelia doesn’t get that Buffy is cool, even when she saves her ass. In Season 2, when Xander decides it’s cool to make the entire female population of Sunnydale fall in love with him by magic and later doesn’t bother to tell Buffy that Willow is trying to re-ensoul Angel. In Season 3, when Willow and Xander cheat on Oz and Cordelia or when Buffy lets loose with Faith. In Season 4, when Buffy seems to forget about her friends or when Riley does ANYTHING. In Season 5, when Dawn whines incessantly or when Xander tries to convince Buffy to try to love Riley even though he betrayed her. In Season 6, when Willow gets addicted to magic and lies to Tara and when Buffy plays around with being a reckless idiot. In Season 7, when Buffy keeps screwing up, then making self-righteous speeches. Make your characters human. Make them flawed. We’ll love them all the more.

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9. Make Things Relatable. So, you’re fighting a war against a hellmouth full of demons? Make it feel more like high school, so your audience can relate, since most of us…MOST of us…have never went to war against a hellmouth full of demons. Even with the craziest twists our stories take, we should never leave them out of our audience’s reach. Ground them to reality and make them that much more powerful. And speaking of powerful…

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10. Who Run The World? WEIRDOS. Nothing showed me how to let my geeker flag fly like Buffy did. As I watched the characters in the series grow more powerful, and also as I watched Joss Whedon, a self-proclaimed geek, become more successful, I truly understood that the things that kept me from fitting in are also the things that make me interesting, that make my work unique. Embrace the weirdness. You’ll be stronger for it.

Finally, I want to thank Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the cast, the crew, the writers, and Joss Whedon for creating a show that taught me so much and guided who I would become. And also, thank you to my husband, whose incessant nagging (I say this lovingly) led me to become an even bigger fan than he was. If you’re a writer and you haven’t watched this series, you need to check it out. As silly as it sounds on the surface, it truly is a television masterpiece.

My Take: Team Urban or Team Epic?

 

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Hi all,

Today is the final day of Entangled Teen’s Team Urban vs. Team Epic Fantasy Promotion, and in honor of the conversations of this week, I would like to elaborate on a statement.

Earlier this week, I clearly declared what side I was on. Now I’m going to tell you why.

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I have always loved fantasy novels of any kind. A popular theme here on the blog is that I like weird stuff. I like to read it, I like to watch it, I like to write it. So I enjoy most stories in which something out of the ordinary occurs. Fantasy was a natural interest for a person like me.

There is nothing wrong with epic fantasy. There is a beauty to the pure inventiveness, the creations of entirely new worlds, languages, people. For the early part of my childhood, I was raised on fairy tales, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien. My father even had a Tolkien calendar. My favorite video game was The Legend of Zelda, and if that isn’t an epic fantasy loving gamer’s dream, no game is.

But at some point, things shifted. As I grew up, I became exposed to television series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it touched me in a way no other series, or anything else for that matter, ever had. I was absorbed, completely moved. I fell in love with these characters, saw myself in them, saw myself in their weekly trials. I tried to decide which one I was more like. It didn’t matter if they were dealing with real life troubles, the monster of the week or some deep seated evil that spanned seasons. They felt more real to me.

The reason for that is that they were grounded in my reality. I could see myself going to school and having to deal with my principal as I snuck out to fight a demon. I could see myself sacrificing my social life to devote my life to something bigger. And somehow, those metaphors for life that were present in every fantasy novel struck a chord within me. Suddenly, I saw the challenges in my world as monsters to be defeated, the lessons to be learned as my spell book.

And ever since then, I found myself leaning towards Urban Fantasy, because if Buffy was a book, that’s exactly what it would be. I still love Epic Fantasy, but not with the ferocity with which I devour stories about real people dealing with their supernatural problems in concert with real world troubles. Killing monsters while dodging police. Hiding magical abilities from their parents. Having nobody believe them about who they are. Coming to terms with the strange in such a normal society.

I’d take a thousand magical societies hidden in plain sight over a dragon flying over head any day.


Thank you for hanging out with me for Entangled Teen’s Team Urban vs. Team Epic Promotional Event! Don’t forget to enter the giveaway and check out all of the books we discussed this week!

I’ll be back next week to discuss the difference between outlining a short story and a novel. See you then!