November 26, 2016

New habits

When I undertook the NaNoWriMo challenge this year, I was skeptical that I would be able to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Despite successfully completing NaNoWriMo the last two years, I had more doubts this year than ever before. My day job has been busier, and regular family responsibilities have made it hard to find time to write all year long. Why would things suddenly change in November?

Yet, as we get close to the end of the month, I managed to stay on track! 50,000 words not only looks possible but likely. What’s different? This month, I changed the way I wrote in three ways.

1. I embraced the crappy first draft. I'm a perfectionist at heart, and even though I've tried to treat the process of writing a first draft as more of an exploratory activity resulting in an unpolished manuscript, I never could. I used to tweak and edit as I wrote. It made the editing process easier, but I wound up spending a lot of time and energy on the first draft. For NaNoWriMo, I've been writing and not looking back because I had no choice. There wasn’t time to come up with a better way to phrase something or to fix a scene that was painful to read. I know large sections of my NaNoWriMo novel are crappy, but even the crappy parts have been useful in guiding me later on in the story.

2. I let my characters take charge. I'm a plotter in more than one sense of the word. Yes, I outline and think through the entire story before I start my first draft, and this year’s NaNoWriMo was no different. I’m also a plotter in the sense that I focus on plot over character development or world building or anything else. This month, as part of writing a crappy first draft as fast as I can, I found that I often let my characters take charge. I'd write about things they did and said that I normally wouldn't have if I was more focused on moving the plot forward. I have no idea whether I'll keep some of the scenes I wrote, but I feel like my characters became more fully developed as a result.

3. I'm writing everywhere. Before this month, my first drafts were written in MS Word documents. That meant that I could only write when I had access to that document, which was when I had my laptop with me. For NaNoWriMo, I tried writing via Evernote. I created a new note whenever I started a new chapter. Thanks to my manuscript living in the cloud, I could write wherever and whenever and on any device I wanted. Throughout the month, whenever I had a few free minutes, I'd pull out my phone and type a few paragraphs. They weren't lengthy passages and sometimes didn't move the plot forward, but those bits and pieces really added up.

These new habits may or may not make me a better writer going forward, but they'll make me more productive. Using Evernote, or another cloud-based solution like Google Doc or Quip, is something that I definitely plan to continue doing. Even if I wind up scrapping my NaNoWriMo novel, I'll have developed new habits that will help me in the future.

November 10, 2016

Five Years!

I can't believe that five years have passed since I published my first novel, George and the Galactic Games! While it's not my best-selling title, the book still holds a special place in my heart. Sometimes you'll read about authors who have a book inside them that's begging to be written, and, more so than any other book I've published, George and the Galactic Games was that book for me. If not for how much I wanted to write the story of George and his adventures, I wouldn't have pushed myself to finish this novel. Which meant I would've never have written all of the novels after it. So I should thank George for kickstarting my author career. Thanks, and Happy Book Birthday, George and the Galactic Games!

If you're interested in reading the book, you can purchase the e-book edition for just 99 cents on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or iTunes.

October 29, 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016

It's that time of year again when writers try to pen a 50,000-word novel in just 30 short days! This will be my third year participating in NaNoWriMo, and I'm proud to say that I completed the challenge on my first two attempts. :-)

One thing I've learned about NaNoWriMo is that, as with most things in life, your odds of success are greater if you prepare for it. I've gone into the previous two NaNoWriMos with a rough idea of what I'd write, and this year is no different. Two months ago, I already started thinking about the story I would tackle. I went through my notebook of ideas and picked one that interested me and that I think will sustain me for a grueling month. After that, I expanded the idea into a half-page synopsis. Later on, I turned the synopsis into a plot outline encompassing about two pages.

(Now that I think of it, a logical next step would've been to break down the outline into thirty chunks so that I had a daily plan. Unfortunately, I didn't have the foresight to do that and probably don't have time to do so before November starts. Next year, I'll remember to do it!)

The story I plan to write this year is a modern retelling of the Cassandra myth. In Greek mythology, Cassandra possessed the gift of prophecy but was cursed so that no one would believe her. I thought that was an interesting combination and wanted to explore how it would play out in a current day setting.

As with the last two years, you will be able to follow my NaNoWriMo progress on Twitter. Wish me luck!

October 1, 2016

And zombies

Not too long ago, I watched the movie adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was primarily due to the undead element rather than any love for Jane Austen. The experience made me wonder what other literary classics would be improved by the addition of zombies. My conclusion? Just about every one!

Here are ten examples:
  • 1984 and Zombies - What if the reason that Big Brother suppresses freedom is because it's trying to hide the existence of a zombie apocalypse?
  • A Christmas Carol and Zombies - Scrooge visited by the Zombies of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
  • The Great Gatsby and Zombies - I didn't enjoy reading this story in school, but I might have if Gatsby's extravagant lifestyle took place despite an ongoing zombie apocalypse outside his mansion doors.
  • Jane Eyre and Zombies - Like the women in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I can see Jane growing up as a great zombie slayer.
  • Lord of the Flies and Zombies - Let there be zombies on the island where the boys landed!
  • Of Mice and Men and Zombies - Lennie as a domesticated zombie?
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray and Zombies - This one isn't too far of a stretch since Dorian Gray already possesses certain undead characteristics.
  • Romeo and Juliet and Zombies - How would this classic fare if zombies were thrown into the feud between the Montagues and Capulets?
  • A Tale of Two Cities and Zombies - I might have enjoyed reading this book in school more if it was set in the midst of a zombie apocalypse rather than the French Revolution.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird and Zombies - Could a story of racial prejudice be as effective if it was about zombie prejudice?

September 10, 2016

Release announcement: Courage

Hello, readers! I'm happy to announce the release of a new collection of three short stories, Courage!

 You can purchase Courage for just 99 cents from the following retailers:

Damsels in distress? Meek girls in pretty dresses? You won’t find them here! 

These three YA fantasy tales prove that heroism comes in different packages. Don’t underestimate the courage inside anyone. 

"Moon Warrior" - Separated from her tribe after a sand dragon attack, Luna finds herself alone with no food or shelter. She must cross a desert wasteland to find her people again, but when she loses their trail, she discovers that her warrior instincts may not be enough to save her. 

 “Slave Runner” - Malika and her sister are captured by slave traders but receive an unexpected gift of freedom when their captors encounter a deadly gathering of ghosts. The sisters escape to a nearby village, where they learn that the new sanctuary isn’t as safe as they thought it would be, and ghosts aren’t what they most need to fear. 

“The Brave One” - Kora and Myko return from a food-gathering trip to find that bandits have invaded their village. They have to do something to save their families, but what can two girls do against five armed men? 

August 27, 2016

"Girls" books

Not long ago, I noticed the trend of books containing the word "Girl" or "Girls" in the title. It turns out that I'm not the only one. In 2009 and 2010, there were a combined total of five books with either of those words in the title. This year, there will be 79!

I decided to do a brief analysis of my own reading habits, using my Goodreads account as the source of truth. In the five years since I started using Goodreads, I've logged 516 books read. Of those, ten contain the word "Girl" or "Girls" in the title. I don't know how 2% compares to a typical reader's profile, but I personally expected more. I read Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, for instance, but I haven't read any of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books.

Of the ten books, three were self-published and seven were traditionally published. Two of them received a 5-star rating: Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl and The Curse Girl by Kate Avery Ellison. Five others received 4-star ratings, and I rated three of them as 3 stars. The most recent book that I read from the list was The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig last month.

I don't know if this analysis will cause me to read more books with "Girl"/"Girls" in the title or fewer. I have a feeling, however, that I will be more conscious of the title the next time I pick up a book with the G-word in it.

August 6, 2016

A Horde of Horses

Today, I decided to post a piece of flash fiction that I just published on Wattpad. If you like it, you can read the other parts of this collection of stories that I call A Spoonful of Stories. I hope you enjoy it!

A Horde of Horses

Some people have nightmares about being chased or of falling or drowning. Others suffer from dreams of fires or natural disasters.
My nightmares involve horses. Which is odd because I’ve never ridden a horse, and the closest I’ve gotten to a horse is seeing one in a pasture while driving by in my car.
In my dreams, I start off walking in my neighborhood, usually from my apartment to the supermarket. I don’t notice anything amiss until there’s a tap on my shoulder. When I turn around, a horse’s muzzle brushes my face.
For some reason, I don’t find this odd. I reach into my pocket and pull out a sugar cube. There’s always a sugar cube in my pocket. Never mind that I would never carry sugar cubes in real life. I don’t think I’ve ever bought sugar cubes. I’ve only seen them in restaurants when I order coffee. And on television, where someone is feeding sugar cubes to a horse. I suppose I’ve only ever seen a horse eat sugar cubes, apples, and hay in my limited experience, and it’s not feasible to fit an apple – or hay – in my pocket, even in my dreams.
The horse takes the sugar cube from my palm. It raises its head and snorts, then looks down at me, expecting more. I search my pockets, but all I have are my keys and cellphone. I’m not carrying my credit cards or any cash, so I can’t buy more treats.
I shrug my shoulders to tell the horse that I can’t help it any longer. That’s when the second horse emerges from behind the first one. Has it always been there, but I didn’t notice before? I turn to walk away from both animals, but I see more horses approaching me from every direction. They come pouring out of every doorway along the block, from inside homes, stores, restaurants. They emerge from around the corners of buildings and shadowed alleyways.
I want to run, but my legs are frozen. Even if they did move, I wouldn’t be able to outrun the horses.
“Help,” I yell, but the sound dies before it leaves my mouth. There’s no one around. The cars have all disappeared, and so have the people on this street. I glance from one window to another, but I see only empty rooms beyond the transparent panes. Where has everyone gone?
The first horse nudges me in the back, sending me forward. Its companions form lines on either side of me, allowing me only a narrow path between their towering forms. Not seeing another option, I walk along in the direction that the horses lead me. They shift their bodies to alter the path. It curves to the right, but I can’t see over them toward the destination.
A traffic light passes overhead, informing me that I’ve crossed an intersection. The procession of horses streams along, carrying me along with them. They whinny, they stomp, they snort. They stink.
There is just enough room for me to walk unobstructed, but sometimes, I feel hot breath on the back of my neck or a nip on on my hair. I don’t know which animal has done it because they take turns circling me and eyeing me. I keep my head down and shuffle forward.
The equine wave directs me toward a warehouse store, the Costco knockoff that we have in town. There are no windows on the sides of the building, just a giant metal door that’s now rolled up to leave a gaping entrance. The lights are on, but I don’t see anyone or anything moving inside. The horses that are closest to the entrance turn to the side as soon as they near the doorway. The ones behind them follow suit, creating an illusion of waves breaking upon the shore.
They mean for me to go inside.
I step through the doorway. The heavy metal door clangs shut behind me. The bang of metal hitting concrete startles me, but just as jarring is the silence that encompasses the warehouse afterwards.
I’m alone, a prisoner of the horses outside.
Then I hear a footstep. It comes from in front of me, inside the warehouse. A woman steps out from behind a pallet of breakfast cereal.
“What’s happening?” I ask.
Her face is expressionless. She reminds me of a zombie, except that she looks normal, down to the rosy color of her cheeks. However, she doesn’t answer me.
Behind her, more people walk into the center aisle where I’m standing. They all wear the same bland looks on their faces.
“Are you all OK? What happened to you?”
A small girl next to the woman says, “The horses want us.”
“Want us for what?”
“The horses want us,” she repeats.
The crowd continues walking toward me. Their numbers circle me in every direction. I back away until I hit the warehouse door.
“What are you doing?” I say to them. “What do you want from me?”
The little girl is the only one who speaks. “The horses want us.”
Something strikes the metal door behind me, nearly knocking me down. I hear faint neighing on the other side of the door.
The crowd of people moves closer still. The girl is within arm’s distance.
More banging against the metal door. I cover my ears with my hands and close my eyes.
That’s when I always wake up.
I don’t know what would’ve happened next, and I don’t want to find out.
I also don’t know why I have these recurring nightmares. Like I said, the closest I’ve ever been to a horse is driving past one in my car. But whenever I do now, I wonder, why does it want me?