Monday, September 23, 2019

September Notes and Short Reading Review

September has come and started to go rather quickly for me.

I've had wonderful days.

I've had challenging days.


We had a visit from Norwegian cousins while our oldest daughter visited the next generation of cousins in Norway (on the same exact days).

My youngest made the WSU Novice Women's Crew Team.

I took over a property management position for my parents. (Not my ideal job, but one I can do.)

I wrote.

I dreamed a big idea dream - one that I've had before. This time, I went out and told others about it and gained insights into how to actually make it happen. I am considering opening a Storytelling Studio (or Storytelling Studio classes) for children ages 10-13, teens, and adults. I have thought and thought about this idea. I would like to encourage a community of storytellers - written, oral, visual, audio, maybe film (that's looking like a 5 year castle-in-the-sky type goal) and I would like to encourage storytellers to speak life into the community. It's in the pen and paper state now, but I have had encouragement to make it a reality. So ... I'm making checklists and spreadsheets, creating lists and ideas.

Best of all, I submitted seven poems and three stories to various publishers.

I admit I forgot to do a reading review for August. So, now I am just doing reviews for significant books in August and September.

Hmm. How to describe this book cycle? I read some books I liked, I read some books that made me uncomfortable. Sometimes a book made me think. A few I didn't like as much and I won't mention them here. A few have actually ... well, purposefully been forgotten. I did read a few graphic novels, but didn't like them. I started reading some non-fiction, but I'm not ready to review those yet.

Most of these books are not suitable for younger readers! (I know they never comment, but I have had some of my former students and students read this blog. If that's you, and you are under 18, I'm only recommending the first book to you. Ignore the others.)

So, here are the notables:

The Miraculous by Jess Redman, a MG urban fantasy/magical realism. I didn't love, love this book, like over the top love it, but it stuck with me well after I finished it and I found myself recommending it to a young reader later. So, it is a 4.5 out of 5 for me.
(The only clean book in this grouping for young readers!)
Description from Amazon:
 In the tradition of heartwrenching and hopeful middle grade novels such as Bridge to Terabithia comes Jess Redman's stunning debut about a young boy who must regain his faith in miracles after a tragedy changes his world.
Eleven-year-old Wunder Ellis collects miracles. In a journal he calls The Miraculous, he records stories of the inexplicable and the extraordinary. And he believes every single one. But then his newborn sister dies, at only eight days old. If that can happen, then miracles can't exist. So 
Wunder gets rid of The Miraculous. He stops believing.
Then he meets Faye―a cape-wearing, outspoken girl with losses of her own. 

Eleanor Oliphaunt is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, women's fiction/chick lit/kind of romance? I heard of this book, checked it out from the library, then purchased it. It's not a comfortable read. The main character isn't always likeable - in fact, she's downright awful at the beginning. However, this story really stuck with me, sucked me in, and made me think about the power of human connections. Recommended. 5/5 (with a small caveat for uncomfortable, intense stuff - not for young readers)

Protect the Prince by Jennifer Estep, a NA Fantasy (found in the YA section) with a steamy romance scene. I loved the first of this trilogy. This second book I mostly loved. I could have lived without the two page steamy sex scene with details I didn't need to know. "Dueling tongues" is not a phrase I like in books. The rest of the book - the action, the intrigue, the character development, the actual love-romance, I really liked. So ... 4/5, not for young readers. I would actually call this series NA, not YA, because the main character is 27.

One Day in December by Josie Silver, Romance and Women's Fiction with a few short steamy scenes. I really loved the way the character arcs worked throughout this story. I loved all three awesome friends in this book and I was impressed by Silver's writing. I read this in my quest to discover how to write romance, and I felt like I was sitting at the feet of a master of the craft while I was reading. The steam scenes make this book not for young readers, but it was a really good read for adult romance readers. 5/5 (not for young readers)
Short description from Amazon:
Two people. Ten chances. One unforgettable love story.
Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn't exist anywhere but the movies. But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man who she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there's a moment of pure magic...and then her bus drives away.

Friday, September 20, 2019

How One Book Became a Trilogy by Guest Alex J. Cavanaugh, best-selling author of the CassaSeries! #BookTour

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Alex J. Cavanaugh the author of the Amazon best-selling CassaSeries, as well as the founder of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. I'm a big fan of Alex's books and if you like space opera, you'll love them as well!

How One Book Became a Trilogy b y Alex J. Cavanaugh

When I wrote CassaStar, I never envisioned sequels. It was one story, the one that had been with me for thirty years. Although I had other story ideas written involving the main character of Byron, I intended for CassaStar to be a stand-alone book.

However, when it was published and fans liked it, my publisher asked if there was a sequel. I contemplated ideas and decided I didn’t want to just continue from where the other book ended. (How many life-altering/galaxy-altering events just keep hitting people every year?) That’s when I hit upon the idea of jumping forward twenty years.

Both books experienced best-seller status on Amazon in science fiction for months, so of course I had to wrap it up as a trilogy. And once again, I jumped forward twenty years. Fortunately, Cassans live many years longer than humans, so Byron was still young enough for adventures. (Byron – The Geriatic Years wouldn’t be as exciting!)

CassaStar Series Prequel
By Alex J Cavanaugh
Genre: SciFi Adventure, Space Opera 

The prequel to the Amazon best-selling Cassa series!

A pilot in training...

Fighting the odds, Byron is determined to complete Cosbolt training and join the Cassan space fleet. Poised at the top of his class, only one situation holds him back–his inability to work with anyone in the cockpit. Byron’s excellent piloting skills won’t be enough without a good navigator…

**Get it FREE!! **

CassaStar Series Book 1 

To pilot the fleet’s finest ship…

Few options remain for Byron. A talented but stubborn young man with a troubled past and rebellious attitude, his cockpit skills are his only hope. Slated to train as a Cosbolt fighter pilot, Byron is determined to prove his worth and begin a new life as he sets off for the moon base of Guaard.

Much to Byron’s chagrin the toughest instructor in the fleet takes notice of the young pilot. Haunted by a past tragedy, Bassa eventually sees through Byron's tough exterior and insolence. When a secret talent is revealed during training, Bassa feels compelled to help Byron achieve his full potential.

As war brews on the edge of space, time is running short. Byron requires a navigator of exceptional quality to survive, and Bassa must make a decision that could well decide the fate of both men. Will their skills be enough as they embark on a mission that may stretch their abilities to the limit?

“…calls to mind the youthful focus of Robert Heinlein’s early military sf, as well as the excitement of space opera epitomized by the many Star Wars novels. Fast-paced military action and a youthful protagonist make this a good choice for both young adult and adult fans of space wars.” - Library Journal

Amazon * Apple * B&N * Kobo * BAM

CassaStar Series Book 2

From the Amazon best-selling author - CassaStar was just the beginning…

The Vindicarn War is a distant memory and Byron’s days of piloting Cosbolt fighters are over. He has kept the promise he made to his fallen mentor and friend - to probe space on an exploration vessel. Shuttle work is dull, but it’s a free and solitary existence. The senior officer is content with his life aboard the Rennather.

The detection of alien ruins sends the exploration ship to the distant planet of Tgren. If their scientists can decipher the language, they can unlock the secrets of this device. Is it a key to the Tgren’s civilization or a weapon of unimaginable power? Tensions mount as their new allies are suspicious of the Cassan’s technology and strange mental abilities.

To complicate matters, the Tgrens are showing signs of mental powers themselves; the strongest of which belongs to a pilot named Athee, a woman whose skills rival Byron’s unique abilities. Forced to train her mind and further develop her flying aptitude, he finds his patience strained. Add a reluctant friendship with a young scientist, and he feels invaded on every level. All Byron wanted was his privacy…

CassaStar Series Book 3

A storm gathers across the galaxy…

Commanding the Cassan base on Tgren, Byron thought he’d put the days of battle behind him. As a galaxy-wide war encroaches upon the desert planet, Byron’s ideal life is threatened and he’s caught between the Tgrens and the Cassans.

After enemy ships attack the desert planet, Byron discovers another battle within his own family. The declaration of war between all ten races triggers nightmares in his son, threatening to destroy the boy’s mind.

Meanwhile the ancient alien ship is transmitting a code that might signal the end of all life in the galaxy. And the mysterious probe that almost destroyed Tgren twenty years ago could return. As his world begins to crumble, Byron suspects a connection. The storm is about to break, and Byron is caught in the middle…

With a talent for worldbuilding and a compelling cast of characters, Alex J. Cavanaugh combines high powered space battles and the challenges of family dynamics to provide readers a space opera with heart.” - Elizabeth S. Craig, author of the Southern Quilting and Myrtle Clover mysteries

Get the CassaSeries Boxed Set Here! 

Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design, graphics, and technical editing. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the award-winning site, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. He’s the author of Amazon Best-Sellers CassaStar, CassaFire, CassaStorm, and Dragon of the Stars. The author lives in the Carolinas with his wife.

Follow the tour HERE for exclusive content and a giveaway!

Monday, September 16, 2019

#LOVE + #Heroes and #Villains: Unbreakable and Writing Lessons

While I may find writing romance to be terrifying, I do appreciate real, true love.
My in-laws, Mary and John (Sr) just celebrated their 61st Wedding Anniversary!
My parents will celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary in October!
That's some real, true love.

Love is real.
It's amazing.
And, it's worth writing about.
My current rough draft WIP is contemporary romance. 
Current title: Once Upon a May.

I also like to write about Heroes and Villains. 
So, most of the post below is a re-hash of some old thoughts on Heroes and Villains, part of a Heroes and Villains series I'll be continuing once a month, as I revise my novel Anomalies.

As a lover of the worlds within worlds of all things Story, I have a special love of Heroes and Villains, be they “super” or just natural in their home environments of Earth, Middle Earth, Narnia, Gotham, or the MCU.
For this post, my focus is the 2000 movie Unbreakable written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
Description from IMDb: A man learns something extraordinary about himself after a devastating accident.
Description from Amazon: Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson star in a mind-shattering, suspense-filled thriller that stays with you long after the end of this riveting supernatural film. After David Dunn (Willis) emerges from a horrific train crash as the sole survivor — and without a single scratch on him — he meets a mysterious stranger (Jackson). An unsettling stranger who believes comic book heroes walk the earth. A haunting stranger, whose obsession with David will change David’s life forever.
Why this movie? 
Honestly, I watched this movie for the first time in 2018 while researching heroes. And, I came at viewing it in a backwards kind of way. I heard Shyamalan was coming out with a new film. Then, I found out it was part of a series of movies focused on super-powered individuals. The series starts with Unbreakable.
I don’t know how I missed it when it came out, but I did. I’m glad I was able to watch it, especially after watching several films in the DC and MCU. I needed something just a little different. You know that yen for something “the same but extremely different?” Unbreakable delivers.

Reasons I love Unbreakable (while trying not to spoil it):

We start with a scene in which the main character attempts to do something wrong, instead of something right. I thought this humanized our hero in a humble way. There’s a minor redemption story arc (I like those).
I loved the way the camera angles reminded us that we were with the main character but not necessarily in his head, as we watch the opening sequence from between two train seats (the view of a child), to other moments with his family, and some moments where we are just with him, focused on his silent pain of not knowing how to accept his gift, which he has ignored for most of his life.
I loved the way the main character struggles with his daily sadness and what brings him out of it. Characters who struggle internally and externally at the same time are awesome!
The main character struggles with the idea of having a gift.
The main character can’t communicate well, even with those he loves. Bruce Willis rocked this part – believe me, if you haven’t seen it, see it! It proves that not every scene needs dialogue, or at least not dialogue with words. Of course, I wondered how the script was written. How many expressions were mentioned inside parentheses and how many were based on Willis and the director working together to create great film?
Self-sacrifice is shown on a deep level.

What I learned as a writer/storyteller:

The hero needs a flaw. (Captain Obvious, I know, but sometimes I forget.)
The angle of the story does not have to be told all the time from the hero’s POV.
 Internal and external struggles must work with and against each other.
An immediate acceptance of gifts is not all that realistic for every character.
Dialogue does not need to be about spoken words. (I need to print that idea and put it on my desk.)
Self-sacrifice is not always about the hero jumping in front of a bullet. Yes, that’s heroic, but . . . there are other ways to sacrifice, especially if it’s done for love. It’s not even always healthy, especially if there’s miscommunication. (See the movie.)
There are other reasons I love this movie, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. Fasten your seat-belts for some unexpected twists.
Other posts on Heroes and Villains: Know Your Origins: It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's ...

Monday, September 9, 2019

Why Contemporary Romance Terrifies Me

Many, many thanks for all the awesome comments and visits on my post last week: #TheIWSG Story Locations and a Terrifying Project. I have tried to get around to everyone's blogs and comment on your posts, but did not quite keep up with the conversation in the comment stream.
So, if you missed it: the terrifying project is, as some guessed, contemporary romance.


Why Contemporary Romance Terrifies Me

Picture from: Nasrulla Adnan (Nattu) from MalΓ©, Maldives

First let's tackle the romance terror/trepidation area.

I am happily married, but romance is about the falling in love part and I hated all the dating awkwardness of my youth. Who finds any of those moments truly romantic? Really. The awkward, terrifying, "does this guy like me or has he just been hanging out with me because he wants my best friend's phone number" moments. (Yes, I met guys like that. Too many.) Or the "I thought we were just having a fun conversation about books, but now he's flirting heavily and I am so not interested, but don't want to treat him like dirt" awkward moments. Does anyone really like those moments?


1. I used to say I would never, ever write romance.

2. Although I have written a few romance short stories, writing something novella to novel length requires time and concentration on a genre that I feel is not my strength.

3. I think getting the right amount of "warmth" versus "heat" is a struggle. I don't want to write "heat" but I do want to make sure the characters are interested in each other. 

4. The story I'm writing includes my faith, but I have also described the main character's interest in the guy's hotness so it's not an all emotional-intellectual-spiritual connection, there's some physical interest there, too. According to some genre and publisher websites, this is a no-no. Clean, Christian romance means not even mentioning the guy's general sexiness. 

This has never completely made sense to me. I fell in love with my husband's brain, heart, soul, and body. I didn't ignore the physical attraction between us just because we were falling in love in a serious way that included meeting each other's families; going to the movies; running, walking, and hiking together; going to church together; and praying. We also spent time making out. I know, I know TMI and "old lady" dialogue issues are starting to feature here. 

So let's move on to the issues surrounding contemporary writing.

1. I think contemporary is tougher than fantasy or science fiction because one must know the "real" world well - which means understanding current standards in dialogue, setting details, and trends.

2. I am a nerdy person, and trust me, I do not know all the current language features used by teens and young adults. My daughters point this out with some regularity and my husband and I had a lesson in correct emoji use recently from a young man at our church, as in "do not use these emojis ever."

An emoji faux pas example: My youngest daughter told me the one eyebrow-raised-smirk-face emoji is a actually a flirtation-with-sexual-innuendo emoji - and that is so NOT what I meant by it when I sent it do my daughters and friends (it's just so embarrassing - agh). 

For an example in dialogue issues: when my oldest daughter uses the word "toasty," she isn't talking about warmth, she's talking about anger and irritation. 

3. I don't think even the urban dictionary can keep up with all the trends - driven by memes, Gifs, and pop cultural references. However, I did find Emojipedia to be helpful.

Yet, still somehow, my current rough draft is: contemporary romance.

The characters, dilemma, and setting popped into my head and I'm writing it anyway with a "send it" mentality.

I decided I can work out all the problems in revisions with a helpful editor and beta readers.

When it's scaring me too much, I work on revisions for my superhero teen novel and that makes me feel mostly comfortable because I love fantasy and science fiction. Superhero stories blend fantasy and sci-fi elements that work well in my imagination head-space.

I say mostly comfortable because it's contemporary, too, and that's one of the areas that's caused me the most problems and why it's in its sixth revision.
Trust me, no emojis have been harmed in the writing of Anomalies.
Because I didn't include any.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

September 2019 #TheIWSG Story Writing Locations and a Terrifying Project

Founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh, this encouraging hop usually makes my month brighter!
Check out our website here: Insecure Writer's Support Group

Awesome Co-Hosts:
Doreen McGettigan  

Optional Question: If you could pick one place in the world to sit and write your next story, where would it be and why?

I love writing anywhere - my car, on my couch, in the special writing chair (I write too much there and hurt my back), in bed, at the dining room table, at my desk, in coffee shops, in dance studio lobbies (when my daughters danced), waiting rooms, and even at kayak races. I've written at home and abroad, on airplanes, trains, and buses. 

However, I just visited this beautiful place - The Dungeness Spit Lighthouse. It's possible to volunteer there for a week as a docent. I would love to do that someday.

View from the top of the Dungeness Spit Lighthouse on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington


The Dungeness Lighthouse

If you can't read the sign it says: Serenity and Reality 5 miles. 
(The walk to the lighthouse is 5.5 miles from the parking lot.)

A Terrifying Project
I decided to write something I'm terrified of writing. It's not horror. 

Can you guess what genre it is?
If you can, post your guess in the comments.
I'm not going to reveal much for now because of my post I wrote near the end of August about Book Graveyards (A post title I borrowed from Krystal Jane's post in August). 

Happy IWSG Day!!!

Today is the last day for:

And, this is the plan for Instagram this month (I was struggling over a desire for perfection for this, and finally decided I just had to go with what I have):