Ask Azra: When to Pop the Question

Dear Azra

There’s this girl who is absolutely incredible. She and I have been dating for a while now and I feel so lucky to be with her. I truly think she’s the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. BUT... I am not sure if she will say yes. She hasn’t mentioned anything about marriage or engagement or formal commitment. I’m worried if I pop the question then she will reject me and I will have ruined the best thing in my life. What should I do?

Desperately Hearing Wedding Bells

 

Dear Wedding Bells,

There are many times in life where humans will discount their gut instincts about situations like this. There’s an odd tendency to gloss over these hesitations as nerves which, ultimately, proves to be that human’s undoing.

Trust your guts. Do. Not. Ask. Her. To. Be. Your. Spouse.

If you’re worried that this girl won’t say yes, then she probably won’t. The reasons why she will inevitably decline your undoubtedly beautifully staged proposal will be the greatest unsolved mystery of your life.

Which brings me to my next point. If proposing is out of the question, then it stands to reason that even broaching the topic with her is risky. If she knows you’ve got marriage on your mind and she is adamantly against it, that “honest” conversation might just be the beginning of the end for your perfect relationship.

You’re better off just forgetting the whole thing. Try to be happy with your lot in life as it is. I mean, why ruin the best thing you’ve got going in your life over a piece of paper?

 

Common Law Advocate

Azra

Making a living as a writer

I want to take a minute and dispel some myths about writing. Particularly about the pay of a writer. 

There’s this pervading misconception that writers make decent amounts of money. That if their book is selling, then they’re rolling in dough. With the exception of JK Rowling’s miraculous rags to riches story, it just simply isn’t the case. 

Writers- or at least indie book authors- make a fraction of minimum wage. The creation, writing, editing, and marketing of a book  cannot be translated into a per- hour salary. At best you can get paid per sale of the book- which after distributor fees, printing fees, and retail discounts, would give the author a mere .55 per copy. Possibly less. 

Writing a book is not a get rich quick scenario. 

When my first book (Angel’s Prophecy) came out, my boss at my day job asked in all seriousness, “so when will you be a millionaire?”

Stammering, I had to explain that if I did become a millionaire, it probably wouldn’t have anything to do with my writing career. To which, my corporate boss said “Ah. Then writing is just a hobby.” 

That conversation always stuck with me for several reasons. One, the gall that man had to automatically assume that if something one is passionate about didn’t generate a fortune, then it’s a mere hobby and all of that work was easily discounted as a way to pass the time between shifts. Two, needing to explain that just because I wrote a book didn’t mean I was debuting on the New York Times Best Seller List. 

I’ve had some time to think about this conversation, to fully come to terms with the real world limitations my passion has. Sure, writing isn’t going to get me rich. It’s not going to pay any bills or keep food in my stomach. I’d be lucky to see any sort of profit when all is said and done. But for me, writing is in my blood. I have to write, to translate these images in my head onto paper. I have to tell these stories that live inside of me. If there’s a chance at making a living at it, then all the better. If not, well? I’ve got my imagination to tide me over. 

Team Mayhem; A Rant About Dice

While this is not a full on blog about our adventures in Team Mayhem, it is about something that is critical to the game. They are small, made out of plastic (or metal) and go clack. I’m talking about dice.

Now, any decent RPGer has at least 3 sets of polyhedrals: your favorite set that you use every single game, the back up to your favorite set, and the third string set that mostly fills out the dice bag and are only pulled out if the other two sets fail critically. Obviously there are others depending on what game you play or if you are a DM, but that’s typically the lot.

However, there are those that I consider to be Dice Dragons, meaning they hoard these colorful little plastic bits with numbers in great, staggering amounts. I happen to be married to one.

This past weekend, we were at Crit Hit 4. It’s a gaming convention- the first one we’ve sold at. There were many Dice Dragons in attendance, as one would expect. They carried their treasure in big plastic tubs and various bags of holding. All throughout the hall, the clacking sounds of dice hitting trays or tabletops echoed.

Though there were only a couple of vendors selling sets of dice, my husband bought no less than 5 sets. He gave one to me- a set of sparkly purple metal dice that he said just screamed my name when he was looking at them. The other 4 sets were plastic and, we later found out, black light reflective (which will be super helpful when he goes to that RPG rave... I digress).

When we got home, my Dice Dragon husband set about counting his hoard, with the new additions, of course. He has 149 dice. That translates roughly to 21 sets of polyhedrals and is not counting the dice in his bag of shame.

Which brings me to another strange ritual RPGers seem to have with their dice- shaming for failed roles. I’m sure you’ve seen pet shaming on social media. Try googling dice shaming. It’s worth it, I promise.

I doubt my husband will stop hoarding dice, but I think that if he keeps going the way he is, I am going to have to start decorating in dice.

Redemption for the Time Suck that was June

There was so much I was supposed to get done in June. I was supposed to finally balance my day job with everything else that I do. I was supposed to complete the editing of a new novel. I was supposed to make those crucial sales contacts. I was supposed to hang out with my friends. I was supposed to crack the mysteries of book marketing. I was supposed to start eating healthier. I was supposed to stop feeling so withdrawn. I was supposed to write all of the blogs. I was supposed to get ahead on the crafting. I was supposed to.

As I look back on the entirety of last month, I realize that I didn’t do a damn thing that I intended. Oh sure I could come up with some excuses. It was my birthday month, I got sick, my husband got sick, the day job wouldn’t let go of me, etc. While all of those things are true, there has also been an underlying blah-ness. I haven’t wanted to do anything. I haven’t wanted to socialize. I haven’t wanted to get myself together.

The only thing I can contribute that lack of want to is just sheer burn out. And it honestly doesn’t surprise me. I keep my plate extremely full on purpose (boredom is the WORST), but that doesn’t stop the universe from forcing me to slow down when I need it most.

You see, I was always taught that if I wanted to get anywhere or accomplish anything of worth, then I had better work my ass off for it. And I do. The problem with that is while I am busy holding myself to impossible standards and trying to get my dreams off the ground, I forget to take care of myself. Things get overdone and in the end, I am exhausted and don’t want to do anything else, including all of the things I need to do to be a healthy, happy human.  

The kicker? Even when I hit this point of no more, there’s a HUGE amount of guilt that goes along with it. Why aren’t I getting things done? Why am I being such a slug? What is wrong with me? That guilt makes me even less keen to do anything.

And so the spiral continues ever downward. It’s an easy trap to get entangled in and one that is very difficult to escape.

So. July. A new month. A new set of expectations. Do I allow myself to wallow in the pit I’ve gotten myself into? Or do I make myself take care of me by doing the things that a happy, balanced human does?

There are 31 days to figure it out.

How do you handle burn out or summer lethargy?

Ask Azra: Presentation is Everything

Dear Azra,

As part of a work project, I’ve been asked to give a presentation to senior leadership. Problem is, I’m a terrible public speaker! I’m afraid if I do what they ask of me, I might mess it up so bad that they will actually fire me. Help!

Speechless in Seattle. 

Dear Speechless,

Your attitude about this situation is all wrong. This is an opportunity of a lifetime! How many people actually get to present things to leadership? I can tell you, not many. You should embrace this project whole heartedly. I know public speaking can be intimidating, but I’ve got some tips to help you get over that pesky part. 

  1. There’s an old saying to imagine your audience naked. I say thats a bit backwards. It’s not the speaker that needs to be distracted with nudity, rather it’s the audience. Instead of wearing your best threads, take the podium in all the glory that nature gave you. Your audience will be so surprised that they will not hear a word of the presentation, which means there’s no worry about flubbing a few words.

  2. Instead of making a presentation for them to ask you questions, flip the script and interrogate your audience on their knowledge of the subject at hand. If you’re feeling like you’re in the hot seat, then they deserve to feel that way too.

  3. Skip the PowerPoint slides and opt for an alternative and memorable presentation style instead. Consider interpretive dance, karaoke, a short play, evocative tapestry, or even abstract art. Really, the potential mediums are endless. 

Individually these options are effective, but when combined, you really can’t lose. Always remember to leave them more confused than when they came into the meeting. It guarantees that they will want more. 

Presentation is Everything,

Azra

***Disclaimer***Azra is not someone to take advice from. He’s not even human- he’s an exiled angel that gets his kicks dispensing horrible advice to people. Do not take his advice seriously. It is meant to be satirical and not to be taken literally.

Azra’s Illustrated Guide to (Bad) Parenting

Well my faithful internet dwellers, it’s been awhile. I know you’ve missed my wisdom, but I promise my absence has been for a good cause. You see, I’ve been working on a project that has demanded quite a bit of my attention of late. It’s a rare opportunity that I’ve seized upon and have been lucky enough to finally complete.

In my absence from you, I’ve been compiling some of my more poignant advice on the subject of child rearing.

That’s right! Step aside, Dr. Spock. I, Azra, am taking your place as resident baby genius with the official release of my illustrated guide to parenting.

How to raise human offsping is often a controversial and contentious topic. No more! The illustrated guide will ensure that you steer your little monsters into the correct direction. Win the game of parenting with insider information only an exiled angel could give. With illustrations graciously created by the one and only Kylara Griffis (@perpetual_artistry), this comic-style guide is truly one of a kind.

Just in time for Mother’s Day, you can own the best parenting advice you’ll ever have the privilege of knowing in a convenient, easy to read book.

The whole purpose of procreation is to perpetuate the human race. Without the right guidance, all of that effort to incubate the little terrors will be wasted when they are ruined by horrific, antiquated parenting advice. For the sake of all of the human race, pick up a copy now for everyone you know who have children, could have children, or even just be around children occasionally and be the first wave of the new parenting future. Azra’s Illustrated Guide to (Bad) Parenting is only available at fivesmilingfish.com/shop/.

 

Read On!

Azra

Autism Awareness- It’s Complicated

Today is Autism Awareness Day. It’s “Light It Up Blue”. The UN made this an international observance back in 2008. This day, and indeed this month, is meant to spread awareness and acceptance to those in our society who are on the Autistic spectrum. All good things, right?

Then why is this particular day so complicated to celebrate?

While I am not on the spectrum, I do have a myriad of friends who are or who have children who are. My niece also happens to be non-verbal Autistic. Now, about the time my niece was diagnosed, I did a fair amount of research and I spoke with a lot of people about the topic.

There’s a lot of controversy around Autism. From the causes of it (hint- NOT vaccines), to whether it’s a mental disorder or simply a different way of operating. Even the advocacy groups for Autism are fraught with controversy. Autism Speaks is an Autism awareness group in the US. You can’t utter their name without sparking a heated debate on their core purpose of finding a cure or their use of donated funds.

And let’s not forget the infamous puzzle piece debate. Originally used as a logo to depict the “puzzling aspects of Autism”, in 1963. The puzzle piece has been a point of contention for many Autistic people as it can give the sense that They “don’t fit” or are a puzzle to be worked out. This symbol was also adopted by Autism Speaks, which has not reduced the controversy about it at all.

The point is, all of this contention is getting in the way of the true meaning of the day. I’ve been chewed out for having an Autism Awareness ribbon with the puzzle pieces on my car. I’ve been scoffed at for wearing blue to recognize Autism Awareness Day. I’ve been given sympathetic pats on the back and a sorrowful “how sad” when I tell people that my niece is now able to respond verbally to some things. I don’t feel comfortable calling myself an advocate, but the reactions I’ve had to my attempts at support are baffling.

There’s so much concentration on how NOT to acknowledge those on the spectrum and not enough of actually celebrating the differences Autistic people bring to our society. And it shouldn’t be this way.

All I am really trying to do by these seemingly offensive gestures is celebrate and spread awareness of a condition (and to brag about my niece because, well, yeah, she’s awesome). This condition is not bad, not good, but just is. It’s one that desperately needs acceptance and awareness so that the stigma associated with Autism is reduced.

It’s easy to get sucked into the rabbit holes of controversies with this topic. But let’s stop and think about what this day (and month) really means.

One of the most consistent comments and phrases I heard while talking to people about Autism was “they don’t understand.” Now the context of that could be the Autistic person themselves or, more often, the “neuro-typical” people who interact with them.

This is the very thing this day of observance is supposed to address! Not blasting someone for sporting a blue puzzle piece shirt or by criticizing their attempts at understanding by reading up on different advocacy groups.

By learning about Autism, by having an open mind to people who think and act differently, by gaining awareness, we will close that gap of not understanding which will generate more widespread acceptance of people who are really just trying to live their lives the best way they can. Don’t bash people who are trying.

So. Educate yourself. Research. Read. Discuss and look to understand. Celebrate the differences and realize that today is about more than just the controversy. It’s about people.

Happy Autism Awareness Day.

 

Kira

Team Mayhem! Marathon Gaming and Team Building

The last time we left our Keebler Coalition of Misfits, we were about to set off on our adventure to Oak Hurst. The next time we gathered, it was for an incredible 10 hours of game time. Now, I didn’t think anything of it. I know that a single session of D&D can take hours. However, I’ve since heard from a couple of friends who do separate games and, apparently, our group’s second time playing was tantamount to a long distance marathon. Go us!

As far as learning the actual game, I’ve discovered that it’s a process of understanding your character and their motivations and then not being afraid of improvising.

That being said, I am not a good at improv. True, I am a writer and I can get the character down, but the on the spot action throws me for a loop. It takes a while for me to get going when it’s time to take action. I find that there’s not a whole lot of time to think through a coherent strategy. This results in more than a few missteps. Like not following up on a blatant plot point from your DM or being extra dumb in your actions and almost getting killed twice. Yeah. That was me. I am still too embarrassed to talk about it.

Another crucial part of D&D is learning how to play as a team while in character. That means getting to know your fellow characters while you are in character. This is proving to be a rather interesting experience since most of the team doesn’t really talk to each other. Most team work at this early stage in the game is negligible. Our characters simply don’t trust each other too much yet. I am told that will come with time. For my character’s sake, I hope so. She’s too inquisitive to be stuck with a ton of non-friendly people. But then she is young, so maybe this is just shaping her up for the world in which she lives.

 I will say that all of these prolonged gaming sessions are very fun. I am really enjoying getting to know my characters as they grow and learn.

By the end of our 10 hour long escapade, we made it all the way to Oak Hurst and we met Marl. Here we will learn about the magic apple that seems to heal the dismembered and disfigured, and we will try to help find the other guards that have been lost out of this garrison.

In other words, LOTS of team building exercises for Team Mayhem!

 

Game On!

Kira

Decisioning, Wordsmithing, and Other Strange Practices in Corporate Communications

Friends, I have made my first official foray into corporate communications and I have incredibly strong opinions about it.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let me say that from the (very) little that I’ve done with communications in a corporate setting, I love it. I love being able to utilize my writing skills in a meaningful way in my day job. I love being seen as a competent communicator. I especially love that even though it is a small fraction of my job description, I am getting paid what most of us Indie Fiction writers can only dream of for stringing a few sentences together. Ah, the perks of a Fortune 500 company paycheck.

That being said, Corporate America, what is up with this lexicon you’ve decided to saddle yourself with? I routinely see words like decisioning or wordsmithing or actioning. These impromptu verbs coupled with a few five dollar vocabulary words in the wrong context send my head absolutely spinning.

What’s worse is that these communications that I am contributing to routinely go to the upper echelons of management. This means Sr. Executives, Unit CIO’s, Boards of Directors, and others are enabling and encouraging this sort of communication.

I blame the “high-level overview” requirement for this sort of egging on. Essentially, this means that experts in a particular process or function are asked to describe what they do, but to ignore the details and give a generalized description, typically within a certain amount of words. It’s like asking Neil Degrasse Tyson to sum-up the workings of the universe in two sentences.

While I am sure that the great Neil Degrasse Tyson could accomplish this with finesse and grace, your typical corporate employee will struggle with this task. I think this is where the odd vocabulary comes into play. Words with a tenuous grasp on the concepts at hand infiltrate presentations and e-mails that are passed around to everyone in the company. Because of the high visibility, it stands to reason that more will emulate the verbiage and add in a few more five dollar vocabulary words that sound cool, end them with ing and call them verbs. Viola! We have words like Synergy and Actioning.

The same things happen with the youths of the world. Every generation has their own vocabulary and buzzwords. It was just shocking to me to understand that companies are the same way, except they try to dress up their slang in a suit and tie.

As an Indie Fiction writer, I am at once impressed and appalled by this corporate phenomenon. Impressed by the ingenuity it takes to make up verbs and also the single-minded determination to use these fabrications to “effectively” communicate with superiors. Appalled by the continuous perpetuation of words that make no sense by Sr. Executives and Boards of Directors.

I feel that with my entrance into the communications field that I need to address the pervasiveness of “Corporate Speak”. If we are to actually get our points across, we can do it in plain language instead of making stuff up to sound smarter than we are.

This, I think, is going to be my biggest problem to tackle should I continue this adventure in corporate communications. Well, and getting people to understand that while “wordsmith” is a cool title, I’d really prefer to simply be called what I am; a “writer”.

Some Assembly Required- The Lie

In lieu of dispensing his usual horrible advice this week, Azra has opted to pen an open letter to toy manufacturers. 

Dear Toy Manufacturers,

As a parental figure, I feel there’s something we all experience but we never talk about: Kids toys and the statement “some assembly required”.  

Everyone who has children will understand immediately what I’m talking about. However, I am convinced that the entire toy manufacturing industry is made solely of childless sadists who are hell-bent on wasting parents time, energy, and what remains of parents’ sanity.  

Kids toys have become the absolute worst in recent decades.  Nowadays they are all plastic and either pink or blue (for females and males respectively, but that is another topic altogether). Depending on the toys size, they will either come in with level 5,000 packaging or they are in a million intricate pieces that need to be assembled with a single “L” shaped tool that’s provided with some spare bits to boot. 

It’s not enough that toys are smothered in shrink wrap and air-tight plastic clamshell packaging. Oh no. They also have to be twist-tied, zip-stripped, and taped to cardboard. Your rule, dear Toy Manufacturers, seems to be that the smaller it is, themore you need to be sure it never gets out of its packaging. Us hapless parental figures must navigate our way through more security safe guards than a federal prison. Most of the time when the toy has finally been liberated, the child isn’t even interested in it any more! It’s usually a complete waste of time and money. 

But the big toys, the ones that require assembly, that’s where the real problem is. That’s where you’ve lied to us. You see, while the “some assembly” items typically aren’t enshrined in styrofoam, they take a lot more time to complete. The complicated instructions, malformed yet intricate parts that never fit together as they should, and the extra screws create hours, days, sometimes even days of hard engineering work for unlucky parents. The fact that these toys typically are to scale models of real, everyday items (like kitchenettes, cars, slides,  castles, etc) is even more insulting. 

Parents spend roughly a quarter of their parenting career just opening and assembling toys. That’s valuable time that they could be catching up on sleeping, or cleaning, or cooking, or literally ANYTHING except building cheap, plastic replicas of real-life items that will entertain their rugrats for precisely five minutes. 

Furthermore, having parents be unwitting and unpaid employees for your company is nefarious and I’m sort of in awe that you can get away with it in this day in age.  

Are you hearing me, Toy Manufacturers? Your packaging practices suck the life out of parents. Please get it under control.  

Where’s that Alan wrench?

Azra

Team Mayhem! The Start of the Campaign

This is it. My first ever D&D game. Will and I pile into the truck with our notebooks, mechanical pencils, and dice bags (as well as a couple of bags of snackage) to pick up Tom and Rachel. Together, the four of us venture down to Sidney’s place where the start of our D&D journey will commence.

Once we’ve arrived and had our fill of the pizza feast that awaited us, we all gathered around the table set up in Sidney’s living room. We select our avatars- little cardboard pop outs with illustrations of different characters on them. There’s a final drink/ snack run and we settle in to begin.

On the TV is a large slide that depicts the five realms that split apart. Sidney begins the introduction, explaining the realms and which country/kingdom is at war with who and general history of the world we are going to be playing in. So far so good. I am not 100% on the rules of what needs to be rolled when or what I can or cannot do. The only thing I am aware of from various snippets of conversations with others is that the DM is tantamount to God. Whatever the DM says happens, happens. Beyond that... I haven’t the faintest idea what I am doing.

Our party is made up of a drunk Tiefling fighter (pretty much a devil-looking creature- I can’t remember what his name is), a quiet Rogue Half-Elf named Tess, a Fey Wild named Phairen, and my own characters, Dis and Khaos who I introduced in the first blog.

Based on the first round, pretty much what we are doing is narrating our character’s actions and trying to not get killed by a horrible roll of the dice. Sidney (the DM) is playing the part of everyone else we meet. Now, some of the players (specifically my husband) play the game in character. Meaning he talks like his character would and such. Not everyone does it, so I am not sure if I need to do the same.

Also, I wasn’t sure if we took turns taking actions (like roaming around the town to figure out what we are doing, etc). I wasn’t sure what the protocol is for pickpocketing someone or stealing something (I am a Rogue Street Urchin...), so I just paid for everything I needed. (Okay, so I am a piss poor Rogue Street Urchin).

All of the characters met in the tavern called the Yawning Portal where they were called in to pay a debt to the owner, Durnan. Before speaking with Durnan, we were given the chance to look around the city where a large festival was taking place. Dis and Khaos checked it out and got the gossip about the soldiers being called in and noted all of the extra security. Eventually Dis and Khaos wandered back to the tavern where we received instructions to head to a place called Oak Hurst and help someone up there find his missing mercenaries. We were to leave on the transport up in the morning.

The first battle was against a bunch of ice spiders that crawled out of a pit in the ground. It was horrible. We are level ones with an average of ten hit points before we die. The spiders were SUPER hard to fight off- I think we went into 9 rounds in the fight, or something like that. Dis and Tess were both knocked out cold. We didn’t die straight out of the gate, so we have that going for us. The party made it to the next morning, ready to depart for Oak Hurst.

And all of that was about four hours of playing time (snack breaks included). It’s going to take me a while to get the hang of this game. The good news is that I will have more chances to learn. The next game is scheduled and it should be more in depth than the first session. We’ve named our team Mayhem (because it is better than the Keebler Coalition, which was the other option).

Despite still not being sure what’s going on most of the time, I am beginning to have fun. Thought I still don’t understand why Will wanted me to have multiple sets of dice...  

 

Happy Gaming!

Kira

Writers Helping Writers: Blurbs and Pitches - Summarizing Your Novel

One of the hardest parts of writing a book is coming up with a summary blurb for the back cover and a pitch to quickly and concisely tell what the story is about without giving away the entire plot. As a writer, summing up thousands and thousands of carefully constructed plot points and vivid characters into a 100 word blurb is the stuff of nightmares. It is not easy and it is not something that comes naturally.

My advice is to start big. Write out the summary of your novel as it stands. Don’t be worried about how long it is, just get it down on the page. When you are done, notice how long it is. Blurbs are typically 100 words or less (I know, right?).

Now that you have something to work with, your next challenge is to cut what you have on the page in half. How? Well, begin with removing these things:

·         Anything that is not relating to the main plot.

·         Any mention characters that are not pivotal to the main plot.

·         Any physical description beyond the general age and/or occupation of the main characters

·         Adjectives

·         Adverbs

·         Passive Voice

·         Unnecessary filler words

Keep going and strengthening your sentences to pare down that original description to the 100 words. I can tell you that the key is using active voice and eliminating unnecessary filler words. Brevity is the point here, so there’s no point in using long meandering sentences.

To add in another layer of difficulty, here are the things that you need to have in your blurb:

·         A convincing hook into the story

·         Timeframe of your story

·         Describe the genre without actually saying what kind of genre it is (use your genre’s key phrases or words.)

·         Don’t reveal the ending

·         Suspense

·         Enough of the plot to keep the reader’s attention

I know this is a lot, but if you spend some time with it, eventually, you will make it to the 100 word goal for the blurb.

Pitches, also known as elevator speeches, are even shorter. One or two sentences that wrap up the story and yet entice readers to take a look. For sanity’s sake, wait to do your elevator speech/ pitch until after you’ve completed your blurb. Then, take the most attention grabbing sentences and use those to formulate your pitch.

Example: “Angel’s Prophecy is about the son of two angels who shouldn’t exist. He’s destined to end the war between heaven and hell, but he has to find a weapon that was stolen from heaven first.”

I promise that if you take the time and have a little patience with it, you will create an amazing blurb and a truly intriguing pitch.

Revise, Rewrite, Revise Again!

Kira

 

Ask Azra: How to Stick to New Year’s Resolutions

Dear Azra,

This is definitely going to be my year. I’ve got a ton of resolutions to transform me into the best version of myself possible. It’s quite a lot on my to-do list. Do you have any advice on how to best stick with all of these grand plans and not backslide into my old 2018 self?

Happy New Year!

New Year, New Me

 

Dear New You,

                What is it with this time of year that makes humans go absolutely batty for self-improvement? Is it the cold? I bet it’s the cold. You all know that this is an arbitrary thing, the concept of New Years, right? You clods created the calendar. Heck, do you know how many calendars before this one there were? Lots. This obsession with time and changing years is one that frankly boggles my mind.

However, the other part of your question I can help with. You need to stick to the habits you have decided to take on, right? Well that’s easy. All you have to do is hold yourself to the highest standards you can think of. I don’t mean one or two. No, if you are going to do this, go for the whole enchilada. List out everything that is wrong with you and your life and dedicate the next year to upgrading all of it. Really become the best version of yourself right now.

If you don’t make your goal, what will happen? The worst. Studies have shown that the best way to set new habits is to introduce discipline as a result for failure. I don’t mean self-discipline either. That never works. I’m talking about actual sudden and brutal discipline. After all, the best way to make better choices are substantial negative consequences.

To do this, decide what the absolute worst punishment you can imagine would be. It’s the thing that would literally drive you mad if you were to have it happen to you. The harsher the better. 

Next, hire a person to execute said punishment if you are deviating from your goals. This person should ideally be a stranger, someone that doesn’t know you and would have no problem administering the torture that’s sure to head your way. They should have access to you at all hours of the day. Honestly, this should be easy given today’s technological advances. Punishment should be swift and in real time, so you don’t continue to make the mistake in error.

If you do this right, then six months into your goal you will either be absolutely insane with terror and paranoia from random punishments or you will be on track to truly being the best version of yourself possible. Really, it’s your choice which path to take. Remember, that which does not kill you makes you still alive.

Keeping Resolutions Real,

Azra

***Disclaimer***Azra is not someone to take advice from. He’s not even human- he’s an exiled angel that gets his kicks dispensing horrible advice to people. Do not take his advice seriously. It is meant to be satirical and not to be taken literally.

 

Hello, My Name Is Kira and This Is My First RPG

Dungeons and Dragons. The mere words doubtless conjure some sort of reaction. “Devils and Witchcraft”, “Nerdy Time Waster”, “Isn’t that how you get to the Upside Down?”, and “Oh! I used to play that!”

                Well, for some time now, my wonderful husband, Will, has been playing the game at a once a month meet up. He’s having a blast, but want the fun on a more frequent basis. He’s convinced my best friend Sidney (also in the once a month group as well as her own weekly group) that she should start up a game. What’s more, he’s convinced two other friends of ours, Tom and Rachel, to play as well. For the record, I wasn’t asked. I was told I would play. Because this is Sidney’s first time running a game, the participant list is capped at the five of us.

                Okay, a little background on me. I love playing games. I just haven’t played a role playing game like Dungeon’s and Dragon’s before. Now, when I was little, my mom had a group that she played with. I’ve flipped through her monster manuals and there was a brief stint in High School where we were going to play, but I didn’t actually commit. So I do at least have a general idea of what is supposed to happen. Kind of.  I’ve decided to chronicle my experiences with the whole Dungeon’s and Dragon’s adventure for, hopefully, much amusement in the coming months.

                The first thing I learned is that there’s a specific language and many acronyms in this game. Here are a few gems that I’ve had to look up just while creating my character:

                D&D: Dungeons and Dragons

                RPG: Role Playing Game

                DM: Dungeon Master (Sidney, for our purposes)

                Alignment: This translates to roughly what set of morals your character lives by: Good, Chaotic, Evil, Neutral, Lawful, etc. For example, my character’s alignment is Chaotic Neutral, meaning that she believes that everything changes and her actions can either be good or bad as the situation dictates whereas a Lawful Good alignment would be the character always doing what’s considered good and lawful no matter what. They wouldn’t steal a loaf of bread to feed a starving family, but they would find a way to pay for the bread, if that makes any sense.

                Oh, and creating a character! What a process! It took a good hunk of time and mine was relatively low maintenance. Will’s character took hours and I am still not sure that it’s done. There was a lot of consulting the Player’s Handbook and a lot of “Well, what do you want to be? Pick a (race) (class) (background) (alignment) (personality traits) (ideals) (bonds) (flaws).” Once those core things were chosen, then more research was needed to figure out what equipment I came with. Then there was the rolling of the dice for my strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. On top of that, there’s calculations for hit points, armor class, initiative, skills and proficiencies and... (this is the part that, as a writer, I could easily go overboard with) a detailed enough backstory to make the character believable.

                I am telling you, creating a character is complicated and there’s a good reason D&D has worksheets to write it all down on. I’d never remember half of this on my own.

                So, what was my result? Well? My character is named Distraethra (Dis for short). She is a young wood elf (only 185 or so- apparently they live to be around 700ish) who was abandoned as a small child in a sprawling metropolis. She’s an urchin rogue that will one day develop into an arcane trickster. She owes her survival to a mouse named Khaos (he’s one of the mouse folk... yes that is a thing. As an urchin, Dis came with a pet mouse. As her backstory developed, Sidney said the mouse was too cool not to be more of a character so we modified the stats to an average rat and gave Khaos a character sheet and his own personality traits and backstory). She’s aligned as chaotic neutral and believes that nothing is ever permanent and people who can’t take care of themselves get what they deserve. Her friend, Khaos, is a disgraced folk hero evicted from his village after losing everything to an unjust person. That event solidified his belief that it would be better to serve the agents of chaos instead of good. Why he decided to take on a small elf-child, I can only guess it was a flip of a coin.        

                I should note that the day after we created our characters, my husband took me to a local game shop to pick out my very own set of dice. Dice, it seems, are a status symbol for RPGers. You can’t just have one set (an average set will range from a d3 to d20). Oh no, you’ve gotta have a couple, just in case the dice are bad. Yes. There’s a thing called dice shaming. Check out the images on Google when you are bored... hilarious. It’s safe to say that Will is excited for me to start this game with him.

                Dis and Khaos will begin their campaign with three others in a few days. It’s gonna be an interesting trip.

 

Smiles,

Kira

Reflections of What Was (2018) And the Hope for What Will Be (2019)

I am writing this on New Year’s Eve, 2018 (yes, I am a procrastinating writer... but I have a really good excuse this time!). For the first time in my professional life I’ve had the past week off from the day job and I’ve found myself reflecting over the past year more than I usually do.

Typically, this is a season of preparation for me. My day job requires that I plan out the whole next year before tonight. I not only tie up loose ends for the year, but I also have to make sure that others around me are prepared for the coming year as well. Since, by luck of too much work and not enough time off taken, I am not at the day job, that attention to planning and strategy that is usually reserved for the office has been transferred to my personal life.

Personally speaking, 2018 has had many highs and many lows. The best word to describe it has been chaotic. Not in a bad way or even a particularly good way, just lots of upheavals in all of the different spheres of my life. This has been a year of growth and maturing and, as we all know, those things are never easy.

For the writing and publishing business, it’s been a good year. We are steadily increasing our sales. We are getting more into the book venues and events than ever before. Thank you to everyone that came out and supported us at many of the events we do! It is very much appreciated.

Our books are in the Scottsdale public library- something we’ve all dreamed about since we began this journey of ours. (All three of us are library fiends. To have our books offered in a library is a huge achievement for us.) I finished my grandfather’s story after eight long years of gathering the information and then finally committing it all to paper.

Slowly, we are growing and gaining more and more experience. It gives me much hope for the years to come. While we are celebrating these victories, there’s still a lot for us to learn and to improve on. Starting with tomorrow. New Year’s Day, 2019. This is going to be a game changing year for us. It won’t be easy, but I am confident we will be celebrating even more victories.

There’s a whole laundry list of things happening this upcoming year for Five Smiling Fish, but the most important announcements I have is that we have two new books scheduled to come out in 2019:

1.       Azra’s Illustrated Guide to (Bad) Parenting- yes, the blog series he was desperate for me to write will now become a guide book featuring the incredible artwork of Kylara Griffis. Anticipated release date, Spring/ Summer 2019

2.       The much anticipated beginning of the Fable series by Megan E. Vaughn. Release date: Fall/Winter 2019.

Then there are the blogs. Last year I had a couple of successful blog runs and some not so successful. Azra won’t let me not write his blogs, so he’s staying. The Writers Helping Writers series will expand into more publishing topics and some helpful tips. I am also going to add in a new blog series about an upcoming Dungeon’s and Dragon’s campaign I am starting (my husband is so freaking happy about it... we shall see). As always, if you have questions for Azra or if you have a more pointed question on writing and publishing, please drop us a line and I’ll work it in.

Of course no year would be complete without actual writing goals. I hope to complete two first drafts this upcoming year: the third book in the Angel’s Prophecy series, Age of the Daughter and a stand-alone novel that right now I’m calling The Vengeance of Skuld. It’s ambitious, but, honestly, not being ambitious is not an option anymore.

We are very much looking forward to these and the other things we have planned for 2019. We hope that you will be with us on this great adventure. Once again, thank you so much for all of your love and support for us Indie Authors. We would not be able to do this without all of you.

 

Happiest of New Years to you and yours.

 Kira & Five Smiling Fish

Ask Azra: Seasonal Depression; Battling the Blues with Lights

Dear Azra,

I hate this time of year. The holidays are a special kind of Hell for me. Everyone is so happy and trading presents and spending time with family. And here I am sitting alone in a dark apartment. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. How can I get over this? Why can’t I just enjoy the holidays like everyone else?

Sincerely,

Depressed

 

Dear Depressed,

This is a common phenomenon that occurs often within your species. A lot of times people are overwhelmed with the intense social responsibilities and expectations placed upon them by the season of holidays. The important thing to understand is that you are not alone. Millions of people are affected the same way.

What I’ve learned during my time with the human race, however, is how resilient they are. Also, how the littlest things, the smallest advances in technology can remind them of the beauty they are surrounded with.

So, my advice. When you are feeling this down again, when you are stuck in that darkened apartment you described, do something for me. Go look at Christmas Lights.

That’s right. Christmas Lights.

Grab yourself some hot chocolate and observe all of the multicolored LED goodness. I promise, you will feel better afterward and, you’ll have had some hot chocolate!

Go Towards the Light!

Azra

***Disclaimer***Azra is not someone to take advice from. He’s not even human- he’s an exiled angel that gets his kicks dispensing horrible advice to people. However, this particular blog isn’t bad advice at all. Remember, the holidays aren’t jolly for everyone. Check in on your fellow man. If you need it, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255, you can also go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Writers Helping Writers: Formatting Your Novel

All of the editing has been done, the feedback from your Beta Readers has been implemented, and even the cover art has been conceptualized and completed. Believe me when I say that you are almost done. The finished product will be well worth the months or even years that you’ve spent on it so far.

But now you are in the home stretch where you format the manuscript and finalize it for printing.

Now, I am not going to go step by step because there’s already a step by step formatting guide in our Writing Advice and Help. Please feel free to use that for formatting in conjunction with your chosen printer’s format requirements.

In this blog, what I am going to remind you of is that this is your novel. Ultimately, you get to decide how it should look and how it should feel. So, while we and probably a lot of other places give you a lot of how-to’s, be sure to make it your own.

Also, have patience. It is going to take several takes to get it all right. Expect quite a few versions the first time around, but don’t give up. Keep going until you are sure you have it just the way you want it.

You can do this!

Kira

Ask Azra: Evening the Odds for Procreation; Destroying the Perfect Man

Dear Azra,

I have a problem. I think my boyfriend is about to propose to me. Don’t get me wrong, he’s the sweetest guy. I don’t ever want to hurt him because he’s just so good to me. But I think that’s why the thought of marrying him fills me with dread. He’s too good and I’m just unhappy. I wasn’t expecting to build a life with him. He was supposed to be a fun fling before I went off and officially started my life. This pressure for commitment is just too much. I have to break up with him before he actually proposes. How can I do that without hurting him too badly?

Thanks for the help,

Regretting This Relationship

 

Dear Regret,

What you are describing is something many of your kind have experienced. While you are primarily concerned with how you need to deal with this problem of having such a good mate, you must remember that this discontent and what you do with it will help save your very civilization.

You see, guys like that, the ones that are too good to women and who provide healthy and loving relationships are horrible. They completely ruin it for all the rest of the guys out there. This has a trickle-down effect where an increasing amount of women refuse to settle for the available guys and start searching for that “perfect guy.” This has a direct negative impact on procreation levels which will, eventually, make the human race endangered.

It’s up to you and women like you to help us guys even the odds and to make sure the human race survives.

First, you need to come to terms that you will not extricate yourself from this scenario without hurting the guy that is so good to you. No, if you are going to fulfill your destiny as the savior of mankind, you have to utterly destroy him. Rip out his heart and spit on it and all of the emotional support he gives you. Take all of the romantic gestures and build a bonfire of them and dance around it as he looks on with tears in his eyes. Eviscerate whatever connection there is between you, and make him suffer. It is the only way to make him one of the other guys. You must eradicate his ability to love. You must kill his emotion.

It is the only way to save the human race.

 Fight the Good Fight,

Azra   

***Disclaimer***Azra is not someone to take advice from. He’s not even human- he’s an exiled angel that gets his kicks dispensing horrible advice to people. Do not take his advice seriously. It is meant to be satirical and not to be taken literally.

Ask Azra: How To Handle An Inheritance

Dear Azra,

My wife’s great uncle just passed. We were contacted by his lawyers and they told us that he left his entire estate to my wife. While I don’t know exactly how much we are getting or what all the estate entails, I do know that it includes a mansion up in the hills. Any advice on how to adjust to my new life of luxury?

Thanks,

Rollin in Dough

Dear Rollin.

Obviously there is only one thing you can do when faced with such an abrupt shift in personal wealth. You are now a billionaire and you should quickly establish you eccentricity so you can fit in with the other billionaires. Quit your job. Like, immediately. You don’t need it and the limitations it places on you. Sell the home you are currently living in. Or, better yet, give it away! After all, you now have this rumored mansion in the hills to call home now. Plus it’s important to be benevolent to the little people who don’t have as much as you. Finally, and this is a BIG one, make your new social status known to EVERYONE. Take out ad space on the television, buy a billboard, blast it out on social media. Let them all bask in the glory of your new inheritance and wrestle with their jealousy.

Happy Windfalling,

Azra

***Disclaimer***Azra is not someone to take advice from. He’s not even human- he’s an exiled angel that gets his kicks dispensing horrible advice to people. Do not take his advice seriously. It is meant to be satirical and not to be taken literally.