Indie Book Review: Hartman House by A.L. Wright

The Hartman House was one of the titles I obtained from the Tucson Festival of Books.  I was very intrigued by the premise, which is essentially the story of a young witch seeking sanctuary from the increasingly violent witch, werewolf, and vampire hunters in a modern safe house. While there, the main character, Rodelle, meets a disturbingly familiar vampire named Dreven.

When I began reading, it took me a minute to get used to the formatting the author chose; the text is double spaced, which I am not accustomed to. However, it didn’t take me long to adjust.

The story is about what you would expect with the holy trinity of urban fantasy monsters: Sexy, broody vampires, hot headed werewolves, and indecisive witches.

What I was instantly taken with was the concept of the safe house for magical beings. The idea is fantastic and one that the author is expanding on in other books. Rightfully so!

This particular book, though, felt a bit bland. Not bad, but not stand out good either. It is a good middle-ground typical paranormal love story rife with the usual clichés. It feels like a first novel, which is perfectly fine, but it left me feeling that the surface of this amazing world was barely scratched.

What I wanted more of was the group dynamic in the house. I wanted to understand more of the people already inhabiting the place, how they maintained it, what they did when they weren’t on rescue missions, etc. The most we get in that aspect is that the witches are essentially the maid and catering services. There’s still major opportunities for compelling character development for the side characters we do meet in the other books, but I was definitely missing it here.

Overall, the Hartman House is a good introductory read into general paranormal romance. You should check it out, if you are so inclined, at: alwrightauthor.com.

Smiles,

Kira

Ask Azra: Battling Boredom- How to Make Your Life More Interesting

Dear Azra. I am bored. Not in an “oh, I need to pick up a hobby” or “call up some friends” kind of way. I am seriously, completely, and utterly bored of my life. There’s nothing to look forward to. Every day is the same old routine: I get up, I go to work, I come home, I watch some TV, then I go to sleep only to wake up the next morning and do it all over again. How can I get some excitement in my life? How can I truly start to live?

Sincerely,

Bored to Tears

Dear Bored

It’s obvious what you have to do. Yes, that’s right. The exact opposite of what you have been doing. If you want to stop being bored, then stop doing the stuff that’s making you boring. Quit your job. Abandon your home. Hit the road. Take up shark taming as your hobby. Become a double agent. Get yourself lost in the Amazon. Ditch everyone you know and find different friends. Start living your life as though you were someone else because if you’re bored then you are boring.

Be anyone but you!

Azra

A PSA on Life Balance and Boundaries

Kira here, interrupting Azra’s regularly scheduled blog posts. Don’t worry, he will be back next week. I wanted to take this time to pass along some words of hard won wisdom that I’ve stumbled across over the last few months.

Life balance is freaking hard and boundaries are incredibly necessary if you want to stay sane in this fast-paced world of ours.

Balance and boundaries have always been difficult to me. I am, at heart, a people pleaser. If someone asks me to help them out or if they need something, I will do it. I like to help friends and family and I am the sort that will give 100% to whatever I am doing. The problem with that mentality, though, is that it’s REALLY easy to allow other people’s needs to overwhelm you. The first instinct is to put aside what you need or want to help them. This is precisely how to get yourself out of balance and when boundaries are important. Although, when you have trouble telling people no, boundaries are super difficult to create.

These past few months have been tumultuous to say the least. When life is flying directly at you at the speed of light, it’s hard— hell, almost impossible— to maintain a decent balance between work, family, health, friends, and fun. Often times one or more of those things get sacrificed for time. It’s not good, but we all do it. This season, I’ve had my plate shatter from the amount of things on it. For better or worse, I’ve sacrificed many things to try and stay afloat with the chaos trying to drown me. I’ve put a pause on my health, my family, my friends, my writing, and a bit of my sanity as well. Too much going on and too little time has made this writer very unbalanced and lost. Burn out is a real thing and it’s dangerous to your wellbeing.

Before this blog gets too down in the dumps and whiney, I’m bringing up this topic is to highlight some things that help those like me regain balance and sanity. A PSA as it were to those who overwhelmed and not sure what to do to get back to good.

1.       Boundaries: Saying no and holding your ground is crucial. Know your limits and, most importantly, make sure others understand your limits. Telling people no is not being mean. It is not a sign of weakness. It’s putting yourself first and keeping your boundaries strong. Remember, you are only responsible for you.

2.       Self Care: It’s easy to let yourself slide when you have a mountain of things to do. Because it is so easy, this is probably the biggest mistake you could make. When there’s a million things happening and you are feeling more and more overwhelmed, it is crucial to stop and take time to care for yourself. If you skimp on things like eating healthy or exercising, or even taking mental breaks every so often, then burnout is imminent. A phrase comes to mind: “you can’t take care of anyone if you don’t take care of yourself”. It’s absolutely true, so be sure to make time to take care of yourself.

3.       Prioritize: It’s easy to allow your mile long to-do list to get the better of you. This is where prioritizing can help put that into perspective. Focus only on the most important task at a time. Have patience with yourself. You will get to what you can when you can. Time management also falls into the prioritizing bucket. Be realistic about how much time things take and don’t beat yourself up about not getting to more.

4.       Support System: My support system is my husband and my best friends. They keep me grounded and listen when I get overwhelmed. They remind me that I am only human and it’s alright not to complete every single item on the to-do list. I’m incredibly thankful for them and the reality checks they give. Having people there to back you up and remind you to take it easy on yourself is very important to balance.

Maintaining a life balance and solid boundaries is really hard. I’ve yet to perfect it myself, but with time and patience, I will get back to good. So will you.

Take care of yourself,

Kira

 

Writers Helping Writers: Starting and Finishing the First Draft

Ok, you’ve got your characters, you’ve got your plot, you’ve got an outline. You are finally ready to start writing!

It’s going to go amazingly well for, oh, say the first chapter or two. You will marvel at how quickly and easily everything is coming to you. Your characters are sticking to the outline, there haven’t been any plot bunnies discovered, and the words are flowing like lava from a volcano.

Then it happens. Suddenly, one of your characters takes an abrupt left turn and refuses to stick to the script. Along with that, you realize that the whole pace of the story is floundering. Somewhere along the way, what had been going so well is all of a sudden the worst thing ever put to paper. The doubts trickle in. The words grind to a halt and you are stuck there, staring at the blank page before you with a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. The truth rears its ugly head; writing is freaking hard.

We’ve all been there. Getting the first draft on paper is one of the MOST challenging things you will experience as a writer. This is the make or break moment. Only 3% of writers actually complete a novel. If you want to be in that 3%, try some of the following techniques to get yourself out of the first draft rut.

1.      Keep putting words on the page. One method to dealing with a block is to keep writing. If you are at a loss of what to write next, start describing things in the scene. Go in depth with a character’s inner monologue to explain from their point of view what is happening. Explore the senses and paint the picture of what the scene is supposed to be. Remember, any of this can be edited out, but you can’t edit a blank page.

2.      Give yourself some time away from the project. Work on something else. Sometimes we get too close to the story and it’s hard to distinguish the good from the bad. If the story is all we are thinking about, it’s easy to lose sight of where you are. So, take a break. Go for a walk, read a short story, write something else, and then go back to it with fresh eyes.

3.      Resist the urge to edit or start over. Once you get into that mindset that everything is horrible, it’s mighty tempting to erase it all and start over. DON’T DO IT! Keep moving forward. If you fall into the trap of going back and editing things, the first draft will never be completed and you will effectively get yourself stuck in a never ending loop of revisions. Trust me, keep moving forward.

4.      Don’t give up. Writing is hard, but remember that adage; nothing worth doing was ever easy. Keep yourself motivated and moving forward. Whatever that means for you. Perhaps it’s a shopping reward for hitting the word count goal for the day. Maybe it’s promising yourself a free evening if you finish at least 30 minutes of writing. However you motivate yourself, do so.

A few other things to keep in mind: first drafts are supposed to be terrible. You are not going to write your masterpiece on the first go. That is OK! First drafts are getting it all out on paper and strung together. The polishing and fine-tuning comes later on. Writing is a process and first drafts is just one of the initial steps to a completed, published book. You do have what it takes to be a writer. Believe in yourself. I promise that the excitement and ease that the first chapter or so had will come back. You just have to have a little patience.

Keep Writing!

Kira

Ask Azra: My In-Laws Hate Me, What Can I Do?

Hi Azra. I just got married a couple of months ago. My wife and I are generally happy except for one thing: my In-laws hate my guts. I thought everything was fine- the wedding went off without a hitch. Ever since then, they’ve been treating me like I’m garbage. They say horrible things about me to my face. If I come to family functions, they make a big deal about me showing up uninvited. They constantly ask my wife when she’s going to divorce me. My wife says that I’m exaggerating and that they are just joking around. It’s not funny at all. How can I make it stop before it gets even worse?

Please Help,

A Sorry Son-in Law

 

Dear Sorry,

Wow, that totally sucks. It’s awful not being accepted by the family of your loved one. But, never fear, there is a way to cope! And that is by keeping track of all the insults and all the slights that they cast your way and plot to get back at them is subtle, passive aggressive ways. Remember, at some point when they are old and feeble, they will need you to take care of them. That will be the perfect time for revenge.

Now, you will be tempted to do something grand after years of their torment. You want to make them pay for it all at once. This is the wrong train of thought for this kind of game. Consider this: A thousand small inconveniences are better than a full out catastrophe, right? The smaller the actions on your part can generate the biggest reaction in them. They dished it out in small portions, so the justice you seek should be doled out the same way.

So, keep track of it all, stew on it, have it all in the forefront of your mind at all times. Really hold all of that discontent inside and only let it out when the time is right to sew all of their pockets closed or to misspell their names on birthday cards or to have their least favorite vegetable on hand for meals. Keep the battery life on their electronic devices only half-way charged. Move their keys out of the customary spot and put them somewhere obvious, yet different.

The actions are small, but the satisfaction will be great.

Pettiness Is A Super Power,

Azra

#Redfored: Understanding Why Arizona’s Teachers Are Taking A Stand

Let’s be honest. The US Education system is a mess. No matter which direction you look at it from, there’s just one tangle after another: student debt, college tuitions, classroom size, teacher pay, classroom funding, arts programs, mandatory state testing, curriculum standards, the list goes on.

Yesterday marked the third day of a state-wide teacher walk out here in Arizona (technically, 5th if you count the weekend when many teachers spent time either at the capital or canvassing their local communities).  School districts have shut down in an unprecedented move to demand 5 critical items from Governor Doug Doucey and the AZ legislature that are crucial to allow our kids a fighting chance at a decent education. Let’s take a look at these demands.

1.       20% salary increase for teachers. This is to ensure competitive pay with neighboring states so we can keep teachers in our schools. Currently, AZ ranks 49th for teacher pay. With the adjustments for inflation, teachers here make between 11-14% less than they did in 2001. I should note here that the Governor has proclaimed a 20% by 2020 plan. This is, the last I’ve heard, just a statement. There isn’t a cohesive plan for where the money will come from.

2.       Competitive pay for all Education Support Professionals. This means for everyone in the educational system: secretaries, counselors, bus drivers, etc.

3.       Permanent certified salary structure which includes annual raises. Many companies offer this sort of structure. It would go a long way to ensuring the changes we make today are sustainable and that Arizona could remain a competitive paying environment for certified teachers.

4.       Restore education funding to 2008 levels. The AZ Legislature has cut 1.1 Billion dollars from Education spending since 2008. With Prop 301, funds meant for schools were shifted to other areas of the budget.

5.       No new tax cuts until per-pupil funding reaches the national average. Currently, the national average of per-pupil funding is $11,392. Arizona skates in at $7,489.

These demands are pretty straight forward. As of this afternoon, there has been no indication from the AZ Legislature that there will be a vote. A smear campaign has been launched by several conservative lawmakers, most notably, Rep Kelly Townsend who has threatened to leverage a class action lawsuit on behalf of the families impacted by the school closures. There’s even insinuations that these teachers are wearing red because of their obvious ties to Communism.

With a protest that’s gone on this long, it’s obvious how much we as a society rely on the public education system, not just to teach our children, but to care for them. And believe it or not, the teachers do care. In addition to taking their demands to the government, they are attempting to educate the public on why they are necessary. While the opposition is strong, the support is even stronger. Several PTA’s have taken in food donations to get meals together for those kids that rely on the meal programs. Local businesses are offering cut-rate deals for child day camps. Did you know that during the walk out, several Proms still took place with teacher chaperones? Did you know that many teachers are still making lesson plans to make up for the time they were out protesting? Several more are catching up on grading papers. These people are working tirelessly and fighting for your kids’ education.

What are you going to do for them?

I implore you to do your own research on the matter, talk to teachers, talk to your local government, check out the budget that has been proposed. Take a stand. Call Doug Doucey and tell him what you think of this mess and how we can fix it: 602-542-4331 or engage@az.gov

Kira

Ask Azra: Cooking on a Budget

Hey Azra,

I am trying to save money and be healthier by cooking my meals at home. Any advice on how to make the healthiest food on a strict budget?

Healthy But Hungry

It sounds like you have a couple of problems going on here.

First, you’ve bought into the “healthy eating agenda”. This is sponsored by those mega granola companies to help line their pockets with cash. Think about it, the longer you live the more granola you consume and the more money you put out for your fix. You’ve become an unwitting cash cow for these corporations! The government is in on it too, for obvious reasons that I shouldn’t have to go into.

Second, you didn’t say how much your food budget actually is. It’s really hard to give accurate advice without all of the information, Healthy But Hungry. Since you didn’t specify, I will have to assume that you have $0 a week to spend on food.

It’s obvious what you have to do. Give up your job and dedicate yourself to farming and raising your own food products. Food is a basic necessity of life. If you don’t have food, you don’t live. What would be nobler than disappearing and creating your own farm on some patch of land you happen across? Steal some seeds and a shovel and get to planting. Pilfer some cows and chickens and there you have it, beef and, well, chicken.

By giving up all of your worldly belongings and responsibilities and trading it all in for true self sufficiency, then you are not only evading those mega granola companies, you are saving a ton of money.

Also, don’t get caught. Granola companies are ruthless. Best change your name and remove your fingerprints.

Live Free! Down with Big Granola,

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: Getting A Promotion

Hey Azra,

I really want this new job in my department. How can I make sure they pick me for the promotion?

Sincerely,

Corporate Ladder Climber

Honestly, it all depends on how badly you want the promotion. On a scale of one (eh, not really) to ten (I will do ANYTHING), here is how to ensure that you are not passed up for the big bucks.

1-9: You’re lying. You really want this job, you are just acting nonchalant. Stop lying to me and to yourself. Admit it. You REALLY want this job. Skip to level 10.

10: Okay, you are serious about getting this promotion. That’s great! The key to this level of commitment is just that; being committed. You don’t just want this promotion, you NEED it. Your entire life hinges on this job. All of your happiness, all of your success as a human, all of it depends on you getting this promotion.

When you are that committed to this, then you won’t hesitate to do what it takes like:

 

-          Bribery

-          Mild to moderate stalking

-          Making threats

-          Carrying out said threats

-          Becoming ethically nebulous

-          Kidnapping

-          Torture

-          Blackmail

-          Computer/records hacking

-          Sabotage

Truly, when you are this dedicated, the question becomes what won’t you do? If you are at a level 10, then there isn’t much of that on the table.

So get creative and go get that promotion, Corporate Ladder Climber!

You’ve got this!

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.

 

Writers Helping Writers: Plotting and Outlining

You can’t have a compelling story without a plot. People want to read about characters that embark on some sort of journey- be it internal or external. The most rudimentary plot consists of a definitive beginning, middle and end. There’s more to it than just those three phases, though. The beginning is home to the exposition and then flows upward into the rising action. At the end of the rising action is the climax or the middle of the story. Immediately after is the falling action. I should note here that there can be more than one climax in a plot. Some of the more celebrated stories have multiple rising and falling actions and multiple climaxes. After the final falling action, we arrive at the resolution and end of the story.

It’s a lot to keep straight. There are three basic types of styles when it comes handing the plot of the story.

1.       Plotter: This means completely outlining your plot. You know what happens in the beginning, the middle and the end before you even begin writing the story. This method is good for when you have complex and long story lines. Plotting every aspect is understanding how they all fit together. The down side, at least for fiction writers, is that sometimes your characters will throw you curve balls and completely throw off all of your carefully crafted plans.

2.       Pantser: This writer flies by the seat of their pants. There is no outline, just a vague idea of a plot and that’s all they need to sit down and start writing. The theory behind this is that the characters will tell you where the plot will go and what will happen as you write.  The bad thing about pantsing your way through the plot is that if you don’t know where you are going, it is much easier for your characters to take you down paths that have nothing to do with the current story. Also, it could take you much longer to get to the end of your tale.

3.       Plotser: This is a strange hybrid of both Plotters and Pantsers and can appear differently depending on the person. Someone may have a rough outline of one or two basic plot points that their characters need to hit and then wing the rest of it. Others may have incredible detail in their outline, but also leave options for their characters to choose which way to go.

The best part about all of this is that there is no wrong way to prepare for writing your story. You will find that some plots require some Plotting while others won’t work unless you Pants it. It is your tale, it is your voice and your style. If you take anything from this blog, please take this: make sure you know where your story is leading up to. It’s fine if you don’t have a perfect outline for every nuance, but have a general notion of what the end of the story looks like. Other than that, find what works best for you and what works best for the story you are writing.

Happy Writing!

Kira

Ask Azra: Staging an Intervention

Dear Azra,

We need some help. Our friend has a drinking problem, but she refuses to admit it. It’s gotten so bad that we’ve stopped drinking around her and we’ve asked that she not drink around us. She doesn’t listen. If we know there’s going to be alcohol somewhere, we won’t invite her. It’s getting to the point that every time we see her, she’s drunk. We think it’s time to have an intervention. Can you give us some advice on how to make it a successful one so she can get the help she needs?

Sincerely,

Unprepared Prohibitionists

Intervention, huh? I’ve never really been one to have people gang up on someone in order to get them to conform to the groups standards of behavior, but what the heck. This sounds like fun. 

I’d say the first thing you’d need to consider is location. You’ll want somewhere that the subject will be comfortable. The most comfortable place for someone who likes to drink would be a bar, yes? Be sure to go during happy hour to take advantage of those appetizer specials. 

Next, think about who to invite. Sure, family and friends are a traditional option, but maybe it would be more impactful if you hire actors. Think about it. Actors are professionally trained to get the point across in a way more memorable manner than the average concerned friend. Make sure you give them a script and free poetic license to improv any additional selling points for the new life of modified behavior. Bonus points if you can stage a whole scene to terrify your alcoholic friend out of wanting booze. 

Finally, for the sake of all involved, get some drinks. It’s going to be a difficult conversation for all involved and alcohol will help make things go much more smoothly. Who knows, maybe you’ll get a different perspective on things before the night is over. 

One last bit of advice- the bills for all of this (actors, bar tab, professional writers, etc.) should land in the lap of the one getting the intervention. What better way for them to understand that their actions have consequences?

Cheers!

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: My Best Friend is Bridezilla

Dear Azra,

My best friend is usually a really easy going person. She’s smart and funny and kind. However, since she got engaged, she’s changed for the worse. This wedding has made her crazy. As her maid of honor, she’s forbidden me from losing or gaining any weight until after the wedding and has created a strict diet plan for me to follow. That’s not all. She has actually petitioned the church to allow the priest to wear a hideous burnt orange so that he will match the general color scheme. Currently, she is making a list of dos and don’ts for the guests to put in the envelopes with the invitations. If she doesn’t get her way, watch out! There’s a chance she will physically hurt you. She’s already scared off or fired three wedding planners. The whole wedding party is terrified of her, including her soon to be husband. How can we get our easy going friend back?

Bridezilla’s Bestie

I really hate to break it to you, Bestie, but your friend is gone. Let me give you some background. Wedding experts have reported a startlingly steady rise in the Bridezilla phenomena in the last few decades. Some think that whoever becomes Bridezilla is cursed. Others think it’s a sort of instinctual rebellion against marriage. All I know is that it’s best to be outside of striking distance.

The change in the bride comes almost as soon as the big question is popped and a ring is presented. While the change may not be immediately recognizable, it is instantaneous.

According to the latest scientific studies, these crazy behaviors are irreversible once the wedding happens. These traits will then stay with the bride throughout her married life.

The only way to for sure get your friend back is to sabotage the wedding.

Yes, you heard me right, stop the wedding to save your friend from a life time of micromanagement and horrible behavior choices. It’s best for everyone involved that the wedding does not take place. It’s not enough just to quit, you’ve got to save the wedding party and the guests too. It’s your duty as maid of honor.

Do everything you can to put an end to the madness; sleep with the groom, don’t send out the invitations, set fire to the venue, lose the rings, kidnap the bride right before the ceremony. However you do it, just stop the wedding by any means possible. Your friend will thank you once it is all over.

If you are unsuccessful at putting an end to the nuptials, then take time to mourn your friend because she’s never coming back.

Best of Luck!

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.

Indie Book Review: Unmasked by EM Kaplan

I just finished reading Em Kaplan’s Unmasked: Rise of the Masks Book 1. I met Em and her husband, JD, at the Tucson Festival of Books last year. As promised, here’s what I thought about the story.

Unmasked takes place in a completely fictional world. A girl called Mel, is part of a certain class of people known as Masks. They are incredibly knowledgeable and can seem, to the layman, to possess magic and special abilities. The Masks are the judges of this particular world. They are impartial, and unemotional scholars and archivists. Mel was sent out for the summer to investigate the appearance of strange blue trees. To successfully study this phenomena, she masquerades as a typical girl coming of age and stays with others from around the world at what is known as the Keep, a sort of short term finishing school for young women.

Through fortuitous circumstances, Mel met Ott, a Northerner on the hunt for a strange creature that had been terrorizing his town. There is an instant connection between them. Just as the end of her assignment was in sight, the Keep is attacked by ferocious, strange creatures that came out of the ground without warning. It’s up to Mel and Ott to figure out where these creatures came from and what they want.

First, Em’s writing style is very distinct and incredibly pretty. She can paint a scene like no one else I’ve ever read. It’s evident that a lot of work went into creating such a vivid world. The details are incredible and it makes you feel like you are there.

Some of the pacing dips a little, but I found that I didn’t mind that because I felt like I was completely transported.

The part where the flowery language and the descriptions fell just a bit short of stunning is in some of the action scenes. I missed some of the actions and felt a bit confused when suddenly a character was somewhere else doing something else. Also, near the end of the book, there was a strange lack of emotional reaction at a lot of the abilities some of the characters developed and even less understanding of how or why they developed them.

On the whole, though, this story is fun and engrossing. If you are in the mood to be completely transported to a different world, give Unmasked a try. You can find it at justtheemwords.com.

Happy Reading!

Kira

 

Writers Helping Writers: Getting into your Characters

Characters are a critical part of your story. It doesn’t matter what genre you write in, characters propel the plot forward and are what your reader relate to the most. It’s important to understand them and their motivations. After all, a story is more or less describing a character’s actions and you can’t do that unless you know what they would do or you understand their thought process.

When I write a story, I can’t get started on it unless I know who I am working with. In creating my characters, I must first know their name. I have a big baby name book that I turn to in order to find the right one. Sometimes, based on the research I’ve done, I know a character will be of a certain culture or ethnicity. That will help narrow the name search.

As soon as the name is there, it sparks an idea in my head of what they look like. You know how people will sometimes say, “She doesn’t look like a Sarah.”? Well, it’s like that in my head. Names often carry distinct looks and even personalities. If the name isn’t helping to give you a clear picture of your character, turn back to your research. What ethnicity? What culture? Where do they live? What’s the time period?

Once there’s the basic form for a character (general personality, traits, age, etc.), start asking questions and write down what comes to you. What do they like to do on their down time? Are they picky eaters? Do they have a phobia? How do they handle stress? What’s their family background? Those internet personality quizzes are also a great tool in helping understand your character. Another way to build an understanding of your characters are D&D character sheets, complete with rolling a dice for personality trait levels.

Getting to know your characters and how they interact with each other is vital to your story telling. Remember to be realistic with them. Take any and all opportunity to observe people in different settings. You can even take a Sociology class at the local college to help understand how people interact with each other and to get genuine reactions for various things. The more real you can make your characters, the stronger the story.

Sometimes your characters will develop into a voice in your head. No, you are not crazy. This can be a great tool in understanding them and getting them on the page correctly. In my experience, they will DEFINITELY let you know if something isn’t them.

Lastly, keep a page or two in your story notebook dedicated to each character. Keep track of all the information they give you, it will come in handy when you start to write!

Smiles,

Kira

Ask Azra: Saving the Towels from Masturbating Teens

Dear Azra,

I’m a single mom raising twin boys. They are about that age where they are starting to notice girls (and I’ve started finding a lot of my dishtowels cemented into crumpled heaps). How can I talk to them about masturbation and, more specifically, not to use the dish towels for their emissions? I am not sure my washing machine can handle many more epoxied towels.

Mother of Masturbators

Ah, one of the more awkward phases of parenting. Masturbation can be a sticky subject (pun totally intended!) and dealing with how to handle the resulting mess is a difficult conversation. At least your focus is on the right problem; the state of your hand towels. That, madam, is precisely where your concern should be!

Towels are an underrated commodity. So much so that no one realizes how important those swathes of terry cloth are to their everyday life until they don’t have them anymore. Alternate options for spontaneous emissions can get costly and are not necessarily good for the environment.

So what is a mother to do? The answer is quite obvious.

Forbid your sons from committing the sin of Onan while they are under your roof. Be clear that because they have befouled the sanctity of the hand towels, they cannot indulge while in your home. That’s not saying they can’t partake elsewhere like the shed, school, a friend’s house, or wherever they can find a modicum of privacy and their own seed receptacles.  They just can’t do it at home.

Because they are teens, you may need to install anti- masturbation cameras in all corners of your home. If there’s any hint of hanky panky, then an air horn-like siren will sound, alerting everyone in the neighborhood that one of your sons is about to self-gratify. What happens after that is up to you. Do you have an army of neighbors come and scold/ mock the boy? Do you have your family members douse him in ice cold water? Really, the possibilities are endless. And, at the end of the day, you will have successfully saved your hand towels!

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: My Coworker Smells Really Bad...

Dear Azra

There’s a guy that sits next to me at work who stinks to high heaven. I mean literally, stinks! I’m not sure when the last shower this guy had, but it must have been months ago. How do I tell him that he smells really bad and how can I get him to bathe?

Wishing For Nose Blindness

The question I have for you, Blindness, is why are you so insecure about your own human smell? You do understand that scents like linen sheets, sugar cookies, and plumeria are not realistic for a human to maintain, right?

Humans tend to forget that they are creatures of earth and as such, have a certain olfactory markers. They are called pheromones and they are nature’s perfume! Pheromones are the smell that your pores give off in relation to your mood or health and your general state of living. Why so many humans are ashamed of this glorious odor is something that, truth be told, baffles the hell out of me. You lot wash away your unique stench and mask it with unrealistic and unhealthy pheromone standards. No healthy human is supposed to smell like “Obsession” or “Cherry Blossoms”.

Perhaps your coworker isn’t the problem, Blindness. I think he is spot on and living the life he is meant to. Maybe you are the problem because you promote inhumane scent standards.

I challenge you to adopt your coworker’s way of life for a minimum of 90 days. Don’t bathe, use scented soaps or lotions, or even that body spray stuff that is so popular nowadays.  Your natural smell isn’t something to be ashamed of. Revel in it! This is how the creator made you! I guarantee you will have a new appreciation for life after those 90 days. Also, stop trying to push unrealistic scent standards on your peers. It’s just rude.

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.

Indie Book Review: Without Benefits by Nicole Tone

I have a confession to make. Well, a couple of confessions.

First, the illustrious Nicole Tone is my cousin. I did buy my copy of Without Benefits, though, because I am a staunch believer in supporting authors I know by contributing to their sales.

Second, Without Benefits is definitely not my typical read. Women’s Fiction, is not really something I am all that familiar with. I am more of a fantasy, science fiction, horror chick, so as a result, I am not confident that I fully ‘get’ this story.

Alright, confessions are done and so without further ado, here is my review of Without Benefits.

Emma is living a life she doesn’t quite fit in with. She has a job that she’s good at, a boyfriend, Connor, who seems to dote on her and a comfortable apartment in a posh neighborhood in Seattle. She’s convinced herself that this is the life she wants, but there’s still something just at the edges of her dream come true that haunts her. After 9/11, Emma moved from NYC to Seattle to attend school at the Conservatory. Her real passion is playing music, something that she hasn’t touched since graduating ten years previously. Her decisions in life are all thrown up in the air with the sudden re-emergence of her college crush, Owen, and his request for her to play with him in the Symphony.

Now, I stated before that this was not my typical read. There were some things that I didn’t quite understand as far as Emma being in the upper reaches of middle class. The feel of the story was different than what I am used to and I liked it. It was an intriguing window into a society that I am not at all familiar with. It was a page turner because Nicole did a good job at generating a sense of investment in her characters. There were some things I hoped she’d go into more detail with like the interactions of Emma and her friends, the decision to partner with one of her friends on a project, and so on.

One of the downfalls of this story is that I don’t quite understand why the main character made the decisions that she did. I can safely say that I would not have made those same choices, but that is also the beauty of getting into another person’s point of view; it makes you re-examine yourself and your own reactions. The character of Emma had some interesting thought processes to hook the reader, but some of her reactions to other characters caused a few great moments of built up tension to fizzle. These moments left me feeling a little unsatisfied. At the same time, some of the lack of a reaction was what drove me to keep turning the page; there had to be a bigger reaction to all of the drama at some point. As a fellow writer, I further confess that there were some plot points that felt a little forced to me, still this may be a result in a differences in story-development styles.

I have conflicting emotions about the ending of this story, but in the spirit of not giving away too many spoilers, I will not address them here. Get your copy of Without Benefits on Amazon and tell me what you think of it! We can have a book discussion! Also, check out my cousin’s website at www.nicoleatone.com.

Smiles,

Kira

Writers Helping Writers: Research, Research, Research

Now that you’ve got your story idea, it’s time to really flesh it out with details. How do you do that? The answer is simple: RESEARCH! (Alternating yays and groans). This is the part of writing where your browser history may lead to the NSA or FBI keeping an open file on you. You are going to google some weird shit, I guarantee it.

If you don’t know where to start your research, think about your story idea and type into your trusty browser one detail that you know about your story. For instance, do you know where your story takes place? How old the main character is? What time period does it take place in? Does it involve animals? Really, any detail will do to send you down the rabbit hole that is researching a novel.

Remember it’s important to keep notes on what you are researching. I recommend keeping a notebook for the story so you can write down the bits that jump out to you. Some of the information will make it into the story, but a lot of it won’t and that’s alright. That excess knowledge will still be incredibly useful as you write.

What you discover can also cause your story idea to grow and expand. Research will provide locations, time periods, clothing details, mannerisms, how-to’s, descriptions, you name it to fill in the blank spots that aren’t readily apparent.

The best part about research is that it often will bring about more story ideas. That is why it’s crucial to keep learning new things.

Research for a story is almost never done. Even when you think you have all the details you can possibly wring out the internet, when you start writing, more things will come up- like is the trajectory of a cannon ball hampered by rain? Or how much blood can be drained from someone before actually killing them? Research is the whole reason I know how much gasoline it would take to cremate a 160 pound body. See? NSA and FBI material.

Keep researching!

Kira

Ask Azra: How to Tell Someone You Gave Them an STD

Azra, help!

A month ago, my girlfriend and I got into a huge fight. We technically broke up, so I went and had sex with someone else. My girlfriend and I have since gotten back together, and I haven’t told her about my little adventure. Well, I’ve recently been tested for an STD and the results are positive. How do I tell my girlfriend that she probably now has Gonorrhea without her breaking up with me for good?

Regretfully Laid

Oh, Regretfully Laid. Your pickle got you into quite a pickle, didn’t it? Well, never fear. Uncle Azra is here to help.

The first thing you need to consider is whether or not you will tell her in person. There are benefits to confessing from afar, like not being kicked in the kumquats. However, I’ve found that it is far more impactful to be there in person. It is better to gage if the presentation is going well or if adjustments should be made along the way. For instance, the balloons spelling out the STD make her see red? You can let them go into the atmosphere, thereby nullifying the inevitable emotional outburst at the extravagant use of helium.

 Next, decide on the setting for your confession. I would recommend somewhere public. Her place of work or even in the middle of a busy restaurant.  The more people that are around the better. Why? Because the more people around mean more witnesses. More witnesses mean more likely videos of the interaction will hit YouTube. This means more entertainment for the rest of us. You could be internet famous depending on how this goes!

Finally, the most important part- the message delivery. There are countless ways to blurt it out and it is imperative that you choose the right one. Singing telegrams are a fun and cheerful way to get the message conveyed. As are specially decorated cakes that can be shared with others. There are also these wonderful plushies that are in the shape of the bacterial infection of whatever disease you gave her. If you can’t find them on the internet, I bet you can ask someone to make one for you. By making the delivery of the message fun and cheerful, it will lessen the impact of the cold, hard truth that now she has to get medical attention for a disease you gave her.

All of this is if you decide to come clean. If you don’t want to even broach the subject, let alone confess to any sort of wrong doing, there are a few different avenues to take:

1.       Deflection. Get good and angry and insist that she was the one who gave you the infection, not the other way around. Stick to your guns if you choose this tactic. There is most likely going to be confusion and a lot of tears on her end. Stay strong and commit to this.

2.       You can get enough of the drugs you are treating yourself with for her and sprinkle them into her food thereby curing her without her even knowing something was amiss!

3.       Plead ignorance. You don’t know what’s wrong with her and her lady bits. You’re not a gynecologist, nor do you play one on TV (unless you do play one on TV... In which case you can plead that you aren’t a REAL gynecologist. Unless you ARE a real gynecologist, in which case, refer to deflection).

Best of luck, Regretfully Laid! I’m eagerly awaiting you becoming an internet celebrity!

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.

Coming of Age; Understanding When Your Parenting Job Is Done

Being a parent is a thankless job. You pour your blood, sweat, and tears into your spawn and surround them with fervent prayers that they turn out to be meaningful contributors to the human race. It seems that the work is never done. What many parents fail to realize is that there is, in fact, an end date to all this parenting torment! Believe it or not, it is when your child becomes, dare I say it? An adult.

Oh sure there’s all this hooey about how they will always be your little snot rag and how in your heart you will always worry if they are getting enough to eat. Bullshit. That is the parental guilt talking (yeah, it has a way of backfiring on those who use it.... beware).

The reality is this. Once your offspring becomes an adult, you are FREE! If you did things right, then your little monster can’t wait to become independent of you. That’s even better because it will make the transition period easier to deal with.

So really, the only question you should be asking is when does this magical age of adulting occur?

The answer is a little complicated and has to do with various cultural and societal norms in your location and time period. For example, many cultures believe that once a person reaches puberty, they are considered an adult. Others tend to go with what their government considers age of majority. That would be 18 in the US. To be safe, I’d average out what the government’s age of majority with your own cultural and or religious definition of adult is and then viola! There you have it, your end date to parenting!

What does it mean to be done with parenting? Well, it’s simple, really. You stop teaching them things. You make them be independent and make their own way in life. To test if they are ready, many cultures have what they consider a right of passage into adulthood where the person has to prove they are capable of taking care of themselves. If your culture doesn’t have anything like that, you can definitely make one up. Bonus points if you make it escape room style where you magically disappear at the end. At least for a little while.

Remember, parents. There is an end to all of this madness. Hang on just a little longer. You will soon be done with your contribution to your species!

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,

Azra

***Disclaimer***Azra has been around children for centuries. While not having any of his own, part of being an exiled angel means blending in on earth. As he traveled the earth, he picked up on a lot of parenting practices across the globe. This blog is meant to share his parenting wisdom with a new generation. And to win a bet.

*Note: any advice given is meant to be satirical and not to be taken literally. Please do not exercise it upon any living being, child or otherwise.*

Indie Book Review: The Scary Girls by JD Kaplan

I recently had the pleasure of reading JD Kaplan’s The Scary Girls. The Tucson Festival of Books was where I was picked up a copy of not only The Scary Girls, but also JD’s wife’s book Unmasked (more about this one later).

The Scary Girls is a Sci-Fi modern fantasy that centers around Trick, a guitar player that was just dumped by his girlfriend. Heartbroken, Trick auditions for and joins another band of beautiful, otherworldly women that he affectionately calls the scary girls (viola! Title). It becomes quickly apparent that the scary girls are not quite human. There are small hints that Trick may not be fully human either, but exactly what he is isn’t readily apparent.

The themes of this book seem to be family, acceptance, and a bit of self-discovery.

I love how Celtic mythology plays a role in this story. It’s a mythos that isn’t too widely known or regarded and the use of it makes me happy (except for the description of the Morrigan). Also the vivid descriptions and the overall concept are stunning.

I do feel that this story could have benefited by being written in third person instead of first, however. The reason for this is while there are amazing opportunities to do a self-discovery story line in first person, in this particular tale, there are too many other elements that get in the way. Also, there’s a lot of internal monologue that gets repetitive at times. This results in a more tell, don’t show vibe from the story telling perspective. If it were in third person, I feel this would be cut down quite a bit.  Having the main character explain everything and react to everything around him doesn’t quite lend itself to the conclusion of the book; it betrays too much emotion and feeling.

There were some bits that the pace dropped off and left me a little bored. Alternatively, there were also some parts that I was confused as to what purpose they served. It seems that the scenes in the dreamside are more in reference to another book by JD (Waking Dreams: the Torment of Colin Pierce) than really having anything to do with Trick’s tale.

The ending was not what I expected, and I was pleasantly surprised at it. That being said, I do think that elements of it could have been executed a little more precisely and hinted at earlier on in the book. Red Herrings abound, but there is a lack of foreshadowing that would really balance it out.

All in all, The Scary Girls has a compelling story line. The characters are diverse and there’s great potential with their dynamics together. I think the characters themselves could be fleshed out a little more and taken to a deeper level, but overall, they drive the plot forward effectively.

If you are interested in experiencing The Scary Girls for yourself, you can find it at www.thedreamside.com.

Smiles,

Kira