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

Writers Helping Writers: Cultivating Your Book Idea

There are you are, minding your own business, walking down the street when BAM! It comes out of nowhere. The best idea for a novel EVER! You have to get it written down somehow, there’s no way this idea would be bad! The world NEEDS this story!

We’ve all been there. We’ve all had that genius story idea that would be perfect. But how do you get from incredible lightning strike from your muse to published work? Well, this blog series is aimed at the tough in-between times of idea and publication. We will start where every novel starts and that is the idea.

Ideas, especially story ideas, as a general rule are not fully formed. Often times they come only in bits and parts and it is up to us to string those bits together to generate a decent full-blown novel idea. When you have that spark of an idea, write it down and don’t just stop there. Ask questions of it. What if scenarios. Who are the players? Keep a record of what you discover.

Sometimes not all the answers are apparent, either. This is where novel ideas require some patience. It takes time for an idea to evolve. It takes careful cultivation in an information dense pocket of your mind. The way to create such fertile ground that is to learn new things constantly. Always expand your horizon. You never know if what you are reading about is really an aspect of your story in disguise.

Keep adding to your idea over time. Don’t let it just sit in the corner, keep playing with it in your thoughts. It’ll tell you when it is done growing. Talk about it with people you trust. Sometimes someone else can give you a new perspective or ask the right question that will spark a growth spurt of this idea.

Don’t fret too much if your idea isn’t wholly original. With 7 billion people in the world, it’s almost a guarantee that there are no ideas that have not stemmed from somewhere. That doesn’t mean stealing someone else’s work and calling it your own though. It means to start with a common theme and then look for ways to make your version unique.

Save all of the things that don’t quite fit too. I keep a file of “story bits” on hand for all of the ideas and tangents that I manage to capture as I am daydreaming and thinking.  When I am working on a new idea, I will go through that file to see if anything fits. You never know what you will need for the next idea you have.

Happy Writing!

Kira

New Year, New Blogs: A Peek Into What’s In Store For 2018

We are over a week into this New Year. So far so good, right? Well, following my own advice, I’ve decided to change up the way I do blogs this year. All of them are geared towards helping people (really, it won’t be all bad advice).

Don’t worry, Azra will still be dispensing all of his horrible advice, but it will be in a new way. Instead of focusing just on parenting, He’s decided to take on general questions about life, love, pop culture, history, even cooking. Yes, Azra has talked me into a new blog series for him called “Ask Azra” and it will be about as cheesy and terrible as his parenting blog (don’t tell him I said that).

In addition to Azra potentially ruining people’s lives, I am also introducing two new blog series: Writers Helping Writers and Indie Book Review.

Writers Helping Writers is a topic by topic overview of how to go from first draft to published novel and everything in between. This stems from my own personal experiences in the hopes that it will help aspiring authors on their own journey.

Indie Book Review is just that. I will read and review one Indie produced book a month. These books I will have gotten from my travels (I have met these authors either at conventions or book festivals) or by your suggestion. I’ve got a few good ones lined up already that I can’t wait to get into.

There is one more thing... I need your help to do all of this. That’s right, you are an integral part of my 2018 blog experiment! Here’s what I need you to do:

If you have questions for either the Ask Azra or Writers Helping Writers segments, let me know. Also, if you have an Indie produced book you want to spread the word about, give me the title and the author name and I will take the recommendation. It’s super easy to let us know your questions and recommendations. Simply drop us a line at fivesmilingfish@gmail.com. Or, you can comment on this or any posted blog. Additionally you can leave us a comment on Facebook. We really do read and appreciate any and all messages and shares.

Thank you for your help. Here’s hoping the rest of 2018 will go as well as this first week has!

Smiles,

Kira

It’s a New Year. Why Are We Making the Same Resolutions?

First, Happy New Year! I hope your hangover is slight and you did not drunk text anyone you shouldn’t have.

Now, you’ve probably already made your resolution and it’s probably along the lines of “I will lose weight/ get healthy” or “I will save more money” or “I won’t drink ever again”.

It’s the same list of self “improvements” as last year. It’s the same old promises we break year after year. By February, all that we’d promised ourselves will be out the window.

I’m usually in the same boat. Every year, I take a good, hard look at myself and point that magnifying glass right at my faults. I’m too heavy, I’m not organized enough, I’m broke, I am going nowhere in my life. I’m nowhere near as successful at life as others my age.

That’s why I think most New Year’s Resolutions fail. They are grounded in negativity and rooted in comparison with others. They are all focused on things that we are lacking or things that we are not up to par with. They are also incredibly selfish. All of those resolutions I listed off have more to do with you and your happiness as an individual than your community, your family, or your world.

So why not change this? Why not tackle the concept of New Year’s Resolution with something completely different? Instead of putting the focus on something you lack, or something you aren’t currently, or even based on yourself, why not do something that will improve the lives of those around you, like your family, or your community? New Year’s Resolution: stop being selfish and spread kindness everywhere you go.

Instead of blowing money on a gym membership that you will only use for the month of January, why not use that money to invest in your community? If you need to get out and do something instead of sit on the couch, volunteer your time with people less advantaged as you. Help your neighbors with their yardwork. Read to kids at your local library. Donate blood. Deliver handmade cards to Veteran’s Hospitals. Teach people about a favorite hobby. Learn something new from someone every day.

The world is full of so many people thinking only about themselves and what they want/need. Be different. Be someone who gives rather than takes. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Try something new this New Year. Make the commitment to think about how you can better the world around you and do it.  And hey, if this kindness/ thinking of others thing doesn’t work out, there’s always next January.

Happy New Year!

Kira

Some Assembly Required— The Lie

When giving gifts to your offspring, it is best to watch out for these three words: Some Assembly Required.

This is the biggest scam in all of capitalism.

Toy manufacturers are notorious for conning you into doing the labor of assembling their creation for them. More often than not, you do it too! Why? Because you think it’s necessary for your offspring’s full enjoyment of said purchase.

Giving presents to children isn’t as easy as it once was. Modern youngsters are no longer enthralled by simple toys. No more sticks with hoops, corn husk dolls, or moderately sized rocks.  No, everything these pint sized terrors want comes in a million microscopic plastic pieces and has to be put together with the aid of advanced engineering degrees. 

This, my dear fellow parental figures, is where you are going about all of this all wrong. Don’t buy into the manufacturer’s blackmailing techniques! Don’t let them suck away inordinate amounts of your life without even minimum wage payment. Don’t spend your holidays, birthdays, funerals, and weekends putting together the equivalency of miniature life-sized 3-D plastic puzzles. Don’t let the toy companies bamboozle you with their instructions (they are not, in fact, instructions. Really they are ancient Egyptian gossip magazines about pop stars of the time.

You know your spawn will only spend 5 minutes with the newly assembled lump of plastic. It’s just not worth the time you put into it.

So, how do you find a way out of this particular time suck? Simple.

Let the kids assemble their own toys. After all, the laws of gift giving stipulate that responsibility for said gift is transferred as soon as they rip into that wrapping paper. If they want it, then they should be the ones to struggle to put it together.

Incorporating this driving principal in your gift giving will do a number of things.

 

1.       It’ll save you a lot of money. Your offspring will think twice before asking you for the triple story swing set if you tell them that they will have to build it on their own.

2.       Your offspring will develop a new and impressive set of skills including translating assembly instructions into plain language, the science of engineering ergonomic plastic kitchens, and familiarity with cheaply manufactured tools that would supposedly work to put all of the random bits in the boxes together.

3.       You will get a lot more time back to do things that you want to do. Like finally putting together that book case from Ikea.

4.       You may be able to successfully sue the toy companies for violations of child labor laws.

It’s time to get your spawn a decent set of tools and sit back and relax. I’ve solved the some assembly required problem. You are welcome.

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.*

Myths of Childhood Part 2: Santa Claus

Lying is an integral part of being a good parent. All the best parents have that in common; they can successfully and consistently lie to their offspring. Most lies are to give a sense of hope; to soothe your offspring in stressful situations. Some lies just help you get through the day in one piece without strangling them.

We are going to discuss the more universal and socially expected lies or, as I like to call them, the myths of childhood.

There are several of these myths that we delve into overtime. Today, though, I want to discuss one particular lie we tell our young and that is the biggest myth of them all. Santa Claus.

Here’s the gist of it. Santa is an oversized elf/man/monster that, in a single evening, breaks into every house in the world and accepts sacrificed of baked goods in exchange for presents. Now, that’s an over simplification because there’s been many added nuances to this myth designed to make it even more popular over time. What started as an Eastern European tradition has blossomed into a global event that is highly anticipated throughout the year. This jolly bearded sneak thief’s progress is tracked by NORAD for the love of everything sacred. Yes. NORAD. The same people who are supposed to be guarding Americans against air attacks has a unit dedicated to the tracking of Santa Claus. This is how big this lie has grown.

Obviously there’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s take it one point at a time.

1.       Santa and his wife run a very productive toy sweatshop in the North Pole. Their “help” is really the indentured servitude of elves. Yeah, elves.

2.       He keeps track of who is “naughty” or “nice” all year long via a complicated network of spies, magic, and hidden cameras. Really, modern day security firms look to him for guidance. If you are naughty, you get coal. If you are nice, you get a fairly decent present. If you are neither naughty nor nice, but in the middle of the road, you get socks.

3.       Santa’s preferred mode of transportation is an outdated sleigh and eight flying reindeer. How he gets them to fly. . . well, it’s not really fit for the printed word.

4.       Santa has an eating disorder and is most likely diabetic considering the sheer amount of sugar he consumes on the one night a year we can account for his whereabouts.

5.       Santa has a really good marketing director. Seriously, the Coca Cola deal has gone on forever! Are we comfortable putting our children’s faiths in a lie with corporate sponsorship?

6.       Santa has become a modern day god of materialism. Fact: more people pray to Santa than any other traditional god/dess out there.

7.       Santa wears red to signify the blood of his enemies. This one I can’t prove, but considering his firm grip on the season (and beyond if we pay attention to the shopping mall stores. . .), I don’t think it’s all that far-fetched.

Sure, the idea of Santa is a good behavior modifying tool to use on your offspring, but what is the cost? A myth that has grown to such proportions tends to become a force to be reckoned with. It may be too late.

   Save Your Cookies.

     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.*

Godparents: Deciding to Whom You Should Bequeath Your Offspring

Humans tend to die. It’s one of the more unfortunate side effects of life. However, if both you and your co-parental figure manage to bite the big one before your spawn are considered fully grown by local law, then there’s the thorny issue of who will be responsible for them.

Most parents have their backups picked before their little monster even comes into the world, but for those of us who aren’t so pessimistic about our ability to survive parenthood, here are some points to consider when choosing the godparents of your mini terrors.

1.       Are the beings you chose to care for your animated DNA strands actually deities? I mean, god parents really should live up to the title, right? If you can’t have actual deities take care of your kids, then you’ll just have to settle for those of your own ilk.

2.       Do your little snot monsters know the candidates you are considering? Do they like them? Do the potential parental replacements get along with your kids? If so, cross them off the list. The best thing for your kids is to be uncomfortable with wherever they end up. Putting them in a strange place with strange people will motivate them to better themselves.  Plus, if they wind up with someone terrible, it will forever enshrine your memory. The only thing you have to do is make sure the adult knows what they are getting into.

3.       Make sure the replacement parents and/or family lives far away from where you and yours lived. Again, you want to go for the most change possible for after you pass. It will be for the best that I promise you.

Now, if you can’t find anyone that would be willing to take on your spawn, more or less sight unseen, there is one more option. You can leave your offspring to your local government. From there, they will be put into what they call a system where they will be shipped around to different strangers or even group homes until they come of age. As far as change, that would be the best option.

In the end, just do what’s right for you and your family. Give lots of thought to what would happen should you end up six feet under.

Plan Ahead,

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.*

Lessons from Nanowrimo 2017

I have survived Nanowrimo this year, more or less intact. This is an annual exercise for me and my friends. We use the motivation that Nano provides to get out the first drafts of many of our novels. We use it to finish up works that we need to just buckle down and write. It’s not just for November, either. There are year round resources and information you can access with Nano, not to mention their Camp Wrimo and meet ups. I highly encourage you to check it out if you are the writing type.

This year, my Nano project was my grandfather’s story; Fair to Middling; a very difficult topic since my grandfather passed two years ago around Thanksgiving. I’ve got videos and letters and a whole assortment of notes that I’ve been combing through. Not to mention the memories.

I want to say that everything for this Nanowrimo went perfectly. I want to say that I sat down, had butt in chair time and pounded out 1,667 words every day.

Life doesn’t happen like that.

Instead, there was an incessant buzz of adult responsibilities that distracted me from my writing. I was sick for a good week or so. We had conventions and book signings. A major recall happened on my car and there’s been a constant upheaval with our transportation. My day job has been keeping me later and later. Family has been pulling at my sleeve. The upcoming holidays and all the worry that comes along with it. The constant nagging that I still had to do things before I could write. Getting over that feeling is the hardest thing. After that, you have to convince yourself that the words you are diligently putting on the page do, in fact, make sense when strung together in a sentence. You have to ignore the little doubts crowding your head and trust that what you are writing is not complete and utter crap.

This year, I did make my word count, but only just. It was a hard-fought win. There’s still a little bit more to go in the story, but it shouldn’t take me that long before I can start editing.

All of this rambling is to make a certain point: Life will get in the way of your dreams. It will distract you, it will do its best to disillusion you, and it will try to legitimize the doubts that you aren’t good enough.

Your job is not to let it. Your job is to fight for your dreams and to achieve your goals.

It’s the only way you won’t live full of regret.

Keep fighting for what you want. Make a life on your terms, not everyone else’s.

Co-sleeping and Breastfeeding; Parenting Norms That Are Now Issues

It never ceases to amaze me how things that were the norm for parenting one hundred years ago are now the biggest controversies facing modern day parents. It’s like each generation has to build the whole parenting rules from scratch every few hundred years. They mercilessly pitch out any idea previously held and insist that the exact opposite is the way to go. Forget tried and true methods, the least logical and most counter-intuitive solutions to every day parenting problems are all the rage.

Consider two modern day issues that, in bygone years, were just common sense: Breast feeding and co-sleeping.

Breast feeding is hotly debated not only for the nutritional value, but for the sheer inconvenience of it. Mothers, who are infinitely busier with careers and other obligations than they were centuries ago, don’t have time to sit and feed their child every 2-4 hours. They don’t have time or the place to pump the breastmilk if they are away from their little scream machine, let alone convenient places to store it until they can get it back home. There’s also this weird hold over of prudishness that breasts should not be seen, especially if they are being utilized to perform the function that the creator intended. Poppycock, I say. Free the nips! Their function is to literally provide sustenance to human young. Why are humans so ashamed or offended by that?

Co-sleeping is the term now used by people to describe letting your children, often infants, sleep in the same bed as its parents instead of in a separate crib or bedroom. What people often times forget is that this is not a new phenomenon. From the dawn of time, humans have often slept in the same bed as their offspring. It was a way to promote closeness, and warmth. There’s nothing wrong with it now, except that some crackpot said it was better to separate the children from their parents early to promote independence. I am not entirely sure whose independence, but that is not the point of this blog post.

                The point I am trying to make is that boobs aren’t the problem. Ignorance and denial of the methods that have come before are the problem. If you want to be a better parent, stop and consider the methods your grandparents used, and their grandparents before them.

Knowledge is power. Earn yours.

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.*

Dealing with Divorce— Making Your Offspring Prove Who They Love More

Sometimes relationships don’t work out. It’s just a fact. However, splitting up when the two of you have offspring together can be a very messy, emotional ordeal for everyone involved. In every break up, there are winners and losers. The most important thing to remember during a divorce is that you need to be the winner and your kids could very well be the deciding factor of that.

So how do you come out on top in what seems like a no-win situation? Never fear. Uncle Azra is here with some tips to help you make your offspring prove that they love you more than your soon to be ex-significant other.

1.       Plan early for this eventuality. Even when your relationship or marriage is going well, it is prudent to prepare for the eventual end of the line. Having an exit plan will ensure you are on top when things start to go south.

2.       Pick a favorite child. It’s true that all parents have favorites, don’t let them tell you otherwise. By choosing your favorite early on, this means you’ll have an ally and a spy in the other camp during the divorce proceedings. Your favorite can also be an influencing voice on its siblings. Choose wisely. If you only have one spawn, then you need to make sure you are the favorite parent early on. Bribe them, buy their love. It will be worth it.

3.       Do everything you can to undermine the credibility and/or sanity of your ex. If they are perceived as insane to the court or the children, it will be a direct benefit to you. Do everything you can to win the offspring over to your cause.

4.       Fight for custody of the kids. Let them know that you are willing to fight for them. Bring them to the courtroom if you can.

While these obviously aren’t all the ways you can persuade your spawn to legitimize your winning status in a divorce, they will help in the long run.

Winning is everything.

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.*

Myths of Childhood Part 1: The Tooth Fairy

Lying is an integral part of being a good parent. All the best parents have that in common; they can successfully and consistently lie to their offspring. Most lies are to give a sense of hope; to soothe your offspring in stressful situations. Some lies just help you get through the day in one piece without strangling them.

We are going to discuss the more universal and socially expected lies or, as I like to call them, the myths of childhood.

There are several of these myths that we delve into overtime. Today, though, I want to discuss one particular lie we tell our young and that is the existence of the tooth fairy.

For the few who aren’t familiar with this phenomenon, let me explain. When a child loses a tooth (and they do this a few times in their life cycle- refer to my blog about teething earlier in this series) parents convince their children to put the detached tooth under their pillow so when they are sleeping called a tooth fairy comes and takes the tooth. In exchange, the tooth fairy leaves a few bucks under the pillow.

I can’t think of anything more terrifying to tell their kid.

This is the kind of lie that makes things like the human organ black market possible. Not only that, stop and consider what message this sort of thing gives young and impressionable minds. Kids are a lot smarter than they pretend to be. It’s not going to take them long to figure out that one child’s tooth is pretty indistinguishable from another. BOOM! Suddenly your offspring is borrowing your toolbox to “play” dentist with the neighbor kids.

Also, what about the natural progression of this? What I mean by that is children are, in fact, worth some serious cash. If a stupid fairy will pay a couple of bucks for a small tooth, how much would their leg be worth? Their spleen? Where does it end?

Pretty soon there will be a suspicious amount of red in your laundry and a distinct increase in kids with deformities in your neighborhood.  

And it’s all because of one innocent lie about some fairy with a tooth fetish.

For shame!

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.*