Fair to Middling- Behind the Scenes

Hey everyone! Kira here. As promised, I’m giving you the inside scoop on my latest book, Fair to Middling which is coming out later this week (Friday, 10/26). If you’d like to pre-order your copy, you can do so by clicking this link: http://www.fivesmilingfish.com/shop/pre-order-fair-to-middling-print

This book was originally planned by myself and Grandpa with more than a little nudging from Grandma. The idea was to get all of his wonderful, vivid stories recorded and to give him something to focus on other than Grandma’s failing health.

I’d always known Grandpa had been in WWII, but he’d never really spoken about it too much when I was growing up. When we started recording his tales, I wasn’t sure how much he’d actually say.

Turns out a lot.

We spoke every day for five years. At first, I called about the project, but then to just check in on him after Grandma passed. He began all of our conversations with “oh, I’m fair to middling” and ended the with “I love you very much. Thank you for calling.” We shared jokes and we shared sorrow. We had adventures, some of which I’ve recorded in the book.

Grandpa died three years ago this November. 

I wasn’t prepared for the actual writing of this book. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this type of story is not what I usually write. I wasn’t sure where or how to start and, with Grandpa’s passing, I was terrified I started too late, that I missed some vital piece of information that would cause the whole project to go up in flames.

This was, by far, the most difficult piece of writing I’ve done to date simply in terms of how sheerly personal the subject matter is and how emotional the topic is for me. (I still can’t read part 10 without bursting into tears). However, that’s not to say it wasn’t blessed. So many times I was halted in the process by missing whole swathes of information. Within a matter of hours, I’d discover a misfiled video of Grandpa that answered all of my questions. I’d find pages of notes out of nowhere only to realize that it was the exact bits I needed to get unstuck. I like to think Grandpa was there guiding me through the many drafts of the story, making sure I got it right.

Grandpa was an amazing story teller, one that I wish I could be like. This book is my attempt to honor the man he was and pay tribute to his time with us.

This project was a promise. It was a post mortem connection to a man that influenced my entire life on so many levels. Now that the promise has been kept and his stories will be available for everyone, I can picture the twinkle in his eyes and him giving me that lopsided grin. Ever so faintly, I can hear him say, “I love you very much. Thank you for calling.”

Ask Azra: Handling a Haunted House

Dear Azra,

My parents moved us into a haunted house. No joke.  We moved in over the summer and very strange things have been happening. There are weird noises during the night and stuff moves on its own.  I’ve seen some crazy things, things I can’t explain. Jimmy, my older brother, says that a lot of people died in the house before we moved in. It was the home of a serial killer who chopped up his victim’s bodies and ate parts of them. He says the serial killer killed himself in my bedroom to avoid getting caught by the cops. How can I protect myself against the ghost of a serial killer? Or, how can I convince my parents to get us all out of there?


Haunted and Hating It.

Dear Haunted,

There is only one way to fix your problem. You have to actually catch the ghost in question and you have to use your brother Jimmy to do it. Obviously, Jimmy has some inside knowledge on your specter. You need to get all of the information you can out of him.  Next, when you’ve discovered the ghosts weaknesses or what it wants, set traps for it. What kind of traps would catch a ghost, you may ask? Simple. You need several cameras placed all around the house, like they did in Paranormal Activity. When you are ready to confront the ghost — and you will need to — make sure you are as insulting as you possibly can be. Ghosts are notoriously emotional creatures. They are super easy to get a rise out of if you can taunt them correctly.

When you have sufficiently gotten them to react to your insults (meaning they’ve manifested physically), you need to catch them. I would suggest a net or some sort of electro-magnetic field. Then the ghost will be entirely at your mercy!

Voila! No more horrible haunting experiences, and with the added bonus of having either blackmail material or proof of life after death to take to the press!

Don’t let the (dead) man get you down!


***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.


Where has Kira been?

It’s been awhile since I contributed to this blogsphere. In my defense, my life has been a veritable whirlwind of activity.

What’s been going on, you may wonder? Well? I’ve just finished a very personal project that’s taken almost a decade from conception to completion. Many of you have probably seen my posts about Fair to Middling- a book I began working on along with my grandpa. As of the writing of this blog, I’m waiting for the first print run to be delivered. I’ll talk about this specific project in a later blog as it’s vastly different than what I usually like to create.

Some of you may be familiar with Azra’s parenting blogs. Well, based on the relative success of those, he effectively Patrick Swayze’d me into getting an illustrated parenting guide into production.  (Yes he kept me up during all hours of the night. No, it wasn’t just the song Henry the 8th. It was so much worse...) I’m working very closely with a new talented artist and anticipate this comic-like publication to come in the next year or so. Stay tuned for more details!

I’ve also begun a new, unrelated project that is sending me down so many research rabbit holes. I absolutely love this part of creating a new story, but it has eaten up a crazy amount of time. I’ll go more into this in a separate blog post.

Then there’s been the madness of my day job and the constant struggle of maintaining some semblance of sanity. It’s not leaving a lot of time for blog updates.

But all this is about to change! Fall has arrived and I don’t know about you, but when things start to cool off in the desert, there’s a definite sense of renewal. It’s October- our favorite time of year and I’m even more energized to make sure my blogs are up to date and to get all of these projects that are floating around out there into production and ready for you.

There’s so much we have planned in the upcoming months. I can’t wait to share it all with you.

Also, Azra can’t wait to get back to dispensing his fabulous (read- horrible) advice.

Thanks for bearing with me!



Ask Azra: Just Fired from my Job

Hi Azra. I just lost my job due to company downsizing. I’ve got a family to support. What should I do?


Jobless in Seattle.

Well Jobless, there is only one thing you can do. Get your job back. When companies downsize, it’s their way of weeding out the insincere. If you want a job with them, then you have to prove it. How, you may ask? It’s quite simple really. Ever been dumped by someone? Remember how you did everything and anything to get them to take you back? Yeah, it’s the same with big companies. You’ve gotta shmooze them. Wine and dine them. Stalk them. Make them sorry they let you go. Dig up all the dirt you can on them and blackmail upper management into getting your job back, with a raise to boot.

Remember, the company is just asking you to prove that you want to work for them. It’s no different than any other romantic relationship. You’ve gotta work at it. If it doesn’t work out, well then, you didn’t really want it, did you?

Wishing you gainful employment,


***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: Coming Out of the Closet

Dear Azra. My parents are super strict and really religious. I’ve struggled with coming to terms with my sexuality for years because of how I was raised. Well, it’s finally gotten to the point that I can’t hide it any more. I have to tell them that I am gay. How should I break the news to them?


Closet Case

I hate to tell you, Closet Case, but you are going to absolutely devastate your parents. The last thing any parent wants to hear is that they have failed as a parent. To recap, parenting is ensuring that your offspring contribute to the perpetuation of the human species. If you are gay, then you aren’t procreating, which means that they have failed as parents. Remember, your sexuality isn’t about you, it’s about your parents.

In order to come clean about their failure, you will have to make it pretty spectacular. Here are some ideas for coming out of the closet that won’t completely devastate your parents.

1.       Contrive to have them walking in on you while you are having sex with your partner. This will ensure significant mortification for everyone involved and, while it will get across the point that you are gay, it will also have the added benefit of never being spoken about again out of sheer embarrassment.

2.       Turn it into a celebration. Hire a parade of Drag Queens to show up at their church on Sunday and dance to YMCA by the Village People. Bonus points if you can get the local chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, because, well themes are important. They will help out you to not only your parents, but their whole church community too.

3.       Take them to your favorite strip joint and have them watch in abject horror as you get on stage and strut your stuff!


The long and short of it is this. Yes, your parents failed in raising you, but you still have a life to live. You deserve to be happy and no one who lived their life in the closet was ever happy. Just remember that when your parents bemoan who and how you are it is really their fault, not yours. So here’s one last piece of advice. Take everything from your childhood that was an indication of your emerging sexuality and put it in a power point presentation. Go through it all with them and point out what they had obviously missed. Remind them that it is their fault. But also tell them you are glad they failed because you are happy with who you are.

Never settle for a closet bound life,


***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: How many edits does it take to make a novel?

It’s been some time since you’ve hidden your glorious first draft from yourself. You have created enough distance from it to be objective and ready to fix what needs to be fixed. It’s time to edit!

Now, your instinct will be to jump right in and start changing stuff. Don’t. Give yourself time to read through the story without making any changes. The reason for this is that when you start changing things, it will send a ripple effect throughout the novel. It is best to understand where all the changes will take place and how it will affect the rest of the story. Keep a separate document for your editing notes during this initial editing read through. Note down page numbers and what you need to address. It can be as big as complete plot change or as little as a spelling fix. This means as you read, you are creating a list of things to address in your edit. It will help guide your edits and make sure all of those ripples are accounted for.

When you are done with the initial read through, save your first draft into a separate document. This will be the first edit document. I personally like to keep versions of my stories by edits so I can see the progression. This is in case I change my mind about deleting that plot point. I can go back to the original and salvage what’s already been written and edit it into the newer edited version. Believe me, it happens more than you think. Plus it’s fun to see how far you come along the editing process. You can see how the manuscript transforms.

When I am ready to start actually changing things, I tend to go chapter by chapter and address the big things first. This means the plot changes, character reactions, prose clean up, etc. One of the absolute biggest things is the concept of “show, don’t tell”. More or less this means not telling the reader what’s going on, but showing the reader through descriptions, character actions/reactions and body language. A good way to look at it is that you are painting a picture with your words. Your words are being translated into images in each reader’s mind, so why not get as descriptive as possible? Instead of writing “Chloe was upset”, show what that means. “Chloe’s fingertips were white with the pressure of pressing into her hips. Her eyes narrowed into suspicious slits as she cut off his stammering excuses with an angry exhalation.” See the difference?

            So how many edits need to happen to make a coherent novel? A whole bunch. Not only do you have to go through it (I recommend at least three times), you then hand it over to one or two trusted people. These people need to be ones you trust and have a very strong friendship with because if they are worth their salt as editors, they will rip your beloved manuscript apart. You take your time to heal from their edits and realize that what they are saying is intended to make your work even better than it was before. You edit again with their feedback, rinse and repeat. How many times? Well, it depends. You will know when it is ready for the final clean up edits.

            Next, you give the story to a few beta readers. More on them in a later blog post though.   The last stage of editing is giving it to a professional editor for either content or line/copy edits. It is up to you and your budget for how much in-depth editing you want the professional to do. Because I have two very trusted friends who can find a content error like a shark can find blood, I usually have my (absolutely fabulous) editor, Beth, do copy edits- meaning grammar, spelling, etc.

            The whole process can take months or even a whole year depending on how busy your editors are. Have patience. Remember, this is when your draft becomes a novel. It is being polished and perfected. Consider this the labor of bringing a fully ready manuscript into the world and no one ever said giving birth was easy. In the end, you will have a beautiful new novel to present to the world.

Happy Editing!


Ask Azra: Tattoo or Not to Tattoo?

Dear Azra. A friend of mine wants to get into tattooing people for a living. He asked if I would be willing to let him practice his art on me. I’ve never gotten a tattoo before. What do you think? Should I do it?


Ink Curious

Dearest Curious. What an incredible opportunity you’ve been given! Do you know that people spend decades searching for a reasonable tattoo artist? You’ve got one who is just getting started and that means your skin will be worth millions when he becomes famous! You just have to make sure you outlive him (because statistically speaking, artists only become famous after they’ve died).

I think you should definitely let him practice on you. This is a once in a lifetime chance. However, since it is your first tattoo, you should know some basic things about the process.

·         Tattoos hurt. A lot. Prepare yourself with pain killers or that numbing stuff from the dentist.

·         It is best to let your artist decide on the art and the placement of the piece. They are, after all, the experts. That being said, the more visible the ink, the better. See about getting some on your face.

·         Don’t wash it. Washing a fresh tattoo will allow the ink to run out. Just stay dirty.

Happy Inking!


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

Ask Azra: How To Be The Other Woman

Hi Azra! I’ve been seeing someone for about four months now. I feel like things are getting pretty serious between us. The only problem is that he’s married. He says their relationship has been over for years, but he’s not willing to get a divorce. He makes me so happy, happier than I’ve ever been. I can’t imagine myself without him. I need to know how to get him to leave his wife. We were meant to be together and she is just in the way.



Dear Lovelorn. I really hate to tell you this, but if he’s not leaving his wife after four months of seeing you on the side, then you’ve REALLY got to step up your game. Girl, he should have left her after the first date with you! Never fear. I will point out a couple of common mistakes you and several other women have made when they decided to seriously date a married man and how to correct them.

·         Not understanding your enemy. If you decide to hook up with a married person, odds are that you are going to make a mortal enemy out of their current spouse or significant other. The likelihood of this increases the longer the affair goes on. You need to give yourself an edge by thoroughly investigating the enemy. The name of the game is getting enough dirt to completely bury them. Stalk them on social media. Infiltrate their circle of friends. Make them actually like you before they find out you’re in the process of stealing their spouse. When they do finally discover what’s going on, you’ll have a significant advantage in the war ahead of you.

·         As you get to know your enemy, it’s equally imperative to clean up your own history. As soon as the news breaks that you’re in the picture, you will be the target of all sorts of investigative googling. Don’t give them anything that can be used against you. Make your own internet record as spotless as you can. You need to outshine them in every way possible.

·         Make sure your intentions are clear to the person you are seeing. You intend to be in their life indefinitely and you won’t take no for an answer. Furthermore, you intend to take this inconvenient truth to anyone who will listen- including their friends and family. Do not, I repeat, do not keep this affair a secret! Shout it from the rooftops! Make sure you gather significant evidence of the relationship and post it on every social media outlet there is. This will make sure your chosen partner can’t say that you’ve been making up or that you are delusional. After all, the foundation of a true relationship is honesty. Also, this will be incredibly helpful for blackmail purposes should the relationship sour.

·         Give deadlines for certain milestones in said relationship. Get that engagement ring at the five month anniversary! Insist on moving in after the third date! It’s not like they don’t know what being in a relationship is like.

There are many more pitfalls, but for now these tips should get you on the right track. Good luck, Lovelorn!

I want an invite to the wedding!


***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 out of a Blind Date

Dear Azra. My friends are setting me up on a blind date that I don’t want to go on. I’m okay being single and I’ve told them that, but none of them are listening to me. They haven’t even given me the guy’s name so I can’t do a social media search to see what kind of crazy I’m getting into. All they tell me is that he’s nice and that he will meet me at the restaurant at seven pm Friday night. How can I get out of this?

Happily Single.

Well, Single, have you stopped to think why are your friends putting you through this? Why are they setting you up with random strangers? Could it be that you are not, in fact, good at being single? Perhaps you are such a mess when you are alone that setting you up with someone, no matter how random, is their last shot before one of them just ends up adopting you out of pity.

But I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

Since you don’t want your friends to keep trying to set you up, you’ve only got one chance to make this convincing. You have to make it blatantly clear, beyond all shadow if a doubt that you cannot be trusted in a relationship.  Not only do you have to scare away the blind date, but you also have to traumatize your friends enough so they don’t ever try something like this again. Go big or go home.

Since you are already single, you probably know how to scare off potential suitors on your own. Just in case, here are some tips on making sure you always identify with Beyonce’s song, “All the Single Ladies”.

·         Make a solid first impression by embracing your inner cat lady. Except don’t use cats, they are too mainstream. Use wild raccoons instead. Do your best to look like a trash panda- go excess smoky eye and over sized patchwork sweaters to make you look homeless. Bring your own feral raccoon to the restaurant. Say he is your service animal. Demand to inspect the dumpster of the restaurant before being seated. This way you can ferret through the discarded plates to see what is on the menu. Act like a raccoon. Be a raccoon.

·         Research him as much as you can... with him right in front of you. This is the perfect way to ask all of those nosy questions right to his face. Find his social media profiles. Ask what he meant by that vague post five years ago. Question his relationship with every other woman he is friends with. Demand to know why he doesn’t tag his mother in every other post. Pull his Credit Score and go over it with a fine tooth comb. Does he have any priors? Question him about his employment record. After all, this is supposed to be a “get to know you” date, right? Pull out all the stops. You never know if you will uncover the fact that he is a serial killer or a petty thief.

If, for some weird reason, the guy is still interested in pursuing a relationship with you, you only have one more option left.


That’s right. Vomit all over the table, the food, and the sorry bastard. Then run for your life.

Here’s to your Dream Date!


***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.

How To Stop Online Dystopian Politics From Killing America

Politics was never the center of my life. I’m not an avid news consumer. In fact, the only reason I’ve picked up the political awareness is that I am working on a story where one of the characters is supposed to save the world. For research purposes, I lifted my head and started paying attention to what was happening in my country.

That’s when I fell down the rabbit hole.

I now completely understand the old adage “never discuss politics or religion”.

Being a reasonably intelligent person, this sudden descent into the cut-throat arena of American politics has been... well, the best way to put it is that it’s an experience I will never forget. This is probably because our entire culture has been saturated in extreme politics. There’s simply no escaping it because it is everywhere; social media, biased news reports, protests, work places, schools, the list goes on and on. There is no middle ground in this arena; there is only right or wrong and you are on one side or the other. This extremism is ripping this country apart.

The question is are we, as a society, already too far down the afore mentioned rabbit hole? Have we come too far down this twisted path of fake news, corrupt government, and pretenses of social justice? I’d be lying if my rage at the sheer lack of common human decency we display didn’t make me wish for some sort of apocalypse. Yeah. It’s pretty messed up when it seems that the only way to fix how broken we’ve become is to nuke it all and start over.

However, despite these nihilistic thoughts, I believe there’s still a kernel of hope for us. There is a way for us to back away from this brink.

You see, what is missing from all of the online screaming and frantic keyboard warriors is the calm voice of someone who strives to understand all sides of an issue. Someone who is not extreme. Someone who understands that nothing is black and white in this world of ours. The very things that make us human- our emotions, our intelligence, our rationality, and our compassion all have a place in our dialogues. The divisiveness we are all experiencing is the direct result of no longer having the ability to balance these things. A lack of moderation. We need to put aside all of this partisan bullshit and work together towards common goals. We are sorely deficient in rational, yet empathetic voices of the average, non-politically charged American.

I am not that person yet, but I am trying to be.

What’s more, I believe that you have it in you to be one too. In fact, if we, as Americans, are going to survive this explosion of extremism, our country desperately needs everyone to be rational adults about things.  We all need to change. We all need to be better.

Here’s how we can start.

1.       Listen to each other respectfully and with the intent to understand. We are so caught up in the echo chambers of our own points of view that it’s easy to alienate and vilify those that don’t think like us. Stop it. Make a point to understand different opinions. Ask questions to understand. Empathize. If you don’t agree, then say politely that you disagree. That is okay. I promise, disagreeing with someone, when done in a mature fashion, does not end a relationship. Have mature, adult conversations.

2.       Understand that most things on the internet and social media (especially memes and “info” graphics) are not true. Did you know anyone can put anything on the internet? As a result, it’s full of inaccuracies, opinions, and it’s a breeding ground for fake news and rumors. A good practice is to treat anything you read on social media as entertainment. Do not take it seriously. Social media is a place for fun and connecting with people. It is not a platform for social justice or divisiveness.

3.       If, for some reason, you fall for that incredibly poignant political post (and believe me, I’ve been there), please oh please research it. Look the topic up in different sources. Verify all the information in it is correct. Recognize whether it is an opinion or if it is a fact. Now, this process can be very problematic. Like I said before, we are inundated with incredible amounts of biased information. Fact-checking is no longer a simple process. A good rule of thumb is to find at least 3 independent sources to corroborate the information. The more sources the better, but shoot for at least 3. Be sure to understand the sources- ask yourself is the source reputable? Does it show any bias?

4.       When you feel the need to share or repost something of a controversial nature, stop. Think twice and consider the following criteria:

                   a.       Is it fact or opinion?

                   b.       Is it intentionally hurtful? (Examples: “stupid snowflakes”, “Nazi alt-right” “Lazy millennials”, etc.). Typically, if there’s name calling, it’s a bad idea. We are better than that, so let’s act like it.

                   c.       Will posting this start or propel forward a meaningful conversation?

5.       It’s alright to say you don’t know something and it’s not going to be the end of the world if you change your mind. These points were brought up at a recent Frank Turner show I went to. They stuck with me because it’s absolutely true. We are intelligent beings, but there is no way we can know everything about every topic. It’s human to admit that you don’t know something, but it takes real integrity to start asking questions and learning about what you don’t understand. If we don’t allow ourselves to learn, to change, to adapt with all of this new information, we will never grow beyond this point.

If everyone in America can embrace and consistently practice these 5 things, I truly believe we can turn our society around. We can stop dystopian politics in their tracks. We can stop the fake news cycles by not participating in them any longer. We can create the kind of America that we’ve always wanted, the one we’ve dreamed about.

We just have to do this together.

United We Stand,


Writers Helping Writers: You finished your first draft! Now what?

You did it! You actually finished your first draft! Congratulations! Welcome to the 3% of writers who actually DO finish that first draft! It was a long road to get here. There was the beginning where everything seemed to go well. Then you hit the middle where you got a bit bored. You had to push yourself through obvious plot holes you didn’t realize you had until you were upon them. Then there were the several plot twists that you weren’t planning for. The days where you didn’t even want to look at the story, days where you couldn’t even get to the story, characters not wanting to do what their told and yet not giving you anything else to go on. Finally, the end where you finally said “screw it, I’ll edit this into something decent later”. I understand. I have been there myself.

So, now that you have a first draft, you are ready to begin editing, right?


Here’s what you are going to do. Put the manuscript away. Hide it in a file on your laptop, bury the notebook in the bill drawer, and forget about it. Seriously. You need to put some distance between you and that work in progress STAT.

The reason for this is that you are still too close to the project. Editing a novel, especially your own, is a completely different mindset than writing. If you begin editing as soon as you are done writing, it will defeat the purpose, which is to break through all of those plot holes, clean up that shoddy prose, and flesh out that one scene you just didn’t want to right that one time. If you don’t allow yourself time and space from your magnificent work of art, you aren’t going to be able to see where you need to touch it up.

So, forget about your story for a while. Go do something else. Catch up on real life for a bit. Start a new story. Read some books. Just give yourself a month or two away from your work in progress. I promise, it is the best thing for it.

Trust me, it's better this way.


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.



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?


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!


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,



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!


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,


#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


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,


***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?


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!


***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!