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Friday, December 28, 2012

Do You Want More?

Okay, all you Darkest Lie fans out there- I'm writing the second book, "The Sound at the Edge." It picks up approximately two weeks after the end of the first book. Now I'm willing to post the prologue of the second book on my website,, but I'm going to need something from you. If 100 of you will recommend my book to a friend and post about it here (the word "recommended" would suffice) I'll post the prologue. If I get 100 recommends AND 50 more reviews on the Amazon page, I'll post the prologue and the first chapter on my website. Cressa is in the prologue. And a deleted scene from Sanctum in book one has been added to chapter one of "The Sound at the Edge." :-)

Remember, the title of the first book came from the Shaerealm Mercenary Guard motto, "The darkest lie we're ever told is that we are alone." The title of the second book, "The Sound at the Edge," comes from current scientific study about the nature of the universe. Specifically, that we are detecting noise at the furthest edges. That's right; there is actually sound at the edge of our known universe, possibly arising from something beyond the event horizon. Could it really be music?

There will also be a return to more consistent blog posting beginning at the first of the year. Welcome to the end of this one!

Friday, December 21, 2012

My Carol

Jolly Old St. Nicholas,
I'm having a bad day.
Don't you tell a single soul
What I'm going to say.

Today's the last day of the world,
So the Mayan's say.
It's the last day of preschool,
So says my HOA.

I'll miss the kids, I'll miss their hugs,
The things we used to do,
But dear Santa, I love these kids.
That's why I came to you.

Keep them safe from guns and drugs
And from nightmares at night.
Watch out for them as they grow up,
And help them choose the right.

Help them remember they are loved.
That's my one small wish.
Well, that and to someday see my name
On the best seller list.

I won't cry when they leave today
Because I want them to see
The faith I have in each of them
And in their family.

Jolly Old St. Nicholas
If you stop by tonight,
Give them each a kiss for me,
And we'll all be all right.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

If You're Here to Help, You're in the Wrong Place

People, especially people who care about you, always come with the best of intentions. People want to help, they want to make you feel better when you're sick or sad or lonely. And usually that's great. It's awesome to have people around you to help you out, lift you up, or make you smile. But there are times when trying to make someone feel better is the worst thing you could possibly do.

I'm going to tell you a sad story. It's made up of as many pieces and parts as I could gather from different people at different times. If you're familiar with it, skip to the end. If not, I'm going to keep it brief because my hands still shake and my throat burns whenever I think about this. A little more than a week ago three young people set out to drive home for Thanksgiving. One boy and two girls, all over 18. The boy, Taylor, and one of the girls, Bailee, had recently become engaged. Recently meaning earlier that day. They were happy and excited and in love. The other girl, Madie, was Taylor's younger sister, also happy and excited. They were all good people, the kind of people that make you smile when you see them because the light around them seems a little brighter. The word "vibrant" means full of energy and enthusiasm, and if you needed a visual aid, Madie especially was the person to look at.

Blame any grammar or spelling errors on shaky hands and bleary eyes. They were in a car accident. Baliee was largely unhurt. Taylor was badly injured and for a while after it wasn't clear if he was going to survive. Madie's funeral is this Saturday.

Taylor is going to be all right, but he's going to have tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt. He and Bailee are still engaged, and if you want to help these incredible people, you can click the link below and donate to help offset some of the financial costs of this accident.

Morris Family Assistance Fund

I could spend the rest of this blog post talking about Madie, an amazing person and friend and how knowing her even as little as I do made me smile. Every time. I could talk about dealing with grief and how last week I've spent hours in my front yard cleaning, sweeping, and weeding the path in my front yard that she and several other teenagers helped to build just because she helped build it. But I'm not. Instead, I'm going to address the rest of my blog to everyone in the whole world who has ever had to interact with someone who is trying to deal with a loss.

This is how I help. This is how I'm going to do a good deed for everyone everywhere. I'm going to be a jerk and tell you exactly what I think needs to be said. I've had some experience with loss, losing friends, losing important relatives, losing a sister when I was young, and being very afraid that I was losing my mind (not exaggerating- do a google or wikipedia search for some of the more "fun" symptoms of narcolepsy like hypnagogic hallucinations  or sleep paralysis). I was pretty seriously picked on by some of my cousins growing up, and the two people I could count on for unconditional love and protection was my Grandpa Foutz (who was the inspiration for Thane's Grandpa Whitaker, knock knock jokes and all) and my dog Poochie (whose unfortunate name was not my fault.) My Grandpa died on October 10th, 1990 of a heart attack. I remember that because his viewing was held two days later on my 10th birthday. Within that week, we also had to put Poochie to sleep because of his medical issues. This was all after my little sister died, a loss I still feel.

I'm not sharing this for your pity or your sympathy, I'm telling you this so that when you read the rest of this post you will 1) know I'm serious, 2) not be offended, and 3) once again, know I'm serious. Because you, the well meaning person who knew and cared, might be going to say something unbearably stupid and painful to someone you are trying to cheer up. I want to spare both you and that person.

There are lots of platitudes and trite but true phrases that people use to try and bring peace or hope to someone who is grieving. I'll go into a list in a minute, but let me tell you all something up front. SHUT. UP. If you are trying to give someone peace or make them feel better, your intent is noble and your timing is wrong. Being left behind is painful, and nothing you say will make that lessen. People have to hurt first, and trying to take away that hurt (because after all, making someone feel better is doing exactly that) means that you are getting in the way of grief. LET THEM GREIVE. That doesn't mean leave them alone, but it does mean shut up. There isn't anything you can say, because everything is geared towards helping people gain peace and perspective and those come in time but now is not the time. If you must say something, stick to talking about the person you are there to honor and remember. Tell funny stories about them, talk about how they affected you.

But do not, please, under any circumstances, use any of the following phrases. Do not say the person whose funeral this is, is better off. We know this world is a hard, cruel place. This is not the time to remind us how hard and cruel this world can be, and realize also that this phrase, "better off," allows the person to infer that you mean without them. That isn't true. They aren't "better off" without us. They miss us too. At this moment, in this suffering of grief, "better off" is only applicable to someone who had a wasting and terrible illness, or who has lived a very long and very full life and has been waiting to go on. And even then only maybe.

Don't ever say "the sun will still rise tomorrow" or "time heals all wounds" or "just give it time." The last is the best of the three, because it at least doesn't insult the grief. But they don't mean anything. They don't fix anything. It's true, the pain and the reasons will be clearer and the peace will come in weeks or months or years, but the time it takes to gain the perspective hasn't passed yet and so talking about it is more painful than helpful. Don't. I remember a specific conversation with my own dad, who is a kind and awesome person. He told me that the sun would rise tomorrow. I told him that I wished it wouldn't, because it felt more like an insult than assistance. The idea that life goes on is painful and damaging to hear when you're experiencing real grief. Back off.

Do not talk about Madie in the past tense. Madie isn't gone. She's gone ahead. We haven't lost her, we've just been separated for a while and that hurts because the separation is so definite. Even missionaries get to write home and call twice a year. And now she is the best new missionary recruit to those spirits in prison, but that doesn't mean it isn't an adjustment for her. We don't know how much, because we have no experience with it. But every person who has gone ahead gets to come back, and we don't know when that's going to be. Maybe in another two thousand years, sure, but maybe it's tomorrow. But again, she isn't gone.

All these phrases make it feel like we have to move on. We don't. Sometimes loss hurts so much it's hard to breathe. And that's the way it should be. The depth of our grief is not a direct correlation to how much we loved her- the time it takes to start healing is not a set number of days or weeks or years. It is okay to hurt. It is okay to be in pain and to feel lost because in a very real way, we are. We spend our days assuming the people around us are going to be around us tomorrow and plan accordingly. The people who matter the most we plan around the most. When they are suddenly removed, they leave that hole where they used to fit. And then nothing else fits. So don't try to make people feel better about it. Try to let them know you understand, or if you don't, just let them know that it's okay to hurt. Because it is. Don't try to fix that or take it away.

Another one I always disliked was the trite but true "God has a plan." Yes He does. And as the Author and Finisher of our faith, He knows best. But saying that He has a plan is like saying the grass is green or sometimes it rains when it's cloudy. We know it's true, it doesn't help right now and there's no way to respond to it.

And it always particularly annoyed me because I felt that somewhere in this phrase it implied that my grief or my pain was the result of a lack of faith. Yep. Look at it again. You're trying to make me feel better by saying that this was part of God's plan, right? Which means that this ache is fighting against that plan, or at least complaining about it. And you're also telling me that somehow this death, this loss, was His idea. And you know what? I don't think it was.

I'm going to diverge a little here into something I'll call "The Book of Angie." I'm stealing the phrase from a friend I love dearly who's a physical therapy assistant. Her patients ask her for advice, but she's not a doctor. She has a lot of practical knowledge but not the definitive right to give prescriptions or treatment plans. So she has her "Book of" herself, where she gives her patience the advice they're asking for under the umbrella of "this is not a doctor's advice and if the doctor's advice ever conflicts, go with the doctor."

My book is how I see the world, and how I understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I do not believe that our Heavenly Father makes bad things happen. I believe He allows our agency and our agency causes problems for other people. I also believe that in His omniscience and omnipotence (all knowledge and all power) that He can find ways to make good things happen that would not have happened if the bad thing didn't open the way for it. And sometimes there are just tragedies. He didn't do it, He is not okay with making us hurt and He will do everything He can (which is actually everything) to make this all better in the end. So don't talk to me about His plan, because this pain and suffering is not His fault. He will figure it out and make everything all right eventually, and He is incredibly happy to have our loved one back, but I get to be bitter right now that I have been left behind and it hurts. Because that's part of the plan too. Hurting. Because hurting is part of loving.

So please, please, all of you who care about the people who love Madie, or anyone who has to talk to someone who has recently been left behind, please understand that it isn't about trying to make anyone feel better. There's a movie about my favorite author, C.S. Lewis. That movie is called "The Shadowlands." In it, Jack (C.S. Lewis' nickname) falls in love with a woman who has cancer (this is a true story). There's a part in the movie when they're talking about her having cancer and Jack is very angry at the prospect of losing her. She says, "The pain then is part of the happiness now. That's the deal." At the end of the movie, Jack repeats the line but with a change, saying, "The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal." We don't need to feel better. We need the pain now. And all you other people who care, who matter, you're still here. Which means you aren't terribly relevant to the pain now, unless you are also suffering it.

I startled Madie the first time I met her. I'd heard a lot about her from both her older brother's family, who was in my ward at the time, and from the young women I worked with. When someone introduced me to her I think I actually squealed and threw my arms around her, because she was exactly the way I'd pictured her. Not the calmest first impression, but she hugged me back right away. That's what you can do, if you're there on Saturday. Now is not the time for figuring things out, or feeling better. Now is the time for love and support by physical presence.

If you absolutely have to say something or your head is going to explode, I will give you two things that you may say if you mean them. Number one, "I'm here if you want to talk." That's it. Don't add anything. This tells the sufferer that they aren't alone, and it also gives them something they are sorely lacking. Any kind of control. That's why the word "want" is important, not "need." But you can't say it if you aren't serious about it.

Number two is even harder. It can feel awkward or out of place. But you can talk about the person who's gone ahead. You can share your favorite story, especially if it's funny. Talk about how you met. Talk about your favorite thing about them. It feels so taboo, but it shouldn't. It serves several purposes. It reminds the person to whom you are speaking that they aren't alone in their grief. Misery loves company, but not because misery is a sadistic jerk. Because people who are hurting can have that pain validated by others who are also in pain. And it gives them permission to also talk about it.

If you want to help more than that, make a donation. It'll help you feel better, too.

Morris Family Assistance Fund

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sickness and Self-Promotion

WARNING: IF YOU HAVE A WEAK STOMACH, SKIP TO THE SECOND PARAGRAPH. I hate being sick. And the worst part of it isn't throwing up; it's the few minutes after you've thrown up, when your mouth is coated in bile and some of it has gone up your nose so all you taste and smell is everything you just puked. Is that really necessary? And you rise your mouth out with water and blow your nose three or four times before the lingering bile starts to dissipate. So you drag your sweaty self back to bed and miserably and hold the futile hope that you won't have to do it again.

Bah. Two and a half days of feeling awful. Throwing up and other unfortunate bodily functions of illness, in addition to being drawn out and tired. Really tired. I think I've been spoiled- being able to take my narcolepsy medication and getting restful sleep has made me forget just how tired I am when I can't take my medicine. Ah the endless paradox of narcolepsy- always sleeping, never at rest. 

AND now we're past the pity party. Apparently I should stick to writing novels when I'm sick, because blog posts just devolve into whining. That first paragraph was written yesterday, the second was nine hours ago, and now it's Sunday night just after putting the kids to bed and I'm feeling much more like myself. I've eaten (and kept it down! Woot!) and I'm drinking gallons of Gatorade to re-hydrate myself and all-in-all feeling much better. I'm going to get a good long night of sleep and then spend a solid two hours tomorrow morning with my favorite music playlist and at least two bottles of Lysol before any of the preschool kids get here. Thank heavens I live where it's still warm at the end of November, because all my windows are going to be open tomorrow morning. This house needs to air out. And it's going to get it! 

A big thank you to all of my preschool parents who went in together last year and bought me On Guard and a diffuser. Love it. You'll smell it tomorrow.

I've spent the last three weeks beating my head against the wall of self-publishing and trying to get the word out about my book. It's hard. It's an uphill battle, and a little part of me hates myself every time I tweet or update my facebook status and it's all about my book and buy my book and recommend my book! and it all feels so disingenuous. Ironically it is completely genuine- my book is great, it is worth reading, and if someone else had written it I would honestly recommend it to others to read, although not with such frequency. But sadly, I am not of myself famous. Therefore the mediums I have access to are few, and the people with whom I can directly communicate are also relatively few. So I must continue to pursue every avenue of self-promotion that I can think of, and I'm running out of easy ideas.

The best idea is, of course, a book tour. And I'm working on setting one up in January, where I would go to schools in Utah, Idaho, and Oregon and give a presentation about being an author. Then I would read the prologue and first chapter, and hand out bookmarks. It's a lot to set up, especially since I have to make sure that my own kids are taken care of getting to and from school and having somewhere safe to go until my husband gets off work. It sounds like lots of fun, and I want to read at schools in the area, too, but those don't take as much advanced planning. More permission, but not as much planning. Less planning because I live here, so all I have to worry about is getting done before school's out. More permission because I don't actually know anyone who works for the school district or in any of the schools other than the elementary where my kids go. I don't have an "in" or know who to call. But I would love to go and inspire more kids to read!

Which all sounds like great fun, but gets in the way of what I really want to be doing. Writing. I haven't worked on book two of this series in weeks because the marketing and promotion of The Darkest Lie has been taking all my spare time and energy. Honestly more than all my spare energy, because my arthritis and my fibromyalgia have been on overdrive ever since my book published. Stress related? UM, YES. I feel like since the moment my book went live on Kindle on November 7th I've been working two full time jobs in addition to being a mom and a wife and a homemaker. My hands nearly vibrate they shake so much and I haven't had the physical strength in my wrists to open a jar in over two weeks. And my poor church calling; I love what I do, working with the young women, but I've been to church once this month and not to any activities because by about 5:00 every day I'm worthless as a person and by Saturday I'm so shaky and achy that I have a hard time standing up. Is it worth it?

Yesterday I got a text from my dad. This is what it said. "I just finished reading your book. Angie, you amaze me. Your book amazes me. It brought me to tears various times as I read, realizing you had written it. It completely enthralled me. Thank you so much for being you. I am so proud of you, and I love you!" 

Firstly, my papa is awesome. Beyond awesome. If you don't believe me, check youtube.

Secondly, yes, it's worth it. I've talked before about why I wrote this book, and what I wanted to say. That we are not alone, never alone, and there are people all around us who want to help and lift us up. That was this book. I don't know if I've mentioned that this is the first in a series of four books that I'm writing. The next one is called "The Sound at the Edge," and I'm hoping to have it finished and out by June. The series as a whole deals with loneliness and the lie of being alone, but even more it carries the theme of loss and trials, and how with every setback or pain we face, we have the choice of how to respond. 

In "The Darkest Lie," the character of Iselle is talking to Thane after he's gone through a traumatic training experience. She shares this story with him. (It's important to know that she is 16 and from France). Some of Thane's reactions have been omitted for spoiler reasons, but her story is intact.

She spoke for several sentences before the cadence of her voice and the gentleness of her unfamiliar accent was able to pull enough of his focus to actually hear her words.

 "… vineyard in Bordeaux. Many men worked for my father. Two of them were the best. One was my father’s foreman, who had apprenticed at the vineyard and stayed. One of them, Alphonse, was aveugle, was blind from his birth and had lived his whole long life in our valley. They both knew when the grapes were most ripe, and which vines were most heavy and ready for harvest. They brought the best and most sweet grapes to my father, who made cheap wine of their offering." Thane fought to breathe, and listened.

"A fever swept through our small village. Many were sick, some died. Some were left disfigured or maimed by the disease. My father’s foreman became aveugle, the sight burned out of his eyes. He could not see even the smallest light. He would not leave his bed, and he ordered the windows to be shuttered and barred. He became bitter and angry, and was violent towards those who would try to help him."

Thane realized that one of his hands was shaking and that his other was captured within both of Iselle's. His fist was wrapped inside her almost timid fingers, while her thumbs stroked the knuckles and made small circles on the back of his hand. He didn't feel the flush of warmth and louder heartbeat like when Remi had taken his hand, but he felt the fear draining away and right now that meant more. With every word she spoke the memories and nightmares sunk deeper and further away.

"Alphonse continued to work, to bring grapes to my father. My father joked of making the old blind man the new foreman and letting the young blind man drive himself to l’enfer. Many did not think his jokes were funny…" she trailed off for a moment, and in Thane's mind the images flared back to life.

"My father’s foreman tried to return to work, but could not find the vineyard," Iselle’s quiet voice cut across the clamor in his mind and Thane’s attention was drawn to her again. She was still looking down at his hand. "Two men, both blind, one made excellent and one made a fool. My father’s foreman tried to kill himself, but could not find a rope to hang himself with. Could not buy a gun to shoot himself with. No one would lead to the river to drown himself. Any way he tried to end his despair was taken from him and he was made to go on. His family, people he loved, would tell him, ‘Ce n'est pas le plus mauvais, it isn’t so bad, think of Alphonse; he has been blind his whole life and he goes on. He never has had what you had. Aren’t you béni, aren’t you blessed to have had sight at all?"

Thane tensed. Was she giving him a lecture? Telling him to man up, at least he wasn't dead, just like his father had done? But that man was not his father. The anger tried to claw its way out of the pit and Thane felt those claws dig in and pull him down.

"They did not know they were being cruel." Her words stopped his anger, made the claws release and the fury fall back. "To lose something you did not recognize, that is nothing. To have something taken that we value, that destroys us. It is not what we lose, it is how." Thane's fear surged; he loathed pity, and was afraid to see it in her. When he glanced up at her, she was looking at him, but there was no pity in her face. Instead there was anger, and defiance. Perhaps even a trace of her own fear.

"You and I have lost much and had much taken from us. Things that all children should have were rarely ours, and we understood their value. And now you are having what few things remained to you ripped away." He shuddered at her choice of words and her thumbs stopped making their small circles. The surcease of motion drew his eyes back to hers, brown with flecks of gold. "When every way to forget your loss is taken, how do you move on?"
This section, this story, was the inspiration for the entire series, and the entire series tries to answer that question. I wrote that originally as part of a short story for a writing exercise, but it stuck with me. That question stuck with me. How do we move on from loss, from pain, from fear or trauma or tragedy?

One verse of scripture that has most guided my life comes from The Book of Mormon. I can't say it's a favorite, because it doesn't inspire faith or warmth within me, but it has stuck with me very powerfully ever since I first remember reading it and being old enough to understand what it meant. It's in Alma, chapter 62, verse 41. It says, "But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility."

Through the rest of the series, bad things keep happening. Good things do too. More good than bad, but usually many many small good things and one or two really large bad things, the way life is. And the characters in the story suffer loss, and pain, and have to respond to it. And they respond differently. Some respond by becoming hardened and bitter. Some respond with gratitude and humility. A few start with the hardening and progress to humility. One or two go the other way. But with every experience I want to highlight the choice- we decide how we live our lives. We have the power to choose to act or react. 

So it's worth it, because there is so much loss and pain and trauma in the world already. There is so much loneliness and so much despair, simply because there are so many who don't know how to choose hope. Loss should never be diminished or made light of- even with all we know about life after death and the promise of eternal families, losing someone we love hurts. It's supposed to. Few things hurt worse than being left behind and being denied the companionship of someone who matters for the rest of our time here on earth. But I want to tell every child, every teen, every person who has ever suffered that their suffering is VALID, their pain MATTERS, and that while it will always be a part of them, it doesn't DEFINE them. And they never have to suffer alone.

So it's worth it. Every sickness. Every ache and pain. Every time I have to make my son a cheese sandwich instead of PB&J because my wrists won't open the PB or J jars. And every time I hate myself a little for tweeting, "Hey, I sold over 100 books this week! #TheDarkestLie, the best gift for every reader on your Christmas list!" because this is the thing I want to tell the world. And this is the price I pay for sharing that message.

Thank heavens I still get to whine about it. And so you all know, The Darkest Lie is on sale at Barnes and Noble .com this week for only $10.69, which is cheaper than you can even buy it through me. And it really is a great book. Just ask anyone who's related to me! :)

Friday, November 16, 2012

High School Never Ends

Last Saturday I ran into someone I went to high school with in my small town. This isn't the first time I've seen her; we've run into each other a few times, the first being at a pediatric dentist that neither of us live very close to. Randomly we only live a few subdivisions away from each other now, and although we weren't friends in high school we always liked each other as people. It's strange how now, years later and miles away and even though we never spent any time together outside of school, we recognized each other almost immediately. It took me a few moments to remember her name. We looked at each other and pointed, said, "Hey!" and chatted until we were on firm footing. It's strange to me how strong that bond is, that "We went to high school together," and how it makes us almost friends now without anything else to support it.

She even told me that there's a facebook page for our graduating class. I had no idea! So I went on to facebook and checked it out. Boom. There it was. High school on facebook. And I realize that I am such a different person now than I was more than a decade ago. Hugely different. The funniest thing about it is, I don't think they'd notice. In high school I was very active in theater and in debate, and confidence is key to being successful in those fields. So I faked it. No one can tell if you're faking confidence as long as you follow 3 simple rules: good posture, eye contact, and say nice things. These three rules are equally important but it's the last one that seals the deal. If you feel good enough about yourself to say nice things to other people (nice things are NOT self-deprecating things, it is not nice if you aren't being nice to yourself) they believe you, and if you say nice things about other people they want to believe you because they want to believe that you're right.

I was a pro at faking confidence in high school. Some real confidence sneaked its way in, but being confident in how well you fake confidence seems wrong, somehow. I was in all the school plays (never the lead- too tall for an ingenue) and brought back a record number of debate trophies for our school (which was never very good at anything, so bringing back a "record number" of awards is not nearly as impressive as it sounds). People knew who I was, if they didn't know me very well. I was even voted most likely to succeed, although if my elation was somewhat tempered by another friend saying, "Of course you won. Who else is there?" and by the boy who won most likely to succeed also winning most likely to become an evil scientist and trying to take over the world. Someone also said I had nice eyes. I maintained my facade of confidence by never expressing any of my own opinions, by always being accommodating, and never staying in one place or with one group too long.

Dating was almost non-existent after my sophomore year. I had my one and only boyfriend then (my husband and I got engaged after being friends for over a year and then going on 3 dates, so we skipped the whole boyfriend/girlfriend status). My boyfriend was also in debate and drama, and he was always the lead in school plays. I'd had a crush on him for years before, but he was a senior when I was a sophomore so it was his first time really meeting me. My faked confidence fooled him, too, but it wore down the relationship because I was never relaxed around him, and it ended it a very private very devastating break-up after he'd graduated. I didn't tell anyone about it. Wouldn't have been good for my image.

Then I slid through the next few years doing my best not to let anyone get too close to me. The break-up had confirmed and intensified my inner monologue of "If they get to know the real you they won't like you," and I redoubled my fake-it-till-it's-over persona. Seems like a big waste, now, but it's how I survived. Looking at all those faces from my yearbook on facebook I wondered how they saw me. If they really believed the confidence or if they were so busy with their own lives that they rarely noticed mine. I wondered if they remembered me fondly, or coldly, or at all. I was a medium fish in a pretty small pond and most of the people I interacted with weren't in my own grade.

If I were to go to the next reunion, I wonder what it would be like. They probably wouldn't have any idea the immense changes I've undergone and the entirely new person I've become. I doubt any of them knew how intensely lonely I was those three years. Why did I do that to myself? Why was it impossible for me to be normal, or honest with anyone? Ironically I doubt that anyone I talked to now would think that I've changed at all, because I'm not faking the confidence any more. I'm more than three decades into my life and I finally like myself. I express thoughts and opinions that are mine. I'm comfortable in my own skin. The first time I realized that my husband was someone I could marry was when I realized I was being myself around him. It was eye opening. It was liberating. It was freaking awesome.

Not that there isn't anything I would change, given the chance. But those things that I'm not don't define me anymore, and most days they don't even register. I've got other things to worry about, other people to care about, and other goals to accomplish to spend much time obsessing over my weight or whether I can get through lunch period. High school is the world's biggest social experiment, and no one escapes unscathed. I wish I'd spent less time worrying and more time doing things. I wish I'd invested more in the friendships I did have then. I wish I'd spent more time playing with the band I was in (electric bass guitarist. Bask in the envy).  I wish I hadn't dated that one guy my sophomore year and ruined an almost friendship I had with a really cool girl who also liked him. He was a jerk and he broke my heart with such force and efficiency that it took me more than five years to recover, and I don't think she ever forgave me for dating him when I knew she liked him. These things stay with us. They don't define us, but they do color the way we see the world.

I want to go to the next reunion. I want to see these people that I spend so many years with, in some cases from preschool to graduation, and have my first real and honest conversation with them. We can be friends now, years away and miles apart, because once upon a time we were Lions. There were sports games and school plays, dances and concerts, but most of all we went through the fire of high school together. And high school ends. Most of life waits on the other side. But nothing is ever as intense again, because high school is like all of life compressed and concentrated into one building. And you never forget it. Faces pull you back. Yearbooks pull you back. And today, facebook pulled me back.

Go Lions!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Moment of Truth and Why it Matters

My book is coming out in print today! I know I've been talking about almost nothing else, but it's so huge in my mind that it's taking over. After today I promise a greater variety of topics, but I reserve today to be all about ME and MY BOOK!

This book is the culmination of a life-long dream. I've always wanted to be a writer, and now I am. It's incredible. I'm an author. For real. People have purchased my book. I have a copy of my book. It is the single most overwhelming feeling I've ever had. When I got married I was so excited I couldn't stop grinning. When I gave birth (both times) I was grateful and tired and HUNGRY for the first time in months. This is simply mind-blowing. It's hard to comprehend that it's finally happened, and the first person who pinches me to wake me up is going to get punched in the throat. 

That's why I wrote a book, to be an author. Why I wrote this book is different. I was a very lonely teenager who struggled to find friends and to feel like I mattered. I spent years with my internal monologue whispering things like, "If they get to know the real you, they won't like you," and "People either hurt you or leave you," and other insidious self-esteem killing things. I know now that I had moderate depression, and that I was lucky to have found so much solace in reading. I also know that those feelings of disconnect and self-doubt are common in teenagers, and that I wasn't the only one who felt so completely alone and cut off. 

I still feel lonely sometimes. There are ways in which being a married adult parent is more lonely than being a teenager, because we don't have school every day to force us into contact with our peers. Spouses work late and we're busy with our children and our chores to the exclusion to time to spend with friends, and friends are even harder to find because often the sole prerequisite we employ in finding other adults to spend time with is the ages of their children. "I have a five year old and you have a five year old" is a tenuous link to forge a friendship on.

We get swallowed in our role as "mom" or "dad," we get lost in our jobs or volunteer work, we lose our sense of self. And we get lonely because it's been so long since we've seen us. And we think we're fine, because we're rolling along checking off our lists and going through life getting things done and forgetting that the point of all this is to find joy. 

Now I work with the youth, the young women specifically, and I wanted to tell them so many things that I've learned growing up. Then I realized I wanted to tell every teenager everywhere these things. So I wrote this book to tell them and to tell everyone that we are not alone, there are people all around us who love us and want to help us, even if the people we feel we should trust betray us. I wrote this book to say that we are not all special, we are each special, and we must believe that we can do greater things than we ever believed ourselves capable of doing. I wrote this book as an urban fantasy so that the messages could come across without feeling preachy or trite.

And it is a good book. People I've never heard of are leaving reviews on Amazon saying they couldn't put it down or they've read it twice already. did a review because I wrote the novel on my iPad, and even he said he started reading it for the technology story but was hooked by the writing and the plot within a few paragraphs. 

There is no bad language. There are elements of romance but it isn't a romance. You can feel comfortable buying and recommending this book to anyone based on its own merits, and not for any other reasons. I'm proud of my book, but even more, it has a message that I want to get out to everyone.

And of course I want it to do well, so I can keep doing this. I have three more books plotted out for this series and a whole other trilogy I want to do later, all of which revolve around the same themes: we are not alone, but we need to reach out to others. We are capable of greater things than we think possible. And we must believe that amazing, miraculous things can happen to us, in our own lives. Not just other people, but to us each individually. I'm not alone anymore, and all I can think about is going back into that blackness and yelling in the dark until everyone else knows they aren't alone either. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Just Take the Compliment

I am filled with conflicting emotions and warm oatmeal at the moment. Did you know that oatmeal has only trace amounts of wheat in it, so that people who shouldn't eat gluten can still eat oatmeal? I was so grateful. This whole "no gluten" thing has been quite the wrench in my daily eating habits. But it's definitely the right thing for me- since I've cut it out I feel better, less lethargic, and less achy. Worth the sacrifice. Even if sometimes the only thing I want to eat is a biscuit with honey.

And now that my breakfast food tangent is over and my oatmeal is slowly digesting I can focus on all those conflicting feelings I mentioned earlier. My book, The Darkest Lie, came out on Kindle this past week and on the one hand it's doing really well. There's lots of good buzz about it and even a review on a reputable and popular blog site. (I mentioned it last time with the link). My sales for a self-published Kindle book are better than average. I have great friends and two giveaways for author signed copies of my book on other blogs:


both of which are awesome blogs run by great people. They're mommy blogs; Because I Don't Scrapbook is funny and engaging talking about the trials and enjoyments of being a stay at home mom, and My Name is Snickerdoodle is endearing and artistic and is geared more towards homemaking, crafting, and fantastic recipes. The author of that blog, Amy, actually won a Paula Dean cooking contest and creates her own recipes. Try any of them. They're amazing.

Apparently I'm hesitant to talk about my feelings, because I keep finding other things to go on tangents about. Okay, here's my concern: my reliable source of income cuts off next month. That's preschool, and I'm going to miss my kids. I am excited at having that time during the day to write. However, I don't get any royalties from my book sales until 60 days after the end of the month of the sale. So for every copy I sell in November, I won't get any royalties until February. And that concerns me, because there's that month in the middle where we still need food and bill paying and stuff.

Not that my husband doesn't have a great job, he does. If it weren't for all my medical bills and past medical debt we'd be good to go with no worries. All our debt is medically related, and it's all me. So I feel responsible for it. And no, it isn't all recent with the testing and neurology issues- about six months after my second son was born I slipped in some water and bashed my knee on a metal bar. It destroyed all my cartilage and I had two surgeries and a year of physical therapy. I had to use a walker with a basket wired to it to get around our condo and take care of my toddler and my baby while my husband was trying to finish grad school. So I am stressed about money, but trying to have faith that this is the right thing.

And then there's all the reviews my book is getting. Now I like my book. I think it's great and everyone should read it. But at the same time, it's my book. I don't expect other people to think it's anything out of the ordinary or special. How can I be so arrogant as to assume that self publishing was a great idea? Why should I think my book is so special that it could beat the horrible odds stacked against it? There shouldn't be anything so special about it or about me that would mean I could be one of the 3 successes for every 500,000 self published failures (those numbers are sadly not exaggerated).

This kind of stream-of-consciousness is pretty normal for me, so when I get reviews like these, I don't know what to do.

"I knew the author growing up and thought I would buy the book to support her. I was Shockingly surprised at how good it was. I had no idea she was that talented a writer. It caught my attention and held it. I had a hard time putting it down, and then couldn't wait to pick it up again. I recommend this book to anyone, young or old"

"I was lucky enough to be one of the first readers of "The Darkest Lie", a young adult fantasy novel that kept me on the edge of my seat, kept me coming back for more, and made me laugh and cry.

The book is well written, and my most favorite part is the way the author, Angela Day, describes magic. I have read probably more than my fair share of fantasy literature, and loop holes in magic, and unidentified or unclear magic sources are a big pet peeve of mine. This one is, put simply, BEAUTIFUL. And logical.

The characters are lovable, or despicable, which is fitting, and more importantly, they're relateable. Every kid alive has felt the way Thane feels at one point or another. And everyone wants the confidence that Remi has, or knows someone who has it.

This book is a MUST READ for the Teen target audience as well as their parents."

"If you like Urban Fantasy, or YA sci-fi or fantasy in general (as I know many of you and your offspring do, reading friends!) Give it a try! It has adventure, magic, complexity, humor, psychological depth-highly recommend."

Awesome, right? And then I'm getting feedback like this from people I don't even know, which is important because as much as I enjoy compliments from my friends and family I'm never sure how much of it is because of whatever it is I did and how much is because they love me. I know they're being sincere, that isn't the question- I just also know that they can't be objective. Which is fine, no one can be truly objective since we each see the world through our own belief windows. It's just a really good feeling when someone says something positive about my book (although being "Shockingly surprised at how good it was" didn't quite feel like a compliment).

Therein lies the awkward. I suck at taking compliments. I'm terrible at it. I don't know what to say or how to respond, because part of me feels like I don't deserve it and another part is flattered and pleased and another part of me wants to say something nice back and then I think I should be humble and deflect and by this point I realize I haven't responded to them and now it's just awkward because someone said something nice to me and I've been standing there stuck inside my head for way too long. Yep. I suck at compliments.

At taking them, anyway. I'm great at giving them. One of the biggest reasons that I'm any good at writing is because I've likely read over 2000 books in my lifetime. That's a lot of words and phrases to cram into one head. So when I find myself appreciating something about someone else, I have a lot of words to draw from and am able to be specific and articulate with praise. Never flattery or empty compliments- no wasting words like that. There is always something nice and true to say about someone else.

Which is a rule of mine, a seminary lesson from 9th grad that's always stuck with me. Speaking litmus test: Is it nice, is it necessary, is it true? You have to answer yes to the last question and one other before you can say it. If it's true and necessary, you say it. If it's nice and true, you say it. If it's nice and necessary but not true, don't say it. Good rules to live by, even for a fantasy writer.

So what do I do now? I worry. I stew. I write. And I obsessively check my kindle sales to see if people are buying my book. It's only going to get worse after Wednesday when the print copy comes out- if I can sell 2000 copies (two thousand?!?!?) then I stand a chance at getting picked up by a publishing house. Anything less than that, and they're not interested. And I don't have the same time table that everyone else does-- this isn't a hobby for me, it's a passion. Most books sell slowly, generating buzz over the course of years, rolling like a snowball on an inclined plane just past the angle of friction. (aka REALLY SLOWLY). But I'm already a month behind.

Remember that post about a leap of faith? Well, I can see the cliff. It's straight ahead. I can't see anything beyond it.

And I'm running towards it, hoping to fly.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

CreateSpace and Self-Publishing

And so it begins. My book, "The Darkest Lie," came out yesterday for the Kindle. Did you hear that? Can I say it again? MY BOOK CAME OUT FOR THE KINDLE!!! And I find myself excited, sure, but not as much as I thought I would be. Somehow in my mind having it available on Kindle isn't the same as having it in print. I don't know why I feel that way- decades of conditioning, I suppose. I have a Kinde, I love my Kindle, and the Kindle Lending Library and the Overdrive Media Console through the library are huge reasons why I have nearly 900 books read and rated on Goodreads. My Kindle gives me the freedom to check out books without needing to leave home. I can read it anywhere, indoors or out, and thanks to my book light, I can read in bed, too.

So yes, for anyone out there who has a Kindle, "The Darkest Lie" by Angela Day is out and available. And it's getting great reviews! Can I post some? 

Laura Shingleton, Middle School English Teacher in Oregon: "If you like Urban Fantasy, or YA sci-fi or fantasy in general (as I know many of you and your offspring do, reading friends!) Give it a try! It has adventure, magic, complexity, humor, psychological depth-highly recommend." 

Stephen Newman, Guitarist, Ice Hotel: "I stayed up until 3 am reading it. More books? Please?"

One of my editors, also a teacher:  "I think about it when I am not reading it and am wholly engaged when I am. I am invested in the characters. I can see my students loving it. You have something real."

If you have a Kindle or a Kindle app and you're interested in reading the book, click this link to be taken to Amazon's site.

If you don't have a Kindle or Kindle app, never fear. My book launches in paper back next Wednesday, November 14th! See, now THAT feels like being published! A real hold in your hands book, where you turn the pages and lend out and dog ear and go back to re-read favorite passages. That's a book. And mine is coming out next week! 

If that seems fast to anyone, remember that I've been working on my book for a year now. The initial idea for the story hit me last October, and I spent a few months kicking it around. I started writing the manuscript in January and finished the rough draft in August. The rough draft was huge, way too big to consider to publish for my target market. Not that my target market won't read big books- I wrote my book for anyone who read and loved the Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Percy Jackson series. And some of those books were really hefty. But the first ones weren't. A first novel is like a first date- you want to make a strong positive first impression, but not overwhelm your date. And no one is going to pick up a book for fun and light reading if the book is the size of the Bible. 

So I spent months paring it back and pruning and sending it out to alpha readers and editors to make it better. I wrote and re-wrote, edited and cut and re-arranged until I'd cut almost the length of a full novel out of my novel. I spent every free moment working on this, and can I say that I love my iPad? I wrote the whole book and did all the editing on the iPad, and it was fantastic. I'll write an entire post about that later.

So I started sending out queries to agents and considering publishers. I did research and more research, and then the bottom fell out of our financial world. My preschool had to be shut down. In addition to the emotional wrench suddenly I only had two months of income left. Yikes! A typical publishing timeline is 4-6 months to get an agent and then another year to get picked up by a publishing house. I didn't have that kind of time.

Self publishing became the only viable option for my writing career. I did research into that and found with the advent of the internet and how much easier self publishing has become the new query letter. Agents want you to prove that you're marketable. Plus the royalties are much higher when you self publish, although they're still not much.

There are lots of different self-publishing services out there, and after looking into several and hunting down recommendations and reviews, I chose to work with CreateSpace. CreateSpace is owned by Amazon so they already have a lot of clout in the publishing and audio book markets. They're also a POD service which was vital to my plan. POD means "print on demand," or that they won't print a book until someone orders it. This means that there isn't an upfront cost of thousands of dollars to order a full print run of your book that you are then responsible for selling all on your own. They do offer a variety of paid services, but we'll get to those.

Signing up with CreateSpace was very simple, requiring only a basic email address and password. Then they take you to your member dashboard, a central screen where the entire checklist of what you need to do to publish is on your left. The first thing they require is a title to work on, and you click to add title and author name. They offer free ISBNs if you're willing to have CreateSpace listed as the publisher, and those ISBNs come with some restrictions in use. You can purchase your own for $99 and retain all rights and distribution options with that, and name yourself or your company or other entity as the publisher. So far, the only paid options are optional.

Then you upload your file. This can be tricky because they have very specific submission guidelines regarding types of files, page sizes and margins, embedded font types, photos or illustrations, and a laundry list of other requirements. They are willing to do all the formatting for you for a fee of $249, which seemed much more reasonable after the hours and hours I spent doing it on my own. They do have free downloadable templates that you can use and with a 30 day free trial of Adobe Acrobat Pro I was able to get my manuscript to conform to guidelines.

They also want you to pick a trim size, or the dimensions of the physical book. How many inches wide by how many inches tall, in other words. You also decide whether the interior is black and white or color, and whether you want the pages to be white or cream colored. These choices all affect the cost of printing your book and how much you can charge for it. Because yes, they determine the base price, and you decide how much you want to get over that. 

Once you upload your file it does a preliminary check to made sure it complies with submission guidelines. This is done immediately online and takes about 10 minutes, and they allow you to use a program called Interior Designer to check any problems they find. This is a pretty thorough check. 

Next you design your cover. You can choose one of their free cover designs, design your own, or pay to have a professional design it for you. They give you the specifications and once again with the help of Adobe Photoshop I made my own cover. Again, hours and hours of work, but the cover design was something I'd been thinking about for weeks and had already, although inadvertently, worked on. I had to tweak that several times before it met approval, but I finally got that in.

Once those two things are submitted they take 48 hours and review your file. They go over the manuscript and the cover to make sure it matches all submission guidelines and will print appropriately. They do NOT check for spelling, grammar, funky spacing, or anything else that a good copy editor would catch. You can pay for that service if you chose, but that isn't free. Nor should it be. That's a lot of thankless intensive work. They're do a basic copyediting for $120.00 for the first 10,000 words, and $0.012 for every word after that. If the average length of a novel is 125,000 words, that's $1,500.00 for one basic edit. That's a lot. And that's the most basic service they offer.

I opted to do that myself and with the help of some other wonderful professionals. After the 48 hour review, they send you an email to say it's ready for the next step. The next step is either fixing issues or ordering a proof copy. If you fix issues you have to re-submit it and wait another 48 hours (they say 48, but mine was a lot closer to 24). Once it's good, you have the choice to either order a proof copy and pay for the printing and shipping or proof it online. I ordered the proof copy. I want a printed copy of my book to hold and read and look at. Mostly I want a physical copy because I want to make sure I like the trim size I ordered. I don't want to approve it and have it printed and in distribution before I realize that it could have been better. 

Once you approve the file, BAM, your book is on the website and they encourage you to publish it on Kindle also. Clearly you can publish on Kindle before you publish in print, but they don't give you that option until the file is ready for publication. They also offer a lot of publication promotional materials that you can purchase to help you sell, but they want a lot for those. I was comparison shopping and I could by twice as many bookmarks from Print Runner for the same price that Amazon was offering.

They do offer paid book reviews by Kirkus and Clarion, which are FANTASTIC tools for promotion, but they're pricey. $529.00 if you want a review in less than 5 weeks. Per review. And it's a little chancy, considering the reviewer isn't guaranteed to like the book.

All in all, I think CreateSpace is an easy to use self publishing service. I haven't completed everything yet, nor have I gotten involved in the CreateSpace community, so I can't give an opinion on those things. I would recommend it to anyone considering self-publishing, especially if they've never done it before. I did have someone from the company call and email me when I first signed up to ask me questions, but I never actually talked with him. I haven't received my proof copy yet so I can't vouch for the quality of printing, but I'll update on that in a few days when the proof copy of my book gets here.

I'm getting a proof copy of my book in a few days!!!

Also, if you'd like to win a free author signed copy of my book, check out


both of which will be doing free giveaways starting tomorrow. Thanks everyone!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Few Steps Into the Darkness

I haven't been sleeping well. That's a pretty neat trick considering I'm one of the 50,000 Americans diagnosed with narcolepsy. For reference, there are approximately 300,000,000 (that's three hundred million) people who live in the US., so about 6% of the population have what I have. And the treatment for what I have is so potent and potentially dangerous that it is the only category 3 medication with category 1 penalties for misuse. The monthly prescription of sleeping medicine that costs my insurance upwards of $6,000 every month. I am thankful for good insurance.

I'm giving you all this information so you understand when I say I'm not sleeping well, that means more than your average insomniac. Does anyone know how many 5 hour energies you can safely consume in one day? Thus far that seems to wake me up the best without causing havoc with my fibromyalgia.

But wait, you say, this is supposed to be a preschool and teaching post. Well, it is, and that's the reason I haven't been sleeping. I live in a place where every subdivision has its own Home Owners Association, and mine has been receiving complaints from the neighbors about the traffic associated with preschool. HOAs terrify me. They have the legal right to place a lien against my home and the property if I don't comply with the HOA contract. There are horror stories about HOAs turning people out of their own homes for the color they painted their house or where they park their cars. And the HOA who could take away my house has ordered me to close down the preschool.

I was immediately both angry and so scared I nearly threw up. This is my job. With all of my myriad medical issues, I can't hold down a job outside the home. This is also something I do because I believe every child needs to be given the chance to learn all they can, regardless of economic status or developmental labels. Here I get to indulge my love of reading and science with the only people I've ever found who are as enthusiastic about as many different topics as I am. But I have to end it.

To be fair, the HOA representative I spoke with was very kind and non-accusatory. She allowed me to explain what I do and was surprised at how different the truth was from the complaints. But the traffic was a valid complaint and I can see how it would be a problem, and I am determined to comply with the HOA because I don't want any problems with them and I really don't want to alienate my neighbors any further. Frankly I wasn't aware that any of them had a problem with it, and part of my injured feelings were that none of them came to talk to me directly. I've always tried to be kind and friendly to everyone. I get that anonymous complaints are easier than direct confrontation, but someone should have come to talk to me about it first instead of tattling to the HOA.

That is the first and last bitter thing I've said about it. They live here too, and they have a right to be put out if this has been a problem for them. The preschool parents I've communicated with have all been very sorry and very supportive, Several of them have said either they or their child has cried about the news. Don't cry! The HOA has given me until December 21st so that parents have time to make other arrangements. We still have two more months together. And hopefully that close to Christmas everyone will be too excited and too busy to be sad much. I appreciate each and every one of them, their sympathy, and most of all their understanding. One of the things I was most afraid of was preschool parents being mad at me about this. I've been doing it for four years now- I don't know why this year it's suddenly an issue for the neighborhood.

My husband and I have discussed what we're going to do from here, and there's only one thing that feels right, as scary as it is.

Writing. Letting go of everything else and just trying to make it as a writer. It feels right to write, if you'll excuse the pun. But that's terrifying in its own right because I have only been paid for my writing twice in my life, neither of those were recently and neither were very much. One was a short poetry collection to a poetry journal several years ago and one was a short story years before that. And the timeline doesn't work so well- even though I have a nearly finished manuscript, it takes months to find the right agent and then months more before getting it sold to a publisher. I'm looking at a minimum of 8 months before the manuscript returns any money.

And that's scary. So I'm considering making use of this vast internet and the technological revolution and self publishing, even though 98% of the time self publishing is a waste. If I do this, I'm going to have to dedicate every spare minute between now and January 1st to getting my manuscript ready. Yes, I'm on my 3rd draft and have sent it to editors already, but I haven't started making any of the changes they've suggested and I was planning on having copy editors to rely on and an agent and a publishing house to do the advertising. With self publishing, that's all me. I looked into hiring a freelance copy editor and an editor who would do the editing and formatting for publication for me, and that would only cost about $26,000.00. Yikes.

Self publishing, while almost never successful, at least has the possibility of a return on investment in a few weeks rather than after most of a year. I thought that I would have to buy the book in a bulk of several thousand and try to sell them to recoup the loss, but that isn't the way it works all the time. I've found a company that will print them POD style, which means print on demand. When someone orders a book, then it gets printed. I still have to pay for the printing and pay for all the up front costs like formatting and editing and an initial printing run of one to approve, and pay for the ad and the selling space, but that is significantly less than buying 2,000 books and then trying to sell them. But again, the downside is no help with advertising or copy editing or cover design.

So it's me. And maybe this will work out. I do believe that my book, with its Harry Potter-esque school for the magically inclined meets Hunger Games you still have to fight for survival themes, is well written and engaging. I believe it could be successful because it has merit. But even if it is the best written book in the world, it could flop completely because no one hears about it.

I panicked a few days ago and applied to be a legal assistant. With my background experience and references they called me to schedule an interview the next day. It would be part time and while my sons are at school and it isn't too terribly far away, and part of me is really tempted by the promise of a safety net. I could figure out something for Christmas vacation and Spring Break with my kids, right? But I can't do it. It doesn't feel like the right move for my family and I. I can't even make myself go to the interview without the strong impression that it's the wrong move. So I cancelled it.

The plan. Preschool through December 21st and then throwing myself into my writing, and make it profitable to stay afloat or sink under all the medical bills and keep submitting. This feels like the biggest risk I've ever taken. I'm betting on myself and making everyone else in my family hold the ticket, win or lose. The risk right now is huge; potential severe financial strain and being unable to continue my medical treatments. The reward is equally large; financial independence and freedom from debt, and that's just the gravy to finally finally finally being a published author and getting to do something every day that brings me joy.

I've heard it said that faith is taking a few steps into the darkness and hoping the light will follow. I got a lot of experience staring into the dark last night, and this feels more like a leap off a cliff than taking a few steps into a dark room. Three nights now I've been unable to sleep, and I don't see that stress letting up any time soon. The moment the sword of the HOA's anger is removed by the end of preschool, the walk on the financial tightrope of success or failure begins.  I've considered emailing my neurologist and asking if I can take 3 doses a night instead of two.

On the plus side, I feel more ready to take this risk now than I ever have been before. And I'll document the plunge here. So if you're interested in my self publishing adventure, because apparently I've talked myself into it, you're welcome to come along for the ride.

And maybe I'll sleep again when I'm 33.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dialogue Part Two!

"Hello internet! Long time, no see," I said, blinking bleary eyes. Too much worry, not enough sleep.

The infinity of the cloud glows back at me from the monitor, the cursor blinking in the Google search text box. There is a finite, though impressively large, number of sites on the web but an infinite number of clicks and links that tangle us more tightly. It does not care that the medicine I take at night to force me past REM sleep makes me feel drunk, nor that if I don't sleep well with the medicine I wake up feeling hung over. I have friends who are experts in both states and we've compared notes. I'm glad the internet doesn't answer me, because it means I've held onto my sanity for another day.

Not that I'm in any real danger of losing it, I've just heard that people who are crazy never question their sanity, so I make a point of questioning mine. It makes me feel better. Plus I said I'd post again on October 15th, and here it is, October 22nd, and I'm writing my first post in over two weeks. Oddly, not writing in all that time has made me feel more disconnected from myself than any amount of missed sleep. It was worth it, though. Having so many good friends (including my mom, who is also a good friend) come and visit for my birthday was incredible. It was better than incredible. It was peaceful, and happy.

And then one airport trip at a time, they left, and now I'm back to real life and laying awake last night realizing that there's a character in my book whose every line of dialogue needs to change. Yep, every line. Because I struggled every time he entered the scene writing in a voice that was not his, but my idea of what his should be. And that is a writer's struggle when a character will not conform to what you think they should be but continues to fight against you in your own subconscious to be what you really know it ought to be. Which is why this post now changes from "My stream-of-consciousness ramble about how I am and how I'm feeling," into "Dialogue part two!"

We last left our discussion on dialogue with the promise that I was going to talk to you about letting your characters speak for themselves, the best dialogue tags in the universe, how to know what to cut and what to keep, how to spice up the conversation, and how to know when it’s good. I was fighting against letting my character speak for himself because of how he was first presented to me. I didn't let him evolve into a character that would be better for my book, and one who I would write more fluidly. This character is Charlie. I talked about him last time, with the accent and the excerpt. Remember all the distracting apostrophes? Every time he came on stage I fought to make his accent Cockney, the dialect of the lowest caste of the British. And it's awkward. Let's look at it again.

"That's bollocks, I'm out," Charlie stated flatly. "You can't put that kind of pressure on me or on 'im. Giving me six bleedin' days to teach something it takes an 'atchling a decade to get right and then bootin' 'im back into the world with just a prayer you won't need to call the cleaners to fix the mess? No. I won't be on the line for that. You've got enough on me already, and I'm not 'elping you cut the kids arm so it's bleedin' when you throw 'im back in the shark tank." Charlie crossed his arms and stared, unblinking, into Gage's eyes. "Get one of your Omega monkeys to do it. I won't."

Now I did a lot of research into the Cockney dialect and specific words. There are several things in here and all through this character's dialogue that are correct phrases for the dialogue that don't make a lot of sense to non-Cockney speakers. That's the first rule of accent writing- do your research. But even with all my study and near psychotic insistence on correctness, it just didn't fit the character. In my head, he's Scottish. Partly because he's supposed to be a womanzier and to my ear the Scottish dialect is more attractive than the Cockney, and partly because he's supposed to be abrasive and impulsive and the only thing more abrasive than Cockney to a highly educated British ear is highland Scot. But because I knew the concept of the character first as a Cockney, I tried to stay true to that. 

This is a time when strict adherence to the outline made the story harder to write. I was trying to write, but the Charlie in my head was speaking in a Scottish accent, so I'd translate from the Scottish to English to Cockney. Don't make things harder for yourself by doing that. Let's see if the dialogue flows better without all the translating.

"Yer daft. I'll not be responsible for that," Charlie stated flatly. "You cannae put that kind of pressure on me nor on the lad, tae be learning sommat that takes a hatchling a good score to get right and giving us six peerie days. Then what? Yer'll boot him out inta the world with just a prayer there'll be no need tae call the cleaners? I'll not be hooked for that. Yer Sanctum jackanapes have enough on me without me seeing the lad down the road just enough to cut him open an toss him to the sharks." Charlie crossed his arms and stared, unblinking, into Gage's eyes. "Get one o' your Omega monkeys to do it. I won't."

What do you think? There's one apostrophe in place of a letter instead of many, but the dialect is still clear. Which way do you like better? (And for those of you who are very familiar with the Charlie character, think of this as a way to protect his anonymity from generations of jealous husbands). I'm going to have to slog through all the dialogue again to change the dialect to what it was supposed to be in the first place. Learn from my mistake, and allow your characters their own voices from the beginning. 

But how do you know when it's good? After you've been lost in the world of your story for hours, writing down everything as it appears in your brain, how do you know when the dialogue rings true? It's easier than you think. All you need is people. Real live people. First read it out loud by yourself. You'll find that you say the line differently out loud than you wrote it down. Modify it as needed. Then do it again. After a while, you'll move on in the story or you'll decide you need more testing.

If you need to test out your dialogue, what better way than in the mouths of people to speak it? Copy and paste the section of dialogue into a new document. Then either re-write it like a script, or only ask people to help who you can trust to keep their opinions to themselves. Read it out loud with them. Don't tell them anything about the characters, because the more they know the more they'll try to make the dialogue conform. You don't want that. You want to hear it as written, to see if the lines stand for the characters on their own. If it's written well, the words will flow naturally. If it's written really well, the readers will slip into the character without any prompting from you. Just make sure they know to read only the dialogue, and not the tags. That can confuse actors/readers, especially since dialogue tags usually come after the words and if you have those dreaded "ly" words then they might want to read it again to follow your direction, and that will mess up the flow. 

The very best dialogue tags in the world are "said," "asked," and " ". You don't want your writing to detract or distract from your characters and your story. Words like "blandly" "angrily" and "zestfully" are not nearly as useful as you might believe. We've talked about this before in the show don't tell section of another post, but it bears repeating: don't get in your own way. If your character is tired he or she does things tiredly, sure, but that is a word describing other words, not painting an image. Your character doesn't say things tiredly, she says them. Sleep, or the lack thereof, slurs her words together. Her hands fumble with the keys and her eyes droop while she tries to restrain a yawn. Your character doesn't shout angrily, he shouts and bangs his fist on the table, or says through clenched teeth with narrow eyes. It's even better if you don't need dialogue tags at all, but you can tell who the speaker is by what they're saying and how they say it. Go through your most recent piece of writing and search for your dialogue tags. Copy and paste a section of dialogue into a new document and get rid of every tag, then read it. Can you still tell who is saying which line? If not, go back and clarify your characters in your own mind. If so, get someone else to read it. Give them highlighters in different colors and assign each color to a specific character. Then have them highlight who says what. You may be surprised with what they think.

We still have to cover what to cut and what to keep and how to spice it up, but we'll get to that next time. I must cut myself free from the internet for now. But it feels good to be writing again, and it feels good to get myself back a bit more with each word.

Tune in next time for another exciting installment of A Writer By Day, same bat time, same bat channel!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Notice of Hiatus

There will be a one week hiatus on blog posts. I've received some notes and feedback on my manuscript from an editor, and I have less than one week to my self imposed submission deadline of Oct. 12th, 2012. Regular posts will resume (and be consistent!) on Monday, October 15th. Thanks!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Parenthood Prep for Teen Angst 101

 My husband and I did something last weekend that we almost never do. We went out to dinner and a movie. The movie was called “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” and it wasn't very much like I expected. The trailers had all made it out to be a typical high school coming of age story and I thought seeing it would be good research for my book, but it was a lot darker and the stakes were higher than I anticipated. It made me worry about my sons growing up and everything that might happen to them when I'm not around. I'm stuck between two paralyzing fears; that my children will leave my home and be damaged, or that they will be damaged by never leaving home.
The movie also drove home to me that the name Charlie is cursed. Seriously. Can you think of a fictional Charlie who had a good life? Charlie Brown, the blockhead. I always wanted to be his mother because the thing he needed most was affirmation, and I have an unusual talent for that. Charlie Gordon in Flowers for Algernon. He was given a fleeting brilliance and then had it all taken away. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ends well, thank goodness, after that poor boy had over a decade of extreme poverty. I've decided that Charlie needs to be a girl's name now because it needs a reinvention. I'm never watching a show with a main character named Charlie again.
We begin the movie with many references to Charlie having a mental breakdown and spending months in the psych ward of a hospital. No one says why, just infers that it happened. He's starting high school now and the only friend he makes on his first day is his English teacher Mr. Anderson, which Charlie himself says is pretty depressing. Charlie is smart and loves to read. He wants to be a writer. I'm really invested in the character at this point and he makes his first two friends. Both seniors, and step-siblings. Just when I'm thinking “Yay, friends!” the first big plot reveal about Charlie's breakdown. And it's awful. Without being specific, his pretty new senior friend finds out that Charlie doesn't have any friends at school and why, and they welcome him into their group.
Already this is playing on many of my mommy fears. What if my son makes friends and loses them? What if he doesn't have any close friends? I had a very lonely childhood and I made my first real friend my freshman year in college. Sadly, that isn't a hyperbole. It wasn't all awful and I have several good memories of being a kid, but the thing I remember most is being alone. I read a lot. I loved reading, and I'm sure no small part of my lack of friends was part of an unbroken cycle. I didn't have any friends to hang out with, so I read books. I was always reading books, so I didn't ever make friends.
But I don't want my sons to be like that. I want them to be happy and well adjusted and brilliant and popular but also humble and kind and coordinated and just everything. Every time one of my children is hurt I hurt with them, even though I know if I make a big deal out of it they will make a much bigger deal, and so I pretend it's fine until we both believe it. Sometimes I think parents need to step back and let other adults handle tough situations with their kids because parents have too much skin in the game. It matters too much to us so we can't be objective. Then they can't be objective. Then we end up screaming at each other about the stupidest small things because we both care so freaking much.
My kids aren't perfect. As with their talents and personalities, they each have their own unique challenges and flaws. But I cannot allow myself to get into the mind frame of trying to “fix” them. They aren't broken. I was listening to the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (which I've been wanting to do for years and now I'm doing it, but only in small chunks because the narrator is really dull). The author was talking about raising a younger son who was socially awkward and physically uncoordinated. To try and help they enrolled him in baseball and practiced with him. They'd get after the other kids for teasing him. They would try and encourage him and praise every little sign of improvement. But the son was getting more frustrated and pulling away from them.
What Mr. Covey realized was that he and his wife were coming at their son from the perspective of fixing him, which to that boy implied his parents believed he was broken. Who wouldn't pull away from that message? So the Coveys worked hard not only to accept their son as he was but to actively be proud of him. Not push him to the way they wanted him to be, but to love him as he was. The son was understandably hesitant to accept this new love, but eventually he blossomed and became confident and socially savvy. They gave him the chance to grow up his way, at his own pace, in his own time.
Reading that felt more like a relief than an admonition. My boys are not perfect and they lack some skills, but they are my boys and I get to love them. Yay! So even though I'll worry about them being lonely or not making friends, at least I am relieved of the burden of trying to fix them. I give them opportunities and nurture their interests and support them in their choices.
So Charlie gets friends, a whole group of seniors. Since Charlie is a freshman this presents a new level of difficulties. The seniors party and do things that are inappropriate, like alcohol and drug use and Charlie gets dragged along with them. Another mommy fear. What if my son has friends who are a bad influence on him? What do I do then? It's been a while since I was in high school and even then I went to high school in a small town with a very conservative population. Raising my kids in a large metropolitan area with a variety of cultures is awesome. And terrifying. They will be exposed to so many more things than I was. Yes, I do know that my oldest is currently eight and I'm worrying about what high school is going to be like for him already. Motherhood is love and fear, fear and love, remember?
I try not to pester the young women I work with about what high school is like for them. My curiosity burns bright, though. I want to know if any of them have ever been offered drugs, personally know any pregnant teenage girls, or been to a party where alcohol was served. Is high school here like it is on TV?
Teaching my sons correct principles and then allowing them to govern themselves is the right thing to do, but it's so hard! I want to protect them all their lives from every ache and bad choice. But that's the wrong plan. No baby learns to walk when they are carried everywhere. I want my children to grow up and be strong, confident people who will be an influence of good in this world. But why does that mean I have to let them go to high school?
Charlie falls in love with his pretty senior best friend Sam, played well by Emma Watson. I didn't think of Hermione once. The American accent helped with that, I'm sure. Her character is drawn to bad boys who treat her poorly, and the question that is asked twice in the movie, “Why do [we] constantly choose people who are bad for us?” is answered with “We accept the love we think we deserve.”
I loved that line both times. It is both poignant and tragic while managing to ring true and resonates with so many of us who have struggled with self-esteem. But the second time that line was spoken was just before the climax of the movie, the final twist where we discover the worst and most horrible secret of Charlie's past.
It's jarring and horrible and my heart ached and I felt sick. While the flashbacks aren't graphic (thankfully) the implication is clear. This poor Charlie was the most cursed of all. And it makes my chest hurt to think that we live in a world where these things happen. This is the worst part. The things I can't protect my children from that terrify me, because I can't be with them all the time. Kidnappers and car accidents and pedophiles and gangs and all the darkest parts of society that hide in shadows because they cannot abide the light. My preschool students believe that I would eat a lion before I'd let them be hurt, and they're not wrong. But it isn't the lions I'm afraid of, it's the jackals.
So I have to have faith. Faith that when I drop my sons off at school they will be there when I come to pick them up. Faith that there are more good people in the world than bad ones, and that my husband and I aren't standing alone against a legion of evil. Faith that my sons trust me and will tell me when they're in danger. Faith that the lessons we teach them are sinking in. Faith that just like when they were tiny and learning to walk, they'll get back up every time they fall down and try again.
Faith and my medication. Not sleeping can really make you crazy.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

Walk (well, write) the Talk

            He said, she said, they said, we said. Everybody's talking. The way we impart information to each other is through our voices and our body language, and the best characters are the ones we can see and hear clearly in our heads. How a character speaks tells us a lot about them. What they say can tell us their approximate age and education level, indicate where they're from, and tells us what they find important. Some people are naturally brilliant at dialogue. Some writers will always struggle. I can't give you a magic talisman or a cure-all, but I can give you tips on how to make your dialogue stronger and point out mistakes to avoid.
            Mistake number one is repetition. Repetition isn’t just about words; it can also be sounds, word forms, sentence lengths, and letter combinations. Dialogue should be as brief as possible unless the character who’s talking is verbose. How a character speaks tells us a lot about how they’re feeling in this scene and how they feel about who they’re talking to, so don’t give characters the wrong feeling because you are over doing it with the clarity. For example:
            “Did you get the aspirin, babe? I really need it.”
“Yes, I got the aspirin.”
“And the burger buns. I hope you got those.”
“Yes, I got the burger buns.”
“Did you remember to stop by my mother’s house? She said she had something for us.”
“No, I didn’t remember to stop by your mother’s house. I didn’t remember that she said she had something for us.”
Having the second character repeat everything the first character said is annoying and unnecessary, unless you are trying to get across that she is annoyed with his questioning. Even then the last line is overdone. Keep it simple. Yes or no answers the question, we don’t need the recap. Repetition slows down the story and loses the reader’s interest at best, and at worst annoys them enough that they give you a bad review.
Mistake number two is overusing names in conversations. I edited an otherwise strong manuscript once where the two main characters constantly called each other by name during the dialogue. Since I hear the words in my head when I’m reading, it was jarring. We’ll call the two characters Evan and Sierra in this example:
“Evan, I’m scared. What do we do now?”
“I don’t know, Sierra. I guess we try to stick together and find a way out of here and just hope no one notices.”
“I’ve never been lost like this before Evan. I’m freaking out. Look, my hands are shaking.”
“Put your hands in your pockets to keep them warm, Sierra.”
“Evan, are we going to die?”
“No Sierra, I’ll get us out of here. We’ll find a way.”
Think that sounds okay? Read it out loud. Then read it again, and omit every name but the first two. Even those aren’t strictly necessary because Evan and Sierra are the only two people in the scene. There isn’t anyone else for them to talk to. Using people’s names repeatedly in conversation is awkward and makes the person you are speaking to uncomfortable. Try it, just for fun. Next time you’re on the phone or chatting with a friend say their name every time it’s your turn to speak. It’s funny. You can’t keep a straight face for long.
Third mistake is monologuing. Letting a character go on and on uninterrupted gets boring and loses the flow of your story. Exceptions can be when a character is telling a story, but even then the punctuation can get unwieldy and the story you’re telling is disrupted.  Stories succeed because they’re a mixture of elements- action, dialogue, exposition, conflict, more action, etc. Letting just one element take over unbalances your manuscript. And readers notice. They get frustrated, or bored.
Consider the nature of a story, with its conflicts and adversarial confrontations. Unchallenged dialogue drains conflict. Sometimes you have a lot of information to impart. Sometimes your villain is monologuing about their secret plot. There are many ways to get out exposition and dialogue isn’t the only one. In my book, “The Darkest Lie,” I had a lot of background to explain about why magic exists in our world and what caused that to happen initially. Apparently I decided to make this exposition as difficult as possible, since I placed it while to characters were in a car and traveling. No action is possible because the characters are in a static place. But I could use the needed exposition to tell the background and give more about the characters. Here is the excerpt from my manuscript:
 "It's the same thing," Brennan said, trying to regain his composure. "Science and magic, at their core, just mean something you can explain with physical laws and something you can't. Science here is magic to the Shae, because they don't understand it or why it works, whereas their magic to them is mundane but to us is inexplicable." Thane yawned. "Now I'm boring you?"
         "No, just didn't get much sleep," Thane said, yawning again. "So where does Sanctum come into this?"
         "That's where the magic comes in," Brennan said, modulating his voice to sound deeper and more mysterious. Thane rolled his eyes. "In a universe beyond our stars in a time we don't understand, a group of thaumaturgists set out to control the Song. They-"
            "A group of what?" Thane interrupted.
            "Thaumaturgists. Magicians. This group had studied the singing of space and time for longer than we can know, and found a loophole. They set out to create a golem that could pass through the weaves-"
            "They built what?"
            Brennan pressed his lips together. "A golem. A construct. An imitation person made from other elements like clay or rock or fire or whatever you can manipulate that can move around and follow your directions."
            "Like a robot," Thane suggested.
            "Sure, like an advanced robot. They built one that could change the tension in every string that composed her, thereby changing her resonant frequency. She could phase through the Weave. She also had the ability to access the Song, and increase the tension of those around her until their strings would snap, and they would die. The power of their songs would flow through her to her masters. She had no thought or free will; she was a tool, nothing more. They called her The Sylph and she did their bidding until no life was left in their world but each other."
            Thane's eyelids were heavy, and he yawned again, blinking. "That's stupid. What was the point?"
            "Power. With every life she took their power grew. So as the evil often do, those who created The Sylph turned on each other. They each pulled The Sylph with opposing wills and directives, and for the first time many thoughts were in her head. The combination of the billions of lives that had passed through her and the conflicting desires filling her combined to wake her up and she became self aware."
            "Sentient," Thane said, thinking of Remy. He leaned back, resting his head against the top of the seat.
            "Sentient," Brennan agreed. "And she understood the anger, fear, and pain she had experienced with every soul drawn through her, and that drove her mad. The Sylph killed every one of her former masters and then looked to the stars, and on her first day of life she was the last living thing on her world. She wept strange tears of Song, and where they fell the Weave tore open. The Sylph peered into the darkness and outside the one note of her world she could hear the harmonies of the multiverse. And so she left, being careful to travel with the sound and never cross it, moving between the universes in small spaces between the singers of the Song. The Sylph-"
            "How?" Thane asked, lifting his head up.
            Brennan was irritated. "How what?"
            "How did she move between the universes? How could there be space between the sound?"
            Brennan was dumbfounded. "I don't know if anyone's ever thought to ask that," he admitted.
            "Well, how do you know the story?"
            "From Sanctum. It's part of the advanced reading material."
            "How do they know?" Thane pressed.
            "She told them. During the Guardian Wars when our two worlds were colliding and everything was snapping and shattering from the dissonance and no one knew how to fix it or what was happening. The Sylph showed up in the middle of the battle and stopped it cold, and told everyone the story so they would know it was her fault." Brennan scratched his chin, considering. "She still shows up sometimes, or so I'm told. I've personally never met Sylphie."
            "Yeah, apparently she thought being called The Sylph was insulting because it sounded like a thing instead of a person, so she changed it after they established the Guardians."
            "What are the Guardians?"
            Brennan placed his palm on Thane's forehead. "You, my young friend, have an intelligent and agile mind. Now shut up." He pushed Thane's head back down against the seat. "I will get to the Guardians and the Wars and the Shae and Sanctum but only if you let me talk without interrupting me." Fighting to stay awake, Thane yawned widely enough that his jaw popped. "Or you can go to sleep, kid, I'll tell you the rest later."
          "No, keep going," Thane tried to sound alert.
         "Whatever you say. So the Sylph traveled in the space between the universes and listened to the song. She filled the emptiness of her soul with the song shared by the living of every world. Until in one distant universe the wrong star exploded." Thane's head lolled forward, and he jerked it up. Brennan looked at him, seeming to expect an interruption, but Thane just waited. "The explosion blew a hole in the Weave of that universe and it started to fail, the vibrations slowing and its Song dying. But the dying Song was going to pass too close to our universe and the Sylph knew we would be destroyed too."
            "What? How?" Thane's words were slurred, but he fought to stay awake.
            "The sound waves would cancel each other out. So the Sylph made a choice and moved us." Brennan held up a hand to forestall any questions. "I'm not sure exactly how. As I understand, she phased into our Weave and tightened it, changing the frequency of vibration. Not much, but enough that the other universe died without taking us with it. The problem that arose was now we were too close to the Shaerealm. We wouldn't collide because we were moving the same direction at about the same speed. It's more like we were tangled together, their Weave and ours, and in one place particularly the Weaves tangled so much the two worlds opened to each other."
            Thane couldn't raise his eyelids, and the inside of his head felt sloshy. His body slumped, shoulders rolling back, and his head slid to rest wedged between the door and the back of his seat. He wasn't completely asleep, but was far enough that he couldn't open his eyes or move his head. In this semi-conscious state, Thane heard a rap rap rap and then a whirring sound, like an electric window going down.
           "He's asleep," Brennan's voice floated through his remaining consciousness.
           "Finally." LaPointe sounded annoyed. Thane could feel the car slowing and pulling off the road. "I apologize for saying the dose was too high. He should've been out within seconds of drinking all that."
          "I told you, the kid is tough," Brennan said, and the car came to a stop.
           A third voice spoke up. "What is the ending of the story?" the accent the man had reminded Thane of villains in old movies. He heard Brennan snort, and the speaker defended, "You have to finish the story, or it is like hanging up without saying goodbye. It is rude."
          Brennan sighed, then spoke in a rush. "So The Sylph became Sylphie and we used science and magic to establish the guardian stones that balance the resonant realities of our worlds. We didn't have the power to close the tears, so Sanctum was established to coordinate the integration of the inhabitants of the two worlds, and establish and enforce ground rules, and generally to oversee the stabilization of both universes so that they could coexist. Happy now?"

            That was a large excerpt, but I wanted to use it to establish two important things about dialogue. One, Brennan’s story about the origins of magic in our world was not one uninterrupted fairy tale. Thane’s interjections and fighting to stay awake provide the reader with a fuller view of what’s happening in my story without losing any of the back story behind it. Two, each character has a distinct speaking voice. Brennan likes to sound intelligent and uses long sentences. Thane is brief and direct. The lack of contractions from the third voice, always saying “it is” instead of “it’s” indicates a dialect. No, he’s not a robot. Remember he has an accent, which Thane learns later is Russian.
            Which brings us to dialogue difficulty / mistake number four. Writing a character with an accent. One of your characters having an accent is not a mistake, but it is hard. You have to keep the accent consistent without overusing punctuation and making it hard for your reader to read. One of the characters in my book has a cockney accent, and that was a pain to write. I’m going to rework it to make it better. Look at the following dialogue:
            "That's bollocks, I'm out," Charlie stated flatly. "You can't put that kind of pressure on me or on 'im. Giving me six bleedin' days to teach something it takes an 'atchling a decade to get right and then bootin' 'im back into the world with just a prayer you won't need to call the cleaners to fix the mess? No. I won't be on the line for that. You've got enough on me already, and I'm not 'elping you cut the kids arm so it's bleedin' when you throw 'im back in the shark tank." Charlie crossed his arms and stared, unblinking, into Gage's eyes. "Get one of your Omega monkeys to do it. I won't."
            This dialogue is clumsy and inelegant, and the constant use of apostrophes distracts the eye from the word and can pull the reader out of the story. If you’re going to write a character with an accent, focus more on the patterns of speech and the words used than on pronunciation. Yoda is a great example of this. He spoke perfectly clear English, but the structures of his sentences made his accent unforgettable. If Yoda you now quote, get it everyone around you will. And no visually distracting apostrophes or strangely spelled words.
            I’m going to halt this blog post now, and do a second one on dialogue later. There’s still a lot to go over, including letting your characters speak for themselves, the best dialogue tags in the universe, how to know what to cut and what to keep, how to spice up the conversation, and how to know when it’s good. That will be next time.
            “The end,” she said, wiggling her eyebrows. “For now.”