Sunday, September 30, 2018

Grades, Grad School, & Goals: Studying Abroad in Germany

Usually this is the time of the month when I post a book review, but alas, I haven’t had the time to discover many new books lately. In fact, not long ago there was a period of two weeks where I read a grand total of twenty pages. *gasp* Was I dying? Yes, I was. I blame school and work. Note to self: don’t work two jobs and take six credit hours and then invite a friend over to visit. It’s a trap! Somehow, I’m still alive.

When I was a kid, I used to calculate how long it would take me to get out of school. If the average student finished high school at eighteen, and college lasted four years, I should be done by twenty-two. As it turns out, my life took another direction. I didn’t stop after my undergraduate, and now I’m studying for my Masters of Business Administration (M.B.A.), my second graduate degree. And when I say I’m studying abroad, I’m actually studying at an American university this time. I just happen to live overseas.

I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a degree-chaser though. There are days when I get tired of schoolwork and academia and want to light my Writer’s Reference book (the one with all the formats: APA, MLA, etc.) on fire. But as I’m anti-book burning—no matter the book—I will happily watch it collect dust after graduation instead.

Just kidding! I’ve been thinking about going back for another degree. (Maybe I am a degree-chaser?) This time, I’m thinking about a PhD in library sciences. I just have so many questions. Why the Dewey Decimal System? How is it decided whether a book is deemed a classic and placed in nonfiction or still a classic and place in fiction? How can I help budding readers discover the joy of reading?

There are so many things to learn!

That being said, here are just a few things my M.B.A. has taught me:

Not everybody knows what M.B.A. means.

Me: I’m studying for my M.B.A. 
Person: Cool! What’s that in? 
Me: …Business. 
Person: Oh. Pretend I didn’t just ask that. 
(An actual conversation I had.)

I listed it above, but I’ll repeat it—M.B.A stands for Masters of Business Administration. As a military brat, I’ve had to explain that a commissary is a grocery store, and as a writer, I’ve had to explain that Deus ex Machina is the ending of a book that’s solved too easily by some greater force. Academia also has its own lingo.

I don’t care about grades anymore.

When I said this to one of my classmates, she just stared at me like I sprouted another head. But it’s true. After studying in England, where receiving 50 out of 100 is a pass, I’ve learned that it’s not so much the number but rather the learning experience that counts. Instead of focusing on achieving a grade, I try to focus on learning something new, whether it’s how to input finances into an Excel spreadsheet or how to confront an obnoxious classmate about inappropriate behavior.

It’s okay to change career directions.

I started my M.B.A. with the mindset that it would help me in the writing industry. Then, I wanted to start my own editing company. Now, I’m considering opening my own bookstore. I had, in fact, mentioned this final idea to one of my friends when I first visited Oxford. We were walking along the River Thames, watching the horses trot across the fields and the weeping willow branches sway across the water and talking about our dreams and all the possibilities we could achieve.

Things changed when I started my M.A. in English Literature. I moved to England to learn about stories and dragons, and I did. But I also learned about how hard it is for bookstores to survive today. I watched one of the bookstores on one of my college’s campuses close for a while. On Easter Break, my family and I visited Naples, where we got to walk along via San Biagio dei librai (“Saint Biagio of the book sellers’ street”), a street once famous for having hundreds of bookstores but now has only a few. At school, I borrowed most of my books from the library and bought the copies I wanted on Amazon or at the school bookshop.

I wondered how independent bookstores today could survive.

Then, I figured it was time to move onto something more practical than a bookshop and nearly let my dream die.

Just this semester, during my class on marketing, I did one of my projects on Barnes & Noble and remembered how much I liked the idea of starting up a bookstore. So I’ve switched from editing, though I still enjoy it, back to planning on running a bookstore of my own. I spent way more time on one assignment than was probably necessary, researching and writing a detailed marketing plan. While I probably could have saved more time and submitted a less-detailed assignment, I wanted to know what I was getting into.

I didn’t just complete the assignment for the sake of doing the assignment. I did it for my future business endeavors. During my research, I even came across an article that explained how independent bookstores in the United States aren’t actually dying out: “How Independent Bookstores Have Thrived in Spite of”

That’s when I came to realize I can do this. I can start up my own bookstore.

This past year has been quite busy! While I haven’t had nearly as much time to read lately, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Now that I only have one class left, and I’m done with one of my jobs, I can get back to reading and writing regularly.

If you happen to find yourself confronted by a dream that seems impossible or implausible in the world today, may I just encourage you with the lyrics from one of my favorite songs:

Every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head.

A million dreams are keeping me awake.
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see.
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take.
A million dreams for the world we're gonna make.
(“A Million Dreams,” The Greatest Showman)

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Let’s chat! What about you? What’s your dream? *cue music from Tangled* What have you done to pursue it?


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Last of the Memory Keepers Book Birthday!

I can hardly believe it. A year ago today, I meant to pre-schedule my print copy and somehow hit publish, and there it was, ready to take on the world! Or, you know, all its readers. It’s surreal to hold my own book, to tell people I’m a published author, to have conversations like this with small children:

“What do you want to be when you’re a grown up?” the girl asked. 
I never thought I’d find myself quoting Trumpkin the Dwarf: “I am a grown up.” And, I added, “I’m an author.”

Yes, I made my book a party hat. Isnt it cute? Here are just a few things that happened the past year because of Last of the Memory Keepers.

I learned the ins and outs of the post office.

Until it changed its hours. They’re so short staffed, it’s not even funny.

But I quickly got the hang of how much it would cost to send each book (with insurance—learned that the hard way) and how to package each book.

I learned a lot about indie publishing.

Giveaways tend to generate more blog traffic but not necessarily more reviews. Of the ten or so signed copies I shipped out, maybe one person wrote a review. (Thanks, S. M. Metzler!) Oh yeah, and giveaways received more attention when I posted them on my blog and when I added a free entry option. People like free stuff.

I sold several print books to my local independent bookstore, and a couple of months later, they sent me another e-mail asking for more. Just yesterday the owner told me that the book is going to be read for the shop's next book club and requested MORE. Now, were planning a book reading/book signing. WHAT. IS. THIS. EVEN!?

Support your local bookstores.

Bottom photo credit: Kendra, Sweet Things & Stories Shop Owner

While studying for my MBA, I took a class on marketing and learned a lot. Like how less is more and the quality of posts trump quantity every time. Wow, I wish I had learned more about marketing sooner! At the same time, I’m glad I could learn through trial and error. Now I know more of what I should do when it comes to my next book!

Granted, I’m not perfect. I still only have three reviews on Goodreads. *stares intently at people I know have read the book* But seriously though, if you’ve happened to read one or all of the novelettes, I would greatly appreciate an honest review on Goodreads and/or Amazon.

The e-books got a cover redesign!

I don’t even know what I was thinking with the first set. Thanks to my ever-so-patient cover artist and fellow blogger, Faith René Boggus, they have a fresh look!

I’m partial to The Forgotten Sons. I mean, look at that lighting! And the brothers Jahan and Navid! That and this story is not-so-secretly my favorite of all my novelettes. What? Don’t look at me like that. I can have favorites too!

My sister knows more about my characters than I do.

Say what? While writing my stories I used to think that nobody could know my characters better than I could. Until my sister got copies of her own and reread them to death, and now she can point out characters I’d forgotten about after six months. How does she do that?

Maybe it’s because I’d moved on to my next story already. As a writer, I try to focus on one story at a time. When I finally hit publish and put one story down to work on the next, it’s like saying goodbye. In this sense, the reader has the advantage of reading and rereading the final product while my head is full of first, middle, middle-middle, last, and actual last drafts.

Oh yeah, and apparently, I killed off her favorite character. Whoops.

My dad started reading my book.

My parents may have encouraged my taste for books when I was a kid, my dad through radio talking books and my mom through award winners. But my dad has never been much of an avid reader. When he came back from a vacation telling me that he’d started my book, mentioning details I knew only a reader could know, I was stunned. In a good way, of course.

Hiccup (aka me): I knew it… I’m dead. 
Stoic (aka Dad): No, but you gave it your best shot. 
(How to Train Your Dragon)

I know I already mentioned this in my acknowledgements, but I’m going to say it again. Thank you to all my readers for all your support and for a great first year!

Let’s chat! Readers, have you read Last of the Memory Keepers yet? If so, who’s your favorite character? (Please keep the comments spoiler-free!) Indie authors, what things did you learn the first year your book was out?


Sunday, September 16, 2018

4 Ways to Find Time to Write

I tend to have two types of schedules: busy and not busy. Either I can afford to spend all day working on my novel, reading a book, and traveling to whichever castle or library I want; or I have to go to work, rush through my lunch break, finish my schoolwork, teach a class, and maybe squeeze in some family OR reading time.

Right now, I have the busy schedule. I’ve heard of writers finding time during their lunch break to write a page or two, but seriously, sometimes I barely find time in my lunch break to eat. I work part-time, so I only get one 15-minute break a day. That and I decided to teach two online writing classes, and I’m finishing up my latest master’s degree. Hahaha! What have I done?

Where in the world do I find time to write?

I’m still keeping up with my blog posts, so obviously, I’m still writing. No, the answer is not a time machine. I seem to have lost that in 1942. Don’t ask.

Here are just a few of the ways I find time to do what I enjoy:

1)      Make the Time

Okay, so I can’t just go to work and say, “Hey, right now is my prime writing time, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to pull out my laptop.” That’s rude. Instead, I take the time I have outside of work and fit it in then. For example, I spend less time on Pinterest and more time writing my novel in my physical journal or typing up a blog post on my computer.

I don’t find the time to write. I make the time. I have to prioritize. (This doesn’t just apply to writing but also to reading. I usually pick one or the other on the days I work.)

As such, I’m no longer cooking as much. I throw some pasta on to boil or some schnitzel in the oven and get work done while the food is cooking. Similarly, I don’t take the dog outside as much anymore. Poor pooch. Don’t worry, though. My sister is still on summer break, and I have recruited her in the family attempts to get her out of the house.

2)      Daydream

Exercise your imagination. The advantage to this method is that it can be used almost anywhere. Back when I was studying for my MA in English Literature, my brain would come up with the best plot lines or characters while I was working on essays.

Writing for me is 50% typing or scratching with a pen and 50% daydreaming. A lot of times, I’ll write poetry or catchy lines in my head while I’m out and about, then come home and write it down later.

If you can, pursue activities that encourage thinking. For me, this is primarily biking to work. I get all my best ideas when I exercise or do the housework.

Don’t forget to carry a notebook with you. I do. Unfortunately, I’m the worst at actually keeping notes. I’m more likely to type up notes on my computer and later jot down the basic overview of stories in my notebook for portable writing.

3)      Write Uninterrupted

Put up a do not disturb sign. Turn off the internet. Move to a deserted island and correspond with people via passenger pigeons. (Yes, I know one of those is an impossibility.) Do what you have to do to write without distractions.

Find your writing niche. For me, I like to write from the desk in my room and read on the couch downstairs. That way, my brain associates my room with work and the living room with leisure.

Once you find what works for you, go from there. It takes some practice, sure. But your stories will thank you despite your schedule.

4)      Read

Wait, I thought I was talking about writing? Yes, but writing without reading is like exercising without stretching or drinking water, like cooking without any dishes, like traveling without taking any money. Can it be done? Sure. Should it be done? No.

Reading is a great way to feed your imagination, to expand your knowledge, to hone your style.

If you can’t find enough time to read, make the time.

Let’s chat! Is your schedule busy or leisurely? How do you make time to write? To read? What does your writing space look like?


Sunday, September 9, 2018

7 Settings as Vivid as Characters

Settings, quite like various foods and plots, tend to vary (see The Potato Chip Plot). On one hand, a setting can be as simply stated as two different countries (The Alliance series), a village full of crows (The Vile Village), or somebody’s hometown (some contemporary YA books). On the other hand, in some books, the setting is so dense that there’s an entire chapter dedicated to the Parisian sewer system, *cough* Les Mis *cough* and readers wonder “Is this really necessary?”

Finding a balance between too much detail and too little is hard, and preferences differ from reader to reader.

I lean more towards the literary, weighty settings when it comes to books. So I might dock a star if the setting is vague, especially if I’ve been to the book’s location and still can’t picture the place (eg. Oxford: a small, easy-to-navigate college town next to the Thames River that’s full of students and tourists, bookshops and libraries, and various colleges built from white stone.) Books that describe a setting so vividly it brings back memories or makes it so I can image I’ve been there are likely to receive an extra star from me. That’s just my personal preference.

Here are just a few fictional and nonfictional settings that I’d like to visit!

Green Gables in Anne of Green Gables

“To the west a dark church spire rose up against a marigold sky. Below was a little valley and beyond a long, gentle-rising slope with snug farmsteads scattered along it. […] one away to the left, far back form the road, dimly white with blossoming trees in the twilight of the surrounding woods. Over it, in the stainless southwest sky, a great crystal-white star was shining like a lamp of guidance and promise.”

One of the things I enjoy about Anne of Green Gables is how rich the text is. Another is how the book describes the beauty and complexity of the “simple life” and how even everyday tasks become adventures and everyday ponds and fields, the backdrop.

The Jungle of Faloiv in A Conspiracy of Stars

“My father and I live under different suns. In reality, it is the same: red and hungry, an intense crimson eye that sends the sweat fleeing from my skin. It’s as beautiful as it is harsh, but my father sees none of the beauty. The past has dulled his wonder, and so the light of this planet shines differently on each of us. For me, it is part of home. For him, it is a beacon over a prison. Like others in N’Terra, he had his heart set on another sun. This one is a poor replacement.”

I want to visit another planet! Unfortunately, astronauts haven’t even been back to the moon in years, so the likelihood of visiting another planet in my lifetime is slim. *tear* At least I can experience what another planet might be like through fiction. Olivia A. Cole’s A Conspiracy of Stars has an excellent description of what another planet and its flora and species might look like. Though it sounds hot—the characters live in a jungle after all—there’s just so much to learn about!

The Mountain Ranges in The Books of Pellinor

“Just before they arrived in the village, the sun sent its first rays over the edge of the earth, and the grasses, bent with heavy dew, sparkled alive in prisms of fire. Far away in the north the snow tips of Osidh Elanor, the Mountains of the Dawn, flared red and pink like the edges of petals.” —The Bone Queen (The Books of Pellinor, book 0.5)

This series can be a little slow at times, but I like it perhaps for that very reason. The settings are so vivid that I feel like I’m there. I already enjoy visiting the Alps. Why wouldn’t I want to visit a mountain range where I might encounter a bard capable of magic?

The cockpit of an airplane in Code Name Verity

“One moment flying in green sunlight, then the sky suddenly grey and dark.”

For somebody who’s afraid of heights, I’m not afraid of flying. Of course, I’ve never actually been in a cockpit, unless you count a grounded plane at a museum. Elizabeth Wein, author of the Code Name Verity books, actually is a pilot. As a reader, I can tell. While she includes some of the technicalities of flying, the passages that take place in the planes are never boring. Quite the opposite!

Hobbiton, Lothlorien, and Rohan in The Lord of the Rings

“On the land of Lórien, there was no stain… Frodo looked and saw, still at some distance, a hill of many mighty trees, or a city of green towers: which it was he could not tell. Out of it, it seemed to him that the power and light came that held all the land in sway. He longed suddenly to fly like a bird to rest in the green city.” —The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, part 1)

I tried to narrow it down to one and failed. I’d thoroughly enjoy picking up some gardening tips in the Shire, though I’d probably hit my head on the doorways or chandeliers in a hobbit hole. Let me ride with the horse masters of the Rohirrim. You may even find me exploring the heights in the beautiful trees of Lórien while hopefully not panicking about the heights.

The Isle of Thisby in The Scorpio Races

“As the sun shines low and red across the water, I wade into the ocean. The water is still high and brown and murky with the memory of the storm, so if there’s something below it, I won’t know it. But that’s part of this, the not knowing. The surrender to the possibilities beneath the surface.” —Sean

If you manage to overlook the gray and the damp and the flesh-eating horses, Thisby actually sounds pretty nice with its towering cliffs, the smell of the sea, and the taste of November cakes.

Alaska in The Snow Child

“She could not fathom the hexagonal miracle of snowflakes formed from clouds, crystallized fern and feather that tumble down to light on a coat sleeve, white stars melting even as they strike. How did such force and beauty come to be in something so small and fleeting and unknowable? You did not have to understand miracles to believe in them, and in fact Mabel had come to suspect the opposite.”

Hey, look! A setting that actually exists. (I know, I know. Airplanes exist too.)

I’m not usually much for the cold, but the author describes Alaska in such a way that makes winter sound beautiful and cruel, mysterious and terrible. Even without reading the author’s biography, I could tell she lived there.

While it’s one of my lifelong dreams to one day see the Northern Lights, and they make an appearance in the book, they’re not the main feature. There are the first snow of winter and the frozen river, the mountains and the animals, the solitude and the local community.

Then there’s the whole magical realism element of The Snow Child that left me wondering whether the snow child herself wasn’t a part of the Alaskan wilderness.

Let’s chat! What are some of your favorite fictional or nonfictional settings? Like any of the above? If you could travel in person to only one fictional setting, which one would you pick?


Literary references: L. Nicodemus Lyons’ The Alliance series, Lemony Snicket’s The Vile Village, L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Olivia A. Cole’s A Conspiracy of Stars, Alison Croggon’s The Books of Pellinor, Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, and Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Poem: Waking Up

Some days are harder than others, it’s true. Some mornings, especially when I have to work, I’ll wake up before my alarm, water my plants, and bike to work. Other days, when I have the morning to spare, I may hit snooze again... And again… And again. I wonder where the time goes and why I don’t want to face the day.

I particularly struggled with this when I was living in England and studying for my Masters in English Literature. Because my classes were so late in the morning or in early afternoon, I had no obligation to keep a regular schedule. I set my alarm for eight anyway, though I found myself more often than not getting up at nine and my actual work starting at ten. I’ve gotten better, especially since I’ve graduated and since my new phone has a snooze function with ten-minute intervals instead of five. But I’m not always there.

The following poem is about that struggle. But I also like to think that it’s more than that. I’m more than that. It’s dedicated to those who don’t want to get up in the morning, those who’d rather sleep just a little later than deal with the coming day. You’ve got this.

Waking Up

I’ve stared at my calendar,
            but…   somehow…
I cannot seem to circle the day
            not when
today—tomorrow—is like a pool,
            and I
am lying on its edge.

Please don’t ask me to swim.
            not now—
not yet—just five more minutes,
            and I
promise I’ll get up—I’ll crawl
the shore and plunge into the depths.

I can swim—stroke after stroke—
            it’s not
hours of swimming but just
            one arm after another.
I can do that. I can breathe.
            Lay on my back and feel
the rain patter down.


Let’s chat! What did you think of the poem? Are you a morning person, or do you struggle with waking up?