Defeating Doubt: 10 Steps

Dark Dreamers,

It doesn’t matter who you are, how healthy you eat, or how many sit-ups you do, anyone, at any time, can be stalked by the silent killer on panther paws: doubt. From doctors to lawyers to new adult dark fantasy writers, each is equally likely to be pounced unexpectedly, usually at the most inopportune moments. For me, I know it often comes just as I try to settle in to sleep. I could be exhausted, a day that has run me hard and put me away wet, yet those little tendrils of doubt slither their way into my brain. Then we’re off to the races. My mind won’t stop. Anxiety whips my thoughts into a fury. At this point I might as well and get up and do something. There will be no sleeping tonight.

Between Facebook, Twitter, blogs and professional meetings, I see I’m far from the only one. This hunter stalks indeterminately and is always hungry. What gets me is not only do I feel it at night; I see it in my students every day. Whether it is holding back an answer or losing points on a test due to anxiety, doubt has a near emotional monopoly on the world reaching every man, woman and, yes, child. Also, unlike my books, there are no vampires to save us from it.

No, defeating doubt is not a passive skill. In fact, the more we hide and hope it’ll take someone else and go away, the worse it gets. Fighting it is an active counterattack requiring strategy; we have to engage in this battle every day if we hope to keep the clutches of depression and defeat at bay. In dark days and hard moments, when our blinders are the thickest, our sparring techniques can be forgotten, so today I thought I would force myself to remember what they are.

  1. Stop and Breathe. Bring the world and your responsibilities down to the size of your breath.vipassana-997078_1920
  2. Don’t Ignore It. Making pretend everything is okay will only make you feel guiltier.jailed-1251615_1280
  3. Don’t feel guilty. Emotions happen. You are already taking charge.shame-927085_1920
  4. Probe the points of doubt with questions. Where did it come from? What do I know about it?woman-1207674_1920
  5. Is the source real and concrete, or am I creating my doubt through perceptions? Check to see if there was an actual cause that I can deal with or work on. If not, identify it as a neurotic doubt and ask why I have created this for myself.nothing-1394845_1920
  6. Don’t judge or compare: Work with the hand I’ve got. I can play no one’s life but my own. Woulda, shoulda, coulda will get me nowhere. All I can do is make a plan from this point forward with the real world, not the one in my head.meditation-1009307_1920
  7. Create a plan and put it into action. I feel more in control when there are steps I can take. Figure out what I can do right now and do at least one thing. head-1345064_1920
  8. Have a way to remind myself of all that I have and can accomplish. Have this ready before, prepared when I feel good and confident. Create a Victory Deck of index cards, each with something on it that I’m proud I’ve accomplished. Remembering this when doubt has its claws in me will never work. opposites-680065_1920
  9. Change something small physically into a confident gesture. Whether that is the way I walk, my posture or my facial expressions, changing something small about myself into something more confident can set off a chain reaction. positive-954797_1920
  10. Go do something I know will build my confidence. Whether it is an activity, a hobby, a game, cook some food. Just do something that makes me feel confident. It can even be just putting on a piece of clothing that makes me feel stronger or better. motivation-1388479_1280

So there’s my 10 step chain that I use to make darker times of self-doubt better. No supernatural shifters or vicious vampires required. Just active steps to chase away my internal ghosts. So, dear Dreamers, what’s yours? I would love to learn how to be stronger and better and you may just have my clue. What works for you?


Sales in Dark Urban Fantasy

Dear Dark Dreamers,

If you have been waiting for the right time to buy my debut New Adult Dark Urban Fantasy novel, the absolute right time has found you. For a limited time, Of Scions and Men, (the paperback version) is on sale from Amazon. This is cheaper than you will find anywhere else, including from me, and soon you could be holding an actual copy in your hands.

Don’t wait to long, this really is only a limited time event. Click over and order it today: Amazon Of Scions and Men

EBOOK STORE COPY

You know you want to kick some supernatural butt with Rowan.

Also, don’t forget, once you have read the book, please leave a review on Amazon. It doesn’t have to be long, just honest. Every review helps all us poor authors immensely.


Midnight in the Garden of Urban Fantasy

Hi there, Dark Dreamers,

I hope everyone had a fun Mother’s Day and is enjoying this Spring. Both of these events collided yesterday for me into a day of being pampered by my boys and planting my veggie and fruit gardens for this year under a beautiful sky. It was nothing short of glorious.

This is my third year of growing fruits and vegetables at home. Over time I’ve learned that I knew nothing that first year, but I’m getting better at it. In the first year, my eyes got much bigger than my talent. I figured my plants would barely grow or produce, so I filled my garden. To my surprise it did grow, but now my inexperience had created a jungle monstrosity where tomatoes and cucumbers twined together until you didn’t know where one stopped and the other started. They grew through my fence until our neighbors also had veggies. Basil and peppers grew for their lives, but were eventually choked out by the larger plants. I was able to can a great deal of delicious food to save and use during the winter and the rest of the year, but so much rotted and was wasted.

The next year, I learned from my mistakes. I put in two extra beds and made more space. I dedicated one whole bed to nothing but strawberries and planted two apple and one pear tree. I went down by a third on my tomato plants, planting them far away from the cucumbers and then, let everything grow. My success was greater, but the tomatoes still managed to grow so big that we couldn’t reach the middle. The cucumbers, without the tomatoes to grow on, didn’t thrive. I also tried new plants like corn and watermelon. There was a lot to learn. I cut back my strawberries and didn’t let them flower, like the experts told me to, and did the same with the apples. Again, I had an enormous tomato yield, but my inexperience led me to not much else, as I didn’t understand the right care for each. Also Japanese Beatles ate all the leaves off my trees.

This year, I’m at it again. With planting and growing, everything I’ve learned has led to many changes. I now have my herbs in gutter gardens where they can thrive and not compete. I have half the tomato plants I had the first year with cages and spacing that allows me to reach from all sides. I have much more room for my other plants and am even trying some new ones that don’t need so much space. I switched how I feed and water them. Finally, I got to let my apples and strawberries blossom. And we sprayed them with a natural oil that is supposed to keep the beetles at bay. It is still early in the season, but there is already something for me to feel proud and excited about. The very first apples are forming on my trees. On both the Honeycrisp and the Golden Delicious apple trees, baby fruit is happily growing. We will have to see how my work goes as the seasons turn, but so far so good.

20160508_125011

How do you like them apples?

This got me thinking about writing. Often my students and even other writer friends (and sometimes even I) believe that we have to be a success out of the gate or we’re just “not writers”. Not our game. Not our bag. Even going through all the drafting and revisions we talk about, sometimes we have to learn more to become the writer we want to be. My first attempts at writing were entertaining and decent ideas, but the execution was not good. I didn’t know enough yet. My craft was still forming. But now, year-by-year, word-by-word, I get better. As I’ve been working on the next book in the American Scions series, I am hit by the fact of how much better it is than the first. Don’t get me wrong, I worked long and hard on the first, but I am constantly learning to be a better writer, just like I’m learning to become a better gardener.

That leads us to this week’s question: What in your life do you do and enjoy, but are learning how to do it better each time? What’s growing in your garden?


Women’s Liberation in Dark Urban Fantasy

Dreary Day, Dark Dreamers,

“Just be prepared, if your female character has sex with anyone who isn’t their happily ever after, people are going to complain.” This statement during my last week’s critique group meeting was followed quickly by “But if it’s a male character, there’s no problem.” Together we’d been looking at The American Scions first sex scene. Granted this was only mentioned in passing, but the thought has stayed with me all weekend. Double standards follow us not only in life, but into our fantasy worlds as well.

Strong female leads are needed and should have full agency. They stand up to governments, vampires, shifters, ghosts, mediums, the 101st Airborne, whatever life throws at them, but when it comes to sexual freedom and her body she needs to be chaste and pure as any medieval princess. Even if she thinks it’s love and follows all the true to life actions, if he isn’t going to be her husband soon, we have to make it bad or she’s a slut.

I am not saying that we need to have sex, sex, sex at every turn and with every possible character. In fact this entire discussion began from the first scene of its kind in the entire series. First a strong female character gets in trouble for not having sex in book one, then there’s trouble if she does in book two if it’s not with the progressively approved guy. This is a crazy catch 22, and what gets me is it is a frustrating reflection of the double standard in life outside urban fantasy. And I do understand this conversation is nothing new. To quote that pivotal 80s movie The Breakfast Club, “It’s kind of a double edged sword isn’t it? Well, if you say you haven’t, you’re a prude. If you say you have, you’re a slut. It’s a trap. You want to but you can’t, and when you do you wish you didn’t, right?” We may be CEOs of Fortune 500s, but we haven’t moved past this trap yet.

woman-281473_1920

Sisters, superpowered or not, standing together for agency.

Sex does not make the man, nor the woman. Our bodies are our own. We should be judged on our abilities, not gender. There is a cultural norm that presupposes that the barriers to physical acts is only the responsibility of women. Somehow men are too weak, vulnerable, or incapable to turn down a pretty good. Men should be as upset with this image as I am?

Yet, this is not the case. We teach girls how not to get raped, rather than teaching boys don’t rape. We make girls go home for a tank top, but boys can wear pants that show their underwear. Girls get suspended for slapping a boy who grabs her butt, but the boy just couldn’t help it because she was distracting. I wish I was being hyperbolic and embellishing for effect, but I don’t have to. These have happened in real life, and continue to do so far too regularly.

In Urban Fantasy we value our strong female characters who have agency and take life in her own hands and face down all the odds. Can’t we let them also lead the way to breaking other stereotypes? So, that’s my question you, Dreamers, do you agree with the original statement about our female heroes or is it time to let them take agency not only in beating the big bads, but also in the bad double standards? What do you feel on this issue?


Running Wild, Together from the Dark

Spring has sprung, Dark Dreamers,

We cannot deny that we, as humans, are social creatures. Even the most introverted of us still needs some human interaction. Children, who receive food and shelter, but not interactions and touch, falter. Very few successful books could maintain a reader’s interest with only one character. Even The Martian by Andy Weir, which came very close, worked hard to get communication back up as he was going a bit peculiar without it. In pieces like this and Castaway, the character discarded from the rest of the social race, must find ways to mimic social interactions, i.e. the communication logs and Wilson the friendly volleyball. There is only so far the socially interdependent species of human can go alone.

molten

Molten, Wilson’s long lost girlfriend.

Yet, one of my students brought up the concept in my communications class last week that she fears we’re losing our ability to actually interact one with another. She spoke of seeing her friends desperate to look at the screen if someone appeared to approach them so they wouldn’t have to speak to them. She confessed that as much as she hates seeing it, she does it too. Her words reminded me of this quote from Vincent Nichols, “We’re losing social skills, the human interaction skills, how to read a person’s mood, to read their body language, how to be patient until the moment is right to make or press a point. Too much exclusive use of electronic information dehumanizes what is a very, very important part of community life and living together.”

We see it all the time. Families out to eat, staring at their screens. Parents at kid’s games posting and watching their phones rather than the game. I have even seen students walking on campus walk straight into a pole or another student due to their attention being diverted down. But we can’t just blame “those damn kids”. It is a multi-generational change.

But now it is spring, a time of change and growth, even for us dark urban fantasy writers who wallow in writing about blood and monsters and all things violent. This is a chance for us to seek out more interactions as the weather itself is no longer driving us indoors as it did all winter. We should seek ways to make the everyday activities a better way to connect with others. And before you ask, yes, Dreamers, I’m holding myself to the same standard. I have fallen out of my running habit, and I can feel it. So, I have started on the daily running challenges again, only this time, I’m not doing it alone. No hiding behind my earbuds and drowning the world out. Nope. This time my husband and son and dog are joining me for the runs. We’re training together and making it a family bonding moment each day. We’ve already run twice as a group, and I can feel the difference of having others there.

DSC_0365

The wild running Sloans

The same is true for our characters. For me, characters should not be so perfect that they do everything on their own. I love a character who overcomes the antagonist by giving it everything they’ve got and being backed by the relationships they’ve cultivated. Luke would have been a failure without Han and Chewie and Leia. Harry would never have even seen the stone without Ron and Hermine. Being an old school gamer, my most successful character was not the one with the best stats. No, she was the weakest fighter in the game, crippled, but she made friends with everyone she met. When the bad guys came for her, they had an army to make their way through to even try. That’s our social groups. They are our cheerleaders, our cattle prods and our counselors all tied up with a pretty bow.

So, this concept of the changing of social interaction is a hot button with many people. What do you think? Are we as a society losing our ability to communicate effectively one with another?


Seeing the Wind in Revisions

Happy Spring Day, Dark Dreamers,

“I have always maintained that if you looked closely enough you could see the wind—the dim, hardly-made-out, fine debris fleeing high in the air.” Stewart Edward White painted this lovely concept in his book The Mountains. I have loved this light and movement filled portrayal. As I tell my students all the time, write your soul so your audience feels it. That’s what descriptions are. In dark urban fantasy, that’s doubly important as you may be describing a creature no one has met, such as vampires, scions, shifters or ghosts, or an action no audience member has ever, hopefully, experienced, such as having their blood slowly drained from their body or the shifting of their bones and muscles as they become an animal. What senses will engage the most to share the event with the reader? When does detail and description become too much?

But as we’ve discussed here before, very rarely will we hit the artificial obvious images perfectly the first time on the first draft. Try as we may, we have to collect that sand first, before making the castle of our masterpiece. We need to revise and clean and shape until our blood splatters just so, and a kiss captures just the right breath, and the monster’s eyes are just the right shade of hate. If we can’t see it, they won’t feel it. But something happens when we see the wind, we forget to write the world it flows in.

computer-graphics-1088457_1280

And the blood flowed and covered everything like a great big red bloody mess…yes, poetry.

What I mean by this is often as writers we can get so fixated on describing the details of the scene, we often simply assume our readers can see the rest of the world as clearly as we can. This doesn’t just limit itself to the physical description of a place or a person, but also the internal workings of characters as well. Why is a character reacting or feeling? What clues can we give our audience? The importance here is our readers often will empathize with our characters if they can believe and feel their motivations and emotions. But that has to be there. On both physical and emotional cues, and that can be hard for an author to spot the lack of both in drafting and revising.

We always see the wind, because we are so intimate with the voices in our heads and the story we’re stitching. We love our baby masterpiece in the making. It’s hard to see their faults or the missing gaps in our writing because our brain autocorrects not only our grammar when we read it, but also the continuity and motivational gaps since it already knows that whether it’s on the paper or not. We see the wind because we gave it life, but often it stays in our eyes and our heads and never makes it to the paper. Our poor audiences, not being psychic and all, has no idea what’s left in our head and is at the mercy of the scraps thrown onto the paper.

This is true not only for fiction writing but also academic writing for my students, memo writing in the office, proposal writing for the government. Writing is writing, for ill or for good. And the best resource stay true for every one of them: other people. People will cheerlead you when you are dragging, kick you in the butt when you need it and be an extra set of eyes and brain for your words. Once they can describe the wind the way you can, then you know you really have something.

I love my critique group who does all of the above for me. They workshop everything from a barely formed idea to a fully written scene. But my best secret weapon is my husband, who is also a writer. We try to perfect each other’s work and point out when the wind is a bit lacking. Recently a local reporter wrote about how we put this idea to use. Here’s a link to that article: Frederick News Post Article

So, my question to you, Dark Dreamers, is who or what is your secret weapon to make you better in what you do?


Risk Taking and the Monomyth in Urban Fantasy

Dear Dark Dreamers,

Day late and a dollar short. I know. I missed yesterday’s post for the very best reasons, hopefully. It is not something I can go into yet, but I can promise you one thing about it, I have taken a chance, put myself out there to the best of my skills, and I hope the reap the rewards. However, if I don’t, that does not mean the end of chances and risks and yes, even heartache. Each semester, this has led me to teaching my students one of the most important lessons in life.

Successful people do not let life happen to them. They set out, work, strive and grow. AND FAIL. Yep, successful people fail, and fail often. If there is one thing that life taught me it’s that everyone needs to make friends with failure. The martial arts Master has to throw 999 crappy kicks to get that muscle memory to do it right. An inventor, like the late Steve Jobs and his army of engineers, had a multitude of failed prototypes before any of the iPhones became the successes they are. Even famous artists have many errors before their works become masterpieces. And I promise we hardworking authors have many drafts of words before it becomes a book, or even a blog post. It is an old adage but a true one, “The difference between a beginner and a master, is that the master has failed more times than the beginner has ever attempted.”

What makes us successful isn’t being perfect and never failing, it is in what we do when we inevitably trip and falter.

And isn’t this true for our characters as well? We want them to struggle. For things to be hard. For them to stare into the void of the impossible and keep going until they succeed. Even the famous monomyth is based upon the several trial failure/success structure. A character needs to strive and do everything they can to fix the problem and fail several times. The act of getting over the failure and becoming the master/mistress of two worlds through those lessons makes a hero/heroine as much if not more than just winning in the end.

hurricane-92968_1920

A little bit of rain, they said. We’ll be back by Monday, they said.

One of the biggest falters in my life was starting over after Hurricane Katrina. Could no longer live in our fist house (which we’d only had for 3 weeks). Had to figure out where we were going to live and make a living all over again from scratch. Moved 6 times in 5 months. Had to fight both FEMA and the insurance company from a distance during all of that. Couldn’t even see what had happened to our house for almost a month. Then lived for a month, alone, with only my cat and an air mattress (and was in a different state from my new husband on our 1st anniversary as we tried to figure out what to do.) But I learned so much more about myself and what I was capable of after all that.

So, this week’s question: What is one time in your life where you faltered, but came back stronger?


Dark Urban Fantasy and Romance

Hey, Dark Dreamers,

“Where’s the sex?”

Now that I have your attention, this phrase is one that I’m hearing a lot these days from recent readers of OF SCIONS AND MEN. I hear wonderful and exciting praise, and then the sex question. Fear not, Dreamers, the sex in this series is coming in book 2, but there is none in book 1. The reason for this is quite simple and clear, Rowan is a complicated character who is searching for ways to become the woman she wants to be, but in all of book 1, she was not in the right place for a romantic relationship. She needs to find herself and be comfortable with herself before she can let someone in that intimately. Not to mention a vampire in your head can be a real mood killer.

By the end of the book, without spoilers, she’s in a hugely different position than where she started. This opens up many doors in the relationship and sex department. Now, that’s not to say there isn’t fun sensual  scenes. Seriously, go find and read the club scene right now. We’ll wait.

cheers-204742_1920

Let’s play “Where’s the Sexy Scions”

Done. Good. But this all leads to a whole different question, when did Urban Fantasy come with the attachment of romance and sex? Now, don’t get me wrong, we all love a good romance with our favorite characters, but is it really a prerequisite?

In life, the need for romance and to be attached is thrust into all sorts of situations and onto all sorts of people who are in no way ready for it. This concept of the instant sizzling from across the room kind of love, how often does that happen? I mean, we all know Disney and the like have set up this concept over and over again, as did Brothers Grimm and other storytellers for centuries before. Disney even made fun of themselves for this relationship troupe in their movie “Frozen”. Does this type of love make the love that slowly builds and grows from other events a lesser love?

So here’s this week’s question, Dreamers: Do you believe in love at first sight?


I’m Ready for my Close Up, Mr. Vampire

Good Morning, Dark Dreamers,

Recently, I have had the exciting opportunity to be interviewed, not just by wonderful bloggers online, but in front of the scary, scary camera. It even went out over TV and people let me know they saw me. Frederick Community College, the same location who hosted the amazing launch for my debut new adult novel, OF SCIONS AND MEN, also asked me to come in for a face-to-face interview not only on being an author but also on my writing process. This was a fun time, even if being scene on film is a daunting task for me, and one not often given to urban fantasy fiction writers. We spoke about many aspects of writing. Problems doing research created between TSA and myself. Vampires, shifters and mediums and how to create their consistent magic in my world. The birds and the bees: where crazy, dark ideas come from. Oh, and I even dropped a big hint of some stuff to look forward to in book 2, THE SCIONS OF WRATH.

Here are a few links to the interview.

This one is the short version that only focuses on the writing process:

But, if you want all those juicy details I mentioned above, here’s the link to the full interview:

 

Those are not the only fun videos I have for you, Dreamers. There is also a video of me reading part of the first chapter from OF SCIONS AND MEN at the book launch.

 

In honor of interviews, question and answer sessions, and getting to know each other better, Dark Dreamers, I leave you with a challenge today. There are many times I wish I could go see an author in person, but never get the chance to. I read and want to ask questions. The magic of the internet makes this so much easier now. Ask me one question that you want to know the answer to in the comments section, and I will answer you honestly. It can be about me, or the books (without major spoilers), teaching or writing. Fun, funny, serious, witty, any of the above. What do you want to know?


Chatting about Change: Übermensch revealed

Good morning Dark Dreamers,

These past couple of weeks have been exciting and busy, filled with an exciting secret project for this dark author’s world and her mark on New Adult urban fantasy. I promise, there will be more on that soon, and it’s going to be huge!

Change is hard, but also good. And necessary. As our current president, Barack Obama, said “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” This is shown in many of the recent reviews for OF SCIONS AND MEN. Many people have mentioned that one thing they liked about the book is that even in the short span of one book, character growth is not only evident but enjoyed. We see this importance in story and story. The monomyth relies on the handy-dandy character feature. Our hero/heroine needs to grow and change to become something more than before. Something more than every day.

This is why it is important to have a character who has room to grow and an author willing to be humble and create a flawed child of literature. Flaws not only allow characters to be more accessible to the audience, but give the characters themselves some way to go. Perfect characters, though a god/goddess among us mere mortals, give very little room to grow and change and thus overcome adversity.

One name for this is the Superman effect. Superman began as the Übermensch, a super human who was a lot closer to a Lex than farm boy alien Clark Kent. But sci-fi and the need for perfection against our enemies across the sea created something even bigger. A hero that was so perfect, he wasn’t even allowed to be human. A hero that was so powerful, no one or nothing on Earth could affect him. Huzzah!

superman-1016318_1920

Except thrown guns…I have to dodge those.

But it wasn’t long before this motif became boring. If nothing could beat him, why try. So the writers had to make up reasons for him to lose his powers, or part of his powers, for an episode or two, and then overcome the handicap to win. However, this was the opposite direction than we normally want to go. We want to change to be stronger, grow to be better, not falter to be worse. Do we really want our heroes to come down to the villain’s level? Thus we had the birth of other heroes. Heroes who were mere mortals but had to grow, learn and struggle to beat every obstacle. Heroes we could more relate to and inspire us to be stronger and better ourselves.

Normally in these blogs, I move from everyday life into literature. But today we will do the opposite. Literature is supposed to inspire, and today it does. Change is hard. But without it we can grow to become our own heroes. We are the ones we’ve been waiting on. As I say in martial arts all the time, “Self-Rescuing Princess”. We can stand taller than the Übermensch through our own choices and changes.

For my first change, I will start having my blogs coming out each Monday morning.

So let’s take a poll. Tell me in the comments, What change could you make to improve your life?


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 40 other followers