Category Archives: Scions of Wrath

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?

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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.

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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.

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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?


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.

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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.

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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.

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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?


Cover Time…Almost

It is official, Dark Dreamers.

OF SCIONS AND MEN, my debut new adult dark urban fantasy novel has a cover. It is amazing. Everything I was hoping for and more. Will it have vampires on it? Or a big handsome shifter? Or maybe a scions, what is that anyway? You will have to wait and see, But I will tell you this…the artist truly captured both the urban fantasy and the dystopian feel in a new way. It’s not the same old, same old cover you see all the time. I can’t wait to share it with you.

What does it look like? Is Rowan on it?  These questions and much, much more will be answered soon.

What does it look like? Is Rowan on it? These questions and much, much more will be answered soon.

But not today. Today I will continue writing book TWO and working on marketing. I will warn you, THE SCIONS OF WRATH has taken a much deeper and darker turn than one, and that’s saying something. But there is also love and growth. Balance right. An author’s work is never done.

Also, next week my official author photos will be taken. My least favorite action in the world is being in photos, but my photographer has scouted an amazing location I think you will all love, so there’s hope.

So, yes, there’s lots coming down the pipe. I can tell you on November 30th, I will share a preview of my cover. Then on December 7th, I will be a part of a joint double-trouble cover reveal with Jessica Gunn and her exciting book GYRE. More to come on all that soon.

Image courtesy of clipart


Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Raise your glass, Dark Dreamers,

I have always been a lover of the dark. Call it the New Orleans in me. But that doesn’t mean that it was all vampires and ghosts all the time. As I child I can remember watching the show Cheers with my mom. Everyone would smile, both on and off screen, whenever Norm would walk in and the bar would erupt with “NORM!” That sense of belonging and the village coming together, even in the heart of the big city, warms even the most distant heart on a cold Boston night. Isn’t that right, Dr. Frasier? In New Orleans, a big city in its own right, people are extremely loyal to our regular spots. The holes in the wall that become a part of home. It’s why we loved the Saints even when they were the Ain’ts and a lot of chains have so much trouble staying alive. I still don’t think the city has forgiven Rite Aid for taking over the K&B spot when I was a kid.

Being a true child of my hometown, I love finding my spots. Plus, once I’ve found them, I stick to them even way up here in the frozen north of Maryland. Today, my Cheers isn’t a bar. My favorite routine spot is a little hole in the wall Greek restaurant: Greek Aroma. This place drew me in because it is amazing. For such a small venue, they serve the freshest and cleanest food. I have brought people in from out of town there all the time, not to mention the locals, and everyone loves the food. But for me, it’s more than that. Good food is of course key to any successful restaurant (and this place is successful with people there waiting from open through all afternoon) but what made this my place, my regular place, is the people. The people there are so friendly. Especially the main manager, her smile could power a city and her open and welcoming nature makes you feel at home even on the roughest of days. The combo of the two…they had me at gyro.

This is a job for a Super Gyro. Comes with his own cape.

This is a job for a Super Gyro. Comes with his own cape.

Here, I get to feel that warmth deep inside when I walk in and am greeted with cries of recognition. Often, my order is put in before I ever make it to the counter. I may never be rich and famous, but for this one place to remember me from the hundreds that eat there every day. I want to go back for that as much as the food.

But this got me thinking about routine. People each have their own places. They may not have “Norm” moments, but a place they make a part of their everyday lives, giving them that same sense of comfort and belonging. It could be a coffee house or a restaurant or the gym where other “strangers” comment on your progress and keep you going on the hard motivation days. We are social creatures (even the introverts) and thus even if it is just a person or two, we enjoy a momentary easy connection.

So why do so few written characters have these places. Where does Bruce Wayne stop for coffee on the way to Wayne Enterprises after a long night of vigilantism? Does Jean Grey have a quiet bar she goes to when Cyclops is just being too much of a jerk? We see regular hangouts in sit coms because it’s easier for set design, but what about in books for character design. The few times I’ve seen it in books, a character having a “place” (not their job space or their home space) where they felt safe, really made that character much stronger to me.

Thus, a new space in my book world is born. They say don’t piss off a writer, or they’ll kill you in their book. The reverse is also true. One of the highest honors a writer can give someone is to write them well in their book. So, Greek Aroma, my place, has inspired me to create such a space in my series. Rowan has just developed a taste for Greek.

Image courtesy of Greek Aroma


The Black Cat Interview

Exciting news, Dark Dreamers,

Black Cat Blog interviewed me about my writing style and the deep dark world of urban fantasy and vampires. It’s full of puppies and zombie hunting and cake. Go check it out!

zombie hunting family

Ann Anderson Noser’s Hard Hitting Interview