Life at Warp 10

Ester Meets District 9 – Digging Into Ellie Ann’s The Silver Sickle

SilverSickle-EllieAnn-FullCover-4Today I have a special interview for you. As you might imagine, as an editor, I have a difficult time reading for pleasure. So when I find a book I do enjoy, I like to tell people about it. Recently, I read The Silver Sickle by Ellie Ann, and as soon as I finished, I emailed to ask if she’d be willing to answer a few interview questions. I really wanted to share some of the fascinating elements of her novel with all of you!

What’s The Silver Sickle about? I’m glad you asked. Before we jump into the interview, here’s the description from Amazon.

The end of humanity will come through the Silver Sickle . . .

Farissa lives every moment with reckless abandon, for it may be her last. Any day now, the alien goddesses will harvest her and take her to the mysterious Silver Sickle, never to return. She’s accepted that. What she can’t accept is this new idea of freedom Zel has planted in her head. She’d give almost anything to be with Zel, but how can she run from her destiny if it means putting the whole kingdom in danger?

Everyone in the desert kingdom believes the goddesses are immortal, but Zel has invented a way to kill them. Now all he has to do is convince Farissa to run away with him and plant a seed of hope in her heart that she’s not destined to die. Little does he know that one seed of hope could change the course of the future.

And now for the questions. Please welcome Ellie Ann!

(1) As I was reading The Silver Sickle, I felt like I was reading a steampunk version of the story of Ester, the Jewish girl who was selected by the Persian king to become his new queen and had to risk his anger in order to stop the massacre of her people. How much did the story of Ester influence you and how did you decide what parts of Ester’s story to use and what parts to change?

The Silver Sickle is Esther meets District 9 (the science fiction movie). With robots.

I’ve always loved the story of Esther. It’s an epic father-daughter tale, fraught with danger and the fate of an entire nation. It’s also a great story in which a woman takes control of her life and she isn’t punished for it. Esther used her rare beauty, her sexual skills, prayer, and relying on friends to survive in the harem and then save her people. It’s a story rife with great tension and high stakes, and I wanted to make a science fiction version.

Once I started plotting I didn’t keep much of the original story, but it is definitely the inspiration for it.

I’d love to write about the life of David one day. Lots of horrible things happened to him, which makes for a good book. He was an underdog but he had monumental victories, both personal and political, which is the kind of story that draws lots of people.

(2) The “villain” race in your book is the Amar. For those who haven’t read the book yet, the Amar are considered goddesses by most of the human population. They harvest the humans they’ve set apart as consecrated and send them to the Silver Sickle (which they’ve told them is paradise). From the way you’ve described the Amar in the book, they sound like the worst nightmare for someone who’s afraid of insects—like giant, steel-shelled Praying Mantises. Was there a particular bug that inspired the Amar?

Ew, yes. They’re like roaches. The prawns from District 9 were the inspiration for the Amar, except the Amar have a human face with recognizable expressions. If these two pictures collided, you’d have the Amar.

district-9-alien

Gira

(3) You’ve classified this book as a YA science fiction/steampunk. What would you say a book absolutely must include to be considered steampunk? Do you feel The Silver Sickle broke any of the expectations surrounding steampunk?

I consider my book steampunk because it’s based in a world where steam is the major power source. It also has robots. But technically, it’s more cyberpunk than steampunk. The best way to describe it is science fantasy.

The Silver Sickle broke the Victorian England trope of steampunk, as it takes place in a Persian-inspired setting. I’m delighted to see more and more steampunk stories take place in a non-western setting. My favorite of all time is the Leviathan series, by Scott Westerfield. The second book takes place in an Ottoman Empire inspired setting. It’s brilliant!

(4) One thing that always interests me is “Why this story? Why now?” Most writers have many ideas floating around in their heads, so why did you choose to write this particular one before the others?

It has to be challenging and fun.

I try to challenge myself with every book. The Silver Sickle was hard for me, but not too far above my skill set. These characters were also so FUN to write. I couldn’t wait to get back to their world every day. When I feel like that, I know I’m writing a story at the right time. It’s meant to be.

(5) What message/theme did you hope readers would take away with them after finishing your book?

Farissa learns that you need to hold onto what you love, and not give up on it.

Zel learns to not be obsessed with what you love, to set it free, to let it go.

If readers feel that along with them, I did my job.

Thanks so much for being here Ellie :)

Ellie Ann and a fan

Ellie Ann and a fan

Ellie Ann is a NYT and USA Today bestseller of thrillers, science fiction, and comics. Her latest work is Tale of Frida, a comic published by Motionworks Entertainment about a female werewolf in the Dark Ages. She’s a watcher, runner, reader, geek, and maker of egg rolls.

Twitter: @elliesoderstrom

Facebook: Ellie Ann Author

Website: ellieann.net

If you’d like to buy The Silver Sickle, you can find it on Amazon in print and as an ebook.

(Those are affiliate links. It doesn’t cost you extra to use them, but every purchase contributes a few cents towards helping me keep this blog up and running. If you don’t like the idea, feel free to search for The Silver Sickle on Amazon. It’ll pop right up :) )

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Do You Believe in Fate or Free Will?

X-Men Days of Future PastBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Social Psychology and a Master’s degree in Theological Studies. During the years I was in school, I listened to and participated in debates on wide-ranging hot-button topics like nature vs. nurture, the definition of deviance, and the ethical lines behind human experimentation.

But no topic created more heated reactions from everyone involved than the question of fate vs. free will.

Do we have a destiny? Or is our future undetermined until we act, bringing it into reality?

Based solely on how often this theme arises in fantasy and science fiction, I think a lot of people struggle with this question. I ran into it again when my husband and I went to watch X-Men: Days of Future Past.

X-Men: Days of Future Past takes us into a future where mutants (and anyone sympathetic to them) are on the verge of extinction thanks to an invention known as the Sentinels. The Sentinels have the ability to adapt to any mutant power (mimicking it) because they were designed using Mystique’s DNA. (In case you’re not an X-Man fan, Mystique can shape-shift, changing her appearance to match anyone.)

The chain of events leading to this future started in 1973 when Mystique assassinated the Sentinels’ inventor. His company captured her and used her to develop the ultimate weapon to target and destroy mutants.

In the present day, Professor X, Magneto, Wolverine, and a group of other mutants figure out a way to send Wolverine back into the past to stop Mystique from killing the Sentinels’ inventor and getting herself captured.

The problem is that even though Wolverine succeeds in stopping the assassination, the future doesn’t change. They get Mystique’s blood anyway. The X-Men have to try to find another way to stop the creation and use of the Sentinels.

And Professor X begins to wonder if the future is set and there’s nothing they can do to change it.  

I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it, but at the end of the movie, Professor X leaves us with the opposite message—that the future is never really set.

I understand the pro and con arguments on both sides.

Believers in free will say that if our destiny is determined, we’re nothing more than puppets. Believers in destiny talk about lives serving a greater purpose and take comfort that whatever happens takes place for a reason.

When I was younger, I couldn’t stand the thought that my life might be on a path I couldn’t change, but the more I studied and thought and prayed, the more I came to believe that the future is pre-determined (though I also believe that doesn’t completely negate our free will either—it’s a delicate balance).

Where do you stand on the issue? What makes you believe in either complete free will, complete destiny, or a combination of the two?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen, on sale over the summer for 99 cents. Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

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Do You Trust In First Impressions?

I Robot First ImpressionsBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Many of us put a lot of faith in first impressions.  

In the movie I, Robot, the year is 2035, and robots are now a regular part of life as household servants and members of the public service professions.

As the movie opens, Detective Del Spooner has been called in to investigate what appears at first to be the suicide of Dr. Alfred Lanning, a CEO at one of the largest robotics firms. Spooner doesn’t believe Lanning killed himself. How, he asks himself, could a man of Lanning’s age have successfully thrown himself through the safety glass of his office windows?

Spooner goes to investigate Lanning’s office and finds an NS-5 (the most recent robot upgrade) in the office. Spooner believes the robot killed Lanning, despite the fact that the first law of robotics programmed in to all robots is that they cannot harm humans or allow a human to come to harm through inaction.

Spooner goes on a vendetta to prove the NS-5 killed Lanning.

The scientist who’s helping him can’t understand why he’s so determined to prove the NS-5’s guilt until Spooner reveals that a few years earlier he was in a car accident where his car and another were pushed off a bridge by a semi-truck. A robot saw the accident and saved Spooner instead of saving the twelve-year-old girl in the other car. Spooner has hated and distrusted robots ever since.

That one instance, a single impression of the robot’s inability to realize that it should have saved the little girl, formed Spooner’s whole opinion of robots.

It’s not until Spooner can get past the prejudice formed by his “first impression” that he can actually figure out not only who actually killed Lanning but also why.

As I was watching I, Robot, I couldn’t help but wonder how often I’ve been blinded by first impressions too.  

I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of a wrong first impression, and I know how much it can hurt. Midway through my undergraduate university degree, I decided I wanted to go on to a master’s degree once I graduated. A guy I barely knew overheard me talking about it, and later said to a girl he didn’t realize was my friend, “She’ll never make it. She’s not smart enough.”

He made that assumption having no more than a first impression of me. He didn’t know my IQ. He didn’t know my grades. He didn’t know my work ethic. He saw a shy girl who liked (and still likes) to smile a little too much and he made an assumption. A wrong assumption. School was always easy for me.

Thankfully his words wounded nothing more than my pride, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes judging another person on a first impression can have lasting consequences.

I almost missed out on the opportunity for a friendship that’s now lasted for over 20 years because of a wrong first impression.

Those two situations combined have me wonder how many times I’ve trusted my first impressions when I shouldn’t have.

I thought I’d bring the question here and see what all of you thought.

Do you trust in first impressions? Have your first impressions always been right? Why do you think so many of us do trust in first impressions?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen, on sale over the summer for 99 cents. Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality. 

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Do You Ever Feel Invisible?

Amazing Spier-Man 2By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

When I was in university, I watched a movie called Shall We Dance. The only thing I remember about it (other than that it starred Richard Gere) was a small clip where the main character’s wife is talking to the private investigator she hired to find out if her husband was cheating on her.

“Why do you think people get married?” she asked.

He makes a guess, but she shakes her head.

“It’s because we need a witness to our lives. There are a billion people on the planet. What does any one life mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything…The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things. All of it. All the time. Every day. You’re saying, ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.’”

At the time, that hit me hard. I was at a point in my life where I felt invisible and unimportant. Like if I didn’t exist at all, it wouldn’t matter. I was never suicidal. I put too precious a value on life, and I was happy to be alive. But I wanted to matter.

That clip meant enough to me that I own the movie even though I don’t think I’ve watched it since. It let me know I wasn’t the only one who sometimes felt that way.

This weekend, when my husband and I went to watch The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the same message was there—that the world is full of people who feel invisible, and unimportant, and unwanted.

The main villain in the movie, Max Dillon (Electro), is the epitome of an invisible man. His plans for the power grid were used without giving him credit. Few people remember his name, and those who do treat him like dirt rather than like a human being who deserves respect.

Harry Osborne and Peter Parker both feel like their parents threw them away and valued other things more highly than their own children.

And even Aunt Mae feels like she wasn’t enough. She feels like despite all she’s done for Peter and how much she loves him, he still pines for his parents.

I walked away from the movie with a few thoughts I couldn’t shake.

Be nice to everyone. Yes, Max/Electro took the kindness shown him to the extent of becoming a crazy Spiderman super-fan, but for most people, your small act of kindness, even if it’s just saying hello and remembering their name, might be what gets them through the day.

You’re making a bigger difference than you think. When Aunt Mae finally confesses to Peter how she felt, he tells her she shouldn’t think that way. She was enough. We won’t always see the positive effect we’re having in the world and on those around us, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t.

You’re not alone. Most people have gone through a time when they felt invisible or insignificant. It doesn’t mean you are. Press on and this too shall pass.

What matters most is how you deal with your feelings. There are good and bad ways to cope when we feel invisible. Both Harry Osborne and Max/Electro chose the wrong path. Aunt Mae and Peter chose the right path. Aunt Mae talked with a loved one about it, and Peter tried to give other people hope.

What do you think? Have you ever felt invisible? What got you through?

Wondering what this blog is all about? On Tuesdays, I cover something science fiction or fantasy related. On Thursdays, I talk writing. I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Five Important Lessons About Love From Disney’s Frozen

Disney's FrozenBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

As Disney’s Frozen starts, we meet two sisters who love each other. Eldest sister Elsa has magical powers that allow her to create snow and freeze things, and younger sister Anna is always begging her to build a snowman. During one of their play sessions, Elsa accidentally injures Anna.

From that moment on, Elsa isolates herself from Anna and from everyone, even after their parents die. When Elsa finally loses control and sends the kingdom into eternal winter, Anna sets out on a quest to bring her home and help her.

It’s a visually beautiful movie with amazing music, but what impressed me most were the five important lessons about love I found inside.

I can’t write this post without at least a couple of spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the movie and would be bothered by knowing what happens before you do, then I recommend you just read the bolded points.

#1 – You can’t fall in love in a day.

Anna is extremely lonely. Since the death of her parents, she’s been locked in the castle. Her older sister, Elsa, won’t allow people in, but Elsa also refuses to spend time with Anna.

When the gates are finally thrown open for Elsa’s coronation, it’s no surprise that Anna “falls in love” with the first handsome man in her age bracket that she meets (and he just happens to be a prince as well). She thinks it’s love, but she finds out in the end that it wasn’t. He didn’t love her, and she didn’t really love him either.

Many things can be mistaken for love—loneliness, pity, need, attraction, lust. When we say it was love at first sight, it was usually one of those at first sight and real love grew out of it over time.  

I loved this lesson because it reminds us that for love to be real and lasting it has to be accompanied by knowledge of the person’s personality and character. Love is about the other person. It’s not about something in us.

#2 – Everyone is a fixer upper.

When Anna’s heart is accidentally frozen by Elsa, Kristoff (the ice merchant helping Anaa find Elsa) takes Anna back to his family, thinking they can save her because of their magical powers. His family tries to match-make, and breaks out into a song about how everyone is a fixer upper.

I loved this lesson because it’s an important counterpoint to the warning against love at first sight. It’s just as dangerous to wait for the “perfect” person. There’s no such thing. Everyone has flaws. Usually big ones. In a good relationship, we work on improving ourselves together. And, sometimes, we just have to overlook the annoying parts of our partner because the good in them far outweighs the bad.

#3 – Love means letting others help you.

One of the big mistakes Elsa makes in the movie is shutting Anna out. Anna loves her and would do anything to help her. Many of the problems of the movie could have been avoided had Elsa let Anna in.

Elsa kept Anna at a distance because she was afraid of hurting her, but also out of a stubborn independence.

I know not everyone will agree with my view on this, but I loved this lesson because I believe that a good romantic relationship is a partnership. You make the important decisions together. You don’t keep secrets. You have to let go of some of your independence and allow the other person to help you when you need it. When they need it, you help them.

#4 – Love means making sacrifices.

In the final moment before her heart freezes solid, Anna has a choice to make. Run to Kristoff for true love’s kiss and save herself or throw herself between Elsa and the evil prince’s sword. Because she loves Elsa, she sacrifices herself to save her sister.

A lot of times, love is sacrifice. Love is compromise. You give up something you want to make the person you love happy. And rather than that making you unhappy or resentful, their happiness should fill you with joy. In a good relationship, they will also take their turn sacrificing for you.

#5 – Love for your family is just as important as romantic love.

Anna needed an act of true love to thaw her heart and save her. Since it was a Disney movie, you’d expect it to be a kiss, like in Snow White.

But it wasn’t.

It was Anna’s act of sacrifice, trying to save Elsa, that thawed her heart.

The importance of familial or friendship love is an often untaught lesson. We need more in our lives than just a spouse. We need friends and family to love and be loved by as well. That love is equally important.

I’d love to hear what you think. Did you see the same lessons? Do you agree or disagree with the messages in the movie?

Wondering what this blog is all about? On Tuesdays, I cover something science fiction or fantasy related. On Thursdays, I talk writing. I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Do You Trust Too Easily?

Captain America The Winter Soldier'By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Are you someone who trusts people from the start until they give you a reason not to? Or are you someone who feels trust should be earned?

This is one of those ongoing discussions between my husband and me, and it was brought up again by our date night to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s a movie almost entirely about trust.

As the movie opens, Captain America is sent on a mission to rescue S.H.I.E.L.D. hostages from a hijacked ship. Nastasha Romanoff (Black Widow) is part of the team that goes with him. But what he doesn’t know is her mission is different from his. She’s been sent to recover the S.H.I.E.L.D. information stored on the ship’s computers, not to save the hostages.

Their divided purpose endangers the entire mission and almost gets them killed.

Captain America storms into the office of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s director, Nick Fury. He wants to know how he’s supposed to achieve his missions if he can’t trust the people he’s working with.

Fury points to his missing eye and says, “Trust got me this.”

Two very different men with very different views on trust. Captain America sees trust as a necessary ingredient for success because, as a soldier, he had to trust the men he was fighting beside. Fury sees trust as something that can get you killed.

The question of who they can trust and who they can’t weaves through the entire story as they discover that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been massively infiltrated by the enemy. People they thought they could trust turn on them and people who they were at first unsure about turn out to be allies. Both men have to give a little in their stance, learning to trust less and trust more.

As my husband and I came out of the movie, I realized that there are very few people in my life that I trust 100%. My husband has more people he trusts, but he’s also been burned more often when people betrayed him.

Trust is one of those funny things—we always think our way of approaching it is best. I’d love to hear from both sides though.

Do you have a lot of people you trust? Are you someone who trusts easily or are you slow to trust? And do you think that’s the best way, or do both sides need to come a little more toward the middle?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen. Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

Wondering what this blog is all about? On Tuesdays, I cover something science fiction or fantasy related. On Thursdays, I talk writing. The schedule only changes for special events. I’d love to have you sign up to receive my posts by email. All you need to do is enter your email address below and hit the “Follow” botton.

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Divergent: Do You Know Where You Belong?

Divergent by Veronica RothBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Did you know what you wanted to do with your entire life when you were only sixteen? What if you’d been forced to choose and could never change your decision?

That’s part of the dilemma faced by Beatrice (who later calls herself Tris) in Divergent.

The society in Divergent is divided into four factions—Abnagation (the selfless helpers), Amity (the peaceful, happy farmers), Candor (the honest, justice-seeking law-makers), Dauntless (the brave guardians), and Erudite (the intellectual researchers and scientists). In their sixteenth year, teens undergo testing to see where their aptitude lies, and then they must choose the faction that will become their new family. Faction over blood. And there’s no turning back unless you want to live factionless, a homeless, hungry outcast.

The leadership insists that factions maintain order and protect their society, and so they ruthlessly hunt down divergents—people who don’t fit into a single faction. Tris is a divergent. When it comes time to choose, she doesn’t have the guidance the aptitude test is supposed to provide.

Such a society sounds awful to our freedom-loving ears (though my husband and I did have some fun on the ride home from the movie trying to decide which faction we’d fit best in), but it’s not really so far off. How many of us were uncertain of what we wanted to do with our lives when we had to pick a major in university or a program of study in college? How many people end up in a different career from the one they went to school for? How many people stay trapped in a job they hate, that they selected when they were too young to know who they really were?

Last September, my husband went back to school. He’d already worked as a government contractor in the U.S. and an editor in Canada. Now he’s going through to be a paralegal.

When he originally went to university fresh out of high school, he thought he knew where his career path would lead. He’s had the freedom to change course, but not everyone does.

In fact, I think more people don’t have that freedom than do. Family commitments. Financial commitments. And when they reach a time in their life when they could change course, they feel like it’s too late to start over. (It never is, by the way. Just take a look at Debra Eve’s blog about late bloomers.)

But all this got me thinking—would we have fewer people changing course or feeling trapped if we didn’t ask young adults to choose their path so early in life? Are you someone who changed course? Was it difficult? I’d love to know what influenced your decision.

And for fun, what faction would you be in the Divergent world?

If you like suspense, I hope you’ll take a look at my ebook Frozen. Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.

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I’m Considering Eating the Groundhog

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Last week the pipes in my house froze for the third time this winter.

When I looked in the mirror, I had crazy “is winter over yet?” eyes. Unless I did something fast, I was going to end up like this…

Wolf Ate Groundhog with Words

So I decided I needed to do something fun. Since my ebook of suspense short stories is called Frozen, it seemed fitting for me to put it on sale.

For this week only, you can get Frozen for 99 cents. If you haven’t yet read it, now’s the time!

Frozen: Two Suspense Short StoriesHere are a few more details for you about Frozen.

Twisted sleepwalking.
A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag.
And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.
“A Purple Elephant” is a 2,900-word suspense short story about grief and betrayal.

In “The Replacements,” a prodigal returns home to find that her parents have started a new family, one with no room for her. This disturbing 3,600-word suspense short story is about the lengths to which we’ll go to feel like we’re wanted, and how we don’t always see things the way they really are.

Grab your copy of Frozen here.

Hopefully it will help you forget about winter for a little while at least :D

(The sale is Amazon only, but if you want a version for a different ereader, buy a copy from Amazon, send me an email, and I’ll send you a version compatible with whatever your preferred e-reading device is.)

Please help me spread the word about the sale on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

If you’d like to use some pre-made tweets, here they are.

Twisted sleepwalking. A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag. A woman losing her grip on reality. FROZEN on sale for 0.99 (Click to tweet)

Prodigal returns to find her parents have started new family with no room for her~Suspense story FROZEN 0.99 til Fri (Click to tweet)

Two disturbing suspense stories in one book ~ FROZEN on sale for 99 cents til Fri (Click to tweet)

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Image Credit: Asia Jones

How Far Would You Go to Be Accepted?

Misfits

Image Credit: Peter Sorensen (sxc.hu)

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Sorry for the silence last week everyone. My husband ended up at the emergency room and was home sick for a few days. But I’m back this week to fulfill my promise!

Two weeks ago. I told you about my struggle to forgive the man who killed my best friend and how that influenced “A Purple Elephant,” one of the short stories in my ebook Frozen.

This week I wanted to talk about my inspiration for the other story, “The Replacements.”

I’ve heard that the best writers have had horrible childhoods or traumatic pasts. I think that’s untrue, a myth perpetuated by a small minority who talk openly about their tragic pasts and the sensitive nature of creatives that makes us more prone to addictions.

I had a happy childhood. In fact, I’d say that, overall, my life has been a good one.

That doesn’t mean I can’t write about tragedy, unbalanced characters, or the darker sides of life.

What it does mean is that I have to find something, some emotion, that I share with that character, no matter how small the connection. (If you’re a writer and want to see what I mean, check out my post on Three Steps to Creating Believable Character Emotions.)

With Natalie, the point of view character in “The Replacements,” that emotion was an overwhelming desire to be loved, accepted, and wanted. (You can read about my struggle with this in my posts My Life As A Three-Headed Chimera and Do You Ever Feel Like You Don’t Fit In?)

I chose a very different path from the one I gave to Natalie, but that was part of what I wanted to explore in this story—a different path. I wanted to take that deep-seated need to be loved and I wanted and put it in a situation where I could create a character who would take it to an extreme that I never would have. I wanted to explore how far a person might go to feel like she had a place to belong.

In “The Replacements,” Natalie is a prodigal daughter who ran away from home and cut off contact with her parents years before. As the story opens, she’s fresh out of an abusive relationship and she’s tired of living on the streets. The only thing she wants, the only thing that matters to her, is to be able to return home to her parents, to know they still want her and love her. 

Except when she arrives home, she finds out her parents have “replaced” her by having more children. In Natalie’s broken mind, the only way she can be welcomed home is by first getting rid of her replacements.

Frozen: Two Suspense Short StoriesHere are a few more details for you about Frozen.

Twisted sleepwalking.
A frozen goldfish in a plastic bag.
And a woman afraid she’s losing her grip on reality.
“A Purple Elephant” is a 2,900-word suspense short story about grief and betrayal.

In “The Replacements,” a prodigal returns home to find that her parents have started a new family, one with no room for her. This disturbing 3,600-word suspense short story is about the lengths to which we’ll go to feel like we’re wanted, and how we don’t always see things the way they really are.

Frozen is currently available at Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords. More venues coming soon!

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What To Do When Your Loved Ones Want You To Quit Your Dream

Don't Quit WritingThree years ago I wrote a post called “A Writer’s Greatest Challenge.” I’m posting an updated version of it today under the title “What to Do When Your Loved Ones Want You to Quit Your Dream.”

As we start into 2014, many of you have probably committed to making this year the year your writing career takes off, or you’ve decided to finally finish your novel, or maybe you’re taking the plunge to write your very first story.

Or maybe you’re trying to decide whether to give up on your writing and move on.

What anyone who’s been writing long enough will tell you is that, as writers, we all face questions (and criticism) from our friends and family because of our choice to write. And especially if we turn our writing into a career.

A lot has changed in the three years since I originally wrote this post. The people I care about most have come to see the value in what I do (or have at least accepted that I’m not going to quit), and I’ve seen my career flourish in ways I’d never have imagined.

But I’m posting this again because writing it all those years ago was what kept me from giving up. I’m hoping reading it now will keep some of you from giving up as well.

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If you want to be a writer, the most difficult challenge you’re going to face isn’t writer’s block. It isn’t learning how to properly use a comma or write a lead or find your voice. It isn’t even getting an agent or making enough money to pay the bills.

If you want to be a writer, the most difficult challenge you’ll face comes when someone you love says one of the following things about your writing career:

“You need to start making better decisions.”

“It’s time you grew up and acted like a responsible adult.”

“You can still write as a hobby, but you need to get a real job.”

In her post “Are We Born to Create,” bestselling author Kristen Lamb wrote, “Many of us, when we tell our family that we want to be a writer, what they hear is akin to, ‘Blah, blah, throwing away college education blah blah cult blah Kool-Aid, blah blah writer.’”

And it hurts.

You want them to recognize how hard you work and how worthwhile your job is. More than that, you want them to be proud of you.

If they keep at it long enough or if you hear it from enough people, the pain crescendos to a level where you can’t ignore it anymore. You start to doubt yourself and the decisions you’ve made. You’re forced into doing one of two things. Either you build a protective wall around that part of your life, perhaps even your whole life, and you exclude them from it, or you give up the career you love for something more acceptable.

Neither is a good solution.

So next time you face these joy-stealing, dream-killing, confidence-shaking lies, here’s how to survive.

Remind Yourself that the World Needs Writers

When I was growing up, a lot of people pushed for me to become a veterinarian or a teacher, despite the fact that I faint at the sight of blood and don’t have the patience to deal with a roomful of children or teenagers (hey, at least I’m honest about my limitations). They told me (in not so many words) that becoming a writer was a waste of my potential. With my intelligence, I could do anything. Why would I throw away my future?

The world needs writers.

Without writers, we wouldn’t have classic literature or textbooks to study. We wouldn’t have the books, journal articles, and other written resources teachers use to learn their subjects and prepare their lesson plans.

Without writers, the millions of people whose favorite pastime is curling up with a book or magazine would have to fall back on watching TV or movies . . . except that without writers, we wouldn’t have TV shows or movies either.

Without writers, politicians would become a lot less eloquent. (You don’t really think they write their speeches themselves, do you?)

Without writers, both print and online newspapers would have no content.

Without writers, charities and non-profits wouldn’t be able to get their message out and bring in the funds they need to help people.

Without writers, we’d have to revert to preserving all the new advances in knowledge through oral traditions. Any student of history will tell you what a flawed method that is.

Ask for Clarification on What It Means to Have a Real Job

Some well-meaning relatives may go so far as to suggest you should have gotten a job at a fast food place long ago. I believe that all law-abiding work is honorable, but don’t understand why a minimum-wage job is a “real job” while writing isn’t. What does having a “real job” mean?

Does it mean helping people?

After publication of an article that Lisa Hall-Wilson and I co-wrote on pornography addiction, we received an email thanking us and telling us that we might have saved a marriage. It’s not the only thank you email I’ve received over the years. My words make a difference.

Does it mean fighting traffic?

Seems to me that telecommuting and home offices are a growing trend because people don’t want to fight traffic, burn increasingly expensive gas, and worry about bad weather.

Does it mean someone else needs to sign your paychecks?

Someone else does sign my checks. And I’ll let you in on a secret—those paychecks bring in more than I could ever make from a minimum-wage job.

Does it mean putting on a tie, or khakis and a polo shirt/blouse, or a uniform?

I could put those on to sit at home if I really wanted, though I’m not sure why I would when I can work in sweats.

Does it mean having the respect of clients and colleagues?

If you’re professional, you can build good relationships, a good reputation, and develop regular clients regardless of your job title.

Find Some Allies

This world will always have people who feel that they know better than you what you should do with your life. It’ll always have people who find it easy to judge you for your choices even though they’ve never been in your position. It’ll always have people who draw attention to your failures and weaknesses rather than your successes and strengths.

Find yourself some people who’ll call you out on evil rather than on personal preference, who have your back, and who will fight harder for you than you do for yourself. You need the support. Even Batman had Robin and Superman had Lois Lane.

Keep In Mind Who You Really Need to Please

When it comes right down to it, other people’s opinions don’t matter. You have to make your own decisions and follow your own conscience. You are accountable only to God.

So have a good cry and some chocolate. Realize that it’s always going to sting. And then pick yourself up off the floor, sit your bottom back down in your computer chair, and meet that deadline . . . and the one after that . . . and the one after that . . .

Are you following your dream or did you give it up because your friends or family didn’t approve? Are you a writer who’s faced some of these criticisms? How did you handle it?

I hope you’ll check out the books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series, including Strong Female Characters and How to Write Dialogue.

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Image Credit: Sigurd Decroos (via sxc.hu)