About Marcy Kennedy

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How to Use Touch to Pull Your Reader Into Your Novel

Did you know that leprosy doesn’t actually make your fingers and toes fall off?

I didn’t. What happens is the bacteria attack the nerve endings in the body so the sufferer can’t feel pain. When they injure themselves, they don’t feel it, and this can lead to infection and gangrene before the injured person realizes it and can get treatment. Imagine if they lost their sense of touch entirely.

Touch is the one sense we can’t survive without, so if you’re not using it in your story, you’re dooming your manuscript to an early death.

Over the past months, I’ve looked at three ways to make your novel scratch and sniff and three ways to use taste to make your readers hungry for more. This week, it’s time to look at three ways to use the sense of touch to touch your readers.

Use All Aspects of Touch

Touch is one of the most multi-faceted senses. You can touch and be touched. You can be touched by another living being, by the weather, or by an inanimate object. To convey touch to your readers, think about temperature, texture, pressure, and intent.

Temperature is about more than hot and cold. It’s about hot and cold within context. A cool hand on a feverish forehead soothes. A cool hand in a handshake is often interpreted as a sign of a cold personality. In an old an episode of Columbo, a character’s cold hands tipped him off to their poor circulation, and that in turn helped him solve the case.

Texture also goes beyond the gritty sand between your toes or the sliminess of separating an egg with your fingers. My co-writer Lisa Hall-Wilson recently wrote a post on how The Details Make the Story. For one of her earliest attempts at a novel, she wanted to write about a fireman and so she booked a tour of a fire hall. Near the end of the tour, she asked to feel one of the firemen’s hands because she needed to know if they were rough like a farmer’s or smooth like a mechanic’s.

Pressure can show intimacy, a threat, or add humor. At my best friend’s funeral, a well-meaning older lady took my hand and squeezed it while she talked to me. The pressure she used normally wouldn’t have been a problem except that when she took my hand, the ring I had on twisted, and every time she squeezed, the stone cut into the finger next to it. She interpreted the pain flashing across my face as emotional and squeezed harder. It was funny in hindsight. Not so much at the moment.

Intent adds layers. I once read that women don’t slap men they’re genuinely furious with. They might punch them, knee them in the groin, shove them, or simply walk away, but they won’t slap them because a slap says that part of them isn’t angry. Part of them secretly knows the man was right or is secretly attracted to him because of what he did. A slap is ambiguous.

Observe (or Break) the Continuum of Intimacy

By its very nature, touch is an intimate sense. You can smell a scent carried on the wind, hear a sound from a mile away, look at stars through a telescope. To touch something, you need to be within arm’s reach.

Jenny Hansen had a helpful post on Using the 12 Stages of Physical Intimacy to Build Tension in Your Fiction where she points out that skipping over any of the stages of intimacy causes conflict. Drawing out these stages amps up the tension as your readers hold their breath to see when your characters will reach the next milestone. You can observe or break the order of the touch levels on this scale depending on what emotional effect you want to have on your reader.

Jenny also notes that the stages of physical intimacy speak to boundaries. Personal space boundaries vary by individual, by gender, and by age, but they also vary by culture. In North America, you don’t kiss an almost perfect stranger on the cheeks in either greeting or farewell. In other cultures, straight men kiss on the lips in greeting. You can add richness to your story by having touch interact with personal boundaries and cultural norms.

Consider How Your Character Will Interpret It

The most important thing for touch, though, is to know how your character will interpret it. A woman whose love language is physical affection will interpret a hug differently than will a woman who was sexually abused as a child. How will a germaphobe handle touch? What about an aging musician whose fingers are going numb?

Do you have a funny story about touch? What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever touched? What did it feel like? (I held a baby crocodile once. He wasn’t slimy at all, and his belly was actually very soft.)

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Grammar for Fiction Writers is now available from Amazon, Kobo, or Smashwords. (You might also be interested in checking out Showing and Telling in Fiction or Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.)

All three books are available in print and ebook forms.

Be sure to sign up to receive free email updates so that you don’t miss the last two senses.

Photo Credit: Britta Kuhnen (obtained via www.sxc.hu)

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How to Use Our Weaknesses to Our Advantage

Image by Sarej at sxc.huHow do you feel about your weaknesses? Are they things you’re ashamed of and try to hide? Or do you brush them off because we’re only human?

Have you considered your weaknesses might actually be a secret source of strength?

Ehud was an Israelite who lived sometime between 1380 BC and 1050 BC when the kingdom of Moab had beaten Israel in battle. After 18 years of living as subjects of Moab, the Israelites chose Ehud to deliver their annual tribute.

But Ehud wasn’t a normal messenger. He was left-handed, and he had a plan.

In the ancient Middle East, being left-handed was often looked at as a disability, but it’s possible that Ehud and many of his family members used this seeming disadvantage to their advantage. They took what was a weakness and found a way to turn it into a strength that allowed them to be unique fighters.

Ehud made a two-edged sword the same length as the distance from his elbow to the tip of his middle finger, and he hid it under his clothes on his right thigh.

After the tribute was paid to the king of Moab, Ehud sent those who carried the tribute back home ahead of him, and he turned back to talk to the king alone.

“I have a secret message for you, O king,” Ehud said.

The king sent away all his attendants so only he and Ehud remained in the cool room. Ehud motioned the king closer, grabbed his sword with his left hand, and plunged it into the king’s belly fat. The king was so fat, in fact, that his belly flab closed around Ehud’s sword, hiding it.

Ehud left, locking the door behind him. When the king’s servants returned and found the door locked, they assumed the king was relieving himself. So they waited. And waited. And waited, until finally they became embarrassed by how long the king was taking and unlocked the door to find their king dead.

The Israelites took advantage of the disorder caused by the death of the Moabite king to free themselves. They ended up having peace for 80 years.

All thanks to Ehud’s seeming weakness. Had he been a right-handed man and reached for his sword with his right hand, the Moabite king would have seen the attack coming. He would have been able to stop Ehud in time, or at least scream for help. Only a left-handed man could have succeeded, because the king didn’t expect an attack from the left hand.

Retired professional basketball player Michael Jordan once said, “My attitude is that, if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.”

We all have the capability to turn what looks like a weakness into a strength.

My tendency to be stubborn (which is a nicer way of saying unreasonably obstinate and inflexible) about some things can also mean I’m determined and don’t easily give up. I just need to watch that I give other viewpoints genuine consideration.

My husband is a procrastinator. He puts off or delays even important things until the last minute. While it’s difficult for a workaholic like me to see sometimes, when properly harnessed, this means he knows how to separate work time and play time in a way I can’t seem to master.

People who stutter have the potential to become some of the most talented speakers and actors because their weakness forces them to pay attention to their breathing, inflection, and tone. Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, and James Earl Jones all stuttered.

Not every weakness can be turned into a strength, but I think many of them can be, depending on how we look at them. If we can figure out how to bind the aspect of our weakness that hinders us, it allows the strength hidden within to come out.

Do you have a weakness that you think could be turned into a strength? Or do you think that we shouldn’t bother working on our weaknesses and should instead focus on making our strengths even stronger?

Photo Credit: Andrzej Pobiedziński (obtained via www.sxc.hu)

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The Ending Debate: Make Mine Hopeful

Ending of FictionBilbo: What about helping me with my book, and making a start on the next? Have you thought of an ending?
Frodo: Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant.
Bilbo: Oh, that won’t do! Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?
Frodo: It will do well, if it ever came to that.
Sam: Ah! And where will they live? That’s what I often wonder.”
—J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

How do you want the stories you read or the movies you watch to end? Should they always end happy? Is it alright if the end is sad? Is there something in between?

This week, I’m taking part in a cross-blog debate about endings.

On Monday, Lisa Hall-Wilson gave the reasons she wants her endings to be 100% realistic (even if that means they’re sad), and on Tuesday, Melinda VanLone explained why she doesn’t just think happy endings are the best way—she thinks they’re the only way. Today I’m picking up the debate.

I want my endings, both the ones I read and the ones I write, to be hopeful.

People don’t need to be shown more sadness and death and criminals escaping, never to be caught, “because that’s real life.” If I wanted that, I could watch the news, sit with a struggling friend, or volunteer at a food bank or cancer hospice. I don’t need a novel to tell me that sometimes things are dark and brutal. The world tells me that enough already.

When life seems to be falling to pieces, we need someone to tell us about how they’ve come through a rough time like this and things got better, or how they learned and grew through the experience, or how, in the end, their situation turned out to be for the best. We need them to remind us that even when we have no control over what’s going on around us, we still have control over ourselves, our reactions, and our emotions. We need them to remind us not to give up.

Because that’s just as real and much more powerful. People need hope.

Hopeful endings show life the way it is, but through them, we also make a choice about how we want to look at life. And about how we want to live it.

Rain is just rain. It’s all about what we do with it that counts.

When it rains on a day you had plans, the person who wants 100% realism tells you about how their plans were ruined. They talk about how damp, cold, and depressing things were. They leave you with tears in your eyes and a knot in your gut. It sucks. That’s life.

A person who only believes in happy endings pretends that the rain didn’t matter. Who cares that it rained? It didn’t really ruin anything. In fact, I didn’t really want to go anyway.

A hopeful ending acknowledges the disappointment in the ruined plans, it mourns for them, but then it grabs an umbrella and goes out and jumps in the puddles. It tosses the umbrella aside, turns a face up to the drops, and spins like a whirling dervish. And when it finishes, it goes inside to make a mug of hot chocolate, get some dry clothes, and create fresh plans for a new day. It moves forward.

You can focus on how sad it is that it rained. You can ignore the rain. Or you can hope for the rain to clear and find a way to make the best of it if it doesn’t.

Real Steel, starring Hugh Jackman and Evangeline Lilly, is a movie with a hopeful ending. Real Steel takes place in the future where robot boxing has replaced human boxing. Jackman’s character Charlie is an absentee father who ends up taking care of his eleven-year-old son during the worst time of Charlie’s life, when his last robot has been destroyed and he’s in enough debt that people want to kill him. The woman he loves won’t have anything to do with him because he’s immature and irresponsible, and Charlie doesn’t want anything to do with his son.

Charlie and his son pull a “sparring bot” from the junk yard and restore it just to earn a few hundred dollars in throwaway matches. At least, that’s Charlie’s plan. His son has a different idea. By the end of the movie, they’re taking on the top robot fighter in the world. Even though they don’t win, they come close.

Things aren’t unrealistically perfect at the end of the movie. Charlie doesn’t get back the custody he already signed away to his son’s aunt. They didn’t win the match. There’s no wedding or even proposal between Charlie and the woman he loves.

But you know that everything is going to be okay. Charlie’s a better man than he was when the movie began. He and his son reconcile, and he ends up with the woman he loves. You know that with all the endorsements and other support they receive, their robot will succeed the next time.

We got to see the value in love and sacrifice. We got to see courage and determination, honor and duty. We got to learn about the consequences of actions both good and bad. And we got to do it in a way that made us feel like the fight was worth it.   

Because learning about love and courage and honor mean nothing if you walk away feeling sad and defeated and like there’s sometimes nothing we can do. Lessons of love and courage and honor aren’t enough on their own. We need to also be inspired to act on them because we believe that we have a chance of success. That’s what a hopeful ending does.

Hopeful endings make you think just as much as a “100% realistic ending” where the bad guy wins and the good guy loses it all. They’re no less honest and no less true. What makes us assume a sad ending is the only true and real one? In a story, we have the ultimate control. We choose. Why not show how hard life can be and then show a character triumphing over it? Why not show people how they can make their lives better if they refuse to give up? How bullies only win if we let them? How they can choose to be happier and choose to make a difference?

Those are the stories I want to tell because those are the stories I want to live.

Join the four of us for a special Twitter chat about endings on Friday, June 29, at 5:00 pm EDT using the hashtag #storyend. And make sure you stop by Diane Capri’s blog tomorrow for her post “The Ending Debate: Make Mine Multiple.”

What’s one ending (book or movie) that you’ve always wished you could change? What would you have changed about it?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Grammar for Fiction Writers is now available from Amazon, Kobo, or Smashwords. (You might also be interested in checking out Showing and Telling in Fiction or Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.)

All three books are available in print and ebook forms.

Photo Credit: Renate Kalloch (obtained via www.sxc.hu)

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Would You Change Anything About Your Past?

Apollo and DaphneSometimes I wish I had the power to turn people to stone.

Or into a tree like Daphne, when she was pursued by Apollo.

The great warrior Apollo mocked Eros (the Greek god of love) for handling a bow and arrows. “What have you to do with warlike weapons, boy?” Apollo asked. “Leave them for hands worthy of them.”

Angered, Eros drew two arrows—one of gold that would make the victim fall in love with the next person they saw, and one of lead that would instead inspire hatred. Eros shot Apollo with the golden arrow and the beautiful nymph Daphne with the lead arrow.

Apollo fell madly in love with Daphne, and she fled from him in fear and disgust. Apollo chased her.

But more than just her hatred of Apollo spurred Daphne to run as fast as she could. Throughout her life, Daphne chose to explore the woods over giving in to the advances of the many men who wanted her. She longed to guard her virginity and stay unmarried like Apollo’s sister had.

She stood to lose everything if Apollo caught her. And he was gaining on her.

Daphne called out to her father for help, and he turned her into a bay laurel tree. Her skin changed to bark and her hair into leaves, and her arms sprouted out into branches.

Daphne was safe from Apollo and from all the other potential lovers who might have stolen her virginity against her will.

That’s the power I wish I had. To turn people into something else so I could protect them from hurt and from harm.

Lately people all around me seem to be hurting. They’ve lost their job or can’t get the job they’ve always wanted. Their children are sick, or their marriages are ending. My grandparents are struggling to adjust to losing their independence and having to leave their home. My former neighbor’s son died in a head-on collision a week before his wedding.

It’s difficult to see so many people in pain.

And yet, I wonder. If I could protect them all from anything that would harm them, would that actually be for the best?

Daphne was safe, but she was also stuck as a tree forever. She couldn’t explore the woods anymore or take part in the woodland sports she loved. She couldn’t grow as a person. She couldn’t change her mind about what she wanted from her life.

Was safety worth what she lost to gain it?

What if the trials and the pain are what turns us into the people we’re supposed to be and gets us to the place we need to be?

Blogger and fantasy writer Tameri Etherton recently wrote a beautiful post about how her failed marriage in England and the guy in a band who broke her heart and stole her sunglasses taught her to love unconditionally and made her able to appreciate her now-husband when he finally came along. She ended the post by saying, “Sometimes people ask if I’d like to go back and change anything in my life. I would be afraid to do that. If I changed one thing, then maybe I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”

I’d be afraid too. When I look back on my life and my husband’s life, I can see how each disaster actually brought us one step closer together and made us better people.

I’m more resilient and more hopeful than I was. I’m more merciful. I think I’m also more patient and determined. And I’m doing what I love for a living.

When I look at the challenges we’re still facing and the challenges people we care about are facing, I can’t help but think one day we’ll look back on them, too, and be unwilling to change a thing because of the place they brought us to.

Do you think we get something from enduring trials that we couldn’t get from a perfect life? Would you do back in time and change anything if you could?

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Photo Credit: Debra Kristi on WANA Commons

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Five Benefits You’re Missing If You’re Not On Twitter

Twitter for WritersIf you’re not on Twitter already (or have an account you barely use), you probably have good reasons. You’re afraid it’s a black hole time suck. You don’t see the value it adds over Facebook. You’re worried about privacy. You’re not sure how to make the best use of it, it moves too fast, or it’s confusing.

While I agree those are valid concerns, they can all be fixed with a little time and training. And if you’re not on Twitter, there are five amazing benefits you’re missing out on.

(1) Twitter Has Over 100 Million Active Accounts

Whether you’re seeking traditional publication or plan to self-publish, whether you’re a non-fiction author, a novelist, a poet, or a short story writer, you need a platform to sell your work. Your audience is on Twitter. You just need to know how to tap in to them. This is true even if you write children’s books or YA. Your readers might not be on Twitter, but their parents and aunts and uncles and even grandparents are, and your books might just be the perfect gift they’re looking for. 

Because of the ability to participate in conversations through hashtags, Twitter also allows you to build a following faster than any other social networking site. People who find you on Facebook usually already know you. People who find you on Twitter are more likely to be complete strangers, and that’s a good thing because you’re expanding your friendships and your reach. I met some of my favorite writer friends on Twitter.

(2) Twitter Makes You a Better Writer

Twitter gives you 140 characters to work with. Not 140 letters or 140 words, but 140 characters. Spaces count, and so does punctuation. Links count as well.

Working within those constraints forces you to write tighter. No purple prose allowed. You need to figure out exactly what you’re trying to say. Twitter’s character limit also helps you value strong verbs and specific nouns over adverbs and adjectives. Both of those skills translate directly into better writing elsewhere.

(3) Twitter Brings You the News Faster than Any News Site Can

Twitter is real time, which means that while reporters are putting together their stories and getting approval from their editors, normal people on site are tweeting. Last August, Twitter lit up like a firefly on crack about the 5.8 earthquake in Virginia before the news stations could catch their balance. In the plague of tornadoes that rolled through Texas this spring, Twitter might have even saved lives.

(4) Twitter Allows You to Keep Your Finger on the Pulse of the Publishing Industry

Twitter is like a writer’s mecca because you can quickly find out about interesting and informative new blog posts (already vetted by others), get tips on writing and publishing from agents, editors, and bestselling authors, and keep up on industry trends and new releases. No searching involved. It comes to you in a bite-sized 140 character nugget. If you decide you want more, you click the link.

(5) Twitter Helps You Research

In her bestselling book We Are Not Alone: A Writer’s Guide to Social Media, Kristen Lamb tells the story of how she needed information on bounty hunters for her novel. Rather than wasting hours trying to sort through results on Google and still not coming up with what she needed, she tweeted about it and received replies from actual bounty hunters willing to answer her questions.

But it’s not only facts you can research on Twitter. If you’re not sure your main character’s name is a good fit for his personality and job, ask. If you want to know what writing software other writers actually trust, ask. In my co-written novel with Lisa Hall-Wilson, I mentioned Sodom and Gomorrah, and we debated whether enough people would know what we meant. So I asked, and we ended up leaving it in the book.

In August, I’ll be teaching a course to help people who aren’t on Twitter get started or people who are on Twitter but are struggling to improve. For eight months, I let Twitter intimidate me. I barely used it and only had five followers (two of which were my brother and sister-in-law). Then, in less than a year, I learned to love Twitter and went from five followers to over 3,600. This course will save you the wasted time, headaches, embarrassment, and learning curve I had starting out on Twitter, and show you how fun and helpful it can really be.

Learn more or sign up for this 4-week Twitter course here.

Twitter is where I hang out most days, so if you’re already on Twitter, I’d love to hear from you. My username is @MarcyKennedy (straightforward right – it’s very important on Twitter to use your name). And please help me spread this post not only on Twitter, but also on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ (where the folks who aren’t yet on Twitter are likely to be).

If you’re already on Twitter, what do you love best about it? If you’re not, what’s the biggest thing holding you back?

Sidenote: Since I know this is the busiest time of year for everyone, I’m going down to two posts a week for the rest of the summer. Starting in July, I’ll be doing my science fiction/fantasy themed posts on Mondays and the regular post for writers will move to Thursdays. I’ll be back to the three-day schedule come fall 🙂

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The 9 Steps to Switching from WordPress.com to WordPress.org: Part 2

Today we finish up our series by my phenomenal guest poster Melinda VanLone on how to switch from WordPress.com. If you missed her previous posts on Should You Move from WordPress.com to WordPress.org? and the first five steps in switching from WordPress.com to WordPress.org you can find them by clicking the links. Next Wednesday, I’m taking part in a really cool cross-blog discussion about endings, and then I’ll finally be continuing on with my series on using the five senses in fiction.

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How to Switch from WordPress.com to WordPress.org: Part 2

Last week we covered the first five steps:

1. Advertise the move.

2. Export your data.

3. Get a domain name.

4. Locate a host for your new website.

5. Install WordPress.

And now it’s time to…

Move In

6. Create a WordPress.org log in.

This will be different from your .com log in. The trick here is to use a different email for your website than you did for the free wordpress.com account. If you try to use the same email, you’ll end up with a lot of grief over “this email is not associated with this account” anytime you want to comment on a blog. Your host can provide email along with your website, you can sign up for a gmail account, or you can ask your Internet provider.

Why do you need a different log in? Well, the WordPress.com is NOT the same as WordPress.org. Similar names, very different locations. On .org, you’re a webmaster. You’ll create an “admin” log in. On .com, they’re the webmaster. You’re a visitor with special access to your room but no keys to all the other rooms. 

Once you’re logged in as the admin on your WordPress.org site, head on over to the dashboard. You’ll notice it looks a lot like the .com side.

At this point, your site isn’t live. The only way anyone will see it is if you send them a link with the IP address, so don’t be afraid to play around with it. Make sure you write down this address! (Hint: It’s in the admin panel of your web host.)

7. Import your data.

Remember that file you saved to your desktop? It’s time to put that to use.

Go to your dashboard, and select Plug Ins > Add New. Do a search for “Wordpress Importer.” Install it, and activate it.

Now go to the Dashboard and select Tools > Import > WordPress. Then select “choose file” and select your saved file. The plug-in will take all the data and import it to your new site.

This won’t be perfect, but it’ll be close enough. Some issues will most likely arise based on the theme you select and whether you had designated Featured Images. Take a deep breathe, and realize it’s better than starting from scratch.

Once the file import is done, view your site. You should see the Twenty Eleven default theme populated by your blog data. It probably doesn’t look perfect. If your data isn’t there, be sure to refresh your browser by pressing CTRL + F5. If it’s still not there, verify that you imported the right file. If all else fails, contact your web host for assistance. They can look on their side and see if your files made it. You can too, if you know FTP, but sometimes it’s worth it to ask for help.

Decorate Your New Digs

8. Pick a theme.

This is one of the biggest reasons you switched from .com to .org, so that you can frolic in all that the .org world has to offer in the way of themes and customization. Picking a theme sounds simple, but will probably take the longest amount of time. There are so many options! Unlike .com, themes don’t come pre-loaded for you. You can search from within your dashboard, or head out to the internet to find one.

Don’t be cheap. Buy a good quality template from a company who offers complete themes. Some to look at are http://themeforest.net/, http://www.theme-junkie.com/, and  http://www.elegantthemes.com/. These sites let you see the whole theme and even a live demo so you can really get to know what they offer.

Choosing a theme is serious business. It’s time to take a step back and really think about what it is you need and want on your website. You didn’t have that many options on .com, so this will feel a bit overwhelming. Or a bit like a kid in a candy store, depending on your view of technology in general. Either way, be patient with the process.

Download the ones you like to your desktop, and then install them onto your new site via the Appearance > Theme dashboard menu item. You’ll see a “Manage Themes” and an “Install Themes” tab. Click “Install Themes,” and then either search for a new one from this page or click “upload” if you have some on your hard drive you want to use. WordPress will unpack and install the theme files for you.

View your site. It’s perfect right? No?

A common problem you’ll run in to is a lot of themes require that you designate a “featured image” per post. If your old theme didn’t, then you’ll see blank boxes where you should see images. It’s an easy but time-consuming fix. Simply go to each post and select a “featured image.” Yes, it’s a pain. But in the end, it’s what makes a great theme stand out.

Remember, all of these themes are customizable. If something isn’t landing or flowing like you wanted, first check the theme options and play with everything they give you to play with.

Tweak. View site. Tweak. View site. Drink. Tweak. View site. Tweak. View site.

If it’s still not working, you can select a new theme and try again or delve into the wonderful world of CSS.

House Warming Party!

9. Assign your domain name.

On the dashboard, go to Settings > General. There are two options called “WordPress Address (URL)” and “Site Address (URL).” Right now, they are most likely populated with an IP address. It’s the address your web host gave you for your website. Now is the time to point your domain name to this particular address. In both fields, put in your domain name. For example, mine is http://www.melindavan.com.

Then wait. It takes awhile to populate the servers around the world with the new instructions. Be sure to refresh your own browser or you won’t see it update. Eventually it should make the rounds and you should then be able to type in www.YOURNAME.com and see your shiny new site!

If this doesn’t work, and you end up with an error, give your web host a call. You probably need to change a DNS (domain name server) instruction somewhere, and this is definitely something they can help you with. It’s an easy fix, but it’s not always easy to find.

I can’t stress enough to be patient with all of this. Set aside time to focus on it. Plan to spend a few days getting it all just right. Once you have it set up, it will be pretty much maintenance free. I haven’t visited the dashboard in months now, other than to add content. Which, after all, is why you went through all this pain.

Put out the welcome mat! Invite people to come see your new site. Sit back, have a glass of wine, and enjoy the satisfaction. You did it!

Any questions?

Melinda VanLone Fantasy AuthorMelinda VanLone is a science fiction/fantasy author with a Master’s degree in Publishing. She spent too many years to confess to working in graphic design and production before moving on to explore life as a writer. She’s a Photoshop expert, technology addict, and MMORPG lover. Melinda’s current work-in-progress, The Demon You Know, will be published in 2012. You can visit her website at http://www.melindavan.com/.

REMINDER FROM MARCY: My first class with WANA International kicks off on June 30th. Register for Get Rid of Boring Blog Titles Once and For All by clicking here.

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Four Ways We Should All be More like Star Wars’ Mandalorians

Tie Fighter - Star Wars MandaloriansYou might remember that I’m married to one of the world’s largest Star Wars’ fans. In the past, he’s written guest posts for me on Five Reasons I Wish I Was a Jedi and Ace Combat: Wedge Antilles vs. Kara Thrace. Since we were out of town most of last week, he agreed to visit my blog today with another Star Wars post. Please give him a warm welcome and some comment love.

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Mandalorians aren’t all bad guys—even Boba Fett.

In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the Mandalorian bounty hunter Boba Fett helps the Sith Lord Darth Vader freeze Han Solo in carbonite. He then loads the now-frozen Han into his ship, Slave I, for the flight to Tatooine, where he turns Han over to the crime lord Jabba the Hutt. The situation is made all the more poignant because it comes on the heels of Han and Leia finally coming to terms with their feelings for each other.

Thus begins a years-long feud of sorts between Boba Fett, considered a typical honorless Mandalorian, and Han and Leia, who become heroes to most of the civilized galaxy. Throughout the Expanded Universe books (and somewhat in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi), Mandalorians are portrayed as violent, money-loving, honorless, uncultured brawlers who care more about their bounty commissions than about anything else.

But that perception of Mandalorians, long held by even major Star Wars nerds like myself, is wrong. It’s often said that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Mandalorians are a perfect example.

In fact, I’ve become quite a fan of Mandalorians because their culture, while seemingly at odds with the rest of the galaxy, embraces some of the attributes that I personally value and strive to incorporate into my life. I think there are four ways in which we should all be like Mandalorians.

A Mandalorian’s Word Is His Bond

It used to be true that, when a man gave his word, you could count on it. If a man told you he’d do something, he did it. Everybody was more or less able to trust everyone else. Mandalorians are the same way—their word (or contract) is always kept, exactly, no matter what. You can always trust a Mandalorian to keep his word to you.

Mandalorians Spend Time With Their Families

Mandalorians take their children into battle with them starting at age 8, and Mandalorian children are considered adults at 13. Both mothers and fathers teach their children how to fly, fight, cook, and perform the family trade. Mandalorians take an active role in raising their children, and they also take an active role in the greater good of Mandalore (their planet).

In fact…

Mandalorians Take Care of Their Own

Mandalorians have a very Marine Corps-like mentality when it comes to taking care of their own. Even though, in the heat of battle, they put their mission’s success above all else, when the fighting is done, they regroup, take stock, and take care of any of their casualties. Mandalorians don’t leave anyone behind on the battlefield. They also don’t shirk their responsibility to the dependents of those who die. It’s very common for a Mandalorian to adopt the children of a comrade who died in battle. In fact, Mandalorians are habitual adopters, and think nothing of enlarging their clans through adopting those in need.

And this leads me to my next point…

Mandalorians Don’t Discriminate

It doesn’t matter to a Mandalorian who you are, where you come from, what you did in the past, or even what species you are. Anybody who throws their lot in with the Mandalorians becomes Mandalorian, with no exceptions, no questions asked. All that matters to Mandalorians is what you do starting now. If you do right by your fellow Mandalorians, they’ll do right by you. Remember: a Mandalorian’s word is his bond.

Which Mandalorian quality do you think we need more of?

Photo Credit: Aksoy on www.sxc.hu

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The Secrets of Spiderman Revealed

Spiderman and His Amazing FriendsMy earliest introduction to superheroes came through the Saturday morning cartoon Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends in the late 1980s. I looked forward to each episode where college students Peter Parker (Spiderman), Bobby Drake (Iceman), and Angelica Jones (Firestar) came together to fight villains and save the world (or at least the city). I dreamed of being Firestar because I wanted to be able to fly and warm up a mug of hot chocolate with only my hands.

So with my childhood love of Spiderman and His Amazing Friends, you can image how excited I was to learn about the Spiderman prequel aptly named The Amazing Spiderman set to release on July 3. Normally I would have been hesitant considering the Spiderman trilogy of movies starring Toby Maguire went into a death spiral as the series went on, but this new edition looks like it’s going to be a little dark, a little funny, and who can resist an actor who does his own stunts because he used to be a gymnast.

But the biggest draw might be the promise to delve into Spiderman’s backstory, revealing some of the secrets behind what happened to his parents.

What was your favorite childhood cartoon?

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The 9 Steps to Switching From WordPress.com to WordPress.org: Part 1

Two weeks ago I had the generous Melinda VanLone by to help answer the question Should You Move from WordPress.com to WordPress.org? Not only was Melinda’s post fantastic but so were the comments. For those of you who decided to make the change, Melinda’s broken it down into nine easy-to-follow steps for you. This week she’ll go through the first five, and next week you’ll get the remaining four.

If you entered last week’s critique giveaway, winners are announced at the end.

So, without further ado, take it away Melinda…

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How to Switch from WordPress.com to WordPress.org

If you started out on WordPress.com, and have now decided you are a professional with a need for your own hosted website, it’s time to move. The sooner you do it the easier it will be in the long run. Don’t worry, I just went through this myself and I’ll hold your hand. We can do this together!

Moving from your wordpress.com blog to a wordpress.org website is like moving from an apartment to a house you’ve built.

Pack Up

1. Advertise the move.

Write a blog post explaining that your blog will be moving to a hosted site in the near future, and include a reminder in every blog post leading up to the move. Unfortunately, subscribers won’t automatically travel with you. You will lose subscribers in the switch no matter what you do, but the more you tell them, the more likely they will be to remember to subscribe to your new blog location.

2. Export your data.

Log in to your WordPress.com dashboard. Look along the admin panel until you find Tools > Export. Using this handy plug-in will make a file that combines all of your posts, pages, comments, custom fields, categories, and tags.

Click on Export. It will bring up a page that gives you the option of paying a lot of money for a “guided transfer.” You don’t need that. Click Export again. Select “all content.”  Click “Download Export File.” WordPress will then create a file containing your data in one handy package. Be sure to save it somewhere you will remember later. You’ll need it.

Buy the Land

3. Get a domain name.

On the internet, it’s all about location—your web address. Your domain name is how people will find you. This isn’t something to dash off without thought. See Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There Blog? It’s Me Writer or Dan Blank’s We Grow Media website for help with choosing the right domain name for your author platform. You’ll notice that both Marcy and I have chosen our names for our domain because as fiction writers our names are part of our brand.

Some web hosts offer domain names as well as hosting services. If you like things simple, take them up on their offer. If you don’t like putting all of your eggs in one basket, use a service like godaddy.com or dotregistrar.com to buy your domain name, and look for a web host elsewhere.

If you already own your domain name and are using it for your wordpress.com site, then you can skip right over this and start building.

Lay the Foundation

4. Locate a host for your new website.

There are thousands of options. Don’t go with the cheapest. Instead, look for one that has been in business for awhile, seems stable, is compatible with WordPress, does daily and weekly back-ups, and has 24/7 tech support. If your site goes down, it’s nice if someone answers the phone. Find a host that is friendly, not afraid to walk you through the steps, can prove nearly 100% up-time, and gets great reviews. Research this just like you would a building contractor or any other big purchase. It might not cost a lot, but this will be a big deal in the long run. Just ask anyone who’s had host problems.

WordPress recommends Bluehost (among others). This is the one I chose because they have one-button installation of the WordPress infrastructure. I’m all about easy installs. You should be able to find a host for less than $10/month.

Frame the House

5. Install WordPress.

If you’re using Bluehost or something similar, there is a one-button installation right on the admin page. If you use another host, give them a call and ask them if they have WordPress installation set up. They will walk you through it. If they won’t, find another host. You pay these people to support you.

You can also install WordPress yourself following their instructions. It looks intimidating, but it’s not overly difficult. Try not to let the technical terms scare you, and just follow the instructions step by step.

Any questions so far?

Melinda VanLone Fantasy AuthorMelinda VanLone is a science fiction/fantasy author with a Master’s degree in Publishing. She spent too many years to confess to working in graphic design and production before moving on to explore life as a writer. She’s a Photoshop expert, technology addict, and MMORPG lover. Melinda’s current work-in-progress, The Demon You Know, will be published in 2012. You can visit her website at http://www.melindavan.com/.

SPECIAL NOTE FROM MARCY: The winners of 1,500-word critique offered last week in my post on Is Now Really the Best Time Ever for Writers? are Rebecca Enzor and Bonnie Way. Lisa and I will be in touch. Also, registration is now open for my Get Rid of Boring Blog Titles Once and For All class, with a special offer for the first 10 people who sign up.

Be sure to subscribe by email so you don’t miss the rest of Melinda’s series.

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Do Bullies Sometimes Win?

Snow White and the HuntsmanWe all fall into one of two groups—those who were bullies and those who were bullied.

In Snow White and the Huntsman, the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is the ultimate bully. She sucks all beauty from the world around her, not just from the women whose youth she steals. The once-lush countryside withers, and under her rule, people forget what it means to be good and kind and happy.

She gets pleasure from seeing other people suffer. “Do you hear that?” she asks. “It’s the sound of battles fought and lives lost. It once pained me to know that I am the cause of such despair. But now their cries give me strength.”

One of the Duke’s resistance fighters returns to the Duke (the faithful friend of Snow White’s father, the king, when he was alive) with the tale of how the fighter’s son stabbed Queen Ravenna in the gut and she didn’t even bleed. She killed him with just a touch. No one can stop her. No one can beat her.

Or at least that’s what she wants everyone to think. It’s what all bullies want, because they know that bullies only win if we let them.

For all the one-dimensionality of the Snow White character, and despite Kristen Stewart’s acting, Snow White got that one thing right.

The evil Queen can be killed. She can be stopped. But they won’t do it by hiding from her.

And neither will we.

When my husband was in high school, he was the scrawny, nerdy kid. (He didn’t fill out until he was deployed to Iraq.) In high school, he weighed no more than 125 pounds, and was regularly shoved around and intimidated by a guy at least 30 pounds heavier and four inches taller. And he took it—until one day he didn’t.

One day, he punched his bully in the face. No one bullied him again.

I’m not saying the right solution is always to physically punch your bully any more than the right solution is for us to all draw swords and storm a castle, but there are many ways to stand up and say “Enough!”

Bullies lose when we don’t let them change us. Last week, August McLaughlin interviewed ESPN executive Keri Potts, who was brutally assaulted and nearly raped by a bully of the worst kind while traveling alone in Italy. After the attack, she thought she’d never enjoy traveling alone again. She did it anyway, and kept doing it until her joy came back. Her father said, “That’s my girl. Don’t ever let somebody change you. Because that’s what you love to do.”

Bullies lose when we refuse to let them hide their bullying. When you report your abuser, when you testify against the person who attacked you, when you tell your story about what happened behind closed doors or in the shadows, you’re helping to make sure they can’t hurt someone else in the future. You’re standing as a shield between the bully and their next victim. You’re giving someone else the courage to stand up and say, “No, that’s not alright.” You win, and the bully loses.

Bullies lose when we stop making excuses for them. “She had an unhappy childhood, so she doesn’t realize how much her words hurt other people.” “He hits me because I’m disrespectful.” “He bullies other children because his parents tell him he’s worthless and he needs to feel better about himself.” There might be good reasons why a person is a bully, and it’s important for us to try to understand those reasons.

Having a reason for something, though, doesn’t mean we excuse their actions. When we excuse them, we enable them to keep being a bully. Excusing their actions is the same as saying what they did isn’t wrong because of some other factor. Until we’re willing to say “This is wrong, regardless of the reason for it,” the bullying will never stop and the bully will never have to face the consequences of their actions.

Bullies never have to win. They only win when we stop fighting.

Have you faced a bully before? How did you handle it? Do you agree that bullies only win when we let them?

If you’re looking for a more traditional review of Snow White and the Huntsman, some of my blogger friends have done an amazing job:

Tameri Etherton

Ellie Soderstrom

Melinda VanLone (my opinion is closest to Melinda’s)

Jillian Dodd’s daughter, Kenzie Dodd

And my co-writer Lisa Hall-Wilson asks “Is Snow White a Leader or a Hero?

Update: I had to add in this hilarious review by Kait Nolan on The 10 Most Mockable Moments in Snow White and the Huntsman.

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