About Marcy Kennedy

Posts by Marcy Kennedy:

Are You Struggling to Control Your Inner Centaur?

Centaur statue - Greek mythologyI’m afraid I might be part centaur. And it’s not something I’m proud of.

Centaurs in the ancient Greek world were nothing like the stargazers on the grounds of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts or the wise, noble creatures in Narnia.

The most common origin legend says centaurs are descended from King Ixion of the Lapiths and a cloud. After murdering his father-in-law, Ixion went mad, and Zeus invited him to Olympus out of pity. In repayment for Zeus’ kindness, Ixion lusted after Zeus’ wife Hera. Zeus found out about it and created a cloud version of Hera, which Ixion coupled with. The cloud Hera gave birth to Centauros, and Centauros mated with mares, creating centaurs.

With a grandfather like Ixion, it’s no wonder centaurs ended up with little self-control.

They’re one of the baser creatures of Greek mythology. Stories abound of them kidnapping and raping women, getting drunk, fighting, and tramping crops. Some even say they ate raw flesh. Passions ruled. In battle, they wielded rocks and tree branches against their enemies, and Zeus would use them to punish humans who angered him.

Centaurs could be wise and good, as Chiron proved by serving as a tutor to Greek heroes like Jason and Achilles. But he’s known because he’s the exception. When placed next to the other centaurs, he only makes their lack of self-control uglier, sadder.

The centaurs’ dual nature, both man and horse, capable of good but choosing to be selfish, came to represent the struggle in each of us between what we know is right and our carnal desires for gluttony, lust, and violence.

Lately, I’ve been letting my cravings get the best of me too.

Since February of this year, I’ve been trying to lose weight. Somewhere between my honeymoon in 2010 and finally getting out of a very stressful job situation this year, I managed to gain 25 pounds. When you’re 5’2”, putting on that much weight means your back starts to ache and none of your clothes fit anymore.

I know what I need to do to lose the weight. But too often, when faced with the chocolate or cheesecake or Chinese food I want, I give in. Because I want it. I don’t have an excuse.

My lack of self-control is all the more ugly and sad because of all the other places in life where I’ve proven I have the self-control to make the right choice even when I want to make the wrong one. I get up every morning to work out for at least an hour. I set aside leisure activities when I have a deadline. I once had so much self-control that I dropped my weight well below what was healthy.

I can do it. It’s a matter of will. But some days I worry I don’t have enough willpower left.

I don’t want to be a centaur, so I’m fighting—a pound of carrot sticks and half a pound of weight at a time.

Sometimes I think that’s the best we can do, at least at first. When we feel like the centaur inside is winning, throwing rocks and trees at us that are too big to handle, we just have to keep dipping and dodging and ducking and diving and, as long as we don’t give up, we’ll find the self-control we need to defeat it.

What brings out the centaur in you? (Any tips for losing weight in a healthy way are also welcome!)

For those of you who are also trying to eat healthier and lose weight, make sure you check out Ginger Calem’s Writer’s Butt Wednesdays and August McLaughlin’s posts about balanced living.

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7 Tips for Increasing Creativity

Kreativ Blogger AwardI’ve been award the Kreativ Blogger Award from one of my favorite bloggers, a sister nerd, and just an all-around nice person—Jessica O’Neal. It’s a huge honor to receive this award from her. Thank you!

As you’ve probably guessed, this award comes with some rules:

1. Thank the person who gave it to you.

2. List 7-10 random facts about yourself. I’m putting a twist on this. Since this is the Kreativ Blogger Award, I’m going to give you 7 tips for increasing creativity instead.

3. Pass the award on to 6 deserving bloggers and let them know about it.

I’d also like to thank the lovely Ingrid Schaffenburg for awarding me with the Versatile Blogger Award. If you’d like to see the seven (hopefully) interesting facts I shared about myself, please check out my Versatile Blogger post.

Now on to the promised tips…

Marcy’s 7 Tips for Increasing Creativity

Spend 30 minutes on Deviant Art. Choose three pictures that immediately inspire a story idea in your mind. Write down three to five sentences about each.

Take a nap, but not for the reason you think. Have you ever noticed how great ideas often come when you’re waking up or falling asleep? According to Dr. Sara Mednick, author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life, this is because the relaxation from napping allows your mind to form new associations and connections between ideas.

Add color to your life. Paint your nails blue or purple or orange. Chalk your hair. If you’re a man, buy a tie or a shirt in a color you wouldn’t normally wear. For some reason, adding a little bit of crazy color to your life makes you feel like a true artist and that frees you from the fear holding you back.

Be silly. Okay, here’s the deal. If I’m going to share my super-secret silly tips with you, you have to promise not to laugh at me. (I see your crossed fingers, by the way.) I have a toy drawer full of slinkies, paddleballs, bubble blowing liquid with wands…you get the idea. I also own a hula-hoop. Find what works for you, but sometimes all it takes to be more creative is to break the stress by doing something a little goofy.

Do logic problems. Logic problems are one of my guilty little addictions. I never go on a long trip without a book of puzzles to solve. They train your brain to think outside the box and make connections that aren’t instantly obvious. You can find great free logic problems with a Google search or order a book of them from Amazon for traveling.

Defend your position. Ask a friend to question your ideas and play devil’s advocate. In defending your position, you’ll be forced to think about it in more depth than before, face the flaws, and come up with inventive solutions.

Give yourself some distance when working on important projects. People who leave things to the last minute because they “work better under pressure” might actually be sabotaging their creativity. Studies summarized in Scientific American have shown that the more psychological distance you can get from a problem or challenge, the more creative your solutions will be.

What does psychological distance mean? It comes in different forms. You can distance yourself in time. You can imagine the problem belongs to someone else and come up with what you’d tell them. You can imagine a change in the geographical location either of yourself or what you’re working on. (And you know what would help with that – going to a new ethnic restaurant 😉 )

Now I have the pleasure of passing this award long.

Ginger Calem – Each week Ginger comes up with what she calls “WritersButt Wednesday” where she gives exercises, health tips, and absolutely mouth-watering recipes.

Jenny Hansen – Jenny’s More Cowbell blog is about all things more and it has a little bit of something for everyone from pregnancy advice to tech help for the technologically challenged to really shocking underwear.

Jen Kirchner – Jen started a new series this year called Sci-Fi Pin-Ups and she also has awesome game reviews for girls.

Melinda Vanlone – Melinda recently moved from a simple blog to a website, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Best of all, she designed it all herself.

Stacy Green – If you love true crime, you’ll really enjoy Stacy’s Thriller Thursdays. Sometimes the crimes were solved, but sometimes it’s still a mystery.

Emma Burcart – Emma’s blog is one of open-hearted honesty. When you go there, you feel like you’re sitting down with a friend for a much needed chat. I don’t think you can over-estimate that quality in a world where so many things seem rushed and impersonal.

What’s your favorite tip for increasing creativity? Have you tried any of the tips above?   

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Four Secrets About Writer’s Conference Faculty

Inside the Brain of Writer's Conference FacultyIt’s writer’s conference season again, and as someone who’s gone to multiple conferences, both as an attendee and as faculty, I wanted to share with you the top four things the faculty and presenters at writer’s conferences (including agents and editors) wish you knew.

(1) We can tell from a 15 minute appointment who is going to succeed and who is going to fail.

You probably think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. It’s that obvious.

So what are some of the factors signaling success in a person’s future?

  • a willingness to learn and work hard
  • questions showing an understanding of what I said
  • the ability to clearly tell me what you need my help with (or the acknowledgment you’re just starting out and aren’t even sure what your first step should be)
  • evidence you did your research ahead of time

(And please remember – even if they seen potential in you, you might not be ready yet. Would you want to eat an unripe banana? Whether or not an agent or editor asks to see more after a conference should never be taken as a clear sign of your future potential.)

What makes these so important?

Hard work and teachability trump talent every day.

Asking questions (or taking notes) shows that you’re listening, digesting, and are likely to apply what you’ve learned later.

If you know what you need my help with, you know your weaknesses. Recognizing them is the first step in fixing them. If you sit down with me and can’t even explain what you want in a way I can understand, it’s also going to be difficult for you to move forward and get your message across to readers.

If you don’t take the time to read carefully or to research the specialties of conference faculty before speaking to them, it’s a sign that you’ll also query agents and editors randomly. At the last conference I taught at, I had two separate people book appointments with me because they wanted to know how to code and design a website themselves. My bio (on the conference website, my website, and the wall behind my head) said nothing about website design. The best I could do was give them the name of the company who designed my website.

(2) There’s nothing in it for us except the desire to see others succeed.

In the past, the small honorarium I’ve received to come and teach isn’t enough to cover my expenses (though I know this does vary by conference). Monetarily, teaching at conferences is often a loss even for faculty who have books to sell.

Agents and editors come in the hope of finding a new author. Other writers come because they want the chance to give back.

The point to take away from this is that you should take the advice they give you seriously. Don’t brush it off because they accidentally wounded your pride. They want you to do well. Sometimes that means handing out a dose of tough love.

(3) Our days are longer than yours.

Faculty members put in 14 hour days. On one day alone at the last conference we taught at, my co-writer and I put in 17 hours, including teaching a class, an impromptu workshop, almost four hours of one-on-one appointments with attendees, a working lunch, a working supper, informal meetings . . . you get the picture. And unlike attendees, we can’t just take off for an hour to rest.

We were happy to do it. We hope to do it again. But it’s exhausting to always be “on.”

So what? (Yup, I could hear you asking that.)

If at any point you feel like a conference faculty member is brushing you off, ignoring you, belittling you, or didn’t want to talk to you, the truth is they were probably just tired. And since they’re human, exhaustion affects them negatively. Know that they’re trying their best, and don’t take it personally.

(4) We find it overwhelming (and flattering) that everyone knows who we are.

At Write! Canada, where I taught last summer, people I’d never met knew me by sight. Few happenings in my life have been as humbling. I’m really not cool enough to be that well known. In fact, I’m geeky and clumsy and boring more often than I care to admit. (If you don’t believe me, just ask my family.)

The take away here is that if a faculty member forgets your name, don’t take it personally. (And always wear your name tag so we don’t feel like idiots for not knowing your name.) You already know them, but they’ve probably had 10 new names thrown at them in the last half an hour alone.

When you get a chance to talk to them, ask all your writing-related questions (that’s why you’re there after all), but also try to connect with them on something you have in common. Then, if you email them later, you can mention the conversation about such-and-such that you enjoyed and it will jog their memory.

If you’re a conference veteran, what’s the single best piece of advice you’d give to someone new to conferences? If you’re considering going to your first conference, what’s your biggest question or fear?

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What Groundhog Day Can Teach Us About Contentment

Groundhog DayImportant life lessons don’t usually come in the form of a large ground squirrel predicting the weather and a day that literally never ends.

But Groundhog Day, a 1993 movie starring Bill Murray, weaves three of the most important lessons for contentment around the story of a cynical weather man trapped in a time warp in Punxsutawney, PA, on February 2.

Phil Connors (Bill Murray) travels from Pittsburg with his cameraman and his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) to report on what the groundhog says about the coming of spring. The problem is that every morning he wakes up and it’s still February 2. He’s the only one who realizes they’re trapped in a time loop. 

In his attempt to keep his sanity, he—like most of us—learns the hard way the three things that will allow him to be content regardless of his circumstances.

Physical pleasures might be fun for the moment, but they often end in boredom and despair. A fulfilling life requires something more.

Once Phil’s confusion wears off, he realizes that no tomorrow means no consequences, and he can do whatever he wants. He smokes, gluts himself on coffee and pastries, steals money from the bank, and has a series of one-night stands.

And at first, he’s deliriously happy. If I’m being honest, I can relate. Imagine being able to eat all your favorite foods without gaining a pound.

It’s appealing.

And destructive.

Soon the thrill wears off for Phil. The pleasures aren’t enough, and despair takes over. He tries to kill the groundhog, thinking that might be the way out. When that fails, he tries to kill himself in every conceivable way. When that fails as well, Phil takes his first small step toward being a better person. He starts to think of others instead of just of himself.

You can’t save everyone.

One of Phil’s daily errands is trying to save an old homeless man who dies. The first night Phil finds the man collapsed, he rushes him to the hospital. The man dies anyway.

The nurse tells Phil, “Sometimes people just die.”

“Not today,” he says.

Saving the old man becomes an obsession. He feeds him, performs CPR, does everything he can think of. Nothing works. It was the man’s time to die.

It’s the saddest lesson of Groundhog Day, but one of the most important, especially for me. I take in strays. When I see someone hurting or with a problem, I want to fix it. I believe in second chances. I have a difficult time giving up on or letting go of anyone.

But sometimes you have no other choice. Sometimes you’re going to lose one. If you let that loss destroy your confidence, or cause you to stop trying, you’ll also give up the chance of helping many others. Never let losing one keep you from trying.

You can’t force or trick someone into loving you. What you can do is become the person your perfect mate would naturally fall in love with.

Early in the movie, Phil calls the woman he’s kissing by Rita’s name and figures out it’s Rita he really wants. That attraction quickly grows into love because Rita is a genuinely nice person.

Unfortunately, Phil isn’t the kind of man Rita wants. He’s the exact opposite. When the movie starts, he’s cruel and selfish and egocentric. But he doesn’t want to change, so he goes on a quest to learn everything he can about Rita in the hope of convincing her to fall in love with him (or at least sleep with him).

But no matter what tactics he tries, every evening ends with Rita slapping him. Phil eventually gives up, and not being able to win her over contributes to his depression and suicide attempts.

The turning point for him comes when he realizes he doesn’t deserve her. Instead of continuing to try to trick Rita into loving him, he works on becoming the kind of man she would fall in love with. He starts to read the classics, learns how to ice sculpt, and takes piano lessons. He spends his days running around Punxsutawney, trying to make this one day perfect for all the residents, from catching a boy who falls from a tree at the same time every day to fixing a flat tire for three old ladies. He learns to love the small town and its people.

By the end of the movie, Rita falls in love with him for who he’s become–and the time loop ends because he’s learned what it really means to love.

Have you discovered one of these lessons the hard way? The most difficult lesson of the three for me is admitting I can’t save everyone. Which is the biggest struggle for you?

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Behind the Scenes: Angela Wallace and Elementals

Today I have the privilege of interviewing Angela Wallace, author of suspense-filled urban fantasy, to go behind the scenes on her Elemental Magic series. Dry Spell, the second book in the series, has just been released.

Dry Spell by Angela WallaceAileen Donovan is an elemental with magical control over water. When Aileen finds a mummified body at a scientist’s convention in Seattle, she suspects supernatural foul play. Her amateur sleuthing, however, isn’t the romantic getaway her human boyfriend, Colin, had in mind. Breaking into crime scenes and fending off black magic doesn’t really set the mood.

As more bodies turn up, Aileen’s insatiable desire to solve the mystery not only pits her against a serial killer, but also a cunning vampire lord, and an elemental agent with ulterior motives.

But the closer Aileen gets to the killer, the further she finds herself from Colin. Can she try to salvage their relationship and stop a murderer, or is she out of her supernatural league?

Welcome, Angela 🙂

Thank you for having me on your blog, Marcy!

I’m so glad you could stop by 🙂 I’ve been looking forward to your visit since I read the blurb for Dry Spell.

In your Elemental Magic series, Aileen Donovan is a water elemental, meaning she can manipulate water and communicate with sea creatures. How did you decide what special abilities to give each of the four types of elementals?

I saw four episodes of Avatar, the Last Airbender and thought that was cool. Wield a whip of water? Oh yeah. I also like limitations on powers, so Aileen’s ability to manipulate water does have to follow the laws of physics. The more she tries to go against that, the harder it becomes. Being able to talk to the animals of a specific element also ties in to your next question regarding how elementals came about.

I love the history you’ve developed—that hundreds of years ago God created the elementals to care for the earth. Where did you get the spark for this idea and how did it develop from there?

I’ve been in love with the elements ever since I went on a youth retreat where the theme was the four elements and how they were metaphors for God and spirituality. It just automatically flowed that my elementals would be stewards over their powers and the natural world. I’m a big thinker when it comes to stories, and like to have every detail and angle that I can think of covered. And though I don’t write “Christian” fiction, there are certain aspects of my faith that show through in my books, such as being created for a specific purpose.

If you could be one type of elemental, which would you choose and why?

Earth. Earth is pretty powerful because some form of it is almost everywhere. Plus, I would love not to kill my plants.  😉

You and I both 🙂 I’ve even tried naming my plants so they last longer. I’ll spare you the gory details of Miranda’s death…

Can you give us a sneak peak at the next book in the series?

Sure! I am very excited for Elemental Magic 3 because we’re getting a new main character and a new element! Nita is an earth elemental, and she’s got her hands full with a newly made werewolf, and a creature scary enough to take one down.

Excerpt:

It took me a moment to notice the sudden stillness of the clearing I had just stepped into. Not a single pine needle or blade of grass seemed to move. Everything was silent. I cocked the rifle and turned in a slow circle, watching for any disturbance in the woods. The few animal presences I detected were huddled in their holes, not moving. A predator was near. If it were a normal land animal, I would have sensed it, but since I didn’t, that left the werewolf as a strong possibility.

I knelt on the ground and braced the rifle barrel on my knee so I could hold it with one hand while I dug around in my sack with the other. I pulled out a fresh kill—goose, feathers intact—and tossed it several feet away. If he was in wolf form, he would smell the blood. With my eyes scanning the tree line and my rifle still braced on my knee, I took my free hand and dug my fingers into the soft earth. The soil hummed at my touch, thousands of tiny voices from centuries of rock and clay singing out to me. My fingers coiled around them like a lifeline. If that wolf attacked, this was my defense: my earth wielding.

Watch for it this fall.  😉

One thing that everyone always wants to know (okay, maybe it’s just something I always want to know) is why each writer chose their individual path. What made you go the route of self-publishing?

It’s kind of a long, complicated story, one I definitely see God’s direction in. Basically, I queried Elemental Magic and my other novel, Phoenix Feather, for a year each. Both racked up 20+ rejection letters. But hey, J.K. Rowling got that many, right? So no worries. I didn’t even know self-publishing (for free) existed until someone told me (that’s the long, God-had-a-hand-in-it part). I have loved it ever since. It’s more my style, my pace. I love maintaining creative control. There are a lot of pitfalls and things to learn along the way (I’m still learning hard lessons), but it’s been rewarding too.

We all love to talk about what we’d do in the case of a zombie apocalypse or other crazy disaster, but my thoughts always go to how I’d make sure my pets survived too. I know you have a go-bag for your cat in case of an emergency, so what essentials would you suggest pet owners keep packed and ready in case they need to evacuate?

Great question! And I recently learned there were a few items I was missing in that go-bag. Btw, the go-bag is the cat carrier. First, a leash and body harness. Suppose you’re stuck in a house with a wall missing, or a shelter. You can’t keep your pet locked in a carrier 24/7. A body harness works better than just a leash around the collar because it’s harder to wriggle out of. I also have a small fleece blanket stuffed inside. Finally, a Ziploc baggy of food. We probably don’t think about it, but our pets get used to the brand of food we give them. Relying on handouts from friends may not work if your pet refuses to touch a different brand. A bag of treats is also a good idea; you never know when you may need to bribe your animal into something.

That’s a great tip about a Ziploc baggy of food. Our youngest cat was one we took in as a half-starved stray, so she’ll eat anything (including green beans), but our Siamese would rather go hungry that eat a new food.

Thanks for taking the time to give us a behind the scenes peek!

Angela WallaceAngela Wallace has been penning adventures ever since she was sucked through a magical portal as a child. She has since come back down to earth, only to discover this mortal realm has magic of its own. Now she is quite at home in the world of urban fantasy, though she believes that love, faith, and hope are of a stronger magic than fire wielding and sorcery. She loves gun-toting good boys, and could have been a cop in another life except real blood makes her queasy. She’ll have to stick to solving supernatural mysteries. You can find out more about her at her Elemental Magic blog, or connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads.

Dry Spell is currently available as an ebook from Amazon or as a paperback from Amazon. More formats coming soon!

Which elemental would you like to be (earth, air, fire, or water)?

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What About Characters Who Don’t Match Stereotypical Male and Female Qualities?

In the previous post in this series on “How to Keep Strong Female Characters Likeable,” featuring Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica and Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, Debra Kristi commented, “I always liked these characters because I saw something of me in them. I never felt the way you are describing. I guess I am in the minority.”

Sarah Zahorchak on Google+ also asked, “Are we geared to automatically like stereotypical male and female characters more? (I’m no psychologist, so maybe we do! I don’t actually know.)”

All those “stereotypical” male and female qualities are stereotypes because they contain some truth. Women generally do like shopping for a great pair of shoes or a killer purse. We generally are more emotional (or at least show our emotions more). We generally talk more. Writers in the Storm recently had an excellent guest post by Rob Preece called “Women Are From Venus, Men Are Annoying” on some of the key differences between the sexes and how this should affect the way we write our characters.

I think sometimes we fight so hard against admitting these differences because we’re afraid that, by admitting them, we’re saying men and women aren’t equal. But we can be different while still being equal. In fact, we should be proud of our differences. The differences between my husband and I work to our advantage in coming at problems from fresh angles, and force us to look outside ourselves and really consider someone else’s preferences.

But aren’t there exceptions? Don’t some men and women have characteristics that usually belong to the opposite sex?

Of course. As Debra mentioned, she’s an exception. So am I. If you bring a problem to me, instead of giving you empathy the way a normal woman would, I’m going to try to explain why it happened and find a solution for you, much like a man. It’s not that I don’t feel empathy. I feel your problem deeply, but I’m a born fixer.

Before you create a character who’s the exception, analyze your motivation.

NOTE: I’ve had to remove the rest of this post because it’s now a part of my book Strong Female Characters: A Busy Writer’s Guide. You can buy a copy at Amazon, Amazon.ca, Kobo, or Smashwords. They’ll be available in more places soon!

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Could You Be An Evil Person?

"Water" Battlestar GalacticaWe all have evil within us.

In “Water,” the second episode of Battlestar Galactica’s first season, a saboteur blows up their water tanks, forcing all the ships in the fleet to ration their water. If they don’t find water quickly, the approximately 47,000 people who are all that remains of humanity will die.

They send out pairs of pilots to survey nearby planetary systems for water. One by one, the teams report back—negative for H2O.

Finally, only one team remains. Lieutenant Sharon “Boomer” Valerii and her electronic countermeasures officer, Crashdown, check the planets in their assigned zone.

“Still nothing,” Crashdown says. “And more nothing.”

The screen in front of Sharon flashes the words Positive for H2O. “I’ve got nothing here either,” she says, despite the results on her monitor. She blinks in confusion as her mind can’t make sense of what’s going on.

What we know, but Sharon doesn’t, is that she’s the one who destroyed the water tanks. She’s a Cylon sleeper agent programmed to believe she’s human. During the gaps in her memory, she’s planting explosives and letting other Cylons infiltrate the fleet.

Crashdown notices the strange tone in her voice.

“What’s on your mind, Boomer?” he asks.

“I don’t know. I have this feeling. Let’s run that sweep again.”

The screen flashes positive a second time, and Sharon hesitates. She tells Crashdown, “I’m having trouble saying it.”

You can see the battle between good and evil, human and Cylon, warring across her face. What she knows to be right, the love she has for her friends back on Galactica, wrestles with something deep within her that she can’t name, something dark and hateful and destructive.

Her hand slides down toward the explosives taped beside her seat. Her fingers tremble, hovering over the detonator.

It doesn’t matter whether you believe that humans are basically good or basically evil. When you bring both views down to their common denominator, we all have evil within us.

It’s easy to convince ourselves that, because we don’t steal or abuse or murder, we’re free from evil. But I do things I’m ashamed of. I’ve selfishly put my own desires ahead of someone else’s more than once. In the heat of an argument, I’ve said unkind, even cruel, things. And I struggled for years with a heart full of hatred for the drunk driver who killed my best friend. I wanted him to suffer. I wanted him to feel the pain that everyone who loved my friend felt at losing her.

Evil isn’t always big and flashy like a Cylon basestar come to blow up your ship. Sometimes it sneaks around in the dark and hides under the seats. And when we refuse to admit we could do something evil, the same way Sharon couldn’t accept that she might be a Cylon, that’s when we’re most vulnerable.

Having the potential to be evil is part of being alive. What matters is that, every day, every second, we fight it.

In the end, Sharon slowly pulls her hand away from the explosives and manages to tell Crashdown they’ve found water. She overcomes her programing—the inherent evil within her. She fought and she won. She’ll face more battles, but that day, in that fight, good prevailed.

Do you think evil is most dangerous when we think we’re immune to it? What helps you win the daily battle between good and evil?

Never watched Battlestar Galactica before? Find out why it’s not just for sci-fi fans.

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Let’s Play A Game

Let's Play A GameI’ve been tagged in two fun games, so I decided to smush them together into one post.

The first is called Eleven Questions, where you get to know weird facts about your friendly neighborhood writer.

The Rules:

1. You must post the rules.
2. Answer the questions, then create eleven new questions to ask the people you’ve tagged.
3.  Tag eleven people and link to them.

Since I was tagged by both Coleen Patrick and Karen Rought, and 22 questions is too many, I’m going to take some questions from each.

1. What 3 books would you take with you into your zombie apocalypse/alien invasion bunker?

Only three is cruel, just cruel. I’d have to take the Bible, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling, and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. The first is to help keep my moral compass on track and to not lose hope while zombies are eating brains out there, the second is to remind me of the usefulness of creativity and teamwork if the zombies find us, and the third is just because I love Jane Austen’s subtle humor and I’m sure I’ll need a laugh and a look back at a zombie-free time.

2. What was your first job?

I worked at a riding stable, mucking stalls and exercising the horses. It’s not nearly as glamorous as it sounds in books.

3. If you were stuck on a deserted island, name three objects and three people you would want with you.

The items are pretty easy to choose. I’d want a solar-powered Star Trek replicator, a fully stocked Kindle with a solar-powered battery and internet access, and a homing beacon that transmits “This Is the Song that Doesn’t End” in the houses of the five most powerful people in the world until one of them rescues us.

For people, I’d obviously want my husband. I’d also take my friend Meighan because she likes camping, we can talk for hours, and she and Chris get along well. For my final person, even though I have a lot of other loved ones I could take with me, I’d like to have Survivorman Les Stroud just in case my brilliant plan of the replicator and homing beacon fails.

4. If you could be any animal, what would you be?

My cats have a pretty good life—eat when they want, play when they want, sleep when they want. They have someone to clean up after them and cuddle them. I don’t think it’d be a bad life to be a cat in my house.

5. If you could get on a plane right now to a foreign country, where would you go (all expenses paid)?

Italy. I went once when I was 19, but I didn’t get to see the Blue Grotto, Tivoli, or the catacombs in Rome, so I’ve always wanted to go back. And yes, I do know it’s a touch morbid that one of the places I’m dying to see (no pun intended–okay, maybe a little) is basically an underground cemetery.

6. If you decided not to be a writer, what would your other dream job be?

I’ve always thought it would be fun to be a zookeeper, but I’m not sure I’d like it as much the first time one of the baby animals died or had to be moved to a new zoo.

7. What song is stuck in your head right now?

“King of Anything” by Sara Bareilles

8. What is one talent that you’re hopeless at, but you wish you had?

I’d love to be able to paint with oils. Or create glass mosaics. And juggle. Not all at the same time.

9. If you could go back in time for one day, what time would you revisit and why?

I’d like to go back to my wedding day so I could enjoy it a little more. We had amazing food that I barely got to eat, and by the time we did the cake cutting and first dance, I was asleep on my feet. Plus, I’ll never get to wear a dress like that again in my life.

10. What is one trait or physical characteristic that you are proud of/love about yourself?

I really like that I have green eyes, which is strange because when I was a kid, I desperately wanted blue eyes.

11. What is the scariest thing you’ve ever done in your life?

I did a high ropes course (going close to 66 feet above the ground) outside of Brisbane, Australia, and I’m absolutely petrified of heights.

I was also tagged in the Lucky 7 Meme by Debra Kristi, Emma Burcart, Nova Lovette, and Melinda Collins. Even though I normally have a policy against posting unpublished work online, this game seems like a lot of fun so I’m going to play along 🙂

The Rules:

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP.
2. Go to line 7.
3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written.
4. Tag 7 authors.

My co-writer already posted a snippet from page 77 at Girls With Pens, so I’m posting from page 7. Each year the Amazons and Scythians meet for the sole purpose of producing warrior offspring (an ancient version of a one night stand except that they actually want to get pregnant). The Amazons keep any girls, and they’re supposed to return any boys to the Scythes, but they claim no boys have been born in years. Kaduis, heir to the Scythian King Over All, has been commanded by his father the attend the Rites…

“Forgive me, my lord,” Jadon said, “but I do not understand why this causes you such unrest. Surely the Amazons will not kill your child if they know they risk war with Scythia.” 

“The Amazons love war as much as Scythia, but their numbers are few now. They will not risk war.” Kaduis tipped up his cup and drank. “But what would your Adonai say of our Amazon Rites?”

“Adonai forbids sexual relations outside of marriage.” Jadon’s words were quiet yet firm.

“I believe your god is the Most High God, more powerful than all others. I believe that your god can preserve my people, and yet my father commands me to defy your god’s laws. Do you understand my dilemma now?”

So I get to tag others who might like to play. Your choice whether to play both games, one, or neither. (If I haven’t tagged you but you want to play, consider yourself tagged and I’ll stop by to check out your answers/snippet if you link to me so I know.)

Rebecca Enzor

Jess Witkins

Lena Corazon

Liz Schulte

Reeta Raitanen

Samantha Warren

Jennette Marie Powell

Jennifer Jensen

Here are your questions:

1. If you could have one magical power, what would it be?

2. You have to give up one of your five senses. Which one would you choose and why?

3. What’s your super-secret Hunger Games survival skill?

4. If it wasn’t illegal and/or cruel, what exotic, wild animal would you want as a pet? (If Lena answers these, I bet she chooses sloths. You should see the adorable videos on her site.)

5. You’re given a chance to co-write a book with any author (living or dead). Who do you choose and why?

6. An asteroid is barreling toward the earth. There’s nothing you or anyone else can do to stop it, and it’s large enough that it will pulverize the planet so that no one survives. It strikes tomorrow. How do you spend your final day?

7. We all have one way that we’re terrified of dying. My husband is afraid of drowning, and I’m afraid of being burned alive. What’s yours?

8. You can only have one dessert (including candy and all salty snacks) for the rest of your life. What’s the one you have to have?

9. If you could bring one fiction character to life, who would you want to meet?

10. Favorite kind of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate?

11. And because I loved this question–what are the three things and three people you’d want stranded on the deserted island with you?

(Is it weird I want to answer my own questions?)

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How to Keep Strong Female Characters Likeable

A few weeks ago, I asked “What Do We Mean by Strong Female Characters?” and argued that a female character doesn’t have to deny traditionally feminine qualities to be strong.

But what if you need to write a physically strong woman with few of those traditionally feminine qualities?

Sometimes a story does call for this type of female character. In the novel I’m working on with my co-writer, Lisa Hall-Wilson, our main female character is an Amazon. She’s been raised to hate men and to see all signs of femininity as weakness. If we allow her too many feminine qualities (at least in the beginning), we’ll undermine the believability of her society and her character.

Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games is a great example of this as well, as is Kara “Starbuck” Thrace in Battlestar Galactica.

Katniss doesn’t want children. She’s more at home in the woods hunting than she is helping her mother nurse others. And she’s placed into a situation where it’s kill or be killed.

Starbuck is a fighter pilot who needs to be tough in order to get respect and survive. Her commander assigns her emotionally grueling tasks like interrogating (i.e., torturing) prisoners and assassinating a dangerous superior officer.

So how do you make sure this type of female character is still likeable?

Unfortunately, most of us can’t relate to this type of woman. She’s not like us. She’s not like our mothers or our best friends or our significant others. And when we feel like we have nothing in common with someone, it makes them difficult to like. If your reader doesn’t like your main character at all, that spells death for your story.

As writers, we have to do a little extra work to give that common ground if we’re creating a strong female character who denies traditional feminine qualities.

Answer the question “What made her this way?”

When Katniss’ father died in a mining accident, her mother sunk into a deep depression. Katniss had to feed and care for herself and her younger sister. She had to be the “man of the house.” She didn’t really have a choice. Her world dictated how she feels about motherhood as well. Why would she want to have children when they could be reaped for the Games and killed?

The writers of Battlestar Galactica also recognized the need to explain how Starbuck became so hard. We get glimpses of Starbuck’s abusive mother, one who told her daughter that she was weak and a failure, and who beat Starbuck so often that she came to believe pain was a way of life.

In showing how Katniss and Starbuck became who they are, the writers allowed us to sympathize with them, even pity them. And as the old English proverb says, “Pity is akin to love.”

NOTE: I’ve had to remove the rest of this post because it’s now a part of my book Strong Female Characters: A Busy Writer’s Guide. You can buy a copy at Amazon, Amazon.ca, Kobo, or Smashwords. They’ll be available in more places soon!

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The Evolution of the Phoenix by Alica McKenna-Johnson

Alica McKenna-JohnsonToday I welcome guest poster Alica McKenna-Johnson. Alica writes about snarky girls, kind boys, and the adults trying to keep them alive. After day dreaming for the first thirty years of life, Alica finally began writing her stories down, much to the delight of her readers. As Alica sits in her armchair at home dreaming of traveling the world, her diverse characters explore for her, listening to music, seeing the sights, and eating exotic foods.

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Marcy asked me why I choose phoenixes for my YA paranormal Phoenix Child. I’ve loved phoenixes since I was a child. It went along with my love for all things Russian. Not only are phoenixes beautiful, but to me, they’re one of the most magical and regal of the mythical creatures. Not to mention how fun it’s been researching all of these myths from around the world.

The myths include a lot of variety. The phoenixes they talk about come in different sizes and colors, and their powers vary, which gave me a lot of freedom while not having to veer too far from the myths. I also looked for ways the stories matched up. For example, in China and South America, there are similar stories about four brothers, but only the Chinese tale includes a Phoenix. The South American story simply mentions a “red brother,” so I made him a phoenix.

In Phoenix Child, my heroine, Sara, is a Child of Fire—a modern girl descended from a phoenix king and queen who lived on Earth 4,000 years ago. The Children of Fire have different abilities evolved from the phoenix king’s original powers. For example, in myths, the phoenix has a magical voice. I turned this into his descendants having the ability to influence people with their words. They’re also talented in singing and understanding foreign languages, and are able to read and write in any language.

I did this with all the various phoenix gifts of healing, fire, immortality, and psychic abilities, which gives my characters a rich variety of powers. So with a little tweaking and artistic creative license (or what I like to call amazing writing 😉 ), I’ve created a world based strongly in legends from around the world that works for my novels.

And one of the great things about writing a series is I get to have tons of magical creatures in my books. Book one takes place in California, where Sara meets unicorns, fairies, and beings from Native American myths. In book two, which I don’t have a title for yet, they travel to Argentina and Peru, which have some really fun mythical creatures to play with such as shape shifters, different types of fairies, and dwarf-like creatures, and the gods and goddesses of Aztec stories. In book three, which I just started, they will be in Great Britain. While I don’t know all the magical creatures I’ll use, there will definitely be selkies. Maybe even selkies in kilts 🙂

When you read a fantasy do you prefer a story that sticks closely to the original mythology or do you like when the writer adds a twist or reinvents the original myths and legends?

Phoenix Child by Alica McKenna-JohnsonPhoenix Child—Sara’s dream is to find her family but she doesn’t count on discovering magical creatures or catching on fire. On her fourteenth birthday a surprise inheritance changes her appearance, abilities, and identity. Welcomed into the family of the Phoenix she is taught to use her new powers. Will Sara embrace being a Child of Fire or will the evil that killed her parents destroy her as well?

You can buy Phoenix Child on Smashwords or Amazon, and connect with Alica on her website or on Twitter or Facebook.

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