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Four Tips for Lasting Happiness

Sunshine AwardI love getting blog awards because it means that someone, somewhere, thinks I’m doing a good job. Today that someone is Debra Kristi, and she awarded me the Sunshine Award. Thank you!

If you haven’t been to Debra’s blog yet, be sure to check it out after you finish here 🙂 You can also find her on Twitter as @DebraKristi.

(Someone recently also awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award. If it was you, please remind me in the comments so that I can make sure to give you a thank you and track back in an upcoming post.)

As you might imagine, this award comes with some rules, but since I’ve told you seven random facts about myself in a previous post, I’m going to break the rules again in a similar way to when I gave you 7 Tips for Increasing Creativity to celebrate my Kreativ Blogger Award.

Sunshine symbolizes happiness to me.

So, without further ado…

Marcy’s Four Tips for Lasting Happiness

Tip #1 – Fake it ‘till you make it.

Our actions influence our feelings. According to the psychological theory known as the facial feedback hypothesis, someone who’s forced to smile will actually begin to feel happier. (Studies have supported this theory.) This means that the next time you’re feeling blue, if you want to feel better faster, make a point of smiling.

A study of 60,000 adults, published in 2009 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also showed that only 10% of our happiness is determined by our circumstances. This means that, no matter how bad things are, we have a lot of control over how we react to those circumstances and how we let them affect us.

Tip #2 – Surround yourself with happy people.

A study of 12,067 people by the New England Journal of Medicine showed that you have a 171% higher chance of gaining weight if one of your close friends gains weight. This effect had nothing to do with friends affecting food choices since the effect was seen even in close friends who lived far away from each other. Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School and one of the authors of the study, suggests the cause is a change in our perception of what’s acceptable.

It’s the same with happiness. Have you ever noticed how much worse you feel after spending the afternoon with someone who’s always complaining about their life? Compare that to how you feel after an afternoon with a friend who’s always positive and upbeat. Choose to spend more time with happy people and you will feel happier too.

Tip #3 – Figure out your happiness trigger.

A happiness trigger is something simple, fast, and inexpensive that can improve your mood. When I’m feeling down, I play very specific music. It has nothing to do with the lyrics and everything to do with the beat and attitude. And I play it loud. It works every time.

Your happiness trigger might be a walk, smelling the flowers in your garden, or a piece of dark chocolate. Start to pay attention to what fills you up with a swell of happiness, and use it strategically when you’re down.

Tip #4 – Focus on what you want to dominate your life.

As Qui-Gon told Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace (Star Wars Episode I), “Always remember, your focus determines your reality.”

If you’re friends with Tameri Etherton on Facebook, you’ve probably noticed that every day she posts a picture of something she’s thankful for. You can steal that idea, or you can do what I’ve started to do—every day choose one thing that you’re thankful for and write it down. It can be something small like a rainbow, or something big like finishing your novel or your spouse getting a raise at work.

You can also train your mind to “jump away” from unhappiness and to the good in your life. For example, every time your spouse does something that irritates you, think about one thing you love about them. For every part of your job you hate, find one that you enjoy or one reason why you’re thankful for having this particular job.

Now I get the pleasure of passing this award along.

I decided to give the Sunshine Award to people who’ve brought some sunshine into my life for the support they’ve shown me in the past month by commenting regularly on this blog. One of the reasons I enjoy blogging so much is all of you and the comments you leave.

Emma Burcart at Occasional Epiphanies

Kristy K. James at Living, Loving, Laughing

Stacy Green at Turning the Page

Louise Behiel at Journey of a Thousand Miles

Monique Liddle at Bends in the Road

Reetta Raitanen at The Dark Side has Chocolate

Diane Capri at Licensed to Thrill

What’s your best tip for happiness? Have you tried any of my tips?

REMINDER: Today is also the last day to enter to win the free critique. Visit Is Now Really the Best Time Ever for Writers? to find out how.

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Is Now Really the Best Time Ever for Writers?

If you’re a writer, I’m sure you’ve been told that now is the best time ever for writers. I’m sure you’ve been told that we have control over our destinies like never before. And I’m also sure that sometimes, maybe a lot of the time, it doesn’t feel like it.

It feels like we’re in a war zone, with everyone fighting over the same territory, and the good guys and the bad guys often look so much alike we can’t keep track of who’s who. Most days, you’re too tired to even try.

At least that’s how it was for me.

WANA International
Just over a year ago, in April 2011, the blog I ran with my co-writer Lisa Hall-Wilson got exactly 1,017 page views. We’d been blogging six months, and to think we were nowhere near the 10,000 monthly page views agents consider a solid platform was depressing. Worse, we didn’t know how to get more readers.

At a conference that month, we got a free 15-minute consult with a social media expert.

He asked me if I was on Twitter. Of course I was on Twitter. What I didn’t tell him was that I had five followers, and that two of them were relatives.

“Are you using hashtags?” he asked.

I nodded, praying he wouldn’t ask for details.

You see, I didn’t even know what a hashtag was. I didn’t know how to use Twitter. And I was scared because I didn’t know how I was going to find the time to do all the social media things I just found out I needed to do alongside blogging, and improving my craft, and finishing our novel. Oh yeah, and spending time with my husband of seven months, being the main earner for us while he waited for his permanent residency to be approved, and housebreaking and training our new puppy.

I wanted to cry. But after a lot of coffee and even more jelly beans, I sat down with Google, determined to figure out Twitter if it killed me. And I was sure it would.

I ended up on the blog of someone named Kristen Lamb, who explained what a hashtag was. She also talked about this #MyWANA thing. She called it the Love Revolution and wrote, “The Internet can be a scary place if you are doing this by yourself. Well, now you don’t have to. We are going to be your adoptive Internet family….your Twibe.

I felt like Kristen really got it. WANA means We Are Not Alone, and it’s founded on genuine relationships rather than marketing tricks.

I read her archives, bought her books, and followed her advice, and by June 2011, our Girls With Pens blog got 2,299 monthly page views. My co-writer started reading her blog. In July, we jumped to 3,723. The WANA ways worked, and I was enjoying my time online more than ever before.

If all I could say about the WANA methods is that they work, that’d probably be enough reason for many writers to want to learn them. But for me, personally, WANA is also about more. It’s about being able to both succeed in my career and be the kind of person I want to be. Too often we’re told that we need to compete with other writers to succeed. We need to beat others in order to win. We need to do it all. That’s not the case.

In the three-part opener of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s second season, the planet Bajor is on the brink of civil war thanks to an insurgent group known as The Circle.

Benjamin Sisko, commander of the Starfleet-controlled space station orbiting Bajor, brings important information to the general of the Bajoran military about who might be supplying weapons to the insurgents. It’s helpful information the general needs in order to minimize the amount of Bajoran blood spilled.

Afterward, Sisko asks a favor. He tells the general it would mean a lot to him to have Major Kira returned to her position as the Bajoran liaison officer to the space station. (Kira was replaced against her and Sisko’s wishes a few weeks earlier.)

The general claims he can’t do anything about getting Kira reassigned back to the space station and turns away. But then he stops. “Commander Sisko, you told me about the Kressari before you asked the favor regarding Kira. You could have tried to trade that information for the favor.”

Sisko smiles. “I wouldn’t do that.”

“I’ll remember that about you.”

Sisko helped the general with no guarantee he’d get anything in return. He didn’t even try to get anything in return.

He did what he did because it was the right thing to do, and because it showed the general the kind of man he was. Later, when success or failure came down to the general believing Sisko’s word and helping him in return, Sisko’s earlier actions made all the difference.

WANA helps writers do the same thing. We give first, expecting nothing in return, because it’s the right thing to do and it’s the kind of people we want to be. And someday, when we need them, all the friends we make will be there for us.

Why am I telling you what WANA and Kristen have done for me? Well, in February of this year, I was invited to be part of a new project by Kristen and her business partner, Ingrid Schaffenburg, called WANA International.

In her launch post on Monday, Kristen explained the six problems writers face today, as well as how WANA International can help.

WANA International offers online classes for writers and other creatives in craft, technology, social media, lifestyle, and business. As much as I love conferences, they’re no longer the best way for writers to learn because of the cost and travel required. Plus, because of the way conferences have to be structured and scheduled, you often end up spending time in classes you don’t necessarily need or want, and missing out on ones you do. WANA International solves those problems by bringing live classes to you, and if you look, you’ll notice that our class times don’t conflict with each other so you’ll never have to miss one class to attend another.

I’m very honored and excited to be among the 40 instructors offering classes. My first course is a 90-minute webinar on Getting Rid of Boring Blog Titles Once and For All.

You can find the list of the other classes I’m offering in July and August here. Classes for September and beyond will post soon. If you have questions about any of my classes, send me an email at marcykennedy [at] gmail.com, or leave a comment below.

For more about WANA International, WANATribe (the new social network for creatives also launched on Monday), and why they’re desperately needed, read Kristen’s Monday post and visit the WANA International website.

And To Celebrate the Launch, We Also Have Prizes…

Anyone who signs up for a class in June can enter to win some amazing prizes donated by WANA International instructors (myself included).

In the spirit of WANA, my co-writer Lisa Hall-Wilson and I are also offering something special to our readers to celebrate the launch. We’re giving away a 1,500-word critique to two people. Each winner gets a critique of the same piece by Lisa and I (so you actually get two critiques if you win).

To enter, all you need to do is share a link to this post and then leave a comment below letting me know you’ve done so, and telling me if you think this is the best time ever to be a writer. To get your name in the hat twice, head over to Lisa’s blog and do the same! Entries close at midnight EST on Friday, June 8th.

And for those who are wondering, I do believe that this is the best time ever to be a writer 🙂

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Should Some Questions Go Unanswered?

MIB3“Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to.”

This is what people tell Agent J (Will Smith) in Men in Black III every time he asks Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), “How did you get this way?”

The whole movie turns on this question.

Boris the Animal, a boglodite (a species of parasite-like aliens), escapes from the LunarMax prison on the moon, and travels back in time to kill a young Agent K before K blows off Boris’s arm in 1969. Boris succeeds and puts the earth in grave danger of being invaded by the boglodites. Agent J has to go back in time to save K and the earth.

When we got in the car after the movie, my husband gave me a pointed look. “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to. Sounds like a lesson someone I know should learn.”

“In what way?”

Deadpan, in a perfect Admiral Ackbar imitation, he said, “It’s a trap!”

And I laughed, not just because we’re Star Wars nerds, but because, in a way, my husband was right. Women are particularly fond of asking questions we don’t need or want the answer to.

Do these jeans make my butt look big?
Do you think she’s prettier than me?
What do you think of my hair?

We force people to lie to us, or get angry with them when they don’t.

Not every question should be asked. Not every question should be answered. Some questions only torment us and the person we ask.

But sometimes, even if we don’t want the answer, we may need it.

Through the Men in Black series, Agent J believes his father chose to be absent while he was growing up. He carried around a lot of resentment and pain. Because he refuses to stop asking and refuses to accept anything less than an answer, he finds out the truth. His father was a hero who died helping Agent K save the world from Boris the Animal.

And what was it that made K the way he is? Seeing the young James (Agent J) hop out of the nearby Jeep only moments after his father is killed and ask about his dad. K flashed him with his memory eraser so that he wouldn’t remember being there.

Knowing that answer helped J both personally in accepting that his father didn’t willingly abandon him, and professionally in understanding and appreciating his partner more. The answer hurt him, but it also helped him.

The same can be true for us, but the tricky part is learning the difference between a question we don’t want to know the answer to yet need to, and a question we ask out of our own insecurity or immaturity.

Did you cheat on me?
Are you still drinking?
Is my novel ready to publish?
Do I need to lose weight?

The answers to those types of questions might hurt. We might not really want to know. But knowing the answer is for the best.

How do you figure out whether a question you don’t really want to know the answer to is one you need to ask anyway?

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How Much Do You Know About Snow White?

Snow White and the Huntsman

In honor of the release of Snow White and the Huntsman this weekend, I came up with a quick quiz for you to see how much you know about the 1812 Brothers Grimm version of the Snow White fairy tale.

1. What were the names of the dwarves?
a) Blick, Flick, Glick, Snick, Plick, Whick, and Quee
b) Grumpy, Happy, Sneezy, Sleepy, Bashful, Dopey, and Doc
c) They didn’t have names

2. How many times does the Queen try to kill Snow White?
a) one
b) two
c) four

3. How does the Queen convince Snow White to eat the apple?
a) she disguises herself as an old woman
b) the Queen shoves it down her throat
c) the Queen eats part of the apple herself

4. What brings Snow White back to life?
a) the prince’s kiss
b) the death of the Queen
c) the apple falls out of her throat

The answers are below the movie trailer.

The answers to all of them are c 🙂

1. The names in a) are from the 1912 Broadway play Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the names in b) are from Disney’s 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

2. The Queen makes four attempts on Snow White’s life. The first is when she sends the huntsman to cut out her heart, but he takes pity on her and brings back a boar’s heart instead. Next the Queen dresses as a peddler to sell Snow White stay-laces. The Queen laces Snow White up so tight she can’t breathe, but the dwarves rescue her in time. In the third attempt, the Queen disguises herself as an old woman and combs Snow White’s hair with a poison comb. The dwarves come to her rescue again. The fourth and final attempt with the poisoned apple is successful.

3. The Queen is actually dressed as a farmer’s wife when she brings the apple. She cuts a slice for herself and eats only the unpoisoned white part.

4. The prince’s kiss is a later addition. In the 1812 version, the prince falls in love with Snow White even though she’s dead, and asks the dwarves for the coffin. As his servants are carrying it away, they trip on a root and dislodge the apple from her throat.

How did you do on the quiz? Is anyone else looking forward to this movie as much as I am?

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Should You Move from WordPress.com to WordPress.org?

Differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.orgIf you’re on a wordpress.com site, you’ve probably visited another blog and wished you could make your blog look like theirs, get the add-on they have, or create a portfolio to display or sell your books. Maybe you’ve just gotten tired of running across other blogs that look exactly like yours. The solution is simple, but not for everyone.

Because so many of you asked about switching from wordpress.com to wordpress.org in the comments of my post on the Four Little-Known Factors that Could Destroy Your Blog’s Chances of Success, I asked Melinda VanLone, who recently made the switch, to write a series on whether you should transfer your blog and to walk you through the steps. I’m very excited to welcome her here today!

******************************************************************************************************************
Decision Time: Should You Move from WordPress.com to WordPress.org?


So you’re building your author platform and have decided a website/blog is the way to go. Good idea! You’ve probably noticed a lot of free services out there for blog hosting—Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, just to name a few. Free is an awesome word, but in this case, free actually comes with a price.

If you’re on the fence about whether to go with a free service or to ante up and pay for a hosted website, here are some things to consider:

1. Is this a career or a hobby?

Professional writers have a professional face to show the world. This is a business, and you are an entrepreneur. A free wordpress.com or blogger blog doesn’t look professional. If this is a hobby for you, and that book you’re writing is just something you do for fun, then go with a free blog. If this is a career, and you hope to one day make a living from your writing, then go ahead and pretend you are the author you hope to someday be. Paying for a hosted website isn’t that expensive, and it’s worth it to start out looking professional vs. trying to fake it later. 

If you’re serious about your platform, change from your wordpress.com free site to a wordpress.org hosted site as soon as you possibly can. The earlier you do this, the less angst there will be.

2. Are you tech savvy, or do you have friends who are?

Everyone wants to keep costs down, and when you’re just starting out there’s probably not a big budget to spend on website development. That’s okay. There are many ways to have a professional website that don’t cost an arm and a leg.

If you are tech savvy, you can always design your own with software like Dreamweaver. If not, there are thousands (literally) of templates available free or for low cost that will make you look like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. It’s nothing to be afraid of. Embrace the madness and dive in. Having a friend who knows HTML is always a bonus, but it’s not required. You can do this.

3. Do you like having control over your stuff, or are you okay with someone else owning it?

If you go with a free host, the downside is they have limited options for customization, limited plug-ins, limited space (although they will sell you more), limited templates, limited…everything. That’s why it’s free. I’m not complaining. If you are a hobbyist and just doing a personal blog for family and friends, I’d definitely go with the free stuff.

If you are a professional, then sooner or later you’ll run into that brick wall. You’ll want to add a neat analytics plug in, or a calendar thing, or the latest gadget, and you’ll find that you can’t. Or you’ll see a fun website template, and discover you can’t use it because it’s not supported by the free platform you’ve chosen. Or you’ll love everything but the font. Guess what? You can’t change it. Unless, of course, you pay a small fee, and even then you’re stuck with a very limited list of options. If you like having control over how your site and brand looks, then paying for a host is the way to go.

What other concerns do you have about switching from a wordpress.com to a wordpress.org site? What do those of you who are already on wordpress.org love about it?

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/.

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

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Make sure you read Kristen Lamb’s blog on June 1st for something really cool, and then come back here next Wednesday to find out how I’m involved. I’m incredibly excited about what Kristen has planned and what it will provide for writers and other creatives.

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Do You Listen to Advice?

Are we alone in the universe? If not, should we try to make contact?

At the start of Battleship, scientists have found an Earth-like planet the perfect distance from its own sun to sustain life and big enough to have its own atmosphere. They don’t know if an intelligent species lives on the planet or not, so they send out a message using a deep space satellite.

One scientist assigned to the project worries this is a bad idea. “If there is intelligent life out there and they’re able to travel here, it’ll be like Columbus and the Indians. But we’ll be the Indians.”

Confident in human superiority, no one listens to him. The aliens show up years later as the Navy’s RIMPAC joint naval exercise opens. They’re not friendly.

Lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) serves on a destroyer, and is out on the Pacific for RIMPAC. The aliens set up an impenetrable bubble, cutting off three ships from the rest of the fleet, and quickly destroy two of them. Because the captain and XO of his ship are killed, Hopper ends up the senior officer on the remaining ship.

Hopper is the worst possible choice for command. He’s been a screw-up his whole life because he’s too proud to listen to the wise advice of the people around him, and he allows himself to be goaded like a child. Before the alien attack, he was set to be dishonorably discharged for fighting with the captain of another navy’s ships. His natural intelligence and creativity are useless because they aren’t tempered by common sense and self-control.

You can tell by the looks on the crew’s faces that they think they’re doomed. And they might have been, except for one thing—Hopper finally listens to someone else. He takes the advice of his chief petty officer to retreat rather than ramming the alien ship with his destroyer the way he wanted to.

As the battle for earth continues, Hopper and his crew survive and destroy the alien ships within the bubble because he becomes humble enough to learn from others. He allows the Japanese captain (the one he fought with) to teach him a trick using water displacement and weather buoys to map an enemy’s position without radar. And when their destroyer finally goes down, they have only one ship left—the retired battleship Missouri. None of his men know how to operate the battleship, so Hopper humbles himself again to ask for help from the Korean War veterans, who most of the world sees as obsolete.

It’s important to trust our gut and to seek out creative solutions to problems. But there’s also a place for listening to people who have more experience and more wisdom than we do. We can’t always see our own shortcomings.

The closer we get to our goals and the more skilled we get, the easier it is to forget how much we still have to learn and how much wisdom older, more experienced people have to offer. It’s especially easy when the advice we need to hear comes from the lips of someone we don’t like. But if we don’t humble ourselves enough to at least listen, our arrogance can actually prevent us from achieving our dreams.

How do you decide when to listen to advice and when to go with your gut?

Join me on Facebook if you want to hear what I thought about the movie as a movie, apart from the cool lesson.

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Men in Black 3 – When Should A Series End?

After a 10 year break, the Men in Black are back for a third movie. Agent J (Will Smith) learns that Agent K’s (Tommy Lee Jones’s) life is in danger from a time-traveling alien criminal. If K dies, the earth’s very existence could be in danger. Agent J must go back in time to 1969 to save Agent K, but he only has 24 hours to do it or he’ll be trapped in the past.

The original 1997 Men in Black was funny and innovative, but as with many series, we have to ask the question–when should it end? Is there a series you felt went on too long? Which series do you think got better with later installments?

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Eight Reasons Paper Books Will Become An Endangered Species

If you’d asked me last year whether ebooks would ever fully replace regular books, I would have told you there was no way. Both my husband and my mom insist they prefer “real” books. I’ve only seen one person in my town with an e-reader.

And then I got a Kindle for my birthday.

While I still don’t think paper books will ever go extinct, I do think ebooks are eventually going to put “real” books on the endangered species list.

(1) The Kindle Lets You Highlight Passages and Write Notes

I took my Kindle to church last Sunday and typed notes on the passage my pastor preached on.

Big deal, you say. I can highlight my paper books and write notes in the margin. Yes, yes, you can, but if you’re like me and hate to deface a book or you’re worried you’ll want to change the note later, you won’t write in a paper book. The Kindle lets you erase or change a note or highlight whenever you want.

(2) You Can Buy A Book In A Traffic Jam

Don’t mock it until you’ve been sitting in a traffic jam for three hours with no end in sight, you’ve finished your current book, and your only other option is to listen to your husband yell at the other drivers about why there’s no reason for traffic like this when you have 12 lanes.

My Kindle came with EDGE technology that lets me buy a book anywhere a cell phone would work at no additional cost. In a traffic jam. In an airport. In a park. Instant gratification.

(3) You Can Get A Cover With A Built-In Light

With a regular book, you need to have a light on to read, which can really annoy a spouse who’s trying to sleep (take it from the spouse who’s usually the one trying to sleep). You can read your Kindle in places where you’d otherwise need to hold a flashlight (I hate trying to hold a flashlight and a book). You can read it in the car—where an overhead light would bother your driving spouse—or on a plane if your overhead light isn’t bright enough. I know you can also buy lights to clip on to paper books, but they’re not as stable and damage the pages.

(4) E-Readers Are Perfect for Small Hands

Even by female standards, I’m small. I’m 5 foot 2 inches with hands like a child. Thick books (*cough* Games of Thrones *cough* Harry Potter) are uncomfortable to hold. They’re heavy and just plain awkward for me. Obviously this isn’t a deal-breaker, but if there’s a better way to read, why not take it?

My Kindle, even wearing its leather cover, is the perfect size—thin, small, and light. I can hold it comfortably for hours.

(5) No Need for a Bookmark

Ever had a bookmark slide out on you, leaving you scrambling to find your page again? Hate to wreak your pages by turning down the corners? My Kindle holds my place, saved automatically. On every book.

(6) Ability to Change Font Size

Setting aside the fact that I’m getting older and my eyes aren’t what they used to be, some books are printed with font that’s just too small to be comfortable even for fresh eyes. My Kindle lets me select the font size I prefer, along with margins and line spacing.

(7) An E-Reader Helps You Pack Light

My husband loves to tease me about the amount of luggage I bring regardless of where we’re going. Even if I’m only away for a weekend, I want to take at least four books with me. With my Kindle, I can take thousands if I want in less space than one average book takes.

(8) The Next Generation Is Tech Savvy

This is the number one reason paper books will become an endangered species. The next generation is used to gadgets. They love them, crave them, in the same way that a lot of us long for some of the simplicity that’s been lost. Very few of them are going to feel the same loyalty to “real” books that my mom and my husband do. (Plus, my Kindle feels like I’m holding a real book, and the leather cover smells wonderful. Just saying.)

In fact, I can only think of three reasons why ebooks might never fully replace paper books.

(1) Sand, water, and electronic devices don’t mix.

(2) When you’re in the middle of a page-turner, and the battery on your Kindle dies . . .

(3) Will the ebooks of today be compatible with the Kindle of a decade from now?

Do you have a Kindle or other e-reader? Why do you love it or hate it? If you don’t own one yet, what’s stopping you?

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.

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Icarus and My Fear of the Sun

I have an unusual fear, one I don’t normally talk about. I’m terrified of ending up like Icarus.

Icarus’ story is one most of us have heard. Icarus and his father, Daedalus, were imprisoned in a tower by King Minos so that Daedalus couldn’t share information with the public about the Labyrinth he’d built for Minos. Because Minos guarded both land and sea routes, chances of escape seemed slim.

But Daedalus was a talented inventor. To escape, he created wings from feathers and wax for himself and Icarus. He told Icarus not to fly too high, or the sun would melt the wax holding his wings together, and not to fly too low, because the spray from the sea would saturate the feathers and drag him down.

Partway home, Icarus, drunk on the joy of flying and freedom, forgot his father’s warning and soared too high. The scorching sun melted the wax, he lost all his feathers, and he plunged into the sea below. In the end, he drowned.

Like most people, I’m afraid of failure, of getting my feathers wet because I couldn’t figure out how to fly high enough, and simply sinking away into the sea. Forgotten.

But I’m more afraid of success.

It’s why I don’t know how to take a compliment. The first time my flute teacher told me my low notes sounded full and rich, I can remember not wanting to play any more low notes in front of her. What if that success was a fluke and I couldn’t replicate it? It sounds silly, but it’s true.

Every time I succeed, or receive a compliment, like Icarus I want to fly higher, do better next time. I want the joy in that moment to last forever. But I also I don’t want to disappoint anyone who had great hopes for me. I want to live up to all their good opinions and show them their faith in me was justified. Each success takes me higher and means I have farther to drop should I fall.

And with each success comes the fear that I’ve finally gone too high and reached a level I’m not able to maintain. I’ll scorch my feathers in the sun and free fall, disappointing everyone who glued a feather onto my wings.

I think, though, that I might have finally figured out the secret to staying in the air, even if I start to fall. Icarus and his father were alone on their flight, so his father couldn’t warn him in time and, when Icarus fell, his father wasn’t able to save him. One set of wings wasn’t enough to hold up two people.

But two or three sets of wings might have been able to support the additional weight. If we surround ourselves by a loyal group of friends rather than going it alone or only flying with one, we’ll have people who can catch us before it’s too late. We’ll also have extra sets of eyes to warn us if we start to fly too high and take on more than we’re capable of handling. Together, we’ll all be able to reach our goals.

Are you more afraid of success or of failure? Who do you look to when you’re afraid you’re about to fall?

**I owe a huge thank you to my friend and fellow fantasy writer Jessica O’Neal. I originally wrote this post for her, and it appeared on her site earlier this year.  Because my grandparents were in a car accident this past weekend, I asked if she’d allow me to re-post it here today. Prayers appreciated for a speedy recovery and smooth transition as we have to move them closer to the rest of the family so we can care for them.**

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Behind the Scenes: The Official Game of Thrones Cookbook

A Feast of Ice and FireGames of Thrones started as an epic fantasy novel, became an award-winning HBO series, and now it’s a cookbook.

As soon as I found Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer’s blog The Inn at the Crossroads (with the awesome logline, “In the game of food, you win, or you wash the dishes…”), and found out they’d authored the official Game of Thrones cookbook, I knew I had to interview them.

A Feast of Ice and Fire contains a forward written by George R. R. Martin along with recipes from King’s Landing, Winterfell, the Wall, the mysterious lands east of Westeros, and other locations we’ve come to love (or hate), and a guide to dining and entertaining in true Seven Kingdoms style. So without further ado…

As a fantasy geek and amateur foodie, I was incredibly excited to find out someone was bringing the richly described meals from George R. R. Martin’s books to life. Where did you come up with the idea to create a cookbook based on the Song of Ice and Fire series?

Well! One day, last March, we were sitting in the kitchen, and had the sudden desire to eat lemon cakes. However, a quick Google search didn’t really lead us anywhere, and didn’t bring up any results for Game of Thrones food blogs, so we began to research and experiment with recipes ourselves. And, since we recognized it for a cool thing, we decided to start a blog to chart our culinary adventures and be able to share them with others.

How did this go from an idea to a book deal?

We emailed GRRM to let him know about the blog, never even expecting him to write us back. Of course, we were thrilled when he did, and mentioned that his publishers had taken notice of the blog as well. From there, we worked directly with Random House to develop the cookbook. It’s been a real labor of love, and they have been very supportive of our vision for the book.

Did you find it intimidating to email George R. R. Martin?

It was a bit intimidating, for sure. We never really expected him to write us back, but he did, and was incredibly kind and appreciative of our efforts. 

Where did you learn to cook? And how did you find taste testers for the more exotic dishes?

We are not professional cooks, either of us, but we both grew up in families of cooks and avid eaters. It was tough getting even our friends to try some of the stranger dishes, and there were a few things that only we tried. For the most part, though, we had a queue of eager volunteers! In fact, we had an email list for emergency eaters when we were in the crunch period before our deadlines, since we were making four or five dishes per day.

What’s the process you go through in re-creating each recipe so that it’s both faithful to the book and tastes good?

For most recipes, we have a two-fold approach. We find an historical recipe that most closely matches the description in the books—this can be as old as the ancient Romans, or as relatively new as the 19th century. We make that historical dish as accurately as possible, according to the original recipe, only adding ingredients to match GRRM’s description. It can be very tricky to follow the older recipes, which often don’t even have measurements, cook time, or other crucial details. There is a lot of trial and error involved.

We give ourselves a little more leeway with the modern version of dishes, allowing for more liberal interpretations and lists of ingredients. We usually find a few recipes that we like the look of, and combine them, drawing on our own bookshelves and the internet. 

There is often a misconception that medieval food is gross, but we really haven’t found that to be true. The preparation of a lot of dishes has changed over time, such that a modern pork pie will be savory rather than sweet. But that doesn’t mean that the currant-filled pork pie of Henry VIII isn’t also awesome and worth trying. Ultimately, we have very open minds; if we think a dish isn’t good, we don’t publish it, and keep searching and experimenting until we find one that is.

How many tries on average does it take to get a recipe right?

Sometimes, it’s beginners’ luck and we get it on the first try. Sometimes it takes a few attempts, and some we are still working on, even now! For the most part, though, I’d say we make them two or three times, once to try, and another one or two times to perfect. Of course, that’s all before photographing for the blog, and we’ve made some of the cookbook recipes at least ten times by now. 🙂

What recipe was the greatest challenge to re-create due to scarcity of ingredients? How did you manage to overcome it?

The full meals are the hardest to recreate, since they are composed of so many different elements. Sometimes it’s tough to get several seasonal ingredients at the same time, or to splurge financially for all the specialty items for a particular dish or meal. We occasionally make a substitution, but since we’re sticklers for authenticity, we mostly just wait until we can make it right.

Are there any recipes you refuse to make?

You know, a lot of folks get caught up on the weird foods, but they make up a very small portion of both blog and cookbook. There are a few dishes we either won’t or can’t make, usually for gross-out factor or illegality. An example of the first is olives stuffed with maggots, and the latter is heron. Basically, if something is legal and affordable, it’s probably on our list of dishes to try. We’re currently looking for camel—GRRM threw down a lot of culinary challenges for us in Dance—but we have tried rattlesnake, eel, crickets. 

I know it’s a bit like asking a mother to choose between her children, but which recipe in the book is your favorite, the one you’d recommend people start with?

A really solid starter recipe is the one for Honeyed Chicken. It’s very easy to make, and delicious. As for favorite dishes, Chelsea loved the mead-marinated venison for the Robert Baratheon themed meal, and Sariann loved the Banbury Cakes, the historical half of the Buns on the Wall dish in the cookbook.

You can get a sneak peek at some of the recipes featured in the cookbook at The Inn at the Crossroads. A Feast of Ice & Fire releases May 29th, but you can pre-order your copy from Amazon or Barnes and Noble now.

Have you read any of the books in the Song of Ice and Fire series or are you watching Game of Thrones on HBO? Is there a particular food you’re dying to try (or would refuse to eat)?

Please help spread the word for Chelsea and Sariann’s launch by sharing this post!

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