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Five Reasons I Wish I Was a Jedi

Wish I Was A JediSince I was out of town this past weekend attending the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York, I asked my husband (a.k.a. one of the world’s biggest Star Wars fans) back to fill in today while I’m “recovering” 🙂

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I’m a huge science fiction fan, and Star Wars is nerd-indulgence of choice. Ever since I saw Top Gun for the first time, I knew I wanted to be a fighter pilot. And ever since I was a wee lad, I knew I wanted to join the military or be a police officer so I could protect and help those that needed help and protection.

When I saw Star Wars for the first time (when Empire Strikes Back was re-released in 1997), I knew that my ultimate fantasy was to be an ace Jedi pilot for five reasons.

Highly Trained and Extremely Disciplined

Jedi are highly trained and extremely disciplined individuals. Taught from an early age to deny themselves for the greater good of the galaxy and its people, Jedi constantly train in everything from combat to acrobatics and gymnastics, and practice tremendous self-discipline through self-denial and frequent meditation. Even their clothing helps cultivate self-discipline, as the rough material of their cloaks is chosen specifically to help them learn how to ignore hardship and life’s minor annoyances.

All Jedi practice both armed and unarmed combat techniques, with their armed training including lightsabers, blasters, and vibroblades (small, ultrasonic-vibrating knives). Most Jedi were also trained to be competent pilots. The self-discipline and work ethic displayed by Jedi is something I’m envious of.

Force Powers, of Course

Need I say more? The coolest part about being a Jedi is the Force powers. Being able to cloud people’s minds, levitate incredibly heavy objects, tell if a person is lying, or have superhuman strength, stamina, wisdom, and combat prowess would be fantastic. And let’s not forget about one of the most-overlooked parts of having Force powers: you’d never again be tormented by that itch in the center of your back that you just…can’t…quite…reach.

Honorable

Jedi remain true to their duties, often sacrificing their lives on the altar of freedom. Jedi don’t run from danger, and they always confronted evil when they saw it. A good example of this is when Obi-Wan Kenobi allowed Darth Vader to strike him down, giving Luke, Han, and Leia time to escape the Death Star in the Millennium Falcon. This appeals to me probably more than any other characteristic of the Jedi, because it accurately reflects what I feel is the most worthy personality trait a person can have.

Lightsabers and Starfighters

I would love to have a lightsaber. Lightsabers can deflect blaster fire, absorb incoming electricity or Force lightning, and cut through several meters of ultra-dense, extremely heavy composite metal doors—and they’re just so danged amazing. They’re so amazing, in fact, that I once tried to talk my physics teacher into building me one. Too bad he gave some excuse about lightsabers not being possible.

And don’t even get me started on being a starfighter pilot—being able to engage in fast and furious dogfights with enemy fighters, pulling off thrilling maneuvers, and independently pushing .7 past lightspeed would definitely satisfy my craving for doing all things adrenaline-producing.

Guardians of Peace and Justice

Jedi are the Star Wars equivalent of today’s police officers and military personnel. They frequently put their lives on the line in the face of great personal danger so that others would be safe and free from evil and tyranny.

During the time of the Old Republic, Jedi were often called upon to mediate disputes between groups or individuals that were at odds with each other, such as when Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi and Master Qui-Gon Jinn were sent to try to mediate a dispute between the pastoral planet of Naboo and the greedy Trade Federation. Although not technically part of any military or police force, the Jedi Order often took military action to eradicate evil and protect the innocent. To quote a very famous teacher, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

What do you think would be the best part about being a Jedi? If being a Jedi isn’t for you, what’s your ultimate fantasy career?

Chris

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My Life As A Three-Headed Chimera

Chimera Marcy Kennedy fantasy authorThe Khimaira (Chimera) who snorted raging fire, a beast great and terrible, and strong and swift-footed. Her heads were three: one was that of a glare-eyed lion, one of a goat, and the third of a snake, a powerful drakon ~ Hesiod, Theogony, 319ff (trans. Evelyn White).

For years, I lived life as a chimera with multiple heads, never sure which one I needed to survive. You won’t see them in any pictures, but they were there.

In The Iliad, the earliest written mention of the chimera, Homer describes her as a fire-breathing animal with a front like a lion, a midsection like a black goat, and hindquarters with a tale like a dragon or serpent. Each head grew out of the matching part to create a grotesque animal with no real front or back. 

But what made the chimera so despised wasn’t only the way she terrorized the people of Lycia by scorching their fields and ravaging their herds. What made the chimera so despised was how she wasn’t a lion, or a goat, or a serpent.

What goat has scales like a snake? What lion has cloven hooves like a goat? What snake has a mane like a lion?

In trying to be all three, she failed to be any of them. She became nothing but a monster. Belonging nowhere.

Eventually, Greek hero Bellerophon rode Pegasus to find her and killed her with a block of lead. He shoved it down her throat, and her fiery breath melted it so the metal suffocated her.  

In the medieval era, the term chimera was generalized to mean any creature made up of the body parts of various animals. By the time of Dante’s Inferno, chimerical creatures came to embody deception and hypocrisy.

And, much later, me.

Despite having a happy childhood overall, some of the memories I can’t seem to shake aren’t good ones. Like how, at ten, a mutual friend told me that my cousins, who I thought were my friends and who I had frequent sleepovers with, couldn’t stand me. Like how once we hit high school, another cousin refused to admit we were related. I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong.

I so wanted to be loved and accepted that I started to change my personality to fit whoever I was with. You like hockey? Me too! You find math hard? Me too! Didn’t matter if it was true or not.

I kept at it all through high school and into university, and I was suffocating.

I’d sit with my university roommate, wondering why the latest guy had chosen some other girl over me. Hadn’t I proven how much we had in common? Why couldn’t I find someone who liked me for me? I think they could tell I had as many heads as a chimera, and they weren’t any surer of which one was real than I was.

I’d spent so much of my time trying to make everyone like me that I’d never stopped to figure out if I liked playing an instrument or if I only played because all my closest friends in high school were band geeks. Did I really enjoy competing in horse shows or was I still showing because a lot of my friends growing up were horse crazy?

A funny thing happens when you start to ask yourself whether you really like the things you’ve always thought you liked. You find out that, in a lot of cases, the answer is no.

By the time I met my husband, I wasn’t afraid to admit I loved science fiction and fantasy and hated sports. All of them. I wasn’t afraid to tell him I was great at math (even though he wasn’t and hated it).

I didn’t have to try to be everything anymore, and by just being me, I finally found a man who loved me for what I was, not for what I was trying to be.

It’s still a challenge, but now I focus on connecting with people on what we truly have in common. I’ve come to value fewer authentic relationships over more relationships built on smoke and chimeras. And I’m happier for it.

What have you done in the past to try to fit in? How did you finally figure out what was really you and what wasn’t?

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Who’s Your Unicorn?

 

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3 Reasons Kathryn Stockett’s The Help Became A Bestseller

Kathryn Stockett's The HelpTime to get honest. We all want our book to become a runaway bestseller and get turned into a movie.

And we all know exactly what it takes to get there–a great book and word of mouth. That hasn’t changed and won’t change no matter what technological advancements come along. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Social media maven Kristen Lamb pointed out that one of the best ways for novelists to create a great book is to examine successful books to figure out what worked for them. Once we recognize what helped make them great, we can incorporate those things into our own books.

So today I wanted to look at three reasons Kathryn Stockett’s The Help became a bestseller.

Unique Character Voices

The Help uses three first-person narrators to tell the story. (It’s not as easy as Stockett makes it look.)  Even if you weren’t told each time you hit a switch, you could identify which character was speaking because Stockett gave them each a unique voice.

How? Well, she kept in mind their background, education, and personalities.

Abileen’s voice is lyrical but filled with grammatical mistakes. She uses “they” when she should use “their,” and “a” when she should use “of.” You can hear the accent of black women in the South 60 years ago when she says, “First day I walk in the door, there she be, red-hot and hollering with the colic” (pg. 1).

This is Abileen’s voice, and only Abileen can say it just this way because of who she is. She dropped out of school young to work, but always had a knack for writing, and she’s been writing her prayers ever since so she doesn’t lose the ability. She’s older than the other POV characters, and it shows in her accent and attitudes, and in the slightly slower way she moves about things.

Minny’s is sarcastic, cynical, jaded. Her speech is sprinkled with profanity and criticisms of the foolishness she sees around her. Her metaphors tend to center around food.

What makes Minny so different from Abileen? She’s younger and has more education so she lacks the accent and grammatical mistakes, she’s extremely practical, but it’s more than that. Minny looks at the world the way she does in large part because her alcoholic husband beats her. And her food metaphors spring out of her love for cooking. She never burns the fried chicken.

Whether you have one POV character or ten, each of them needs to sounds like an individual.

A Theme People Connect With

You might think the theme of The Help is civil rights and equality for blacks and women. While those issues play a huge role in the book (after all, Skeeter is writing a book that tells the real story of black maids in the South), if that was the theme, it wouldn’t connect with people on an emotional level the way this book did. Civil rights is a political issue you vote on, not something that reaches in, grabs your heart, and squeezes it until it aches.

Stockett weaves a much more subtle and poignant theme throughout each POV character’s story–the struggle to feel worthy, worthwhile, loved, and valuable.

Skeeter feels like an embarrassment to her mother. She’s unmarried and dresses in ways that give her mother heart palpitations. Her hair is completely unmanageable. When she finally gets a boyfriend, she’s forced to choose between being herself and being who he wants her to be.

Minny works for Celia Foote. Celia comes from Sugar Ditch (basically the wrong side of the tracks). She desperately wants to make friends, but her heart of gold is overlooked because she’s tacky and trashy and married to the ex-boyfriend of Hilly, who has all the other white women under her thumb.

Abileen works for a woman who’s ashamed of her daughter. Elisabeth barely picks her toddler up because Mae Mobley is fat with a bald spot on the back of her head. Abileen spends the book trying to teach Mae Mobley that she is kind, she is smart, and she is important.

Each story connects to the theme in a different way, but it’s there under them all. And it’s something we can all relate to in one way or another.

Fresh Descriptions and Metaphors

George Orwell advised, “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” His point was that if you’ve seen it in other books before, it’s no longer fresh. It might even be verging on cliched. Worse, it makes your book forgettable.

The best metaphors stick in people’s minds because they don’t remember ever hearing them before. They also stick because they give people something tangible to hang on to.

The dread in my stomach is flat and hard and hot, like a brick in the sun (pg. 178). When I read this, I understood dread in a new way. My gut reaction was “Yes, that’s exactly how it feels. She just put into words something I’ve known all along but haven’t been able to articulate.” That makes for a memorable metaphor.

It smells like meat, like hamburger defrosting on the counter (pg. 232). Even now, months later, this metaphor still turns my stomach. This is how she described the smell of a miscarried baby. I’ve never seen a miscarried baby, never smelled what that sort of death smells like, but with this description, I knew. Stockett associated something unfamiliar to most of us to something familiar to most of us, allowing us to play an intimate part in a foreign experience. That also makes for a memorable metaphor.

Have you read The Help? What did you love about it? What else do you think made it a bestseller?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Point of View in Fiction is now available. (You also might want to check out Internal Dialogue or Showing and Telling in Fiction.) All are available in both print and ebook.

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Grab Bag January 14, 2012

Like a grab bag of candy where you reach your hand in and pull out some fun surprises, here are some surprising treats from around the web.

For Science Fiction and Fantasy Lovers

Star Wars’ Greatest Villain by Patrick Thunstrom – For every Star Wars fan who hates Jar Jar Binks.

Robin Hood: The Man Beneath the Hood by Jessica O’Neal – Do you believe Robin Hood really existed? Was he one man or many?

Who Were the Amazons? by Lisa Hall-Wilson – My co-writer Lisa gives a sneak peak at the society that forms the basis of our current work-in-progress.

For Writers

How to Know If Your Agent Is Any Good? by Jane Friedman – Since I’m headed to the Writer’s Digest conference in New York next weekend, this post couldn’t have come at a better time. As helpful for those still seeking an agent as for those who already have one.

How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day by Rachel Aaron – She gives three great tips for increasing your writing productivity without burning out–know what you’re going to write before you write it, great excited about what you’re writing, and track productivity and evaluate.

What Star Wars “A New Hope” Can Teach Us About In Medias Res by Kristen Lamb – As writers, we’re told to start our story in a way that will capture the reader. The dilemma is if we start in the middle the reader has action but no emotional connection to the characters. Kristen helps sort out this seeming catch-22.

The Meaning of Life

What Are We Doing About the Children? by Louise Behiel – We can’t help stop child abuse until we know the symptoms of it. The statistics Louise shares will shock you.

Timing Is Everything by Serena Dracis – If you have a dog (old or young), you’ll find Serena’s weekly posts on dog training tips infinitely helpful in understanding how your dog communicates and learns.

True strength is keeping everything together when everyone expects you to fall apart – Anonymous

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My Dark Secret

World of Warcraft HobbyI have a dark secret, one certain members of my family feel should never be admitted to. It’s just too embarrassing. Too pathetic. Too geeky. It marks me as a social misfit.

Because at first I didn’t know anyone else who shared my dark secret (other than the man who’s now my husband—but that’s another story), I figured they must be right. I indulged in private, never admitting to anyone what I was doing. And I’ll never forget the patronizing looks and snickers that came whenever I was caught.

You see, on weekdays, I’m a mild-mannered writer, working on grant proposals and magazine articles and correcting grammar. On weekends, however, I don my armor, draw my sword, and become a Draenei paladin named Micaah, slaying monsters in World of Warcraft.

For me, playing means stepping into a story. I customized Micaah from her race (species) and class (what she can do in the game) to her hair, skin, and face. (I think she looks a little like Halle Barry.) Each quest is unique, whether I’m dousing fires in a village, harvesting herbs to make medicine, or killing naga. The quest givers tell you why they’re sending you on this particular mission and what they’ll reward you with if you succeed. And the graphics are incredible.

The longer I played my game, the more I started to question why this particular pastime was less worthwhile than any other. Why should I be ashamed?

It wasn’t illegal, immoral, or otherwise harmful to me or anyone else. It’s less expensive than most sports. I can play with others, giving it a social aspect, or independently, allowing for much needed “alone time.”

And everyone needs a hobby.

A hobby, by definition, is an interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation. I could spend my time on something more acceptable. I could have played soccer or volleyball instead, but I don’t like sports and I find them stressful because I’m afraid of taking a ball to the face. Even if I played a sport, it couldn’t be called a hobby for me. I’m basically a hospital visit waiting to happen.

So I had to ask: Why should anyone be able to tell me that the hobby I enjoyed, that helped me relax, isn’t good enough? If I want to collect antique lunchboxes or learn to play the accordion, I should be able to do so without being afraid of what people will think.

A hobby that you’re forced into and don’t enjoy isn’t a hobby at all. Shouldn’t we each be able to choose the hobby that’s right for us?

What hobby do you hide? Do you collect coins/stamps/vintage toys? Play croquet? Are you a closet gamer like me? Why do you love your dark secret of a hobby?

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Star Wars: The Old Republic

Star Wars The Old Republic MMOI’m excited today to welcome special guest poster Sarah Quick. Sarah and I met years ago in high school where our quirky personalities quickly made us friends. Sarah was lucky enough to take part in the beta for Star Wars: The Old Republic and fell in love with the game. I’ve invited her here to tell you a little more about why she thinks Old Republic is perfect for Star Wars fans and non-Star Wars fans alike . . .

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Gaming has been a big part of my life for many years now. Though there are plenty of different video games to choose from, my personal favorites are Massive Multiplayer Online games (MMOs for short). I’ve been actively playing MMOs for the better part of seven years, starting with World of Warcraft, moving on to Rift, and recently turning to the dark side and playing the newly released Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Star Wars: The Old Republic is, in my opinion, the best MMO out there. So why is it the best? Well, I could simply say that it’s Star Wars and leave it at that; however, for those of you who aren’t Star Wars fans, I’ll expand a bit on the reasons why I think this game beats out all others.

Interactive Conversations and Environments

In many MMOs, you simply walk up to the quest giver, they hand you the quest, and you walk off to do it. In Old Republic, you interact with the quest giver, holding a conversation where your replies are often divided into three categories: Friendly, Neutral, or Evil. Depending on what your character says, the quest giver will respond in a certain way. This means that, should you do the quest again on a second character, their conversation will be different. This also gives you the feel that you are truly gathering information before going out to perform the task.

The environment is also interactive for some of the classes. For example, certain areas can provide natural cover for classes such as Smugglers, and allow them to minimize the damage they take while defeating enemies.

Space Battles

Nothing says Star Wars better than some space battles. Old Republic offers multiple levels of battles. Each battle is timed and has certain objectives you must complete in that time. As you level up, you need to upgrade your ship’s armor and weapons since targets are harder to destroy and your ship takes damage faster. Keeping your ship fully upgraded means the best outcome for your missions. Space battles also provide a great amount of experience points and credits to help you level, and pay for upgrades and training needed for future quests and missions.

Player Vs. Player (PVP)

I’ve never been much of a fan of PVP content. In many MMOs, there are a high amount of characters referred to as twinks. Twinks are generally second characters belonging to players who have another high level character (generally that person’s main character) supplying them with the best of the best gear. This means that particular person is darn hard to kill and often will single out one other player to repeatedly kill. Perhaps this will one day effect the PVP in Old Republic; however, at this point, there aren’t a lot of characters at maximum level, which means no twinks to be seen just yet.

Whether you play a lightsaber wielding Jedi or a gun slinging Commando, I must admit there’s something enjoyable about the PVP in Old Republic. There are three random matches that you can end up in, two of which are based on a timer as well as an objective. The team that scores the most points or holds the objectives the longest during that time frame wins and is granted the most experience, credits, and commendations for the match. The losers, however, don’t walk away empty-handed. They get the same things to a lesser degree. PVP commendations can be used to buy gear and weapon upgrades for you and your companions.

Companions

Each class gains certain companions throughout the game, ranging from wookies to droids and beyond. Companions help in battles, craft items for skill crews, and go on gathering missions. You can gain affection, somewhat similar to reputation in other MMOs, with your companions depending on what you say in a conversation. A higher level of affection means better results on gathering missions. However, it’s important to know that companions are gear-dependent, so it’s not just your character that needs to have their gear updated but your companions as well.

There are generally three types of companions that each character gets—a tank, a healer, and a dps. A tank has lots of health but doesn’t do a lot of damage. They are hard to kill and are great for fights against extremely tough mobs or beasts that you are killing. A healer has the ability to keep you alive through fights, yet they are often labeled as squishies because they are quite easy to kill. A dps (damage per second) type does a lot of damage, and while they’re not as easy to kill as a healer, they’re also not as long-lasting as a tank. Choosing the right type of companion in a fight can mean the difference between success and defeat.

Storyline

Old Republic has great storylines for each class, as well as planetary story lines. Class specific storyline quests often occur in the same areas as regular quests; however, they lead to very specific interactions with various people and encounters with enemies. Because each class quest line is different, you won’t be constantly repeating quests whenever you level a second or third character. Only a certain number of quests on each planet are shared between all of the classes, so it makes leveling up multiple characters much more enjoyable. Nothing is worse than having to constantly repeat quests over and over every time you want to make a new character.

I could go into more reasons, but these are the ones that make the game for me. So whether or not you’re a Star Wars fan, if you’re looking for a great game to play, check out Old Republic.

Happy gaming, and may the Force be with you.

Have you tried Star Wars: The Old Republic? Would you consider playing it? More importantly, are you a Star Wars fan? 🙂

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Versatile Blogger Award

In early November 2011, I officially launched my blog Life At Warp 10. You can imagine how thrilled and honored I was when, less than two months later, one of my favorite bloggers passed along the Versatile Blogger Award to my baby blog. Thanks so much to fantasy author Jessica O’Neal for giving me this award! If you haven’t yet checked out her site, be sure to go there next because you don’t want to miss her series on the characters of Harry Potter or her awesome post on learning to shoot a bow.

Versatile Blogger Award

One of the conditions for accepting this award is that I need to share seven things about myself.

(1) I’m a stray animal magnet. Literally. They show up at my door, and I’m incapable of turning them away. I currently have seven cats, down from my high of 12.

(2) I’m writing a historical fantasy for the ABA with Lisa Hall-Wilson that asks, “What if the Arthurian legends originated not in Britain, but near the Black Sea from an Amazon warrior’s pursuit for equality and a barbarian Scythe’s spiritual quest?”

(3) When I was 10, I broke a boy’s nose. In my defense, it was an accident, and I’ve felt bad about it ever since, but apparently I have a mean right hook.

(4) I enjoy editing. The biggest compliment I ever received about my editing skills was that I “make the page bleed red.” (*Shameless Plug Alert* I offer manuscript critiques for fiction, as well as various levels of editing for fiction and non-fiction if you’re looking to hire a freelance editor. *End Shameless Plug*)  

(5) I play the flute and violin, can play very simple songs on the piano, and played percussion in my high school concert band. I can’t sing. At all. It’s painful to listen to.

(6) I can eat an entire large pepperoni pizza by myself (and then some).

(7) When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I received the Governor General’s Silver Medal, which means I had the highest GPA of all the students who graduated from my university that year. When I graduated with my master’s degree, I graduated summa cum laude. Yet I have to have my husband remove my digital camera memory card because I can’t figure it out.

The final part of the Versatile Blogger Award is to pass it along to 15 recently discovered blogs that I think deserve recognition. I’m going to loosely interpret “recently discovered” to mean “sometime in the last year.” (In alphabetical order because I’m like that.)

Amber West – A Day Without Sushi

Angela Wallace – Believe, Dream, Awaken

August McLaughlin – Savor the Storm

Coleen Patrick – Read. Smile. Repeat.

Debra Kristi – Sparks In the Fire

Emma Burcart – Occasional Epiphanies

Fabio Bueno – Diamonds & Rust

Gene Lempp – Unearthing the Future

Ingrid Schaffenburg – Threadbare Gypsy Soul

Jenny Hansen – More Cowbell

Lena Corazon – Flights of Fancy

Lisa Hall-Wilson – Through the Fire

Myndi Shafer – Blogging Barefoot

Nicole Maggi – From Getting the Call to Seeing the Book on the Shelf

Samantha Warren – Stealing Starships

If you’re one of the people I passed the Versatile Blogger Award on to, I hope you’ll also pass it along, but there’s no pressure. If you don’t want to do it now, you can always do it later, and I know some of you have already received it (but I love your blogs enough to second the award).

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The Great Equalizer

Ice Skating The Great EquilizerOn New Year’s Eve, my husband and I did what we’ve done every year since we became a couple. We went to the free skating session at the local ice rink.

Before a half-hour passed, the arena filled up with every age group and stage of life—grandparents watching their grandchildren from the stands, parents teaching their three-year-olds to skate, couples holding hands, teenage girls wearing less clothing than they needed to stay warm, and teenage boys dropping clumps of snow down the teenage girls’ backs.

Ice skating is one of life’s greatest equalizers.

Once you’re on the ice, no one cares if you’re like me, wearing skates you’ve had since you were 13, or if you’re like my husband, who used his Christmas money from my grandpa to buy his first pair of skates that afternoon.

No one cares if you’re a figure skater or hockey player, or if you’re like the woman we sat next to while lacing our skates who was getting on the ice for the first time in 23 years.

No one cares about the color of your skin or whether you’re rich or poor. Everyone is fighting the same battle to stay on their feet on the ice.

Even though my husband and I grew up in completely different worlds, ice skating is something we can share. I tell him about how I learned to skate on the rough ice of the river not far from my parents’ house, and about the ice rink my dad built in the field behind his work shed so my brother could practice his hockey moves. He tells me about the year-round rinks in Washington, DC, and we reminisce about the outdoor rinks surrounded by Christmas lights we’ve gone to together.

On the ice rink, parts of our lives that were separate come together. We have a history together before we ever met.

When we talk about equalizers, things that cut across all humanity, we usually focus on the big things—death, marriage, birth. But we don’t have any control over those big things. Not really. We do have control over the smaller ones and how often we seek them out.

I know ice skating won’t change the world, but it gives us one of those moments when we remember that all people are equal and valuable and that, if we look hard enough, we all have things in common. And maybe if we seek out more of those little equalizers, we’ll start to find that the gaps that divide us start to look a little bit smaller too.

Do you have a favorite ice skating memory? What other little equalizers have you come across?

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Making This Year Better Than The Last

Did you make a New Year’s resolution yesterday? Did you know that you have a 78% chance of breaking it?

A few years ago, I gave up on making New Year’s resolutions because I always broke them and ended up feeling like a failure. This past year, though, I noticed another more serious problem.

My life has become triage.

Instead of acting, I spent most of my time reacting. Fires kept cropping up, and I survived by dealing with the biggest and badest first. Everything else tanked. I gained 20 pounds. My husband began to complain that he didn’t get any time with me anymore because I’m always working. I don’t remember what a day off looks like. Lisa and I are scrambling to prepare for the conference we’re headed to in New York this month.

I want this year to be better than the last.

Part of my problem goes back to my failed New Year’s resolutions, and why I was consistently breaking them. To make this year better than the last, I need to care for myself as well as I care for my characters. You see, I give them goals, but I mostly only had ambitions for myself.

An ambition is an abstract, high-level concept. For example, “I want a well-behaved dog” or “I want a happy marriage.” Two people can have the same ambition, but the way it plays out in their lives can be diametrically opposed based on how they define that ambition. Goals are how you reach your ambition. Without them, you can float around for years never certain if you’re making any progress toward your ambition.

If all you have is ambitions, you’re bound for disappointment and failure because you don’t have any direct control over whether an ambition is reached or not.

For example, “I want an agent this year” or “I want to lose 20 pounds.” Those are ambitions because nothing you do will guarantee they happen. You might change your eating habits and hit the gym, and only lose 10 pounds because you gained muscle as well. Or because that’s the healthy weight your body wants to be at.  

Goals, however, are in your control.

I do a lot of work for non-profit clients writing grant proposals. One of the things that separates successful grants from unsuccessful ones is that the successful ones set goals (they call them objectives) that are SMART.

S – specific

M – measurable

A – attainable

R – realistic

T – time-bound

So if your ambition is to land an agent this year (it’s one of the ambitions on my new list), set SMART goals to reach it.

For example, “I will query one new agent every week in 2012 except for the weeks of Christmas and Thanksgiving.” (Noah Lukeman suggests querying 50 agents before you give up on that particular project.)

Specific – You’ve given the number of agents (one) and what you’re going to do (query). You also specified what you’re not going to do.

Measurable – You either did or you didn’t send out a query each week.

Attainable– You can query an agent a week. That’s within the realm of what’s allowable when it comes to agents. You couldn’t talk to an agent on the phone every week any more than you can probably call up Suzanne Collins or Daniel Craig and expect to have a chat.

Realistic – This really depends on you. Maybe that isn’t realistic for you depending on what you know your personal limitations are. Maybe what you can do is query one new agent every two weeks. But you get the point. Don’t set an unrealistic goal like “I’m going to query 50 agents every week.”

Time-Bound – You have from Monday to Sunday each week to complete this goal. You have from January 1 to December 31 of 2012 to complete this goal.

If you reach your goal, you’re that much more likely to also fulfill your ambition.

I’m not just working on my goals and ambitions for my career, but also for the rest of my life. As writers, it can be easy to become a slave to our work, but some sacrifices are too great.

You see, I don’t just want to be remembered as a great writer at the end of my life. I also want to be remembered as a great wife. As a great friend. As a great daughter, and sister, and cousin, and niece. Perhaps one day as a great mother and grandmother and aunt.

To do that, I need to make this year better than the last.

What’s one ambition you have for this year, and one of the goals that you’re setting to try to meet it?

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Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas From My Family to Yours

Merry Christmas Santa Claus(Yes, I did put a Santa hat on my dog.)

I’ll be taking a short blogging break over the holidays to spend time with my family. I look forward to catching up with all of you when I return. In the meantime, please subscribe so that you don’t miss any of the coming posts in the new year!

And in case you find yourself ready to do some reading after all the presents are opened and you’ve reached the point where you don’t even want to think about food anymore, I wanted to leave you with a few excellent Christmas posts to read.

Santa Claus: The Granddaddy of all Superheroes from the folks at Comic Book Movie.

Myndi Shafer of Barefoot Blogging made me think about what Joseph, the step-father of Jesus, has to teach all of us.

Santa Claus, Man of Mystery by K.B. Owen gives two of the best Santa videos, as well as a hilarious list of why it’s great to be Santa.

If you missed my post, What If Santa Were Real? click through.

And Lisa Hall-Wilson and I have also left a Christmas message at Girls With Pens for our writer friends linking to our five most popular posts of 2011 and an amazing cello rendition of Carol of the Bells. 

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