fantasy author

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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

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.**

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

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!

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

How to Use Taste to Make Your Readers Hungry for More

According to Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press, a successful small publisher of speculative fiction, one of the most common problems in both novice and advanced fiction is not enough description.

This means that, regardless of what draft you’re working on, you probably have too little description rather than too much. The fix is actually easy. Engage all your reader’s senses.

Two weeks ago, I looked at how to make your novel scratch and sniff through three techniques that let you make the best use of the scents you choose. This week, we’re going to take a bite out of taste (sorry, couldn’t help myself) with three ways to enhance the flavors in your book.

Decide When Naming A Taste Is Enough Vs. When You Need to Describe It

Some tastes are potent enough and familiar enough that all we need to do is name them. Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. A cinnamon-flavored toothpick. Your dentist’s latex gloves. Because they’re part of our shared experience, describing them doesn’t enhance the story at all. Instead, it becomes the kind of excess description we’re so often advised to cut.

A foreign taste, though, always needs a description; otherwise, you’re just placing an empty word on the page. In my co-written historical fantasy, our male POV character drinks a glass of kumiss, fermented mare’s milk with an almond aftertaste. Simply dropping in the word kumiss wouldn’t have heightened your sensory experience at all. In the same way that describing a familiar taste is pointless, so is dropping in a foreign word and expecting the reader to understand it. Now, even though you’ve likely never tasted kumiss, can you imagine the sharp tang, like buttermilk gone bad, and then just as you finish swallowing, the slight sweetness of almond lingering on your tongue and in the back of your mouth.

(This is actually a perfect example of the confusion I often see in writers who are told both that they need description in their story to bring it to life and also that description slows down their story and they should cut it. The right kind of description doesn’t slow the story down at all. Unnecessary description does. Do you see the difference in the two situations above?)

The trick in describing a taste is to do it in a way that doesn’t break POV and end up feeling like author intrusion. For the example I used above from the manuscript Lisa Hall-Wilson and I wrote, we got around this by having our male character crave the flavor of this particular drink as opposed to the wine he’d been offered. When your character is craving a particular food, or savoring it, it’s natural for them to think about the flavors the same way we would in those situations.

Use Metaphors or Other Comparisons

Our brains are wired to compare things we don’t have experience with to something we do. Taste is the sense that lends itself best (in my opinion anyway) to metaphors or other comparisons. Sometimes you don’t need to describe a taste literally to convey its essence.

“The wine tasted like liquid sunlight” (Oakley Hall, How Fiction Works).

“She spoke of fruit that tasted the way sapphires look” (Toni Morrison, Paradise).

Make It Surprising Somehow

You come home from the grocery store with a bag of what appear to be sweet, crunchy grapes only to pop one onto your tongue and get a mouthful of moldiness. Things don’t always taste the way we expect.

You can also use other senses to turn expectations upside down. Parmesan cheese smells like stinky feet and cumin smells like body odor, but both of them add a delicious flavor to dishes. And because we eat first with our eyes, when food looks unappetizing, we remember it that much more when it actually tastes good.

What food do you think looks or smells unappealing but actually tastes delicious? Have you ever tried a food that left you pleasantly surprised?

Because I want these Wednesday posts to be as helpful as possible, please answer this quick poll to tell me what you’d most like to have me write about. Feel free to select more than one response or write in an answer.

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

All three books are available in print and ebook forms.

Be sure to sign up to receive email updates so that you don’t miss the remaining three senses.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

What’s the Point of Fairy Tales?

Tales of Beedle the Bard fairy tales from Harry PotterLast weekend I sat down with a long-awaited treat—The Tales of Beedle the Bard. If you’ve read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or watched the movie, then you’ll recognize The Tales of Beedle the Bard as the book of wizarding-world fairy tales containing “The Tale of the Three Brothers” (who owned the Deathly Hallows).

Before I tell you what I thought of the book, I think we have to answer one essential question. What’s the point of fairy tales?

Like all stories, fairy tales are meant to entertain, but that’s secondary. Unlike today’s novels, their main purpose is to give a moral in a way the audience will remember. They exist to teach a clear lesson.

In this, the stories in The Tales of Beedle the Bard only partially succeed.

I can hear the argument now. Yes, but The Tales of Beedle the Bard are supposed to be fairy tales for wizarding children, not Muggles. People can’t actually perform magic, so you can’t expect a moral for us.

Paranormal romance author Kait Nolan (who I interviewed last year on her YA fairy tale reboot Red) pointed out in her excellent “What Makes a Fairy Tale?” post that what sets fairy tales apart is that magic or some kind of enchantment is basically required as part of the story. That magic doesn’t lessen the need for a universal truth. “Variations of the same stories can be heard all over the world,” Kait wrote, “because they spark something in our imaginations and hearts, such that we’re still telling stories that originated hundreds of years ago.”

Magic, enchantments, and witches show up all the time in fairy tales. The Tales of Beedle the Bard aren’t unique in that way. And they’re not exempt from needing to teach a lesson to anyone who reads them.

Okay, you might say, but The Tales of Beedle the Bard are just supposed to be something fun and extra for people who loved the Harry Potter books.

I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. (Don’t believe me? I ate Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.)

Part of what made the Harry Potter series popular was we could still relate to the stories even though we couldn’t perform magic and would never need to fight a dark wizard. The stories and characters transcended the details of the magical world to tell a story of a boy who longed for a family that loved him, who just wanted to fit in, who struggled to figure out the line between right and wrong, and who learned that some things are worth fighting and dying for. You don’t need to be a witch or wizard to relate.

The lessons in Harry Potter, while secondary to an entertaining story, are what made it so loved by people who wouldn’t otherwise read a fantasy. It’s also what makes them re-readable.

If you didn’t like the Harry Potter books, The Tales of Beedle the Bard aren’t worth reading.

For those of you who are curious, here are the five tales in the book.

The Wizard and the Hopping Pot

A wizard refuses to use his magic to help the local Muggles. His cooking pot starts to hop, sprout warts, cry, and otherwise show the wizard that the people he refused were suffering. Eventually he gives in, and once he helps, the pot returns to normal. The wizard moral seems to be that wizards should help Muggles. I guess we could really stretch this to the Muggle moral of “we should help those less fortunate than ourselves.”

The Fountain of Fair Fortune

Three witches and a knight overcome obstacles to try to bathe in the Fountain of Fair Fortune, which is supposed to give good fortune to one person per year. They get through the obstacles based on luck and, in the end, none of the three witches need to go in because their problems are already solved. The knight goes in and, made brave, proposes marriage to one of the witches. They all leave happy, and “none of them ever knew or suspected that the Fountain’s waters carried no enchantment at all” (35). The moral would likely be that we make our own good fortune in life, but the fact that a lot of things in the story happen due to luck rather than skill or hard work actually dilutes this moral.

The Warlock’s Hairy Heart

A wizard thinks people act foolishly when they fall in love, so he takes his heart from his chest and locks it away. Left in isolation, it grows withered, dark, and hairy like a beast. When he finally takes it out again, he ends up killing a maiden and cutting out her heart because he wants to replace his with hers. The wizard moral is that even magic can’t make you invulnerable to every physical, mental, and emotional pain. The Muggle moral could perhaps be that, if we don’t open ourselves up to love, we shrivel and become savage?

Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump

A king wants to be the only one in the kingdom to possess magic, so he gives an order to hunt down all magical folk. An old witch tricks him into rescinding this order. Honestly, while this is a cute story, I can’t figure out what the moral for magical children would be. As for the moral for us non-magic folk…“don’t lie” is the best I can come up with, but it doesn’t entirely fit the story.

The Tale of the Three Brothers

Three brothers cheat death by building a magical bridge over a dangerous river. Death gives them each a wish. The aggressive first brother wants an unbeatable wand. The arrogant second brother wants a stone that will bring the dead back to life. The wise third brother wants to remain unseen by Death. The first and second brothers end up dead because of their wishes. The third brother meets Death as an equal once he’s old. The moral for magic folk and Muggles alike is that death is inevitable. The best you can hope for is to postpone it until you are old and live a full life. This is the best of the fairy tales in the book, and the only one that I think works perfectly.

Do you think I’m wrong about the purpose of a fairy tale? If you’ve read The Tales of Beedle the Bard, am I being too harsh?

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

Four Little-Known Factors that Could Destroy Your Blog’s Chances of Success

Are you frustrated because your blog has plateaued?

Maybe you took part in a class or joined Triberr, saw a jump in stats, but now things have leveled out again, and you can’t figure out why you’re not growing the audience that other bloggers seem to be. Or maybe you know your content is well-written, but you’re not getting the attention that less well-written blogs are.

You might be making one of these major, but easily fixable, mistakes.

(1) Your Blog Posts Aren’t Focused on a Single Topic

You can talk about a wide variety of things on your blog, but when you write a post, it needs to be laser focused on one topic. Even if you do a list post like my What Groundhog Day Can Teach Us About Contentment (or like this post for that matter), you still have a single topic. Contentment lessons from a particular movie. Things that might be hurting your blog.

If you throw multiple unrelated topics, or loosely related topics into one blog post, not only will your reader feel overwhelmed but they’ll feel confused about what you’re trying to say. Your post won’t stick with them as well as it would if you focused, and if it doesn’t stick with them, they won’t be as likely to share it and talk about it.

Multiple topics also don’t give you the room to properly expand any of them. Your readers will go away feeling like you made them a promise and didn’t fulfill it.

(2) Your Titles Stink

I hate to be so blunt, but it’s the truth. Have you wondered why your carefully crafted blog posts aren’t getting many click throughs from Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking sites? The problem might be your title.

With 500,000 new blog posts published per day on WordPress.com sites alone, we can’t afford to use vague or boring titles if we want our blog to stand out in tweets or in someone’s Google reader. Worse, if you’ve written a bad blog title, any shares you get from Triberr or from the social media buttons at the bottom of your post will be wasted. Both tools use the title you’ve given to your post unless those sharing it know to fix it. Most don’t or won’t take the time.

What counts as a boring or vague blog title (and tweet)? Here are a few I pulled from my Google reader, email inbox, and Twitter stream.

New blog post!

Raise your hand if you can identify with this post

A short list and 10 great links

This may be a random thought

ROW 80 Update

(There were others, but I tried to pick ones that couldn’t be easily identified so that I didn’t hurt anyone.)

(3) You’re Focusing Your Social Media Time on the Wrong Sites

We can’t be on every social media site without burning out or becoming an automated spam bot. We need to carefully choose the two or three sites that work best for us. But how are you making your decision about where to focus?

If you’re only looking at hits, you’re doing it wrong.

In March, StumbleUpon ranked fifth on the list of top referring sites for my blog. My first thought was “I should learn how to use StumbleUpon. If I’m getting this many hits without being actively involved, imagine what would happen if I started focusing on it.”

But hits don’t mean everything.

When I looked at my site analytics, I found that people coming from StumbleUpon stayed less than 45 seconds (not long enough to carefully read my post, read any of the comments, share, look at other pages, or comment themselves). In other words, they weren’t engaging. They weren’t the kind of traffic I’m looking for. If I focused my attention there, I’d be wasting my time.

For those of you who are investing time into Pinterest, are the people engaging or are they empty hits? People who don’t engage also don’t share and don’t return.

(4) You Aren’t Focused on Others

This goes beyond just making relationships with other bloggers through talking to them on social media, sharing their content, and commenting on their blogs (all of which are important).

What’s the take-away value of every post you write for the person reading it? If you hadn’t written it, would you care enough to read it?

For example, if you build a deck over the weekend, don’t just tell people you built a deck and share pictures of the progress. Unless they’re your family or best friends, they won’t care (sometimes even those people won’t really care and will only read the post to be nice). However, if you use your story about building your deck to give your readers the five biggest mistakes to avoid when building their own deck, you’ve made it both personal and valuable.

The take-away doesn’t always need to be practical in a physical sense. Sometimes it can be emotional, psychological, or spiritual. Sometimes it can be entertainment. The point is, the post is focused on them, not on you.

What’s your biggest blogging struggle? Which of the above points (if any) would you like me to turn into a full blog post?

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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

How to Make Your Novel Scratch and Sniff

Sense of Smell in FictionDo you want your reader to feel like they’re part of your world? Do you want your setting to stick with them long after they’ve closed your book?

One of the best ways to bring your fictional world to life is to use all five senses. Because each sense comes with its own unique strengths and challenges, today I’m starting into a new series to give smell, taste, touch, sight, and sound their due.

The trick with smells is that if you include too many you can burn your reader out the way you deaden your nose if you smell every candle in the Yankee Candle store. (Not that I’m admitting to having done that, but in case you were wondering, my favorite is the Buttercream.)

Three techniques can help you make the most of the smells you choose.

Connect the Smell to an Emotion

Smell can be one of the most powerful senses in your fiction because of its ability to evoke emotions. You probably associate certain smells with memories, people, or places. I hate the way the dentist office smells like burning hair. The smell comes from the singed protein of teeth being drilled, and I associate that smell with pain. If I’m stressed, the warm scent of a clean dog will calm me down because I associate it with the comfort I find in my Great Dane when I throw my arms around her after a hard day.

Think about your own life and what smells evoke memories and emotions. Why do they have that effect on you? You don’t need to duplicate that precise smell in your fiction (you should find one that belongs organically to your character), but by paying attention to how smells intertwine throughout your life, you can learn how to build them into your stories.

If you’re struggling with how to naturally slide in necessary backstory, smell can be your saving grace. As Roni Loren recently pointed out in her post on How to Dish Out Backstory in Digestible Bites, something needs to trigger a memory in order to introduce backstory. Because of how memories cling to scents, smells work as a perfect trigger.

Choose One “Showpiece” Scent

In Ted Dekker’s The Boneman’s Daughter, the serial killer is addicted to Noxzema. I think about it every time I wash my face. That’s the staying power of giving a single scent a starring role.

This isn’t just for fiction writers. For non-fiction writers, you can create the same lasting memory by finding the one key smell to grab your readers. It could be the difference between a forgettable article or chapter in your book and motivating your readers to act. Are you writing a parenting book? What smell defines motherhood for you? How did that smell grow and change with your child? Differ between sickness and health?

Even though you’ll have other scents in your book, weaving one key smell throughout, changing it, playing off of it in moments of tension, ties your entire story together and imprints it on your reader’s mind. The next time they smell that scent in the world, they’ll think of your book.

Contrast a Good Smell with a Bad One

Choosing two antagonistic scents can be done simply to make both smells stand out more than they would on their own, complement a theme, or subtly support what’s happening inside your character.

In my co-written historical fantasy, our main male character is torn between the desire to sleep with his new female slave and the desire to obey his new God who forbids it. He commands her to strip off her tunic, and when she does, the scent of sweat and cypress invades his nostrils. The opposing scents mirror the struggle between his opposing desires.

In The Hunger Games trilogy, President Snow smells like blood and roses. He uses the roses to cover up the fact that his breath reeks of blood, and this becomes a metaphor in a way for how the beauty and glitz of the capital tries to disguise the repulsiveness of the country’s situation. Suzanne Collins could have just had him smell like blood, but the contrast with something as beautiful and symbolic as roses made the smell of blood that much more grotesque. And Katniss is never able to think about roses the same way again.

What smell brings back a strong emotion for you, either good or bad?

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

All three books are available in print and ebook forms.

Be sure to sign up to receive email updates so that you don’t miss the remaining four senses.

Enter your email address to follow this blog:

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.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it and sign up below to receive a notification the next time I post.

Enter your email address to follow this blog: