Marcy Kennedy

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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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.

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Do We Need to Be A Little More Old-Fashioned?

The Avengers' Captain America and Iron ManIf you woke up one day to find that 70 years had passed, would you be excited or would you mourn for lost friends and family and the way of life you’d known?

When we meet Steve Rogers again in The Avengers, he’s still struggling with this very thing. Back in 1942, a special serum turned him into Captain America, and in the middle of fighting a rogue group of Nazis known as Hydra, he accidentally ended up in suspended animation. He wakes up in the “present day.” The world has changed a lot since 1942.

Not surprisingly, Steve feels like he and his values are obsolete. He doesn’t understand Tony Stark’s cavalier attitude or circumvention of the rules, or Bruce Banner’s scientific mumbo jumbo, or any of the pop references the others make (except for one about flying monkeys—and he’s almost pathetically excited about finally “getting one”).

It doesn’t look like there’s much that can break up the gloom surrounding what should be a golden boy character. But on their way to the flying ship, Agent Coulson tells Steve that they’ve updated his Captain America costume.

“Aren’t the stars and stripes a little old fashioned?” Steve asks.

Agent Coulson looks him straight in the eyes. “With all that’s going on in the world, people might want a little old fashioned.”

Throughout the movie, Steve comes to realize that Coulson was right. People are starting to not only want a little old-fashioned, we’re starting to need it.

And it’s not about the evils of technology. Technology isn’t evil. It’s not about needing to reconnect with nature and unplug. It’s not about retro becoming the latest fashion trend or collecting records or bottle caps.

It’s about reviving some old-fashioned values. I suspect that, like me, a lot of people long for the return of some of the things we’ve lost.

I’m only 30, but when I was a child, stores in my town were closed on Sundays. Was it an inconvenience if you wanted to buy something? Yes. But didn’t we always manage to survive until Monday? And wasn’t that a small price to pay to give everyone a day of rest, a day focused on friends and family?

I miss the idea of a day of rest. And a 40-hour work week that gave you enough income to live off of. Not only live off of, but raise a family on.

I miss when a handshake meant something, people did what they promised, and you could leave your doors unlocked.

I miss teamwork. Days when it wasn’t about getting ahead as an individual by stepping on others, but rather about working together to make sure everyone achieved their goals. We didn’t feel the need to shout to be heard. We didn’t feel the need to sing our own praises because we knew that if we did a good job, someone else would sing them for us.

Those are the type of things that made the good old days good. Those are the things that are now old-fashioned, and those are the things I think we need to fight to get back.

I’m an optimist, but even I know that I can’t turn back time. I can’t change society to make stores close on Sundays again, and we can’t safely leave our doors unlocked even in small towns anymore.

Captain America couldn’t force Tony Stark or any of the others to accept his values either, but he chose to act on what he believed, and by the end of the movie, however subtly, it was his example they followed, even Stark. The man who “didn’t play well with others” worked as part of a team, and even risked sacrificing himself to save the world.

While I can’t change the world, I can change me. Like Captain America, I can still live by those old-fashioned values.

I can refuse to work seven days a week because my body and my relationships need that day of rest. My handshake and my word can still mean something. And I can support others and let my actions speak for themselves. I have control over me.

And maybe, just maybe, if enough of us change ourselves, the world will one day follow.

What old-fashioned value do you think needs to be revived? How are you helping to bring it back?

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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?

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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.

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How Do We Know If Someone Has Truly Changed?

Once Upon A Time on ABC

How can we tell if someone has truly changed? How many chances should we give someone before saying “no more”?

The knotty nature of authentic change is a theme Once Upon A Time comes back to again and again. Sydney Glass has the chance to change from being Regina’s spineless, love-sick toy to a man of honor, but allows her to continue to use him. Emma changes from someone who’s alone because of her fears to someone who’s slowly building friendships and desperately wants to get back her son.

Each layer of Mr. Gold’s story especially returns to the nature of change.

In “Skin Deep,” we find out that Mr. Gold isn’t only Rumplestiltskin, but also the Beast to Belle’s beauty. She falls in love with him the way we knew she would, and believes it’s still possible for him to change. And she thinks she’s found the way—true love’s kiss.

Instead of escaping when given the chance, Belle returns to him and kisses him. The curse starts to break, and Rumplestiltskin jerks away. He demands to know what she’s doing. He has his chance, but he refuses to take it.

We see it again in “The Return.” Disgusted by what his father has become, Rumplestiltskin’s son makes a deal. If he can find a way to get rid of his father’s magic that doesn’t hurt either of them, his father has to agree to do it. When his son finds a way to take them to a world without magic, Rumplestiltskin turns him down. He has the opportunity to give up the power that’s making him cruel and evil, but he won’t.

I think the writers of Once Upon A Time keep coming back to the theme of change because we as people are forced to come back to these questions every time someone we trusted hurts us. I also think the writers, perhaps without knowing it, stumbled on part of our answer.

The motivation to change can’t be external.

Our love can’t make someone change. Blackmail or threats can’t make someone change. Not really. Any appearance of change will only be temporary.

I believe in second chances. I believe that people can change. But they have to want it. For their own sake. Outside forces might act as a catalyst, but the desire to change has to rise from within us.

Rumplestiltskin claims he’d be willing to change, but when it comes down to it, his heart still values his power more than his loved ones. Yet each time he walks into an episode, I’m rooting for him to find redemption almost as hard as I’m rooting for Regina to get her just desserts. One of the reasons I still have hope for him is that we see this balance shifting. We see the struggle happening within his heart. He’s passed up every chance he’s been given so far, but some people are more stubborn than others. It takes more for them to decide to change, and it’s dangerous to give up on people too soon.

As part of his backstory, we see that, even once he loses his son through his own cowardice, Rumplestiltskin refuses to accept it. He blames the Blue Fairy for stealing his son. When he thinks his son has finally returned to his life, though, it forces him to face how it was truly his choice that separated them. He’s the one who needs forgiveness.

True and lasting change involves not only desire but also taking responsibility for how our own decisions brought us to the point we’re at.

Even with those two lampposts, the path to change is long and windy and often unclear.

Since I don’t have all the answers, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. What helps you decide if someone has truly changed? How many chances do you give before drawing the line in the sand?

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Battleship – More than Just a Board Game?

Three things entice me to watch a movie in the theater–an amazing plot, connection to a book I loved, or a romance that gives me stomach flutters. Even better if you can put those things together.

But I’m going to watch Battleship in theaters. Why? For the same reason I watched Battle: Los Angeles in theaters. My husband is a man who loves to see things explode on the big screen. Doesn’t matter to him if there’s any plot at all as long as the movie is full of stunning pyrotechnics. Since I love my husband and he sometimes goes to watch movies with me that rank really low on his list, this is what I’ll be seeing in two weeks.

So here’s my question for you–would you rather play Battleship the board game (like me) or watch Battleship the movie (like my husband)?

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