Marcy Kennedy

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.

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Do You Ever Feel Like You Don’t Fit In?

How to Train Your DragonIf you’ve ever felt like you don’t fit in, you have something in common with a Viking teenager named Hiccup.

Hiccup is the scrawny, clumsy, yet creative son of the Viking chieftain in the Dreamworks movie How to Train Your Dragon. No one quite understands Hiccup’s unique ways of doing things. More than anything he wants to kill one of the mysterious Night Fury dragons who attack his village, because he thinks that if he does, he’ll earn his father’s respect and won’t be the laughingstock of his tribe any more. All of Hiccup’s attempts to fit in only make him stick out more, and the girl he has a crush on thinks he’s a loser.

At times I’ve felt a lot like Hiccup. I grew up a sparrow in a family of blue jays. I desperately wanted them to like me and be proud of me. I wanted to feel like I fit in and was accepted, but I couldn’t hide how different I was. Like Hiccup, my weirdness always reared its head at the most inconvenient times.

But Hiccup figured out quicker than I did that, when you’re willing to be yourself, you’ll find truly creative solutions to the problems you’re facing.

One night, during a dragon attack, Hiccup manages to use one of the weapons he’s created to bring down a Night Fury, but no one believes him. He goes out looking for it on his own, planning to cut out its heart and bring it back as proof.

The only problem is that, when he finds the dragon, he can’t kill it. He’s the first Viking in 300 years who wouldn’t kill a dragon. He sets it free instead and thus begins a friendship that seems to prove he’s the world’s worst Viking. The dragon, who Hiccup names Toothless, shows him everything the Vikings thought about the dragons was wrong, and eventually their friendship helps save the village.

If Hiccup had been like every other Viking, the cycle of Vikings killing dragons and dragons killing Vikings would have continued until one wiped the other out. It’s always been the people who are brave enough to be themselves who come up with the greatest innovations.

Leonardo da Vinci. Albert Einstein. Steve Jobs.

And, eventually, if you stay true to yourself, you’ll find people who like you for who you are.

Near the end of How to Train Your Dragon, the girl Hiccup likes asks him what he’s going to do about the fact that his father has chained up Toothless and is headed to destroy the dragons’ nest.

“Probably something crazy,” Hiccup says.

Her lips quirk into a smile. “That’s more like it.”

She and the other Viking teens help Hiccup because, over the past weeks, they’ve learned to like him just the way he is, quirks and all. In the end, he also earns his father’s respect. He never would have earned it by trying to fit in.

I wish I could tell you I earned what I wanted from my extended family, but I haven’t yet. I have seen a little progress, a little hope. Even if they never come to accept me, I have a husband who does, and parents and a brother who believe in me. And in being myself, I’ve found friends both online and offline who like me just the way I am, in all my nerdy glory. For all of you, I’m very grateful.

Have you struggled to fit in only to have it fail? Have you been able to finally find people who accept you and like you just the way you are?

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Are You Going to Watch Marvel’s Avengers Assemble?

Next weekend marks the release of another movie I’ve been waiting for–The Avengers!

Loki, supervillain brother of Thor, has assembled an army to take over the world. Regular forces can’t stop them, so Nick Fury decides to put together a group of superheroes. My favorite, Tony “Ironman” Stark (played by Robert Downey, Jr.), looks like he’ll bring some great humor to an action-packed movie.

If you want to learn more about the characters you’ll see in The Avengers, Jessica O’Neal has been doing a great series on her blog on the history of each, including the Incredible Hulk/Bruce Banner, Thor, Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, Ironman/Tony Stark, Captain America/Steve Rogers, and Hawkeye/Clint Barton.

Has anyone else been looking forward to The Avengers? Will you be seeing it in theater or waiting until it comes out on DVD? And the most important question of all–which Avenger hero is your favorite?

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Do You Worry You Won’t Succeed As A Writer?

Do you worry you won’t ever succeed as a writer?

I do. Despite how far I’ve come, despite the goals I’ve reached, some days I wonder if those people who want me to quit are right. Some days all I can see is how far I still have to go. And lately, I’ve been struggling with a lot of fear.

This week, I had the privilege of reviewing an advance copy of Jeff Goins’ You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) for a 100-page metaphorical kick in the rear. (We all need those once in a while.)

If you follow Jeff’s blog, you know that he melds practical tips with inspiration. Even though I normally prefer practical tactics I can immediately put to use when it comes to writing advice, in this case, I think the real value of this book lies in his insights into what it takes to succeed as a writer.

I can’t sum up the whole book for you (you’ll have to get your own copy), but here are the top four tips I walked away with for what it will take for writers like you and me to reach our dreams.

(1) “The only person you need to worry about writing for is you” (pg. 27).

This isn’t new advice. We’ve heard numerous times not to write for a trend and to write what we enjoy reading. But it goes deeper than that, and I think the take-away in what Jeff has to say comes from his reasons for writing for ourselves first.

Writing for ourselves first is the only way to be authentic. We all want people to like us, but if we focus on trying to do whatever it takes to make them like us rather than just being ourselves, it’s going to show. We’ll come across as fake, and that will drive people away.

Thousands of other people are struggling with what you’re struggling with. This means that if you write about what appeals to you, it will appeal to other people as well. Always ask yourself, “If I hadn’t written this, would I want to read it.”

You’ll find your voice quicker. If you’re only worried about writing for you, the pressure of impressing everyone else goes away and all pretenses drop. Your voice has a lot to do with being comfortable in public and allowing your personality to come through.

(2) “A brand is who you are. But it’s more than that. It’s your truest self. The part people remember” (pg. 46).

We don’t brand ourselves the same way that businesses or products do because our brand includes our name, our personality, our unique quirks, and our voice, as well as our genre. Your brand is you. No lies. No games. No tricks.

Through your brand you make a promise to people about what they’ll get when they interact with you in person or in writing. I want people to know exactly what they’ll get when they come to my blog and website. In fact, I worry that I’ve split my brand too far by including both writing posts and fantasy/science fiction posts. (I’d love to have you weigh in on that in the comments.)

Brand goes beyond that though to my personality. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I’m a bit quirky and that I love to pick things apart to see how they work and what truth is hiding behind them. I’m all about hope. And I like to help. That’s me in a nutshell. That’s also my brand.

(3) “Content is not king. Relationship is” (pg. 78).

I have a feeling some bubbles just popped. What do you mean content isn’t king?

You have to have good content. It’s foundational. But you can have good content, and work yourself to exhaustion, and if you don’t have relationships with people who will spread the word about your great content, no one will come to read it.

(4) “You never fully arrive” (pg. 93).

There’s always room for improvement even for writers who are on the New York Times bestseller list. Rather than getting cocky once you’ve achieved your definition of success, keep striving to get better.

Be sure you check out Jeff’s website and pick up a copy of his new book You Are A Writer.

You are a writer if you write. But do you wonder if you’ll ever feel like a success?

I hope you’ll check out the newly released mini-books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series–Strong Female Characters and How to Write Faster–both currently available for 99 cents.

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Are You Struggling to Control Your Inner Centaur?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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7 Tips for Increasing Creativity

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

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

1. Thank the person who gave it to you.

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

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

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

Now on to the promised tips…

Marcy’s 7 Tips for Increasing Creativity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I have the pleasure of passing this award long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Four Secrets About Writer’s Conference Faculty

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

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

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

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

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

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

What makes these so important?

Hard work and teachability trump talent every day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(3) Our days are longer than yours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Groundhog Day Can Teach Us About Contentment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s appealing.

And destructive.

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

You can’t save everyone.

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

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

“Not today,” he says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Behind the Scenes: Angela Wallace and Elementals

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

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

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

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

Welcome, Angela 🙂

Thank you for having me on your blog, Marcy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt:

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

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

Watch for it this fall.  😉

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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