Thursday, April 16, 2015

I have issues, no really

I know everyone says they have issues but I've been officially diagnosed with issues. My issues happen to be so severe that I get to take a month off work so the medication they gave me can kick in and so I don't freak out and jump off a bridge. No, really.

Yesterday I tried to go into work. Note, the tried. I got up, ate breakfast, brushed my cat (it's our morning ritual now), chilled for a bit, got dressed, and headed out. I made it to the parking lot and was parking my car when I hit the breaks, burst into tears then took off.

Where did I take off to? The cemetery where my parents are entombed. I sat with them for about two hours until I got hungry. Cemetery bathrooms are gross by the way. Anyway, I headed down to the shopping mall for food and promptly went to my doctor's office. Why? Because on my way back home I wanted to drive my car off a bridge.

Why? To be honest, I'm not entirely sure. I've always had darker thoughts and most of the time I can translate them into my writing and everything's good. It hasn't been working for a few years now but most of the time I can take a day off, cry it all out, and be done with till the next time I kind of cracked. This time, I broke. I couldn't fix it on my own.

My doctor referred me to the urgent care area in the hospital. I got to talk to an RN who specialized in mental issues about everything that's bugging me. No I'm not going to go into detail here mainly because it will reveal things about my location and my family life that I don't want to delve into for personal reasons.

The basics is I'm exceptionally unhappy with my life in general. I don't sleep well. I'm not enthused about anything (even writing) anymore. I hate my job. I hate the way my life has ended up. I hate myself. I want to go to sleep and not have to wake up to face the shit-hole that has become my life.

This is not where I wanted to be at this point in time. I had everything (or at least most of it) planned out. I had a way to get there. Then the train came off the track and I had no idea how to get it on the right path again. I still don't know how to get everything where it's supposed to go.

I think most of it comes from this cloud hanging over me, that has been hanging over me, for the better part of a decade. I don't think I'm worth it so I kind of hide out in this little corner and hang on the fringes of life. I don't want to cling to scraps anymore. I want to get out there and have a life, including marketing and publishing my novels but I don't feel like I'm good enough. I feel useless. I feel inadequate. There's no point in trying because it's not going to work anyway. I never have enough money and I'm so deep in debt I don't feel like I'll ever get back out.

So the RN got the emergency doctor to talk to me just to make sure I wasn't actually going to drive off a bridge or take a bottle of pills. I wasn't. I obviously didn't. The psychiatrist then spoke to me and prescribed me a month off work and two different kin of pills. One is a general anti-depressant/relaxant that I take every day and the other is a take-as-needed relaxant. I also got a few sheets of papers for referrals to grief counselling as well as therapists I can talk to. On Monday someone's going to be calling so they can make arrangements to come check on me through the month.

Thankfully the pills weren't too expensive because I had to pay for them out of pocket since my medical didn't kick in yet at work. Yes, even though I'm in Canada I still have to pay for my medication if I have no benefits through work. OHIP does cover some stuff but not this. Yes I do get a reduced rate (I'm sure) because I'm on a sort of benefit through the government but the pills were not free.

Anyway, I took the first one today. I know they say the pills aren't supposed to be working right away (about 3-5 weeks) but I don't feel like bursting into tears at the drop of a hat. I don't feel like ending it. I actually made a necklace today which I haven't done in months. I also felt disconnected. Kind of like I'm wasn't fully attached to my body. To be honest I think I was a little high. That feeling's gone now but man it was strong this morning. Right now I want to take a nap. And my mouth/throat has been really dry all day.

Oddly enough I feel like I could handle working. Do I want to go back? Nope. You can bet your life I'll be using at least part of this month to find a different job. The other part will be spent on novel writing, jewellery making, advertising Avalora, and reading.

I know I had a month off in January but it wasn't really a month off. I was freaking out about finding a job, worrying about training for the job I did get, and generally panicking about every little thing. Now? Eh, not so much.

Yes I'm still worried about money but it's at the back of my head. I know I have something coming to me Friday and I might not get sick leave benefits right away but I'll get something. I still have a job when I go back after a month. There are other issues and concerns which were bugging me (and still have the potential to bother me) but again: not an issue.

The concerns still need to be addressed of course but they aren't a horrifying monster that's going to bite my head off. They're more a bug I have to gather the courage to crush.

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rage, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Why did I pick it up?

Continuation of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I never stop reading a series once I start and I go until it's done, well, unless it's taking too long between books or there are 17+ books then I get annoyed and wait for it to finish. And yes, I am currently waiting on a 17+ book series to finish so I can buy everything at once then go from the beginning. I might name the author at some point.

Anyway, I started this one on January 29th and finished it on February 2nd, again reading on breaks at work and maybe an hour outside of work. This is how short these books are and I know if I really wanted to I could finish the series in a week. But meh. Onwards.

The Review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling:

I'm starting to think the same pattern is going to continue with every book and I'm not sure if I want to be annoyed or not yet. We left Harry heading home to his muggle foster parents who hate him and we pick up with him having another crappy summer. To be honest I can't remember what happened to Harry this summer...wait, he ballooned his equally horrible aunt and spent the summer in the Leaky Cauldron. Right. 

He did actually make it on the train though and ended up sharing the compartment with Remus Lupine who is the new Dark Arts teacher.

This is another thing that's starting to make me roll my eyes. Every year they get a new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher. I get the firing of the first one. He was working with Voldemort. I get the firing of the second one. He was a weak plot device and an idiot. I was kind of hoping Lupine stuck around because he was a good teacher but no. Turns out he's a werewolf and the parents are afraid of him freaking out so he elects to leave. Never mind the fact he can be controlled with a potion. It's just tradition for the teacher to leave and for Harry to get a new one.

And oops, revealed the werewolf thing a little early. But really, with a name like Lupine and drinking something Snape cooks up for him once a month, you kind of suspect something's up.

We also have the Sirius Black plot line and of course (like in other books) Black isn't who everyone says he is. Oh, neither is Ron's rat Scabbers. I do appreciate the Scabbers and Black story line. Those were well done.

Harry completely disregards the rules multiple times despite them being put in place especially for him since everyone things Black is out to kill him. I get the whole "I do what I want cuz I'm the main character and I'm special thing" but this is ridiculous. And I'm fairly sure all the Weasley Twins are is a plot device to help Harry get out of Hogwarts. Neville's a plot device to have tightened security with the whole password thing. Wood is a plot device, 2D character to talk about Quiddich and you KNOW because Wood says it's his final year on the team they're going to win the cup. This is how things work.

And yes, make the book-worm take on more than she can chew and have her freak out. It's believable but the fact Hermione uses a Time Turner to illegally take more classes is a bit, eh. She slaps Malfoy too which is so out of character even Ron didn't know what to do with it. She is 13 by this time so...

Again Harry breaks a bunch of rules and is virtually unpunished. This time Ron breaks a leg, literally, so many in the next book Harry with think before dawning his invisibly cloak to go recklessly solving some new mystery, yes? I doubt it.

I get he's a main character and he's supposed to be kind of reckless and his dad was the same way but really now, this is getting a little disbelieving. The fact the Headmaster of the school is letting Harry get away with all this stuff is a bit insulting. It's Dumbledore's job to teach his students to kind of you know, respect the rules and all that.

But hey, kids book so I can't complain too much. The bows were neatly tied but had a bit more mystery to them this time around. You can tell Rowling's becoming better at making a mystery and stringing you along with this book.

Oh, the Dementors were iffy. Basically they're these kind of mindless drones that feed of positive emotions regardless if a person is innocent or not. Kind of a crappy punisher-type person to send out and an equally worse security guard. I can say they'd have fun trying to beat up a few of my characters. When someone IS fear and nightmares, well...

Would I read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban again?

Since it would only take four or so hours: sure, why not? It's entertaining and a light read when someone doesn't want to think.

The Negatives:

There's a formula to the plot and I can all ready predict the next book: Harry has a summer with his horrible Muggle foster parents but gets saved by Ron, Harry goes to school and discovers a new mystery to solve (presumably there's a Goblet of Fire), Ron and Hermione get into an argument of some sort, Neville acts as a plot device, Snape and Draco do mean things to Harry, Harry breaks a bunch of rules to narrowly save the day with Dumbledore's uncanny help and everything ends neatly wrapped. Oh, and a new Defense of the Dark Arts Teacher. And Quiddich. TO THE AMAZON REVIEWS!

These are seriously becoming my favorite part of doing the Harry Potter reviews because they're so freaking hilarious.

...and now my fun-time is ruined by Amazon who has for some strange reason put reviews for Deathly Hallows into book 3. HUH? The first two for Azkaban are the same Pottermore complaints. You'd think someone would have picked up on the Pottermore issue by now...

OH! There's a "this book is evil and teaches our kids to practice horrible magic!" fanatic Christian review. One goes as far to say this book will affect a child's spiritual health. Hey, Christian Parents: IT IS FICTION! IT IS DESIGNED TO GET YOUR CHILDREN TO BE CREATIVE! Also: The Hell book are you going to find out there that doesn't include magic or "violence" or evil? When you do find one, lemme know.

I do like the review from the young girl who says she thought the book was the best ever back in grade 1 but because she's gone on to read other things, she's realized it's not. Harry Potter was her stepping stone into the world of fantasy fiction and I give kudos to JK Rowling for making it happen.

Then someone compares Harry's scar to being a Satanic "S" for "destroyer" and representing Zeus. *giggles* Also, reading tea-leaves is demonic, don't you know? Oh, there's the "this is to(o) long!" complaints.

And AGAIN someone telling people to go read GRR Martin. PEOPLE. HARRY POTTER IS FOR UNDER 10 YEAR OLDS. UNDER 10 YEAR OLDS SHOULD NOT BE READING GRR MARTIN BECAUSE HE "DOES FANTASY BETTER". Christ. And while we're at it: Tolkien and CS Lewis are meant for older audiences as well.

There are a few "the plot is recycled" reviews which are entirely true. But a newer reader won't notice. Again: these books are MADE for the newer readers.

Final Review: 2/5 for the voracious reader. 4/5 for the children it's meant for.

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rage, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tale of the Twins: The Re-Vamp

Shush, I'm totally allowed to have a corny pun.

Anyway, yes, I am re-vamping the Tale of the Twins. For those that don't know: I started this self-publishing journey back in March 2010 with the novel The Tale of the Twins (ToT). Yes, five freaking years ago. Go check back to the first post of this blog. I'll wait. Good? Good. *winks*

Moving on, it took me two of those five years to realize the vanity press I had gone through for ToT wasn't helping as I thought they would. Why'd I waste three more years? I was depressed. I still kind of am but that's not the issue here.

I was stuck in the vanity press and didn't know how to get out. I couldn't do any deals for the pricing of the book, I didn't like the cover, and I started to hate the story so I didn't bother marketing it. I didn't even get a sale for four years. My self-published books (unedited and put out in haste) were doing better as a whole than ToT. I'm fairly sure I've had more views to Avalora than I've ever had to ToT and Avalora's only been out for 8 days.


So, I finally said enough and bought back my rights. Basically it was an invisible bit of documentation saying I "owned" the story again. I didn't get images and the inside they did give me is so horribly formatted I can't even use it anyway. I'll have to compare it to the edited version I was given. Yes, it was a major set-back.

Enough of the whining and onto the good news.

I WILL be re-publishing Tale of the Twins this year. I want to read through the entire story again and make a few changes here and there, possibly drop a few characters (not sure yet), definitely drop the general swearing going on, spread out character descriptions better, and tweak a few things. Basically I'll be bringing it more in line with my 2015 writing style.

So when will it come out? I've no idea. This year hopefully before National Novel Writing Month because I need to work on Book 3 for NaNo. It's the only way I'll ever finish the damned series and in order to even write Book 3 I have to revisit Books 1 and 2.

This raises the question of when Book 2 will come out. Well, that depends on YOU. Editing costs money and I refuse to release a full length piece of fiction without proper editing. If you're going to be paying me $3.99-$4.99 for this book I want to make sure you get your money's worth. It's only fair.

So, what have I been doing since I bought my rights back in January? Waiting for the rights to come to me. Yeah I know. But I got them back last month and started putting together a brand-spanking-new cover...as seen below:


Yes, it's similar to the old one but it's something I can be proud of. I never really understood why there was water in the background of the old one or why the heads of both figures looked so fake. Plus Lysandra has her scythe so that's a bonus. I would've given Leopold his guns but it may have looked a bit awkward considering where his hands are...*cough*

I PROMISE I will be taking the time I do have to re-read ToT so it can be updated. Don't hold your breath as it is a huge undertaking as I'm still trying to keep up with Avalora's bi-weekly updates, other novels, and character images for the Avalora crew. Plus maintenance on the website, keeping this blog fairly active and working 8.5 hours a day, not including travel, so yeah. It'll take a while. But Tale of the Twins will return.

And if we're good, maybe this time around Book 2 can be published because I'll gain enough profit from Book 1 to edit Book 2. Then maybe, just maybe, we'll see how the damn thing ends.

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Writing Tip #11: World-Building

A novel is like a movie. You need a stage (setting) for your actors (characters) and a director (plot) to tell those actors where to go. If you're missing one element then your novel will fail. Like I said in the Setting blog post: you don't have a novel if you don't have a setting.

Setting can be as simple or as easy as you want. It can be earth based or a whole new world. When done correctly the setting can become it's own character, showing your reader the tone of your novel and giving them clues as to what's happening in your plot. No matter how complex your setting you're going to have to do a bit of world-building.

What is world-building? It's everything that occurs in the world you've made, or the world you're borrowing (earth). What do I mean by everything? Here's a world-building sample question list:
  • What kind of currency does your world have? What is the cost of living for an average person and how many may or may not be below the poverty line? Is there a big gap between poor and rich?
  • What kind of clothing do the people wear? Does this clothing change based on status? Who makes the clothing? How difficult is it to get the materials to make clothing?
  • How many countries are in this world? What are the boundaries between countries like? How is the world ruled (multiple Kings, one King, lord and ladies, etc)? How do people travel between countries? Do they need permits in order to travel from one country to another? How many languages are there? Are there different races and do the races have different customs than others?
  • What are the customs? Are there days of the week, months, years, different than ours? What holidays are there and how are they celebrated? What are the traditions?
  • How do they build and what are their main building materials? What are their streets and roads like? How are their cities and towns laid out? What kind of technology do they have?
  • What kind of food do people eat? At what time? How much? What kind of table manners are people in different castes expected to have? Does food differ between rich and poor and by how much? How easily accessible is food? Does each country have its own supply or do they trade for rarities and what are those treaties like?
  • What does society think about and how does it treat: sex, abortion, religion, specific customs, women, men, animals, and children? What are the general rules of society and how is a person punished if these rules are broken? What are the morals of society as a whole? What do they do for entertainment?
  • What is the main religion? Are their cults? How does believing or not believing in this religion affect a person?
  • What's the wild-life and fauna like? Are there hybrid animal-humans? Do some countries have specific fauna and others don't? What's the general layout of the lands? Forests? Rivers? Desert? Mountains?
  • Is there a caste system? If so, how does it work and can one move up or down in the system?
  • Is there magic? If so, what are the rules behind this magic? Do people need a totem, potions, rituals, or some other object of power? What are the limits to the magic? Is it only certain people who can perform it and if so, how are these people seen by society as a whole? Are certain mages liked more than others and are there forbidden magic types? Why are these magic types forbidden but others not?
Woah, woah, hold on. Don't start copy-pasting those questions into a new document (or hand-writing them) so you can use it as your starting point to EVERY novel. You don't need to know every little detail for every single world. Let me repeat that: YOU DO NOT NEED TO KNOW EVERY LITTLE DETAIL FOR EVERY SINGLE WORLD.

So, why the questions? They're examples and nothing more. You may need one set in great detail (like the magic set) and not another (like currency). Furthermore, your world-building serves the story, not the plot, these are two entirely different things. Your story is the finished work from first to last word. The plot is the series of events (conflict) that runs through the story. World-building is kind of like stepping stones.

Anyway, world-building serves the story. Your reader does not need to know every single rule in the world, especially if said rule will never come up. You're not writing an encyclopedia or new law book for your world. You're giving the reader enough knowledge so they know why the characters may be in trouble if these use certain types of magic or whatever. It's actually cool to leave out some little details so the world is mysterious and interesting.

A few things you should ALWAYS remember when world building:
  • Stereotypes should be avoided. Don't make white rulers and black slaves. Please, Higher Power, AVOID that.
  • Small details are sometimes better than a huge run on Bible. For instance, how a person greets a higher up can say a lot about the culture.
  • There are people who will not behave as culture dictates because of free will. (Raven in Bonehemmer Princess comes to mind...)
  • Just because a rule or punishment might be cool: if it's not important to the story then don't include it. On that note: Take a look at how the real world works and base your world off it.
  • Not everything has to be a huge info dump for the reader, show instead of telling.
  • The changes in one part of the world (new laws in a different country, draughts, famine, etc) effects other parts of the world.
World-building can be overwhelming but you have to think of your story and characters first. Mainly: what and who is your story about? Some examples:

The Princess: Is it about a princess who's kidnapped and has to find her way back home? Then you have to know the differences between poor and rich in your society, possibly about how clothing is made and who makes it, possibly other countries, and especially food and how it's obtained. Do you need to know about religion? Eh, not really. A simple "She prayed to the gods to let her get back home" is good enough. Do we need to know about politics? Hells yes. She's a princess, this is going to come up. So, who rules? How many rule? What's the hierarchy like in ruling? How does one secure land?

You'll also have to know why she's been kidnapped and what the people think of her. Is she important because she's a princess or are the people okay with her younger brother being the ruler even if he's not of age because they're a patriarchal society? Good example: The Starks in Song of Ice and Fire. Sansa and Arya are leveraged by many enemies because it's thought all the boys are dead and both girls will be the Stark in Winterfell. BUT, if one of the boys pops up then the girls don't matter so much.

The Mage: Someone comes into newfound magic! YAY! See that big set of questions up there about magic? Yeah, answer all those. Do you need to know how many Kings rule, who rules under them, etc? Eh, not really. A general mention but you're going to be focusing more on how society deals with any aspect of magic. So you won't need to know who the King was two centuries ago. Hell, depending on the story you might not even need to know who the current King is. And depending on who's coming into their magic you might not even need to know about how the 'rich' people live. Good example: Harry Potter. Everything in the story revolves around magic and how it's used and seen...so I'm told. I haven't actually gotten around to reading it yet.

The BARE BASICS of world-building are the following:
  • Is magic important to your story? If yes, go into some rules and limitations about magic.
  • Is money important in your story? If yes, go into currency arrangements, how people obtain money, etc.
  • Is the Leader (King, Queen, etc) important in your story? If yes, go into the differences between rich and poor and expectations of royalty. Who ruled before who and how the rule is separated between countries as well as what treaties their may or may not be.
  • Is someone in your story part of a religious faction? If yes, then you're going to need to go into religion.
No matter what you're going to need to know how society deals with certain issues pertaining to your character. If your character is "not normal" why are they against the societies norm and how does society view them? This can be something like your character being female in a male dominated world where women are seen as nothing but objects and baby makers.

Now do you see why you don't need the whole big list of questions in the beginning? World-building is completely dependant on your setting, your plot, and your characters. Again, it's only as complicated as you need it to be and you don't need to tell the reader everything.

A word of advice: figure out the main conflict of your story and how your characters are going to solve that conflict. World build from there. Remember, the world-building comes after you know what your stage (setting) is going to look like, who your actors (characters) are, and what direction (plot) the story is going in. And no, your reader doesn't need to know every little detail.

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Why did I pick it up?

Because it continues from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and I'll be damned if I ever start a series and don't finish it. I started this one on January 26th and finished it on January 28th using mainly breaks at the new job and an hour or so after work. It took about three or four hours all together.

The Review of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling:

 Again, this is a continuation. When we left Harry in Philosopher's Stone he was heading back home for the summer with his foster muggle parents who hate him. We pick up while he's still there and we've found out the muggles are afraid of him and rightfully so. Harry now knows how to do magic, something they don't believe in and fear.

The fear does cause Dudley, Harry's biggest bully, to go a little easier on him since Dudley's afraid Harry will do something. A house elf (Dobby) appears to tell Harry not to go back to Hogwarts which of course Harry refuses to do. Dobby accidently reveals Harry's not allowed to do magic in the muggle world so the Dudley's lock him in a room, start starving him and his owl, and make life miserable again for him. Fortunately Ron and his twin brothers Fred and George break him out of his house with their father's illegal flying car and take him back home with them.

Ten points for saving Harry from being starved and treated miserably. Minus 100 a piece for stealing a car that's illegal in the first place. This is made especially worse since the Weasley's were about to go see what was wrong with Harry and not responding to Ron's letters the NEXT DAY.

Harry enjoys living with the Weasley's, goes to buy his second year gear and ends up in the wrong place at the right time. The common tread in this book is that Harry (and Ron or Hermione) always seem to end up in the wrong place at the right time. They stumble (literally) upon things they shouldn't know like with Harry seeing Draco's father selling off some important items. There's also the time they overhear of Dumbledore's forced sabbatical and Hagrid being taken away under suspicion of opening the Chamber of Secrets.

And when they go to spy on Draco thinking he's the one who opened the chamber they find out about Draco's dads secret stash of stuff as well as Ron's dad being under inquiry for the whole magic-ing a car thing. Yes, the car the twins flew to save Harry. The same car Harry and Ron use to get to Hogwarts because Dobby prevents Harry from getting through Gate 9 and 3/4s. That incident is what causes Ron's dad to be put under inquiry by the way.

The worst part is, they had an owl and could have easily sent along a message that they couldn't get through the gate instead of you know, stealing an illegal car and using magic in front of muggles thus leaving Ron's parents stranded at the train station with no knowledge of how to get home by muggle ways.

Then there's the whole part about Harry not telling Dumbledore all that's going on (the hissing sounds he's hearing, the suspicions he has about the events going on in Hogwarts, etc.) and just continuing on his merry way in keeping secrets from the person who could help him and would totally understand what's going on.

This is what's annoying me the most about these books. Harry's keeping secrets and breaking HUGE rules but keeps coming out unpunished and relatively unscathed. It's kind of sending a message to kids in "hey, you can lie or break rules so long as you're saving the world." Yes, but to a point. I get the "it's for the greater good "concept and super heroes do it all the time but the amount of times Harry is doing it starts to get a little suspicious.

And then the car saves them from being eaten by spiders, Harry figures out how all this connects, and kills a Basilisk with a sword that appeared out of the Sorting Hat Dumbledore sent to him with Dumbledore's pet phoenix. Really? I mean, yeah send the one bird that can heal Harry from a Basilisk and the one object that can give Harry a magical sword only Gryffindor's can hold...urg.

There's coincidence and then there's...arg. I'm starting to see why these books are meant for people under the age of 12. Don't get me wrong: I still ENJOYED reading the book overall but if I wasn't an over 20-year-old who hadn't read hundreds of fantasy and sci-fi books I would be enjoying it a lot more.

Anyway, Harry saves the day and as in the first book: heads back home with the Dursley's to a horrible summer. Except wait, didn't Tom Riddle show Harry that Harry could have stayed at Hogwarts over the summer? And don't you think the Weasley's would have invited Harry to stay? *headdesk*

OH! The Sorting Hat putting Harry in Gryffindor is mentioned again. This time Dumbledore gives an epic quote that feels kind of wasted considering again, all Harry did was say "Please not Slytherin" and the Sorting Hat was all "Oh, okay." I mean I get Harry convinced the hat because it's the hat's job to put people in the proper house. I just don't see Harry thinking "please not Slytherin" as a convincing argument. And what was up with Lockheart as a character? He was just a device to distract Harry and allow the group to get the book out of the library to make an illegal potion.

Oh and a whole bunch of Hermione being all rule-breaky which isn't a part of her character at all. It's the Harry Effect I guess...

Would I read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets again?

Yeah probably. It's a nice, light read that's still entertaining when you're not thinking about the strings tying too neatly. I'm also waiting for someone to die with baited breath. KILL YOUR DARLINGS, ROWLING! KILL THEM ALL! *insert evil laughter* Sorry. I've obviously read too much Song of Ice and Fire.

The Negatives

Besides the aforementioned over-coincidence, lying, breaking rules, etc: not much. So again, to the 1-star reviews.

One person compared Harry Potter to Song of Ice and Fire. Why? Because "read Game of Thrones if you want a real series" Um. First: It's Song of Ice and Fire, not Game of Thrones. GoT is the TELEVISION SHOW. Second: COMPLETELY different intended audience. Like MILES different. So no, a 12 or under should not read SoIF if they want a real series. And the adults don't have to either if they don't want to. It's called personal preference and opinion and *le gasp* some adults out there aren't big readers so couldn't tackle something like SoIF if they buy the CDS to listen to Harry Potter.

Speaking of, apparently the audio books still suck, Pottermore is still crap, and the books are being delivered in horrible condition. I bought my Harry Potter series used so I expect them looking worn. When you're buying new: you expect new. I don't see why this issue hasn't been resolved.

As many reviewers point out: Good guys can lie, break rules, etc and not get punished but when a bad guy lies, breaks rules, etc then he is punished. So hey, as long as the ends justify the means it's all good. Not a good lesson for kids. Rules are rules and anyone who breaks them should be punished in some sense of the word.

The "WITCHCRAFT IS EVIL!" 1-stars were amusing as all Hell. I don't see how it puts down family values since the Weasley Family is all about being a family: standing up for each other, caring about each other, teasing your older/younger siblings, looking after each other, etc. This is one thing Rowling does exceptionally well: the Weasley Family.

Then there's the people saying it's too long. Again, it's a little over 300 pages which is average when it comes to pre-teen fantasy. Yes, I am aware of how wrong that might sound. Mind out of the gutters folks. Anyway, for the reviewer who told people to go read SoIF for a real series: these poor people thinking Harry Potter is long would die.

There are a lot of comparisons to Lord of the Rings and C.S Lewis. I say again: DIFFERENT AUDIENCES. Jeez. Then there's the people who say they don't read fantasy so don't like the book. *headdesk* There are a lot of "recycled the plot from book 1" which is true but again: book meant for people under 10 who are just starting to get heavy into reading so they don't notice these things. I think the adults (including me) reading this series and who have read a lot over the years have to remember this is a book for children, not well-read, avid reading adults.

Final review: 2/5 for a voracious adult, 4.5/5 for a child. Best features: THIS QUOTE "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities" from Dumbledore and the interactions of the Weasley family with each other.

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Writing Tip #10: Characters

Welcome to the final installment of a three-part blog series (within a blog series - blogception) dedicated to the basics of any novel. Part One was Setting, Part Two was Plot and in Part Three we have characters.

If you've been following along, let's continue the analogy. You've got your stage set up (Setting) and even if you don't or your set designers are on strike, it's okay. You know what direction you're going to go in (Plot) and again, if you don't then that's okay to. Now you just need to find some actors (characters). What's that? You don't know any actors? That's okay. This is going to help you send out advertisements.

As I've said before: there is no set way on how to get your movie, er, novel, started. You can start with characters, figure out a plot then put together a setting. You can also start with a plot, find the setting then make some characters. It's all up to you as an individual.

It completely depends on the story for me. I found about four or five good story concepts while cleaning out my closets in January. All of these ideas had characters and a basic rundown of plot and setting. When I started doing the pre-planning, that is, putting them in my idea list I didn't start with describing the same concept. One idea mentioned the plot. The second idea started with the characters. The third was the setting. The last was a combination of all three.

Again, it depends on YOU as a writer what you want to decide on first. With that being said: don't be afraid to take a plot and setting (or plot and characters, or setting and characters) and run with it. Free writing can sometimes help you figure out one of the missing elements. You can't wait around for inspiration to hit and sometimes have to go with what you have.

Okay. You need actors. Not just any actors, no, these actors are going to have to do what you say and follow along in your story. I wish you good luck. Characters can take a life of their own and it is best to follow along with what they're thinking sometimes. You're asking how we even GET actors, right?

Sometimes they'll come along on their own, introduce themselves with their name, likes, dislikes, personality, backstory, and everything you need to get the novel done. Other times they'll be this blank shadow person who doesn't know how to speak. Sometimes they'll have a backstory but no name or description. Other times they'll be a name with nothing else. It doesn't matter how they appear: you have to figure them out.

The best way to do this is to conduct a character interview. Ask them what their name is, what their goals are, and who they are in general. I know you can't literally sit down with this person but you're a writer. Envision yourself talking to this person, meeting them for the first time, and wanting to get to know them.

That is the key to any novel: making your characters seem like REAL PEOPLE. They might be in the most ridiculously fantastical world, but they still have to come across as REAL. So, how do you make your characters real? You act as if they are real.

They are your best friend (or worst enemy), you know every detail about them, you know what it takes to break them or build them up, and you FEEL when something happens to them. If you don't feel upset when they fail then your reader won't either. If you're not relieved when they've defeated the villain or made it out safely then your reader won't either. Characters aren't just disposable concepts. No, you have to see them as a PERSON or they will always remain two-dimensional and flat.

In summation: if you don't care about them then neither will your reader. It will show through in your writing (eventually) and people will begin to remark on not enjoying your story because of it. You can survive if your setting isn't hugely descriptive and you're on earth. People can fill in the blanks. You can survive if your plot is the same basic concept as hundreds of other books out there and you've tweaked it slightly to be vaguely different. You can't survive if your characters are irrelevant, unrealistic, and unemotional. It won't matter how awesome the plot or setting is because readers will not forgive a flat, unbelievable, and robotic character.

And again, you make them relatable, realistic, and emotional by thinking of them as REAL PEOPLE. Remember people react differently to the same situation and not every character will immediately grab a first aid kit and help the wounded. Some of them might faint. Some of them might throw up. Others might run away screaming. This is especially important when you're dealing with a group of characters and one gets injured.

If you're having trouble figuring out how real people act you can either go people watch for a couple hours on a day off (try not to be the creepily smiling person in the park though, okay? ;) ) or you can read a book with believable characters. Stephen King says it right: "If you don't have the time to read then you don't have the tools to write."

The best way to figure out how to succeed in making real characters (or a good plot behind a great setting) is TO READ. The next best way is to keep writing. Give your writing to friends and family (even online friends) and see what they think. You can't improve if you don't practice and figure out what you might be doing wrong.


Until next time thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Why did I pick it up?

Everyone else in the world has read it and there isn't a website you can go to that won't eventually contain some mention of Harry Potter. Go to iwastesomuchtime.com and you'll find Potter-heads talking about the books and thanking Rowling. Go to fmylife.com and you'll find people complaining about their lovers dragging them to movie premiers or conventions. The cheezburger conglomerate of websites has one fully dedicated to Harry Potter and it's mentioned in RageComics, WebComics and various others. Hell, there's a site associated with "Taste of Awesome" that has "Taste of Harry Potter" with memes and other stuff.

I ignored the entire explosion for as long as humanly possible. I didn't even buy the books until last year and even so they were from a used bookstore. For some reason it took a while to find the second book. I would have read it sooner but I was in the middle of ploughing through the Song of Ice and Fire series then became series-overloaded and read a bunch of stand-alones.

I finally cracked open the spine of Philosopher's Stone because I didn't want to continue in what I thought was a stand-alone but turned out to be book 1 of 7. Anyway, I started it on National Reading Day (Jan 24) while waiting to meet up with a friend and finished it Sunday Jan 25 in the morning.

Before we continue let it be known I am forming these opinions from (sort of) two points of view: 1) An avid reader who's lost count somewhere around book 2000 of how much she's actually read 2) A first time reader. Big difference of opinion between the two? Yep. Shall we?

The Review of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling:

If you don't know what this series is about by now then dig yourself out from under your rock and Google it. I kid. The book opens with the celebration of Voldemort disappearing through the eyes of the Muggle family the Dursley's. We find out the Potters are related to the Dursley's through Petunia Dursley. The Potters die and Harry is left on the doorstep of the Dursley household by Hagrid in thanks to Dumbledore.

Harry grows up as most kids do but he's forced to live in a cupboard, is barely allowed food, and isn't allowed anything his annoyingly spoiled rotten cousin Dudley is allowed. I took a step back here and thought that someone in this poor kid's school should have noticed some form abuse but it was never mentioned.

I mean, Harry was wearing hand-me-downs that obviously didn't fit him, was being beat up, had glasses that were taped together and was half-starved. You would think a teacher might have become suspicious of something. But no, Harry lives in Hell until his 11th birthday.

Then the letters are delivered. And delivered. And delivered which was freaking hilarious. Vernon's attempts to prevent Harry from finding out he's a wizard are comical and the (second) introduction of Hagrid is awesome.

Harry realizing he's a wizard and the entire scene about buying his supplies and getting to Hogwarts was well described. The magic has rules, it has to be taught, their are different veins of it, and it's complex. It's a good magic system and works for the book.

Admittedly I knew kind of how the book ends and who the minor bad guy was. It was still cleverly hidden under the guise of Snape being the one out to get Harry during Harry's first year at Hogwarts. Another thing that bugged me is the simple fact of people saying Harry convinced the Sorting Hat to put him in Gryffindor. All Harry did was think "Anything but Slytherin" and the Hat said "Oh, okay, Gryffindor then." There was no convincing and no arguing between the two.

You can kind of guess someone is leading Harry along in the discovery of who's trying to swipe the philosopher's stone and how he finds out in the first place. We find out it was all Dumbledore in the end which I suspected. It still made for an entertaining read, especially watching these kids figure things out and put the pieces together.

It did strike me as odd to remember these kids are only 11. Hermione seems way too brilliant to be only 11. And magic or not, what school let's kids wander about without guides when there's a random missing stair in the middle of a stairwell? It seemed at times the group was more akin to middle or later teens than pre-teen, especially Harry's reactions when facing the mini-bad.

Harry being as good as a kid who's been on a broom most of his life is unbelievable. Natural or not there should be some stumbling about, some kind of fear, something when Harry gets on the broom the first time to get back Neville's dropped rem...stone thing. Sorry, I suck with names. Harry being able to control a broom because his father was a natural is like saying the kids of Nascar racers can get into a Nascar racing car and have no issues even though they've never driven. Ain't gunna happen no matter how good your parent is.

Harry being given a flute by Hagrid when there's no indication Harry even plays music is too convenient when it so happens the flute is the object that stops Fluffy from attacking them. Also, what 11 year old who's never held a flute knows how to play it well enough to subdue a Cerberus? The fact two 11 year olds can do it is too neatly bowed. I would have rather one of them know a spell for putting the creature to sleep then just happen to know how to play a flute a mentor just happened to give them.

Then the school year passing so damned quickly with no real mentions of a lot of the spells they learn or how Harry's adjusting to magic life. There's not even a whole "OMFG WHAT!?" panic scene. I don't care who you are or how young you are: you see magic for the first time and you're gunna freak out for a while.

What also throws me off is some of the names. You have two main males as Harry and Ron. Normal, simple syllables, easy to pronounce. The main female? Hermione. The Hell? I'm not 100% sure I'm saying it right in my head. Why does it have so many more letters than the other two? If this is the case, shouldn't she be the hero, not Harry?

With the simplicity of Harry and Ron, we've got names like Vernon, Petunia, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Neville, and Seamus. There are other simple names like Draco and Snape but if we really wanted a contrast between the trio of heroes and the others Hermione's name should be more like Harry or Ron.

And yes, I do get some of the names not matching up because wizards/witches vs muggles but Hermione comes from a family of non-wizards. Harry's parents were both magical. Ron's whole family is magical. And yet other wizards are Albus, Severus, and Quirinus Quirrell. The HELL? I'm also leaning towards Quirrell being killed because wow, that name would've pissed me off to keep writing it over and over.


Would I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone again?

Yeah, probably. It is enchanting and funny.


The Negatives

Besides the aforementioned naming, the disbelief of Harry master a broom so quick, and the disbelief at times that these kids are 11: I can't think of anything. So, off we go to Amazon to see what those 1-star review said.

There are A LOT of negatives about Pottermore which is a little disturbing. Something so huge and directly connected to the author should not be giving buyers such issues. There are some translation issues which is again, bad research on someone's part. One review said the book was too long. At 309 pages, um, no, it's about average. Any shorter and it'd lose the descriptions entirely and those descriptions are what make the book magical.

One review said the characters were too stereotypical and the plot was ripped off from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Fair enough. I dare said reviewer to find me a book that isn't ripped off from some other book in some way though. I also dare said review to find me a book without stereotypes in any sense of the word. Stereotypes are stereotypes because in some instances they're completely true.

We've all known the preppy, know-it-all nerdy girl in school. I was one. The fat kid being the evil jerk? Yeah, there were some over-weight boys in elementary who were jerks and greedy. It does annoy me that Dudley is pictured as dark haired in the movies when it so obviously says he's blonde in the books.

Other reviews said the books were boring and like most other wizardly stories out there. JK Rowling is an average author with a typical story and that's fine. She wrote the right book at the right time for the right audience and became famous. One in a million chance and it took. I say good for her.

The concept that seems to irk most reviewers is the fact Harry lied, disobeyed rules, and did "bad guy" things to save the world. Yeah, cuz heroes can't do bad. How many times have the Avengers destroyed a city to save it? How many times have good guys kept a secret in order to save the world? We all know how horrible Dr. Greg House was but people LOVED his character and he saved people.

Also, Harry's 11. He's totally allowed to hate the people who hate him or treat him wrong. Saying he can't hate his enemies is ridiculous. Having the entire book in Harry's perspective? Uh, yeah, why not? His name's the one in the title, what did you expect? No we're not going to see Draco, or Ron or Hermione's perspective because THEY are not what the book is about. Though I am sure there was a perspective shift to Hermione when Harry almost fell off his broom in Quiddich. No way would Harry have seen Hermione going after Snape to stop him from jinx-ing Harry's broom.

I do agree with one reviewer in saying the villains all seem completely unredeemable. There's no gray-area when it comes to the villains but apparently Snape is a pretty good guy even though he's evil. Plus this is only book one so nothing is solid yet.

Final review: 2/5 for avid readers out of the age bracket. Some things were too unbelievable (flute and broom handling), the names threw me off, and the story itself was kind of, eh. Entertaining yes. There were some good one-liners and nice comic relief ("But there's no wood!" *snickers*). For intended audience and non-avid readers: 4/5.

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.