The Things We Connect With

When you read a book, what are the things you connect with? Are there certain factors that stand out to you more than others?

I read mostly YA, but I don’t shy away from any particular genre, and do stray into adult literature on occasion. For me, there are a couple of elements that leap off the page, and make it easier for me to connect with the story and characters. In regards to the latter, give me a good sarcastic sidekick any day. One who has more purpose than to crack jokes, but still excels at being a master of wit with a cutting edge. I like a best friend or ally who is not afraid to call the hero out on their problematic behavior, and has a whole, well-developed personality all on their own aside from being a sidekick. I especially love strong friendships in YA of any genre. I don’t want a romance story where a relationship becomes the protagonists’ sole focus/purpose, so friendships with a solid foundation are often a favorable complement to that.

When it comes to protagonists, I connect with their flaws. Give me a hero or heroine who is not always likeable, who makes questionable calls, or who makes mistakes that possibly inspire various degrees of calamity. When they have distinct, relatable, or plot-affecting flaws, I am more likely to connect with them. I don’t want to see a female protagonist whose only flaw is that she’s a bit clumsy, or is “too nice,” or some cop-out like that. Give me drama. Give me reasonable self-doubt.  I like it because it gives them more room for growth, as well. I especially like it when a hero/heroine has to fix a major problem that they cause, whether by accident or on purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I like heroines who kick ass and are amazing with a sword… but because I don’t kick ass, I find it harder to personally connect to them.

Villain-wise, I need an antagonist who is more than just their bad deeds. Someone who actually has a point, but is going about it the wrong way. I mean, some villains are just evil to be evil, and that’s fine – but I prefer it when there’s a reason, and the reason has a solid explanation behind it. Or, sometimes I don’t even want a villain – it all depends on the story. Don’t give me an antagonist for the sake of it.

For example, some of my favorite series are The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot, The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, and The Charmed Life series by Jenny B. Jones. They contain some of my favorite characters, and ones I have connected with the most. As much as I love a good serious drama/fantasy, it’s stories with humor that I am drawn into the most – hence Meg Cabot being my favorite YA author.

It’s a similar experience with films, though the things I connect with tends to differ. I’m drawn in by the typical things, like basic plot, genre, and acting prowess. But when I’m actually in the theater, it’s different things that snare my attention. Don’t get me wrong, I still like snarky sidekick characters, occasionally-unlikeable protagonists, and conflicted antagonists. However, the things I connect with the most are more on a visual and auditory level.

I am compelled by strong cinematography/set design/production design. If a film is aesthetically pleasing to me, it has a higher change of connecting. Recent visually-inspiring films on my list include First Man, Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water, and The Favourite. It’s also part of the reason why I will see any film directed by Guillermo del Toro, Joseph Kosinski, and Zack Snyder. All-time favorites in the visual department include Tron: Legacy, Man of Steel, Crimson Peak, and Oblivion.

Another thing I connect with the most is the music. I need a soundtrack that is part of the film, not just the background. Composers who excel at this are Alexandre Desplat, Ennio Morricone, the Gregson-Williams brothers, and Ramin Djawadi. Also, who can forget John Williams? He’s the perfect example. You know the themes to Jaws, Star Wars, and Jurassic Park because they are so interwoven with and indicative of the film itself. When the score really suits the film, I am more likely to connect with it.

So, I have to ask – what are the things you connect with, whether it be in books or film?

Just in Case

I don’t know if there is an official name for something like this, but I have come to realize that I suffer from a syndrome that I refer to as “Just in Case-itis.” This affliction often goes hand-in-hand with a plague of “What if?”s.

I am incapable of packing for anything – be it a weekend trip, an overnight, or a week-long vacation somewhere – without packing several miscellaneous items that I might end up needing. And about 85% of the time, I don’t need them, but I am comforted by the idea that I do have those things if needed.

For example, I always carry a spare pair of socks in my bag. Because you never know when it could rain. This has actually come in handy more than once, and I actually lost a few pairs due to lending them out to my peers who forgot to bring socks for gym class in high school. I also have about 17 hair ties, band-aids, a book, 6 pens, a journal, an emergency granola bar for sudden bouts of hunger, and 2-3 chargers for various devices in my bag at any given time.

As a rule, I keep a spare change of clothes in the trunk of my car, and an “emergency kit” complete with spare toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, soap, and other hygienic necessities, because you never know when you’re going to get stranded somewhere. I also have a blanket, a car emergency kit, an umbrella, two ice scrapers, winter boots, and a spare winter jacket. You will never catch me unprepared for an unexpected weather disaster.

Whenever I travel somewhere, I bring at least 3 extra full outfits. So, if I’m going away for two days, I pack five outfits. If I go away for longer than a week, I more or less bring my entire wardrobe. This has also saved my life on more than one occasion, as the last time I traveled, I spilled coffee all over one of my outfits, and thus needed at least one extra outfit. I also tend to prepare outfits for unexpected scenarios – like, I’ll bring a formal outfit, just in case a surprise fancy dinner ends up in my schedule. This has never happened, but I like to be prepared. You’ll never catch me unawares!

I like to think my preparedness could rival the boy scouts, but most of my preparedness is for events that are unlikely to happen, simply because I can’t shrug off the “what if?s.” What if it snows? What if I get invited to a premiere? What if I accidentally fall in the ocean? What if someone is wearing the same shirt as me and I’m forced to change in order to avoid an accidental twinning moment? If there is a potential emergency brewing on the horizon, I want to be prepared for it.

Does anyone else suffer from “Just in Case-itis” or something similar? Do you also over-prepare for unlikely scenarios and have a full, bloated suitcase for a 1-2 day trip? Vacationing in the sun and heat, and yet, you feel compelled to bring a heavy sweatshirt along in your bag? I’d like to know!

Most American

Welcoming November with a little poem….

So an atheist
a future pastor
an aspiring writer
and a redhead
are all sitting at a table
playing Apples to Apples.

The category was ‘American.’
The future pastor would decide.
The atheist played ‘Freedom.’
The aspiring writer played, ‘The Electric Chair.’
The redhead played ‘Lucille Ball.’

All were at least somewhat American
or at least American-adjacent.

The future pastor chose ‘The Electric Chair’
as most American.

America!
Land of Freedom
of Lucille Ball
and most of all
The Electric Chair.

Tis the Season!

Once again, my dear friends and readers… it is holiday time. Ho, ho, ho, jingle bells, silent night, yada yada yada.

As you may or may not know, I am currently employed full-time in the wonderful, if occasionally soul-crushing world of retail. Also, I recently received a promotion, so this is my first holiday with this elevated level of responsibility. The pressure is on, and I’d be lying if I didn’t find it a bit daunting. Especially since, for a variety of reasons, Christmas is shaping up to be a significantly more monstrous beast this year than in years previous.

In order to keep my novel writing alive for the next few months, I am going to be posting on this blog only once a week, from November until January, just like last year. I will maintain the Friday slot, but Mondays will not resume until the holiday burst is over.

There will be a post this coming Friday, 11/2. Thank you for understanding!

 

Allie’s Awful Guide: Public Speaking

I used to be far more terrified of public speaking than I am now, to the point where I agonized over having to give speeches or presentations in class. I even opted out of presenting speeches a couple of times because losing a few points was preferable to standing up in front of an audience. However, over the years, I developed a few coping mechanisms that have helped me adapt. Unfortunately, most of my methods are, shall we say…. unorthodox. So unorthodox, I probably wouldn’t even recommend them, unless you have exhausted all other options.

1.) Wear something distracting, but not inappropriate!: I don’t mean show up to class in a Freddy Krueger costume or a swimsuit or whatever. When I was in college, I gave a few speeches and typically selected a “focal point” for my wardrobe. This gives the audience something else to focus on. I’m not sure what measure of success this tactic had, but I applied it in hopes that people would be too distracted by my hideous wardrobe to care about what I was saying, and it gave me a level of comfort. For example, I wore a hideous sweater and pigtails (PIGTAILS!) for several of my speeches during freshman year classes. I’m talking a grandma-level sweater, complete with snowflake embroidery. It was actually super comfy and I sort of wish I still had it…

2.) If you’re nearsighted, don’t wear your glasses!: This tip applies if you struggle with the idea of standing up in front of an audience and facing dozens of expectant eyes. My nervousness about public speaking gets insanely worse when I consider having an audience. I removed my glasses all through college if I had to give a speech – faces were blurry, but I could still read any notes or gesture accurately to my visual aid. It genuinely helped me relax while delivering presentations. Farsighted folks are up the creek with this one, though.

3.) Improve your PowerPoint game!: I know, most teachers or professors will tell you that the visual aid should not be the basis of your presentation – your words should be the focus, not whatever you’re displaying onscreen. I understand that point, but wholeheartedly disagree. I am a PowerPoint wizard and owe much of my minor public speaking success to my visual aids. There are ways to make a stellar PowerPoint that defines your presentation without going heinously overboard. As long as you don’t add too much superfluity – obnoxious sounds, clashing colors, too many annoyingly long transitions – you’ll be fine. You want your audience to be engaged with it. If I see an audience enjoying my PowerPoint, I am instantly more relaxed while speaking in front of them.

4.) Don’t over-prepare!:  I have given vastly better speeches when I haven’t been poring over my note-cards for hours. In my later college years, I stopped using note-cards altogether. I would get too focused on following what I had written down word-for-word and it stressed me out beyond belief, so when I fumbled over a sentence or two, it would derail me completely. Winging it completely is ill-advised, but I have found it loads better for my fragile nerves to just ensure I know my stuff, but don’t try and cram an entire speech verbatim into my head. I also put the keywords into my PowerPoint, just in case I get a bit lost!

5.) Nab an early slot!: If you are presenting in a classroom setting, don’t put it off as long as possible. Try and get in early so you get it over worth, especially if you’re like me and will be stressing out about your speech until the moment it’s over. You’ll be far more relieved watching others squirm over giving their presentations, knowing that you are already finished, than prolonging it until the final day.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

The Sky is Blue

After being discouraged from taking an art class while in high school, I decided to use one of my electives in college to take a Drawing course. I had always enjoyed art, so it seemed like a good choice to expand my skills and learn new techniques.

Long story short, I hated it. But I did learn one vital lesson, on the very first day of class, that I shall carry with me always.

This drawing course was taught by an eccentric artist. I imagine most of them are. She was almost like a caricature of an art teacher. Crazy hair, random statements, hyper-criticism of any art style that didn’t suit her preferences, and she occasionally wore her sweaters backwards. I’m sure she was a lovely woman outside of a classroom setting, but, to be totally honest, I don’t even remember her name because I must have blocked it from my memory out of sheer hatred for that class.

This professor also often accused me and my fellow students of not accurately “seeing” things, which made our artistic reproductions of fruit bowls or trees lackluster. She would lob us lofty musings, such as “It might look like a tree, but what do you really see?” and “You must look beyond the apples and oranges, and see the truth.” We began to suspect that we were the unwitting subjects of an elaborate sociology experiment. Alas, we were not.

I mean, I’m all for art. I’ve been to the Tate Modern twice. But this class made me never want to pick up an oil pastel or colored pencil ever again. She did have a point, though. Seeing is not always seeing.

On the first day of class, we sat outside on the grass in one of the campus courtyards. We had our pristine white sketchpads and unpeeled pastels at our sides. And our professor told us to look up at the sky, and describe what we saw. We did, unsure of what the point of the exercise was meant to be. We saw blue. On that day, it was cloudless blue. Of course, the answer was more nuanced than that.

She told us that yes, the sky is blue. But it is not one single shade of blue. I stared up at one patch of sky, and realized that it was comprised of several shades. One vast mural painted in a thousand, maybe a million shades. I had never noticed it before; how many different blue fragments make up even one little section of sky. I saw the sky every single day and never once realized the truth in it’s beauty. And in that moment, I was amazed.

I never managed to channel that kind of brilliance in my artwork – I mean, I only had 2 shades of blue in my palette – but it’s a lesson I never forgot. Look closer to see the truth. And I try to apply that lesson to my writing, now. Dive below the surface, and make readers examine the depths for new meaning.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

First Impressions

Despite all the times I’ve been told how important it is to make a good first impression, I notoriously suck at it. Really, I should say it’s a (constant) work in progress, because I am (constantly) working on it.

I have a few things working against me from the get go. The first is occasionally crippling anxiety. The second is an often overwhelming sensation of self-doubt. The third is a horrendous case of RBF, or Resting Bitch Face, which causes me to look perpetually angry and unapproachable even though I’m probably thinking about kittens or debating whether or not to stop for Starbucks on my way home. And the fourth is my voice, which harbors a naturally “harsh” pitch. So, in short, I’m a mess.

But, due to a recent promotion at work and some positive changes to the way I treat my mental health, I’m on a kick to try and “improve” myself, and one of the steps I need to make is getting better at first impressions. I’ve even been practicing my handshake, which is already much improved!

I’ve been told by people that I am now friends/acquaintances with that they were “intimidated by” or “afraid of” me when we first met – which, if you know anything about me, is absurd. I’m about as intimidating as a Jigglypuff. This is me, when angry:

maxresdefault.jpg

Not scary at all, right? Of course, that’s partially my own impression of me, which is skewed. I suppose that I make bad first impressions because I look and sound mean, unless I make an effort to actively soften or mask the rough edges of my personality. Combine that with anxiety, and it’s a recipe for disaster. For the record, I’m all in favor of the “be yourself” mentality. I’m not ashamed of who I am as a person in general. But when being myself is prohibiting my ability to network, make and maintain friends, appeal to readers, or do my job effectively, then maybe there are some things that need a bit of tweaking.

In my self-improvement efforts, I have been practicing my eye contact when speaking to people, especially when first meeting them. I usually avoid this like the plague, but I’ve been finding it much easier as I do it more often. This has helped to soften the blow of the other factors working against me. However, it’s more difficult to rein in the “RBF” because it’s the natural state of my face. To combat it, I’ve been attempting to be more attuned to what my face is doing when I’m around other people, and especially when speaking to others. I don’t want people to think I’m bored with what they’re saying because of my face, when oftentimes, I’m genuinely interested. So I’ve made an effort to be more aware of the rest of my body language as well, such as my posture and arm-crossing/whatnot, so if my face slips, at least the rest of me appears engaged.

I also try to be more aware of my tone of voice. As the unfortunate bearer of a distinct, naturally monotonous alto with a dry sense of humor, an affliction many other women also suffer from, I have been making a concerted effort to add inflection and enthusiasm into my voice, in proportion to what I’m saying. I sort of think of it as adding invisible emojis to my sentences. Again, I don’t think of it as being “fake.” I think of it as trying to accurately project what I’m feeling or what I intend to convey without being sabotaged by the natural state of my voice/face, and I do think it helps me improve how I come across when meeting people. I don’t want constructive criticism to sound like lambasting, or genuine compliments to sound sarcastic. At least, until I get to know people enough that they become aware of and understand my idiosyncrasies.

And, of course, one of the most important parts of making a good first impression is… earning the chance to make a second, or third. Or, if first impressions go awry, working on making the second one better, if possible. Get knocked down, get back up. Keep plugging away at the things I need to improve. I am a big “catastrophiser,” as in, my thoughts continually stray into “worst-case scenario” territory, but I’ve been getting better at not giving up at the first misstep, and forging ahead instead. Stare fear and anxiety and “what-ifs?” in the face, then stomp all over them.

If anyone else has good first impression tips or advice, or have faced a similar struggle, I’d love to hear from you!

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

 

 

A Glimpse….

It’s been two years since my YA novel  I’m With You came out, and though I hope to have my next YA/Fantasy novel out soon, I feel like I haven’t shared anything about my next project other than some vague comments. So, here’s an excerpt from the MS in its current state – obviously, since I’m querying and going through the next phases, nothing is set in stone and it is subject to change.

Not providing any context, though. Enjoy this little glimpse!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Okay.” I draw a deep breath and stand. “Let’s go.”

Vigo grins, but Lark’s mouth falls open. “You can’t be serious, Evie!” she shrieks, following me out of the room and down the hall. Vigo pads along behind us, his claws clicking on the hardwood. “You can’t go off to some other world—the otter just said it’s dangerous!”

“Which is why I can’t leave Becca there.” I throw the door to my bedroom open. Vigo scampers between my legs while I dump the contents of my schoolbag on my bed and start dashing between my bedroom and bathroom, grabbing whatever items might be useful on an expedition to another world. Somehow, I doubt I’ll need my hairdryer…

“But…but…” Lark watches as I fling drawers open, yanking clothes out and chucking them in the direction of my bed, though most miss the mark. “You wouldn’t even go camping with Reo and me when we were kids! This is like, a thousand times riskier!”

“Far greater than that, I would wager,” Vigo says, which is comforting.

Lark sticks her chin out. “Then I’m coming too.”

Vigo grimaces. “I cannot allow it, Miss Lark. Otherworlders are mistrusted where I come from—even more than mages. The fewer who pass through the portal, the better.”

Lark grants him a death glare that sends him scuttling beneath my desk.

“But… how am I going to know if you’re okay?” Lark’s tough-girl façade begins to crack, revealing genuine concern. “You can barely navigate your way around a mall!”

In my defense, it was only one time, and Victoria’s Secret was difficult to find.

“Lark, what choice do I have? Becca is my sister!” Storming emotions rattle my voice, but my resolve is galvanized. I shove some toiletries into my bag, which is now so bloated I doubt I’ll be able to carry it for long. “Besides—it’s my fault she got taken in the first place.”

“Evie, this is ridiculous! You can’t do this by yourself. What if you need help?”

“I’ll call if I get into trouble, Lark.”

“You think you’re going to have reception in an alternate world?”

Vigo emerges from his safe haven. “I will ensure that Evie is able to contact you. I have never attempted inter-world magic, but a sertio spell should work.”

“A serti-what?” Lark asks.

“A communication spell,” Vigo elaborates, as though the answer is obvious. “Quite simple. Even a novice can perform one.”

“Yeah, Lark. Even a novice can perform one.” My pitiful attempt at humor inspires no laughs.

“But…” Lark’s insistence flounders. “But…”

I take a break from my frantic packing to place firm hands on Lark’s shoulders. If the roles were reversed, and she was the one barreling down some unknown and unsafe path, I’d feel the same way. Although, I’m not sure she’d even attempt to save Reo from otherworldly peril.

“Lark, you need to trust me. Please.”

She stares at me, hard, determining whether or not to believe my bravado. After a moment of strained silence, her shoulders sag. I must look more confident than I feel.

“Fine, I get it—but swear to me, Princess.” Lark’s voice is steel. “The next time you go off on an adventure to another world, I get to come along.”

“Deal,” I agree, only because I assume one “adventure” will last me a lifetime.

Her eyes narrow. “Swear it.”

“I swear!”

“Swear it on Lea Salonga’s voice!”

I raise one hand. “I swear on Lea Salonga’s voice.”

“Good.” She sticks her nose in the air. “You have my blessing.”

I throw my arms around her, and she squeezes me with an urgency that nearly brings me to tears, partly because she’s crushing my spleen.

“Cover for me?” At least with fall break, we don’t have to worry about school for the time being. This little sojourn to another world likely won’t qualify as an excused absence in the eyes of school administration.

“Give me some credit, Evie.” Lark snorts. “What are best friends for?”

“I mean it, Lark—you can’t tell anybody. Especially not Reo.”

“Oh, please. Reo is the last person I’d tell. I’ll cook up a story, don’t worry.”

It’s reassuring to know that I can always depend on Lark, no matter how absurd the request is. This one has definitely rocketed to number one on the top ten list, and I doubt anything will ever top it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thanks for reading!

Home

Welcoming my favorite month with a poem. Happy October! Hope you enjoy!

 

Home

There is a light in her window.
A hopeful flicker,
or is it only melting wax?
Minutes dripping to nothing?

A glimpse of distant shores,
left you yearning for the foreign and the wild.
She is neither of those things.
She is safe, she is home.
Or she was.
Before dreams carried you away.

You once looked for the light in her window.
Returning from a storm-tossed sea,
with tales of treasures and paradise.
She would listen with twinkling eyes,
content to imagine
what lies beyond the gloomy harbor.
But she would never leave.

You broke free from repetition,
and your hungry eyes devoured alien lands.
You’d go farther, for longer,
even when her arms told you not to go.
But when you offered her your hand,
her feet were rooted to the dock.

She saw her hopes snuffed out,
when you boarded that last ship.
Now it seems as though
the light that guides you home
is not enough to make you stay.

She still lights the candle every night.
Though you have long since left.
I wonder if you can see the ashes,
from your far too distant world.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Autumn

All seasons have their own unique appeal and their own exclusive perks. My favorite season used to be winter…. until I learned how to drive. After several horrifying and near life-ending experiences navigating snowstorms in my old Subaru and my current Nissan, I no longer hold such favorable opinions of winter. Winter is also mega-depressing, especially in January and February. Spring should begin immediately after New Years, if you ask me… but anyway…

Now, in my adult years, my favorite season is autumn – a sentiment shared by many. This is not because I like pumpkin spice lattes, though. I actually detest all pumpkin-flavored treats, so you won’t find me clambering to get to Starbucks before a massive line forms, or bringing pumpkin cookies into work to share with coworkers. I love when the weather starts to cool, from abysmal heat and soup-like humidity to sweater weather. Nothing beats a nice, cozy sweater – except maybe a nice, cozy flannel. I like (a select few) horror movies. I love curling up on the couch with a good book as an autumn rain taps on the windowpane. I just feel happier when the leaves are changing, the skies are gray, and I can wear long-sleeves and boots and warm, fuzzy socks, and sip a salted caramel mocha.

The first “official” day of autumn was this past Saturday. Usually, the weather does not adhere to these markers and remains sticky and gross for a few more weeks, but in this instance, it actually listened – at least for now. I was at a family/friend gathering, and the weather was fairly autumnal – the air was crisp and cool, the skies were gray, and folks weren’t afraid to go and stand outside and chat and enjoy the outdoors. Beforehand, I got to browse a bit at Barnes & Noble and take advantage of their limited-time 20% off member discount. As far as first days of autumn go, it was pretty darn great.

And today (as I’m writing this it’s Sunday) the weather is much the same, though it’s also rainy. I’m going to an early-afternoon movie soon, I’ve already indulged in two cups of coffee with Cinnabon creamer, and I might even get to wear a sweater! And, later, I’m going to spin out some writing and be productive! This never happens so early in the season! It’s autumnal bliss, I tell you!

The major thing keeping me from looking into relocating into a state further south is the possibility of losing discernible seasons. I can’t lose autumn – I love it far too much.

So, I wonder  – what is your favorite season, and why is it so?

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.