Weekend Writing Warrior 7/22/18 #8Sunday

After All coverThis week’s excerpt is from one of my end-of-the-world stories, “Special,” that’ll be included in an upcoming collection. It leaves off from last week’s excerpt, where a young boy told his friends he had grass growing under his bed.

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I’d forgotten about it by morning, like I forgot about most of what he said, until at breakfast Yaya asked, “Where’s Niko?”

“He’s by the lake,” I answered, without hesitation.

“What lake?” Yaya’s eyes narrowed, probably suspecting this was another of Niko’s tricks he’d convinced me to go along with.

“The one at our old plantation.”

She grabbed my arm, her eyes wide in disbelief. “Tevi, has Niko gone Outside?”

“Yes.” I closed my eyes, honing in on where my brother was. “He wanted to find some grass to show Szymon.”

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Read the rest of “Special” over at Medium, then post a link to your eight-ten sentence blog entry, or join the fun at the Weekend Writing Warriors website.

About After All:

Nuclear war. Plague. Asteroids. Financial collapse.
Dystopian governments determined to exterminate anyone different.

Through it all, humanity struggles on.

And if you’re a writer, sign up to be a Friday Five author, which gets you and your latest work featured on my blog.

Friday Five: David Taylor II

Today’s Friday Five focus is David Taylor II, author of children’s, sci-fi, and fantasy short stories, novels, and poetry.

David Taylor II is an author, playwright, songwriter and producer. He is the author of the new children’s favorite Diary of a Smart Black Kid and is also adding to his Dear God children’s series. His latest novel, Lucifer: Soldiers, Serpents and Sin, is an internationally best-selling book. He has created an entire story world called The Realm from that first book and continues to expand it. He is a co-composer for the smash hit theater production, Eye of the Storm:The Bayard Rustin Musical, nominated for 3 Black Theater Alliance awards. In 2015 his book Wayward Pines: Survival, from the hit Fox TV show of the same name, broke top 10 in the Amazon best seller list and is currently still in the Top 100 of Kindle Worlds sci-fi. He is the proud father of two, as well as a lover of football, pizza, and a good glass of lemonade.

11-year-old Baron Winters, protagonist of Diary of a Smart Black Kid: Sixth Grade, has a funny name. He’s smart, black, and a geek. That means parents, bullies, and bullets. And girls. He chronicles his foray into middle school, trying to understand it all. And survive.

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David Taylor 21. What author has influenced your writing style/subject the most and why?

It wasn’t an author, it was a film director, James Cameron. The man is a master storyteller and his movies hold up even years later. So I wanted my books to be good stories that hold up over time.

2. What genre do you currently read most and why?

Mainly fantasy and comic books, because it keeps my mind expanding.

3. If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

Ooooh I’ve thought about this one six ways to Sunday. If I have to pick only one, it would be super speed. Everything changes if you can move at super speed.

4. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had and why? What was the best thing about that job and why?

I worked at a certain retail outlet and the boss was horrific. Just mean on purpose. But at least I got discounts on purchases.

5. Why should people read YOUR stuff? Who’s your target audience and why?

People should read my stuff because I don’t care what I’m talking about, I’ve got a fresh twist on it you’ve never heard before. My target audience is people that love to Geek out as much as I do!

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Diary of a Smart Black Kid is currently available on Amazon.

Become a Friday Five author or read previous author interviews.

Travel Tuesday: The Land of Smiles

I love to travel, and I love to seek out experiences that maybe don’t involve the best judgment but always result in the best stories.

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Bangkok

Boats transporting tourists on the Chao Phraya River

 

Thailand is known as “The Land of Smiles,” and aside from the apathetic customs agent at the Bangkok airport who expressionlessly stamped our passports, the country seems to be living up to its name.

According to the internet as well as several locals we’ve talked to, saving face is very important in Thailand. This means that Thais will smile not only when they’re happy but also when they’re seething inside at some affront from that damn tourist. And they’ll also smile when they’re ripping you off.

My son and I are spending a month in northern Thailand, and we opted to take the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, partly as a chance to see more of the countryside but also mainly because I like trains. This left us with about twelve hours to kill in the capital. We checked our luggage at the station, then ventured out to find some food and explore the neighborhood.

Part of being a Westerner in a non-Western country means that you’re an easy mark. I’ve spent enough time in India to realize just how much pale-skinned people stick out, and also how lazy tourists are and how easily they make dumb decisions. Tuk-tuk drivers and travel guides have also realized this, and that results in Westerners being accosted by offers to take them places rather than letting them walk.

As soon as my son and I stepped onto the sidewalk, a tuk-tuk driver approached us. Would we like a boat tour of Bangkok? Only two hours, and he would take us there, just 50 baht (about $1.50USD). I didn’t want to spend a whole day sitting at the train station, so off we went.

Our driver was very friendly and chatty. He knew enough English to tell us about his young daughter, and that America meant freedom, smiling all the while. He delivered us to a boat company’s dock, where we paid a ridiculous amount to take a boat along the Chao Phraya River to the floating market, then to the Royal Palace, and then back to our starting point. Our driver emphasized, several times, that we would end up where we started.

We climbed in our boat and headed out, our boat pilot (captain? driver?) delighting in hitting the wake so water sprayed in our faces. Several smaller boats approached us selling cheap crap — I mean handicrafts — and I bought a bottle of water from one just because the seller was so damn smilingly persistent. We stopped for lunch at a small market, then hopped back in the boat to go to the palace. We landed and paid a small dock fee, and then our pilot waved and sailed off.

I tried to find out when and where he was coming back to pick us up, but all the smiling people conveniently didn’t understand my English. We eventually stumbled across a man with a similar racket to our tuk-tuk driver, who took us back to his tour organizer — who then tried to sell us a pricy one-way ticket back to our original location.

I declined.

My son and I were fuming. We’d either been blatantly lied to and ripped off, or we’d misunderstood our own tour organizer and this new person was trying to rip us off now too. Then add insult to injury that the palace charged admission of 500 baht per person, it was 90 degrees and sunny with 90% humidity, and we were jetlagged from traveling halfway around the world in the last 36 hours. Suffice to say, we were not happy campers.

But then we stopped for a bit of perspective. The boat ride had been exhilarating, the market food was delicious, and we’d had the chance to see more of Bangkok than we would have had we stayed in the train station (especially when you add in the tuk-tuk ride we took back to the station). So we chalked it up to a stupid tourist learning experience and ended up enjoying the rest of our day.

After all, we were in the land of smiles.

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This story originally appeared on Medium.

 

Weekend Writing Warrior 7/15/18 #8Sunday

After All coverIt’s been almost a year since I’ve participated in WWW!

This week’s excerpt is from one of my end-of-the-world stories, “Special,” that’ll be included in an upcoming collection.

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Growing up, Niko didn’t do anything special. He played with the other children in the caverns into which we’d moved to shield us from the airstrikes. He matched their outlandish stories about their dead fathers’ exploits with ones about our own father, trumping them by including the adventures of his namesake, even though no one had heard of him.

One day, when we were about eight and Niko was running screaming with the others playing king of the hill, he pulled out the boldest story of all: “I have grass growing under my bed.”

Szymon paused from shoving him off our dirt pile hill. “No one has grass growing anywhere.”

We’d read about grass and about other plants, and once we’d even toured the hydroponics labs the soldiers maintained. But no one actually had plants of their own. How would they grow in the caverns, without sunlight?

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Read the rest of “Special” over at Medium, then post a link to your eight-ten sentence blog entry, or join the fun at the Weekend Writing Warriors website.

About After All:

Nuclear war. Plague. Asteroids. Financial collapse.
Dystopian governments determined to exterminate anyone different.

Through it all, humanity struggles on.

And if you’re a writer, sign up to be a Friday Five author, which gets you and your latest work featured on my blog.

Friday Five: Francis Sparks

Today’s Friday Five focus is Francis Sparks, author of mystery/thriller and fantasy short stories and novels.

Francis Sparks lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with his amazing wife Kelly. If he’s not working on his next novel or short story, you can find him teaching his children about dragons.

His debut novel, Made Safe, depicts the gritty underbelly of the American heartland. For Private Investigator Moses Winter, the job just got more complicated. His adultery case has taken a violent turn landing the subject of his investigation, Fred Dunsmore, in the hospital and Moses in jail. Moses is held for questioning along with his erratic client, Sharon Dunsmore, and Fred’s mistress, a Bosnian refugee who just happens to be related to the DCI agent investigating the case, Raif Rakić.

After Rakić secures their release, Fred goes missing, and Moses Winter finds himself compelled to find him. With the assistance of Rakic, Moses unravels Fred’s ties to Des Moines’s underworld and is forced to confront the most heinous crimes of his career.

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Francis Sparks1. What was your attitude towards reading when you were a kid?

I was awful at doing assigned readings of the classics in high school but starting in fifth grade I had my nose in a book from then on. Mostly fantasy novels.

2. If you could pick just one book to read for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

I would pick WAR AND PEACE. First of all I would finally have to finish it. Second I think it is such a massive work that I could read and re-read for many years and still find things that I’d missed.

3. What are some of your favorite words and why?

You know, there are certain words that I can’t put into a sentence because I associate them so closely with a particular work almost like they’re an actor who’s been typecast. I will say I’m sure I overuse words that I’m not aware of but I’m not sure I have favorite words. I try to write original sentences as much as I can and avoid cliche.

4. Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? How do you deal with this?

I think it can be difficult to write any scene where someone does something abhorrent or evil because I try to always come back to the axiom that this person doing this thing doesn’t see themselves as being evil. They are the hero of their own story. So how do you get inside their head and understand how they can justify to themselves what they are doing. I’m not sure I have a good way of dealing with it other than to keep trying to figure them out.

5. What’s your current writing project and what are your writing plans for the near future?

I fell into a project of a lifetime. A retired New Jersey detective contacted me last summer to help him tell the story of his lifelong pursuit of one of the most prolific cat burglars in history. We’ve been working on it since then and are now querying the proposal. I never thought I’d write nonfiction but it has been a great experience.

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Made Safe is currently available on Amazon.

Become a Friday Five author or read previous author interviews.

Summer 2018 goal review

Every 3 months or so, I take a look at the goals I’ve set for the year and then write about how little progress I’m making on them. Here’s the update for this summer.

1. Better time management.

This year, I’ve been tracking how I manage my time. I can’t say I’ve gotten more productive, but I can definitely see how I’m wasting my time – or maybe not wasting it, but spending it on things I shouldn’t be spending it on.

crochet figures

Homework can wait – this crocheted princess needs crocheted dating options!

Part of my problem is that without deadlines and a full schedule, I tend to drift. I think I have all the time in the world, and then bam – I haven’t done anything I intended. I’ve been keeping a to-do list, and now the next step, I think, is to impose deadlines. And find a way to make them meaningful, since I know they’re arbitrary.

2. Publish to Medium at least weekly.

I’m at 19 for the year, not counting two table of contents posts. I should be at about 25-30, to meet my goal. Still an achievable goal.

3. Publish a stand-alone novella or short story collection quarterly.

Still hasn’t happened – see goal #1 for why. I have a month until school starts up and I hopefully start working in a school again, so if I can get my time management under control, I can still crank out a couple longer works this summer.

4. Grow my reader base, whether on social media, my newsletter, or Medium, by at least double. So, 600 followers on Facebook, 1500 followers on Twitter, 200 followers on Medium, and 3000 mailing list subscribers.

Facebook: 309.

Twitter: Still hovering around 864-868. It seems like for every follower I gain, I lose the same amount.

Medium: 235! Let’s up this to 400 for the year.

Mailing list: 10 new subscribers this year, but nowhere near that 3000 mark.

5. Post to my blog at least twice a week, and promote those posts to get more traffic here.

I’ve posted once since the last update. Gonna have to up my game here.

6. Read 100 books.

58 so far this year, which is 6 ahead of schedule. I just got home this week from a month in Thailand and southeast Asia. Between the flights, overnight train rides, and that day spent just chilling in a hotel room in Kuala Lumpur because my stupid bank wouldn’t let me use any ATMs and we had no money to do anything, I’ve been able to read a ton.

Overall

At this point, it’s just a matter of finding the willpower to meet my goals. There’s nothing standing in my way and keeping me from writing, except myself. Any suggestions for imposing discipline on yourself are much appreciated!

If you’ve set goals for yourself, how’re they going so far this year?

Being true to the story by killing your darlings

murdered potato

image from Pixabay

I’m working on a story that’s decided to set itself in Baltimore. I’ve never been to Baltimore, so in the interest of research I started watching The Wire. While my characters aren’t nearly as hardcore as those on the show, it’s been a great showcase of an often overlooked part of American life.

If you’ve never seen The Wire, it follows two storylines: that of a unit of the Baltimore PD trying to bring down a drug empire, and that of the leaders and minions of the empire. It’s a gritty show that doesn’t shy away from violence, and without giving any spoilers, it’s best not to become attached to any characters because no one is untouchable on this show.

I watched an interview with one of the creators, who talked about the decision to kill off a popular character in the third season. This character was a favorite, although he was also beyond reprehensible. The creator basically said that killing off the character was best for the story (which I agree with), and to keep him alive would be only to do so for the sake of the character, not the story.

I thought about that with my own stories. I’ve killed a lot of characters, some of whom readers wanted left alive because they liked the character, but as a writer I need to do what the story calls for. And sometimes that means killing off a character.

Readers, how do you feel when a character you like gets killed off?

Spring 2018 goal review

Every 3 months or so, I take a look at the goals I’ve set for the year and then write about how little progress I’m making on them. Here’s the update for this spring.

1. Better time management.

I’ve been tracking my activities every day, so I can easily tell what I accomplish (lots of crocheting and Duolingo) and what I don’t (all my writing stuff). That said, I’ve been pretty good at keeping up with school work this semester and not leaving it all to the last minute. Well, mostly.

2. Publish to Medium at least weekly.

I’ve published 15 stories on Medium in 2018, which averages out to just slightly under weekly. My publishing frequency is more sporadic than I’d like, and the stuff I’m putting up is a mix of old and new, but overall I’m doing pretty good with this one.

3. Publish a stand-alone novella or short story collection quarterly.

I haven’t done this yet. I have about a week left of classes and then this (and my dissertation proposal) is my priority for the summer. I have a bunch of stuff started and outlined; I just need to sit down and write.

4. Grow my reader base, whether on social media, my newsletter, or Medium, by at least double. So, 600 followers on Facebook, 1500 followers on Twitter, 200 followers on Medium, and 3000 mailing list subscribers.

Facebook: 308 (pretty sure FB is cleaning house, because as soon as I get a new follow it drops back down)

Twitter: I’ve been hovering around 864-868 for the past six months. Ugh.

Medium: 203! Looks like I need a stretch goal here.

Mailing list: 2 new subscribers this year (I’m too lazy to look up the number).

I’m hoping to get some gains when I release something.

5. Post to my blog at least twice a week, and promote those posts to get more traffic here.

This post is #14 for 2018, which averages a bit under once a week. I intended to do the A to Z challenge, but life and school got in the way and I fizzled out.

6. Read 100 books.

I’m at 38 for the year, which is 5 ahead of schedule. I tend to read a TON on long flights – the flights to and from India in January pushed me ahead – and I’ll be flying to Thailand in a month, so I expect to stay ahead with this one for awhile.

Overall

I’m doing decently right now, by which I mean I’m only slightly behind instead of way behind like I usually am. I need to up my writing output by a ton, but with summer break right around the corner, I don’t really have an excuse not to start meeting my goals. Although I’m sure I’ll find one.

If you’ve set goals for yourself, how’re they going so far this year?

Friday Five: Edwin Peng #AtoZChallenge

A to Z challenge 2018 EToday’s Friday Five focus is Edwin Peng, author of YA science fiction short stories, novellas, and novels.

Edwin Peng lives in beautiful Lincoln, Nebraska, with his beloved Pokémon buddy, Eevee. During the day, he indulges in super-villainy by performing high-power laser research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. At night, his secret identity is that of a literary superhero fighting to make the Young Adult Science Fiction genre less clichéd and more inclusive. He is the author of the Star City series, which features bad-ass heroines and space aliens who love blueberry pies. The first novel was released by Evolved Publishing on December 4, 2017.

Star City is the first book in the Star City series. When space aliens make contact with Earth, 18-year old Emma Smith is ready to serve. She answers the call of the United States State Department for the college freshmen to serve as student ambassador to the visiting Ba’ren delegation. As political struggles intensify between feuding human and Ba’ren factions, anti-alien sentiment on Earth reaches a lethal pitch. Emma is determined not to be a pawn in this complicated game of life and death and must risk everything to help maintain the fragile peace between the two species.

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Edwin Peng1. If you could pick just one book to read for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

If I’m stranded on a deserted island, it would have to be Robinson Crusoe.

2. What are some of your favorite words and why?

According to my editor, I use “very” a lot in my manuscript, so I guess that would be my favorite word.

3. What is the most important thing that people DON’T know about YA/sci-fi, that you think they need to know?

YA is a lot more than – or at least, CAN be more than – novels about abusive, glittering vampires. There are so many aspiring and current authors who are writing quality YA novels. Ignore the disparaging stereotypes about YA and its readers – try some yourself!

4. Where do your inspiration and ideas for your stories come from?

There were many sources of inspiration for Star City. My dayjob as postdoctoral researcher at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln provides plenty of ideas about future scientific discoveries and technologies. History, economics, and linguistics provided many of the ideas found in the Star City series. For instance, the many attempts at constructing an universal language for all humans is what I had in mind when creating Ba’zek, the language of the Ba’ren.

5. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever researched for your works or biggest/most out-of-the-ordinary thing you’ve done while researching?

Researching sounds for the Ba’ren language is fascinating – and can make you look weird when you’re straining your facial muscles to make weird sounds.

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Star City is currently available on Amazon.

Become a Friday Five author or read previous author interviews.

Thursday Things: Dyrhólaey #AtoZChallenge

A to Z challenge 2018 DI went to Iceland over spring break, and let me tell you – four days is NOT enough time there. We spent a day in Reykjavik, a day doing the Golden Circle circuit tour, a day driving along the southern coast, and a morning horseback riding around the volcanic fields before flying out.

I was especially excited to explore the southern coast. We didn’t get a chance to go to the Sólheimasandur plane crash site – it was cold and drizzly, and we didn’t have enough time in our schedule to walk a mile or two each way to the site – but we did get to some other famous places, like several beautiful waterfalls.

Dyrhólaey

We also made it to Dyrhólaey, which is a park overlooking the black sand beaches that show up in Icelandic metal videos, especially Sólstafir’s “Miðaftann.” And I’m pretty sure some clips from their video for “Fjara” were shot around here too.

My short story, “The Beach,” was partially inspired by Solstafir’s “Fjara” (which is Icelandic for beach, by the way). Even though I’d only seen videos and pictures of the area before I wrote the story, I envision it being set here. I imagine Pría, the main character, standing on this beach watching her true love’s funeral barge float out to sea, then walking along it later as she’s about to give birth to their son.

I’m not a fangirl by any stretch, but there was something amazing about standing in the spot where some of my favorite songs’ videos were made, where my story took place too. It’s a feeling that makes me want to go back to Iceland, this time for several weeks, and just wander the countryside. Who knows what kind of stories I’ll come up with?

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About “The Beach:”

When Pría’s true love is killed before they can marry,
she must decide how to stay true to his memory while moving on with her life.

Available to read for free on Medium,
and it’ll also be included in my upcoming short story collection, Unkept Women

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Thursday Things is a weekly-ish feature highlighting little known facts, ideas, and stories behind my stories. Is there something you want to know more about? Let me know!

 

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