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Things National Novel Writing Month Taught Me About Writing

Holy crap. It’s November. NaNoWriMo is here. HEAD FOR THE HILLS.

Ha, that was a joke. You’re not going anywhere, writers. I’ve chained you by the ankles and now you have to sit and listen as Grand Master Kyoko tells you about NaNoWriMo and why you should be doing it.

For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a competition in which we write a novel in a month, starting on November 1st and ending on November 30th of every year. What do you win? A cool little button from the official website and eternal bragging rights.

Now, if you’re not a writer, you might be thinking, big deal, it’s just a novel. Uh, no, newbie, let me shut you up right there. It’s not a book. You have to write exactly 50,000 words in thirty days. And no, John Bender, I don’t mean the same word repeated 50,000 times. You’ve read a novel before. That entire story typically takes a writer between four and eight months, depending on what level they’re on. And they are expected to do that within thirty days so you had damn well better respect it before I box you upside the ears.

Back to you, writers. As it says on most of my author profiles, I participated in NaNoWriMo in 2011 and actually completed it. But I’m not trying to brag when I mention it—I’m trying to add some authenticity to this post. That crazy, painful month taught me a lot and I’d like to share it with you to give you encouragement on your first day of writing.

Writing is f@#king hard. Now, granted, you already know this, authors, but trust me, NaNoWriMo is going to enforce it like a bouncer outside of a sexy night club. You’re going to feel like Judge Doom at the end of Who Framed Roger Rabbit—flattened while you flailed and screamed in a high-pitched voice. It’s hard enough to pound out 50,000 words a year for a paycheck (or for nothing if you’re an indie author like me hahaha it hurts to laugh), but cramming all of that process into a month is going to make you want to eat a bullet. But you’re not going to do that. Tuck in your skirt, lady.

Writing is hard because it’s worth it. You’re going to have days when you write the full 2,000 word a day quota, and then you’ll have days when you write two sentences and then eat a bucket of Americone Dream while sobbing that you are a total failure. You’re going to struggle over character motivations and action sequences and witty one liners and it’s going to suck. You’re going to stare at the clock and wonder how you ever thought this was a good idea. You’re going to curse God and try to make a deal with Lucifer in order to inspire you to reach that finish line.

And you know what?

That’s a good thing.

It’s all about pacing yourself. This is also a concept that is infinitely hard for writers because the creative process isn’t like the scientific method. There isn’t a quota or a calculation to writing. There is no formula. It’s all free ideas flowing constantly through your brain and your soul. It comes and goes. But you don’t have time for that hippie stuff when you only have a month to write a full on novel. What NaNoWriMo taught me is to simply let go: let go of the perfect dialogue, the flawless landscape of the plot, the meticulous character details, all of it. NaNoWriMo is all about raw materials. A diamond isn’t beautiful until it’s polished, but it’s still a diamond. No one said you had to pull it fully cut out of the ground—you simply have to dig for it and you’re there. Your draft is going to be total garbage at first, but that’s the entire point. NaNoWriMo is dumpster-diving, plain and simple. You learn to dig through different piles each and every day. You’ll find some yucky stuff and toss it aside, but you’ll also find buried treasures that you never thought you could find.

There are also plenty of resources to help you with pacing yourself each day. To total up to 50,000 words in a month, you basically have to write 2,000 words a day, but that’s rounding up. There is an exact number of words (around 1,600 or so), but I think it’s healthier to aim for 2,000 because then if you fall short one day, you’ll still be ahead by a little bit. That way, if you have a long day at work and you don’t have time to write, you can realistically catch up.

Let go of your inner perfectionist. I feel like such a hypocrite saying this, but it’s definitely a hard lesson that NaNoWriMo taught me. I get my perfectionist habits from my parents—a business consultant who is working on his Ph.D and a registered nurse who works in case management, respectively—and they aren’t easy to kick. I take it ten times more seriously in my writing than in my real life, too. I obsess over every single word and where it is and how it’s phrased and how I can make it so perfect that publishers will bang down my doors and filmmakers will run up to me begging to make my book into a movie so that I can finally achieve my dream of meeting Nathan Fillion and marrying him and oh wait I lost my point back there, didn’t I? Ahem. I fret over my own writing day and night. I think I’m substandard. I weep that I’m not Jim Butcher. I read my favorite novels over and over in vain attempts to soak up their greatness and squeeze it back out over my own manuscript.

But you can’t do that in a month.

A month gives you enough time to map out where you want to go and then you just trail-blaze, like Miguel and Tulio. Don’t stop for all the little stuff. You have words to write. It’s like cutting through vines in a jungle—you’ll get stuck if you stop every five minutes to clean the mud off your boots. You have to let go of all the things that make you want to stop and edit and erase what you’ve written. You can’t do that. You have to accept your faults and move on because this is about the end game. You’re heading for that pyramid with the huge diamond on top. You have a goal and by God, you’re going to reach it and don’t let that crazy person in your head talk you out of it no matter what.

The reward outshines the difficult journey. First of all, don’t you dare get down on yourself if you are unable to finish NaNoWriMo. You are NOT a failure. This is one of the hardest competitions any writer will ever face, so don’t even think for a second that you are less of an author if you don’t complete it in time. I’m not saying this to coddle you, either. The truth is that NaNoWriMo has more than one reward. It’s not just about the bragging rights. Even if you don’t finish on time, there are still great things to gain from it.

First of all, you still have an original idea in manuscript form. That’s fantastic. Once November is over, you’re free to go back to being a regular crazyface author and you can do whatever the bloody hell you want with your new story. You can chop it up into bite sized pieces, you can make it into a series, you can turn it into a screenplay, you can do anything. That’s an incredibly liberating notion, isn’t it? All the rules no longer apply and you can take it wherever you want, including nowhere if you don’t like it (like I did. The Starlight Contingency was a one time gig and I have no plans to finish it, but it’s still great that I did it. But if you’re curious, you can read the entire thing for free right here: The Starlight Contingency.)

Second of all, if you do win, you can always look back on that victory no matter what happens in your future career. No one, and I mean no one, can take away that fresh, exhilarating thrill when you think about the fact that you condensed months’ worth of work into thirty days. Not everyone can write a novel. Sure, some hacks can fart one out and become bestsellers, but they didn’t do it in a month. You did. You’re awesome. You’re a god. You’re Elvis. You’re one bonafide bad mother sucker.

And after you do it, take the time to celebrate. Strut down the street like you’re a sexy piece of ass and don’t let anyone tell you anything different. You did something worthwhile and that very few people could ever do. That’s the real reward of NaNoWriMo. It’s a celebration of the writing process and celebrating the brave souls who do it, whether just for a month or a year or for their entire lives.

And that might sound corny, but I truly think that is why every single writer should try it at least once in their lifetime. Whether you complete it or not, you’re going to learn something for free.

Who doesn’t want that?

Good luck, my darlings. Open that document and get started.

Don’t worry. I got your back.


Virtual Blog Tour Stop Roundup

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Happy belated Halloween!

In celebration of the holiday, we actually had a few different blog tour stops last night and this morning. Here’s the round up:

Book Suburbia

Elfwitch Loves Books

The Writerly Exploits of Mara Valderran

Fang Freakin’ Tastic Reviews* (* There is an actual full review of the novel with this post instead of just a spotlight. If you’re interested in the details of the plot and character, check this one out for sure. She did a great comprehensive review of the entire thing and I have to admit I am humbled by her kind words.)

And as always, don’t forget to pop in another entry for the free book giveaway.

The tour ends on November 4, 2013. Thank you so much for the support so far. Stay tuned. It’s November, and that means National Novel Writing Month. Get your pens and paper ready, my duckies.


Virtual Blog Tour Stop #7: Roxanne’s Realm

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We’ve got an all new excerpt up for you at Roxanne’s Realm! Enjoy!

Virtual Blog Tour Stop #3: Creatively Green

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Here’s our third stop on the virtual blog tour: a spotlight with Creatively Green Write at Home Mom.

You’ve got another shot at winning a free copy of The Black Parade. Don’t miss out!

Virtual Blog Tour Stop #2: Happy Tails and Tales

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Our next stop on The Black Parade’s virtual blog tour is at Happy Tails and Tales! We’ve got an interview, excerpt, and short spoiler free review with the host.

Don’t forget: this is also another opportunity to win a free copy of The Black Parade. Read to your heart’s content and enter for the giveaway.

Stay tuned for Stop #3 tomorrow!

To the Starving Artists

To you, the one sitting in front of the keyboard. The one squinting at your bright-ass screen at three o’clock in the morning, wondering if you used the word ‘perfunctory’ in the right context. The one meticulously combing through your prose with your fingertip pressed against the somewhat smudged screen. The one determined to force another chapter out of your aching skull before you can finally drop to the pillow and go to sleep because your day job wants you there early the next morning. The one dragging yourself to something you’re good at, something you’ve probably always been good at, but isn’t your one true love like writing is, but you do it anyway because it pays the bills. The one who listens to conversations not because you want to be nosy, but because it might be something useful or interesting for your writing.

To you, the one searching desperately for a writing community, but your town is too small to have one. The one scrolling through Google trying to find a forum with other writers because you’re hungry for people talking and laughing and moaning about the same writer habits that you have. The one fretting over the fact that no one’s replied to your comment and you worry that you’re annoying everyone and you’ll never connect with them.

To you, the one who is doing well enough but not quite where you wanted to be with your writing. The one desperately hoping that you’re actually good at telling a story and it’s not just your friends and family humoring you. The one who quietly does the research, compiles lists and facts, calls people to ask them weird questions, and tries to compact it all into the story in a way that makes sense. The one scouring every inch of Tvtropes and Tumblr to make sure you’re not accidentally employing a cliche that will make future readers hate you. The one who diligently makes mental notes of things you love in films you watch, books you read, comics and graphic novels you flip through, and television shows you obsess over, and also marks the things you hate that they do.

To you, the one who secretly daydreams about being interviewed on the Colbert Report even though your book is fiction and would probably have nothing to do with political satire. The one sitting in the middle row at a comic book or anime convention wishing it were you up there with hundreds, or hell even dozens, of adoring fans all dying to hear any tiny anecdote of your life. The one sighing wistfully as you read adorable behind the scenes stories about your favorite actors, or watch their blooper reels, and praying that someday your book will help you climb out of your shell and become someone other people can root for.

To you, the one who finally makes it to the mountaintop, looks down at the world below you, and openly admits that you’re scared shitless. The one who bites your lip as you stare miserably at your rank on Amazon. The one who lays in bed listening to Aqualung and Dashboard Confessional and Death Cab for Cutie and worrying you’ll never amount to anything. The one who picks through your various social media personas and ponders why you seem unable to get through to anyone, or at least it seems that way, the way that others do. The one who is terrified of being mediocre, or worse, so terrible that you are instantly wiped from the memories of anyone who knew you because your work isn’t that good, it’s just okay, and okay only cuts it when it’s mass-produced by a corporation or the government. The one who sweats and bleeds writing and loves it to your core like a family member and couldn’t stop even if you were banned from the entire Internet itself.


You are not alone.

Your dreams are not empty. Your words are not poison. You are something special. Maybe you’re not Shakespeare or Stephen King or Dean Koontz but you are doing something worthwhile if only because you give a damn about your writing. Even if it doesn’t soar off the bookshelves, even if you never crack the Amazon 100 Bestsellers, even if you get no reviews, no ratings, no nothing, you are still worth something. You are an author. You tell stories. You breathe legends. You have power beyond measure, even if it’s only in your mind and your Word document.

To you, starving artists.

You deserve better than what you settle for. Don’t give up. The world will always need stories.

Tell them.

And tell them without permission, reluctance, or restraint.


Things Supernatural Taught Me About Writing


If you’ve never seen Supernatural, shame on you. Go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done. Now.

If you have seen Supernatural, then you are one tough son of a gun. Supernatural is known for a lot of things—creative monsters, the world’s hottest main cast, hilarious dialogue, unapologetic Fourth Wall breaking—but the reason it was recommended to me by my writing sensei was because it had a lot to teach me about writing. Plus, my angsty Winchesters and their emotionally constipated angel friend Castiel are returning to the airwaves tonight, so let’s get started, shall we?

  1. People love to be emotionally gut-punched. And boy, Supernatural does NOT pull its punches. It introduces you to an entire rainbow of interesting, three-dimensional characters, makes you care about them, makes you bond with them, and then snatches them right out of your hands like a bully grabbing a kid’s lunch money. The relationship between Sam and Dean is Emmy-worthy because there are so many layers to the boys’ personalities. They are constantly bickering, constantly arguing, constantly not trusting each other, and yet they will die for one another at the drop of a hat. Several times, mind you. Supernatural is addictive because it barges its way into the watchers’ hearts and then proceeds to detonate like an atom bomb. This is something that all writers should strive to do. Even if your main character is an unrepentant a-hole of epic proportions, the readers should still find themselves attached to them and want to know what happens to them down the road.
  2. You cannot please everyone. Supernatural is also infamous for its loyal but rabid fanbase. Half of said fanbase is hilarious, thoughtful, and creative. The other half is full of angry, petty, self-righteous jerks. The Supernatural writers have done a lot of things over the course of the show’s eight seasons to appease the fanbase, but it is still impossible to make all of them happy. There are several examples of the writers trying to keep their fans happy. It’s no secret that the fanbase and the writers favor Dean over Sam after season five. He gets the better storylines, the better girlfriends, the funnier lines of dialogue, and is usually characterized as being “right” when the two of them are having an argument. He is also inexplicably popular because majority of the fanbase insists that he’s madly in love with Castiel. The writers have been playing to this angle ever since season six, and while the fans clearly enjoy the Dean-heavy emphasis, they still complain unrepentantly about Dean/Castiel (dubbed “Destiel”) not being “canon.” If anything, this has taught me that no matter what I write, someone will have a problem with it. Even if I acknowledge things that the readers want to see happy, I will still piss someone off. The key is to find balance. Find a way to write that makes both me and the readers happy. It is hard to accomplish, but many novels and shows have proven it is possible.
  3. Variety is the spice of life. Supernatural gained its popularity largely through the first four seasons. Its premise captured the interest of the audience because it adopted the idea that almost all myths, legends, and monsters exist within the same universe. The writers did their homework and dug up literally dozens of types of mythical predators and brought them into the real world with fantastic results. This is something I have tried to take to heart with my own writing in terms of the setting, the imminent threat, and the villain of my stories. No one wants to read the same novel with a different name. Even if it’s in the same series, the plot and storyline should move, evolve, and develop over time.
  4. Know when to quit while you’re ahead. Okay, this is going to be controversial so let me just get it out of the way. I personally think Supernatural should have ended a couple seasons ago. God knows I love Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Jim Beaver, Misha Collins, Mark Sheppard and company, but in my opinion, the last two seasons have been rather poorly done. I feel this way because Supernatural has covered so many stories, so many monsters, and so many conflicts between the brothers that they have honestly run out of ideas. For instance, season eight had a lot of recycled plotlines and moments between the brothers, and it also ended up casting them in an unflattering light. Sam not looking for Dean because he wanted a boring girlfriend and a dog was absolutely idiotic writing and completely out of character. They didn’t even attempt to justify his actions. He just…didn’t look for him. The seasons prior showed Sam’s desire to eventually quit the life of a hunter, but this season made him look like a total jackass. It worked in the other seasons because Sam knew Dean could take care of himself. With Dean in Purgatory, Sam knew he’d be in constant danger and yet he still didn’t do anything about it with no true explanation as to why. Then when Dean found out, he lorded it over Sam and acted as if Sam hasn’t saved his life a hundred times and died for him at least twice. To make matters worse, he starts treating the generic vampire Benny like his actual brother because he’s “never disappointed him” and basically acts like a stuck up, self-righteous douchebag for most of the season. Granted, all of this is subjective and many people will disagree with me, but the concept is what has taught me a lesson. It has made me examine my writing and decide if certain stories are going to be one off, have a sequel, or have the potential to become an entire series. One should know ahead of time if they have the fuel to go the distance of Alex Cross, Harry Dresden, or Sherlock Holmes before they accidentally stall out and end up stranded.
  5. Don’t fear the fairer sex. There are a bunch of ladies in Supernatural whom I completely adore—Pamela, Meg, Ellen, the list goes on and on. Yet, have you noticed something? The show has been on for eight freaking seasons and there is no female main cast member. That chaps my Bat-briefs. I do not understand why Supernatural is so unwilling to have a female main character who is a regular. Granted, it took them eight seasons just to add Misha Collins as a main cast member (seriously, what the hell) but I don’t understand. They also have a bad habit of mistreating all recurring female characters by killing them off just to make the Winchesters feel bad, but it still makes the writers seem like they don’t quite care for the fairer sex even though they clearly can write them competently. Now, my current theory is that the fanbase has a hand in the lack of ladies sticking around. As I mentioned before, the Destiel fangirls will cry bloody murder on any of Dean’s love interests but this female lead wouldn’t need to be a love interest. She could just be another hunter, or if they were smart, they’d make her a monster with a heart of gold who wants to help them. I actually would have liked Meg to join the main cast because she is so entertaining and she was starting to turn a corner before season eight ruined everything. I keep this in mind when I write. The character of The Black Parade tends to have a lot of male counterparts because the story is loosely based off of Paradise Lost, but I still make sure to find time for other ladies in her life. The first novel is still male centric, but the second and third ones depart from that. It can be hard sometimes, but I think it’s important for every writer to portray both genders equally and with all three dimensions intact.

Overall, I’m actually happy my writing sensei talked me into partaking in Supernatural. Even though I have problems with the current seasons, it has definitely taught me a lot of do’s and don’ts, and I believe I am more rounded writer thanks to them. Here’s to you, Winchesters.


On Death

So I spent about three hours last night on Skype having a debate with my writing sensei about major character death.

Occasionally, my sensei has enough time to drop in and give me advice about my novels–particularly brainstorming ideas on how to get the story unstuck, smoothing out character motivations and actions, or giving me a good kick in the seat of my pants to get me back on track with my word count. I honestly wish I weren’t a vagrant and could pay him for it. He’s a kick ass screenwriter and independent filmmaker so he knows a thing or two about damn good writing and how to whip a story into shape.

Still, we disagree on certain points and this was a huge hot button issue that neither of us had talked about before, hence the three hours. It got me thinking about myself, my writing, and my general philosophy about fiction. This post might be a long one so I pray that you’ll stick with me as I try to explain my position on major character death in fiction.

Disclaimer: I’m not against it.

I do, however, believe that it is overused and often simply a cheap trick to squeeze some tears out of your readers. Not always, mind you. I can name examples of fiction that did it correctly. By the way, BIG FAT STINKIN’ SPOILER ALERT FOR A BUNCH OF DIFFERENT BOOKS AND MOVIES SO PLEASE READ AT YOUR OWN PERIL.

Here are the examples of using major character death properly (in my opinion):

-Dumbledore from Harry Potter

-Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop

-Trinity from The Matrix Revolutions

-Susan Rodriguez from the Harry Dresden novels

-Kamina from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (*debatable, though, because I loved him so much I couldn’t continue watching the show after he died.)

-Shepherd Book from Serenity

-Sam Winchester in Supernatural’s fourth season finale (I had to specify since he’s died at least three times in the show’s run, if not more. Yeah, it’s that kind of show.)

-Captain Roy Montgomery from Castle

-V from V for Vendetta

-Jason Todd from the Batman comics (granted, they brought him back, but whatever.)

-Rue from The Hunger Games

Each of the above deaths, to me, served definite, thematic purposes. These characters meant the world to the people they were supporting and their deaths caused major shifts in the narratives. It deeply affected the protagonists in various ways–motivating them to defeat the bad guy, to seek revenge, to end a conflict, to inspire greatness, or simply because there was no way for them to continue in the world they existed in. These are deaths that make sense on paper and naturally draw emotions out of the audience because we’ve come to know and love them, and have to say goodbye whether we like it or not. These are deaths that feel organic and not forced. To me, a good major character death doesn’t have to be one that you see coming, but it should be one that you can understand and justify in your head even through your hiccuping sobs (seriously, Capt. Montgomery and Spike’s death scenes made me sob like an infant.) They should die for a reason, and one that is more layered than “it’ll make your audience bawl like three year olds” because that is cheap emotional manipulation. I’m against that. Which brings me to my next point.

Here are the examples of using major character death improperly (in my opinion):

-90% of the characters who have died on Supernatural (but if you want to get specific, Meg, Gabriel, Balthazar, Jo, Ellen, and Pamela)

-Wash from Serenity

-Robert Neville from I Am Legend

-Captain Pike from Star Trek Into Darkness (I could be persuaded otherwise, but my initial reaction to this was that it was misused.)

-Majority of the characters who died in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

-Primrose from Mockingjay

-Irene Adler from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

-Billy from The Expendables II

-November 11 from Darker Than Black

The deaths of the characters listed above may be for one or more reasons that I disagree with from a writing standpoint. That is, using the death as a cheap trick to make your readers/audience cry, not wanting to develop the character further, using the death as a lazy method to make the hero worth harder for his/her end goal, using the death as an easy way into a revenge or hunt-for-the-killer plot, or trying to shock your audience with a high body count.

To illustrate my point, I’ll use the three examples that make me the most irritated: Sherlock Holmes, Supernatural, and Serenity. Irene Adler was literally the best thing ever in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. No disrespect to RDJ and Jude Law, I adored them, but she was the most bad ass woman I could remember seeing in recent films. She was smart, quick-witted, resourceful, manipulative, and brave. There was none of that sexist crap that you see in stuff like the new Riddick film. She was beautiful and dangerous and powerful and everything that a well-written female character should be. She showed all shades of being a woman. She was balanced. She was interesting. Above all, she was important to the plot. And they just killed her off in the first ten minutes of A Game of Shadows despite being the third biggest character in the first movie. And she doesn’t even get a meaningful death scene or a tear out of her lover. The movie just sweeps her under the rug like she was nothing. That is an injustice I simply cannot stand. Her death should have meant something more to Holmes. It should have enraged him, made him hunt for Moriarty even harder and want to kick the son of  bitch right off that waterfall at the end of the movie. Death needs to have an impact that resounds throughout the rest of the story, whether it’s a movie, a TV show, or literature. It’s not something to be taken lightly, which brings us to example numero dos.

Supernatural is by far the worst offender when it comes to death. It’s in season nine and they have killed over half of the recurring major and minor characters that have passed through the show. Think I’m joking? Google it. I’ll wait. Believe me now? In the first few seasons, we were devastated to lose major characters that we knew and loved and who were part of Sam and Dean Winchester’s lives. However, the writers seemed to think it was a good idea to kill literally everyone and guess what happened? I stopped caring. If you do the exact same thing with every single recurring character, what is the point of investing in them? They’ll be dead by their second appearance. Death has no sting when you use it over and over and over again to the point of accidental parody. It becomes dull when your audience is just checking their wristwatch to see when a character is going to bite it because they know this is your go-to move. The biggest disappointment in relying too heavily on death to get a response out of your audience is that it wastes the potential of the characters whom they barely got to know. In particular, Supernatural does not treat its female characters very kindly. They tend to die just because it will make the Winchesters feel guilty about being unable to save them, and it frustrates me because these women (especially Meg and Pamela) could have been welcome additions to the cast. They could have balanced out all that pouting, lying, and arguing that the Winchesters do all season long. It would’ve been a breath of fresh air to see Meg join Team Free Will, but instead, she got the shaft and now it’s back to the boring status quo.

And now, the kicker. Wash. I cannot think of a more polarizing death. Firefly was murdered in its crib and they finally managed to resurrect it and what does Joss Whedon do? He bumps off not one but two of the main characters. My writing sensei posted a quote where Whedon explained why he did it–to upset the norm, make the threat real, etc–but I disagree with the Whedon method of “kill everyone you love and in the most horrifying ways possible.” I think Book’s death served those purposes more than enough. It made everything hit home for the crew. It made them see even more than ever that time waits for no one, that the ‘verse is an ugly place, that some threats can come for you in the night and take everything you love. It was harsh and ugly and absolutely tear-jerking in every sense. But Wash’s death was just a suckerpunch. It felt like Whedon came up behind me and pantsed me and then kicked me and pointed and laughed after I fell. It was unnecessary. We already felt devastated at losing Book, and Wash died for the exact same purpose, so to me, it was an extraneous manipulative gesture. It just made us want to cry for the sake of crying, not for the sake of the story. I’m not saying Wash shouldn’t have died at all–I think he shouldn’t have died in Serenity. Wash’s death would have had more of a punch if there had been a second season of Firefly and he died at the end. The crew would have had time to come to terms with Book’s death and maybe they would have fought to be more cautious and then Wash’s death would come as a blindside to show them that they weren’t ready. But that’s a conversation for another day.

The main reason why I have no desire to bump off a major character in my own work is because of my personal philosophy about stories. It’s no secret that the world is an awful place. It’s just downright sickening sometimes. Ray Bradbury once said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” That is a quote that I live by, through and through. Books are an escape. They can be a safe haven for some people, myself included above all. I look to them for comfort, for inspiration, for solace, for love and brilliance and creativity. That is what books mean to me. I’m not saying it’s what anyone else believes–it’s just true for who I am as a person and as an author. That being said, I don’t want my books to turn into one of those bad examples up there. I don’t want to kill off one of my main characters just to make you cry. I want my readers to feel everything–anger, sadness, joy, comfort, hope–and I believe that there is a way to do that without killing off a major character in the final novel of the series. I feel like it’s something that many writers rely on too heavily in their story arcs. I think many writers do it because it is expected of them to “raise the stakes” by murdering one of their darlings. I have already pointed out that when it works, it really works, but when it doesn’t, you just end up with a bad taste in your mouth.

Many famous authors emphasize that one should write the story they would want to read. And that’s my biggest reason against killing off a major character in the final book. There are millions of trilogies out there that have survived and become legends without killing off main protagonist characters–Toy Story 3, Star Wars (Darth Vader doesn’t count because he’s a villain, leave me alone, nerds!), The Dark Knight Rises, Indiana Jones (THERE IS NO FOURTH FILM DAMMIT), and that’s just franchises off the top of my head. I’m in no way against killing protagonists because it is an effective storytelling method, but for me, it has to fit the story naturally and be for a good purpose because the world that I’ve built for people to read should be one that I would be satisfied with reading, and I don’t believe that it will improve the work or the message behind the work if I kill that particular character. I believe in second chances. I believe in rewarding people for their faith in a story and in the characters who make up that story. I don’t believe that everything should have a happy ending, but since life is a steaming pile of camel manure most of the time, I think the least I can do is create a world where sometimes there is a silver lining. Maybe there isn’t a leprechaun at the end of the rainbow, but I really don’t think there should be a homeless man waiting there to shank you after your hard and grueling journey.

But maybe that’s just me.

Thanks for reading, darlings.

Things Castle Taught Me About Writing



Monday is usually everyone’s least favorite day  of the week, but it isn’t for me thanks to a wonderful cop procedural dramedy known as Castle. It hit the airwaves in 2009 and has been kicking ass ever since with the help of geek god Nathan Fillion and the delicious Stana Katic.

Honestly, I wouldn’t be the same person I am now without this show—both as a writer and as a fangirl. In honor of its sixth season premiere, I’d like to share what this wonderful show has taught me over the years.

Unresolved sexual tension exists for a reason. Sexual tension. It’s a tale as old as time. Song as old as rhyme…wait, no, sorry, wrong story. The titular Castle and his muse, Detective Kate Beckett, wasted no time in sharing steamy chemistry by introducing it literally in the first episode. The first words out of his mouth upon meeting her (at a book release party where dozens of women gathered to drool over him) was, “Where would you like it?” while holding up a Sharpie to presumably sign her chest. Ever since then, it’s been a tango between the two. Castle fancied her from the second he laid eyes on her while Beckett remained unamused and uninterested for most of the first season, but she eventually warmed up to him. One of the most admirable things this show has done is taking the stigma out of the “Will They or Won’t They” trope, which is commonplace in all types of fiction. Castle was able to successfully introduce, explore, and resolve the sexual tension between the characters because the creator, Andrew W. Marlowe, and the cast actively disagree with the “Moonlighting Curse.” For any of you whippersnappers out there, Moonlighting was a 1980’s TV show with starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd as a dynamic duo of sorts who solved cases and had massive amounts of lust between them. However, after the two finally hooked up, the show immediately lost the audience’s interest and got canceled.

The relationship between Castle and Beckett worked because it developed naturally instead of being corralled by the writers. Their actions stayed true to the characters. They constantly made each other better and strengthened their bond before they took a tumble into the bedroom. Many writers struggle with this concept by making several rookie mistakes: resolving the tension too quickly (ex. Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood), dragging the tension along for too long (ex. Ross and Rachel), creating a pointless love triangle where one love interest is clearly the winner and the other gets strung along (Katniss Everdeen and Gale), etc. We’ve all seen this happen in shows/movies/anime/books we love. Castle taught me to fight the urge to force characters together too late or too soon. Allow each character to grow first and then worry about when and how they’ll connect. That will keep things steamy as well as preventing the reader from losing interest or becoming frustrated with the couple.

Supporting characters are the cream in the coffee. If for some bizarre reason you don’t fall in love with Castle and Beckett at first sight, the show has a fantastic spread of supporting protagonists to keep you happy. It is also one of the few shows that found a way to balance these people in Castle and Beckett’s lives, as in no one character steals the spotlight all the time.

More importantly, the secondary characters often provide the subplots that can help enhance the enjoyment of the main storyline. It has become a joke in the fandom that Castle’s daughter Alexis and his mother Martha have helped him solve as many murders as Beckett has due to their troublesome personal lives. It can be difficult building one’s own “cast” in a novel or short story, but it’s ultimately worth it because of diversity. Having more than just one or two characters allows comparisons to be drawn among them. It can highlight implicit and explicit conflict. It can give the character someone to antagonize or sympathize with. Supporting characters are just what their namesake says: they help hold the weight of the story and distribute it evenly.

Themes can be important and juicy tidbits to add to the story. There are a lot of themes in Castle—from overarching concepts like justice vs. revenge or lust vs. love, all the way down to the coffee that the two constantly share and their repeated phrase “Always” in favor of saying, “I love you” before the two became a couple. It has been one of the most enjoyable things about the series over the years. The writers of Castle know their stuff. They are careful to weave the threads throughout the series and create delightful parallels to entice the viewers and make them feel even more connected with the characters.

For example, (spoiler alert!) there’s the line that convinced Castle to begin shadowing Beckett for “research purposes” was after he offered to take her out on a date (and debrief her, ha-ha) and he tells her that it was too bad because it would have been great. The normally no-nonsense Beckett then bites her lip and whispers in his ear, “You have no idea.” Guess what happens the morning after the pair finally sleep together? Castle says, “You were right. I had no idea.” And that’s a distance of five seasons from the pilot to the season five opener. Keeping themes, lines, gags, and ideas like that is what makes the show so much fun to watch. Giving the fiction a definite continuity can further involve your readers and make them a part of what they’re seeing. Furthermore, they can end up hungering for more, like how us Marvel fans eagerly watch the Marvel Universe movies to see small shout outs to other heroes, and the always delightful cameo of Stan “The Man” Lee. Themes, when done properly, are just one more thing to love about a good book.

Keep an eye on your fans. This concept is dangerous, but also well worth the trouble if it works out just right. The Castle writers, creators, and actors are all connected to their audience through social media. Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion both live tweeted the season six premiere, and have done it more than once. They answer questions, post Behind-the-Scenes pics, and generally goof off just like their fans do. They make us feel welcome and tease us with all kinds of interesting things that the show is involved in.

As a writer, it’s important to stay connected to the readers for several reasons: (1) to gauge the general reception of your work (2) to find new readers (3) to catch flaws, criticism, or accidental plotholes that their eyes were good enough to catch (4) to discover new avenues that your work can travel that you may not have considered. For instance, the portmanteau couple name for Castle and Beckett in the fandom is “Caskett” (adorable, right?) and the show’s creators were so tickled by it that they snuck it into a season five episode. This caused a huge uproar of pure glee from the fandom to know that we had influenced our own show. It is a bit harder to integrate something like that into fiction, but it can result in further engrossing the readers when they know that they have your attention. They may even spread your fanbase by telling their friends what they helped create on their favorite show.

Castle’s sixth season has a lot left to show me and I can’t thank the writers/actors enough for giving us such an incredible run over the years. If you’re curious, tune in Monday nights at 10pm EST on ABC to see more of the lovable mystery novelist and his sexy detective. Maybe you’ll learn a little something too.


Things Christopher Nolan Taught Me About Writing


What can I say? I’ve been a fan of Batman since I was barely out of diapers, and so of course I have mad respect for the brilliant Christopher Nolan. And it’s his birthday, so the post is totally valid.

Now, calm down, I’m not going to spend this entire post worshipping the ground he floats over. I think he’s a great writer/director, but I don’t mean to put him on a pedestal. Today, I’m going to focus on his methods and their effects. Pull on your cowls and capes and join me, won’t you?

  1. Respect your characters. This, above all, is what I think what made the Nolan Batman films (and hell, The Prestige and Inception, while we’re talking about the subject) so successful. It sounds rudimentary and obvious, but unfortunately in today’s world, this concept is not mandatory. Want proof? Three little words: X-Men Origins Wolverine. Did that send chills up your spine? It should have. If you do not respect your characters, you get things like the Merc with the Mouth getting his mouth sewn shut, one of the most bad ass characters of all time turned into a whiny love-struck kitten, adamantium bullets that cause frickin’ amnesia, and an entire sea of pissed off comic book fans who swear off of your movies for life. Nolan taught me to take my time, spread open a character, and examine them from top to bottom with a creepy Dr. Zoidberg kind of patience. With each of the three Batman films, Nolan paid attention to the various traits that made up Bruce Wayne, Alfred J. Pennyworth, and an assortment of other characters from the Batman comics. He incorporated different versions of the characters and streamlined them into the incarnations we watched on screen. If a writer does their homework and creates a three-dimensional character, people—in their key demographic and sometimes beyond it—will show up. Guaranteed.
  2. The devil’s in the details. An old phrase, but a good ‘un. Nolan’s scripts have always been filled to the brim with detail. Hell, that’s why he waited ten years before deciding to film Inception. The story is that he kept it in a drawer for years and chipped away at it until he finally came out with something he liked and thought would work. Details help fill in the spaces that a writer might not notice are there. It can be dialogue, it can be setting, it can be backstory, anything. It can also be easy to pack in too many and lose focus, but that is something I learned as I edited my first novel. Details and editing seem to be natural enemies, but this isn’t always the case. For instance, think of all the little things in The Prestige that added up over time. The story left us tiny clues that eventually congealed with the tremendous reveal at the end of the film. It was still a lengthy running time, but the film never felt long because the details kept us hanging on the edge of our seats. Details should help the reader invest, keep them interested, and move the story along.
  3. Realism is a double-edged sword. Some fiction excels because it has the ability to take a ludicrous concept and make us believe it. This concept is one of the reasons why the Nolan Batman films broke barriers. While Tim Burton’s version was certainly entertaining, it existed in its own bizarre plane of existence. And don’t get me started on Joel Schumacher’s versions. (Mind you, I enjoyed Batman Forever for all its cheesiness, but I’m not disillusioned that it’s not really Batman. And Batman & Robin is In Name Only.) Nolan was the first to take the hero and apply him to modern times—our cinematography, our technology, and our current social and ethic standards. It worked. It flourished. It made us believe that it could happen. However, this concept cannot always be applied to every hero. It’s here that I put on my critic hat. I thought Man of Steel was pretty good, but one of its biggest flaws was that they took the realism concept too far. Actually, one of my friends put it into perspective perfectly. Heard of ItsJustSomeRandomGuy? He’s a friend of mine (Insert shameless Name Drop here) and his biggest criticism of the film was that it wasn’t fun. I agree. Man of Steel was a lot of things, but I never got the sense of fun that I feel is absolutely essential to the character of Clark Kent. Superman is meant to inspire. He’s someone to look up to. The realism in MoS was an admirable attempt, but it took away the wonder that Superman should instill in the audience. He was much more cynical and harder edged than I felt he should have been. There is a reason they call him the Big Blue Boy Scout. I didn’t want to give him a merit badge by the end of the movie, and that’s a crying shame. So, when writing, realism should be a guiding light, but not the main focus. Many novelists can write realistic characters, plots, and stories, but Nolan’s work has taught me that it doesn’t always have to be that way. Lighten up. Fiction operates under the Willing Suspension of Disbelief. We can accept a lot under that creed—even that a man can fly.
  4. If you truly love your work, someone will love it too. Now, this is subjective. Loving your work and vanity projects are NOT the same thing. For instance, most people agree that Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch is a vanity project. Loving your work means investing fully into everything in it—cinematography, script, casting the actors, dialogue, soundtrack, all of it. It is for this reason that Inception was such a big hit. It took a concept that might be a bit hard for the Average Joe to accept and turned into a terrific story that also made quite a good bit of cash. Nolan spoke in interviews and commentary how he sat on the project for so long, and that is a labor of love. We have all seen movies and read books that were rushed. It steals a lot from a story if you don’t take the time to sweat, cry, and gnash your teeth over it like a misbehaving toddler. I believe that if someone truly pours passion and devotion into their writing, someone else will respond with the same amount of passion and devotion. It may not happen immediately, it may not be across the board, but love of writing cultivates love of reading.


So thanks, Mr. Nolan, for your tireless work. We look forward to seeing more of it.