Friday, April 28, 2017

Unplug or Prioritize? How I Handle Technoise



Technoise is all around us.  From the three to seven types of social media that each average person has, to the fact that you can shop for almost anything on Amazon now, this is the Computer Age, and the Internet dominates our lives.  It is the century of the smartphone and tablet, when you can carry your entire social life and work/student life in your pocket.  Between Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, your friends and family can stay updated on every second of your life... almost literally.  Children of ten have smartphones and children of 6 have Kindles.  New technology comes out every year; just the other day I saw news that two separate companies are attempting to make Star Trek tricorders a reality.  *nerd cheering*

This has created a very different society from that of our parents and grandparents, and even from when some of us were younger.  (Those of you born in the late 80s - early 90s know what I'm talking about.)  With all of this technoise hovering in a cloud wherever we are, it can be a challenge to remain grounded and in tune with other people and with ourselves.  The Unplug Mentality says that the only way to return to a simpler lifestyle and reconnect with people and ourselves is to get away from it all by completely disconnecting from devices/the internet for a time.

I'd like to offer an alternative perspective.

You don't have to completely disconnect in order to take a break.  Often prioritizing will accomplish the same thing.  Set limits and then stick to them.  Make reasonable goals.  Reward yourself if you meet your goals and deprive yourself of something if you don't reach them because of procrastination.  Life happens and often schedules go awry because of circumstances out of our control.  But procrastination and distraction are things we can control.  If you were looking forward to reading a new book but spent 20 minutes surfing the web for no reason, then don't allow yourself to read the book until the next day, or take 20 minutes out of your usual reading time.

I'm an introvert.  I need my private time.  I need time away from everyone except for a tiny handful of people.  (Literally.  I can count them on the fingers of one hand.)  Yet much of my life right now uses my computer and/or the internet.  I've had to evolve coping methods and set limits to try to achieve a balance, because otherwise I'm worn out all the time and summoning energy when I need it is hard.

At times, I go several days without answering messages because I can only handle so much people time in one day and Facebook/gmail chatting with people drains me almost as much as face-to-face interaction.  (Exceptions: my best friends or if a message preview indicates that someone is having a rough day and needs me.)  I'm trying to stay off Facebook one day a week (usually Sunday), though I'll still use gmail chat if I need to communicate with a close friend.  Some nights I stay offline for an extra half an hour after supper and just read.  Some mornings I take an extra half hour or an hour to be around my family before logging online.  On Saturdays I don't usually go online until noon.  I've been working on logging off of Facebook between 9 and 9:30 every night and unless I'm expecting an important message, need to check on someone, or I'm highly energized after my shower, I don't go back on until the next morning.  I use that time to exercise, read, write, watch an episode of a TV show/drama, or plan schedules. 

I'm a high-focus person.  I can concentrate through almost anything, but like most people, the less distractions I have, the better I work.  If I'm working on a blog post for my writing blog, I won't answer messages from anyone except my best friends.  If I'm editing, critiquing, or writing, I often work in bursts of 20-30 minutes of focus and then 5-10 minutes of checking social media or reading blogs.  On the rare times when I have to absolutely focus on only one thing, I mute all my email and social media browser tabs and ignore my phone... but rarely for longer than one hour at a time.  People need breaks to keep them fresh.  (Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm extremely bad at taking breaks but I'm trying to learn.)

As regards my writing, I often set word limits, particularly during NaNo or an intense push on a project.  I won't log onto Facebook in the mornings until I have 1000 words written.  (This doesn't take as long as you might think, about 30-45 minutes when I'm in the groove).

One of my best friends has chosen to stay off Facebook all day on Sundays.  She'll still access Instagram, Tumblr, email, and sometimes Pinterest, but she stays off Facebook.  This gives her a break from people in general and allows her to relax.  During the week, the two of us often 'work together' where we'll go for half an hour just quietly working on our own projects with the occasional comment.  This allows us to spend time together and accomplish things at the same time.

Face-to-face (or chat-to-chat) interaction is important.  For some people it's less of a necessity than for others.  Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, it's a good idea to set limits for yourself.  Sometimes, you do just need to take a whole day or two off.  I've done that before, too, though in general I prefer not to. 

I'm a long way from feeling truly balanced, but this is a strategy that has me on the right road.  I hope you found it helpful, and if you didn't, then I hope you do find something that works for you.

This is not a reflection on anyone or an attack on anyone else's perspective.  I understand that many people feel like their break has to be unplugging or going offline for a week or even a weekend at a time.  I'm merely presenting an alternative perspective.  (Not alternative facts, though, I'll leave that to Ms. Conway.)


Best wishes to you in discovering your balance of technoise and communication vs. peace and harmony!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tale of A Changeling Child


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Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was an adorable baby girl born to a human family in the United States of America. 

That same day, a girl child was born to a family in the land of The Ageless Ones.  Her father was a misbegotten djinn, kicked out of his society for exceeding his mandate and continually using his power to help humans.  Her mother was an outcast fairy, a bandit of the order of Robinhood.

The djinn and the fairy knew that if the Elder Council of the Ageless Ones learned of the child, they would be required to live within reach of the Elders and raise the child according to their dictates, to ensure she would grow up to be a law-abiding citizen.  Neither wished such a cloistered life for their child, instead longing for her to fully experience Earth in all its glory, growing her own earthly elemental powers.

So they did the only thing they felt they could.  The mother located the human child born the same hour and minute as hers, and taking her own daughter, flew to switch them, intending to leave the human child as a foundling on the steps of Starlak Cathedral.  It was not uncommon for the fairies, elves, gnomes, sylphs, and undines to raise abandoned human children.

A gnomi princess received an orphaned infant that night, but few were ever certain whether it was of human or Ageless lineage... and the princess and her husband refused to discuss its parentage with anyone.  If members of the Council knew, they had been enjoined by the Light they all served to keep the secret, and no word of it ever passed their lips.

The gnomi queen, the crown prince of the djinn, and the fairy king were instructed to keep an eye on the child in the human world.  Their influence was constant, but so subtle that it was untraceable.  Seamlessly they cooperated with her High Guardian to ensure that she stayed safe.

Whether human or Ageless, the child was loved deeply by the human family and grew to full adulthood in the sunny South of her land.  By the time she had reached her early 20s, she possessed many talents, including but not limited to:
~ a kind friendliness that reached out to male and female, young and old, alike, irregardless of the color of their skin or their profession or any other of the dividers many humans felt so necessary to take into account when speaking of their fellow humans
~ a phenomenal talent for art, honed through countless hours of excruciating practice 
~ an attractive, radiantly magnetic aura that made men crazy about her and girls trip over themselves to befriend her
~ a passionate adoration of the stars and moon
~ an author whose deep understanding of the world and people around her blended with a love of the Ageless, human, and Divine to spin fascinating tales that spoke not just to hearts, but to souls
~ a sensitivity that enabled her to be a comfort and a lifeline to numerous mortals
~ an intense love of solitude
~ a loyalty so deep the stars murmured in empathy
~ a light so intense that all who saw it were entranced by it

On this young woman's birthday in the year of the Light two thousand seventeen, the gnomi queen, djinn prince, and fairy king gathered to compare notes.  The girl's High Guardian stopped in for a few minutes to join them in a glass of exquisite wine.  All agreed that the child had grown into someone any parent, whether human or Ageless, could be justly proud of; a tempered vessel of the Eternal Light and one whose life had touched more than they could know, and would continue to touch more each year.

Her name.......


MIRRIAM



Chronicled this twenty-sixth day of April in the year of our Lord two thousand seventeen, by permission of the Light as granted to the narrator via the djinn prince.  

The narrator wishes to add the very happiest of birthday wishes to the woman who will forever be the Yang to her Yin.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

MBTI: Five Ws and How



MBTI.  The abbreviation gets tossed around a lot, as do the sixteen personality designations resulting from it.  But what IS it, really?  Where did it come from and when? And WHY do people find it so fascinating?

Let's take a look at a few facts and see if we can answer those questions.


WHO

Contrary to some popular misconceptions, it was not two men but two women who developed it:
Katharine Cook Briggs (1875-1968) teacher, author
and her daughter
Isabel Briggs Myers (1897-1980) author, psychoanalyst

Honorary Mention: Carl Jung (1875-1961) psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, psychologist, author


WHAT

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Test
A series of questions designed to sort a person into one of sixteen personality types.  Initially based on Carl Jung’s book Psychological Types, and then on extensive experience and practice by Isabel Briggs Myers.


WHEN

Longer ago than you think.  Katharine began her studies in 1917, but the test itself was based on extensive research and testing by Isabel, particularly between the years of 1944 and 1962.


WHERE



WHY

As one piece of a framework for better understanding people and relationships, as well as oneself and our strengths and weaknesses.  This in turn allows us to interact better with people, by learning how they're likely to react or behave.  It also teaches us how to capitalize on our strengths and cope with our weaknesses, learning when we need to push ourselves and when we need to give ourselves a break.


HOW

By answering a series of questions, reading the results, and sometimes retaking the test until you’ve confirmed your type is accurate.

An internet test cannot test and sort you the way a human can.  It’s a fact.  Which is why a person sometimes has to retake the test and choose other 'applicable answers’ for some of the questions until the result comes true.


Still have questions?  Ask away and if I can't answer them, I can hopefully direct you to someone/something that can.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Tigers Don't Have Wings... or Do They?


Driven from their homeland by the vengeance of a bitter king, Bora and her best friend Nari are entranced when the mists part to reveal the beautiful land of Ashiato.  Nari wishes only to be allowed to live her life in peace, away from war and constant power mongering, but Bora disdains peace and sets her sights higher, on the Palace itself.

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It all began with a kdrama.

Late in October 2015, I was watching an episode of the Korean drama Empress Ki, which is set during the time Goryeo (Korea) was under Yuan (Mongolian) overlordship.  Lady Ki was a Korean concubine of the Yuan emperor and rose to become his empress, shortly before the southern Yuan empire dissolved and was replaced by the Ming dynasty.  It’s a fascinating story of palace politics, the machinations of noble families, and the love of kings for a smart woman.  (Also, an awesome Mongolian historian general.)

While watching this episode, I was chatting with my best friend, Katherine Sophia, who had watched the drama while it aired and had strenuously insisted I'd love it.  (She wasn’t wrong.)
Me: GOSH, I do love Chinese court and harem dynamics.
Kate: haha.  Okay, but I adored allll the facing off of everybody.  It was awesome.  And it’s all about power plays and crazy relationships… so it’s fascinating.  XD. We wouldn’t want to live them, but they’re interesting.  SO MUCH POWER.  NOBODY WAS COMPLETELY STUPID OR COMPLETELY HATEFUL.

Me: ‘Xactly.  As much as I think I actually personally could rise to the top and at least stay there for a while, I wouldn’t actually want to try it. 

Kate: You really probably would.  It’d still be pleasanter if you didn’t have to.  Myself on the other hand, would probably be one of the first to die.  XD

Me: Nah, you’d be the best friend that I protected all along while rising to the top.  ............Ohhhhh.  Now I want to write that.

Kate: Aww, okay, now I want to read that.

Me: I’m totally going to do it.

Thus, Wings of the Tiger was born.

From that beginning it became a stress-relieving story I scribbled on from time to time, a scene here, a scene there… and then it sat for a few months and I decided I didn’t just want it to be a 'for fun' story.  I wanted to turn it into a serious project I could throw myself into without losing the stress relief aspects and the fun that originally inspired it.


PINBOARD


Brought before its king, Bora is infuriated when the priests declare them the heirs of the prophecy to unify the land against the coming war.  She is not a pawn, to be used and to walk blindly to her doom.  She will control her own destiny.  Eagerly, she flings herself into the Court politics.  But meddling with prophecies is not a game for mere mortals, as she discovers when her life becomes currency for every competing power and rogue swordsman in the land.


What to expect:
  • harems
  • power plays
  • politics
  • seven elemental clans, including a Phoenix clan that Kate described as ‘the Borgia family of your novel world’
  • animal-themed major and minor clans who spend most of their time building armies and trying to out-politic each other
  • princes and princesses fighting over who will become heir to the king
  • four or five dark lords
  • more power plays
  • alliances
  • elemental powers
  • more politics
  • blood magic
  • warriors
  • dragons
  • even more power plays 
  • unicorns
  • griffins
  • even more politics
  • how far can someone go in pursuit of power for the right reasons without being corrupted
  • every positive trait in a person has a negative potential


Snippet:
Silently everyone awaited Bora’s cry, the final seal to allow their safe passage.

If it’s a scream they wish, they shall have it.  All of the feelings she’d been holding at bay boiled out of her in a shriek that seemed to tear the sails from the mastheads.  Grief over the parents she would never see again, anger at the king who should have protected her father, rage at the events from the moment of being seized by the royal guards until now, annoyance at being forced into exile from everything familiar, and above all sheer, raw fury over being a powerless pawn writhed in the sound emanating from her.

Nari clung to her, refusing to let her pull away, which in her fury she unconsciously strove to do.  Her friend’s touch anchored her as the maelstrom of anger tore through her.

The ship stilled.  Lightning clove the mist, hovering over the surface of the sea for a second that seemed an hour but briefer than a breath.  Sailors stared, frozen in shock.  The captain muttered a sharp oath and spun around to move toward the wheel but the lightning was gone and the ship moving again.  Bora heard him turn to look at her but did not face him.  There was nothing to be said.  She had done as he asked and on her head should not rest any unforeseen result.  The Captain left, walking surely and firmly from memory the length of the enshrouded deck to rejoin the sailor at the wheel.

A low, cackling laugh echoed behind them.  “They asked for it and you gave it, eh?” Bok Soon said.  “Without needing to divine, I predict that whether for good or evil, you bring a powerful fate to this land, Jung Bora.”


Will she bow before the forces of Time and the Universe, or will she discover that she has set herself a task as impossible as finding a tiger with wings?  From gleaming throne rooms to blood soaked battlefields, the tale of kings and queens, hearts and destinies; the shieldwoman who attempted to defy destiny and the swordswoman who swore to make it serve her.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

#TheWriter'sTag: Organized Mass Chaos

I love writer's tags.  Most other tags I'm not fond of, but writer's tags speak to my soul.  I believe this one originally came from Cait Paper Furious, via the fantastic penslayer Jennifer Freitag and my dragoness Mirriam.


1. WHAT GENRES, STYLES, AND TOPICS DO YOU WRITE ABOUT?

Genres:
*steeples fingers and stares at the wall meditatively*
I've tried a wide variety of genres and genre-crosses, from urban fantasy fairy tale retelling to political psycho-thriller to East Asian historical fantasy.  That said, I definitely have my favorites... and least favorites.

Favorites:
High fantasy, historical fantasy, science fantasy, historical fiction, political thrillers, military sci-fi.
Least favorites:
Contemporary Christian romance (it was a soldier story dare from a sister and I poked the unfinished mess into a corner to quietly die in shame), pretty much anything contemporary unless it involves fantasy, and anything involving too many rules I have to pay attention to during the writing process.
Genres I don't write:
the e-word, horror, paranormal.

Styles:
*blinks* 
Third person with as many POVs as I can cram in without confusing readers... too much.
Complex 'big-picture' tapestries with as many colors of the rainbow as will fit.
Ideas that make my family (and a lot of friends) scratch their heads and wonder what planet dropped me on Earth.
I don't know, man, this is a hard question.  I like to try to make people think.

Topics:
These range all over the known globe but there are a few constants:
Loyalty
Friendship
Common Sense
Power plays and their effects on people
Manipulation
Politics
People who actually use their brains


2. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WRITING?

I was.... seven or eight when I first picked a pencil to tell a story.  So nearing two decades, give or take.


3. WHY DO YOU WRITE?

If I tell you, you might meet a bloody death in my novel.  Are you sure you want to know?


4. WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO WRITE?

O.o  Gosh, when isn't??????

I do most of my best writing in the afternoon when I know I have a few uninterrupted hours or late at night when inspired with maniacal fervor.


5. PARTS OF WRITING YOU LOVE VS. PARTS YOU HATE?

Love:
Creating worlds and watching them come alive
Releasing stress and internal cogitation via the written word
Writing something I know is going to make people raise their eyebrows at me
Hopefully writing something that is going to make people feel deeply on all levels

Hate:
Never having enough time to write all of the ideas that come
The length of time it takes for something I've written to become presentable
The near-constant self-doubt


6. HOW DO YOU OVERCOME WRITERS BLOCK?

Take a walk
Take a shower
Switch to writing something else for a day or two
Watch Korean dramas
Eat something sugary
Challenge Mirriam to a writing contest of some sort

If all else fails, then I bury myself in a book or Pinterest and growl at anyone who tries to un-bury me.


7. ARE YOU WORKING ON SOMETHING AT THE MOMENT?

Yes! I'm finishing up plotting for my East Asian historical fantasy novel Wings of the Tiger.  (Intro post coming on Saturday.)


8. WRITING GOALS THIS YEAR?

Begin the first draft of Wings of the Tiger
Work toward finishing the first draft of A Certain Darkness
Revise Queen Beauty and the Beasts
Write a fate worse than death for my enemies
Edit Queen Beauty and the Beasts
Make someone cry with something I wrote
Pooossibly publish or query Queen Beauty and the Beasts


Now it's your turn.  Take this tag over to your blog posthaste and answer it and then leave me a link in the comments!  (Alternatively, you can answer it /in/ the comments.)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

JUST A Villain? Seriously?


'A villain is just a victim whose story hasn't been told.'

I've seen this phrase in various places, from being splashed all over Pinterest to showing up in fairy tale retellings.  Every time I come across it, I grit my teeth and hiss.  A couple of weeks ago, I encountered it in a middle-grade fantasy I was reading.  I managed to repress the strong urge to throw the aforementioned book across the room and finish the prologue before yanking a notebook towards me to scribble the foundation of this blog post.

Why do I loathe this particular piece of writing advice/inspiration/what have you?

Simply put, because it's poppycock.  A lie.  Rubbish.

A villain is not 'just' anything, least of all 'just a victim'.  True, many villains started out as victims, and naturally, that experience shaped them drastically.  But somewhere along the way, they made choices that led them down the road to villainy.

Every victim has a choice.  They can allow their past to define them and turn them into something dark as they take revenge on others or attempt to revenge themselves on Time itself for the wrongs they have suffered.  They can choose to continue the cycle of abuse and evil and become the villain oppressing others, creating more victims.

OR

They can stand up and they can say 'no more' and do their best to move beyond their victim past, not allowing it to define them.

Is being a victim horrible?  Yes, absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt.  But just because someone was a victim doesn't mean that they will automatically become a villain.  Many heroes were victims, too.  But they made the choice to overcome that experience.  People in real life make choices every single day to overcome their past as victims and live as survivors and heroes.

It doesn't matter how misunderstood a person is because of their past, or how much pain and agony they suffered, or how warped and twisted were the people they knew.  Everyone has a choice.  Every person (or alien or whatever) chooses good or bad.  And if they consistently make the wrong choices, if they refuse to choose good when they could, that's what makes them a villain. 

Do I think there are opportunities for villains in books to have been misunderstood victims and be written as gray characters whose pain and grief drove them to inflict pain on others?  Sure.  And as a writer, reaching into that victim past enables us to guide the reader to feel sympathy or understanding for the villain, thereby making them more well-rounded (hopefully without blurring the lines of morality in the process).  But the fact that the character is a villain still comes down to choice, not their history.

"Well, fine," you say, "but what about the saying 'every villain is the hero of their own story'?  Doesn't that nullify your point?"
Absolutely not.  According to the technical definitions of hero and villain, that is an erroneous saying.  (Definitions courtesy of the New Oxford American Dictionary.)

hero: a person who is admired for or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities; also, the chief male character in a book, play, or movie, who is typically identified with good qualities or choices, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize

villain: a character whose evil actions or motives are important to the plot

A villain may be the main character of their own story, but they are not the hero.  Writing a story from the POV of the villain- or including their POV- doesn't change whether what they did was right or wrong.  Stories seen through the bad guy's eyes can be fascinating, when well written.  But one's past can never be used to excuse one's present. 

The choices of others make people victims.  A person's OWN choice makes them a villain or a hero.