27 Things I Accidentally Did This School Term

(desperately searches for a gif that suits the insanity of this semester) (oh there’s one) (it’s Sherlock even better)

Miracles do happen. I’m alive, people!

Granted, I am 1000% ready for the summer. I’ve got a bunch of fun plans for the next few (i.e. million) blog posts. In the meantime, though, I’m just trying to recover from the last two months of my life. You would not believe the insanity if I tried to describe them. However, insanity is sometimes better communicated in a list format, which is why I’m going to tell you about it in a list of 27 things I randomly did this semester without ever planning to do them.

So in case you ever wanted to know, here’s why I disappeared over the last two months. Not a thinking post, just a rant to say hello and hopefully make someone laugh. I did some good things as well as some not-so-wise things. Learn from my mistakes and copy the things I did right, and hopefully you will survive your junior year as well. (Maybe.)

In the past half-semester of school, I:

  1. Signed up for five courses in eight weeks.

  2. Subsequently learned that you’re only supposed to take two or three courses in eight weeks.

  3. Tested the “you need at least eight hours of sleep in order to function normally” hypothesis. It is in fact true.

  4. Learned how to bluff my way through a paper.

  5. Wrote a total of 28 essays (some shorter, some longer, there is no in between).

  6. Got really, really good at finding scholarly sources for papers.

  7. Mastered the skill of citing those sources in multiple formats in my sleep.

  8. Tweeted a lot about #college and #studentlife. (Still did not learn how to use Facebook.)

  9. Concluded that I go to college with a bunch of Andersons.

  10. Speaking of Anderson,  finally sat down and watched Sherlock. 

  11. Became a full-fledged & slightly insane Sherlockian (see also: gif).

  12. Also watched Doctor Strange way more often than I should have.

  13. Perplexedly tried to figure out why most people I talked to hate Doctor Strange.

  14. Basically watched any movie that has Benedict Cumberbatch as a sarcastic jerk.

  15. Wrote parodies for Doctor Strange and Rogue One.

  16. Perfected an impression of Mads Mikkelsen for aforementioned parodies.

  17. Discovered just how hard it is for American me to learn a Danish accent.

  18. Did not do any decent filming- we must hold out until the summer. Sigh…

  19. Re-wired yet another old draft of a novel.

  20. Turned that novel into a fantasy thriller turned romance novel turned Greek tragedy turned… well, I don’t really know what it is yet, but it’s cool.

  21. Invented an eccentric INTP who may will probably turn out to be an antagonist.

  22. Also invented his twin ESFJ sister who is the sweetest little cinnamon roll that ever managed a kingdom.

  23. Let my characters start another war. They’re really good at that.

  24. Published two whole blog posts (although I admit one of those was written beforehand).

  25. Promised myself I would take off the summer and resisted any and all attempts by my college to get me to come back.

  26. Made a resolution to take violin lessons.

  27. Ranted about all of it on my blog.

So that was the last few months of school for me. Needless to say, I’m just glad the semester is over, and I plan to have a lot of fun during the next one.

Happy summer, kids.

Doctor Strange || Coat and Cloak:

Of Surveys and Updates

Well.

Star Wars movies movie star wars hello GIF

We haven’t talked for awhile.

I apologize that I’ve almost completely disappeared from the internet over the past few weeks. School leaves me nearly zero time for writing or blogging (not to mention sucks away my motivation for it), so it may be a little while before I’m back to my normal pace of weekly posting. In the meantime, though, how would you like some updates and things to do while I’m gone?

First, you can help with a survey on books and authors. A friend of mine from Kingdom Pen is gathering info from book-loving teens about reading and books and all other literary things. That sounds fun, doesn’t it? It is. So, if you’re a teenage-ish bookworm, click on this link and take the survey! Many thanks to you.

Well, once you’ve done that (don’t worry, I’ll wait), allow me to thank you for participating in the Indie e-Con Book Awards. It was fantastic to see authors and readers come together on the internet to talk about some of our favorite things. I didn’t get to attend that much thanks to school, but I know everyone had fun.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s chat a little about Alen’s WarThat is to ask, how in the world did you like it? I’d love to hear your thoughts! I like talking about my books. By the way, if you really really liked the book, go ahead and rate or review it on Goodreads or Amazon. I love reviews, so thank you kindly.

Finally, some things to compensate for my unprecedented appearance. Have you been to my Resources page? That’s where I’ve compiled a lot of helpful articles and blogs, as well as some books and videos. You should check it out. For now, I recommend the Write About Dragons channel (by Brandon Sanderson!) if you want some brilliant writing advice, or the Rafflecopter blog if you want some tips on marketing.

And I promise I’ll be back within five weeks at the very worst. It’s almost the end of the school year, guys. Hang in there!

Two Reasons I Liked Rogue One

Reminder: Don’t forget about free books!

I feel like this post doesn’t need much of a prelude. Chances are that anyone reading has already seen the newest Star Wars story and doesn’t care about reviews or spoilers, so this is basically a structured rant about a fun adventure/war film. Because I like that sort of thing.

Cinematography…

So yes, I’ve seen Rogue One! I actually watched it about a week before I went to see Doctor Strange (which of course resulted in me wondering why Kaecilius looked so familiar), because although I’m not a Star Wars fan per se, the trailers caught my interest. It didn’t seem like the traditional huge space epic, but more like a smaller and more intricate war movie, which quite honestly appealed to me.

Now you’ve probably heard all the complaining: the pacing was off, the battles were tactless, the characterization was stuffy… and I can definitely agree with most of it. But in spite of all that, I still enjoyed the film. I can’t explain my thoughts precisely in a single sentence, but the closest I can get is this: Despite its mechanical flaws, Rogue One is a genius story idea that taught me two big lessons about writing. And- you guessed it- we’re talking about those two lessons today.

Cue the “blog post proper” theme song…

Reason #1: Most epic use of a plot hole.

Or a ventilation hole, come to think of it.

Anytime I think of plot holes, I think of How it Should Have Ended. Have you heard of it? HISHE is a comedy channel on YouTube that parodies popular movies by asking the question, “Why didn’t they just do X instead of Y?” Thus, they rewrite plots and plot holes and totally change the ending of a movie, to everyone’s amusement. (Note: I didn’t provide a link because HISHE isn’t always clean, and I don’t want to be yelled at for letting little kids watch it. Sorry, kids.)

Now as a moviegoer and fan, I appreciate such parodies and laugh when they humorously point out gaping plot holes. But, as a storyteller, I have a certain fear gnawing at the back of my mind- how does any writer end up with such glaring flaws? Authors’ worst nightmares consist of two things: plot holes, and no book sales. And if we overlook our plot holes, we also get no book sales. Lose-lose.

Well, now let’s talk about the genius of Rogue One.

I imagine that the brainstorming session looked something like this. A bunch of Star Wars fans who also had a thing for storytelling looked at one of the most famous plot holes of all time: why the heck was there a hole in the Death Star that led to the core of the machine? The question had been plaguing fans for years, and these storytellers dared to answer it: The hole was there because the rebels put it there.

For those of you who don’t know, the whole concept of Rogue One is that the guy who designed the Death Star realized too late the destruction it could bring, and he built in a secret weakness with the intent that the rebels could find it and destroy the weapon. Now, the daughter of that engineer and her team of rebels are out to find the plans and bring them to the Resistance.

Thus, what used to be a gaping plot hole becomes an epic heist film.

mind blown

Yeah, that’s how to tell a story.

Lesson learned: seek out and work with the plot holes. They can help you tell a better story.

Reason #2: The bravely creative ending.

Hope.

*spoilers warning spoilers warning spoilers warning*

Let us not mince words.

Everyone dies. 

Seriously, how insane is that? Let’s just leave aside the terrifying awesomeness of Darth Vader- although that, too, was a fantastic scene that no one will ever forget. Think about it; the last twenty or so minutes of the movie is literally a series of death scenes and sequels, which, I think, is quite a fitting end to a war movie about a Resistance team. It’s probably my favorite aspect of the movie: I got to watch a group of regular, courageous people give their lives for what they believed in. It drove the theme home so hard. I get goosebumps thinking about it.

You probably won’t believe this, but at the beginning of the movie, I took a bite of popcorn and thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if they all died on this mission so that the rebels could save the galaxy? -But no, that’s crazy. No way would that work.”

And then it happened! Intentionally or not, the story set up a wild idea in my mind and then fulfilled it beyond all expectations.

sherlock benedict cumberbatch sherlock approves

But I have to stop and ask myself, how did that production meeting go? We writers know how it is when we kill just one character; what about a whole cast? There’s always that one lady who despises watching characters die- death is heartwrenching! There’s the money guy who’s still holding out for a sequel- no sequels unless you have characters! And then the focus groups analyst who says that killing characters makes people angry- look what happened to The Walking Dead!

Yet, despite all the craziness surrounding it, the production team went for it. And am I ever glad they did.

It’s the bravest endings that stick with us. Resolutions needn’t always be bleak, nor even tragic, but they should always be a fitting close to the tale we’re telling. And sometimes that means asking questions that sound insane:

What if the Greeks built a giant wooden horse?

What if Romeo and Juliet actually kill themselves?

What if the whole team dies on the planet?

Lesson learned: Ask the crazy questions; go for the extreme endings. They may turn out to be the most memorable stories. 

Well, here we are. No matter if you liked Rogue One or not, I think we can all take a lesson or two from the imaginations behind it, as well as learn from its failures. That’s the thing about movies- there has never been a film that can’t teach us something about writing. And now, thanks to one particular Star Wars Story, I’m inspired to be a braver writer than before.

Free Books? Indie eCon 2017 Book Awards

Just a friendly reminder that my book Alen’s War is free for the next five days!

All this thanks to the Indie e-Con Book Awards. The best part of this contest is that, for the next week, all y’all fantastical readers can head over to Amazon and download any or all of the eligible books (some for free, others for 99¢) and dive into the literary adventures. Then, on the 18th, you can vote for your favorite books in different genres. Click this button to visit the official e-Con page for details- it’s all on the site!

Oh, and did I mention that you should attend the e-Con on March 20-24? Kendra E. Ardnek (remember her?) is hosting some brilliant indie authors to talk about a plethora of topics, like outlining and online marketing, and she’s also got some writing and fan-art contests going. It will be superb. At least, I’m expecting it will be; this is only my first year attending, too. So do click on the button and look around. Who knows? You may find something awesome.

By the way, if you enjoy my book, feel free to leave a quick review on Amazon or Goodreads so other bookworms can know how you liked it. A little indie secret: reviews aren’t always easy to get, and whenever you take the time to rate any book or leave a nice word about it, the author greatly appreciates it. At least, I know I do- so thank you!

Oh, and come back this Thursday during one of your reading breaks, because then we’ll be talking about a certain Star Wars Story.

Until then, happy reading!

Video Week: Music, Plus a Little Writing

reactions hello hi the princess bride inigo montoya

Another Video Week post! Hooray!

But before we get to the videos, a little sneak peak gift for you: March 13-20, you can get the Alen’s War ebook for free as part of the Indie e-Con Book Awards. How awesome is that? So now you can get totally hyped for free books.

Now on to the video thingies. And this week we have (drumroll)… music?

Look, I promise not to fall into the stereotype of “blogger who shares a bunch of music every once in awhile.” But this week I’ve been watching mostly historical documentaries about the darkest chapters of the USSR, and I’m pretty sure y’all wouldn’t appreciate that sort of thing. So instead, I give you a bunch of music- and I just might have a few storytelling things at the end. Stay tuned!

New Beginnings

I’ve never seen Iron Man 3, nor do I plan to in the foreseeable future (and I’ve been told I have great foresight). But when did that ever stop me from listening to Brian Tyler’s unforgettably epic scores?

Star Wars Cello Medley

You are all entitled to know that I love Star Wars music almost as much as I love cellos. In light of this, behold: a new favorite music YouTuber of mine.

Viva La Vida (Aston)

Just watch.

SHERlocked

Yes, I listened to all of the Sherlock season scores in a week. But it was a long week.

The Evil Overlord

Look at that, we finally get some writing stuff! I can keep a promise after all. Honestly, Kingdom Pen Cinema is so underrated, and that’s because practically no one in the writing world knows of its existence. And I think it’s time to remedy that.

And yes, we “expert” authors already know a thing or two about Character Archetypes and Stereotypes- so what? This series is great for newer writers (even VYWs), and everyone can use a bit of a refresher. And if all else fails, we can laugh at the literary references. Enjoy a study of the Evil Overlord:

Until next time, fare ye well!

A Few Things About Adulting

adultingcoverYes, I’m writing about adulthood today.

Okay, okay. I’ve only been an official adult for eight-ish months now, so I claim no expertise in this realm, but I figured that I have a lot of younger teens reading my blog who will appreciate the tidbits I’ve learned so far. Besides that, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to grow up, and I don’t know, but my blog seems like a permissible place to share my thoughts. So take this post for what I hope it’s worth: some casual advice to kids who are (as I was) terrified of the prospect of 18.

Now for some hashtag real talk.

It’s not that much harder, just more complicated.

Let’s face the facts. Most people think adulthood will look like this:

Han Solo is ecstatic!

But in reality, most of the time it actually looks like this:

Here, a reason of many why I will miss Matt terribly. This gesture is perfectly that of the little boy who loses something precious. Sure he’s not a boy, but what I love about Eleven/the Doctor is that there are so many elements of a child in him. After all he’s somewhere around a thousand years old. He’s dealt with so many joys and so many pains. Bound to make you kind of backwards forwards, right? But it’s the actor who totally goes deep inside and recalls being the child …

Yes, adulthood is harder than the other teen years. Just like tenth grade was harder than ninth grade. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The truth is, adulting is a combination of regular teenage school and work, a few new tasks thrown in, and paperwork. Lots and lots of paperwork. If you’ve ever self-published, you know what I’m talking about: money plus government always equals paperwork.

Adulthood is no exception. You’ll be doing almost exactly the same things that Mom used to make you help her do, except this time you have to write it down in case you get audited. And how do we survive that? Well, if you’ll pardon a bit of bandwagon: if everyone else can do it, so can you.

Which brings me to the next point…

It’s okay to ask for help.

sherlock

No one is born knowing how to file tax forms. Everyone at some point has asked Mom how to write out a check. Never has anyone become too good to ask one’s truck-loving neighbor about the best brand of antifreeze windshield fluid. They just ask people about things. And do you know the best part? If you ask, people will answer.

Yes, some cashiers will look at you sideways when you ask, “Do I swipe the card now?” and one or two of them may in fact bite your head off for it. If this happens, smile politely, move on, and make a note of not patronizing Mr Bumble’s establishment again. But in the last seven months of adulting, I’ve learned that most folks are of the regular, decent sort. They are willing, eager in fact, to help a well-meaning young person learn the same things they had to learn twenty plus years ago. Besides, once you’ve found someone who likes to help young people learn how to adult, you’ve probably found a good friend, which is always a plus.

We can be adults at home, too.

This one makes my head spin. As soon as I turned eighteen, I started hearing the inevitable train of questioning. Where am I going to college? When am I going to move out? What the heck- why would I not move out on my own? I can’t make sense of the logic (or lack thereof) behind it: if moving to a different locale changes the nature of one’s entire being, why not just trade rooms with a sibling? Obviously, adulthood has little to do with location. Whether you stay at home or move out is beside the point; money, personal maturity, and environment are much more important factors.

Lookit me! I’m adulting!

But, people say, how can we grow up when we’re dealing with such dysfunctional family members? Surely that is a reason to move out. Okay. Maybe you’re in a situation where you should not under any circumstances stay with your family; there’s just no living with certain people. In that case, go right ahead and God speed ye! But the rest of us have probably just paved our floors with eggshells. Duh, people make mistakes (that’s what people do), and if we have that much trouble living with the ordinary, well-meaning, annoying people who raised us, we’re probably just as bad. Are we really expecting ourselves to function that much better in a dorm with other ordinary, well-meaning, annoying college kids?

Of course it’s not wrong to live in an apartment rather than your parents’ house. In fact, it may make more financial sense to move out, and the change of responsibility might be good for you. (Truth be told, hardly anybody cares where you keep your stuff for the next four years of your life.) But don’t let peer pressure make your decisions for you. Look critically at your options, and whatever you decide, be confident in that choice. Just do your thing and be an adult no matter where you are.

It’s about the attitude change.

When it comes down to it, being an adult means everyone’s attitudes- including yours- need to change. The minor-adult law is kind of arbitrary. On the morning of your eighteenth birthday, are you suddenly endowed with a new spirit that seventeen-year-and-364-day-old you didn’t have? In a fantasy world, maybe, but not here. To summarize a long and boring history lesson: the government realized that kids grew up somewhere between the ages of ten and twenty, and it picked the nice even number of eighteen.

This is both electrifying and unnerving. Suddenly, you have an unrestricted license and can drive wherever and whenever you like. You can buy anything (except alcohol; that has to wait three years) and do anything so long as it’s within the limits of the law. Freedom!

But you’ve watched Spiderman; you now have great responsibility. At age seventeen, if you stole money from a cash register, the cops yelled at your parents, who in turn yelled at you and made you pay back the goods. Now, if you steal at age eighteen, it’s on the record forever, and you’re a thief who has to answer to the law. The government’s attitude changed; society’s attitude changed; they’re expecting your attitude to change, too. And that seems unfair, but hey- welcome to life. You’ll get used to it.

shrugging

My life isn’t over.

Being an adult is actually kind of fun. In Texas, turning eighteen gives one the privilege to drive at any time of the day and with as many friends as one likes. Under normal circumstances, adults can go anywhere in the world they like. And people have finally stopped asking this former homeschooler why I’m not in school.

cartoon high five clap best friend the emperors new groove

Yes, paperwork is annoying and complex; yes, I have to be very careful about my behavior; and yes, I have a lot more random tasks to complete. But whining about it isn’t going to bring me back to childhood- and to be honest, I don’t really want to go back.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed being a kid. Playing in sandboxes and getting my shoes dirty, eating ice cream not knowing of the existence of calories… all that was nice, but that’s not where I am now. It’s time for me to be an adult. Everyone needs a healthy balance of work and play, and that balance changes as we grow up. That’s how we were made.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 

1 Corinthians 13:11

When it comes down to it, growing up isn’t really about what you’re capable of doing and how well you perform at doing it. It’s about doing what you think is best, screwing up, admitting the mistake, and doing that much better next time. It’s about getting closer to the person God made you to be, and that isn’t really so scary after all.