One writer's thoughts and dreams

Writing

Wednesday Book Review – Aftertime

I’m working out a schedule for the blog and Wednesdays are going to be devoted to book reviews – Review Wednesdays.  Since martial arts are such a big part of my life, I’m going to adapt black belt for the rating – 5 black belts being the highest rating, 1 being the lowest. I was considering doing color belts, but that can quickly get confusing, especially for people not well acquainted with the belt system in martial arts.

And so, without further adieu, here’s my first review, since I just finished reading the book this morning.

Title: Aftertime

Author: Sophie Littlefield

Genre: Dystopian/Post-apocalyptic fiction (with strong elements of romance and horror)

Rating:            

Since I got interested in reading dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction recently, Aftertime seemed like a definite book to put on the list. I wasn’t disappointed.

Aftertime tells a story of Cass, a troubled young woman and a recovering alcoholic, searching for her little daughter in the world where there’s no more government, where much of the cattle and poultry has been poisoned by bio-terrorists, and where Beaters – skin eating zombies – roam the streets and roads.

However, the novel is much more than just another zombie apocalypse story. Some of the issues that Cass deals are issues that exist in our world today. The exploration of losing oneself in alcohol and sex to run away from emotional pain is just one example.

The descriptions are raw and beautiful, and quiet realistic. The action is fast-paced and moves the development of the story along nicely. Aftertime explores the topics of human spirit, survival, compassion, civilization, nature and, of course, hope and renewal.

I’m looking forward to picking up the next book in the series, Rebirth.


The rise of post-apocalyptic fiction

It’s Sunday night and hurricane Irene has passed our area as a tropical storm, weaker than expected but strong enough to cause some damage and a lot of worry. It’s been a strange week – from the rarity of feeling the tremors of an earthquake in NYC to this hurricane taking a rare north-east course. Gratefully, everyone I know is safe and sound and we are praying for all those who have been affected by hurricane Irene in more serious ways.

The preparation and waiting for the storm to hit made me think of other things though. Things that I have been thinking about a lot lately. Things that have to do with survival. Our times are so uncertain and so full of crazy events that you can’t help but think of that. It is not surprising that the post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction has been steadily becoming very popular and mainstream.

As it happened, as we were waiting for Irene, I have been in the middle of reading Aftertime by Sophie Littlefield, an enjoyable post-apocalyptic novel. Her description of the post-apocalyptic world is raw and beautifully realistic. This is the third post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel I have read in the last year. The first one was the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, a bestseller that is now being made into a movie.

The apocalyptic events can take many various forms, from the social disintegration stemming from the fall of economic system, to natural disasters of major proportions, to a yet unknown disease that spreads like wildfire with no cure in sight, to a nuclear catostrophe. Some fiction integrates all of the above.

So why are we so fascinated by this type of fiction nowadays? It explores the topics of human spirit, survival, resistance, compassion, civilization, nature and, of course, hope and renewal. Topics which are near and dear to most of us today because you can’t avoid them with all the events going on in the world. I believe we will see this genre become even bigger and more wide-spread in the next year. There so much material for writers in this genre still. And much interest from readers because, no matter how fantastic, it often is realistic enough to imagine and relate to, even just as an exploration of a human psyche in situations of major stress and survival.

I will be posting reviews of books I read and lists of novels coming out, so come back and check those out.

I would also love to know which post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels you enjoyed reading or look forward to reading soon. And what is your vision of a possible post-apocalyptic world?


Trip to Rome and Mediterranean Cruise

Since I was a little girl, I couldn’t read enough about history – mostly ancient and Renaissance. In college, I was very close to majoring in archaeology (oh, why does the practical side of life often has to win over passion?). I blame this obsession in part on my grandfather (love you, granddaddy) whose own love of history was contagious when I was a little girl (and also whose best friend was a famous archaeologist back in Russia). The other part was my natural curiosity.

In any case, reading about ancient Greece and Rome, about the artists and nobles of the Renaissance and everything in between, fiction and non-fiction, has dominated much of my life.
But reading about it and seen the places are two different things. Having come from Ukraine originally, I have seen some spectacular art and architecture of old. Yet since coming to America over 20 years ago, I haven’t seen Europe. So it was the most amazing surprise imaginable to me that my husband planned our vacation to…Rome and the Mediterranean Cruise to Sicily, Athens in Greece, Ephesus in Turkey and Crete! And I found out about all that literally half an hour before leaving for the airport!

Needless to say, this was the best vacation of my life. I finally got to see the places I’ve been reading about all these years and dreamt about visiting.

First, there was the glory that is Rome…And it is glorious indeed. Anywhere I turned, there was something interesting to see. One of our tour guides told us that Rome is like a sandwich. There are so many layers of the city that no matter where you start digging you’re bound to find something ancient. When there was an earthquake or another calamity, the Romans would just build on top of the buried ruins. And we got to see a perfect example of this. Not far from the Coliseum, there’s the Basilica of Saint Clement. The top church was built around the year 1100 A.D. One level down, under this church, there’s an older basilica from the 4th Century A.D. Yet one more level down, archaeologists uncovered the home of a Roman nobleman who built his home around 64 A. D. on the foundation of a home from the republican era!! We were able to visit all three levels and this is currently still an active archaeological excavation. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if I said that I wanted to dance like a little girl from happiness that I got to see this.  It’s the closest I’ve ever been to a live archaeological dig!

This, of course, was just the cherry on top of the sundae. Coliseum, the Vatican, including the Sistine Chapel, many of the other beautiful churches we saw, the Trevi Fountain – nothing disappointed. Everything was as amazing as I imagined it. I even got to touch the work of Michaelangelo in one of the churches. Unfortunately, one of his most famous works, La Pieta, is now behind glass at St. Peter’s. I also saw the tomb of Rafael, another one of my favorite artists of Renaissance. I was so surprised to see the tomb at the Pantheon (shame on me for not knowing that!) that I have to admit my eyes got moist at that special moment.

Then, of course, came the cruise on one of the ships of Royal Carribean.  Sicily was gorgeous with its mountains and sea landscapes (which reminded me a lot of the landscapes in Crimea), and quaint little towns. We went to one such town called Taormina, located not too far from the Etna Mountain, which is an active volcano. There were many souvenirs and jewelry made of lava rock in every store. People living in towns like this still take siesta in the middle of the day, closing the doors to their shops no matter who is around and going home for their meal and nap.

Athens, Greece was the next stop and I could hardly believe I was finally there as I stood in the middle of the Acropolis. The ruins of the ancient temples were as impressive as I always imagined them.

In Ephesus, Turkey we visited two very special sites. The first was the house of Mary, the place where Jesus’ mother Mary lived out the last years of her life. The second site was the ruins of an ancient church built around the tomb of St. John the Evangelist, who wrote the Revelations. The place was very peaceful and picturesque. We also visited the ruins of Ephesus, the 2nd biggest city of the Roman Empire and, supposedly, the best preserved ruins today.

On the way back to Rome, our ship went by an island called Stromboli, which has the most active volcano in Europe. This was definitely another first for us.

I have so many beautiful memories of this trip and lots and lots of material for writing, which I have to organize (in my head and on paper). I would like to say a big thank you to my wonderful hubby for this surprise vacation of a lifetime. And here’s to many more trips all over the world.


Made of Awesome Contest Post

The first 250 words of our manuscript (co-written with Tina Moss) for the Made of Awesome Contest (find out all about it here: http://shelleywatters.blogspot.com/2011/05/made-of-awesome-contest.html).

Our novel, called Blood Bond, is an urban fantasy/paranormal romance crossover complete at 80,000 words.

BLOOD BOND

by Yelena Casale & Tina Moss

 The scream died in his throat. A foreign sound he couldn’t set free. The surrounding quiet enfolded him, ironically deafening in its intensity. He closed his eyes, struggling for control.

Blazing pain struck, sweeping through his body like a wild fire. He knelt at the edge of the dark water, watching his muscles contract beneath smooth skin. With a shaking hand, he reached back to touch the empty space by his shoulder blades. He grunted at the contact, an alien noise in the absolute silence of the night.

City lights shimmered in the distance, the only signs of life. No creature stirred in this desolate place. It was as if humans and animals alike felt the dangerous current in the air and chose to stay away. Only the full moon reflected in the water, an indifferent observer to his torment.

He caught his image amongst the water’s ripples and stilled. The face that stared back at him, usually so stoic, now contorted in agony. His eyes held wildness that could not be contained, highlighted by a mess of disheveled dark hair, damp with perspiration. Nothing remained of the control, of the precious order that had been the pinnacle of his existence.

The light autumn breeze cooled his naked body but offered little relief. His blood burned from the inside out. The scorching fire threatened to consume him. Every inch of his being, from the tips of his nails to the ends of his hair, buzzed with soft electric blue energy.

Thanks for all the comments! I will try to get to as many other entries as I can. Good luck to everyone!


The Shades of Gray (La Femme Nikita)

What makes a story or a character compelling? What makes us want to keep reading or keep watching a story? What makes us identify with it?

It is very important that a good story has all shades of gray. A character should not be black and white, unless there is an absolute purpose to him being that way. Otherwise, it makes a character flat.

A perfect example that I’d like to use is the series called La Femme Nikita. The original series ran on USA network from 1997 to 2001. The new series I’m referring to is called Nikita and is currently showing on WB11. I watched the original series religiously and have recently re-watched all five seasons on DVD. It was an exciting, insightful show with plenty of internal conflict to add to the action storyline. And this applied not only to the main protagonists, Nikita, Michael and others, but also the antagonists, the “villains”.  Two of those, Operations and Madeline, were characters that you loved to hate. They were often the biggest bastards. But, at the same time, they were also shown to have a different side, a side that cared about certain people, a side that was thoughtful and perceptive. You got to see them in situations in which they were conflicted but chose certain actions because they had to, or because they believed it was for a the best. You got to see their motivations. Even you didn’t agree with their actions, you could understand where they were coming from. They were all shades of gray. And I loved every minutes of that show. You could never guess what’s coming next.

The new show, Nikita, is a total opposite of the original. Most of the characters are one-dimensional, almost childishly cartoonish in their black-and-whiteness. There’s very little tension, and most of the story is held by the external action, which is just not enough. The antagonist, Percy, is a typical “villain” whose motivations are so predictable and not likable, you almost don’t pay attention to him, despite him being one of the main characters and story “movers”.

In the original, there was also always tension of some kind within the story of Nikita and Michael’s relationship, throughout the whole fives seasons. Whether other people were trying to keep them apart or they had an internal struggle within themselves, there was always tension. To the very end the viewer couldn’t decide if Michael and Nikita were going to get a happy end or not. In the new show, they get together before the 1st season is out and have an almost happy-end type relationship going on right off the bat. In a word – boring and not realistic under the circumstances.

When writing, you have to keep in mind the same principles that apply to making a show interesting and watchable. You need to show various sides to your characters, be they your protagonists or antagonists. You need to show their motivations, what moves them, what makes them tick. Like a painter, you have to use all colors in your pallet to make the story more interesting. And that includes using all shades of gray.


Presenting Stylish Blogger Award (plus 7 random facts about myself)

Even though I haven’t had a lot of time lately to post to the blog as often as I want to, I love coming up with new fun topics for it. This post, however, was a no brainer, because my blog got nominated by a very cool person – my awesome writing partner Tina Moss – for my first blog award and I’m extremely excited about it. Please check out her own stylish blog: http://www.tinamoss.blogspot.com/

 And now, with much pleasure, I’m passing on this award to other wonderful bloggers, with the following rules:

  1. Thank and link to the person(s) who nominated you;
  2. Share seven random facts about yourself;
  3. Pass the award along to five blogging buddies;
  4. Contact those buddies to congratulate them.

And the award goes to these awesome and stylish bloggers (I’m breaking the rules and nominating 6):

  1. TS Tate http://tstate.blogspot.com/
  2. Lela Gwen http://www.fullfrontalfantasy.com/
  3. Karen Strong http://www.karen-strong.com/
  4. Roberta Walker http://frobertawalker.blogspot.com/
  5. Dearhart aka Eri http://www.dearharts.com/#v
  6. LM Preston http://lmpreston.blogspot.com/

And now for the 7 Random facts about me:

1)      I’m a black belt in Shotokan Karate, a traditional Japanese Karate and I’m an internationally licensed instructor. I teach women’s and other classes in the Japan Shotokan Karate Association. My husband is a 6th degree black belt.

2)      I was born in Kiev, Ukraine and came to America when I was 13 years old. I haven’t been back since, but hoping to visit in the next couple of years.

3)      I learned to dive before I could swim. My dad taught me both.

4)      I use to paint with watercolors all my childhood and into my teens. I was best at painting still-life and nature but always wanted to learn to draw people. It is still one of my goals when I get some free time (hmmm…when will that be?)

5)    

Kirk

  My husband and I had three cats named after the original Star Trek characters – Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock and Bones. Kirk and Spock passed away within the last year and so now Bones is learning to be the alpha cat. Kirk was always the alpha cat and was like a son to my husband especially. I was always a dog person but these three cats became my “children” and I cannot imagine my life without them now.

Bones

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

6)      One of my absolutely all-time favorite books is “Master and Margarita” by a Russian writer Michael Bulgakov. The book has been translated in many languages and I strongly recommend it to everyone. Here’s the link to it on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Master-Margarita-Mikhail-Bulgakov/dp/0679760806/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1305492440&sr=1-3

7)      I wanted to be an archeologist and almost majored in it. My grandfather’s good friend is a prominent archeologist and I always wanted to go on a dig. It still remains an activity to do. But I love everything ancient history.

Now please visit the award recipient blogs’ and don’t forget to subscribe to them and spread the word in support. I love being a part of the writer and reader community – it’s one of my dreams come true and I thank you all for that!


True Grit (for Writers)

                               

As I’m sitting down to write after a 2-hour karate training tonight, my thoughts turn to the article I recently read in Women’s Health Magazine. The article’s title is “True Grit or Determination: How to Get What You Want” and you can read it by following this link: http://www.womenshealthmag.com/life/success-secrets?page=1.

The advice in the article can be applied to absolutely any area of your life, any goals you have. For me, it also resonates strongly with what my Sensei (karate teacher), also known as my husband, always says: people can be smarter than you, stronger than you, faster than you, more athletic than you, etc.. However, do not let anyone outwork you. Perseverance, hard work and keeping your goals always in front of you is what will put you ahead of others, and will make you successful. Angela Duckworth, Ph.D. defines “grit” in the article as “working strenuously toward challenges and maintaining effort and interest despite failure, adversity, and plateaus.”

The article also addresses the issue of how to keep going and not lose sight of the goal, even when things get tough and motivation starts failing. When you hit a snag in the road, sometimes it’s seems much easier to just give up. The snag can be anything from being in physical pain and being exhausted from physical workouts to being disappointed by a rejection of a query for the novel you just finished. Even being too busy with other things, and not having the energy to sit down and write some days can be a major downer.

So how do you keep the goals firmly planted in front of you and keep marching forward to achieve them? There are a number of ways to help with that. Here’s a few:

  • Visualization. Visualizing the end result of your goal is a great motivator. For an athlete, it’ll be visualizing finishing a race or getting that coveted black belt. For a writer, it could be seeing your book on the shelves of a bookstore (or for sale on Nook/Kindle), going on tours or just holding your finished manuscript in your hands.
  • Setting little goals to achieve the big ones. Big goals are often scare because they seem too far away and well…just big. Setting smaller goals, not only brings us closer to the major ones, but also gives the satisfaction of achievement throughout the whole journey. This feeling of satisfaction with achieving one small goal makes you feel so good that you want to get to the next one just to have that feeling again. So make small word count and/or time spent writing goals every day. Expand them a little every day, and eventually it’ll be hard not to do it!
  • Talk yourself through negative thoughts and plateaus. Cultivate a more positive attitude. And if you have a hard time with that at any point, use the “fake it ‘till you make it” attitude. It’s been proven that if you smile when feeling gloomy, you will eventually start feeling happier. This can be applied to cultivation of positive attitude in all things.
  • Keep visual reminders of your goals. This can include looking at books of your favorite writers and knowing that you can be someone’s favorite writer one day as well. Keep any positive feedback on your work in a folder where you can easily access it anytime you need a little pick-me-up. Post pictures of scenes you want to write or that motivate you in any way.

Besides working very hard, passion is of the outmost importance to the success of achieving any goals. Do whatever you have to do to make sure that the spark of that passion is always present.


Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference

Last Saturday, March 19th, I went to my first writers’ conference with my dear friend and writing partner Tina Moss. I wasn’t sure what to expect and was somewhat nervous, especially about a couple of pitches that we were scheduled to do.

Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference (http://www.libertystatesfictionwriters.com/) is in its second year and is rapidly gaining in numbers and popularity. Yet it was intimate enough for me to get a hang of what it’s all about without getting overwhelmed.

We attended a number of informative and interesting workshops, including “How to Create Complicated Characters” taught by Debra Mullins, and “Kick Butt Heroes: Using Martial Art in Your Action Scenes” presented by K.M. Fawcett and Melinda Leigh.

The highlight of the day (besides pitching, which I’ll talk about below) was the keynote speaker at the luncheon – MaryJanice Davidson. She was extremely funny and engaging and had us almost rolling on the floor in laughter the entire luncheon. If you have a chance to hear her at a conference or another event, you absolutely must!

(Oh, and of course I can’t forget that, after telling Tina that I usually don’t win anything at these events, I won a book basket at the reception raffle! The kicker was that the basket I won was called “paranormal and erotic romance”, pretty much the one I was interested in!)

Now let’s talk a bit about the pitching part. The two pitches I did at this conference were my first face-to-face ones. I was extremely nervous and was convinced my mind will go blank the second I sit down in front of an agent. Tina Moss kept encouraging and building me up – so all credit for me not freezing up, and actually getting through the pitches in one piece, goes entirely to her! We had decided to pitch to both agents together, since the novel we were pitching was co-authored. I loved how we were able to play off of each other when pitching and answering questions. It was definitely a very good first pitching experience and I’m thankful to the Liberty States Fiction Writers conference for giving us this opportunity.

While we’re on the subject of pitching, please check out Pitch University, fast becoming the leader in teaching writers how to pitch, and how to make your pitch the best and most effective it can be:

http://www.pitch-university.com/         

You will find many resources, including articles, before and after pitches analyzed by agents and much, much more. You will also have an opportunity to submit your own pitch for analysis, or just for practice!

 Next up – RWA conference in June! 

Which conferences are you planning to attend this year? What have your experience being with conferences in general and pitching in particular?


Collaborative Writing

         

 Writing is often a very individual endeavor. But sometimes collaborative writing can bring a wealth of inspiration, experience, knowledge and support.

I always loved writing and have written a certain amount of articles, ideas and started my share of novels. Then there was a period of time when either life was getting in the way of writing – too much work, no energy, too tired – or any number of fears and inhibitions.

It was the decision to work on writing a novel as collaboration with a dear friend that pushed me out of the slump. First we had a few meetings to hash out our story. Then we started meeting once a week, after our karate trainings. We would go to the same diner every time, our favorite one (which closed down since then to our disappointment) and work on our novel while devouring the food to satisfy our ravaging appetites after a good workout. Suddenly, I had very real deadlines to keep to. We would divide up the chapters and work on them during the week, then bring them to our meetings. At times, we would reach a point where we had to hash things out further, work on developing the characters or outline the next chapters. The brainstorming of ideas was almost always gratifying, not once sending us into fits of laughter that would alleviate the frustration and aggravation of being stuck any day.

This was a really big push in my life for my writing aspirations. I now had more of a purpose and less of that gnawing fear that what I would write would not be good. A fear that I’m sure many writers have felt.

The collaboration have also taught me new techniques, new ways of writing. Our writing, while distinct and individual, also meshed well together. When going through revisions, it helped to have two sets of eyes for both of our chapters.

 But above all that, however, this collaboration helped me to move forward with my individual writing, to set my own goals and deadlines more consistently and to keep to them more strictly.

We were already very dear friends when we started this collaboration project but one more benefit from it was the strengthening of our friendship.

 Have you ever collaborated on your writing with anyone? What lessons did you learn from it? Would you do it again? If you haven’t, would you consider doing one?


Motivation and Inspiration for Writing

On Inspiration and Motivation For Writing            

The “writer’s block” tag is cliché, but there’s no other way of putting it clearly. And it can occur because of various reasons, not the least of which are lack of inspiration and fear of failure.  For me personally, it often comes down to having seeds of a story but a fear that the whole story will escape me, that I will start writing and eventually I won’t know where to take the story, how to end it. And the best cure for this is to get over the fears and write. We have all heard that to write is to be brave, to be courageous (something that as a Martial Artist I try to understand every day). And, of course, the cure is to find inspiration anywhere you go and in anything you do. Because I firmly believe that a writer, same as an artist, can grab inspiration everywhere. It is our gift, it is what makes us writers and artists. Inspiration for creation is out there for us to capture. The opportunities are boundless. The key is to want to see these opportunities, to consciously identify them and use them in our work.

So here’s a few ways to find the inspiration and capture the opportunities. These are nothing new but I wanted to put them all in one place to look over every day and remember to consciously seek them out. Hopefully it can help a few of you out there as well.

  1. Listening in on people’s conversations (and no, it’s not eavesdropping when you can’t avoid the loud voice of people in public transportation or a restaurant!).  It’s not as hard as you think, especially in large cities like New York.  Overhearing people’s conversations in the subways, buses, restaurants and stores is a great way to gage the appropriate interaction and dialogue style for your own characters. Two middle-aged businessmen in a fancy restaurant will talk quiet differently than twenty-somethings hanging out in a club. A conversation between a mother and a daughter will differ vastly in style than one between a girlfriend and a boyfriend.  A dialogue will seem out of place in a novel if it does not use words and style appropriate to the characters’ age, location and time-period.
  2. Another value in overheard conversations is the seeds of stories that they might contain. Our characters may have super powers and amazing talents, but we have to base them on real people, because that‘s where our experiences are based in. And, as they say, sometimes reality can be stranger than fiction.
  3. Read, read and read some more! Personally, I usually get my greatest inspiration from books. I can’t imagine going a day without picking up a book, or at least a magazine, to read (often both!). Even on the busiest days and if it’s only for half an hour, I’ll find time to read. It helps that my commute is an hour each day.     Read books in the genre you write. Read books in other genres. Again, inspiration can come from absolutely anywhere. Plus you never stop learning as a writer and, while it’s extremely important to find your own voice and style, there’s always something that you can learn from others. It may be how to do something better or it may be how not to do something. Either way, your own writing will become better for it. 
  4. Quotes. I love quotes. I have them everywhere – pasted to my file cabinet at work, in my email, in my notebooks. They are from different people and various times in history. They are on different topics – motivation, courage, love, perseverance. But they all serve one purpose – to give inspiration. And just glancing at some every day gives me a little inspiration to do something that day.                           Post a few of your favorite quotes somewhere where you can see them every day. Sign up for “quote of the day” newsletters. Or follow twitter accounts like this one: @GreatestQuotes.
  5. Make sure to have a great support network. This network should include family members and good friends who believe in your and can push you forward or just listen to you rant and rave once in a while (I will repeat that – once in a while, not all the time!) and give you moral support. It should also include other writers, established and/or aspiring and those who can critique your work in a meaningful and productive/constructive way. It’s helpful to tell people in your support network of your goals because then you have more of a motivation to actually keep them.
  6. Capture your inspiration and motivation everywhere. Go out for walks and observe nature. Carry a notebook with you and write down descriptions of locations, weather, how the light hits a lake at different times during the day, everything! Describe people’s facial expressions when they’re on their way to work compared to their expressions when they’re on their way from work. Note the obvious and the minute differences. Some of these notes will remain just that – notes, scribbles. Some of them you may end up incorporating into your work. But just the act of writing will get you motivated and inspired to write more! Believe me, it really works.
  7. Be brave and write. Don’t be afraid of failure. Because if you don’t start something, you will never have an opportunity to finish. If you don’t let yourself do something and suck, you will never know if you had an opportunity to see something you’ve done/created become a success!Again, I know you have all heard this before and it is nothing new. It’s been said in many different ways by many people. But take some time to really meditate on these concepts and see what that meditation takes you.

Now go and write! You’re still here?

What are other ways you know of motivating and inspiriting yourself or others to write? Please share.