Friday, May 29, 2015

15 Things I Love About Being a Writer

I often wonder how non-writers make it through life. Not only is writing something I enjoy, but it’s something I simply need to do. So I look at people who don’t like to write and, being a writer, I try to get inside their heads and wonder why they’re like that. After a while I realize, “Oh, never mind, I don’t want to know.” Because it’s depressing. A world without words isn’t one that I want to live in.

Last week I was tagged by fellow writer Abby to participate in the '15 Things I Love About Being a Writer' tag. She’s a teenaged writer and bookworm working her way through high school while continuing to write and blog. Her posts are crazy helpful (and not just for teenagers) and she’s a really cool person, so if you haven’t checked out her blog yet, then go take a look around. You won’t regret it.
Raychel Rose ©2015
This tag was started by Raychel Rose, a funny thing since she, like Abby, is a writer I met and stay in touch with through social media. Anyway, I’m super excited to join in this fun posting adventure. So, in no particular order, here are 15 things I absolutely love about being a writer: 
  1. It helps me make sense of the world. I know a lot of people say that writers write to escape from reality. I don’t know about you, but this is completely untrue in my case. I write to help make sense of reality. It gives me a new perspective on the world, it reminds me of the important parts of this life, and helps me see more clearly. I can be in a lot of pain, not understanding why life seems to suck so much. Then I’ll write and all the pieces will fall together. It helps give me that “Oh, so that’s what it does” moment. I’m not anywhere close to an ‘enlightened soul,’ but at least writing helps me from being a dark one.
  2. Problem solving. There’s nothing more awesome than being able to fix a plot hole or get a story out of a rough spot. You know when you have those “ah-ha” moments while doing a cross word puzzle or trying to put together a piece of furniture? It’s like that, only ten-fold and with a cherry on top.
  3. Being weird. I have a desk littered with Little Mermaid toys, but that’s just a writer’s quirk, right?
    Just...don't ask.
    I can read The Art of War without people thinking I’m planning on going into world domination. I can ask weird questions like, “would it be possible to weaponized the Measles?” and get a weird look that quickly changes into a knowing, “Oh, she’s writing something” smile. In other words, I have an excuse for being weird. What’s yours?
  4. Knowing that this is what I should be doing. Some people are called to be public speakers, to be doctors, to raise children. Me? I’m supposed to help people see God through story-telling. Nothing is cooler than having somebody leave me a comment or message me through Facebook, telling me that something I wrote helped and encouraged them. It’s amazing. It helps me see that this is truly what I am meant to do. As someone who used to struggle with finding my purpose (something I got to blog about here), it’s nice to know that writing is what I’ve been put here to do.
  5. Character creation. This is one of my absolute favorite parts of being a writer. I get to create characters that not only inspire and encourage others, but that I know will stay with me and continue to teach me long after I’ve stopped writing them.
  6. Research. As a fantasy writer who also dabbles in science fiction, I’ve gotten to do lots of interesting bits of research. For example: did you know that scientists have developed a new microparticle filled with oxygen that can be injected into the blood stream, keeping you alive even if you can’t intake air into your lungs? Yeah, pretty cool, right? Also, fun fact: in Turkish mythology there is a creature called a Şüräle that lures its prey into a thicket and tickles it to death. Basically: a Turkish tickle monster. Now while this may or may not be useless information, I think it’s pretty cool.
  7. The writing community. This is probably one of the biggest perks. The writing community is made up of the coolest people around. Everyone is very supportive, encouraging, and awesomely weird. See point two.
  8. Endless points of view. To me, there is never just one way to look at things. I can see the world through the eyes of many different people and understand why certain people act or say the things they do. This one goes both ways, since there are often points of view that you don’t want to understand. But I think that being able to look at the world in such a different way has its advantages, especially when it comes to writing characters. 
  9. Plotting. As much as I love the actual act of writing, plotting is a close second. It’s fun to be able to start planning out a storyline and then sit back and watch the plot unfold.
  10. Feeling fulfilled. When I know that I’ve written something beautiful and true…well, that makes the ache in my hands and the moments of mental anguish all worth it. Even watching my word count go up and knowing that I’m getting closer and closer to achieving my goal is an awesome feeling.
  11. Reading. The fact that reading counts as inspiration, research, and forming potential marketing plans is awesome. I’ve always loved reading. Now I have extra reasons for doing so.
  12. Connecting with people.  Writing on this blog has allowed me to connect with so many amazing people, both writers and non-writers. And writing my book has deepened already existing relationships by giving me a passion in common with my writer/reader friends. If I didn’t write, I would have missed out on so many cool conversations and new friends.
  13. Imagination. Story writing doesn’t always happen on paper. It’s a continual process. I can appear to be doing absolutely nothing when I am, in fact, creating world and crafting stories. I might look like I’m washing dishes, but I’m actually fighting demons or swimming with mermaids. I’d hate to live in a world where a spoon is simply a spoon and not a wand. How depressing would that be?
  14. Cool supplies. Leather journals, awesome-looking pens, mini journals, voice recognition software, character journals. I have a thing for journals, in case you couldn’t tell.
  15. Dreaming. Writing is my dream. Sure, being a published author is ambitious, especially for a young girl with Lyme disease. But by writing each day, I work slowly but surely towards my goal. I know I can make it because if writing has taught me anything, it’s taught me how to fight for my dreams.

There are so many more things I love about writing, but I’ll stop at 15 because those are the rules.

Okay, we all know I’m not much for rules. In truth, I’m only stopping at 15 because I’m excited to get to this next part: tagging other writers to write a blog post about their reasons for loving being a writer. Here they are, in no particular order:
  1. Caroline Reinhart at Emoji’s, Corn, and Survival Tips for Teens. She’s been guest blogging here on a series called Tumor Troubles. Her blog is super cool, her story is amazing, and it’s been awesome to get to know her and her writing style. Plus, she’s a very sweet person and I think you’d all benefit from getting to know her.
  2. Miranda Kulig at Dreams and Dandelions. This girl has some seriously wonderful blog posts going on. It's impossible to leave her site without feeling happy and inspired. I think Abby already tagged her, but I'm tagging her again because I like her stuff. 
  3. Alyssa Hollingsworth at Alyssa Hollingsworth. Fellow writer, geek, and spoonie, not only is she a talented writer, but one that inspires and encourages. She’s been working on an anthology called Beautiful Lies that looks amazing.
  4. Emma at My Crazy Writing Obsession. Her blog is just getting off the ground and she has some good tips and tricks to offer, so go check it out.
  5. Rae Elliott at Barely Hare Blog. I recently got to do a guest post on her blog, a proud moment for me because my writing got to be side by side with her own amazing posts. Go read some of her writing. It’s great!
  6. You at your blog. There are so many other talented bloggers I want to mention, but I don’t have room. So if this is a tag you want to participate in, feel free. Just leave a comment on my blog when it’s up. I’d love to read what you come up with!
If I have tagged you, you are under no obligation to write a post. Mentioning you was mainly my way of getting to plug your blog…having you join in this project would just be an extra perk. If you decide to participate, leave a comment below and don’t forget to link over to my blog in your post! I’m excited to see where this goes. 

To those of you who enjoy the thought of this blog challenge but don't want to write an entire post, feel free to leave a comment below! Tell me: what are some of your favorite parts about being a writer?

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Tumor Troubles Part Two: School, Surgery, and the Road to Recovery- A Guest Post by Caroline Reinhart

So in my last post (which you can read here), I talked about the discovery of my tumor. Although that was tough, things were just getting started. School was in full swing, and so was my treatment. I had started a medication called bromocriptine (I am the only kid in America using it for my tumor right now. Others take cabergoline, but that's a long and more complicated story) to lower my prolactin levels and shrink the tumor. The goal was for this medicine to help eliminate the issues with my development and eyesight, and get the tumor small enough to no longer be an issue. Well, God had other plans.
After awhile, I noticed that my vision wasn't getting any better and neither were the side effects of my medication. During the beginning of the school year, I had several occasions where I missed the whole day or part of a day for doctor's appointments. Once or twice I had to stay several nights because of my cortisol  (stress hormone) levels, which I had none of for some odd reason. I also got tired quickly and many times went home early because I just couldn't make it through a whole day. I was tired of being confined to a bed and waiting for results. After much pleading on my mom and my part, we convinced the doctors that I needed a surgery.
As I've said before, some details get very hazy. It all went so fast and the medications that I take sometimes cause memory loss (Which is extremely aggravating for someone who can remember as far back as two years of age). But what I remember very well is the week of the surgery and my immediate recovery. So that's where I'll pick up...
The day of the surgery was October 3rd, so my mom, brother, and Mom's best friend (Who came all the way from Oklahoma to be with us) drove to Cleveland to spend the day, as I was having the surgery at Cleveland Clinic. They all wanted me to have a great night before I had my brain cut up (Exaggeration, of course. I gotta insert some humor where I can =D). We explored a nicer part of the city that had this awesome cupcake shop and some cool stores. It was late, so most places were closed, but we did get to go to the cupcake place, which was delicious. Later that night, my dad came and we ate at an Irish pub. It was an amazing night that was topped off with staying in a fancy hotel. I think that it really helped calm my nerves.
It was early in the morning, about 4:00, when we got up to leave for the hospital. I really just brushed my hair and threw on some random clothes to get going. Once we reached Cleveland Clinic, I noticed that a large part of my family was there. Two sets of my grandparents, great-grandpa, my sister and her boyfriend (Now fiance) , my paternal aunt and uncle, and my youth pastor. I couldn't feel more loved than in that moment when everybody was there. Just knowing that I had such a huge support system was phenomenal. Everybody had all of these presents for me, even my soon-to-be brother-in-law! But what I appreciated most was that they were there. Although the hospital staff probably didn't appreciate it. Especially with all the commotion that followed.
After signing in, we all got piled into a little room to help prep me for surgery. I got changed into a hospital gown in a separate bathroom. Once we were there, the doctors started going over the procedures with me and drawing arrows with Sharpies where I would need to be cut. This was to prevent any mistakes. Basically, they had to cut into one of my nostrils to reach into my head and debulk (Cut out) the tumor. Then, they had to do a tummy tuck and cut a piece of fat from my stomach to plug up the hole left in my nose. I was really excited about the tummy tuck, being a teenage girl and all, but I was pretty excited about everything else, too. I was finally getting the fast results that I wanted and I had all of the people I cared about to cheer me on. What more could I have asked for?
Anyway, after prep, the time came for me to have the surgery. My parents were also put into gowns so they could lead me to the operating room, but everyone else had to stay in the waiting room. My youth pastor prayed over us before our departure. It was the most spectacular thing seeing all these people coming together in a circle just to pray over me. Even some of the doctors and nurses joined in. After seeing such a thing, it was impossible to be scared. I knew that there were others outside of the room (Teachers, church members, classmates) who were doing the same thing throughout that day. If Satan was going to try and hurt me, he would have a lot of people giving him a hard time. At that moment, I was invincible.
After we left the prep room, the doctors went over everything again to be sure I understood. I gave one of them my phone so they could give me pictures of my tumor once it was out. I still have them, and I think I always will. To think that four centimeters of goo had such a massive impact on me is something that I will always ponder. The surgery was expected to take about six hours, but it only took four. Since I was knocked out for the whole thing, it felt even less than that. I woke up earlier than anyone thought I would, so my parents weren't there to greet me. I waited an hour after I woke before I asked the nurses to find them (It was lunch time, so I didn't want to ruin their meal). After a series of miscommunication, I finally just texted my family to let them know that surgery was over. The nurses were shocked because they had never seen anyone text so soon after a surgery (I don't see the big deal, but apparently everyone else does because they think I was crazy, too). Soon, the mob came in again, along with some new people, including my older brother who gave me a beautiful cross necklace and earrings. I sat there just talking and chatting with everyone and having a good time. Once again, I surprised everybody with my positive attitude and adjustment. I wasn't even on pain medication because I didn't feel anything. Eventually, everyone had to go and things slowed down. Mom and I posted on social media and called friends to let them know how good I was doing. THEN things got interesting...

I have one word of advice for anyone who has a surgery and comes out okay: DON'T TAKE THE MORPHINE!!!!! Kick, scream, do whatever possible to avoid it, but don't let them give it to you! It provides no relief for anyone involved. Around 8:00 at night, the nurses gave the medication to me. I said I didn't need it, but they insisted; it was protocol to make patients take it after a major surgery ( Another thing you should know: Medical professionals ALWAYS know best. At least, they think they do). Those same nurses paid the price when they had a high one on their hands. That calm, collected, texting teen turned into a crying, dehydrated, energetic toddler. All I wanted was hot water with lemon. Go figure that in all of the campus they couldn't find a single lemon! I didn't care, I was just thirsty, but apparently my comfort came second to my need to have lemons. It was two hours before I got anything to drink and even longer before I even had a sip because the water was scalding! I was crying mostly due to thirst. And whenever I finally fell asleep, somebody would come in to check on me. I was NOT a good patient that night. Which is why they switched me to oxycodone, but I was just better off without that, too. Kids: Hugs, not drugs.
The hospital visit dragged on for about a week before I finally went home. There were other misadventures, but they aren't as important. Let's just say I'm not happy when I'm high.

To continue, being home felt wonderful. It was nice to sleep in my own bed (Which is all I did for about three days). Several times, I had people visit me and lots of people sent cards, even a few of my classes from school. Once again, the support was overwhelming. After three weeks at home, I was all ready to go to school. But the administration insisted that I stay off for six weeks and didn't even give me my assignments. As much as they wanted me to continue my education, their priority was my health. They said that I couldn't do good in school if I was dead. The fact that they cared so much made me feel very valued. The love that I received is more than words can describe.
Eventually, I did go back to school, but in baby steps. I spent a few weeks going for half-days and worked my way up to full ones. My teachers and classmates were super welcoming. One even threw a party! And the makeup work load was considerably light, and I completed it all within a few months. My grades did drop, but no one made a fuss. In fact, they were proud of me for not failing at all. I did have to drop a class for a study hall, but even that teacher was super understanding. All in all, my immediate recovery was a major success.
As I look back on it all, I can't help but see God's hand in everything. I couldn't see it at the time, but now all I see is a series of miracles that never stopped flowing. Even now, by posting this, I'm in the midst of a miracle. Hannah did NOT have to let me do this. This is her blog, and she could've said "no". But God used her as a tool to help me inspire others and myself. I just wish that I saw all this before...
Check back next week for when Caroline talks about hitting rock-bottom and what's going on in her life now. Also don't forget to read Hannah Heath's other posts, including her "Life As a Lymie" page. See ya next week and don't forget to comment!

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Looking at the World Through Lyme-Colored Glasses: Learning to Live With Chronic Pain

Friday, May 22, 2015

In Which I Make Mini Cottleston Pies Inspired by A.A. Milne's The World of Pooh

Who here likes Winnie-the-Pooh? 

(This is a rhetorical question. Everyone’s hand should be raised high in the air.)

If I could only own one book in the entire world, I think it would be The World of Pooh by A.A. Milne. It would have to be the one illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard, of course. I grew up with Winnie-the-Pooh and I can’t ever think about him without growing Warm and Fuzzy inside. I loved him when I was little. I used to stay up late at night reading Lord of the Rings but then be afraid to turn off my lights because what if the Ring Wraiths came after me? So I’d stay up and read about Pooh and the Hundred Acre Woods. Now that I’m older, I think I love this book even more.  It’s not a book you grow out of. In fact, I’d say it’s a book that you appreciate more the older you get.

I can’t imagine living in a world without Winnie-the-Pooh. For a Bear of Very Little Brain, he has a lot of wisdom (not to mention Fun and Adventure) to offer. He taught me that a little hunny fixes almost anything and that nobody can be uncheered with a balloon. Friends are to be treasured, even if you have to go hunting for their tails or floating down a river in an umbrella to rescue them. He told me that Tiggers should never be unbounced and that you should never take away what makes a person special. Even small, timid people can do Very Grand Things and sometimes the Heffalumps and Woozles in your life aren’t nearly as scary as you thought they might be. He taught me how to play Pooh Sticks and how to masquerade as a Little Black Raincloud. He proved that being Short and Tubby is something to be proud of and that the Hummy Sort of Days are the best kind. But, most importantly, he reminded me that you never can tell with bees.

He also told me that, if you don’t know what’s going on, it’s a very Good Idea to not worry and instead sing Cottleston Pie:

Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie,
A fly can't bird, but a bird can fly.
Ask me a riddle and I reply
Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie.

Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie,
A fish can't whistle and neither can I.
Ask me a riddle and I reply
Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie. 

You see, it’s okay if you can’t whistle or if you can’t bird. It’s alright if you don’t fit in or if you haven’t got much of a brain. You just have to be comfortable with yourself and be satisfied with knowing that you have some hunny waiting for you in your cupboard.

In case you’re wondering, Cottleston Pie isn’t actually a real pie. Actually, it is now. In honor of Pooh Bear and his Brilliant and Adorable Poem, I have come up with a little something of my own. It’s inspired by Winnie-the-Pooh and baklava, so if you like these two things, you’re in the right corner of the Hundred Acre Woods.

Ingredients - 

For the crust:
For the yummy filling:
  • 1 and ¼ cups of chopped walnuts or pecans (or both, which is what I did). You can also make Piglet happy and use Haycorns, but I think those only exist in the Hundred Acre Woods.
  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon of walnut oil (you can use melted butter if you’re not dairy-free)
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
For the Scrumptious Hunny Sauce:
  • 1 cup of water
  • ½ cup of hunny (or Honey, if you want to be uncool about it)
  • ¼ cup of coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • 1 cinnamon stick
Directions –

1. Follow your instructions for the gluten-free pie crust. I used Bob’s Red Mill pie crust mix and instead of cutting in butter, I cut in solid coconut oil. It tastes great and not at all like coconut, but the crust is a bit hard. It might have been my oven because it’s never done that previously, but if you’re not dairy-free, you can use butter instead. Once the dough is in the refrigerator, move on to the next step.
2. Mix together all of the ingredients for the nut mixture.
3. In a small sauce pan, bring water and sugar to a boil until the sugar is dissolved. Then bring to a simmer and add the hunny, vanilla, and the cinnamon stick. Spell check is trying to tell me that hunny isn’t a word. Clearly, they’ve never met Pooh. Let sauce simmer until it will coat the back of a spoon.
4. By now your dough should have been chilling for an hour. Bob’s Red Mill mix makes two crusts, but you’ll only need one. You can freeze the other one for later use. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
4. Spread out two sheets of the dreaded plastic wrap on a flat surface. Cursing is optional at this point. Just remember we’re making food inspired by a children’s novel. Maybe you can try saying “Oh bother” instead? Put your dough on the plastic wrap surface and cover with two more sheets of plastic wrap. Roll out until the dough is about ¼ inch thick. It doesn’t have to be in any particular shape. Mine came out in a sort of weird blob:
6. Now break out your mini muffin pan. Don’t worry about spraying it with oil. Using a cup, start cutting your dough into circles and putting them down in their respective cups. You’ll have enough dough to fill all of the cups, though you may have to roll out the dough again, using the ‘in between’ strips you didn’t use during the first round. The mini pie crusts will look like horrors at this point, but it’s okay:
After you’re done, you can make them look pretty by removing or adding dough where needed:
7. Now fill each crust with the nut mixture. Bake in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes. My oven is ancient and cooks unevenly, so you should keep an eye on your pies just in case less (or more) time is needed in your oven.
8. Once the pies are out of the oven, pour sauce over each pie (a teaspoon to a tablespoon, depending on your sweetness preferences) and let sit for 15 minutes. There will be leftover sauce, which you can serve with the pies later if you’d like.
I like to eat these with Dandelion Tea, which you can find on Amazon. It tastes a bit like coffee, only not as bitter. I thought dandelion tea would be nice for two reasons: 1) Eeyore eats thistles, which come from the same plant family that dandelions do. 2)  We know that Piglet likes to blow on dandelions:
We didn’t own any plates that I felt went with Winnie-the-Pooh’s whimsical feel, so my Mom and I went on a Grand Adventure at a local antique market. We found a lot of weird things, including a huge back-lit picture of the beach out of which came noises of crashing waves and seagull squawking, but no good plates. Then we went to our local DAV and found this adorable cup and plate:
I can’t tell you how much fun I had making this recipe, or even writing this post. I discover something new each time I look through The World of Pooh by A.A. Milne.

For instance, did you know that if you combine the names Kanga and Roo, it spells Kangaroo? Okay, I guess everyone knew that, but it took me a couple years to put it together. Also, Eeyore sounds a lot like the sound donkeys make, which is where his name comes from. Wait, am I the only one who didn’t know that? Oh bother.

Another Little Something I rediscovered this time around was this quote: “For [the river] knew now where it was going, and it said to itself, ‘There is no hurry. We shall get there some day.’”

Yes, I suppose we shall all get where we’re going someday. All we can do is make sure There is really where we want to go. Other than that, we might as well sit back, enjoy life, eat a bit of hunny, and go on Grand Adventures with the people we love the most.

What about you? Have you ever read The World of Pooh? What did it teach you?  

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Rosa Hubermann's Pea Soup Inspired by The Book Thief
Hot Cocoa Drinks Inspired by Agatha Christie's Mysterious Affair at Styles

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Tumor Troubles Part One: How I Found Out - A Guest Post by Caroline Reinhart

Hey everyone! This is Caroline and today I'm going to explain the process of my discovering that I have a brain tumor. It's a long story, but it's a good one, so sit tight.

I'll skip some of the messier parts of the process, but the issue was presented when I noticed how underdeveloped I was compared to other girls my age. It was spring of 2014, in my freshman year when I started really worrying about my lack of "issues". My mom and I kept going to a local nurse practitioner for advice and assistance, but she did not see it as a problem. I was just a "late bloomer". We had been going there for several months, so having no explanation became very frustrating. A friend who worked at the clinic recognized our disappointment and suggested that I get a professional's opinion. Mom and I agreed, and so we set out for Cleveland Clinic in June. Basically, an MRI was called for to see what was happening. What we found was not exactly ideal.

On the same week that I got my MRI, I also applied for my learner's permit. I was very excited about driving, and it was a very good thing that I was. We learned about another problem that I had during my vision screening at the DMV. While the lady administering the test blinked a red light, I was supposed to press a button when I saw it. Although I did quite well on the right side, I had a little trouble on the left. The woman kept asking if I did see the light, which I did not, but she kept insisting that I did and was just being silly. I finally just went along with this notion and passed the test. This was a big mistake. Three days later, I wrecked my mother's car while driving home from church. There is a very sharp left-side turn on my street that even the most experienced drivers have to be careful about. A truck was pulled far out at this turn and I was trying to avoid it. In doing so, I made the turn to late and almost hit a pole. At the last minute, my dad turned the wheel to the right side and so we missed it. Unfortunately, I didn't straighten out, so we hit the pole on the left side of the street. We were going less than ten miles per hour, so the air bags did not go off and no one was seriously injured. The car was totaled, but that later became the least of our worries.

Three days after the accident, my MRI results came in. The doctor explained that I had a pituitary tumor that was halting my development, while also crushing my optic nerve. Thus, I had been driving around with no peripheral vision in my left eye, which was the main cause of my accident. I couldn't see the truck or pole, so I had trouble navigating (This knowledge helped out a lot at my court date. I didn't even I have to pay a fine, because the whole thing wasn't exactly my fault; victims of circumstance, you could say). This was when things got really crazy.

Once again, the memories are hazy, but I do remember us being afraid of cancer. Although the tumor was NOT cancerous, it was still difficult. In fact, cancer would have been easier. The tumor that I have is called a macroprolactinoma. It's very common for middle aged women and elderly men, but it is EXTREMELY rare in teens. Only six minors in the entire United States are currently being treated for it. Five, not counting me.

Finding out that I had a brain tumor was scary enough. Hearing that it was so rare that none of my doctors were sure how to treat it was terrifying. I didn't know what to do, but I knew that God had a plan and that things would be okay. He led my through valleys and mountains in the past, He could lead me through this one. I think that it was my faith and positive attitude that carried me through that summer. It was full of rearranged schedules, emergency hospital visits, several overnight stays, and constant medicine prescriptions. But through it all, I had a supportive family, an amazing church, and my own faith to get me through. God was faithful through the entire thing. But this was just the beginning....

Be sure to come back next week and learn about Caroline's struggle with surgery. And don't forget to check out Caroline's blog here.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Writing Strong Female Characters: What You're Doing Wrong

Has anyone out there noticed that it is becoming increasingly popular to have a female character as a protagonist? And not just any female character: a strong female character. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that....Unless you're part of the group that gets strong female characters wrong about 99% of the time.

I recently wrote a guest post for Rae Elliott about the do’s and dont's of strong female characters. But today I’m going to write about the dont's of writing strong female characters that most writers do.

I look around the bookstores at “strong” female characters, and you know what I see? Losers. I mean, people who have lost stuff. Characters who have lost what makes them real. So below is a list of points that most people get wrong when writing strong female characters. Hopefully, after reading it, you can take a closer look at the female characters in your writing and give them the elements they’re missing:  

  1. You think of her as a strong female character. This is a point I mentioned on Rae’s blog, but I’ll reiterate it here and hope I’m not plagiarizing. You can’t plagiarize yourself, right? I hope not, because here I go: The fact that you have to put the word “strong” in front of “female” shows that there is something very wrong with the way you view girl characters. Females are strong. You don’t have to add the word “strong” into your thinking because not only is it redundant and nonsensical, but it is degrading to your character. Your creation process for a “strong” female character should be no different than any other character. Think of her as a human being and everything should be okay.
  2. She’s super good at “guy things” for no particular reason. This one cracks me up. This girl can do everything. She can fix cars, fire a gun, knows how to skateboard, and can pack a punch better than any guy. Why? Um…well, because it’s defying man’s superiority! Actually, it’s not. It’s just giving your character a bunch of skills that don’t really need to be there. It would be like if a male fantasy character was revealed to have amazing cello playing skills. Okay, good for him, but that’s completely irrelevant to the storyline. It’s fine if a girl doesn’t know how to change a tire (I know I don’t). If it fits into the story, then sure, go for it. But if you’re doing it to somehow make her look stronger than men, just drop it. That’s cheap.
  3. You’re objectifying her. This one drives me crazy. Strong females do not parade around in skin tight suits, low cut blouses, dresses with slits up to the thigh, or midriff-showing tops. They do not flaunt their bodies or try to seduce bad guys in order to get a good shot at killing them. Ever. There is never a good reason for doing this. I know a lot of beautiful real-life women who have strong personalities, and none of them act like that. None of them. So neither should your characters.
  4. She has no personality. This is exasperatingly common. Other than kicking butt and taking names, having the generic dark past that she struggles with, Ms. Strong doesn’t really have much of a character. She lacks motivation, and the motivation she does have doesn’t really make a lot of sense when you look at it closely. No one likes a flat character, especially since strong personalities are supposed to be vibrant and interesting.
  5. She’s distant and not very nice. She’s snaps at everyone around her, hates the world, and is kind of self-centered until the end of the story. She’s afraid of letting people into her life because she got hurt once. Deep down she’s insecure and lonely. But then she strikes out on her own (as in, by herself…alone) and finds happiness and freedom. She slowly warms to her loyal friend who has inexplicably put up with her constant jerkiness and then everything becomes perfect. Wait. I just described Elsa….Sorry. Actually, no, I’m not. She’s a perfect example of a stereotypical female character that people have labeled as “strong” for no good reason. Search your feelings, you know it to be true. And yes, I do realize that I just stepped over a line. If you’ve ever wondered why I don’t say what city I live in, this is why. I’d prefer not to show up on the news: “Local girl found dead, murdered for heresy against the Frozen fandom.”   
  6. She’s perfect. Strength is not synonymous with perfection. Strength is having flaws but fighting to deal with them.  The sooner people realize this, the better. Perfection = no character arc, which generally leads to a lame story. A lame story means you won’t get any readers, you won't make any money, and thus won’t be able to buy yourself coffee. And do you want to be unable to buy yourself coffee? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
  7. She falls in love with your male character for no apparent reason. Please don’t do this. There needs to be a valid reason behind your character’s romance. It seems that most strong female characters end up falling in love with an equally amazing guy character. Why? Because they’re both awesome and deserve each other. God forbid that your female character ends up alone at the end of the book. As strong as she is, she couldn’t handle that. Romance is good and all, but not when it’s only there for the sake of being there. Give her a reason to fall in love that goes deeper than “He’s cute and I understand him.”
  8. Her weapon of choice is a bow and arrow or she always wears leather jackets. Naw, I’m just kidding. It’s totally fine if you want your character to do this. Just be aware that it’s pretty common:
And that’s all I have for you today. Just some food for thought. Have you ever noticed yourself making any of the above slip-ups while writing your female characters? If so, maybe you can look at changing it up and rounding out your girl characters a bit. It's not hard once you know what to look for. You're readers will thank you.

Don't forget to hop over and read my post on Rae Elliott's blog. And while you're there, you should take a look around at her other blog posts and her book. She's got some great stuff over there! 

As always, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below! 

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Tumor Troubles Introduction

    If your mom came into the living room to tell you that you had a brain tumor, would you freak out? I did. I hyperventilated. I wondered if I was going to die. Most of all, I wondered why this happened...
     Hi, I'm Caroline. Thanks to Hannah Heath's splendid generosity, I will get the chance to do a three- part series of blogs about my journey as a tumor teen. That's right- I'm sixteen years old and I have a pituitary tumor that probably isn't going anywhere.  Like the stink of your feet, it's stuck there. Most days I sit and cry and wonder what's going to happen. On my better days- which are starting to increase- I see the silver lining and know that someday, somehow, God will make this better. I may not be a Bethany Hamilton, but I can at least be a light. Hopefully, that's enough. :)
   So, by now, you're probably asking this question, "What's with Emojis?"
     If you read my blog, you'll notice that I don't have a single post on my tumor. I have studying tips, organization ideas, and even a couple poems which I publish on Teen Ink. But I don't have one on my tumor. It just doesn't belong there. I want my viewers to focus on universal issues that are hard to deal with. Right now, I'm doing the basic cheesy stuff. Bullying, studying, school violence, you get the gist. But this week, I'll start posting on divorce, break-ups, teen pregnancy, HUGE issues that deserve discussion. But not my tumor. And here's why:
   Whenever I talk about my condition in school (Yep, I go there, too), kids get kind of silent and don't say anything. They just... cloud up. The light from their eyes turns grey and it soon takes over their whole body. It's hard for them to understand. They don't experience it a lot. And often, they change the subject before long to something meaningless like Taco Bell's latest feature or the annoying stain on their pants. If that happens in school, i don't want it happening on my blog. I want my viewers to hear what I have to say and not want to leave the conversation. I want them to crave what I have to say. Since Hannah talks about being a lymie here (Not fun, either, I may add), I knew that I could safely discuss my condition. You're interested in the world of doctors. You want to know who you can trust with what and the reality behind serious medical conditions. So open your eyes and ears, because I have a lot to say...
  Tune in soon to Tumor Troubles to read how Caroline learned about her tumor and how God helped her through it. Take care!

Friday, May 8, 2015

7 Cliché Characters in YA Fiction That Need to Stop

Super attractive bad boys. Emotionally unavailable girls with a scarred past. An overload of angst. Love triangles. Jealousy. “My life sucks” mentality. Sound familiar? Yep. I just described the bulk of YA characters. 

In an attempt to create stories that teens can identify with, authors often end up writing characters that are so horribly inaccurate and stereotyped that it's almost funny. 


I don't know about you, but I'd rather shoot myself than wade through all of the angst-riddled, insecure, love-sick teen characters found in many YA novels. No wonder young adults don't read very much anymore.

I think it's time for writers to take a closer look at some of the generalization that goes on in YA fiction and hopefully make some changes. So here are a list of common clichés among YA characters, why they are completely off track, and why they really need to change.

1. The character that is full of “teen angst.” You know, the one that is always unhappy, thinks no one understands them, and is generally angry. That’s just angst, strictly a teenager thing that can be grown out of, right? Um, no. That is not “teen angst,” that is clinical depression. And it's not like teenagers are the only age group with clinical depression, but when was the last time you read about a character with “adult angst?” Yeah, me neither. Okay, so teens do go through major hormone changes that cause mood swings. But that is no excuse to create a character that is extremely volatile. Most real-life teenagers I know don’t alternately behave like a depressed Bruce Banner and then Hulk, so neither should YA characters. Unless, of course, you want your character to be seen as a jerk with no emotional control, in which case, teen angst is the way to go. 

2. The girl that’s pretty, but doesn’t realize it until a boy tells her so. There are so many things wrong with this scenario that I’m not really sure where to start. First of all, teen girls who are confident in themselves recognize that they are pretty, so it’s hilarious how many confident, strong, kick-ass heroines are confident in everything but their looks. If your intent is to create a strong female character, the last thing you should do is make her somebody whose confidence is dependent on someone else's thoughts about her physical appearance. And if your intent is to apply this scenario to an insecure female character, well, it’s going to take a LOT more than a single boy to make that girl realize her beauty.

3. Characters involved in love triangles. I think we can all agree that these are overused and, more often than not, misused. They are generally predictable, a failed attempt at raising the stakes, and 4 out of 5 times are frustrating and badly crafted. It's especially annoying when a triangle is dragged out into a series. Sure, there are good love triangles, but those don't happen very often, and even if they are well done, they are almost always unnecessary. Most writers think they can put a new spin on it, but it usually ends up going something like this: 

Plus, real-life teenagers don’t usually find themselves in the middle of dramatic love triangles, making it very unrealistic for them to be so commonplace in YA fiction. That being said, for the love of all that you hold dear on this good earth, no more love triangles unless you have a darn good reason to use one. Please

4. The Chosen One. These ones mainly show up in Fantasy novels. They have been chosen to save their world, their people, or the universe. But why them? They feel so unworthy. They’re not special. Other than having a prophecy made about them a million years ago, they’re just normal, slightly insecure, teenagers. I have an announcement to make about these characters: they are annoying. We all know they are going to man up and take on the challenge of being The Chosen One, so unless you are going to think outside of the box (like creating a character who is a little too excited about realizing he’s The Chosen One), don’t even go there.

5. The one with horrible parents. Can we stop with this already? 

6. The “strong” female character. Who is, in fact, a bit of a jerk and only looks strong because she’s surrounded by a bunch of wimpy guys. This one is becoming increasingly popular in YA fantasies and dystopians. Believe it or not, it is possible for a strong female and strong male personality to exist at the same time. Happens all the time among real teenagers. Yeah. Who knew?

7. The brooding bad boy. He looks like a super-model and has a very dark past. He’s no good for the female lead character, but she’s somehow drawn to his rude, secretive personality (or maybe just the fact that he’s cute). This kind of character shows up in almost all YA urban fiction and is usually part of a love triangle. Granted, there is a lot of potential for a character like this, but does he always have to be a love interest? No. So why diminish him by making him that slightly creepy wanna-be-boyfriend? 

As writers, we owe it to our readers to at least try to bring something new, or something old but well-done, to the table. Stop generalizing, examine clichés to see if they actually make sense before using them, and, above all else, when you start to write a love triangle, ask yourself: am I really going to be able to pull this off? 

What about you? Are there any cliché characters in YA fiction that drive you crazy? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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