Friday, February 15, 2019

7 Tips for Using Story Writing to Raise Awareness for a Cause

I talk a lot on this blog about how there's no such thing as "just a story." The stories we write end up having themes whether we intended them to or not, so we may as well embrace that and write stories with strong themes.

But what about stories that raise awareness for real-life issues? What about stories that address problems like slavery or work to raise awareness for something like disability? How does one go about doing that?

You've come to the right place. Here are seven tips for using your story writing to raise awareness for real-life causes. I'm mostly discussing this in terms of writing speculative fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, horror), but some of these tips apply to all genres.

7 Tips for Using Story Writing to Raise Awareness for a Cause

1. Walk the walk. Don't just write the...write...? Write the writing? I clearly didn't think this sentence through, but I'm committed to it now, so....Onward! Don't write about a cause just because you are trying to win Social Justice Warrior of the year. Instead, write a story that naturally raises awareness for a cause that you care about. Often times you'll find that a cause naturally pops up in your writing because that is where your heart is. Don't fight it. Go with it. Nurture it. Yes, you can absolutely choose a cause before you start writing, but this isn't always necessary. So if you can't think of a cause: Relax. Walk the walk in your personal life. Everything else will follow, and then can be polished up during editing.

2. Make the cause compatible with your story. There's no need to shoehorn a cause into your story. Instead, make sure that the cause is ingrained in the story. Work the cause into your world-building, your plot, and/or your character developments. This allows you to present the cause in a natural, organic way, rather than coming across as preachy (more on that later). Not sure what this looks like? I have examples:
  • The Order of the Twelve Tribes by Daley Downing and autism. Daley Downing is an autistic indie author who writes fantasy featuring autistic characters. It's awesome. She is able to raise awareness for autism by showing how some neurotypical characters have mistreated or misunderstood the neurodivergent ones...and by also showing neurotypical characters who treat their neurodivergent friends well. The treatment of these autistic characters are important plot points within the story: It moves character arcs, helps convey important world-building information, and more. So not only do Downing's autistic characters meld perfectly with her plot, but they also allow neurotypical readers to learn more about autism. It's a great way to spin a compelling story while also raising awareness. Here Order of the Twelve Tribes series can be found here. 
3. Do your research. Yes, you have to do real-world research for fantasy writing. You thought you could escape it, but you can't.

Evil Star Wars character cackles maniacally gif.

This research is especially important when it comes to portraying a cause. For instance, if you are raising awareness for an issue like slavery by writing an enslaved character, you'll want to research the physical, psychological, relational, and spiritual effects slavery can have one a person. This will help you accurately portray your character and your cause in a true and honest way. No, you shouldn't just copy and paste information. Instead, weave these pieces of information into the story (see tip 2).

4. Make the cause approachable by relating it to the characters. Yes, this is similar to tip 1, but it's a little different. Just bear with me. Some issues are very serious and hard to approach. Maybe they're difficult to approach because they are so horrific (like human sex trafficking), or maybe they're hard to approach because many readers simply have a complete lack of knowledge in the area (such as disability). When an issue/cause seems hard to approach, it's important to connect that cause to a character that readers like and/or can identify with. This instantly makes a reader more able to empathize with a cause. Thus, this character is your "in." They're like a trojan horse: You can sneak causes into a story via this character. Here's a totally-not-self-plugging example:
  • Skies of Dripping Gold by Yours Truly and intellectual disability. Every character in Skies of Dripping Gold has some type of disability, but for this example I'm focusing on Cole. He is an extremely loveable character: He's loyal, he's kind, and he's constantly in search of the truth. He also has an unnamed disability that I shaped after various intellectual disabilities. People have the unfortunate tendency to see disabled people (especially intellectually disabled people) as alien. By making Cole a well-fleshed-out character, I allowed readers to see that he's not an alien. He's not weird. He's awesome. My hope is that people walk away from the story with a little more insight into disability, and a little more empathy for people whose brains don't work exactly like theirs. If I had simply tried to hammer the "intellectually disabled people are people, too" idea home, readers would have found this preachy and thus would have turned away. 
5. Resist the urge to draw direct parallels. Look. You don't have to be Captain Obvious when championing a cause. In fact, when it comes to writing, it's best to go the opposite route. Speculative fiction gives you room to create entirely new social systems. This means that a cause from our world probably shouldn't be exactly the same in your fictional world. For instance, if you wanted to raise awareness for causes like adoption, you wouldn't want the adoption system in your fantasy world to operate just like the adoption system in your country. That wouldn't make very much sense, would it? Feel free to get creative. Don't be a rip-off.
  • Malfunction Trilogy by J.E. Purrazzi and slavery. J.E. Purrazzi writes cyberpunk with a lot of spectacular, creative world-building. She uses her writing to explore causes such as slavery. However, she does this in a really interesting way that doesn't quite parallel the slavery we have in our world. In Malfunction, cyborgs are created and used to fight in a war against terrifying monsters. Humans control these cyborgs and force them to live and die in horrific manners. Now, real-life slaves are not, of course, cyborgs. However, while they may not be forced to fight fictional monsters, modern slaves are forced into activities against their will. The parallel is definitely there. It's not a direct parallel, but it is still powerful and important. Part of it's power comes from that fact that it lets readers make the slavery connection themselves, thus making readers more receptive to the concept. 
6. Don't preach. Nobody likes this. It makes readers want to smack you over the head with the pulpit you're thumping. Seriously. Don't go there.

Captain America saying "Just don't" gif.

Some good ways to avoid preaching are to:
  • Follow the above tips. 
  • Show multiple angles. Let us see the cause from several different character's points of view.  This not only gives your readers a better view of the issue, but it also comes across as less preachy and more holistic. Win win. 
  • Learn with the reader. You need to be humble enough to admit that you don't have all the answers. Instead of trying to cram a solution down your reader's throat, instead present the issue and come alongside them as you both try to find solutions. 
7. Don't feel the need to limit yourself to one cause. A story can raise awareness for more than one cause. Mind-blowing, I know. You know how humans can care about more than one thing at a time? The same goes for stories. In fact, delving into more than one cause is natural and helps you avoid the horrific preaching mentioned above. If you are truly walking the walk (see tip 1), you'll find that you care about a lot of different causes. Me? I care about the disabled community, about ending slavery, and about a thousand other things. A lot of these causes crop up in my writing because of this. Don't limit yourself to just one issue.

Okay. I can't think of a way to conclude this post, so....

Go away.

But first: What causes are you raising awareness for in your writing? Have any tips you'd like to add? Leave a comment below!

Then you can go away. Thanks.

Related articles:
Why You Should Intentionally Write Messages Into Your Stories
Challenging Writers to Create Stories with Meaning
The Importance of Asking Why: 4 Questions You Should Ask Yourself as a Writer

Enjoy this post? Take a look around. If you like what you see, don't forget to subscribe by email for a new post every Friday!

Some links are Amazon affiliate. Thank you for your support!

Friday, February 8, 2019

Behind-the-Scenes Look at My Logo Design Process

Ever wonder what it's like to work with a graphic artist? Well, today's your lucky day. Get a behind-the-scenes look at my logo design process with graphic artist Cayre.

I’m a bit of a control freak. Actually, I’m a total control freak. When it comes to my indie author life, this means that I like to do everything myself: Cover design, formatting, web design, character art, etc.

So, of course, when I decided to redesign my logo I thought, “Hey, I’ll do it myself.”

Yeah. Well. Turns out that designing a logo is a lot harder than it looks.

I swallowed my pride, shoved my control-freak attitude into a corner, and decided to higher a graphic artist to do the hard work for me. Here’s what that process was like:

Behind-the-Scenes Look at My Logo Design Process

Choosing a graphic artist

This was super easy for me. I knew I wanted to work with Cayre Art for a few reasons:
  • Her art style was compatible with my brand. I wanted to choose somebody who could design something that looked similar to my book cover art: Bold colors, black outlines, nothing cutesy. Yes, good artists can generally work outside of their typical art style, but I figured it was best to pick somebody who was already an expert in what I was looking for.
  • She supports the writing community. I like to work with people who support the writing community (specifically the indie author community). I’ve been following Cayre online and have loved seeing how encouraging she is to fellow writers. 
  • She’s just super awesome. We’d interacted a lot on social media previous to me hiring her, so I knew that I liked her. Plus, she donates a portion of her earnings to some of my favorite charities, so that’s super cool.


I had never hired a graphic artist before, so I reached out to Cayre to learn what exactly the process is. She kindly explained everything to me without laughing at my newbie-ness. Then we jumped right in:

Enjoy this post? Take a look around. If you like what you see, don't forget to subscribe by email for a new post every Friday!

Some links are Amazon affiliate. Thank you for your support!

Friday, February 1, 2019

7 Author Branding Lessons Learned from Twenty One Pilots

Branding. It's kind of a strange concept. Authors throw the term around a lot, but people generally only have a vague idea of what "branding" actually is. We know it's important. We know it has something to do with our overall image and marketability. We know colors, fonts, and taglines have something to do with it. But what is it, exactly?

The answer lies with Twenty One Pilots.

Twenty One Pilots does a stellar job when it comes to branding (and, you know...literally everything else). I was particularly struck by this when I went to their Trench concert back in November of 2018 (yes, it was incredible). Let's deconstruct their methods to get a better idea of what branding is...and how to do it well.

7 Author Branding Lessons Learned from Twenty One Pilots

1. They have a consistent theme. Practically every song Twenty One Pilots produces is about mental health. This theme pops up in their lyrics, in their interviews, and in their social media feeds. Somebody who is new to the realm of Twenty One Pilots could spend ten minutes looking them up and instantly know: "Oh. They focus on mental health." That is one of the biggest goals of branding. Readers should be able to easily understand your main themes/goals as a writer.

Don't have one single theme? That's okay. Twenty One Pilots is a very extreme example. Many authors (and creatives in general) have more than one theme in their stories. That's why mood is important, too...

2. Their music and marketing has a specific mood. Most of their music captures feelings of sadness, yearning, and fear, but always with a hopeful undertone. Their marketing tends to feature a lot of black, but always with a splash of bright color to further their "darkness + hope" vibe. Why is this so important? Because their easily recognizable theme and mood allows them to target their specific audience. If you don't have an identifiable vibe, your intended audience will have a harder time finding you. Make life easier on both yourself and your readers by setting up a recognizable theme and mood via your genre, writing style, and visual marketing.

3. They walk the walk. Josh Dun and Tyler Joseph have excellent ethos. Not only do they perform music about mental health issues, but they are also very honest about their own struggles with depression, anxiety, etc. They have folded themselves into their own brand: They haven't separated themselves from what they create. This is very important. You, as an author, should be part of your brand. In fact, it may better if you can make yourself the brand.

Yellow hair and awkward smiles? They literally embody their brand.
What does this mean, exactly? Well, you need to make sure that your personal image matches your writing brand. So if you write horror you don't want your social media to be full of pictures of fluffy kittens. If your mood has to do with lighthearted fun, you probably shouldn't be writing writing blog posts about politics.

You get major bonus points if it is impossible to separate you (the creator) from your writing (the creation). One should not be able to exist without the other. This keeps things cohesive and consistent. One of the many upsides to branding yourself as a person and an author means that you have a bit of room to play...

4. They don't pigeonhole themselves. What genre does Twenty One Pilots play? That question should give you pause. After all, they don't stay in their lane. They go where they want to. This lack of a definitive genre has allowed them to do a lot of interesting things with their music. They do a little bit of hip-hop, a little bit of rap, a little bit of electropop. They've got a bit of an emo thing going on, but their also kind of punk and kind of rock. This allows them to appeal to a somewhat fringe audience while also still gaining mainstream fans.

Even though you as an author need to have a specific brand, that doesn't mean your brand has to be exactly like everyone else's. Don't box yourself in. Keep your options open.

5. Their visuals match their theming and mood. Twenty One Pilots has consistent color schemes and artistic styles across all of their albums. Look at their last two album covers:

They both heavily feature black with splashes of bright, bold colors. This easily matches their overall mood: Dark, serious, bold, and melancholy hopefulness. Each album cover also features a variant of their brand's typeface (the letter "O" with a diagonal line through it). These same color schemes can be found on their website and social media. Josh Dun even dyes his hair to match their album covers.

You as an author should be doing the same thing: Your website, logo, book cover(s), and author photo should be similar to each other. They should have the same basic colors and vibes, and these colors and vibes should instantly connect to your theme/mood. Bonus points if you go extreme and dye your hair to match your brand's colors (Yes, I'm winning in this area).

6. They're unique. It's safe to say that there is no other band like Twenty One Pilots. There are a lot of reasons for this (their undefined genre, the consistent themes in their lyrics). This uniqueness is one of the reasons their brand is so successful: They are reaching an audience that previously was not being reached. I know that sounds like a tall order, but it is doable. Find what makes you different from other authors in your genre.

Me? I write Christian speculative fiction that is a bit dark, not at all fluffy, and brutally honest (all of which are fairly uncommon in this genre). I also write YA and fantasy that do not contain a lot of the typical tropes (no romance, my world-building is not based off of European cultures or medieval time periods). On top of this, I focus on writing disabled characters and characters struggling with depression, anxiety, anger, etc (also uncommon in the fantasy realm). All of this gives me a bit of an edge because I'm putting new ideas out into a world that is oversaturated with old concepts.

Ask yourself: What makes you different? What makes your stories different? The answer may not instantly present itself, but spend a bit of time brainstorming and you'll get there.

7. They're personable. This goes back to brand being directly connected to us as people. Josh and Tyler interact with their fans online, they write songs that address issues within their fanbase (Neon Gravestones, anyone?), and they end each of their concerts by saying: "We are Twenty One Pilots and so are you." In short: They are relatable, personable, and accessible to their audience.

This can be hard to do when a brand is super on-point. While it is important for your brand to be professional, it is possible to go so overboard that you make yourself seem more corporate and less human. Remember: People don't trust a perfect person. Readers like writers that they can interact with and relate to, so make sure your brand doesn't make you seem intimidating or impersonal.

*takes deep breath* Okay. I know this is a lot of information to take in. If you're anything like me, pressure is starting to possess your mind. Don't let it. Brands take time to build. Sometimes they shift as you continue to write and grow.

If you're starting to feel overwhelmed, remind yourself that it's going to be okay. Move slow. Take a day to break away. The sun will rise tomorrow and you can try again.

And, of course: Leave comments if you have any questions or suggestions! What are some of your favorite examples of good branding? Let's chat!

Related articles:
7 Writing Lessons Learned from Stranger Things
Why Writers Should Strive to be More Like Batman

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Some links are Amazon affiliate. Thank you for your support!

Friday, January 25, 2019

8 Comic Books Worth Reading (Part 3)

It's the return of the nerd list! Sit down and get ready for me to throw a bunch of comic book recommendations your way. So, before we get started: Does anybody want to get out?

Too bad. We're starting anyway.

8 Comic Books Worth Reading (Part 3)

But first: Two quick notes:

1) This post says it's part 3, but that is technically a lie. Part 1 and Part 2 are lists of comic books and manga worth reading. However, I haven't been reading much manga of late, so today we're only talking about comics.

2) Each of these comic covers are clickable, so if you see one you like: Click. You will be magically transported to the land of Amazon where you can read the book description. You're welcome.

1. Black Bolt Vol 1 by Saladin Ahmed

You wouldn't think a comic with a protagonist named Blackagar Boltagon would be any good, but this one totally is. And no, I'm not making up that name. Even I'm not that funny. Anyway, this comic is really well-written. Black Bolt has little to no dialogue (his voice has destructive powers, so he doesn't speak), but he is still a very compelling character. The art is also pretty cool.

2. Outer Darkness #1-#3 by John Layman 

I randomly grabbed these at my local comic book shop and wow. I'm in love. It's a bizarre mix of sci-fi, horror, and supernatural fantasy, and it totally works. The world-building is like nothing I've ever seen. It's a level of unique that makes my out-of-the-box soul very happy. The art is also off-kilter, but super cool. I'm a huge fan of everything about this comic: The characters, the plot, the art, the colors, the creativity. It's an ongoing series, so I'm hoping it stays strong. Issue #4 comes out February 13th.

Note: This comic has a lot of foul language (so much so that it is rated Mature). It is appropriate to the characters and setting, but I wanted to give you all a heads up.

3. Marvel Rising: Alpha #1 by Devin Grayson 

Look. This has Squirrel-girl. I love Squirrel-girl, so of course I read it. It's a lot of fun! It has the afore mentioned rodent-loving superhero, it has Ms. Marvel, and it has computer science. What more could you want? This is a great intro to both of these young adult superheroes, so if you're looking for a jumping-on point: This is it. The villain isn't well-developed, but still worth a read. 

4. Batman: Year One by Frank Miller 

If you've been following me for any amount of time, you already know: I love Batman. He's the best. Because of this, I'm kind of picky about which Batman comics I like; It's hard to find ones that do him justice. This 80s comic, however, perfectly hits the spot. Gritty without being overbearing, this comic covers his origin story in a very compelling manner. Year One is one of the first Batman comics I ever read and it remains a constant favorite. 

5. Dept. H. #19 by Matt Kindt 

Yeah, I've only read issue #19. *makes rebellious face to hide my shame* If it makes you feel any better, this is the beginning of a new(ish) story arc. I really love the feel of this comic: It's underwater dystopian with a splash of mystery. The art is really rough (in a purposeful sort of way) and awesome. The world-building is super cool. Matt Kindt is an excellent author, so I'm sure this whole series is good. I plan to read the other 18 issues when I get the time. 

6. Daredevil Vol 1 by Mark Waid 

So....I love all of Mark Waid's Daredevil comic. Volume 4 of this run is actually my favorite, but I decided to recommend vol 1 first in an attempt to redeem myself after admitting I read Dept. H. out of order. Aaaaanyway. This comic is great. It's a bit lighter than the usual Daredevil comics and, while I love dark stories, this shift works really well. The character development is stellar and I LOVE this comic's portrayal of Daredevil's blindness. 

7. Aquaman #1 by Geoff Johns

This comic is gold. It's 50% people making jokes about the lameness of Aquaman and 50% Aquaman making annoyed faces. DC movies may not have much of a sense of humor, but the comics sure do. This issue also has a good set-up for what seems to be a decent storyline, so it's certainly worth a read.

8. Obi-Wan & Anakin by Charles Soule


Taking place between The Phantom Menace (*shudders*) and The Attack of the Clones (*screams of horror*), this comic packs quite the punch. It shows a lot of the different stumbling blocks that later lead to Anakin's fall, and also shows Obi-Wan anticipating these issues and desperately trying to make things work for his young padawan. This comic also gives us a peek at a brand new planet that has a bit of a cyberpunk vibe, so that's a fun bonus. The art is good, too. I highly recommend.

And there you have it. An amazing cafe and comic book shop recently opened up about five minutes from my house, so this comic book series is far from over. It will keep going until I die...or run out of money from buying too many comics.

Have any comics you'd like to recommend? I'm all ears! You get bonus points if the comics aren't your typical Star Wars or superhero comics.

If you don't read comics: Why not? Would you be interested in a blog post about how comic book reading can help you grow as a writer? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Related articles:
12 Manga and Comic Books Worth Reading (Part 1)
A List of Great Self-Published Books You Should Read (Part 1)

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Some links are Amazon affiliate. Thank you for your support!

Friday, January 18, 2019

Looking at the World Through Lyme Colored Glasses: Eyes Wide Open

I haven't written a blog post about Lyme disease in over a year. Not because I didn't have anything to say. I did. In fact, I had too much.

See, I have a very specific way that I write. There are threads to each story, each post, each narrative. I can see them clearly. I keep track of these threads as I write and then, when I'm done with the story, I tie them all up together in a neat little bow.

But I can't do that when it comes to my life and how it relates to Lyme. I see a lot of threads. They're mostly gnarled and knotted, but I can see them. However, I can't see all of them. And I absolutely do not know how to tie them into a pretty bow at the end.

And if I can't see the end, then what's the point of beginning a post? Because, truth be told: I don't know how to write about something that doesn't have an ending. Or a moral. Or a nice little truth at the finish.

And so I do not write about Lyme disease. Not because I have no words, but because I have too many.

But I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Life isn't about bows, is it? There are always loose ends, aren't there?

Sometimes stories need to be told even if the threads don't tie up nice and neat at the end. In fact, maybe those are the stories that need to be told the most. Because they're real and they're honest and they let people know that they aren't the only ones who are being choked by their own strings.

So I'm going to share a really small slice of my Lyme story to you. There is no bow at the end and many of the threads are missing, but it's a true story, so I like to think that it still matters.

Looking at the World Through Lyme Colored Glasses: Eyes Wide Open

Seven years ago, I started struggling with depression. I didn't know its name until three years ago, but that didn't make it any easier. It comes to visit for days on end, trying to suck out my soul. I'm prepared for it now. I know that tomorrow or the next day or the next week will be better, so it doesn't have as much of a hold on me as it used to.

Yet every time it comes to visit I feel weak and tired. Just because I know depression well doesn't mean I don't hate it with everything inside of me.

Three years ago, I was supposed to go to Boston with my family. We'd planned it for months. Instead, the doctors found a tumor in my neck and we had to stay home. The surgeon told me he would make an inch incision in my neck to get the tumor out. I woke up with an incision stretching from the center of my throat all the way up to behind my left ear. I think back on it now and I don't think much of it. So I had a tumor and so I now have a big scar. So what?

But I remember being terrified at the time. And I still can't step foot in a hospital without feeling my breath catch a little in my throat.

Two years ago, I stopped wearing necklaces and bracelets. The pressure of them against my skin hurt too much, so I didn't really have a choice. But I didn't throw these items away. I kept them in my closet just in case. Until, one day, I realized that didn't make any sense. I gave them away.

It didn't really bother me. But I still find myself wondering if maybe I should have kept them for the days when my pain isn't so high. Which isn't at all a weird thought. At least it wouldn't be if I ever had days where my pain wasn't high.

A year ago, my hands started shaking. Not every day. Not for any apparent reason. Just another new Lyme disease symptom that probably has to do with my heart beating too fast. It wasn't a big deal. The first time it caused any real problem was during a lab class when my hands were shaking too much to dispense liquid from a pipette. I passed the pipette off to my lab partner. She looked at my hands quizzically, so, without thinking, I made a joke about having had too much coffee. She thought it was funny and that was that.

I didn't think there was anything odd about my response. After all, I don't talk to my classmates about having Lyme disease if I can help it. It's not their business. Besides, maybe I'm a bit tired of constantly explaining my situation.

Several months ago, I started waking up every morning in pain. That wasn't new. What was new was the fact that the pain was so high that I simply couldn't stay in bed. It didn't matter if I woke up at 6 AM or 4 AM. I simply had to get off of the torture rack and start my day.

Annoying. Frustrating. But easily made up for by using that morning time to catch up on emails, social media, or reading rather than laying in bed.

I look back at all this and I don't know what to make of it. I have adapted quite a bit to Lyme eating away at my life, but it has still left a lot of knots and frayed ends. Ones that I don't think will ever smooth over.

I look at all of these threads tangled together and I think: This is really effed up.

I don't think this in an angry way. It is a fact. The sky is blue, fish live in water, and my health circumstances are effed up.

But this doesn't make me angry anymore. Only a year ago, it absolutely would have. But now? It doesn't. Why?

Well, I've stopped only noticing my own pain and tried to notice other things, too.

I know this gif doesn't really go with this post,
but it's where my mind went so I'm keeping it. Thank you
for bearing with me.
Like the big smile on my friend's faces that day they saw me trying, an utterly failing, to go surfing again. The respectful, excited look on my professor's face upon learning that I felt like crap but still worked hard to learn in her class. Those emails from blog followers telling me about their health problems and being excited that I'm still writing in spite of mine. The reviews on my stories from people who were helped by my depictions of pain and suffering and faith and love. The "proud of you" comments from family and friends.

I am thankful for these experiences. They mean so much to me. To know that my pain has been able to help others through theirs? That is a gift. One that is indescribably important to me.

Another gift I have received is that of strength. Every single morning I wake up in pain. Once I'm awake, not a single minute of my day is without aching muscles, stiff joints, burning nerves, a pounding heart, or fatigue. But I still roll out of bed each day determined to keep living, keep working, keep writing, and to keep enjoying the good parts of life.

This is a feat that I cannot claim responsibility for. I know I personally am not capable of such strength. I know this because, in the past, back when I was angrier and more bitter, I did not have this mentality. This strength comes from years of seeing that God always has my back, though maybe not always in the way I expect. Such knowledge has helped me hang in there even when things get really bad. It is one of the most comforting pieces of knowledge I possess and, though I often lose sight of it, I am forever thankful for it.

And yet I am incredibly, painfully, aware of the fact that being healed today would not lessen these experiences. I have permanent scars that would remind me of the pain I have been through and the triumphs that have resulted from this suffering. So why do I still have Lyme disease? What is the point of my continued pain? I didn't ask for any of this. I didn't ask to be born into a fallen world, and I certainly didn't ask to live my life in constant pain. So couldn't God help me out a bit?

These are more threads that I don't know what to do with. I cannot process them. There are too many threads and none of them are clear. I unravel one only to pull another into a tight, messy knot. Any bow I attempt to make ends up lopsided or torn or somehow lacking.

And I think maybe I know why this is.

I am not the one who is supposed to smooth these threads out or tie them together. I do that in all of the stories that I write because I am the author. I am the one in control.

But, when it comes to my life, I am not at all in control. I cannot tie these threads because they are woven in a pattern that my brain simply cannot comprehend.

I do not like this thought. It makes me uncomfortable. I love God, but I do not always fully trust him. I know that he has a bow in mind for the end of my story, but I can't help wondering if he couldn't have simply chosen a different type of adornment. One that was preceded by less knots and gnarls.

I assume the answer to this is: "No." He has a plan, and it is perfect. If it includes tangles and frays, there is a reason.

I know this, but I do not trust it. Not always.

I don't think God minds, though. Unlike a few years ago, my questioning is not comprised of angry, profanity-filled prayers flung up at the sky. Instead, it is quieter, more hopeful (though still a little angry and a little pathetic).

I feel a bit like Oliver Twist: "Please, sir, may I have some more?" Some more answers. Some more guidance. Some more help.

See, I don't think God minds the questions because they aren't as unbalanced as they used to be. I recognize that there are threads to this story that I cannot see, and know that some knots will untangle in unexpected ways.

When I wake up in pain each morning, I remind myself: There is more. More to see. More to do. So I go at life with my eyes wide open, determined to see it all. And, honestly, I don't always like what I see: Pain, suffering, weakness, all tangled in ugly knots. But, sometimes, I get glimpses of the good stuff, too: Triumph, joy, strength, all presented in beautiful bows.

I'd be lying if I said I understood what all of this meant. How can this system of eeking out an existence, dying, and then spending eternity with God be so effed up and unfair, yet still somehow miraculous and beautiful? I don't know. I guess I just have to keep my eyes wide and my heart open while constantly asking:

Please, sir, may I have some more?

Related articles:
Looking at the World Through Lyme-Colored Glasses: Why Faith Doesn't Always Equal Healing

Friday, January 11, 2019

10 Tips for Writing a Good Book Review

Raise your hand if writing book reviews stresses you out.

Yep. Me, too. It sucks, doesn't it? Book reviews are so incredibly important to authors and readers alike. We reviewers want to be helpful, but instead we find ourselves stressed out (or bored) at the prospect of trying to critique an entire story.

Here are some things you can do to help make you write great reviews in an easy, non-stressful manner:

10 Tips for Writing a Good Book Review

1. Remember a one-sentence review is better than none. Seriously. Leave a review whenever possible. Don't have time to do an in-depth review? Then just slap together a sentence, post it, and make an author's day.

2. Don't feel the need to summarize the story. I think summarizing is probably one of the most stressful parts about a book review. The good news? You don't have to do it. That's what the book's synopsis is for. Just copy it over into your review (or don't, if you're reviewing on Goodreads or a sales site), being sure to give credit. If you want to summarize on your own, feel free. But also know that this isn't necessary.

3. Think about what worked, what didn't, and why. Do this before you start writing. There's nothing worse than getting into a review and realizing you don't know what you want to say. Not only is this confusing for you, but it can also make your readers walk away thinking:

Lego Batman gif: "I'm sorry. I literally have no idea what you're talking about."

Take a few minutes (or a few days) to think about all of the pros and cons of the story. Ask yourself why they are pros, why they are cons, and whether or not you think these are objective or subjective critiques. This will help you write a smooth, balanced review.

4. Mention the two biggest details: Characters and ______. I say characters because basically every reader loves characters and wants to know if they're any good. I left the other section blank because that "big detail" can differ from book to book. The detail may be plot. It may be world-building. It may be writing style. You choose, then delve into it. If you try to focus on too many big details, you may end up getting lost in the review. That being said, you can absolutely focus on more than two big details, but only if you have the time and energy.   

5. Mention a few small, favorite details. This is what makes reviews unique. Anyone can analyze character/plot/writing style. But, generally, people walk away from a story with specific impressions that are unique to themselves. Share that experience in your review. This adds personality to your critique, and can also make the reviewing process more interesting for yourself.

6. Explain. Don't just say "The plot was not well-developed." Explain why you think this. "Batman's motives for wanting to kill Superman are half-baked and not thoroughly explained. If Batman and Superman had simply talked for five minutes like two grown adult people, the entire storyline would have fallen to pieces." See? That's more clear. It instantly makes the review more helpful and trustworthy.

7. Discuss what you didn't like. Leaving a 3-star review and not explaining why you took 2 stars away is not helpful to anybody.

Gif from Lego Batman: "No, that's just weird."

Instead, delve into what you didn't like. This isn't a mean thing to do. It's helpful to readers and (sometimes) helpful to authors....though the authors should not be your main concern when you are leaving a review.

8. No spoilers. Don't be that person. If you feel you must give spoilers, put a spoiler warning beforehand.

9. Put your own spin on it. Your review doesn't have to look like everyone else's. You can review in list format (thing you liked, things you didn't like, things you don't understand, etc), in sections (headings for characters, plot, prose, etc). You can even open (or close) the review with a list of who you'd recommend this story to ("For fans of terribly-made comic book movies"). Some reviewers even give content warnings ("This story has a scene where a horribly-written version of Batman brands criminals with his bat symbol"). This makes your reviews stand out...and can also make them more fun to write.

10. Don't panic! And have fun. Reviews are an incredibly kind and helpful thing to do for the reading and writing community. Because of this, you shouldn't feel pressured to write an awesome review. Instead, feel proud that you are leaving a review at all.

Bonus tip: Place the review on multiple platforms. Put it on your blog, on Goodreads, on Instagram, and on any sales platform where the book can be found. This doesn't necessarily make the review better, but it does increase reach, thus exponentially benefitting readers and writers alike.

Shameless plug: If you'd like to practice your reviewing skills, feel free to leave a review for Skies of Dripping Gold, Colors of Fear, Flames of Courage, or the Antiheroes anthology.

Do you write book reviews? Why or why not? Do you have any tips or tricks of your own that you'd like to share? Let's chat!

Related articles: 
The 5-Star Rating System: What Book Reviewers Mean VS How Indie Authors Take It

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Some links are Amazon affiliate. Thank you for your support!

Friday, January 4, 2019

10 Tips for Unique, Creative World-Building

I'm recycling this blog post from PFW. Like a boss. 

Like a boss who's tired and forgot today was Friday. 

Thank you for bearing with me. 

World-building is probably one of my favorite parts about being a writer. It allows me to get incredibly creative, and also gives me an excuse to Google weird things like the history of rice fields (it’s more interesting than it sounds) and whether or not it’s possible to ride a wolf (the answer is very disappointing).

See, there are so many different things you can do with world-building. Unfortunately, many speculative fiction authors tend to fall back on the same types of worlds, leading to solid world-building that lacks any type of unique flair. And if you know anything about my writing, you’ll know that I like flair.

Here are some ways to make your world-building creative, eye-catching, and uniquely yours:

10 Tips for Unique, Creative World-Building

1. Research. This is really important. E.B. Dawson, J.E. Purrazzi, and I literally recorded an entire podcast on this topic. If you want to make your world-building stand out, you need to dig deeper. Pick a few cultures you are interested in and go to town. Start with the Wikipedia page. Find details that jump out at you. Google them. The more obscure or less-portrayed-in-fiction, the better. Find ways to work these little details into your story. That being said….

2. Don’t convert your research directly to the page. Let’s say you find some super cool information about traditional Induit dances. Awesome. Now find a way to tweak that so that it is specific to your made-up culture. This allows you to create a more cohesive world: One that is entirely your own, and one that plays well with the plot and characters.

Read the rest of the post on the Phoenix Fiction Writers blog. 

Related articles: 
10 Points to Think About When World-Building
#ChatWithHannah Ep 16: All About Worldbuilding

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Some links are Amazon affiliate. Thank you for your support!

Friday, December 28, 2018

How to Balance Your Writing Life with Chronic Health Problems

There are a lot of hard things in life. For instance:

It’s hard to watch DC cinema ruin Batman. It’s hard to face the fact that Twitter still does not have an edit button. It’s hard to always have more books on your shelf than time to read them.

You know what else is hard?

Being a writer with chronic health problems. It can be overwhelming, frustrating, and sometimes it feels like it's downright impossible. As an indie author with chronic Lyme disease, I would know.

I've had Lyme disease for about eight years now. I've been a writer for all of those years, a blogger for four of them, and a published author for three of them. In that time I've undergone many different treatments (none of which have worked), fought chronic pain, depression, fatigue, and other fun symptoms. The balancing act is a difficult one, and I've had to come up with different tools to help me stay upright.

If you're a writer struggling with health problems, here are eight tools you may find helpful:

How to Balance Your Writing Life with Chronic Health Problems

1. Set realistic deadlines...then push them back a month. Having health problems means that we never quite know what the future holds. This means that sometimes we set deadlines, then aren't able to meet them, which can lead to us feeling like failures (which is absurd...more on that later). To help cope with this, be sure to set realistic deadlines, then tack an extra 30 days onto that deadline. Shoot for your deadline but know that you have that extra cushion just in case things go sideways. It is very comforting.

2. Learn to prioritize. What is important to you? Make a list. Put your goals in order of what is most precious to you. When things start getting tough health-wise, focus on the items that are on the top of your priority list. If you get too overwhelmed, then focus on the very top item. This doesn't mean that you throw everything else out the window. It just means you'll spend less time worrying abut what matters least and more time investing in what matters most.

3. Learn to say no. Both to yourself and other people. As writers, we constantly find ourselves wanting to take on new projects. Some of these projects are absolutely worthwhile. Some aren't (thus the prioritization mentioned above). As part of the writing community, sometimes people reach out to us for beta reading help or project collaboration offers. Some of these are possible to do. Some aren't.

It is very, very important to learn to be able to say no to things without feeling bad about ourselves. Rejecting new projects (or cutting out old ones) is not admitting defeat. It is you being strong enough to protect your health and your current writing goals. Say no with pride.
Tangled gif: Rapunzel saying no proudly

4. Do NOT compare yourself to other writers. This way lies low self-esteem and insanity. I would know. It's something I struggle with on a regular basis. As an indie author, I am surrounded by people who are working towards goals similar to mine. I watch as they constantly outstrip me: They can write faster and market more than I am able. It's really hard to see all of this when I'm working my butt off and seemingly getting nowhere. But here's the thing: We, as spoonies, tend to focus more on what we can't do than what we can. We see our differences magnified. Rather than accepting that our lives work differently than other people's, we feel guilty that we aren't writing or living the way that "normal" people do. And that is absurd. Here's why:

That story you're writing? It is yours, and yours alone. You are the only one who can write it, so don't compare your work to others. You don't have to write according to anybody else's standard but your own. After all, their destination is not yours, and it never will be. This fact affords you with the amazing freedom to craft your own unique story. How awesome is that?

5. Be fiercely proud of what you have accomplished. Living with chronic health problems is hard. Writing is hard. And yet here you are, doing both. That is incredible. Take a moment to write down everything you've accomplished with your writing. It may not look like much to you, so here's what you need do next: Underneath each thing you've accomplished, write down everything you've had to overcome to accomplish it. Now go back and read the list. It's pretty impressive, isn't it? You should be damn proud of how far you've come. Whenever you start feeling bad about yourself or your ability to be a writer and a spoonie, go back and look at your list. Be proud.

Here's one truncated item off of my list, in case you're having a hard time visualizing what I'm talking about:
  • Wrote and published Skies of Dripping Gold
    • Wrote the story a few weeks after undergoing a stressful (and failed) two-week treatment process in Kansas 
    • Edited while fighting depression 
    • Published while working part-time and taking difficult science classes
My list is several pages long. I go back to it whenever I need to put things in perspective. I highly recommend you create your own list to help you stay proud of everything you are working through to keep your writing passion alive.

6. Ask for help. You should not be doing this alone. Ask for support via prayer. Recruit friends to help you with editing. Secure guest posters for when you're struggling to stay afloat. These seem like little things, but they make all of the difference.

7. Learn to write on shifting sands. We writers tend to like our rituals. Unfortunately, the spoonie life can be very unreliable. Maybe you like to write in the mornings, but end up in intense pain, or have a doctor's appointment scheduled at 8:30 AM. Maybe you were planning to write 1,000 words today, but your brain decided to fog up or your eyes thought it would be funny to blur everything together into a messy alphabet soup.

Gif of guy writing on laptop while fire burns in front of him

Does it suck? Yeah. It really, really does. But you have very little control over your health condition. All you can control is your attitude and your ability to work around problems. Maybe you can't write this morning, but you can write a little bit as you wait in the doctor's lobby. And sure, your eyes aren't cooperating right now, but that doesn't have to stop you from lying down and mentally planning your next writing steps.

Breathe. Adapt. Move forward. It's the way of champions.

8. Do what you need to do to stay mentally healthy. Mental health can be a huge struggle for writers. It's an even larger struggle if you're constantly battling health problems. It's important to recognize this so that you can stay on top of negative thoughts. I wrote an entire post on how to stay mentally healthy as a writer, so check that out here.

Have any extra tips or tricks you'd like to share with us? How do you balance your writing life with having health problems? Let's chat!

Note: The PFW sale is still going strong! The sale ends tomorrow (December 29th), so be sure to stop by our website before then to find your next good read.

Related articles: 
9 Tips for Maintaining Mental Health as a Writer
How to Stay Motivated to Write When Life Gets Hard

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Some links are Amazon affiliate. Thank you for your support!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

PFW Anniversary Sale!

As of December 20th, 2017, we Phoenix Fiction Writers have been going strong for an entire year. In that time we've published an anthology, released new stories, held livestreams, and produced blog posts, podcasts, and newsletters. We've done all of this without having a mental breakdown or destroying the internet. Very impressive, if I do say so myself.

But you know what is even more impressive? You people. You have been so incredibly supportive of us. From reading our stories to listening to our podcasts to interacting with us online, your interest in our writing efforts has been beyond precious to us.

Today, we want to say thank you for your encouragement and readership. How? By holding a site-wide PFW sale!

From December 26th through the 29th, all of use PFW authors will have books on sale (both paperbacks and ebooks). This means sales from the following authors: 
  1. Beth Wangler
  2. E.B. Dawson
  3. Janelle Garrett
  4. J.E Purazzi
  5. K.L. + Pierce 
  6. Kyle Robert Shultz
  7. Nate Philbrick
  8. Me, Hannah Heath
Do you see any of your favorite authors up there? Probably. Do you see any of your future favorite authors up there? Yes, absolutely. You can see an entire list of what we have on sale here

My personal sale looks like this: 

All of my paperbacks will be $4.99 each, rather than the usual $6.99.

These paperbacks are available on Amazon. You can click through to the sales page by visiting our PFW sale, scrolling to "Paperbacks," then selecting my stories.  

You can purchase all three of my ebooks (Colors of Fear, Flames of Courage, and Skies of Dripping Gold) for only $0.99 ($2.97 value).
This ebook bundle is available on BundleRabbit, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple Books. Check it out on the PFW website! Just scroll down to the "bundles" section. And don't forget to check out the other amazing bundles, too!

Now, I know you probably have some Christmas cash left over. I also know you have excellent taste (after all, you do follow this blog), so you'll definitely be interested in reading stories by PFW authors. This is your chance to stock up on some stellar speculative fiction reads for really, really cheap, so jump on in!

Have any family or friends who would be interested in this sale? Be sure to send them the link to our PFW sales page! And don't forget to share all of this info on social media to help out your fellow bookworms.

Have any questions about the sale? I'd be happy to answer them! Just let me know. Remember: This sale ends December 29th (this Saturday), so don't miss out!

Related articles:
Announcing The Phoenix Fiction Sampler Bundle!
A List of Great Self-Published Books You Should Read (Part 1)
A List of Great Self-Published Books You Should Read (Part 2)

Enjoy this post? Take a look around. If you like what you see, don't forget to subscribe by email for a new post every Friday! 

Some links are Amazon affiliate. Thank you for your support!

Friday, December 21, 2018

10 Tips to Help You Build a Writing Tribe

It's dangerous to go alone. Find a writing tribe. The random old dude from Legends of Zelda says so.

Okay. Maybe he didn't say that. But if he existed in real-life, I like to think that he would. Writing is a very stressful, strenuous, mind-melting process. It's always helpful to have people who will support you, give you feedback, and help you not be crazy.

But how exactly do you develop a writing tribe? How do you go about finding and connecting with fellow creatives who will help you become a better writer? That's easy.

Step 1: Read this blog post.

Step 2: Follow my instructions exactly.

Step 3: Enjoy your new writing tribe.

Hannah Heath: 10 Tips to Help You Build a Writing Tribe

How do I get started? 

There are four steps: 

1. Find your values as a writer. Before you can find a tribe, you need to know who you are and what you stand for as a writer. This makes it easier for you to put yourself out there in an honest, winning way, and also means that you can attract people who are similar to you.

2. Look for people who have the same drive as you. Is writing a hobby for you? Or are you hoping to publish? If you want to publish: How soon? Do you want to go traditional or indie or both? You want to know these things about other people so that you can find somebody who will help you move forward, not drag you down or push you in a direction you don't want to go. While it is absolutely great to connect with people who have all sorts of goals, it's also a good idea to find a few people who are trying to go where you are. You can help each other as you travel down the same road.

3. Be genuine. Writing tribes are about real relationships, not selfish grabs at people you hope to use as support. If you are being fake about reaching out to and connecting with people, then you'll want to go home and rethink your life.

How do you actually find and connect with people?

I've been talking a lot about connecting with people and finding people who have similar goals and values. That's all well and good, but how do you actually locate these people? And how do you go about building a solid connection? Well, it goes something like this:

4. Get a twitter account. I don't know why, but twitter is the main hangout for the writing community. You can find most of us on there. Yeah, twitter can be a bit intimidating at first. I wrote a whole post on the topic to help you get started, so read that here. Twitter is fairly non-negotiable. Can you develop a tribe without it? Yes. Will it be harder? Absolutely.

5. Follow blogs. Don't follow all of them. Just follow a handful that look like they would be personally interesting to you. Leave comments. Share the links online. Not only is this a good way to find out whether these writers have similar values/goals to you, but it is also a good way to support your fellow writers. As for actually finding a blog to follow: You can ask for recommendations on twitter. You can find one blogger you love, then go see who they've had on as guest posters and follow them. You can even check out random blogs pinned to group writing boards on Pinterest.

Yes, following blogs can be a bit time-consuming. However, it is SO worth it. The majority of my writing connections came from either people following my blog or me following theirs. And I know many other writers who have had similar experiences. Just trust me on this.
Doctor Who gif: I think You'll find I'm universally recognised as a mature and responsible adult.

6. Read and support other people's writing. This is a good way to further get to know and connect with other writers. Read their books, leave reviews, talk about said books online/on your blog. If you don't have enough money to continually buy books, you can:

  • Subscribe to their newsletter. Many authors offer free short stories to their newsletters. Some even give out free advanced copies of their books for review, so that's worth a shot if you're dedicated to actually reviewing said books. 
  • Check their Wattpad. Not every writer has a Wattpad, but they might. And if they do? Reading, voting, and commenting on their work can really help them out. And it allows you to get to know them and their writing style.

7. Hang around established writing tribes. This is a great way to meet up with fellow writers. Find an established writing tribe and interact with them: Both with the actually tribe members and the supporters of said tribe members. Chances are you will connect with some of the members or some of the supporters (or both). Where do you find these writing tribes? On twitter. You'll notice that certain people tend to RT/respond to each other's posts more often. That's a tribe. You'll notice that some people consistently recommend each other on #FollowFriday. That's a tribe. You'll notice that certain people co-host hashtag games or participate in book launches together. That's a tribe. You'll notice a group called PFW. That is the best tribe, hands down.
Psych gif: Sean and Gus pointing at each other like "Oh, you're right! Good one!"

8. Join some Facebook groups. This is also a fun way to find tribes, good books, and build deeper connections. Facebook groups are usually author fan pages or author reading groups. Leave comments, post to the group, and be supportive. You'll find yourself drawn to certain people in the group and connections will happen naturally from there. Some good groups to join? Realm Maker's Consortium, which is a basically the watering hole for over a thousand different Christian speculative fiction authors/writers. The Afterversity of Kyle Robert Shultz, which is a reading group for Shultz's amazing stories. The community there is very fun and active. I've also heard great  things about Kara Swanson's Starchasers community. And, of course, there's always my new Torn Universe fan group/reading group where you can come hang out with me and other cool people.

9. Reach out via email. Found somebody you like and want to connect with them further? Check their blog/website. Do they have a contact form/email address? Send them an email! What should you say? Whatever you want. You can send some encouragement or ask them a question (about writing, or book recommendations, or their platform). This is not a bother in anyway. We put our emails out there because we want people to contact us. Getting emails from fellow writers is one of my favorite things. So don't be shy! Email away! Just be respectful of people's time and privacy. Translation: Don't send them a 5-page email, and don't ask them overly personal questions.

10. Do not be afraid to direct message people. Seriously. Unless somebody says in their social media bio that they do not want direct messages, this is totally fine. Messaging is a great way to get to know somebody better, and can be perfect for when a person doesn't have an email. It's not at all weird to reach out and say hello via these private social media channels. So don't be shy! Say hello. Just keep in mind that all of the tips and rules for emailing do apply here.

And that's it. That's how you start making connections and building your own writing tribe. If you're feeling overwhelmed: Don't. Because here's the thing:

Remember, writing tribes happen naturally. While I do have my own tribe, I honestly can't tell you exactly when or how I met each of my fellow tribe members. It just...happens. So while you can do things to encourage the building of relationships with fellow writers, this is not something to force or to stress out about. It'll all work out.

Also, please remember that you can feel free to reach out to me on twitter and let me know that you're looking to meet people in the writing community. I will introduce you to a handful of amazing writers to help you get started.

Also know that you should really be following PFW anywhere and everywhere that you can. While this may seem like a shameless plug (which it absolutely is), PFW can really help you connect with other writers. We have great guest posters and guest podcasters for you to learn about, and we are always happy to interact with you online. Also....

Okay. I was really trying super hard to think of a smooth segue and I've got nothing. So I'll just jump in and say:

PFW is having an anniversary sale soon! 

Woohoo! We had our one year birthday on December 20th, 2018. To celebrate, we'll be putting a TON of our books on sale. 

PFW Anniversary sale: December 26th-29th. Dozens of discounted ebooks and paperbacks!

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and keep your eyes peeled for our Dec 26th-29th sale. I personally will be selling an ebook bundle of Colors of Fear, Flames of Courage, and Skies of Dripping Gold for 99 cents (a $2.97 value). All of these short stories will also be available in paperback for $4.99 each (usually $6.99 each). 

Yep.  It's going to rock. I will be sure to write another post with more details come December 26th, but I wanted to give you all a heads up now. You're welcome. 

Okay. *segues back* Have any questions about building a writing tribe? Have any suggestions? Let's here 'em!

Related articles: 
5 Reasons An Avenger-Style Writing Team is Invaluable: A Guest Post by Nova McBee
11 Tips for Building a Successful Writer's Platform
10 Tips for Using Blogging to Build Your Writer's Platform

Enjoy this post? Take a look around. If you like what you see, don't forget to subscribe by email for a new post every Friday! 

Some links are Amazon affiliate. Thank you for your support!
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