Category Archives: #amlearning

YOU ARE THE SECRET PLOT TWIST

According to polls, more than 80 percent of Americans say they would like to be an author. In 2013, Forbes reported there were “somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone” and they estimate more than half were self published. 

That was in the early days of the self publishing boom and those numbers have only gone up since. It’s clear, there is no shortage of stories in the world and, as the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun.

This is some heavy information for any author to digest. The weight of it hit me a few years ago during the pandemic. I had a part-time job at one of the largest libraries in Kansas City. We were closed to the public but still in operation thanks to a drive-thru window. Outside the line never stopped as people looked to books for comfort and information. Inside was quiet and dark… a lovely, book lined mausoleum.

NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN

During one of my breaks I prowled the dark and deserted shelves, relishing the solitude. The shelves stretched into the shadows. So many books, I thought. Who am I to add even one more? It was humbling to see thousands of authors lined up on the shelves, the majority of them highly successful. Why did my stories belong among them? 

It’s enough to make an author put down the pen. The realization wasn’t enough to make me quit but it did prompt some solid pondering. Lucky for me, I was pre-armed with some keen insight from my friend and mentor Bryan Thao Worra. Early in my fiction career Bryan had looked over my work. He had one question: where was the me in my stories?

At the time, I was writing classic horror with gothic themes. My work didn’t stand out and I didn’t know why. I’d bump up the horror and graphic elements… but they were still well edited yawns. Bryan pointed out that I was part Asian and I love tech science. Why didn’t I ever use that in my work? The stories I’d written so far could have been written by anyone. Where were the stories that could only be written by me?

YOU MAKE YOUR STORY UNIQUE

To date, that was the best advice I ever got as a writer. My stories were all what I thought readers wanted because I’d read these types of stories hundreds of times. That should have been my clue not to write them. We’ve all read those stories hundreds of times. Why kill another tree for old news?

I’d done a good job keeping my personal quirks out of my work and had created perfectly bland stories. My fiction was just rehashed regurgitations of what I had read before—literary Frankensteins.

Around that time I had an opportunity to submit a story. It was a perfect opportunity to try what Bryan suggested. I had to rush after another deadline, but I managed to come up with an odd tale about being a blended race, generational envy, and the cost of authenticity. Turns out, Bryan’s advice was spot on. “Vanilla Rice” was my first professional fiction sale, my breakout story and has been printed three times since. 

Every book it appeared in has won or been nominated for high level awards including the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson and the Alberta Book Publishing Award for Best Speculative Fiction of the Year. Since the success of that story I look at every story I write through my own perspective… and I’ve published every story since. Even the rewrites of my old, bland regurgitations have found love when I added the authentic me.

This is what kept me writing that day when I stood alone in a dark library and realized how many excellent stories already existed in the world. Yes, there are “somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone” but there is only one me—and this is great news for all of us. Anyone can write a story. Anyone can write a pretty good story and many, many authors do. What they can’t write is your good story. Only you have the qualifications to write that. 

REAL WORLD EXAMPLES

Here are two examples of how adding my personal quirks made better stories:

Case Study 1: I was asked to write a Christmas story for children. I’m not a fan of the frenetic hustle of Christmas so I imagined what my happy holiday would look like. I would be alone on a mountain with no electricity. In fact, a year of that sounded nice—and there would be spiders because I like them better than Christmas. The Christmas Spiders, a revamp of an old Eastern European folktale, is now my secret, best selling Christmas book.

Case Study 2: I took an older story I had about a male janitor with a chance for revenge and rewrote it adding in my personal experiences. I was once a janitor so I changed the protagonist to a middle aged woman suffering from an insufferable, sexist boss… just like my real life boss at that time. The entire story changed and became much better. It’s now called “Just Us League” and it’s published in Giving the Devil His Due. Anyone can tell the story of a male janitor with a chance for revenge. Only I could tell “Just Us League.”

YOUR TAKEAWAY TASK

Make a list of things you love and then take a look at your body of work. Can you see where you can add in your personal authenticity to create a story only you can tell? Don’t just relate details of your life unless you’re writing a memoir. Just lend personal elements of yourself to your worlds and characters. What parts of your personal experience could add depth to your work? 

Here’s your assignment. Take any common trope and add one of your hobbies. A vampire that loves knitting? A werewolf that rescues dogs? A zombie who enjoys cooking? I would read any of these. The real, authentic you makes everything better. Feel free to share in the comments.

This is part of my series on BUILDING STORY, available online for free here. The ebook is available on Amazon here. Thank you for being here.

MERRY ALLIDAYS AND A HAPPY NEXT YEAR!

I know, technically Allidays is celebrated the second Saturday of August, but it feels like an adaptable holiday so I’m claiming it. I aim to celebrate everyday of 2022—all days as holidays: Allidays. And now for the last post of a crazy year…

I’m still not sure what to think of 2021. I’m not sure I have any idea what to expect in this next year… but I think it will be better. The last two years taught me that I need to appreciate my moments, not rush through them on hyper-autopilot.

I think I’ve mentioned that my 26-year-old neighbor passed away unexpectedly last November. He was healthy and strong. The night before he died I heard him carousing with friends in the back yard. The next day I watched his body being wheeled into a coroner’s van. What did he regret leaving behind, I wondered… and what would I? That’s when I realized most of what I do is just clutter without much value.

I’ve had this blog going for over a decade and from the beginning my goal has always been to post everyday for no good reason—until recently. The beginning of the end starts with my post in early December, BUSY VERSUS PRODUCTIVE? GUILTY AS CHARGED. That was the end of the daily blog goal.

It turned out to be an effective change. When I wasn’t occupied brainstorming everyday about what to post, I could take time to think. I decided not to waste blog space with boring personal news which can be covered with a small news FYI on the front page.

I thought a lot about what I really wanted to share and what I read myself. Usually it’s about how to create a better story. That’s why I like working as a mentor. That’s why I like coaching and editing. Whether I wrote it or you wrote it… when it comes out excellent it’s a thrill for everyone including the readers. So that’s what I decided to write about—what I’ve learned about creating stories.

Giving myself a week to think about one idea instead of a day to think of a dozen had a positive effect. I divided that one idea into many parts. Because I can focus on the one idea, it became the topic of my next column in the Horror Writer Association newsletter and it found its way into the presentation I gave the Woodneath Writers last Monday. Less work and stress… more work done better. Epiphany!

When I worked at the Bay Beacon newspaper I was asked by a co-worker once what I do for fun. I answered without thinking: “Oh, I work.” He clarified that he meant what do I do after work. I told him nothing. When I left work at the newspaper I went home to work on my own writing. He gave me a look like I was crazy. I get it now, Mac. I was crazy.

So I end the year in a quiet and relaxed mood. I’m planning not-work things like pottery and exercise. I’d like to live forever, but if that doesn’t work out I’d like to at least leave on my own terms. I want people to remember me as someone who did great things as opposed to a lot of things. I want to savor my minutes.

So wherever you are at this moment, and whatever you celebrate… I wish you all good things. May your minutes be long and full. May your hours be rich and your days vital. May we all have a good new year.

And I’ll be back tomorr… next week. I mean year.😉

REVIEW: SPIRIT KEEPERS TAROT PLUS

As promised, I share my thoughts (aka gushing praise) for not only Benebell Wen’s limited release of the SKT deck, but also a number of her books and how they have impacted my craft studies over the past year. If you want to know more about esoterica, you can find a treasure trove of well written, excellently documented info at benebellwen.com.

BUSY VERSUS PRODUCTIVE? GUILTY AS CHARGED

Next year is already shaping up to be even busier than this one so I am taking this calm before the storm to make sure I have everything as prepped I can. The time blocking has really streamlined things and I’m able to get a lot more done now, including things just for fun.

We’re taking a pottery class starting next Monday…! I would have never felt like I could afford to do that timewise before. I first talk about this with TIME BLOCKING AS A SUPERPOWER here. I’m cautiously optimistic.

My youngest son sent me this video today on being busy versus being productive. I think that’s the secret of the time blocking… because everything has to fit in a box I can only say yes to the things that are the most important to me. I admit, I flinched when they bring up the 20 item to do list. I am guilty. I need to pin the quote from Bruce Lee on my calendar.

But don’t let me keep on about it. The creators over at After Skool are much better at that.

WHERE DO YOUR WORDS GO WHEN YOU DIE?

Death has preoccupied me more than usual this past week. I’ve had several friends pass away in the last month or so, not to mention watching my mid-twenties neighbor be wheeled out his front door under a sheet. On top of that we just got vaccinated and news of the Omicron variant is all over my media… but I’m mostly preoccupied with death (not Death) because of Neil Gaiman.

I passed through his blog a few weeks ago and I noticed this posted in the sidebar:

“My current crusade is to make sure creative people have wills. 
Read the blog post about it, and see a sample will.

I thought about all my writer friends that have recently passed away. What has happened to their intellectual property? I’ve had intentions to make my will for years but I’ve never gotten around to it. Every year brings me closer to needing one (unless I can find a willing vampire). This seems like an appropriate item to put on the bucket list before I kick anything. Thanks to Neil (& Les Klinger) for doing the heavy lifting, I finally put it in my schedule to do.

Read Neil’s post here, and pass it on: https://journal.neilgaiman.com/2006/10/important-and-pass-it-on.html

RESULTS OF FIRST PHAS REAL LIFE GHOST HUNT: FAIL

The results of today’s Phasmophobia rl Ghost Hunt? No contact.

To be fair, we did a terrible job of checking temperatures regularly, documenting and noting unusual activity off game… and this is because we were occupied with playing a game. The only interesting thing to note is that the ambient temps were actually warm at 74° at one point but Ryan (Aussimanplays) reported feeling chilled.

This leads me to think that maybe the anecdotal reports of the temperatures dropping as people play Phas might be psychological. This makes a lot of sense because many of the maps are played in rain, snow and always in the dark. More tests needed.

Equipment we used was the ambient temperature gauge and EMF. We got too involved in game play to try anything else. At some point this week we are going to try and test the equipment out in a random park that used to be an old neighborhood just to see if we pick anything up. We live in the historic district of Independence, so ghost opportunities abound. The ghost of Harry S. Truman is reported to walk a path that goes in from of our house and I think I saw him once when we first moved in… but that’s for another post.

Today’s hunt was a fail, and it was based on human negligence. It looks like the biggest challenge of this Phasmophobia triggering real ghost activity experiment will have a challenge I didn’t expect: not getting so involved in gameplay we forget to take readings. Try again next week.

For those asking: Phas is primarily played with keys on the keyboard (WASD) and the mouse is used to select menu functions and ingame functions like opening doors, picking up objects and turning switches on and off.

If you want to watch the stream for yourself, it’s on Twitch. The Phasmophobia starts at around 3 hours and 30 minutes (3:30). Watch on Twitch here.

The one documented reading we did… #fail

TALES OF THE YUTA REVIEW

The Last Sakura: Tales of the Yuta by Ashley Nakanishi is not my normal reading material but I’m glad I picked it up. The reason for my interest came from the reference to yuta. A yuta is an Okinawan medium, which figured heavily into the research I was digging through with for Tortured Willows.

If I did need anymore convincing to read a YA, how could I resist any book that features the hajichi—Okinawan hand tattoos—featured so prominently on the cover? Hajichi are a cultural practice by Okinawan women that has been all but stamped out because of cultural oppression. I plan to get hajichi myself one day when we are no longer in lockdown. To see the tattoos featured so beautifully, I was hooked.

This is a cute story about a girl named Kiko and her sister who are packed up and sent to live with their obaa in Okinawa after their mother dies. The text is rich with cultural reference and while the yuta “magic” is really ramped up with some Hollywood-grade special effects, on the whole I not only enjoyed the story but learned some things from it. There are some good messages here for younger readers about anger, guilt, regret, forgiveness and the importance of culture.

The illustrations by Toni Silva add a lot to this book. I probably spent as much time studying the illustrations as I did reading the text. Humorous and clever, The Last Sakura: Tales of the Yuta is a pleasure to read and look at. Definitely worth it. Parents looking for a different type of “witch” book for teens with some true cultural value can find it here.

Find it on Amazon here.

HOW TO SCAN DOCS WITH YOUR PHONE

If you have an iPhone, this won’t work for you. Just stop reading now before you get jealous. For those with Google or Android phones, you are in luck.

How annoying is it when you have to fax a signed contract back? If you don’t have a printer, it involves going to print, scan and send back. Even if you have a printer it’s annoying to print and file and then you still have to scan and send it back. I used to cheat and just take a photo of the signed doc to send back. No one ever complained, but it’s not very professional looking.

A few months ago I found out you can scan with your Google or Android phone, save as a PDF and send anywhere. The scans are really good quality too. I can have shadows on the doc, bad lighting… the scans still come out crisp.

I was thinking I’d make a video tutorial to show you how, but then I realized someone probably already has. Here is an excellent video that walks through the simple steps. This is so easy and effective I use it all the time now. If you do have an iPhone and you’re feeling sad, I bet you can get one of your Android friends to scan your docs for you.