Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sunday Soundtracks: Skillet Part 2

Its time for part 2 of looking at Skillet on Sunday Soundtracks!

Last week I talked a lot about how I love Skillet for their passion and emotion, but I have another reason for liking them so much. Being a Christian, I always appreciate a good Christian band that takes an interesting approach to my religion. In the case of Skillet, I love how they examine the anguish of a relationship with God. Its not all butterflies and rainbows like many a song on Christian radio stations would lead you believe. Because having faith doesn't take pain away, its a daily struggle.

Skillet acknowledges that full on. It acknowledges how much it sucks to be human and how hard it can be to believe sometimes. I like how they grapple with such concepts in their lyrics because its a hundred times more relatable. And the wording also allows their songs to be seen in a non-christian light, which means everyone can enjoy it. Its inclusive but its also brutally honest. A good combination.

So this week, we're talking about my favorite skillet album and my favorites. The most recent Skillet Album to come out is Rise so I've had it for less than a year. But I adore this album.

Isn't that cover awesome? Well the album is too, taking a lot of my favorite elements of Skillet and upping the epic. Many of the songs overlap into the next so the album really flows in addition to the music. So lets take a look at my favorite songs from this album (Though they are all awesome so listen to the whole thing):

1. Rise- The first track on the album and a great way to start things out. Its a call to revolution, a lot like some of the songs from their previous albums like 'Awake and Alive'. But this song has a really powerful use of base that really drums up your heart beat. Excellent for writing fight scenes and it especially fits a dystopian environment. In fact, much of this album does so if you write dystopia, these songs should be on your writing playlist.

2. Not Gonna Die- This might one of my favorite songs from skillet period. But you have to listen to it correctly. The song actually starts on the previous track with an intro that is one of my favorite pieces of orchestration and vocals ever done by a rock band. It utilizes the singing of a child and a really awesome choir to make it a serving of epic. And remember how I was talking about how Skillet loves to show the struggle of religion rather than the happiness? This song personifies this, combining hope and despair to deliver a really awesome song. A personal favorite of mine and great for any fight scenes or revolutions.

3. American Noise- Time for a happier and more inspirational song. This song goes much more on the inspirational side of the spectrum and it has a great feel to it. One of those songs I want to hum cheerfully while skipping through a field. Since any journey is likely to have its lighter moments, this is a good song for that. It also works for contemporary better than other songs on this album so if you're writing a good old story about life, give this one a listen.

4. Madness in Me- Time for a TORTURED SOUL SONG! We all know Skillet is fond of these and I am quite fond of their song 'Monster'. This song is in the same vein as that, as the person singing is at war with themselves. This song has a much more brutal sound to it than 'Monster'. Its a lot less polished and a lot more desperate. Definitely good music for any character constantly fighting with themselves over what's right and what's necessary.

5. Salvation- This is a good old Skillet love song and it uses their female vocalist a lot (which I appreciate because I love her voice). Its another song that is meant to be about a relationship with God but it works for any other desperate relationship. Its desperate but also softer in parts so the song has very nice levels. The main reason I love this song is for the female vocalist. This album uses a lot of her. Woo hoo!

6. Fire and Fury- This song has a nice build to it and is also a love song featuring both the female and male vocalist. It seems to personify a relationship in which the people in it will do anything for each other. Writing about star crossed love? This would be a good song for that. Because, of course, it has a desperate feel to it. (I sure do love me some desperate love). Check it out if this sounds like the kind of relationship you're writing and add it to your play list.

These are just my favorites, but seriously, listen to the whole album. Its all wonderful. One of my favorite albums I own. It works best for dystopian or action fantasy. Anything that involves big wars and revolutions. But it has a few songs for contemporary pieces and romances as well. Give it a listen and see what works for you.

Happy Sunday everyone and good luck with your week!

Thursday, April 24, 2014


Today... I have joined the dark side. I have lost the long fight against evil and now I am giving in. It has been a long and valiant struggle but there's no escaping it any longer.

I have gotten a tumblr.

Please, please, I know its a shock. It is still a shock to me. I never thought I'd see the day where I would reach the final level of social media hell. But that day has come.

Not that tumblr is a bad place. On the contrary, its too good. Too many memes, too many things to re-blog, too many blogs to follow. Its so much that I know I will eventually tumble so far down a rabbit hole of nerdom and writing that my very existence (and most importantly, productivity) will be only a memory. It has been a good, productive life my friends.

But a new life has begun.

Dramatics aside, you should definitely follow me on Tumblr and encourage--I mean... warn me away from my new addiction.

The link is here:

Perhaps I'll tumble your way shortly :)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Shock Value in Fiction (Or, Why I got Angry at Game of Thrones Last Night)

So, did anyone see Game of Thrones last night? Even if you didn't, I'll keep spoilers for the show to a minimum, mostly because I want everyone, not just Game of Thrones fans, to read this. Even people who don't watch the show are aware of the complicated, incestuous relationship between Lannister twins, Jaime and Cersei.
Yep. These two. Well, last night there was a little scene that happened that I was not at all comfortable with. After returning from the war, Cersei has been cold to Jaime and it seems very clear that she does not love him like he loves her. And of course, most of the audience is on Jaime's side about this because he has been loyal to her while she has deceived him and slept with plenty of other men to achieve her own ends. He has never been with another woman, unlike most every other man in the show. He is an uncomfortable twist on chivalric love. And though he has done LOT'S of terrible things (attempted child murder for instance) he has also done a lot of good things and seems to have undergone a character transformation over the past few seasons, becoming a hero in the eyes of the fans. Cersei, of course, has remained one of the primary antagonists because she is a pretty horrible person.

So I might have felt just a LITTLE uncomfortable when, on last night's episode, Jaime kind of raped Cersei. No, not kind of. He did. She was protesting all the way through and he did not listen to her (the timing and location was also HIGHLY inappropriate but that's kind of a spoiler. People who watched the episode know what I'm talking about). Jaime raped Cersei. It doesn't matter how deceptive and evil Cersei is, she did not deserve that. And it seemed highly out of character for Jaime to do this because he A) acknowledged his distaste for rape and how, if he was a woman, he'd rather die than be raped in the last season, and B) saved Brienne from being raped.

I have not read the books but, on this occasion, I did a little check to see if this had happened in the book. It did not. While Cersei did initially protest to this sexual encounter and it does kind of toe the line as far as enthusiastic consent goes, she does beg him to keep going halfway through. Its still an uncomfortable scene but it makes more sense for the characters. It is a complicated sexual relationship and they are constantly warring with their morals and emotions. It is portrayed as such. It is not straight up rape.

But, the show has changed things like this before. And if I thought they were going to do something worthwhile with this plot point, I would be game. But I don't think that's what is going to happen. I think the scene was done for shock value. So that brings me to my main point of writing this. How does this apply to us as writers?

Rape for shock value, used only to make something edgy, is not okay. When rape is forgotten in the next scene or the trauma is easily solved, it is not okay. Victims of sexual abuse live with the after effects and trauma for years after it occurs, sometimes their whole lives. It is not just 'a thing' that happens to get you more views and more buzz. If a rape scene is not necessary to the plot or character development, then what is it? Its cheap drama.

I was a bit pissed when I found out that in Game of Thrones season 1 the show turned a scene between Dany and Drogo into a rape scene instead of a scene where consent was given. It made Dany's falling in love with Drogo a bit more sketchy. But it did set up the role of women in that society and how this was a common thing so it was kind of necessary for the tone of the show. This? We KNOW how women are treated in Westeros at this point. We've been with this show for four seasons for crying out loud. It sucks to be a woman in this world. And usually Game of Thrones does interesting stuff with this dilemma. But this scene? It adds nothing new. It is cheap drama. Why Game of Thrones NEEDS any more drama is beyond me.

So, since this scene is not canon and was changed from the books, I am going to pretend that the show makers were faithful to the original scene. I am going to pretend that Jaime did not go completely out of character unless they choose to do something with this change. I still love Game of Thrones. I'm not going to stop watching it. I am simply going to pretend they didn't completely screw up and use the book's scene as canon.

But I am not going to pretend this isn't a problem that needs to be addressed. Rape is not a tool in your show or book for you to get more buzz or cause a heart stopping moment. It as an issue that must be examined and not glossed over. If you can't handle this, then do not write about rape.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday Soundtracks: Skillet (Part I)

Happy Easter Sunday everyone! Its time for yet another Sunday Soundtracks! So how about we do something appropriate to the day with a christian band (which happens to be amazing for writing music).

Today we are going to talk about a band that is very close to my heart. They are one of those bands that can put out any song and I will listen to it... at least ten times. Their music is infectious and so often fits my characters and I'm going to talk about them today. They are:

SKILLET! I love skillet. I love them so much. I started listening to them back and middle school and low and behold their music still sticks with me. I haven't thrown their CDs into the 'never to be opened again' time capsule of my awkward years. I still play them loud and proud.

There's a lot of reasons I love this band. I love the sound of the music first of all. The passionate guitar, the hard hitting drum beats, the bass that punches you in the pit of your stomach and stirs up your soul. It might seem over dramatic, but the very sound of Skillet is emotional and full of life.

I love the lyrics too. This is a Christian band but the words are vague enough that it can be applied to relationships and other situations as well, which make it great fodder for story brainstorming.

The thing is, I can't do just one post on their music and my personal favorite songs because I adore so many of them. So I'm going to do a two parter on this, with another Sunday Soundtracks on them next week. But for this week lets focus on two of their albums: 'Awake' and 'Comatose' and my favorite tracks from those.

I should note that I love most of the songs on these albums and that I recommend buying both of them, but held at gun point, these are the best tracks for writing inspiration.

Awake- My very first Skillet album and my second favorite of theirs that I own. Its got some real winners so lets take a look.

Monster- This is a great song for a conflicted character. I loved this song enough in high school to make a music video to it, which meant listening to the song no less than one million times. But, years later, I still like it. I've always been one for tortured and conflicted characters so a song expressing the anguish of guilt is always great for a writing soundtrack.

Awake and Alive- This is one of the most passionate of the Skillet songs. Its a roaring anthem for taking back your life and living to the fullest. And it is excellent for an action scene. It really jazzes you up for ass kicking, particularly if its an inspirational ass kicking. This is a personal favorite and another song I once made a music video to. (ALL the music videos)

One Day too Late- This is a softer song compared to the last two but still a very powerful song. Its one of those that makes you want to take back your life but in a more peaceful way. It just makes life sound nice and its one of those that makes me want to walk briskly across an open field, arms swinging by my sides and a smile on my face. It also makes you want to do something nice for someone else. I've always found it to be a good writing track for inspirational scenes and I've PICTURED several music videos to this song. (Noticing a trend here? Skillet is good for music videos)

Forgiven- Yay relationship songs! Though this is technically a song about God, it works for a normal relationship as well and it really captures the relieving nature of forgiveness. Its a desperate song but its desperately grateful and very powerful. One of the more emotional songs on the list.

Lucy- This song tells a specific story so it might not be good for just any writing soundtrack. I mostly put it here because I really like the story it tells. It would be a great track for a contemporary novel (unlike most of the stuff on this list, which is better for action adventure, fantasy or sci-fi. Anything with fight scenes really). I just couldn't in good conscious leave this off a list of my favorite skillet songs.

Comatose- This is my least favorite of the albums I own, but that's kind of like saying that dark chocolate is my least favorite kind of chocolate. I like ALL chocolate (except the kind with fruit filling) so this album still has some winners.

Rebirthing- Another one of those rousing, take-back-your-life anthems in the same vein as Awake and Alive. Its just as powerful and passionate and great for an action scene. It also has some good lyrics for relationships so using it for a scene in which two lovers are hopelessly outnumbered in a fight to the death would be a great idea. Or for any fight scene. Its just a good song in general.

The Last Night- Yay, more desperate relationships between broken people. Because those are my favorite to write and read about. This works for relationships in any genre and the addition of the female vocalist is welcome (I'm a huge fan of her voice). I've applied this song to a lot of characters and maybe you'll find some love birds who fit in with the lyrics.

Better than Drugs- ANOTHER desperate relationship song (there are a lot of those on this album). This is about people who desperately need each other and was the perfect match two of my characters (the ones from Giving Plot to the Plotless. You know, the little stinkers who revolted and had an affair with each other). I love the instrumentation and build of this song. Another personal favorite of mine.

Comatose- Here we have a, you guessed it, DESPERATE RELATIONSHIP SONG! (soo many of these on this album) I love how many of these are on here, partially because it actually encapsulates the ups and downs of a relationship with god, and partially because it means lost of fodder for my writing. Basically, you should be listening to this band if any of your characters have romantic entanglements like the ones I have described.

Falling Inside the Black- So this song is more in the vein of MONSTER as its about losing yourself to... well it could be anything really. Sin, addiction, self loathing. Its good for the conflicted soul and it has some really great instrumentation.

There are actually a lot of softer songs on the Skillet albums and songs about sweeter relationships. I just tend to like the harder stuff more. But there songs are diverse and good for writing anything with action. And there's even something for contemporary with no action. Any emotional story could benefit from a writing soundtrack of Skillet songs.

Next week we'll be talking about my favorite Skillet album and also why I appreciate them as a Christian band. Until then, happy Easter and have a good week!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Slush Pile Musings: Opening Pages

Opening pages are egregiously hard to nail. Any writer knows this. At first during the first draft, openings don’t seem like as big a deal. Because we, as the writer, see the novel as a whole piece. A story that begins, progresses, and hopefully comes to a proper conclusion.

But then, after going through many a ruthless edit and critique partner armed with a deadly red pen the manuscript is ready to be sent out to agents. It is time with the world to fall in love with your magnum opus.
Or the first ten pages of it.

Only ten pages? That is such a small fraction of my genius! How am I supposed to place all of my hopes and dreams on only ten pages?

Suddenly that opening scene is EVERYTHING. It must be succinct, original and attention grabbing if you ever hope to get a partial or full request. That’s a lot riding on just a couple of opening scenes and a 200 word query pitch.

Typically agencies ask for the first ten pages, though it varies. Some ask for five (even more horrifying) some ask for 30 pages, and some ask for the first three chapters no matter their length. In the case of the agency I intern for, we request the first fifty pages.

But no matter how much requested there is a lot riding on openings. I get it. Openings have always been the hardest for me. My first book, CHILDREN OF INK, has gone through about nine openings at this point in time. And its not done yet (I am writing a new beginning as you read this). I cannot for the life of me write the perfect first pages for this book and, as a result, it never got any requests from agents when I queried it.

HOUR OF MISCHIEF on the other hand, has only ever had one opening and that opening has never changed. I knew where it needed to start it and, hey, apparently it worked. It landed me my agent.
The point is, some books start easy and some books don’t. Openings are killer hard, especially when you consider they are going up against hundreds of other openings in the slush pile every week. So how can a writer learn to write an eye catching opening to grab an agent?

Using my knowledge of what grabs me in the slush pile, I think I have come up with a comprehensive list.

1. Avoid clichés

This probably seems like it should be a given, but clichés are still alive and well. If you’ve read any list of agent pet peeves, you know that beginning with your protagonist waking up is the kiss of death to any opening because it has been done over and over and over again. And yet, what did I see in the slush pile a few weeks ago? An MS that began with someone waking up and getting ready for the day.

Don’t make your opening a cliché. Make it something fresh and new. There is a tendency amongst writers to think: ‘Well my book begins with this cliché but it’s a SPECIAL version of that cliché so I’ll be the exception’. Never assume this. Sometimes first pages can make a cliché work but these pages are in such a minority that they should be set on a pedestal in a temple to unlikely ‘Eye-catching Openings’. To be safe, try to find a more creative way of opening your novel and stay off the agent’s pet peeve list.

2. Make me Care
Wow, your protagonist got into a huge, bombastic fight and almost died in the first few pages. But do I care? No I don’t. Because I was just thrown into a mess of characters and events before I had time to register these characters as human beings rather than tools to the plot. You want to start off fast but you also need to make agents see your characters as living, breathing human-beings that they could be friends with in real life. That is the key.

 If an agent sees a character as a tool in the machinery of the plot, they will not connect. If they see them as flesh and blood, well, then you have them hooked. Make me care. Make connect with your character’s voice. Do that and I will follow them anywhere.

3. Read Opening Pages
Go into your local library and find the section for your genre. Good. Now start reading. Pick a book off the shelf and read the first ten pages. Focus on the first line, the voice, the character, the plot. Observe the most common opening for your genre and avoid it at all costs. It is important to both learn from successful openings and improve upon them, developing them into your own unique opening. A successful mix of familiar and different will catapult your query into partial and full request territory in no time.

I could do whole posts on each of these three tips and I could probably come up with several others. But these three are what make or break openings for me and what helps me when I’m rewriting my opening pages for the tenth time.

Openings are hard, but you can find the perfect balance of environment, character and plot. And when you do, it is magic. When you do, you will hook the agent—and other readers—in with the first sentence and never let go.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

An Open Letter to College Proffessors

Dear Anonymous Professors in Creative Writing,

I know perfectly well that you don't read my blog, and technically speaking, I'm not just writing this to you. I'm writing this to all other people who exercise the same attitude toward 'genre fiction' as you do and toward mainstream fair in general. It has come to my attention that you don't think very highly of popular fiction. This is of course, all a matter of opinion. There are a number of popular books that I do not enjoy and I would never tell a person what they should and should not like. But then again... neither should you.

Each year you welcome new, hopeful writers, dreaming one day of a publishing career. Some of these writers are inexperienced. Many of them have been reading the likes of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and various Stephen King novels for their whole lives and they treasure the worlds their favorite authors have created. They hope to someday write stories as amazing as the ones that touched their hearts as children.

Except for you don't want them to write 'genre fiction'. Genre fiction is beneath real writing. The only real writing is high brow literary fiction. And not just any literary fiction. Cynical, hard to understand literary fiction that puts up a wall of pretense so high, climbing its slippery side would be like scaling the Wall of Westeros with only one ice pick. But you wouldn't get that reference, would you? Because 'you don't read sword and sorcery fantasy'. Because its all just dribble.

You don't seem to understand the effort that goes into creating a world different from our own, do you? We can't rely on what already exists, we must create from scratch. We take from the real world but we must twist it into a different shape. Biology, politics, religion, history, economics: we must create systems for all of those things. But no... Fantasy is genre fiction. Its EASY fiction.

Your preferred fiction is hard to surmount and the ordeal of reading it is empty and hopeless. And at the end of reading this cynical, high brow, extremely-deep-and-complex writing, I can use one word to describe it: soulless.

Shall I tell you why I read?

I read to feel something. To escape my world and fall in love with another. I read to see new perspectives and meet new people. I read to laugh and to cry and to be filled with such emotion that I chuck my book across the room, restraining a scream so that my friends don't think I am being murdered.

I read to feel.

Shall I tell you why I write?

I write to explore. To create a point of view that perhaps others will be interested in. I write to create a world that I control and I can love. I write to connect with other people.

I write to make them feel.

I don't want to make readers 'work hard' to understand what I'm saying. My writing should not be a homework assignment they loathe to read. I want it to be something they simply cannot put down and risk detention in math class as they read the book under their desk, hungry for more words with every page turn. That is why I write.

Why do you write? To be honest, I don't know. I guess you liked it at one point. But now its about money, isn't it? Its about churning one soulless short story after another. And yeah, the writing may be good. And maybe if I spend an hour reading it I will grasp your deep message. But it will never make me feel.

Harry Potter might be for children but I will keep my copies for my whole life and read them to my children. My copy of Inkheart is falling apart but when the pages fall from the binding, I will get a NEW copy because I adore that book so much. And hey, I may not like Twilight, but at least millions of people do. At least millions of people around the world feel hope when they read those books. And that is more than your fiction gives me.

I write genre fiction. I write emotional fiction. I write because I see hope in the world as much as I do despair. I write to balance those things and help people make sense of this crazy world.

So I will keep writing genre fiction. And I will love what I do. And in the end, you will simply be a bump in the road saying 'not good enough'.

With the highest respect,

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday Soundtracks: Game of Thrones

Hello all!

So, I've been away from the blog a little while... actually a long while. I got very bogged down with rehearsals for our school musical which resulted in me having... no time to sleep. But, I am back now, well rested and ready to go!

I was thinking to myself the other day "Self, what should you do for Sunday Soundtracks this weekend?" And then it hit me. This Sunday is April 6th. And do you know what that means:

Praying for much Joffery harm in the future :) But of course, this makes it an appropriate time to look at the music for Game of Thrones which, in my opinion, is pretty underrated. Its absolutely perfect for the show in both its softer and more intense moments. It might not stand on its own quite as strong as music from, say, Lord of the Rings, but it has a very different flavor to it.

The music isn't particularly obtrusive so it makes a good writing soundtrack. The music is there, putting you in the mood, but it doesn't distract you from your work. I always put on Game of Thrones music when I need to write papers for school as well.

Its hard to point to any stand out tracks but there are two songs which I think have successfully intruded upon the public consciousness. They both stick in your head and heart. I'd be surprised if you hadn't already heard them.

The first of these is the opening theme of course:

Like I even need to say that. This show has one of the catchiest and most appropriate openings. It really gears you up for action and fills you with anticipation. The use of strings is wonderful and you can bet I'll be jumping up and down in my seat tonight when the episode airs. Listen to it if you haven't already.

The second song I think we should talk about is one that sticks in your heart. In that it stabs you in the heart. With fear. You know what I'm talking about.

The Lannisters send their regards :)

This song is really eerie even without the context. It has a lot of weight and the instrumental version is hauntingly beautiful. If you can listen to it without breaking into tears, I recommend it for your writing sound track.

The rest of the soundtrack is strong as well, and you can find six hours of Game of Thrones music on youtube if you're in for a long writing day. This music especially suits fantasy (obviously). Its best for anything with a particularly epic setting. I don't think it matches tonally with any contemporary work or small stories. But anyone writing in a vast, complex world? Add this soundtrack to your writing play list.

Now we just have to wait for the episode tonight. And you know what Game of Thrones?

Happy season 4 everyone!!