Thursday, 20 December 2012

My Year in Retrospect

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”—Dr. Seuss

2012 is almost at an end (maybe even our lives if the Mayans have anything to do with it!) and I thought I’d go over everything that’s happened with you. Firstly I’d like to thank each and everyone one of you for your awesome support and loyalty. It has been a great year.

This year was the start of wonderful experiences for me. I started this blog, had a great time sharing my crazy adventures through author-dom with you and also started my Watcha’ Doin With posts. Thanks to all the talented and wonderful authors who participated—the world is a better place with you people in it! I learnt how to create a book trailer (with music!) and upload it to YouTube (pat on the back for this technological ignoramus!) I’m constantly learning more about the literary world every day and picking up priceless advice on writing that one supernova novel that’s going to get me my secluded island (only accessible by motor boat) and dinner with RPatz.  I’d like to shout out a special thank you to Ken Spillman, my awesome author mentor, who somehow always manages to make my day. Thanks to him, I’ve been invited to be a presenter at the AFCC in Singapore next year. Three years ago, I was moping around that very same book fair, getting in publishers’ faces about taking on my book. It’s so surreal to imagine myself actually presenting there now.

The Scarlet Omen was released on 17 June this year, making my childhood dream a reality. Thank you Kymberlyn Reed, Miriam Pace and Jackie Hamilton—you gals have given me the chance to call myself an author without having people roll their eyes at me. My life will never be the same again and it’s all thanks to you.

Because of this, I finally got to see myself in the Malaysian national newspaper. Thank you Gwen Manickam and Subadhra Devan for making me a self-proclaimed local celebrity! My son now thinks that it’s absolutely normal to be in the papers; I think I have an over-achiever in the making here.

My only wish is that my father could have seen the article. It would have been one of the best moments of my life watching him open his daily paper and see a full-page article about his youngest daughter. Sadly, he passed away in February, leaving a giant hole in my universe. He never got to see the acknowledgment that I wrote on the first page of The Scarlet Omen: “To my father, for never saying ‘No’.” I’ll miss him. I would not be writer had it not been for his constant diligence that I write down every single memorable moment in my life and that the phrase 'I can't' be erased from the English language. Thanks, Pa.

All in all it’s been a great year of book signings and interviews, fan mail and five star reviews. My son’s getting older every day, dragging me along on his crazy ride to growing up. Being a mother of the coolest boy in the world is indescribable. My students have been a great support, forcing themselves to finish my book even though the English was difficult at times. Thanks people—you’re the best students a teacher could wish for!

There are no words to describe how much my family has been my lifeline this year (and I’m a writer so shame on me!). There would be no me without you—thank you for everything, my biggest most viciously loyal and protective fans. I love you.

My all time favourite movie this year (please don’t throw up or pledge boycotting my blog and book in 2013) was Breaking Dawn part 2. In my defence, anything with Robert Pattinson in it WILL be the movie that I swear to love please don’t judge until you’ve lost your heart to that one perfect guy. My song of the year is definitely I Will Wait by Mumford and Sons; I think my phone’s going to go on strike if I play that song one more time. The Hunger Games series and Under the Dome were my favourite books of this year (I read as much as I write so books that leave an impression on me are very rare).

So what’s cooking in 2013? I’ve handed in the prequel to The Scarlet Omen...extremely proud of it...let’s hope my publisher is too. I’m now working on the third book of Anjeli’s adventures. It’s really cool watching her and her fellow characters grow and learn—I might just cry when I reach The End. My New Year’s Resolution: I’ve decided that I’d like to be more patient and understanding next year (my family will be happy to be finally rid of my wall-cracking tantrums and eardrum-piercing silent treatments). I’d also like to take up sky-diving but SOME PEOPLE have strictly forbidden it, so I’ll just have to remain a bookworm.

Well, these are my final musings for the year so I’d like to thank you all again for your patronage and comments. Merry Christmas and have a wonderful New Year with your family and friends. Take care and please come back safely to me in January so that we can commence our journey through the literary world together in 2013...with brand new Mojos and kick-ass hair. Cheers and Kisses, my lovelies!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Watcha Doin' with Rashad Freeman

(Cover art: Courtesy of Rashad Freeman 2012)

Author Bio:
Rashad Freeman is the author of “Shadow of Darkness”, a young adult novel and Volume I of the Creature Kid series.  In addition to that Rashad has published two short stories and most recently a suspense thriller called “Night Slashers.”  A true Floridian and self-proclaimed comedian, Rashad’s passion for writing can only be matched by his ridiculous desire to throw off caution and sail the world as a pirate.       

What inspired you to become an author?
Well I know it sounds cliché, but I’ve always been a writer.  I have dozens of works in progress, but have been horrible about finishing anything.  I’m not sure what exactly pushed me over the edge.  One day I just decided I was going to finish something and I sat down and finally finished my first novel.

What was your most memorable childhood memory?
My most memorable childhood memory or memories would be growing up around a library.  My mother is an English Professor and we practically lived in the library.  It’s something that’s lost on today’s generation, but I truly thank her for showing us the beauty of books.  A simple walk down a hallway would turn into an adventure through an underwater cave and the double doors that lead into the bathroom were the decompression chamber of a submarine.  The ability to use your imagination and grow your mind is something that can never be done enough.

If you could be anything or anyone for a day, who would it be and why?
Definitely an eagle.  I love the idea of flight, the ability to be limitless and free.

Please tell us a little about your latest release. What were the best and worst parts for you personally? Are there any novels of yours that are your personal favourites?
Well my latest release is called “Night Slashers” and it’s a suspense thriller.  I really love the idea of this book, but I have to say writing it is was a chore.  There were so many twists and turns that I had to be meticulous to make sure everything fit.  My favorite novel is my first “Shadow of Darkness.”  I really got to just have fun with this book and it’s in one of my favorite genres, young adult.  It’s also a series (Creature Kid Series) and will eventually have seven total volumes.  I really love the idea of sticking with characters for that many books and getting to see them grow and change.

What is more important to you: characters or plots?
Characters definitely.  I think if you have the right characters they will create the plot.  It’s like life, boring people will be boring regardless of the situation.  But if you have exciting people they will make the situation.  I really try hard to develop my characters and show the many different dimensions of the human condition.

“To err is to be human”. What are your thoughts on this quote and what do you think are the implications for writers? What about character and plot planning?
I love this quote.  We are nothing more than the collection of experiences that shape us.  Without failure there can be no success.  We are all broken yet striving for perfection and that’s what makes life so beautiful.  As a writer I feel it’s my duty to explore that and show the reader that in my characters. Whether I’m writing a murder mystery or a love story my characters show the struggle within.  If your characters are not evolving then they are dead and so is your story.

How do you “breath” life into your characters?
It’s funny you use that expression, “breath” because I’m always telling people that writers breath life onto pages.  For me a character has to have life like qualities.  All of my characters are flawed in some way.  They are all searching for something.  I’m also able to relate to each one.  I think as people we have so many dimensions and writing really gives me the ability to explore who I am as a person.

Any words of wisdom for our readers:
Well, of course my first tip would be to buy all of my novels, the real treats are in there.  But seriously if you’re a writer, respect the craft.  Whether you never sell a book or sell millions understand that this is an art.  You take words and give life to them and give dreams a space to fly.  Never underestimate your place in the world, but don’t overstate it either.  To readers, respect the craft.  What writers do is no small feat.  Many of us pour our souls onto paper in hopes that we may reach a single reader.  So next time you see a starving artist, give them a pat on the back.
Thanks, Rashad for your awesome insights! I really enjoyed this. Hey readers, if you'd like to know more about Rashad Freeman, please feel free to check out the sites below:

Twitter - @RashadFreeman

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Unsolved Mysteries

Somehow, documentaries featuring past lives and hypnosis have been flooding the TV channels recently and guess who’s been wallowing in it all? Yes, yours truly. It’s fascinating! The idea that we subconsciously still remember who we were in our past lives just blows my mind—not to mention the implications proving life after death (my father, a very staunch Christian, will probably be shaking his head from heaven but I can always apologize later).

So, being the busy body that I am, I’ve been reading up and came across this site which made me feel like the hairs on my neck were marching in a parade! I gave in my info and got this:

“Your past life diagnosis:

I don’t know how you feel about this but you were female in your last earthly incarnation. You were born somewhere in the territory of modern Western Australia around the year 1375. Your profession was that of a sailor of shoemaker.

Psychological profile:

Inquisitive, inventive, you liked to get to the very bottom of things and rummage in books. Talent for drama and natural born actor.

Lesson from past life to be brought into current incarnation:

There is an invisible connection between the material and spiritual world. Your lesson is to search, find and use this magical bridge.”

Freaky or what?! Those who know me well will know how much truth lies is this diagnosis. I love Australia and have always wanted to live there…am still planning on retiring there when I’m old and grey…something about the country has always pulled at me. I love everything supernatural and my books are about bridging the material and the spiritual world. I’m fascinated and yet terrified of the deep sea (although I don’t know how I could have been a sailor and a woman in the 14th century…I think I should have been having a village full of babies and stocking the fire). Anyway, because every believer also needs to be a skeptic, I’m a little critical about how a website can tell me who I was just by analyzing my birthday.

So, all this got me thinking: are these memories really from our past lives or could it be DNA memory? Is it possible that we are only sharing the thoughts of our ancestors?

“Research into the nature of DNA has revealed that this material within each cell of our bodies has important implications for who each one of us is, on many levels. In addition to determining our physical characteristics, our vulnerabilities to certain diseases, and maybe even our personality, is it possible that the DNA helix holds some of the important memories of our ancestors?...For humans, with our relatively complex brain, feelings and memories, what other kinds of experiences might be saved in our DNA over the many thousands of years when our ancestors were born, lived and died? And, can they be accessed by us here and now?... To conduct our own personal research and to find out for ourselves, maybe all we need to do is listen to our inner DNA. Listen to the voices, feelings, sights and experiences of our ancestors. Their lives, joys and fears are within us. In that way, they are with us always.”—Steve Hammons,

My protagonist Anjeli in The Scarlet Omen keeps having visions of her destiny. In the second novel of my trilogy these visions take on a more important role…implying memories that are probably not her own but those of her ancestors. Let’s see where they take her…

Sunday, 4 November 2012

How did your Mama raise you?

Writing used to be something magical when I was a kid. Authors were, to me, a race of their own. Someone who could get the world to listen to every word they said had to be of magical descent. Now that I’ve become one (of humbler descent but nevertheless weird), I see the literary world for what people say it is: a market. Sad really. What happened? How did the magic fade?

I blame the Internet. It has no doubt empowered us in more ways than I can count (math+me=???) but readers are also now spoiled for choice. There are millions of sites where writers now have to squabble and pull at each other’s virtual hair for space in a reader’s limited free time. Sad to say, some people have become a tinsy bit arrogant and don’t show writers the respect due to any person.

I was reading through some forums on a certain large online bookstore and came across a discussion which a reader used to practically trample on authors that were trying to promote their books. I agree that the forums are only for readers but the language that that reader used really got me angry. Many people complain that writers are flooding them with “spammy content” (is that even a real word?!) in their attempts at promoting their work. Helloooo? What else are we supposed to promote? Author=brand, novel=product!! Marketing 101, people!

 When did authors lose their right to be respected? Some would say that they lost it the moment they started flooding the discussion areas with links to their books. (Okay, some writers really wouldn’t know subtlety if it bit them on the nose, but I’ve never seen a rude author post or one that actually provoked a rude comeback) However, what is book marketing if not self-promotion? New authors are buried under layers of Rowlings and Co. and their bestsellers so they need to push and shove. Trust me—writers would very much prefer being holed up somewhere writing their next book instead of prowling and lurking around reader forums. We don’t tell people off for drowning us with photos of their babies’ 100th attempt at potty training, do we? So why don’t people think that new writers deserve the same respect given to annoying parents?

Frankly, I’m too stuck up/proud/lazy to kiss ass (especially when some of those butts try to bite back once in awhile) so I haven’t had the pleasure of being “put in my place” by anyone yet. I just think that it’s imperative to show people that there’s a real problem here. When I was a kid, authors were respected figures in society (and I’m really not so old that anyone could put it down to the strange phenomenon of the Dark Ages). A bad review is something else entirely—the reader has at least given the content a chance before chewing out the author.

 That person’s comment on the forums was plainly hurtful, rude and discouraging and I don’t think that the authors he aimed his comments at should take it lying down. Such disrespect should not be allowed and I personally call it as it is: Cyber Bullying! It needs to stop. None of the writers on the forums were forcing anyone to buy anything—they were merely recommending their work. There was no need to be rude and those readers whose vocabulary their mothers would be ashamed of should seriously rethink how they communicate with their fellow human beings. New writers work hard for pittance in return and are forced to the edges of literary society where they have to make sure they don’t step on anyone’s toes. It sounds exhausting and new authors should be allowed to be proud of their achievement (of actually being published after years of rejection letters and tears) and not be treated like used-car salesmen!

Needless to say, for every fool, there are a million lovelies out there who are genuinely thrilled about getting news from new authors. These are the people that we write for…don’t forget it! A big thank you to every reader that has ever sent a positive reply to a debút author…your Mamas will be proud that you mind your P’s and Q’s.


Sunday, 28 October 2012

Chapter One of The Scarlet Omen

Despite his large build and scales so thick they deflected the bright rays of the evening suns, Raja Naga, the ruby red dragon, soared effortlessly through the dark clouds, scanning the horizon. Below him, the Valley of the Hornbills, Lembah Kenyalang spread out to the East and West, bordered by two ancient mountain ranges. He glanced at Catfish Mountain to his left, where his good friend Raja Ikan--a once powerful member of the Gathering of the Elders--resided in his eternal prison. The merfolk and their Princess Salma guarded him and kept him company, accessing the mountain caves through their enchanted pools. The venerable catfish dejectedly spent the rest of his days trapped in his own dark pond, put there by forces so evil that even the red dragon shuddered at the thought of them.

“How is the old Catfish?”

The dragon had almost forgotten that Kayanya, the handsome prince of the Lake People was riding on his broad back. He often joined the dragon on his rounds in the cool night air. “He’s getting older and blinder each day. Maybe he’ll soon be put out of his misery.”

He felt the prince go rigid. “Raja Naga, how can you say that?!”

“Imagine, Prince. Lying in that pool for the rest of your days, never seeing another sunrise, never again breathing in fresh air.”

“I’m sorry, Raja Naga. You’re right--death would be better. But isn’t it imperative that we not give up hope of rescuing him.”

Raja Naga shook his large head as thin tendrils of smoke rose from his nostrils. “After three hundred years? I’m sorry to seem like a killjoy, but you know who the only person is that can save him now. We’ve tried everything.”

The prince remained silent for awhile, probably thinking about the ancient prophecy.

Still furtively watching the land where the thick rainforest gave way to the dreaded swamp land, Raja Naga glanced down at the Pygmy Village where he saw the little people scurrying around their long houses, their intricate ethnic tattoos only a deep green blur, preparing for nightfall.

“I despise the nights of the dark moon. Look at them, frantically casting their protective spells, the poor things. Sri Cahaya must be there somewhere among them, working the hardest. They’re just so small and seem so vulnerable compared to those beasts that they fear,” said Kayanya through clenched teeth.
The dragon sensed his despair. “Don’t fret, Kay. Sri Cahaya is the best medicine woman that ever walked the land. She’s protected the pygmies from the creatures of the night well and will continue to do so long after you and I are gone.”

The creatures of the night, the dreaded Blood Drinkers, would soon emerge from their castle in Ghost Forest, glide over the swamp lands like ghost ships and arrive at their villages, as they did every dark moon. The red dragon shook his large, bejeweled head again and literally heard the piercing screams of the fallen, the cries of the mothers whose babies had been taken. The Pontianak had appeared long before like a plague that swept over the valley and left their once peaceful land in tatters, its inhabitants wrecked with fear and the magical heartbeat of the valley beating slower, coming to the end with every breath.

Smoke rose thicker now from his large nostrils as Raja Naga fought to keep calm. He watched the animals in the forest below them hurry into their burrows, nests and caves as the Animal Kingdom, too, prepared for the inevitable menace. The dragon observed the webbed fingers of the merfolk disappear into their aquamarine ponds, which were strewn all across the valley. His fellow dragons, his subjects, were setting up guard outside their lair, close to the Great Lake to the North. He spotted his mate giving them orders at the mouth of their cave before looking up into the sky and nodding at him. She smiled sadly before retreating into the gigantic rock formation.

The prince patted the dragon’s back companiably. “Now it’s your turn not to worry, Wise One. The Blood Drinkers can’t touch them.”

“Yes, but they covet our precious eggs. I know, they rest safely in the underground tunnels deep below our lair, but I wouldn’t put it pass them to find a way in.”

The dragons had not known, at first, why the vampires would be interested in their offspring, but as time passed, the inhabitants of the valley noticed the Pontianak stealing more of their magical properties and depleting in a matter of years what took centuries to mature. It was still a mystery what they used it for. Further to the north, Raja Naga watched cautiously how the silver winged fairies in Fairy Forest circled their borders, sprinkling their blessed golden sand around the perimeter, hoping that its magic would protect them yet again.

As the suns set and the sky suddenly plunged into darkness, Raja Naga heard with his highly tuned ears that feared rush of robes billowing in the wind. He looked toward the swampland with his eagle like eyes and saw the cloaked figures glide at an eerie speed toward the lake. From that distance they looked like innocent ants gate-crashing a peaceful picnic, but he knew what they were capable of. Raja Naga picked up his pace, pounding his wings in the night air. Kayanya held on tightly, pressing his own body to the dragon’s back, as the wind rushed over his head. “I don’t see anything, Raja Naga.” The Pontianak were the most difficult to spot during Dark Moon, which was why they chose that particular time of month to go hunting.

Raja Naga did not answer; he swooped and willed his wings to take them further, faster, but they were too far away. They heard the blood-curdling screams of the Lake People long before they could reach the fishermen’s village to warn them. The dragon could only watch, his ivory teeth barred, as the almost invisible flock of vampires retreated back to their castle, leaving broken hearts behind them. Kayanya bellowed with rage, his voice strangled with tears. When they finally reached the fisher settlement, the dragon opened his cave-like mouth and breathed violent red flames at the Pontianak’s retreating backs, but the blood drinkers were too swift. Kayanya made to leap off the dragon, but Raja Naga sensed his yearning to kill those wretched beings and pulled up into the air. Jumping into the middle of a hoard of vampires would be suicide.

The vampires cackled at them like a group of hyenas, taunting the two proud leaders. “Are you going to catch us, Old Beast? Watch your brittle bones! Don’t drop your handsome package, now.”

A cloaked woman floating effortlessly at the front of the entourage turned around and smiled cheekily at them. Raja Naga snorted and flew higher into the night sky. He knew that arrogant gait; the whole valley did. The Queen of the Vampires had taken yet more lives. Raja Naga closed his eyes and saw her pale complexion burn behind his lids. He thought how she must have been beautiful once, before she became the monster that haunted everyone’s dreams. As the vampires disappeared into the cover of the mangrove trees, he felt the prince sigh and relax his tight grip on the dragon’s back. The prince cursed, echoing the dragon’s own feelings. Raja Naga looked toward the Great Lake and pleaded to the wind, his long snout shining with pearl white tears that now flowed freely. “Where are you, our Nirupita? You’ve been appointed, so come as it has been written.”


Sunday, 21 October 2012

Time's a Wasting!

When I was a kid, it seemed like the days just dragged on in that never ending cycle of “What shall we do now?”. Today, there just isn’t enough hours in the day...sleep may have to wait till I’ve retired or my son moves out! When did it change? Did I change or did society?

Before e-mail, it took weeks for my friends on other continents to get my letters and I made an effort to write lovely, eloquent essays and pick out the funniest birthday cards. Now, it’s a quick “happy bday” and “omg guess what” PMs on FB or Twitter. (There should be a dictionary explaining a lot of the short cuts we use nowadays because by the time I figure out which acronym to in, there are new ones ready to pounce and make my life that much harder!) Let’s not even mention the lack of punctuation. Did we just get lazy as the Internet took over the world or are we simply fighting to save time in our increasingly hectic lives?

“…The reality is that the pace of our modern society brings out the characteristics that mimic ADD. The question then becomes, are you suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder or from Modern Life Syndrome? Reflect on a few of the ADD symptoms:
  • Trouble focusing attention for more than a few seconds
  • Tuning out in the middle of a conversation
  • Likely to have many projects running simultaneously
  • Always in a rush and impatient
  • Feeling of being overwhelmed by daily life
  • Difficulty getting organized
  • Problems with time management
Do you know anyone who does not exhibit some or all of these traits? The truth is that society has evolved to bring those tendencies to the forefront for all of us. We are now suffering from Modern Life Syndrome as every part of our lives is barraged by messages demanding attention.”—Is It ADD or Modern Life Syndrome,

 So we’re all doomed?!? These bags under my eyes will just have to go on boosting concealer sales?!?

When I first started writing for young adults, I was constantly told that YA novels need to be fast paced…like give your readers whiplash (I don’t want to, honestly, but the gods of modern writing say so) fast. In other words, if at least one of your characters doesn’t have a life changing experience within the first few sentences of your novel, readers are going to file it away as another bad buy/What Was I Thinking. 

Really? Is that really how it works? And how did we become like this anyway? When I glance through books that I read as a kid, writers always had time to build up their stories, set the scene and draw readers into their world before killing a character off. Nowadays, a paragraph of describing a room or landscape is seen as literary suicide.

“Whether you are suffering from Modern Life Syndrome or ADD, you need to employ processes that will limit distractions and increase your productivity. The strategies are similar:
1.       Determine what your goals are, business and personal, and make sure some of your efforts each day are moving you in that direction.
2.       Prioritize your work before you leave the office each evening. You will be focused from the time you start working the next day.
3.       Plan a solid block of time with limited interruptions. Use that time for your most important, focused work.
4.       Track what causes the interruptions. Once you find the patterns, you can begin to eliminate some of these distractions.
5.       Do not let email control your day. Set up specific blocks of time when you will focus on email alone.
If you do not stop now to make changes, the result can be a major overload because of constant stress. Stress is responsible for many of our illnesses, from colds and flu to heart conditions. 80% of our medical expenditures are now stress-related. When you are not willing to step back and make adjustments, you may wind up with a situation over which you no longer have any control.”
(Source as above)

Oh, well, no solutions here—only ways to prioritize because fast paced everything is here to stay. So we just have to get with the program. Fine by me…I wouldn’t want to wake up in a world where shoulder pads are still making their rounds. Eeeww!!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Ignorance is Embarrassing!

I used to think that the Dummies books were really only for, well, Dummies. It used to be a running joke between my friends and me. (“I’ll get you Dressing for Dummies if you don’t stop wearing those leotards” or “Parking for Dummies has been given awesome reviews” after the hundredth failed attempt at squeezing between two cars at the side of the road.) It just goes to show that I have proven myself right once again…ignorance is really a disease that we must strive to eliminate. The Dummies series is a godsend!

I’ve been taking some time off writing (I just sent my second book in to my publisher, so I CAN) to do some research. I love reading about writing and getting all the millions of tips that other writers have so graciously put up all over the internet. I’ve also read The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman and can’t stress enough how important this book is to the storytelling community.

So during my journey of literary enlightenment, I stumbled upon the Dummies website and—drum roll please—fell in love! I would never have imagined that such professional, insightful and amazingly easy to understand articles existed. I was contemplating whether or not to keep the tips for myself but then my ‘Oooh, I found this amazing place’ syndrome got the better of me. So here are (a few of) my favourite tips from! (There are many things that I’ve already read somewhere on the web before, but this site explains everything so well! I was one of those kids that annoyed everyone with "Why?" so you can imagine the lengths authors have to go to to keep me satisfied.)

1.       When writing young adult fiction: embrace your inner drama queen, relax your grammar, generally use shorter more declarative sentences, embrace immaturity and DON’T PREACH.

2.       In creating teen dialogue: blurt things out, choose simple words (simple does not mean patronize your readers, though), exaggerate, string words in footloose fashion, make a conversation mostly about the speaker.

3.       While evaluating characters and plot in young adult fiction: push your protagonist out of his or her comfort zone, each obstacle must push plot and characters forward, the consequences of failure must be dire at each stage of the plot, each scene and each chapter must contribute to overall goal, the protagonist must GROW throughout the novel.

4.       Creating a character profile: have a character diary which explains looks, past, present, fears, hopes, dreams and quirks etc.

5.       Remove: any unnecessary information and explanation, dialogue passages that go on forever, clunky descriptions that give too much detail, clumsy images that don’t really work, too many adjectives and adverbs.

And the list goes on! No, Dummies are not paying me for advertising. I just think knowledge should be sharedJ

Friday, 5 October 2012

Watcha Doin' with Peggy Tibbetts

Author Bio:

Peggy Tibbetts is the author of two middle grade novels, “The Road to Weird” and “Letters to Juniper,” a 2012 Colorado Book Award finalist. Her current young adult novel, “PFC Liberty Stryker” is a compelling and authentic story about the Iraq War from a young female soldier’s point of view. Peggy has worked as a professional editor and is a fervent blogger at Advice from a Caterpillar ( and From the Styx (

Have you always wanted to be an author?
I have always been a writer, but I didn’t always want to be an author. As a young child I wanted to be a veterinarian because of my love of animals. When I was 13, the Beatles song, “Paperback Writer” was released and I decided that’s what I wanted to be. From then on the writing bug took over.

Who is the most interesting person you’ve ever met? Why?
I could opt for the most famous people I’ve met like Madeleine L’Engle, Judith Guest, Phyllis Whitney, or Hunter S. Thompson. But the award for most interesting goes to fellow author, friend, and now publisher, Natalie Collins (Sisterhood Publications). Her background in the mysterious Mormon faith is fascinating. Oh, the stories she tells in her books. Natalie has endured many hardships throughout her life and career but she keeps on keeping on. She is one of the most talented, determined, hard-working people I have ever known. She inspires me daily.

What books would you say have enriched your life and improved your skills as a writer?
So many books to recommend, but I’ll focus on books for writers: Sol Stein’s “Stein on Writing” and “How to Grow a Novel”; “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler; “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maas; “Story” by Robert McKee;  and “Madeleine L'Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life”.

What was your most recent writing project? Could you tell us about the ups and downs you faced?
“PFC Liberty Stryker” was released this year by Sisterhood Publications. Here’s the blurb: Libby Stryker joined the Army to avenge her daddy's death on 9-11 but it's nothing like she expected. Operation Iraqi Freedom takes her on a harrowing journey north with a mysterious Arab through bomb devastation, hot zones, and RPG attacks. A different kind of horror awaits Libby in Baghdad. Her past and present, and why it's all gone wrong, blow up in her face.
Our imaginations take us to strange and wondrous new places. One place I never expected to go was to war. But there she was. This young, female soldier stranded in the desert in Iraq. Libby Stryker. Her story tormented me – at first during the daytime – then in my dreams. So I gave in. I went to war with Libby and came back a changed person.
The research was daunting. I have never been a soldier. I have never been to war. I have never been to Iraq. Every single page required research. From baby wipes to weaponry to chai, I had to immerse myself in the culture of war. To stay in character I often wore a heavy coat and helmet while I was writing.
I must confess, before I wrote “PFC Liberty Stryker” I was not in favor of women in combat. Through my extensive research I learned that female soldiers are already serving in combat missions but they are not allowed the same recognition as their male counterparts. Under the current combat rules, women are doing all the compromising. Without defined roles in combat, female soldiers have no voice when it comes to strategy and execution. As a result they can be used as pawns on the battlefield – and often are. This became Libby’s predicament in the story.
Writing this book didn’t change my mind about war. But it did change my mind about women in combat. Women are capable, even outstanding soldiers. They have earned and they deserve fair treatment and equal opportunities.

My protagonist Anjeli in The Scarlet Omen does not believe in love at first sight but soon learns that there’s no escaping certain clichés in life. Do you believe in love at first sight? How do you think this phenomenon should be approached/handled in a novel?
Yes, I do believe in love at first sight – or at least mutual attraction. Love at first sight can be fun writers’ play. A love at first sight situation between two characters is open to all kinds of “what ifs.” The couple is in love but one obstacle after another keeps them apart or prevents their happiness. One of the pair resists his/her feelings. One of the pair (or both) has a handicap or special power. The possibilities are endless.

As I started delving into author community scenes and forums, I realized that no one is really safe from bullying. What is your opinion about bullying, be it at school, work or in the author community? How do you think we should approach this topic in young adult novels?
What a great question! It’s easy to say we shouldn’t tolerate bullying. The problem is the act of bullying stems from intolerance. For example, a kid on the playground doesn’t tolerate the way another kid dresses. Or one person doesn’t tolerate another person’s opinion on Facebook. When it comes to bullying we need to teach tolerance.
When faced with a bully in real life we are far more cautious, even fearful. In fiction, we as writers can let out all the stops and take all kinds of risks with our characters’ behaviors. We have control over the outcome. We can work through our own demons and help readers work through theirs. We can show what makes a person behave like a bully. We can show ways to cope with bullying.

When my novel was first published, many people asked me if my vampires had anything to do with the Cullen family from Twilight. I said no and actually resented being asked in the first place, because Asian vampires really are not something you want to meet during the day let alone have a relationship with. What do you think about trends? What are the implications for writers?
Trends come and go. Trends have always been a part of society. Even Shakespeare probably felt some pressure to come up with a poignant, star-crossed romance to satisfy 16th Century audience demand – or trend. For centuries hence, there have been countless copycats and derivations of “Romeo and Juliet.”
As writers we are often told to ignore trends and write our best stories, the stories we feel passionate about. Yet we are surrounded by trends, not only in books, but also in music, art, film, television, products, etc. We are constantly influenced by trends in our daily lives. How can we not be influenced as writers?
I am currently working on the final revisions for my nonfiction book – a dogoir (dog memoir) – titled “Crazy Bitch.” It’s about our dog Venus’s struggle with Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD). This is my first nonfiction book and my first dogoir. If dogoirs were not trending upward in popularity, I probably wouldn’t have come up with the idea to make a diary of our experiences with our dog’s mental illness and then write the book.
So you see we can be inspired by trends to write our best stories.

Parting words of wisdom:
It’s not enough to write a good story. You must revise. The process of revision brings your story to life. Read your manuscript aloud. Find a good editor.

Wow! Thanks so much for joining us, Peggy. Very insightful stuff and we wish you loads of success for your upcoming novels.
Hey readers, if Peggy’s work interests you as much as it does me, below are some sites where you can further immerse yourselves in her awesomenessJ Enjoy!!

YAAYNHO -- Young Adult Authors You’ve Never Heard Of (group blog):

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Being You

“What I am is how I came out. No one’s perfect and you just have to accept your flaws and learn to love yourself.”—Kelly Brooke (

Every day, we’re bombarded by exclamations of, “Just be yourself,“ and “If you don’t love yourself, no one else will,” and blah blah. So why the flood of life-changing gurus and products that promise to transform us into the opposite of what we’ve been all along? Do we even need motivational sayings of the day if we’re supposed to be contented with how God put us on this Earth?

“I hate a movie that will end by telling you that the first thing you should do is learn to love yourself. That is so insulting and condescending, and so meaningless. My characters don't learn to love each other or themselves.”—Charlie Kaufmann

Self-improvement is one thing—it makes you reach your full potential—but a complete pimp up/overhaul…how’s that going to work? We are who we are and as long as we don’t hurt anyone (delve into all of the 10 commandments and that’s all it boils down to) why can’t we just go on living life as it is?

Anjeli Xavier, the main character in The Scarlet Omen has also always felt out of place. She struggles to find herself and the reason she has been put here. Finding out what Fate has in store for her proves to be an excellent ego-booster, but self-doubt constantly plagues her every step. Doesn’t this happen to all of us?

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”—Sylvia Plath

“Almost all the ideas we have about being a man or being a woman are so burdened with pain, anxiety, fear and self-doubt. For many of us, the confusion around this question is excruciating.”—Andrew Cohen (

If we really know who are, without the world constantly nagging us about who we should be, there would be no place for doubt. By being the best that we can be, we find out the good and the bad, finally able to embrace the wonderful and reign in the evil. Mentally sane and healthy people have a conscience—they just need to listen to it.

As a writer, it’s easy to get caught up in all the hype and confusion of so many different writing styles and trying not to plagiarize personality. It’s important to pick up writing tips but to stay loyal to your own style. I’ve gone soaring over a few road bumps of my own on this storytelling journey and I come out every day thinking, “Don’t lose yourself in all this crap, girl!”

“To a certain extent, your writing style-- the manner in which you express yourself -- evolves naturally over time, a combination of your personality, your reading choices, and to a certain extent, the decisions you make consciously while writing.”

“… I feel this invisible pull to conform, as though to be a “better writer” means to be more like the writers that we read in class.  I throw in more description, imagery and more in-depth character development into my writings.  At first, it made me feel safer, but I’ve realised that it’s just made me the same as everyone else, except not as good. So from now on, no more trying so hard to be someone else.  I’m going to try and find and employ my own style, do what makes me feel good as a writer, and write in a way that I find interesting.”—Pace J. Miller (

There you have it! Stay true to yourselves! This is why living your life to the fullest is so important in teenage years as well as later on. You get to experiment as a kid, learn and grow, stumbling upon what works for you or not. If you don’t, you end up a confused adult sitting in the middle of you designer living room (which some overpriced dude with funny hair told you how to decorate) suffocated by self-help books and soggy tissues!
So just go have adventures, love yourself and party till you drop!! Just please don’t hurt yourselves and anyone else or your parents WILL come looking for me.

Friday, 21 September 2012

To Give Up or not to Give Up

“Success always occurs in private, and failure in full view.”—Anonymous
“We climb to heaven most often on the ruins of our cherished plans, finding our failures were successes.”—Amos Bronson Alcott

Over the past few years, I’ve realised that failure and success are intertwined. There were many mistakes I made which evidently turned into opportunities for further growth as a person as well as a writer (I’m not saying writers aren’t people, so calm yourself!). I wonder if I would be where I am today had I not paid attention to my failures (and there were many) and used them as ways to come out on top. Every day, I see people who have accepted defeat and moved on to some other project without even trying that one last time which could have made all the difference in the world. However, just because I have never taken No for an answer, does this mean that it’s right? Could I have avoided a whole lot of disappointment and pain had I just tucked my tail between my legs and scurried off to some other adventure?

Sometimes I wish that a little book had accompanied me on my way to this world which tells me everything I need to know about what’s going to work for me and not. (Some of you may say, “Yeah, it’s called the BIBLE or *please feel free to insert any other relevant religious, motivational or otherwise plain telling-people-how-to-live-their-lives publication here*!”, but you know what I mean.) So, my question is basically, when do we know when to stop fighting and just except our lot in life?

“Despair is not the enemy of hope. Frustration and anxiety may not be your friends, but they are repeatedly wrestled on your way to hope.”—Adam McLane (

Failure can occur anywhere, be it in our love lives, carrier, at school or anywhere else where a bunch of people have the chance at frowning upon us. If we could just live on our own and forget about the other tsk-ing human beings around us, I don’t think there’d be much point to failure and success. (If there’s no one around to applaud that perfect piano recital, is it considered a success?) However, we’re stuck with our kind and have to make the best of it so learning to deal with failure sort of comes with the territory (but the look on your parents’ faces when you bring home that trophy will always overshadow the bad times…believe you me.)

“New research from the University of Kent has revealed that positive reframing, acceptance and humor are the most effective coping strategies for people dealing with failures. In a paper published by the international journal Anxiety, Stress & Coping, Dr. Joachim Stoeber and Dr. Dirk Janssen from the University's School of Psychology describe a diary study that found these three strategies to be most effective in dealing with small failures and setbacks, and helping people to keep up their spirits and feel satisfied at the end of the day.”—Ray B. Williams (

As I am an extremely optimistic person (sometimes bordering on simply-dreaming-fool), I tend to believe that if you love something enough, there will never be a time to give up on it. EVER. I would rather fight with my man till my dentures fall out, submit that hundred year old manuscript to robot publishers and learn to ride that dang motorbike to my grave than giving up and wondering after I’m gone, “What if…”.

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”—Harriet Beecher Stowe

Friday, 14 September 2012

The Five Senses

“We live on the leash of our senses.”—Diane Ackerman (
“Common sense is that which judges the things given to it by the other senses.”—Leonardo da Vinci (

The sight of the sun winking at you from between rain clouds. The sound of birdsong after a long winter. The feel of sand between your toes on your first trip to the beach. Your first taste of rebellion. The smell of your partner.

Our senses influences how we experience the world, how we learn, love or regret. I personally tend to ignore them sometimes, choosing to delve into the challenges of everyday life while literally forgetting to stop and smell the roses. It’s gotten better now (I practically had to kick myself into watching the world around me) and day dreaming somewhere in nature has become one of my favourite down times.

If we take away one sense completely, do the others make any sense? An apple is red, yeah so? That doesn’t mean anything if I don’t know that the redder it is the better it tastes or smells or that it gets squishy after a while. If the weather man forecasts blue skies tomorrow, will it have an impact on me if I can’t feel the sun on my skin or hear the kids playing outside or taste the picnic spread?

I know people who claim to have the sixth sense and frankly it scares the pants off of me while at the same time intriguing me beyond what normal people consider healthy. My protagonist Anjeli in The Scarlet Omen is plagued by visions and spirits and everything else hair-raising. She struggles with it, wanting to be a normal teenager but knowing that that’s not going to happen anytime soon. It’s fun to read about characters with special powers and how they deal with it but I sometimes wonder if we need senses like that in real life. The people I know who “see” things personally don’t see the point to the gift either. Luckily, God knows that I’d freak out and live at the top of a coconut tree if I had the gift so He has spared me.

So what are the implications for authors? We all know that readers don’t like being told but shown (I can’t tell you how many books I’ve sent flying at the wall which tried to convince me of the millionth shade of brown rock!). Stories need to sound magical or readers might as well pull out their encyclopedias and get to it. It’s hard work, but I’ve read a few books that have mastered it and I must say...the enchantment that unfolds is so worth the trouble.

“It is the writer’s job to show us what his characters are like, not by what he says about them, or what they say about one another, but by their actions...telling...makes a text read more like a synopsis than a work of art.”—Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages

My first novel, The Scarlet Omen plays mainly in a parallel world called The Valley of the Hornbills. As you can imagine, nature practically smothers my readers from left, right and centre. Can you imagine reading or writing a book like that without making use of your five senses? I’d have died of boredom in the middle of writing it! *Cause of death: lack of sensory stimulation and a whole lot of bull.

So let’s take the time and actually put some thought into how we perceive the world. It might get a little overwhelming at times, but it’s a whole lot better than inhaling a Snickers bar without even knowing there’re peanuts in it. As for The Scarlet Omen and my medley of the senses, I’ll leave you to be the judge of that. All you need is a good sense of humour, a not so sound mind and a taste for magic. Cheers!