Creating An Imaginary World

Literature is filled with fictional realms and alternate universes. As a writer, the key to creating them rests in your ability to unlock your imagination and explore the endless possibilities you find there. In my supernatural horror stories, my main characters are demons and angels, so I have to invent their characteristics, personalities, and abilities. They reside in Middle Earth and behave like ordinary human beings, but they also frequently visit Hell and travel to remote places on the surface of Earth. This leads to all kinds of mischief and brutal confrontations, since I’m dealing with opposite ends of the spectrum in my evil verses good storylines. However, there are lots of different directions to go as a writer, if you want to build a fictional world of your own.

In all truth, fiction is fiction and how ever you define your fantasy world depends in a large part on the creatures or inhabitants living there. It may sound obvious, but you need to develop a tone to start with. Is this going to be a crazy adventure full of talking dragons and subverted fantasy tropes, or a gritty alternate reality where every baby born at midnight becomes a cyborg? Will your characters have the gift of magic or prophecy? Is your story based on real places with a few tweaks here and there, or is it set in an eighth-dimensional plane of existence? Are you planning to use a specific genre or are you going to use a combination, throwing your readers off with unexpected twists and turns.

Fantasy worlds are fun to develop because they’re not bound by the laws of reality. But you still need some restrictions, even if you invent them. Perhaps magic does exists, but it comes at a terrible price. Maybe your characters can’t breathe in the post-war atmosphere, but their pets can. There could be time travel in the universe you’ve created, though perhaps there’s no way to change the future. Pick your own brand of logic, insert interesting, believable characters, and stick to your self-imposed rules as much as possible.

If you’re crafting a whole fantasy world, you’re probably going to have a few different races and cultures. But they need more than one trait to make them unique and to keep them well defined in your story. As you craft nuanced, multi-dimensional cultures for your fantasy realms, consider drawing inspiration from real world cultures and shared experiences. Look to world history if you ever feel stuck, and remember that the past is long and full of weird, wonderful events that might even surprise you.

So be creative, whether it be developing an enchanted forest or a planet made entirely out of gold. Just try not to feel constrained by copying the fantasy realms of other writers. Originality will set you apart and establish your name as a unique, creative storyteller.

The Battle Between Good & Evil: Does It Really Exist?

Throughout history, in every form of media, the most integral and explored theme is the epic battle between good and evil. There are examples of this theme in classic literature, children’s fairy tales, poems, mythology, art, music, superhero comic books, pop-culture movies and Disney classics. Whether it be Robin Hood defending the poor from the injustices of the Sheriff of Nottingham or Obi-Wan Kenobi sacrificing himself at the hands of Darth Vader, stories and legends have greatly reinforced the concept of diametrically opposed forces of good and evil where good eventually prevails. 

Evil takes many forms and runs the gamut from strong-willed characters who forcefully overpower their enemies to the more subtle, sly characters who use persuasion and manipulation to get their way. Be it for greed, lust, power, vengeance, etc., the evil will gain advantage for their desires at the expense and sometimes attempted total destruction of good. Good on the other hand, plays the under dog and is suppressed and abused for the early part of these dramas. We ascribe our own personal desires upon these good characters by sympathizing and relating to their struggle. Victimization is an important component to the good versus evil struggle, which provides justification to standing up against the evil force with sometimes brutal results. There is a sense of justice when evil characters “get what they have coming to them” at the hands of the Dirty Harry’s and Harry Potter’s. 

These dichotomies are not isolated to fictional stories but spill over into the political, social, economic, theological, ideological and international struggles of everyday life. Each struggle has polarized sides of oppressors and victimized overcomers, who fill the roles in this epic battle. The lines of morality and ethics are obfuscated to compartmentalize people along a partisan divide. This can be achieved through use of a variety of influences that affect the behavior of individuals or whole groups of people. Some influences are inherently negative while others are neutral and situationally dependent as to whether they are positive and negative on society. All of these influences together determine the totality of our life on Earth by aligning people into these two dichotomies of good and evil.

But is it really so easy to categorize people when, according to scripture, we were given “free will” to make our own choices? Some of the decisions we make affect the lives of others and might be interrupted as good, while others are labeled bad, but what about the people we tend to align ourselves with? Are they responsible for influencing our decision making process? Actually, there really is no choice in the matter. You, and you alone, are accountable for your actions with very few exceptions, such as actual mental incapacity. Every action you take is because you choose to take that action. It may be a series of choices that get you there, but it still comes back to you. So be wise about the decisions you make and consider the consequences of your actions before you make them. The battle-line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man, woman and child.

Crawling out of the Writing Hole

I’m currently working on ANNIHILATION, Book 2 in my new SOUL SEEKER Series. While writing this book during the Covid-19 pandemic, I find myself being taken to dark places and struggling daily to get out, which oddly mimics the stark reality of my story. I can’t help wondering if other authors believe that the negative energy in our current situation has altered their storylines, or dampened their creativity the same way it affects visual artists. As an art gallery owner, I remember how 9/11 turned everything dark for months on end…and varying shades of grey for artists. Can the same be said for published authors and struggling writers? If so, how is it possible to capture the happiness we once knew and reflect this in our work when everything seems so dire?

I found the answer while researching positive responses to depressive influences and would love to share this with anyone who might be interested. 

The first step towards conquering negativity and quelling your chatterbox mind is to recognize the types of thoughts you experience as they occur. I found seven types of negative thinking that affect writers, although I’m sure there are more. How many of these do you recognize?

1. Mind-reading:
Mind-reading thoughts impact you the most when self-esteem is low. You feel 100% certain that you know what someone else thinks about your work and this can lead to the loss of confidence. This in turn can lead to you talking yourself out of doing things because you believe you ‘know for sure’ what the outcome will be.

“I can tell that they don’t like my writing. I know she thinks I’m not good enough. They didn’t like my work last time so they’re not going to like it this time.”

2. Generalizing and filtering-out:
When you have negative thoughts, sometimes you latch on to one small thing that might have gone wrong – a struggling writing session or unwelcome feedback – and you blow this up out of all proportion. At the same time you also filter out anything positive that might have happened, reaching an unrealistic, negative conclusion.

“They didn’t like paragraph three so this must mean that the entire premise of my work is flawed. I kept getting distracted in my last writing session – I’ll never finish if this keeps happening. I’m beginning to think I should give up.”

3. Polarizing:
This form of negative thinking often occurs when writers compare their work to others. Either you think your work is not good enough or conclude that if you can’t write like someone else, then you’ll never achieve any success.

“If I don’t get my work completed on the date I specified, then I might as well throw in the towel. If I don’t get the recognition I seek or win awards for my work, then I’ll never make it in this industry.”

4. Calamitous:
When you experience catastrophic thoughts about your writing, you become anxious and unfocused. This can lead to negative spirals in your work habits and overall wellbeing.

“What if I never make it as a writer? I’ll never achieve my goals. Everything is wrong with the idea I came up with – it’s never going to improve or be accepted.”

5. Comparing yourself:
Writers often compare their current progress – or lack thereof – with another time in their lives when they were able to accomplish more or found the writing process easier. You become overly self-critical and nostalgic for this productive time rather than simply accepting that your situation has changed.

“Writing used to be so easy – why am I finding it so hard now? I should be far further along than I am – what am I doing wrong?” 

6. Blaming:
This happens when you unjustifiably hold someone, some thing or some situation responsible for the problems you may be experiencing with your writing. Rather than taking responsibility for your own actions, you feel like you’re the victim of a situation and this can be damaging to the project you’re working on or any future writings.

“I would have never done that if they hadn’t told me to. The feedback I received ruined my life and ended my writing career.”

7. Blinkering:
Sometimes you’re unwilling to listen to constructive criticism because you feel you are right and the listener is wrong. This type of thinking can lead to resentment and stalemating your work.

“I can’t see what they don’t like about my writing, there must be something wrong with them. I don’t know why they can’t see what I’m trying to explain. They’re just not paying attention or understanding my storyline.”

It’s not unusual to have negative thoughts about writing ideas, critiques and unsolicited responses, but it’s only by recognizing them for what they are that you can find a positive way to move forward. Push aside overly self-critical patterns and you’ll find yourself taking the first step towards overcoming them. Before you know it, you’ll find something uplifting, hopeful and rewarding in the stories you create.

New Paranormal Horror Book Released…and it’s a Winner!!

I’m thrilled to share some exciting news with everyone. SOUL SEEKER, the first book in my Gehenna Series, was released today on multiple books sites, just in time for Halloween. With it being a “spooky” story, I strongly suggest you read it wrapped up in a blanket, next to a fire, with a large glass of red wine close by.

Like artists painting landscapes in oils, watercolors and acrylics, writers are impacted by the atmosphere and world events surrounding them, and I’m no different in this regard. I tapped into the negative energy coming from politics, the coronavirus, prejudices, and protests in cities around the globe to write SOUL SEEKER, the first book in my Gehenna Series. And the outcome might truly surprise you. Every character in this book has a story to tell, which is further explored in ANNIHILATION, the second book in this series. But let’s stay with this book for a short while, as it’s a huge jump from the psychological thriller genre I’ve been known to write in, well…at least for the last seven years.

SOUL SEEKER was written for an adult audience — readers that enjoy fantasy novels…as well as paranormal and horror enthusiasts. This twisted story focuses on a soul-catching demon named Crighton that harbors a hatred for angels, maligning demons, and the human race in general. When forced to bond with an angel, his loyalties and perceptions shift and soon he becomes Lucifer’s greatest enemy and a trader to the underworld creatures living in the Kingdom of Hell. How he manages to survive depends solely on the loyalties he develops, his convictions, and his untapped leadership skills.

Surprisingly, this book has already won its first award with First Place in the 2020 NYC Book Book Awards for Cross Genre…an honor I’m thrilled to announce. Now that SOUL SEEKER is officially released, the reviews from readers will determine the success of this book and the direction the next story takes. So, if you get a chance, please pick up a copy after doing a search on your favorite book outlet site, and let me know what you think. I would greatly appreciate it!!!

– Kaylin

What Makes a Good Story Great?

While in the midst of creating a new novel, I recently found myself struggling with the purpose of my story. Was I writing it to educate readers, to entertain them, or to transport them to another place during a difficult time in our lives? Perhaps, in a strange way, I was attempting to do all three without even being aware of it–without concentrating on the basic steps required for good storytelling. And what, say you, was the final result? A longer writing and editing process that no author wants to endure.

So, what’s the fastest way to create a memorable, page-turning story? Here is my simple answer. Years ago, while researching the secret to successful writing, I came to the conclusion that the key ingredient to creating great stories is constant practice. While I maintain this habit on a regular basis, I’ve come to the conclusion that the nature and unanticipated behavior of my characters often dictates the eventual outcome of their stories in any given situation. To further clarify, I have absolutely no control over my endings while I’m writing them. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be entertaining or well written.

As readers, we seem to be satisfied when stories achieve certain effects, such as moving us emotionally, inspiring us, and encouraging us to think outside the box. With the advent and explosion of self-published books, there are now virtually millions of books of all genres on the market. So, as a writer, how is it possible to make your book stand out or be different? How do you keep readers coming back time and again, searching for your latest novel or upcoming release. Well, after reviewing stacks of notes from RWA workshops and various writing conferences, I believe I’ve discovered some great suggestions for turning a good story into an unforgettable, compelling one.

Are you ready??

#1) Make the dramatic content of your story strong. Example: ‘The neighbor’s bacon and eggs breakfast’ is not a story idea that is going to have readers clawing for a copy of your book. It is also highly unlikely that this subject matter would sustain an entire novel. But if the bacon is made from human flesh, the story scenario has greater dramatic potential as demonstrated by Thomas Harris’ popular Hannibal novels. Once you’ve discovered the resulting actions and the eventual outcome that develops out of your primary story scenario, you have a real, compelling story idea.

What are the key elements of a great, dramatic story?
Conflict, Tension, Surprise, Extraordinary Characters, Flawed Behavior, Controversy, Mystery and, of course, Suspense. The list is commonly known, however, building a story with these components can be challenging when your goal is to create an intriguing, page-turning bestseller. 

#2. How do I keep a reader’s attention? Try varying your prose’s rhythm and structure. Writing instructors often advise creative writing classes to write smart, punchier sentences. Short sentences are great for increasing pace and for helping to make scenes more exciting. Yet this could become monotonous for both the writer and reader, if a whole book is written this way. Changing the length of a sentence adds interest and can intensify drama, especially in a narrative story. 

Something as simple as this can be intriguing. ‘He waited all day. It was cold and growing dark by the minute. Would anyone come?’

Exploring the rhythm of your writing consciously can help you write better sentences. Carefully crafted, creative prose makes a book better in any genre.

#3. What about characters? It’s important to create believable, memorable characters that readers either love or hate. Why do we find some characters more memorable than others? Because they have something that makes them stand out. It might be a unique voice, a persona or expression, a goal or motivation, their distinctive appearance or behavior, a flaw or weakness or perhaps a hidden strength.

Authors such as Charles Dickens is famous for creating larger-than-life, memorable characters. So what does each character in your book crave or long to accomplish? Why do they desire this and what do they have to do in order to gain it?

#4. Each part of a story needs to be effective in order to make it great. The best openings create fascinating introductions to the authors’ setting, characters and plot scenarios. Often times, the middle of a story sags or lacks plot movement. But a brilliant middle, might introduce new characters who help or hinder your primary character. This is good place to add subplots that supplement your main story arc, to reveal why your characters have certain goals, to indicate what’s at stake or to reveal the effect outside pressures are causing that hinders your main character’s success.

#5. Most important of all, make every line of dialogue count. When characters speak, we gain a sense of their personalities, viewpoints, vulnerabilities, quirks, and attitude about any given subject. Having two or more characters sit at a table talking rarely moves the story forward unless the conversation has a purpose such as deepening or developing connections between them. In a great story, characters get to the point as quickly and realistically as possible. There are very few pleasantries and even fewer filler words because dialogue serves the plot, while holding onto the reader’s attention.

#6. Who is the unseen and most influential character in a story? Believe it or not, it’s the immersive setting. It’s not just a house with shape and color. It’s about details–about a place with personality. Is it old and dank, shutting out the light of the world, or is it light, charming and elegant? Besides giving a setting personality, it’s important to make it fascinating, inviting, challenging or just plain frightening.

Also, keep in mind that old neighborhoods change with passing years. Characters might feel different about a place from their childhood. You know…lack a personal connection they thought they would have after revisiting it. If you write about a real, historical or contemporary place in particular, you need to know the landmarks, the demographics, the underprivileged areas and the rich ones. Do the required research to understand what it is celebrated or nefarious for, as readers will recognize inaccuracies and will often point them out.

#7. What is the conflict in your story? When we read the word conflict, we often think of harsh words, violence or physical fights between adversaries. But there are many kinds of conflict that can be used to improve a story. Internal conflicts create tension, leaving readers wondering if the characters they’re rooting for are capable of overcoming emotional roadblocks or the hurdles in their lives. The same characters might also grapple with their environments or struggle with a natural phenomena. 

#8. How do I leave my reader wanting more? The best tip of all is to deliver a knockout ending, as it leaves a lingering impression. The final lines will either entice a reader to seek out other novels you’ve written or result in recommendations of your work to other readers. 

So what exactly goes into a great ending? The best answer is the resolution of the primary conflict. But it’s also important not to make the story’s closure so tidy that it’s predictable or a cop-out by ending the story as quickly as possible or with for a happily ever after resolution when it’s not needed. Sometimes, leaving a reader guessing is the best ending of all. Just make sure that any dramatic tension is held off until the end. This can be done by keeping your readers guessing or not revealing the identity of a villain until the very end. However, if you use a surprise plot twist, remember to keep the surprise believable and the last line as powerful and remarkable as the first line in your story.

– Kaylin McFarren, Stories that touch the soul – http://www.kaylinmcfarren.com

Surviving Coronavirus

Are you at your wit’s end?
I hope this posting finds each of you safe, healthy, and with your loved ones. I understand that this is a very difficult time with many uncertainties, but I’d like to remind you that there are lots of government officials, healthcare professionals, business owners, acquaintances, friends, and family members hoping for the same outcome — a world where it’s safe to travel, safe to shop, safe to enjoy the environment, and safe to lead a fulfilling, productive life. In the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the following suggestions for things to do with your family while staying indoors. A sense of community and link to others is very important at this time, so I encourage you to stay connected through FaceTime or any of your social media outlets. With patience and commonsense practices, we shall see an end to this test of our endurance and hopefully move on.
VIRTUAL NATIONAL PARK TOURS (https://totallythebomb.com/heres-33-national-park-tours-you-can-take-virtually-from-the-comfort-of-your-home)  33 National Park Tours You can Take from the Comfort of Your Home!   Free Admission!
BROADWAY PLAYS AND MUSICALS (https://www.playbill.com/article/15-broadway-plays-and-musicals-you-can-watch-on-stage-from-home)
15 Broadway Plays and Musicals You can Watch On Stage From Home!
VISIT ITALIAN MUSEUMS  (https://anamericaninrome.com/wp/2020/03/italy-museums-visit-for-free-online/)
Watch In-depth 360 Degree tours and videos online of many of the most famous rooms of 6 beautiful Italian museums.
STORY TIME IN SPACE (https://www.scarymommy.com/astronauts-story-time-in-space-kids-books/)
Watch Astronauts Reading to Kids From Space! Astronauts on Various Missions Read Popular Books While Floating About!  
KIDS AUDIBLE LISTENING (https://www.audible.com/cat/Kids-Audiobooks/2239696011)     *Popular Titles *Best Sellers *Award Winners *New Releases 
MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM LIVE CAMS (https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/live-cams)
Watch Live Cam Videos of Ocean Animals and Explore Their Habitat!    
SCIENCE KIDS (http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/)
Fun Science & Technology for Kids!   Experiments, Games, Quizzes, Projects, Videos and more!!
DOODLE EVERY WEEKDAY WITH MO WILLEMS  (https://www.washingtonian.com/2020/03/16/mo-willems-is-hosting-a-livestream-doodle-starting-today/) Join kid’s author Mo Willems weekdays as he hosts a livestream doodle! 

As an author, do you visualize your books?

Over the course of writing and publishing six books, I’ve been told that each of them reads like a movie. I find this extremely flattering, but not for the reasons you might imagine. You see, I dream up my stories quite literally from beginning to end and write them the way I “see” them. With this in mind, a comment about the theatrical qualities of my books assures me that I’ve successfully completed my goal by developing visual stories. Sounds bizarre, I know, however I’ve been asked by a number of writers to provide some helpful hints for creating “movie-like” books that appeal to readers and can also be translated easily into screenplays.

Tip 1: Write a Driving Plot with a Solid Narrative Arc

You might be wondering what the difference is between plot and narrative arc. The various events that occur throughout the story construct the plot, while the narrative arc is the order in which those events are presented. A driving plot and solid narrative arc are symbiotic elements that exist in all good books, especially those that have what it takes to be made into movies.

It’s crucial that you craft a strong narrative arc. I cannot overemphasize the value of each plot line (including all subplots) having a clear beginning, middle, and end. Don’t get too caught up in how many subplots you have as more is not necessarily better. Keep the plot moving forward at a comfortable pace so readers don’t get bored or feel hurried.

Tip 2: Develop Dynamic, Three-Dimensional, and Compelling Characters

Characters that are both three-dimensional and dynamic are the most compelling because they’re interesting and, rather than being static, they demonstrate growth and change. Also, audiences become emotionally invested in sympathetic characters because they have traits they can identify with, and f readers can see themselves in characters, they’re more believable. But don’t mistake sympathetic for likable; readers don’t always have to admire your characters, they just have to care about them.

Tip 3: Craft a Visceral Setting

The setting of a book is as important as the plot and characters because it roots the story in both time and place. Don’t treat your setting as just the story’s background, instead make it an integral part of the book.

Would the Harry Potter books be the same if they occurred in California in 1850? Would Memoirs of a Geisha have been a best seller if it was set solely in a teahouse? Probably not. The setting of a story is as critical as the story itself.

Authors need to think of their books’ settings as another protagonist—a distinct and visceral world that radiates with the mood and atmosphere the writer envisions.

Tip 4: Show, Don’t Tell

Put simply, this often-repeated adage describes the technique of allowing readers to deduce what you’re trying to say through the use of descriptive details, rather than info dumping or spoon-feeding readers the information. As films are an inherently visual medium, books that succeed in showing rather than telling tend to translate easier to the screen.

Here’s an example of “telling” where the author flatly states what’s happening:

John waited for June at the restaurant. When she walked in, he noticed that she was tall and looked cold.

Although readers are told substantive details about the characters and setting, a rewrite that invites us into the book’s world and shows us the same information is much more captivating.

Like this:

John watched as June had to duck her snow-covered head to comfortably fit through the restaurant’s doorway. Her cheeks were red and chapped, and her hands were balled into frozen fists.

Authors that show, rather than tell, craft distinct narratives that allow readers to see, feel, taste, hear, and smell what the characters are experiencing. By harnessing the senses, the audience is invited to actively, rather than passively, engage with the prose. As Mark Twain said, “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”

However, writing is an art in and of itself, which means rules are meant to be broken. In books that employ a strong narrative voice or that need a great deal of exposition, telling can be the most efficient choice. In other words, just go with your gut on this one. Keep in mind that film is primarily visual, so telling instead of showing could get messy in the adaptation.

Tip 5: Don’t Write a Screenplay Masquerading as a Book

My greatest recommendation is this: if you want to write a book, write a book, and if you want to see your story told through film, write a screenplay. Don’t write a screenplay masquerading as a book. Although both authors and screenwriters are storytellers, a book is a fundamentally different medium than a movie.

If you’re uncertain about if you should write a screenplay or a book, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can my story be told in two hours or less? If so, a screenplay may be best.
  2. Does my story involve a lot of narration or internal dialogue? If the answer is yes, write a book.
  3. Do I want my writing to be followed by another robust creative process to translate it to film? If that’s your plan, go with a screenplay.
  4. When I think of my story, do I see people reading it or watching it? A good answer would be both, if your aim is to create pictures in your reader’s mind.
  5. What does my story want to be? How does it want to be told?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Just follow your intuition. You’ll do fine. But most important of all, write what you know and have fun in the process. That is what writing is all about.

“Are you kidding?” Book Reviews

4dce3343fd0ad1618bbfe2c22f43a293I know it’s inevitable. Every author gets their share of bad reviews. You know, those one-star postings and half-baked opinions of “chosen” readers, indicating that you, as an author, haven’t got a clue how to write a simple phase, how to plot a mystery, or create a believable story. Obviously, we can’t all be as talented as Agatha Christie, John Steinbeck or F. Scott Fitzgerald. We’re simply members of the Homo sapien writing tribe with more than our share of weaknesses, imperfections, and fragile reactions. Quite often, we find ourselves typing non-stop for days on end, allowing trapped emotions and caged creativity to escape in equal portions. We offer ourselves up to the world’s judgment, begging for acceptance—for someone to see the merit of our artistic efforts. But then it happens in an instant, even to the best of us. Critics and wannabe writers take careful aim, releasing venomous words, killing a novel purely for the pleasure of doing so.

I understand that not everyone appreciates the written word and the painstaking effort that goes into fully developing an idea. However, for an author, it’s tedious, time consuming work, and the act of writing can become an obsession in the art of perfection. Every word, scene and character on the page has value, and the ability to bring a story full circle can feel like a miraculous achievement at times. And yet, a single insult has the ability to take down not only an individual’s self-esteem but also their ability to write…at least for the time it takes to recover.

The solution to this madness? I’ve been told the most powerful action you can take to neutralize your brain’s wiring is to prove it wrong.  Your brain fears being cast out of the “qualified” author circle, so calm it by connecting to your personal tribes—family, friends, other struggling writers. See brain? I’m not being thrown to the dingos—I have love, talent and the ability to carry on. Once the brain calms down, you can use reason and logic to center yourself. You can also talk to authors who have drifted in the same boat, bordering on the brink of despair.

Writers, like myself, fall into two groups. Those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review and those who hide their reactions well. Usually, I fall into the second group, holding my breath and looking away until the shock value wears off. But when a new book is released, it becomes a balancing act between elation over great reviews and irrational anger for the vicious ones. Some of Stephen King’s latest novels received up to 500 one-star and two-star reviews on Amazon. Was this done out of spite for his success as an author or simply a way to demonstrate powerful opinions?

Book stores are packed with best sellers that have a lot of bad reviews. Prove it to yourself. Do this: Go to idreambooks.com, the “Rotten Tomatoes” of the book world. They aggregate book reviews from important critics like the New York Times and rank best selling books according to the percentage of good reviews they received. Notice anything? Almost all the best selling books have a significant number of bad reviews. Imagine that.

Now think about this. How much could bad reviews affect sales if they’re all best sellers? I’m not ignoring the aftermath of cruel intention—bad reviews are undesirable. But they’re not necessarily the deal-breakers you think they are. Well, that’s what I continue to tell myself anyway. And even more interesting…bad reviews can actually help sell books.

What do you think of a book that has nothing but five-star reviews? I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit suspicious. Just like restaurant reviews, if you see nothing but 5 stars, I’m thinking the author or restaurant owner got all his friends, family and associates to write the vast number of reviews, delving out glowing praise. In a twisted way, bad reviews give a book legitimacy because their very presence indicate that the good reviews must be genuine. Right?

Well, I have to admit that all this venting has helped a wee bit. The sting of the cursed one-star review has eased a bit, and I’m reminded that the toughest critics are often the worst writers. That’s why they criticize, don’t you think? So now it’s time to laugh, enjoy a glass of wine, and move on until the next zinger comes along, and then maybe I’ll have the commonsense to look away.

Something to Satisfy the Soul: Kaylin’s Favorite Bloody Mary

18121554_10210560019187961_4834003210209005551_oIf your Mum likes to stick to the classics (and appreciates her drinks on the savory side), consider making her the BEST Bloody Mary ever. This one gets a boost from Worcestershire sauce and a little soy, and gets its heat from freshly grated horseradish (plus some cayenne and hot sauce.) Consider making an extra large batch of the mixture and setting up a choose-your-own garnish bar with celery stalks, poached shrimp or smoked mussels, assorted pickled things, and bacon swizzle sticks. So fun!!

And by the way, anyone who flies with me knows that I don’t get on an airplane without consuming at least ONE Bloody Mary at the airport and, if not there, definitely 1 or 2 onboard. So here’s to each and everyone of you, and especially to the rowdy women in the world. God loves ’em all…and so do I.

YIELD:
Makes only 1 cocktail – so multiply as needed!

INGREDIENTS
1 tablespoon celery salt or (or plain kosher salt, if you prefer)
1/4 lemon, cut into two wedges
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or less to taste)
Dash cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated horseradish (or 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish)
2 ounces vodka
4 ounces high-quality tomato juice
1 stick celery

DIRECTIONS
1. Place celery salt in a shallow saucer. Rub rim of 12-ounce tumbler with 1 lemon wedge and coat wet edge with celery salt. Place lemon wedge on rim of glass. Fill glass with ice.

2. Add Worcestershire, soy, black pepper, cayenne pepper, hot sauce, and horseradish to bottom of cocktail shaker. Fill shaker with ice and add vodka, tomato juice, and juice of remaining lemon wedge. Shake vigorously, taste for seasoning and heat, and adjust as necessary. Strain into ice-filled glass. Garnish with celery stalk, or any of the wonderful things I like to add, and serve IMMEDIATELY. 

Posted in Uncategorized

Is Self-Harm a Form of Mental Illness?

While writing my latest novel, HIGH FLYING, I wanted to create a complex, self-debasing character that struggles with her past and self-image and, at the same time, recognizes her inability to connect with others. Throughout her adolescence, she longs to be “normal” like other people, but self-harm becomes her vice and the quickest, most effective way to deal with the negativity in her life…until she finds a powerful solution.

In the course of researching this subject, I discovered that cutting is a common form of deliberate self-harm and may co-occur with other self-injurious behaviors such as skin-burning, hair-pulling, and anorexia, and that people who cut themselves often use razors, knives, or other sharp objects. UnknownHowever, cutting is not typically an attempt at suicide or long-term self-harm. Rather, it is an immediate reaction to stress that provides release for the person who cuts. They may accidentally sever a vein or artery, which can be life-threatening, but this behavior is not listed in the DSM-IV as a mental health disorder. Instead, it is related to other impulse control conditions such as pyromania (obsession with fires), kleptomania (persistent stealing), and/or pathological gambling.

Self-harm can also be a symptom of borderline personality (BPD), as well as factitious disorders, which occur when a person fakes an illness or believes he or she has a disease they haven’t truly contracted. People who cut themselves may also suffer from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other stress-related conditions.

Outpatient therapy using a variety of methods, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, can be highly effective at teaching people more effective skills for coping with stress. However, unless treated, cutting is a behavior that tends to escalate, resulting in  more severe and frequent cutting over time. People who have been cutting for an extended period of time may require inpatient treatment, which involves group therapy, individual therapy, and when necessary, psychotropic medication to help mitigate the psychological factors that contribute to cutting.

Often therapy for treating this disorder involves redirection–a sort of reprograming mechanism, for dealing with stressful situations. This might involve various forms of self-expressive art, tennis, boxing, or other activities as a means for releasing pent-up emotions, tension and anxiety. Support, compassion and understanding by friends, family members and anyone aware of this condition is also very important. Society as a whole needs to understand that anyone who has a history of cutting or other obsessive disorders is fully capable of leading a healthy, normal life, if given the chance to do so.