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.
I 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.
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. However, 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.
Tough love is a hard and sometimes sad road we must walk down as parents when facing disruption in our families. It is a process we use when we need to step away from control or stop our desire to help a loved one who has become too dependent on drugs and alcohol or when this individual simply needs a huge wake up call because they are self destructing their own life or destroying the mental wellbeing of other members of your family.
Most unhealthy relationships have a caregiver and a dependent party, whether this is a friendship, a parent/child relationship or a romantic relationship. When the caretaker has had enough, is drained emotionally, physically or financially by the dependent party, a step taken backward by the caregiver is taken to let the dependent fall on their face. In other words, this step taken backwards usually leads to a huge jump forward.
The dependent one is shown that he needs to take charge of his own life. Tough love can be “sink or swim” and can be heart-wrenching situation to endure. But when the swimmer rises from the depths of his dependence and becomes fully his own person, it is a win-win for both individuals.
So what do you do when you find yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place with someone you love? How do you take two steps backward to help them bounce forward? After doing a bit of research, I discovered how to use tough love on your loved ones, and yourself, to help them change their lives for the better.
1) Let go of your needs and wants.
Sometimes we want something very badly for another person. We think we know what they need and what will make their life change for the better. But most times we are enabling the dependent in our relationship.
Learn to let go and let your dependent figure things out themselves. It can be hard, but focus on you and let them find themselves.
2) Establish healthy boundaries.
Know your limits. Be able to decipher your needs and wants and your dependent’s needs and wants. Learn to say “no” when you want to say yes.
3) Do not fall for the victim story.
Everyone loves a great drama or a sad sob story. Do not fall for it. Listen open heartedly and learn to separate your head from your heart.
A sob story is a manipulative way of trying to get negative attention. You want the dependent to become their own hero, so don’t allow them to be their own victim by falling for the story.
4. Don’t do for anyone what they can do for themselves.
Plain and simple! Unless this is an elderly adult or a young child, do not do more than what you need to do in your relationships. Trying to do everything for someone else who is capable is only destroying your own energy levels, confidence and can possibly deplete your bank accounts.
If someone is physically and emotionally capable of doing a task, let them.
5. Seek help.
Seek professional help if you cannot learn tough love or are having difficulty stopping your enabling practices. When you want the best for someone, learn to walk away and get help. Like the old adage says, you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. Only you can find an oasis and enjoy!
So when you are sick and tired of worrying about someone else day in and day out or find yourself disheartened by their angry attacks, try tough love but also try self love and you’ll find yourself regaining your sanity along with your personal happiness.
From an obsessed writer who’s been at it for years and continues to struggle even today, I wave a hand and say good luck. Becoming a successful author, whether you’re self-published or have gone the “normal” route, is not a cost-free endeavor…and in MOST cases, it’s not a miracle that happens overnight. Even after your books are accepted and printed, advertising and basically getting the word out is a high-end, unforeseen expense. As in any success story , whether it’s producing a product, acting in a play, or creating a modern miracle, it’s all about being “discovered” by the right people at the right time. The biggest mistake people make when it comes to self-publishing is that they expect to just put out a book and have it magically sell. They might even hire a publicist and expect something amazing to happen. But to be perfectly honest, it just isn’t so. You have to be a dedicated, relentless self-promoter and, unfortunately, a lot people just don’t have the stomach or time for it.
What’s the secret to marketing your book successfully? Well, the first thing I advise — and I’m not alone here — is to come up with a marketing plan well before you publish your book. The plan should have at least five avenues for you to pursue because chances are you’re going to strike out on a couple of lines of attack. It’s easy to get discouraged, so you have to be ready to move on to plan c, d, and e (and the rest of the alphabet) pretty quickly.
These days there’s a lot of talk about a “blog strategy,” and many well-known authors do virtual book tours where they offer up interviews to various blogs. You probably won’t have that luxury, but you can certainly research what blogs might be interested in your book and prepare pitches for them. There are social media campaigns to wage, local media angles to pursue, organizations to approach, and all kinds of out-of-the-box gambits you can dream up. None of this will cost you a whole lot — except time and perhaps a little pride.
Then there’s the stuff you pay for. And it’s tricky to judge what’s a good investment and what’s not because the results vary so much from book to book. A friend of mine who has a “real” book from a traditional publisher experimented with placing $1,000 in Facebook ads. She’s still trying to figure out what impact the ads had, but Facebook does have some interesting marketing opportunities.
Google AdWords/Keywords is another popular option. And a number of self-serve ad networks are popping up, including Blogards Book Hive, which allows you to target a number of smaller book blogs for relatively affordable rates.
The author MJ Rose has a marketing service called AuthorBuzz that caters to both self-publishers and traditional publishers. She says the best thing for self-publishers is a blog ad campaign–it starts at about $1,500 for a week of ads (the design work is included) and heads up in increments of $500. She says: “We place the ads in subject-related blogs, not book blogs. For instance, if it’s a mystery about an antiques dealer, we don’t just buy blogs for self-identified readers — who are not the bulk of book buyers — but rather I’ll find a half dozen blogs about antiques, culture, art and investments and buy the ads there and track them.” Rose claims she can get your book in front of at least a half a million people with that initial investment. She also says that you can’t really spend too much, you can just spend poorly.
I agree. However, I can’t tell you what impact a week or month of ads on blogs will have on your specific book’s sales. There are simply too many variables.
And something else to consider when it comes to self-promotion is the fact that there’s a fine line between being assertive and being overly aggressive in an obnoxious way. It also doesn’t impress people when all you tweet about is your book (the same goes for your Facebook and Google+ posts). As one friend told me, the state you want to achieve is what she likes to call “comfortably tenacious.”
Next, you may have always wanted to see your book in a bookstore but bookstores aren’t keen on carrying self-published books and it’s extremely difficult to get good placement in the store for your book so chances are no one will see the three copies the store has on hand anyway. Furthermore, your royalty drops on in-store sales. Some of the self-publishing outfits offer distribution through Ingram. CreateSpace offers its Expanded Distribution program for a $25 a year fee. It uses Baker & Taylor, as well as Ingram, as well as CreateSpace Direct to make your book available “to certified resellers through our wholesale website.” You also get distribution to Amazon Europe (Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.es, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, Amazon.de).which is definitely a plus…if your book is seen.
Thirdly, it’s very hard to get your self-published book reviewed — and the mantra in the traditional publishing world is that reviews sell books. But that’s changing a bit. People didn’t take bloggers seriously at first and now they do. And what’s interesting is that reputable book reviewers such as Kirkus and more recently Publishers Weekly are offering special reviews services geared toward self-published authors. In the case of Kirkus Indie, the author pays a fee to have the book reviewed (around $400 – $550, depending on the speed) and a freelancer writes an objective opinion in the same format as a standard Kirkus review. However, be prepared! There’s no guarantee that the reviewer will like your book and you might have just spent a small fortune on one of the cruelest critiques of your life.
As for Publishers Weekly, it offers something called PW Select. While you can submit your book for review for a fee of $149, only about 25 percent of the book submissions end up being reviewed. But for a lot of folks risking that $149 is worth the opportunity of getting into the PW door. Of course, there’s always the possibility that the review isn’t favorable as well.
Another option is BlueInk Review, a fee-based review service targeted at indie authors. Most of the time, the results are honest and kind, and the positive aspects of your book are duly noted, making it possible to share your accomplishments on all your social sites.
Finally, in my opinion, the biggest problem with going the POD route is that it costs more to produce one-offs of your book than it does to produce thousands. To get a rough idea of how much money you can make selling your book, you can check out CreateSpace’s royalty calculator. Today, setting the price at $14.99 means that it costs about $3.70 to produce each book. If you have a longer book, you’ll have to set the price even higher to make any money at all.
Overall, compared with what traditional publishers pay out, royalty rates for self-published books are actually quite decent. But the fact is, to compete against top-selling titles from traditional publishers, your book should be priced between $8.99 or $9.99, and that’s simply not possible if it’s longer than 250 pages.
Many of the self-publishing operations have their own online marketplaces where you can offer up your book and get a significantly better royalty rate. Lulu.com, for instance, touts its own online store, which is well designed and has a big audience. But you obviously have access to a much larger audience on Amazon, which is the first place people generally go to look for a book when they hear about it.
The trick, of course, is making people aware your book even exists. This is where hustling takes over. You become a virtual marketing machine by joining book clubs and exchange groups, producing book trailers, offering giveaways and contest goodies…whatever it takes to get your book into a reader’s hands and that all powerful review on Amazon.
Yes…self-publishing is a rapidly evolving industry with lots of competitors and each of them are constantly throwing out new information. Publishers are continually upgrading their facilities, infrastructure, and pricing, and what I — or other authors say today — could be wrong in just a few months from now. A few years ago, Amazon was only offering 35 percent royalties on e-books. Now it’s at 70 percent for books priced at $2.99 and higher. So there’s no telling what next year will bring.
If you don’t live your days by goals and plans, chances are you spend most of your time caught up in a flurry of day-to-day activities and self-imposed obligations that you can’t seem to complete, no matter how hard you try. Do you ever feel that your days are passing you by without any tangible output to speak of? What did you accomplish in the past 3 months? What are your upcoming goals for the next 8 months? Look at the things you did and the things you’re planning to do next — Do they mean anything to you if you were to die today? Having a bucket list reminds you of what’s really important so you can act on them.
Even if you frequently live by goals or to-do lists, they are probably framed within a certain social context e.g. performance, career, health. A bucket list opens up the context. It’s a forum to set anything and everything you’ve ever wanted to do, whether it’s big, small or random.
It’s just like planning ahead all the highlights you want for YOUR whole life. 😀 Even though goal setting is already my staple activity, I still found many new things to do while I was writing on my own list. It was an incredibly insightful exercise. What’s more, coming up with my list gave me a whole new layer of enthusiasm knowing what’s in store ahead!
The objective of creating this list isn’t to instill some kind of a race against time or to create aversion toward death. I don’t see our existence to be limited to just our physical years on earth — I don’t see our existence to be limited to just our physical years on earth — our physical lifespan is but a short speck of our existence in the universe.
The whole point of creating your list is to maximize every moment of our existence and live our life to the fullest. It’s a reminder of all the things we want to achieve in our time here, so that instead of pandering our time in pointless activities, we are directing it fully toward what matters to us. So with this in mind, here is my current bucket list. Things that I long to do before taking my last breath:
Travel: I have literally been around the world via airplanes and cruise ships, but there are still a few places I’d love to see in this lifetime. These unique locations include: Chile, India, Cuba, Argentina, Egypt and Finland.
Experiences: Keeping in mind some of these countries, imagine journeying the entire length of Chile’s Pacific coastline. You’d start in the lunar-like Atacama Desert and end in a land of water and ice, as the country splinters away to the Tierra del Fuego — a gateway to Antarctica. In between lie the Lake District’s volcanoes, valleys blanketed with vineyards, and the stark mountains and rock formations of Patagonia’s Torres del Paine. Then, far away from the mainland, seemingly marooned in the ocean, is enigmatic Easter Island. India, Cuba, Argentina and Egypt are easy when it comes to adventures. There are hundreds of things to experience there: visit the Taj Mahal, taste Havana rum, meet gauchos, and view pyramids. But nothing beats sleeping under the Northern Lights in a glass igloo and sledding with reindeer in snow-covered Finland. Or snorkeling in the glaciers of Iceland. Now that’s what I call fun!
Personal Fitness: I’m notorious for savoring wine, eating on the run, snacking while writing, and taste testing dinner so I can get to the yummy desserts (especially if chocolate is involved). Exercise is the last thing on my mind every day, especially when I wakeup and remember a dozen things that need to be addressed. But the only way to fit back into the new wardrobe I recently bought is by shaving off a few pounds, reducing my wine intake and eating sensibility. So my list needs to include a healthy regiment and fewer trips to the plastic surgeon’s office for botox and liposuction procedures.
Mentoring: Obviously, teaching is one of the most rewarding things we can do. No matter how old you are, even if you are in your teens, you are always in the position to mentor someone else — perhaps someone who is more junior than you or someone who is older but can benefit from a particular expertise you have. Mentoring others is also a great way for you to develop yourself too and to share your abilities with others. So maybe it’s time for me to reach out and offer up some writing tips and advice to others.
Do you have a bucket list? A collection of dreams you’d like to turn into reality? As I’ve learned after losing wonderful people to diseases and tragic accidents, life is much shorter than we imagine, so don’t wait too long to act. Find ways to make yourself happy and to push yourself beyond your limits and comfort zone. The memories you’ll be left with are the material stories are made of, whether they be written down or told time and again.
When it comes to writing a novel, a well-thought-out plot is an essential element for effective storytelling. Something has to move – to change from bad to good, worst to better, in order to satisfy your reader. This change, from Point A to Point B, can be shown in the following ways:
A physical event (Point A = a psycho killer is picking off everyone in town. Point B = police arrest the killer).
A decision (Point A = a character wants to practice law like his father. Point B = the same character decides to be a ballet dancer).
A change in a relationship (Point A = a boy and girl hate each other. Point B = they fall in love)
A change in a person (Point A = a character is a selfish jerk. Point B = they realize the benefit of donating their time.)
A change in the reader’s understanding of a situation. (Point A = a character appears to be a murderer. Point B = the reader realizes the character is actually innocent and made a false confession.)
For authors who find plotting on foam core board the best way to organize your chapters and subplots before developing them, I applaud the endless hours you’ve invested but have no interest in making notes on sticky pads in various colors and later attempting to decipher my writing. Plus the resulting roadmap could prove incredibly daunting, especially when multiple points of view are involved, in addition to unexpected twists and turns in the plot.
The beat sheet is also a great tool for charting every scene, however, after attempting this method for a new book, I soon realized that I’d spent endless hours on the building blocks for my plot which lacked dialogue or narrative flair. As soon as I began writing, I found myself detouring from my storyline all together and rewriting my sheet to stay current with my story’s evolution.
Ultimately, the solution to organizing my characters, directing their activities, and advancing my plot came with an introduction to Pinterest. Although authors often use boards on this site for compiling ideas, collecting quotes, and categorizing writing techniques, I found it an excellent way to dissect my entire story and to “visually” plot each chapter, as well as each book, with the use of character images, settings, and prop photos that describe the corresponding scene. When a board is completed, it also serves as the perfect tool for creating a book trailer and developing an advertising layout.
A good fiction book needs to be filled with action. The good guys are after the bad guys, the doctor needs to find a cure. From the beginning to the end, the reader can’t bear to stop reading because the action just keeps coming.
The best answer goes something like this: “Write the book you’ve always wanted to read.” Now that might sound easy enough, until you sit down at a computer for twenty minutes wondering where the hell to begin. After attending a zillion workshops and taking notes that will probably never be read again, I can honestly say the formula for creating a powerful story is relatively simple, provided you include a few key ingredients. You see, in fiction, the writer’s job is to entertain, to draw an emotional response from the reader. The reader is often looking for suspense, action, and to go on a journey they have not been on before, one they will not easily forget. Readers want to get drawn into and experience the story for themselves. They want characters they can relate to and form a personal connection with. But most importantly, they want a good book. One that leaves them anxiously awaiting each turn of the page. With this in mind, here are the elements I consider essential to writing great fiction.
Well-developed characters: The characters in the book must be well developed and believable. The characters should remind you of your teacher, your lawyer, your doctor, or maybe even your best friend. Even though they are fictional, they come alive for us in the story.
Action: A good fiction book needs to be filled with action. The good guys are after the bad guys, the doctor needs to find a cure. From the beginning to the end, the reader can’t bear to stop reading because the action just keeps coming.
Great Plot: The writer keeps the reader guessing right to the end by using surprising, realistic plot twists. Just when we think we know “who done it” – bam – a new twist creeps up and a story involves more. As we near the end we wonder if there is time to solve it? Will it have a happy ending? Most readers long for a good ending to their story as they grow fond of the characters in the book and want to see the best happen to them.
Enjoyable to Read: Readers want to have fun. They want to escape into this book and for the moment forget the day’s events and challenging issues that face them. They want a personal connection with the characters and also they want a story that inspires them to make a difference.
Keep Your Audience in Mind: When writing fiction it’s important to remember to keep the audience in mind. These are the people who will be picking up your book and buying it and also hopefully recommending it to a friend or family member. For your particular book, what do they want to read? What will keep them on a Friday night turning each page to see what happens next. It’s different with each book, but once you capture your audience you have the makings for a success.
Writers write about what they know. They can bring the sounds, colors, and images of their world to life in their story. Fiction is where writers get the opportunity to bring you into that world and keep you there until, “the end.”