#NaNoWriMo 2014, Word Counts, and Revisions


#NaNoWriMo starts in about 24 hours.

I’ll give you a moment to freak out about that, then we can continue.

. . .

Back? Okay.

This will be my third year doing NaNoWriMo (you can see my profile (and add me as a buddy!) on my NaNoWriMo author page). The first year, I was working on Manifestation, which (as evidenced by the link I just slipped in there) is now a published novel. The second year I was working on the sequels, Contamination and Collapse. This year, I’m working on the sixth volume of Arcana Revived. And I’d like to talk a bit about word counts, including how my NaNoWriMo word counts have improved over the years and how each novel’s word count can shift drastically during revisions with expansions and cuts.

mani_promoMy first year, I was what NaNoWriMo refers to as a “rebel.” See, the “official” rules for NaNoWriMo say that you start writing on November 1st, finish by November 30th, and confine all your writing into that time period. But I had already started Manifestation in September of 2012. I ended up writing the required 50,000 words (actually, 53,552) during NaNoWriMo that year, but I wrote most of the novel during September, October, and a little bit of December. The first draft of Manifestation was 123,139 words, so it was definitely more than I had to write all in November in order to “win” NaNoWriMo.

My second year, I was a rebel again. I started Contamination early in 2013, and by the time NaNoWriMo arrived, I had about 40,000 words written. I ended up finishing the novel in the first two weeks of NaNoWriMo, writing another 80,000 words. Then, since it was still NaNo time, I dove straight into Volume Three, Collapse. I wrote about half of Collapse during NaNo, then finished it in December. All together, I wrote 141,151 words for NaNoWriMo 2013, about 80k on Contamination and 60k on Collapse. A vast improvement over my previous year. (Though I ended up with a bit of NaNoWriMo Burnout at the end).

This year, I’m starting (almost) from scratch. I’ve got 7100 words written on Volume Six, and the only reason I did those was because I’m writing this novel as part of my Rowan University Master’s in Writing Thesis Project. To meet class-imposed deadlines, I had to write the first three chapters. But I’ve been avoiding writing anything else until *checks clock* about 23 hours and 37 minutes from the time I’m writing this.

2014 CalendarMy “goal” this month is 150,000 words. Part of that is because I want to surpass last year’s 141k. And part of it is that I’m expecting this book to be the longest one yet, so I’m aiming high. It comes out to 5000 words per day, and my Writing Calendar (an idea I stole from Victoria Schwab) is set up with daily totals listed so I can keep track. If things go according to plan, this will be the first year I write a WHOLE novel (give or take that first 7100 words) all in November. No starting a month beforehand, no finishing in December. Just doing it all in one mad rush.

But aside from the number of words I’ll write in NaNoWriMo, there’s another thing I need to consider: how my word counts fluctuate during revisions.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King said that when he revises, he aims to cut unnecessary words (particularly adverbs) and to tighten up descriptions and prose. He says his formula is “Second Draft = First Draft -10%.” It’s a good bit of writing advice . . . that just does not match up with how I work at all.

See, the first draft of Manifestation was 123,139 words, but the next draft ballooned up to a whopping 139,023 words. Why? Well, for one thing, I was adding new scenes to fill in plot holes, flesh out minor characters who hadn’t gotten enough development, and build up certain themes and foreshadowing more. For another, I find that I tend to not be as descriptive as I should in a first draft (something I’ve mentioned on the blog recently). The same thing is happening with Contamination as I revise it now; the first draft was 123,559 words, and it’s currently sitting at 133,343 (and I have at least two more whole chapters to add to fill in some stuff that’s missing).

Now, I DO end up cutting later on. I cut about 60,000 words from Manifestation, added about another 20,000 back in with new scenes, and the final, published novel ended up sitting at 100,180 words (and a bit less than that, really, since that number includes the copyright page and the About the Author section). So draft three of Contamination will probably slim down, after I fatten it up during draft two. And Volume Six, despite my 150,000 word goal for NaNoWriMo, will probably end up smaller than that in the long run.

So, hopefully I can write 5000 words per day for all of NaNoWriMo, even if some of those words don’t make the final cut. And if, like last year, I finish the novel before November 30th . . . well, maybe I’ll start writing the seventh book (which will actually be Volume One of a new series, tentatively titled Arcana Revived: The Dark Ages).

I hope you’ll be joining me in writing like a crazy person, or at least in cheering me on and making sure I don’t completely lose my mind. Cause the madness starts in . . . *checks time* crap, 29 hours and 12 minutes.

Time to panic!

mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.



Series and Stand-Alone Books

#NaNoWriMo is about to start, so naturally I’m both excited and scared at the same time. The first year I did NaNoWriMo was in 2012, when I wrote Manifestation (which, two years later, is now a published novel). Last year, I wrote Contamination and Collapse, the first two sequels to Manifestation. I managed about 141,000 words.

This year, I’m writing the as-yet-untitled sixth volume of Arcana Revived. I’ve already done about 7100 words of preliminary writing (mainly because I’m also writing this novel as my Rowan University Master’s in Writing Thesis Project). I’ve had some early feedback on those first few chapters, and there’s a particular issue that keeps coming up.

See, since this is part of a series, I need to make sure that each book can serve both as a stand-alone volume by itself and as a continuation of the ongoing plot of the series. This is something you see done effectively in a lot of long-running series. Take Harry Potter, for example. Each book has its own internal conflict and its own climax, telling a complete story. But the whole series taken together lays out plot threads that don’t get resolved until the end. Yet, you could randomly pick up, say, book five, and still be able to follow everything that’s going on.

The trick to this is to re-introduce familiar characters and elements so that new readers will be able to understand who they are and what’s happening, without piling everything in via information dumps that will bore readers (especially readers who have already read the previous novels.

I’ve been struggling with this, and I’m trying to make adjustments based on the feedback I’ve received so far. Most of that feedback includes questions and comments like “What does this mean?”, “I’m not sure what happened here, but I guess if I’d read the other books I’d know”, and “I’m confused about how this magic works.”

As an example, here’s the first three chapters of the new work-in-progress. There’s two versions below: the original first draft, and the slightly-edited version I made to address the questions and critiques that were brought up. (Spoiler Alert: Obviously, since this is book six, anything below could be potential spoilers for the events in Manifestation).

            Gabby Palladino stood at the top of a hill, overlooking the abandoned suburbs that stretched to the north of the city once known as San Lorien. No one had lived in those houses for months and every house was falling into disrepair, most of it from the aftermath of the mana storm that had devastated the countryside and laid waste to everything within hundreds of miles. Wild animals, many of them once household pets that had been left behind after the storm, now roamed the streets. Cars sat abandoned along the suburban roads. Lawns and gardens were overgrown with weeds. And the only signs of human life were the military trucks, jeeps, and tanks that rolled through the streets, heading south towards the city.

            Gabby drew on her arcana and wove strands of light through the air in front of her. The air shimmered and warped as a web of light formed from the criss-crossed strands. A broad stretch of air twisted and blurred, then slowly came into focus, showing a magnified image of the distant army that crossed through the suburban streets. Warping light was a new trick for Gabby; it took far less effort and consumed less mana than some of her other arcane spells, but it required a lot more precision. It took her a few moments to bring the magnified image into focus.

            “I didn’t think there’d be that many of them,” a voice said from behind her.

            Gabby glanced over her shoulder at her squad. She’d brought four of the Manifested with her. Jaden Farrell was the newest of them, a fifteen year old telepath from Evesborough. She was also the youngest, three years younger than Gabby herself.

That opening basically sets the scene and introduces the characters, the setting, and the basic conflict. Right away, you know who the main protagonist is, you know this is a war-torn world, you know it’s a setting with magic, and you know a war is brewing. Pretty much covers the important points of an opening.

But there’s lots of questions that might be too confusing. What is the mana storm? What is arcana? What are the Manifested? Some of these questions might be things you’ll simply learn more about as the story goes along, but some are such basic, fundamental parts of the setup that they need to be addressed at least a little bit.

Here’s the revision, based on feedback from workshop sessions:

Gabby Palladino stood at the top of a hill, overlooking the abandoned suburbs that stretched to the north of the city once known as San Lorien. No one had lived in those houses for months and every one of them was falling into disrepair. Most of the damage was the aftermath of the mana storm that had devastated the countryside and laid waste to everything within hundreds of miles. The storm had raged worse than any hurricane the country had ever known, and it had carried with it arcane energy that had contaminated everything the storm touched. Wild animals roamed the streets, many of them once household pets before the mana contaminated them, mutating them into monstrous beasts. Cars sat abandoned along the suburban roads. Lawns and gardens were overgrown with weeds. The only signs of human life were the military trucks, jeeps, and tanks that rolled through the streets, heading south towards the city.

Gabby drew on her arcana and wove strands of light through the air in front of her. The air shimmered and warped as a web of light formed from the criss-crossed strands. A broad stretch of air twisted and blurred, then slowly came into focus, showing a magnified image of the distant army that crossed through the suburban streets. Warping light was a new trick for Gabby; it took far less effort and consumed less mana than some of her other arcane spells, but it required a lot more precision. It took her a few moments to bring the magnified image into focus.

“I didn’t think there’d be that many of them,” Jaden said from behind her.

Gabby glanced over her shoulder at Jaden and the rest of her squad. She’d brought four of the Manifested with her. Each of the Manifested had been touched by mana, either during the storm or before it, and had been changed ever since. Like Gabby, their manifestations had brought them arcane powers, though each person’s arcana was different from anyone else’s. Jaden Farrell was the newest of them, a fifteen-year-old telepath from Evesborough. She was also the youngest, three years younger than Gabby herself.

The edits here are minor, and each was made to address a specific concern raised by my classmates during workshop sessions. It explains that the mana storm was a disaster that spread magical mutations. It explains that the Manifested are people who were altered by the storm and gained magical powers. The explanations are brief and to the point, because I don’t want to info-dump. But hopefully, the second version explains enough that the reader won’t be confused (intrigued, curious, and questioning are fine, but confused is bad).

Hopefully as I proceed into NaNoWriMo, I’ll be able to keep these issues in mind, and always feed just enough information to the reader. Though I expect that I’ll have to revise more sections like this when critique partners and beta readers say, “I don’t know what this means?” I’m currently studying some other urban fantasy series, such as The Dresden Files, in order to see how other authors have addressed these issue. Hopefully I can learn from them and manage to do this right.

And hopefully I can wrote 150,000 words this November. Wish me luck.

mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Review of Secondhand Heart

Secondhand-Heart-FOR-WEB-200x300I just finished reading Secondhand Heart by Kristen Strassel, and I found it sexy, surprising, and touching. It got me right in the feels.

I took a liking to the main character, Daisy, right off the bat. She’s got a great attitude with just the right touch of snark. She’s not afraid to say “fuck” when she wants to, and she’ll get right up in someone’s face when they need to be put in their place. I also felt bad for her, learning early on that she’d recently lost her husband and was overwhelmed by the pity and pampering everyone was directing at her when she really just needed some time alone. I also found it refreshing that Daisy wasn’t your “typical” romance novel heroine. I’ve read a number of romance novels lately where the main character has a perfect body, perfect hair, and is generally unattainable in every way. It usually makes me feel like the author is trying to write an idealized version of reality in order to fulfill some fantasy. Daisy, on the other hand, refers to herself as “chubby” in the opening chapter, and throughout she comes off as a more realistic, ordinary woman. She struggles with her body image throughout the story. I found this easier to relate to as a reader.

I lost some of that relatability when the male love interest, Cam, was first introduced. He’s immediately described with a focus on his unattainable hotness:

 “The faded denim made his thighs look amazing. Who the hell checked out thighs? Well, if you saw these thighs, they were worth checking out. On The Spotlight, Cam had been an overgrown, almost goofy kid, playing a role. Doing what he was told. Now, on this tiny stage just feet away from us in this club, it was obvious he was all man. All smoking hot man.”

This seems to be a common, and in my opinion overused, romance novel trope. Even though the female lead is an ordinary woman, her love interest is “smoking hot” and the initial attraction is all physical (combined with the fact that he’s a somewhat famous musician, and wealthy enough to own his own bar/nightclub). As a male reader, I get a bit uncomfortable reading such a description, because it makes me feel like these stories set an unrealistic standard for male beauty. I tend to hear people complain more about unrealistic media portrayals of female beauty, but it happens with men too. It made me wonder whether Cam would turn out to have other, more worthwhile character traits to explain Daisy’s interest in him (intelligence, personality, a sense of humor, kindness, etc.). These things didn’t factor into the initial attraction, so I made a point to watch carefully as I read on to see if they’d come up later on.

By about halfway through the book, it seemed like the entire basis of Daisy and Cam’s relationship was their sexual attraction to each other. Daisy even acknowledges this at one point when she says, “But everything with us is about sex.” The fact that she acknowledged it made me pay even more attention to the development of the relationship. Between the earlier focus on physical attraction and the later development of their sexual relationship, I was curious to see if there would ever turn out to be something more between them, something emotional and serious and worth building a long-term relationship off of. Most of the second half of the book focused really well on addressing these issues, and Cam started to develop a lot of depth. It was enough that by the end of the book, I was thinking of him more as a kind, caring, chivalrous kind of guy, rather than a rich piece of man-candy. I still couldn’t relate to him in many ways, but I did end up liking him by the end.

A secondary plot in the book followed the main character’s sister, Ev. Ev is pregnant and about to get married, and there’s some hints of jealousy between her and Daisy. This leads to some conflict between the sisters that adds more tension to the main Daisy/Cam relationship, though on one level it was underutilized. This is because Ev’s fiancé, Roger, is almost never seen. He’s referred to regularly, and Daisy always describes him in unflattering ways, but the reader doesn’t get to meet him. As a result, I could never quite tell if Roger was actually a jerk, or if Daisy was being too hard on him because of her own biases. He finally appears on the page during a tense high point in the story, a moment charged with a lot of emotion. But it was hard to connect with Roger in that moment, because it was the first I’d seen of his character. Roger actually ends up being the catalyst of a key turning point in the story, but at the same time, I felt like I never got to know him. I would have liked to see more done with his character, considering how crucial Ev was to the story and how big of an impact this turning point has on the final chapters of the book.

Aside from the story and the romantic relationship itself, I also considered the overall writing style. The prose and the voice of the main character were very strong. Daisy has a lot of sass, and her voice in the story comes off as very genuine and down-to-earth. The only issues I had with the writing itself were 1) A handful of typos and formatting errors that cropped up every other chapter and 2) Not enough use of “he said/she said” dialogue tags to make the speaker clear (80% of the time, context clues indicated who was speaking, but there were plenty of times I got lost and wasn’t sure who the speaker was). These issues didn’t detract from the story, but they were a bit distracting. Which is a pity, because it’s a beautiful story, with amazing characters and some twists that you will never see coming.

If you like romance, country music, and down-to-earth girls who know how to live life the way it should be lived, I definitely recommend Secondhand Heart. It’s on Amazon in ebook and paperback, and you can find it on Goodreads.

You can find Secondhand Heart on Amazon.com, along with Kristen’s other books, Because the Night, Night Moves, and Seasons in the Sun.

kristenpic 2You can also find Kristen on Twitter, Facebook, her website, or her blog, Deadly Ever After.

Timelines and Continuity

The Doctor said it best. Time is a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey . . . stuff.

Especially when you’re on the first draft of a novel.

How a novel’s timeline works will depend a lot on the genre you’re writing in, how many points of view you’re alternating between, and whether or not your story takes place in multiple time periods (such as between a character’s present life and flashbacks to their troubled past). Even while working on a first draft, these factors are going to influence the decisions you make.

Some genres demand a more traditional linear narrative; romance novels, for example, tend to be very forward-moving in order to show the progression of a relationship, starting with the first meeting, through the first date, and into the complications that develop as the relationships grow. A mystery novel, on the other hand, is more likely to include flashbacks as key events are revealed while uncovering who committed the murder, where, and with what. A novel taking place in two time periods, such as a character’s adulthood and childhood, may alternate between each time period chapter by chapter. Likewise, a novel with two or more main characters may alternate between them, spending one or more chapters with a certain character before switching to the other.

But regardless of whether your novel is linear or not, you may find yourself having to make tough decisions about how to lay out the chapters. For one, it may be difficult to decide which character’s story to show first. For another, it may be difficult to decide when to move between the present and the past. Or you may actually decide to change the order that certain events take place in.


One way to make decisions can be to consider the emotions, themes, or motifs being represented in each chapter. You can then arrange the chapters to line up those that have thematic similarities.

The image to the right is a screenshot of my Scrivener file for Contamination, Volume Two of the Arcana Revived series and sequel to my first novel, Manifestation. The majority of the chapters are titled “Untitled X” because I haven’t yet picked chapter titles for them. If you look at the numbers, you can see I made some major changes to the order: 23, 24, 31, 25, 26, 32, 27, 28, 33, and so on.

There’s two main reasons why these chapters were reordered. One was to thread together the storylines of the two main characters, Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah. For example, 23-29 are chapters with Gabby, originally written all in a row and showing a series of events she went through in a single day. 31-38 are Tock chapters, also originally written as a single sequence showing what Tock went through. Part of the rearrangement was designed to interweave those two stories, since both sets of events take place on the same day. I felt that it made more sense to go back and forth between the two characters so that the reader can keep track of both of them and be carried along to threads of excitement, adventure, and tension at the same time.

The second reason why the chapters were rearranged is in order to keep chapters with the same emotional tone in the same place. For example, if there is a chapter with Gabby running for her life from mutant wolves and another with Tock fleeing from a military helicopter, those chapters have a similar emotional tone and tension. Later, there are chapters involving lots of combat, and even if Gabby and Tock are fighting different enemies, it makes sense to keep the action-oriented chapters back-to-back. And later still, there’s chapters where both characters are going through more emotional bonding (in one case as part of a romantic relationship, in the other, a budding friendship) and I wanted these chapters to be aligned as well.

These techniques keep the storylines in synch, even though the characters are in different places and going through different experiences. To see an example of this in action, consider the following clip from the movie Magnolia. It shows multiple characters in multiple different situations, none of whom interact, but all of whom are going through the same emotional journey.

The director of Magnolia has stated that his goal was to blend the experience of these different characters together so that it feels like one story, not eight. And he does an amazing job at it.

Another good movie to consider is Pulp Fiction. This movies uses a very nonlinear style of storytelling, and the scenes are arranged in an order that takes you on a certain emotional journey. The order of events builds on the emotions evoked throughout this journey, rather than worrying about the chronological order of events.

Of course, if you want to keep things chronological, you can also consider changing when an event takes place. For example, let’s say you’re writing a romance novel where two characters get together, build their relationship, have a huge fight, almost break up, then get engaged, go through turmoil with their families, then get married and have their happily ever after. You might decided that the emotional turmoil of the huge fight will go better with the conflict the characters are having with their families, because that adds additional tension from multiple sides all at once. You could therefore take the same fight and simply have it happen after the engagement, instead of before. Thus you’re rearranging the chronology to better serve the emotional journey.

These sorts of changes can be complicated, and it’s likely enough that you’ll go through several versions as you work through revisions. But I’ve found that reordering events can be an important part of improving a novel. Just be careful not to add more plot holes than you fix when you swap things around. There’s such a thing as being too timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly.

mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Review of Fallen Son, Darkest Night

FSDN Cover ArtI read “Fallen Son, Darkest Night,” by Melissa A. Petreshock without any prior experience with her work. Even though it’s Melissa’s newest release, it serves as a prequel to her novel, Fire of Stars and Dragons, so I decided to read the prequel first.

The opening of the story was simultaneously intriguing and a bit confusing. The reader is introduced to a goddess who is distraught over the fate of her son, who seems to have been banished from the divine realm down to the earthen realm. Down on earth, the goddess’s son, Dante (a vampire), is waging death and destruction on innocents, possibly out of rage due to his exile. These elements of the story are quite fascinating, though the way the information is laid out at the beginning is a bit hard to follow, relying heavily on the dialogue between the characters in order for the reader to put together the pieces of this world’s rules and mythology. The dialogue is also hard to follow because there aren’t many dialogue tags or other indications of who is speaking, leading to confusion about who is saying what.

The story then shifts to the goddess giving Theo Pendragon, a dragon who can take on human form, the task of stopping the vampire’s rampage. This part of the story has some interesting descriptions of Theo transforming from man-form to dragon-form, and it paints a vivid image of the dragon soaring through the skies in search of the vampire. But a bit of confusion continues to be threaded throughout the narrative. One confusing thing is the dialogue; it has a lofty, medieval-fantasy tone that is both elegant and at times hard to follow. The other point of confusion is the style of the names, with things like the “Arcai Ylanjae islands” and the “Sqaera Brej village.” I ended up having trouble understanding or even pronouncing those names, which pulled me out of the narrative a bit.

A brief battle between Theo and Dante ensues, after which Dante flees. Dante then comes upon a stranger and attacks him, only to end up turning him into a vampire as well. This was another interesting sequence with some good descriptions, but it was lacking a bit in emotion and drama, particularly since the fledgling vampire accepts his fate and his new unlife without the least bit of resistance.

Dante then takes a somewhat sudden shift, now turning towards the path of repentance. He changes his ways and begins destroying the other vampires he has been responsible for creating, with the exception of his newest fledgling who “has a pure soul.” Though the story barely touches on his time hunting his offspring, which is a bit of a disappointment. The reader is told by the end that he killed nearly 250 vampires, though we only see one of those, and it’s a fight that is over so fast, there’s never any reason to believe Dante was in any danger.

By the end, I felt that the story was “good” but not “great,” with some unsatisfying aspects that left me wanting more. The plot jumps around too much, as if the author were trying to squeeze in a lot of different elements into a short span (most likely to connect as many aspects of this prequel as possible to the main novel). I would have liked to see the story trimmed down and focused more on a central conflict that got more development, instead of shifting focus so much. I became interested enough in the characters that I’d like to see more about what they’ll get up to in the novel, but I feel like more could have been done with them here.

Fallen Son, Darkest Night

Today I’d like to introduce you to an author friend of mine who has a new story that’s just been released. The short story, “Fallen Son, Darkest Night,” serves as a prequel to Melissa A. Petreshock’s debut novel, Fire of Stars and Dragons.

FSDN Cover ArtFALLEN SON, DARKEST NIGHT by Melissa A. Petreshock

After four millennia of waiting for change, the Mother Goddess sees no other recourse but to summon Theo Pendragon to perform his sacred duty as one of the Dracopraesi, imprison her only son in the Underworld, and save her people.

​Given the​ vast destruction Dante has caused ​in the Earthen Realm, Theo is prepared to fulfill Dana’s request​ without hesitation​, but ​when confronted with ​unexpected events and a plea for mercy, will the dragon ​find him worth redemption, or is it too late for this dark soul to seek forgiveness?

FALLEN SON, DARKEST NIGHT is a ​short story companion to FIRE OF STARS AND DRAGONS (Stars and Souls Book 1). ​Three thousand years before Caitriona Hayden is even born, Dante’s actions and Theo’s decision impact the destiny that awaits them all.

Available October 21, 2014 on Wattpad.

About The Author

Melissa A. Petreshock_ smaller fileMelissa A. Petreshock is a full-time writer and member of the Romance Writers of America with past experience in the medical and educational fields, though she has primarily devoted her adult life to raising a family. Born and raised in Kentucky, Melissa spent a number of years in Massachusetts, living outside Boston and in Springfield before returning to her home state where she now resides on a small farm. She enjoys quiet married life and the silliness of her three children, indulging hobbies of music, Zumba, and a minor television addiction in what little free time she finds. Melissa’s interests include causes demanding social change such as mental health awareness and teen suicide prevention. FIRE OF STARS AND DRAGONS is her debut NA Fantasy Romance novel.

You can find Melissa on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

I’ll be sharing some more info about both “Fallen Son, Darkest Night” and Fire of Stars and Dragons in some upcoming posts and reviews, so stay tuned for more to come.

FSDN - Cannot escape promo teaser

Science and Religion

Today’s post is going to touch on some potentially controversial topics. I don’t normally blog about religion, since I believe that other people’s beliefs are their own business and it’s not my place to change anyone’s mind. However, I do feel that it is my place, as a writer, to spread knowledge. Ignorance, especially willful ignorance, is perhaps the worst thing someone can have, since it leads to making bad decisions and living your life according to unenlightened views.

That being said, nothing in this post is going to be an argument either for or against religion in any form. Instead, it’s an argument for the need to analyze and understand your beliefs, and beyond that, to realize that you can’t deny scientific facts based on the writings of people who lived thousands of years ago. It is my belief that you can be religious and still accept and understand science. And it is my belief that science cannot in any way disprove the existence of God. Both can be compatible and get along just fine.

If you haven’t closed the page in an angry huff yet, I hope you’ll read on with an open mind, because that’s the kind of mind I’m writing this with.

(Note: I’ll only be discussing Christian religion, not out of any intent to exclude other faiths, but merely because it’s the only religion I know enough about to speak about it with any degree of comprehension.)

Today I went to church. You may recall that a few months ago, I started attending some local churches in an attempt to explore the faith. I started with a not so pleasant experience, then I moved on and found Westville Baptist Church. I found Westville Baptist to be a warm, welcoming place, with friendly people who started greeting me by name every week and expressing genuine joy that I had become a regular visitor. I kept going to the same church almost every week for the past two and a half months.

I won’t be going back after this week.

If you follow me on Twitter, you might notice that every Sunday, I tweet under the hashtag #JasonTweetsChurch. My tweets are often snarky and sarcastic (simply because I’m snarky and sarcastic about everything), and as a result, I always lose a few followers each week. But the deeper reason behind tweeting my church experience is to share what I’m going through and get feedback from my friends. I always get more answers from people on Twitter than I do from the sermon itself. Some of this comes from my friends who are atheists and who offer their counter-views to what is being expressed during the sermon. Other times it comes from my highly religious friends who offer me different perspectives and more in-depth explanations in order to help me understand the sermon better. I consider both of these perspectives valid and valuable (for the record, I do believe in God, but as the rest of this post will show, I don’t always believe in the bible).

So, what happened today that led to me deciding not to return to Westville Baptist? Well, during the sermon, the pastor (note: I use the term “pastor” because I’m under the impression he’s not a “priest,” but I’m not 100% clear on the difference) started talking about the nature of God and how He created the world, etc etc. Then he went on to say:

Evolution is just fantasy. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense that we started as a single cell and grew into complex life.

He completely lost me after that statement. First, I see it simply as willful ignorance. There’s a huge field of biological and evolutionary science to show that, yes, that is how life got started. And if anyone has any doubts about that, all you have to do is look at how babies are made. You start off with a single egg cell. It gets together with a sperm to create an embryo. Then the cells split and divide, making two cells, then four, and so on and so forth, until eventually a complex human being is made, which then gets squeezed out from between the mommy’s legs.

So if that’s how life is formed inside the womb, why does this pastor say it’s “fantasy” to think the origins of life could have evolved differently?

Let’s talk about Genesis.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I firmly believe that science and religion are compatible. And that applies to the story of creation. I intend to show that the story of creation can quite easily be understood to be the story of the evolutionary process. If you’re an atheist, you can view this as the story of creation simply being a metaphor for the scientific process of evolution. Or if you’re a theist, you can view it as God’s hand guiding the evolutionary process along the way over the course of billions of years.

Let’s start with some bible quotes describing the beginning of life, the universe, and everything. I’ll be quoting from the English Standard Version of the bible, simply because that’s the version I happen to own (I don’t have a preference for one version over another).

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. —Genesis 1:1-1:3

According to The Big Bang Theory (no, the other one), the first moments after the beginning of the universe saw the existence of only “simple atomic nuclei.” These started to form into atoms, which eventually gathered together in giant clouds that slowly pulled together until their gravity caused them to condense into huge masses, which ignited, forming stars. Thus, in the beginning there was no form, just a void, and the first thing that came into existence was light. So far, the bible and science are working together just fine.

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants, yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. —Genesis 1:9-1:12

I skipped a section about forming Heaven, since the afterlife and where souls go after we die isn’t something that’s really part of evolutionary science and doesn’t really apply here. But if we look at the parts about the physical creation of the earth, we see the “gathering together” of elements (by the forces of gravity collecting cosmic dust into the form of planets), and the initial evolution of plant life. According to the Timeline of evolutionary history of life, after the first single-celled organisms, the first life to evolve was cyanobacteria, a simple algae-like life form that used photosynthesis and eventually evolved into the other plant forms that exist today. Then there’s eukaryotes, the origin of multicellular organisms, which start with simple types of algae about two billion years ago. Full-fledged land plants were then the first land-based life forms, predating insects by 75 million years, amphibians by 115 million years, reptiles by 175 million years, and mammals by 275 million years. So once again, science and the bible seem to be matching up pretty well (maybe not perfectly, but close enough for government work). Not bad considering the bible spends all of three sentences describing a process that actually took billions of years (and remember, if you’re a theist, it’s easy to believe that God’s hand was guiding that development for all of those years, step by step, and that the bible just summarized it to make it easier to understand).

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth. And it was so. And God made the two great lights–the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night–and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. —Genesis 1:14-1:18

This is a great example of viewing the bible’s explanation metaphorically instead of literally. A literal interpretation of this passage would claim that all in one day, God fixed the orbit of the earth around the sun and the moon around the earth into the 24-hour a day, 365-day per year concept that we know today. Instead, we can easily interpret this passage through what we actually know about the science of this process, and understand that it took billions of years for the day and the night and the seasons to take the form we know them today. For example, during the time of the dinosaurs, the day was only 21 hours long. Why? Because the moon’s effect on Earth’s rotation has been gradually slowing the days down. Which means that the seasons as we know them and the length of day and night that we’re used to actually came after the evolution of plant life. Those first prehistoric plants lived in a world that hadn’t yet found the balance we know today. Either natural physics slowly led an equilibrium, or God’s hand caused it, take your pick. Either way, the bible and science are still working well together.

And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens. So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird accord to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” —Genesis 1:20-1:22

This part is pretty self-explanatory–animal life came after plant life, no argument there. These three lines don’t really distinguish between amphibians, reptiles, and early mammals, just calling them all “every living creature that moves.” But it certainly seems to imply life coming from the sea, which is what evolutionary science says happened when aquatic life starting coming up onto land. Though one of my favorite parts of this passage is when “birds multiply on the earth.” Not just in the sky, on the earth. Those earthbound birds? They were probably dinosaurs. Sure, this is open to a lot of interpretation, but that’s kinda the whole point I’m making here. Instead of interpreting this passage as saying “In a single 24-hour day, God waved his hand and made the birds we know today,” it can easily be read to mean, “In the span of time after plants but before humans, God created the first life that would evolve into birds, which He guided throughout its evolutionary development.” Read in this way, the bible and science are still working together just fine.

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds–livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. —Genesis 1:24-1:27

What I find most interesting about this passage is how “beasts of the earth” are made in the same “day” as humans. Because looking once more at the timeline of the evolution of life, the very last things to evolve were primates, apes, proto-humans, and then humans as we know them today. So is it a coincidence that, after “Day 5” already saw the creation of “every living creature that moves,” the bible would then cite “Day 6” seeing the creation of “beasts of the earth,” one line before He creates man? Maybe, just maybe, the bible is actually telling us “God created the earliest primate and slowly molded its evolution over the span of 60 million years, like a sculptor working the clay until He gets it just right, leading to the present-day human race.” Nothing in the bible says that God just snapped his fingers and made humans in an instant instead of as a gradual process. And while the bible does use the phrase “And there was the evening and there was morning, the sixth day,” that “day” can be open to interpretation. After all, what is a “day” to an infinite and eternal God?

Maybe the bible tells us how long a “day1” is to God?

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.–Psalms 90:1-90:4

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.–2 Peter 3:8

That “thousand years” that counts as God’s “day” certainly shouldn’t be taken as a literal thousand years. Moses and Peter could both easily have said an “eon” or an “age” or “a million years,” depending on how much they wanted to exaggerate. The point that they’re trying to get across, however, is that God has existed for a really really long time and massive swaths of history are like a day to Him. Moses in Psalms 90 calls a thousand years “as yesterday when it is past” and Peter says “one day is a thousand years.” Moses uses a simile, Peter uses a metaphor. But neither similes nor metaphors should ever be taken literally. Taken as simply interpretations, each of these statements translates to “a really long time is like a day.”

Maybe “Day 1” was a few billion years while the universe was first forming, while “Day 2” was only a few hundred million years, and “Day 6” was only about 60 million years. And maybe, when God was telling all of this to Moses so he could write it down and teach it to all the Jewish people who were wandering the desert, God decided to keep it simple and not try to explain the entire billions-of-years-long complex history of evolution. Imagine Moses trying to understand all of that, with his education being limited to the science of 14th-century-BC Egypt. God could easily have decided to summarize. After all, it’s supposed to be the message that’s the most important thing, right?

I could go on to discuss a few other things, like how Noah’s Ark could totally be a true story (maybe he didn’t save “two of every animal everywhere in the world from penguins to lions to kangaroos” but instead saved “two of every animal he, personally, knew about in his limited world experience”). Or how the Garden of Eden, rather than being a literal paradise we got kicked out of, is a metaphoric representation of us losing the “innocence” of non-sentient existence when we “ate the fruit of knowledge” and became self-aware as sentient humans. But the point is, you don’t need to take the word of the bible as a literal interpretation of events. Like any writer, the people who wrote the bible added their own creative interpretation to things. Like any writer, they used similes, metaphors, symbolism, motifs, and themes. And like any writer, they probably went through multiple revisions, trying to tell the best story that they could.

Maybe some of the details about evolution got edited out before the final draft. I could see an editor reading it over and saying, “You’re spending too much time on this long, boring process here. It’s all backstory. Just summarize it, and get to the main plot.”

But that’s just how I see it. I’m a writer, not a theologist.

1 It was brought to my attention that the Hebrew word for “day” used in Genesis is actually “yom” which actually means “a period of time.” As with everything else mentioned in this post, it’s open to interpretation, and your perspective may differ, just as other articles on this topic will offer counter-arguments against what’s been said here.

mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Fight Scenes: The Styles of MMA (MAGICAL Martial Arts)

Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfmullen14/7690794070/
Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfmullen14/7690794070/

We all like a good fight, right? Especially when the people involved are wizards. From Dumbledore vs Voldemort to Yoda vs Palpatine to Willow vs Bavmorda, a good magically-powered duel can be exciting, dangerous, and visually stunning. It can also have a lot of differences when compared to more traditional martial arts (i.e. anyone fighting without magic).

I’d like to discuss some of the principles I find helpful in writing a magical fight scene, using examples from my upcoming novel, Contamination, which is currently in revisions (and will be released next year as the sequel to Manifestation). I was inspired to do this after reading some posts on fight styles, written by Kat Loveland. She wrote a blog post about using fight scenes to develop your characters, and another on showing emotions and motivations during a fight. They’re both excellent reads, and I definitely recommend checking them out (and following her blog for more updates, since she has two more posts in this series coming up).

To touch on a couple of points Kat raised in her post, before I move on to the magical stuff, I’d like to quote a couple of lines that do a pretty good job summing up what she was getting at. One is when she discusses different fighting styles, and she cites Jason Bourne as an example:

Jason Bourne is an assassin, plain and simple, his entire existence is get in, kill, get out. As a result there is no hesitation, no flair, no fancy movies just fast, efficient violence.

This is something to consider when it comes to the personality and goals of your character. Kat makes some comparisons that show why one fighter will be quick and efficient, while others might have reason to draw out a fight with fancy moves. These types of details can really tell you a lot about a character’s personality.

Another quote from her second post  touches more on the emotions of the characters in a fight scene:

Ideally the reader is drawn into both the life and death drama of the physical violence but the internal drama that the characters present as well. There is no exposition going on yet you feel what the character is feeling, fear, rage or the need to prove that you are worthy and gain respect.

This shows another side of a fight scene, the way it can tell you about what a character is feeling in the moment of the fight, or how they feel when they have to kill someone.

So how does all this relate to magic? Well, just like a character’s physical fighting style (quick and efficient vs showy and elaborate) can tell you things about their personality, the way a character uses their magic can tell you about them as well. And there are a few questions you might want to ask about how your character’s personality dictates their magical strategies. I’d like to explore three aspects in particular, and I’ll share an example for each one.

Image Source: http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?106639-3-5-Arcane-Knight-ToB-14-level-PrC
Image Source: http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?106639-3-5-Arcane-Knight-ToB-14-level-PrC
 1. To Fight or Cast Spells?

Not all wizards are strictly limited to using their magic. Harry Potter fought the Basilisk with a sword, a Jedi will alternate between a lightsaber and force powers, and even Gandalf pulled out Glamdring the Foe-Hammer when it was time to face down some foes with brute force. So if you have a character who can use both magical abilities and physical combat skills, which do they prefer?

Sometimes, this decision can be one they make based on necessity. Most genres show that magical abilities tend to be draining, leaving the user exhausted if they overuse their powers. In other cases, a character might find themselves cut off from their powers in some way (such as in The Wheel of Time, when Aes Sedai can shield others from the source of their powers, leaving them helpless). A character who can draw a sword and defend themselves physically will have a backup for when their magic fails. While another character will draw their sword first, and resort to using their magic only as a last resort.

Here’s an example of Jeremiah Pritchard, one of the main protagonists in my novel, fighting with both physical and magical abilities:

The men coughed and gagged on the smoke and fired blindly at him, their shots flying wide over his head. Then one of them rushed through the smoke, half-bent over and coughing. He rushed for the door, seeming not to see Jeremiah through the smoke.

Jeremiah whipped the butt of his rifle in the man’s face and knocked him back. The man fell backwards and slammed into the ground. As soon as the man hit the ground, Jeremiah pulled the stun baton from his belt and slammed the tip into the man’s stomach. The baton crackled and send out sparks as it unleashed its charge into the man. He shook and trembled on the ground, then went limp.

Another spray of gunfire whipped past Jeremiah’s head. A burning sensation built up inside of him. His hands shook and he felt the light building up inside of him. But when the shadowy figure rose through the smoke, Jeremiah didn’t reach for the light. He dropped the stun baton, raised his rifle, and fired a quick, clean shot that caught the man in the neck. He dropped to the ground in a heap.

Another figure appeared at Jeremiah’s right. The man raised a shotgun and fired it right at Jeremiah’s head from point-blank range.

Jeremiah’s arms flung up on reflex, and with them came the light. A silvery-white field of mana erupted before him, crystallizing into a solid barrier. It deflected the shot, though the crystal buckled and cracked under the impact.

Jeremiah let the light dissipate as he rushed at the man. He used his rifle to knock the shotgun aside, then he swung his fist at the man’s head. The man crumpled under the blow, dropping to his knees. Jeremiah rammed the butt of his rifle into the man’s jaw and a loud crack filled the lobby. The man slumped to the floor, blood dripping from his jaw and the shotgun falling from his limp hands.

 As you can see, Jeremiah uses his combat skills first, his magic second. That’s because of his greater confidence in his military training, as opposed to his uncertainty about his magical capabilities. He’s the sort of person who only uses magic as a last resort. He doesn’t trust it, and he doesn’t want to rely on it.

Will your character rely on their combat skills first, and save magic for emergencies? Or will they break out the spells right away and go for broke?

Image Source: http://myworldsofmagic.com/images/updates/spell_circles.png
Image Source: http://myworldsofmagic.com/images/updates/spell_circles.png
2. Adaptability

Another thing to consider in magical combat is a character’s ability to think on their feet and use what’s around them. Think of this as the magical equivalent of the way Jackie Chan fights in his movies. He tends to grab anything that’s handy and use it as a weapon, even if it means opening a cabinet door and slamming it in someone’s face. He’s not the type to make himself rely on a certain weapon or a certain style.

Magic can be similar. You don’t have to stick with one or two “signature” spells. Harry Potter, for example, tends to use expelliarmus quite often, so much so that his overuse of it becomes a plot point in the last book. But what if you have a character who can think on the fly?

Here’s an example of Tock, my golem-maker, showing how she can adapt to make use of whatever happens to be around her:

Tock screamed in unholy fury and started shooting. Mana channeled into her gun and charged the bullets up with unstoppable force. They flew through the air as blue streaks of energy and pierced the cop’s armored vest with ease. She emptied the clip into him, screaming pure murder the entire time.

The other cops fired back at her, and she threw her empty hand towards them. Their bullets flew with kinetic energy. She was an energy manipulator. If she could change her own bullets with kinetic energy, then she could drain it as well. The air between her and the cops began to glow and she robbed the bullets of their energy. They hung still in the air for a moment, unable to even fall as she robbed them of gravity’s pull. The glow faded and drew back into her hand as a compressed ball of kinetic force.

“Oh shit,” one cop said.

“You ‘urt my baby!” Tock screamed. She reached into her tool belt and pulled out a handful of thick screws. She hurled them with the force of a shotgun firing, the collected energy from the bullets channeled into them and magnified a dozen fold with the extra mana she charged into it. The second cop was pelted with glowing shards of metal that pierced his flesh and punched clean through the other side.

As you can see here, Tock breaks out the magic right away, something very different from the way Jeremiah fights. But she also doesn’t limit herself to the things you’d expect. She also smoothly switches from channeling her mana into a gun to channeling it into a handful of screws, using them as magically-propelled shrapnel. And that’s just a small example of how much she’ll think outside the box with her abilities. The more creative your character’s personality is, the more they can break from the norm when it comes to magical combat.

Will your character fight with a few key spells? Or will they adapt on the fly and never use the same spell twice?

Image Source: http://akcdn.okccdn.com/php/load_okc_image.php/images/0x0/0x0/0/8469727233039783240.jpeg___1_500_1_500_cb94de6a_.png
Image Source: http://akcdn.okccdn.com/php/load_okc_image.php/images/0x0/0x0/0/8469727233039783240.jpeg___1_500_1_500_cb94de6a_.png
3. Direct Combat or Ambushes?

Is your character the type to rush at their foes, hurling fireballs and lightning bolts from their hands? Or will they take on a more subtle approach?

Sometimes there can be merit to using magical abilities with stealth, like a ninja. A magic ninja. You might be faced with foes who are stronger than you are and have more experience using their magic. Or you might be outnumbered. Or you might have to worry about how long you can keep using your powers before your energy is drained and you can’t use them anymore. In any case, there’s always times when it can be a good idea to avoid a direct fight.

Consider this scene with my main protagonist, Gabby Palladino:

Gabby ran behind a bush and crouched down. With how dark it was, she hoped they wouldn’t see her. The heavy footsteps and sounds of breaking branches got closer, then the two soldiers emerged from the bushes. All Gabby could make out was vague shadows, barely illuminated by the moon.

“What’s that?” one of the men asked. They both stepped closer to where Gabby had been a moment before.

“Yeah, I feel it too,” the second man said. He leaned over and pointed to the ground right where Gabby had been crouching a moment before. He waved his hand over the area. “Something . . . some kind of energy. Like what we sense in each other.”

Gabby silently cursed herself. The mana pool was like a beacon in her senses, and no doubt in the senses of the soldiers as well.

The first man looked up in her direction and pointed. “There’s something else,” he said, “there.”

They moved forward, and Gabby froze in indecision. She could fight, or she could flee. I’m tired of running, she thought. She stood up and drew back the arrow she still held in the bow. She aimed low, letting her mana sense guide her as she targeted the invisible pool of energy on the ground. She didn’t want to kill these men; they were Northern Union soldiers. They were the good guys. She may not want to let them arrest her, but that didn’t mean she wanted them dead. She’d seen enough death.

She released the mana-charged arrow and let it fly. It shot through the air and landed in the ground, piercing right into the heart of the mana pool there. When the two opposing charges of mana—the one in the ground and the one in the arrow—collided, the energy erupted in a flash of light. Mana exploded and an eruption of dirt blew out from the ground. The two soldiers were thrown back, screaming. One smacked into a tree then fell to the ground, the other landed in a thick bush. Gabby could still sense the mana flows inside each man, so she knew they were still alive. She turned and ran to the side before they recovered from being tossed about by the explosion.

As you can see here, Gabby isn’t really a fighter. She doesn’t even go for the kill. She hides in the shadows, then strikes before her opponents know what hit them. Then she runs deeper into the woods before any other enemies approach. These are the tactics of a hunter or sniper, not a warrior.

Will your wizard kill from the shadows? Or weave illusions to deceive their foes? Or maybe even muddle their enemies’ minds and make them fight each other, ending the battle without the wizard having to set foot on the battlefield?

There’s many possibilities. And these possibilities say a lot about the personalities of any individual character. I develop each character’s style based on their personality, background, and experience.

So what about you? How will your wizard fight with magic?

mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Awaken by Skye Malone

Hello! It’s my pleasure today to introduce you to an author friend of mine who recently released a new book and the start of a new series:

Awaken by Skye Malone, Book One of the Awakened Fate series
Awaken by Skye Malone, Book One of the Awakened Fate series

Running away from home was never Chloe Kowalski’s plan. Neither was ending up the target of killers, or having her body change in unusual ways. She only wanted a vacation, someplace far from her crazy parents and their irrational fear of water. She only wanted to do something normal for once, and maybe get to know her best friend’s hot stepbrother a bit better at the same time.

But the first day she goes out on the ocean, strange things start to happen. Dangerous things that should be impossible. Things to which ‘normal’ doesn’t even begin to apply.

Now madmen are hunting her. A mysterious guy with glowing blue eyes is following her. And her best friend’s stepbrother seems to be hiding secrets all his own.

It was supposed to be a vacation. It’s turning out to be a whole lot more.

Skye-MaloneSkye Malone is a fantasy and paranormal romance author, which means she spends most of her time not-quite-convinced that the things she imagines couldn’t actually exist. Born and raised in central Illinois, she hopes someday to travel the world – though in the meantime she’ll take any story that whisks her off to a place where the fantastic lives inside the everyday. She loves strong and passionate characters, complex villains, and satisfying endings that stay with you long after the book is done. An inveterate writer, she can’t go a day without getting her hands on a keyboard, and can usually be found typing away while she listens to all the adventures unfolding in her head.

Skye also writes YA urban fantasy as Megan Joel Peterson and is the author of The Children and the Blood series.

You can also visit Skye’s website, or connect with her on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, or Tumblr.

Awaken is just 99 cents, and you can pick up a copy through any of the following links:

All Romance eBooks | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Google Play | iTunes | Kobo | Smashwords

You can also add Awaken on Goodreads. And if you’d like a chance to read some of Awaken before you buy it, check out the excerpt below:

Maddox slowed the boat, killed the engine, and then lowered the anchor. At least a mile off, the shore was a mosaic of green mountains and white buildings below. Puffs of clouds drifted over Santa Lucina, but out here, only the barest wisps hovered in the brilliant blue sky. Baylie leaned back on her seat, a smile on her face, while her dog just eyed the water as though trying to figure out how the demented humans could possibly think this was a good idea.

“So…” Noah started. “Anyone want to go for a swim?”

I smiled. My parents being so psychotic and all, we didn’t even have a bathtub in the house, just a stand-up shower the size of a broom closet. I’d never been able to teach myself how to hold my breath underwater, let alone swim.

But that was going to change, starting now.

“Well, um,” I began, feeling a bit reckless with excitement. “If you wouldn’t mind teaching me?”

His eyebrows climbed. “Uh, no. I mean, sure. I–”

The boat jumped.

“What the hell?” Maddox cried as the rest of us grabbed at the guardrails.

“Did we hit something?” Noah asked, scanning the water.

Maddox shook his head. “I don’t–”

The ocean around the boat began to bubble and roil.

Noah swore. “Get us out of here!” he called to Maddox.

His brother didn’t need the encouragement. Quickly, he scrambled back toward the driver’s seat and turned the key in the ignition.

The engine wouldn’t respond.

Shudders shook the boat, while all around, the ocean’s surface began to foam like the calm sea had suddenly become a boiling pot on a stove. Waves surged from every direction at once, growing more violent by the second, and on all sides the water darkened, as though a shadow was spreading below us.

“What’s happening?” Baylie cried.

No one could answer. As if shoved from beneath, the deck tipped up at a sharp angle and then just as quickly rocked back, wrenching us hard as we fought to hang onto the guardrails. The lurching came again, throwing us forward and back.

My grip broke. The metal rail hit me, knocking the air from my lungs.

And then came the water.

I didn’t even have time to scream. Waves closed over me, choking my instinctive gasp and tossing me so hard that, in only a heartbeat, I lost all sense of up and down. Flailing, I tried to reach out and find something, anything, to grab onto as the water pummeled me like it was a prize fighter and I was its punching bag.

Strong hands caught me. Steadied me. Pulled me from the maelstrom into a space of calm. I clutched at them, thinking Noah had managed to find me in the chaos.

Eyes like brilliant sapphires met mine.

“You’re okay,” a boy said, gripping my shoulders. “You’re fine.”

I stared at him. In the impossibly black water, I could see nothing but his face and his arms, both pale as though he’d spent his life out of the sun. He seemed only a year or two older than me, and his features were angular, carved like they came from stone, and strangely mesmerizing. In the darkness, his eyes shone like deep blue jewels, simultaneously seeming to reflect light and yet glow from within.

But we were underwater. We should be drowning. And instead, I could hear him as clearly as if we stood in the open air, and the oddest sense of peace was settling over me.

I wondered if I was dying.

Title: Awaken
Series: Awakened Fate (Book One)
Author: Skye Malone (www.skyemalone.com)
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Wildflower Isle (www.wildflowerisle.com)
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-940617-07-7 (epub), 978-1-940617-06-0 (mobi), 978-1-940617-08-4 (paperback)
Cover Designer: Karri Klawiter (www.artbykarri.com)

Research: What Counts as a Source?

I’m enrolled in Rowan University’s Master’s in Writing graduate program. I’m currently working on my master’s thesis project, a project which represents the bulk of my final year’s work. The requirement of the thesis is a 30,000 word written work (or equivalent, as some students are pursuing research-heavy academic projects that will come in at lower word counts for the same amount of effort). The type of project is open-ended; some students are writing memoirs or nonfiction pieces, others are doing academic research, and others are writing novels. I’m using the thesis project to write the sixth book in the Arcana Revived series, following the stories of Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah, who made their debut appearances in my first novel, Manifestation.

Part of the thesis project, in addition to writing the novel itself, is creating an annotated bibliography of the sources that informed or inspired my work. In the case of a creative work of fiction, such as mine, this can include the works of fiction that inspired me or where I drew some of my ideas from.

But what counts as a “source” in this context? Well, the professor is pretty open minded about that. Our sources can include, among other things, books, movies, news articles, poetry, and in my case, webcomics and video games.

Some of my sources are, naturally, fiction novels:
Jordon, R. (1990-2013). The Wheel of Time. New York, NY: Tor.
Anthony, P. (1977-2014). The Xanth Series. New York, NY: Del Rey, Tor.
Hickman, L., Hickman, T., & Weis, M. (1984-2014). Dragonlance. New York, NY: Random House.
Roberts, R. (2014). Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain. Virginia: Curiosity Quills.
Boswell, H. (2012). Mythology. United States: Artemathene Books.

I listed the various novels that have influenced me in different ways. In some cases, they influenced the way I write about magic (The Wheel of Time, Xanth). In other cases, they influenced how I write about specific elements in my series such as steampunk-style inventions (Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain) or angels and demons (Mythology). Or even how I’m structuring the different novels and collections in my series (Dragonlance). I deliberately chose a wide variety of sources in order to show the various ways that my work has built off of what came before me.

Some books, naturally, aren’t going to be works of fiction:
Stein, S. (1995). Stein on Writing. London: St. Martin’s Press.

In this case, it’s a book on writing techniques that greatly informed the way my novel is written, from the character descriptions, to the dialogue, to the way the chapters are laid out. These variables are as big of an overall influence as any specific works of fiction that inspired me.

But what about a book that, well, isn’t exactly something you’d expect to see cited in a bibliography?:
Martin, J. & Rateliff, J. (Eds.). (2003). Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast.

That’s right. I’m citing the DMG, because it taught me a lot about world-building, from designing my cities to developing the politics and culture of my world. I also drew from concepts of the multiverse and various parallel dimensions, which are common D&D tropes. My characters explore some alternate dimensions where the laws of physics aren’t quite what you’d expect, and my designs of those dimensions were heavily influenced by the DMG.

And, of course, there’s another book that I drew heavily from:
God. (1400 B.C.). The Holy Bible. Moses (Ed.) Manuscripts written while children of Israel wandered the wilderness for forty years after the Exodus.

Yes, I’m serious and yes, that’s how I’m citing it in my bibliography. That’s correct APA format for citing a book edited by someone other than the author (Moses transcribing God’s words). And I’m quite serious about the importance of the bible in my writing. My main character, Gabby Palladino, is very religious. Over the course of the novels she’s struggled with falling prey to the seven deadly sins, she’s worried about the state of her immortal soul, and she’s sought guidance frequently through prayer. And from her own persona guardian angel.

But what about sources that aren’t actually books?:
Foglio, K. & Foglio, P. (2000-2014). Girl Genius. Retrieved from http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/

Girl Genius is a webcomic that heavily influenced my other main character, Tock Zipporah. Many of her personality traits as a mad scientist/inventor are based on Agatha Heterodyne, protagonist of the Girl Genius series. Without reading that series, Tock wouldn’t be who she is today.

Then, of course, there’s movies and TV shows:
Johnson, M., Steuer, P., & Adamson, A. (2005). The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. United States: Walt Disney Pictures, Walden Media.
Whedon, J., Greenwalt, D., Noxon, M., Kuzui, F., & Kuzui, K. (1997-2003). Buffy the Vampire Slayer [Television series]. Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox.
Kring, T., Hammer, D., Arkush, A., & Beeman, G. (2006-2010). Heroes [Television series]. Philadelphia, New York: NBC Universal Television Distribution.
Todd, J., Todd, S., & Nolan, C. (2000). Memento [Motion picture]. United States: Summit Entertainment.

I drew different types of inspiration from these different shows and movies. Memento is a heavy inspiration for my newest major character, Jaden Farrell, who suffers from severe memory problems. The Chronicles of Narnia influenced Gabby Palladino, who, as you can see here, is modeled after Susan Pevensie, played by Anna Popplewell. And Buffy and Heroes influenced me as works with superheroes and supernatural forces fighting in grand struggles for the fate of the world.

One last source, of course, might be the one that stands out the most:
Sakaguchi, H., Kitase, Y. & Ito, H. (1994). Final Fantasy VI [Super Nintendo game]. United States: Square Enix.

Yes, I’m citing Final Fantasy in the bibliography for my master’s thesis project. I’ve mentioned the influence Final Fantasy has on my writing before, starting with the concept of magic returning to a world that had lost it. Some of the Final Fantasy summoned monsters, like Shiva, Leviathan, Quetzalcoatl, and Titan, also influenced the types of monsters that appear in my later books. In fact, this video game was probably the most important and influential source of all, more than any of the books I’m citing.

It just goes to show that inspiration can come in a variety of forms. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t draw on unorthodox sources in your research. What you find might just surprise you.

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