December 10, 2018

Update On Curse Of The Fey - Morgana Trilogy

Hello everyone,

2018 is nearing its end. Already. At last.

This year has been fraught with trials, and I'm really hoping 2019 will be the start of a new, happier chapter! And it will start on a really great note, for the third and final installment in the Morgana Trilogy, Curse of the Fey, will finally become available (happy dance)!


And before it does because available, I'll be sharing a few chapters of the new book with you via my newsletter (starting in January), so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I would like to thank you for sticking with me these long years, and hope you have wonderful end-of-year holidays :)

 See you in Q1 2019!

November 21, 2018

A Note On Pleasure

All of us, even when we are doing exactly what we love, can momentarily focus too much attention on accomplishing the goal and forget to pay attention to our pleasure. 
That is the precise moment to take a break. Stress and burnout occur if you don't. Ecstasy returns to you if you do.
~Regena Thomashauer in her book 

November 17, 2018

All's Fair In Love & War...The Realities - Belgium 1914


"It is true, as Sartre once wrote, referring to French army atrocities in Algeria, that the real tragedy in our time is that any of us can be, interchangeably, victim or torturer." ~ Gore Vidal

How true those words, considering the French (and many others) had suffered terribly themselves at the hand of the enemy less than 20 years prior during WWII, and not 50 years after WWI opened the world to the extreme brutality of modern warfare.

Yet how can one be swayed to commit such terrible, inhumane acts, sometimes easily too?

It is the subject of this week's article over on The Flat Land That Is Mine: From False Accusations During WWI to Real Atrocities.

November 8, 2018

Online Dictionaries


Here's a short list of my favorite online dictionaries whenever I'm writing, which I thought could be useful resources to other writers:

1. www.thesaurus.com

I absolutely LOVE this one, as it can help me find better ways to express what I'm trying to say (using stronger verbs, or avoiding endless repetitions, for example. Also nifty, when you look up a word, there's a little box that will appear on the right-hand sign with the word's origin and history!

2. www.thefreedictionary.com

This one is my second favorite online dictionary. Not only does it boast a "regular" dictionary, including pronunciation help in both American and British English), but it also has a: thesaurus, medical dictionary, legal dictionary, financial dictionary, acronyms, idioms (super practical for writers too!), encyclopedia, and Wikipedia entries. All rolled into one! They also have translations at the bottom (though I like to use 2 other translation dictionaries instead--see below).

3. www.wordreference.com

My automatic go-to dictionary whenever I get stuck on a word going from French to English, or vice versa.

4. www.linguee.com

Another translation dictionary, but one where they give you tons of different passages where your word or sentence is being used, so you can see how others have translated it before. This is great when you're trying to find the perfect translation (nuance included) to what you're thinking about in the language you wish to translate.

That's it! These are my four go-to online dictionaries whenever I'm working on my writing. Are there any others that you use that you think should be on this list?

November 1, 2018

10 Fun Gift Ideas For Writers


As the Holiday Season approaches, we are often faced with trying to find gift ideas for our friends and families (or even co-workers).

Here is a list of items I find that other writers like me might find fun and useful, and won't break the piggy bank!

1. Post-It Notes

I use these a lot when brainstorming ideas for my stories, or editing (which I do alternating between working on a screen and paper). This also means I like to have a variety of sticky notes--to either help me quickly find a page or passage, or to add notes/ideas to my chapters (in which case the size of the sticky notes varies).

Here are some types that I like to use:





2. Pens

I go through these really fast--not only do I have them in every bag/purse and over all flat surfaces at my place, but I also write longhand a tremendous amount. Either ideas that come to mind, or copying interesting passages/ideas I've read/heard about; editing on paper; brainstorming (I like to use notebooks for that stage).

For this reason, I like to have fun pens that are also light (especially if you end up writing a lot). So here are a few that I like, from just silly and fun, to silly but a little more refined:




3. Lined Notebooks

I use varying kinds of notebooks (but all have to be lined), depending on the purpose. For instance, I like them to be bigger when I know which story I'm going to develop next, but need to come up with the ideas for the story (brainstorming scenes, events, people, places, etc, etc).
However, I like medium-sized notebooks when I'm studying writing. By this, I mean that I read a lot, and when I find a passage or dialogue or even just a vocabulary word that I find really well written, I like to copy it down. I also like to write down interesting descriptions or thoughts that I come up with, so I don't forget them. And most items are noted depending on the type (D for dialogue, for example, and d for description, etc.).
Finally, I like the smaller notebooks for whenever I leave the house, that way if an idea strikes me, I can just pull it out along with one of my fun pens, and write down my idea before I can forget it.



4. Special Address Book

I use an address book (only 1 kind) to keep track of all my characters in alphabetical order (what they look like, key elements of their lives, when they die and of what, etc), so I can make sure to stay consistent throughout the story. This is particularly helpful when working on a long book or series with a lot of characters.
The reason I reallllllly like this particular address book is that, apart from alphabetical separations, the pages themselves are only lined. Nothing else (not even icons)! This allows me to put down as much (or as little) info as I want. Absolutely LOVE them :)


5. Inspirational Mugs

I know that every writer mentions coffee or tea, to the point that the image has become a cliché. But it's really anchored in truth. When you spend hours every day anchored to your desk working on a story, you need a little something (however trivial it may seem to others) to make yourself feel better (especially when the writing gets tough, and believe me, we all get those days).
So when I have to wake up extra early to work on my writing (which is every day before work), one of the things I love is having a series of beautiful and inspirational mugs to choose from to drink my tea with. Here are some I think others may like as well.



6. Other Miscellaneous Items

Remember that we writers spend wayyyyy too many hours sitting at a desk, which we all know to be very bad for our health...and (I admit) can get boring from time to time. Here are therefore some items that I enjoy as a writer as well, to either make myself more comfortable, help ease my back/neck/leg pains, or are simply entertaining.



There you go, I hope this list has been able to help you come up with a fun and useful present for the writer(s) in your life (or yourself--I place high value in rewarding yourself as well ^^)!


Note: Please see Disclaimer on side bar for info on links.

July 29, 2018

Meditation Powers On The Brain

Art by dandingeroz
I am currently reading (among, possibly, 20 other books...yeah, I need to work on that) Mind to Matter: The Astonishing Science of How Your Brain Creates Material Reality, and though I'm still quite at the beginning, I already have so much food for thought!

The book talks about the science behind how our mind and thoughts can alter physical reality, starting with our own brain. As part of the intro on this topic, it brings up an article written by Tang, Hötzel, & Postner in 2015, which I'll partially transcribe down here for you.

The article talks about an astrophysicist/journalist, Phillips, who decided to check how meditation would affect his brain, and test it medically (to convince his skeptical self should there really be any major effects):

By Robert Voight/Adobe Stock
"After just two weeks of practicing mindfulness meditation, Phillips felt less stressed and more able to handle the challenges of his job and life.;He reported that he 'notices stress but doesn't get sucked into it.'
Eight weeks later, he [went back] for testing. ... They found that he was better at behavioral tasks, even though he showed diminished brain activity. ... [H]is brain had become more energy efficient. ... His memory tests also improved.
His reaction time to unexpected events had been cut by almost half a second. (...)
One of the brain regions the researchers measured the hippocampus, ... and the part of [it] responsible for regulation emotion in other parts of the brain. ... They found that the volume of nerve cells in th[at part of the hippocampus] had increased by 22.8%.
...Such brain reconfiguration is occasionally seen in young people whose brains are still growing, but it is rarely seen in adults. (...)
[There is an] accumulation of a large body of evidence [that has] identified neural growth in 'multiple brain regions...suggesting that the effects of meditation might involve large-scale brain networks.'"

So reading this, I of course totally want to try it out (especially if meditation will allow me to get less angry at, say, loud neighbors that keep me up all night, or help me stay focused on my writing). Despite being terrible at sitting for long periods of time with nothing to do but focus on my breathing and whatnot.

BUT...

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli
Meditation is a double-edged sword.

Indeed, meditation can exacerbate problems instead of helping us overcome them, particularly if we are already suffering from certain mental or personality conditions.

So instead of calming us down, meditation could instead "trigger anxiety, depressive episodes, or flashbacks to past traumas," and turn one more aggressive. In worse cases, it can truly make you lose your mind entirely, lose yourself and your identity entirely as "the boundaries of [your] ego dissolve," and push you towards suicide.

So, yeah. There's that too.

All of this does prove that meditation changes your brain, but whether it's for the better is not necessarily a given. And with my kind of writer's mind, I think I need to be careful. So for now I think I'll stick to what I know works for me, which is what I like to call "active meditation" or exercise (which I definitely don't do enough of, quite frankly).

Still, it is fascinating to see how much of an influence our thoughts have on our body, is it not?

Additional Sources:
When Mindfulness Goes Wrong
What Mindfulness Gurus Don't Tell You: Meditation Has a Dark Side

June 18, 2018

King Arthur Podcast Episode

The Legendary Sword in the Stone of San Galgano

Just found out (thanks to a colleague of mine) about this really cool podcast channel called Stuff You Should Know. I don't know if you're already familiar with it, but there was a recent episode on it that was all about "Was there a real King Arthur?"

In it, the two hosts, Josh and Chuck, try to piece together what could be real facts from the Arthurian myths we've inherited.

And it was actually quite entertaining. You get to learn things like what Avalon meant (answer: the Land of Apples), or that some theorize that the name 'Arthur' is derived from the nickname 'Arth,' which means bear (and therefore could refer to any man of imposing stature and physical prowess--so more like the cousins Gareth and Gauvain, than our Arthur in the Morgana Trilogy).

Anyway, I don't know whether you enjoy podcasts at all (I find them really great when I'm working on repetitive projects), but thought I'd share this with you. Enjoy!

June 11, 2018

On Productivity - Making Grand Gestures


I've been reading a really interesting book lately, called Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. Found out about it because I realized I was having major concentration issues (partly due to my lately-discovered gluten allergy, but not only to that).

The book states that a key to advance in any worthwhile project (including at work), is to have the ability to get into the zone and do some deep work for long stretches of time. This entails detoxing from immediate reward activities such as going through my emails, surfing the Internet, checking out Amazon, twitter, or browsing Instagram... Yeah, easier said than done.

Other things just as crucial, but harder to control, including going to *cough*lock yourself up in*cough* a quiet space, one where people aren't likely to distract you. That's basically impossible in an open work space like the one at my current job (yes, I do have a regular job, as evidenced by my long absences on this--and other--forums).

Anyway, Deep Work is a really interesting read for anyone who wants to get things done, and also includes tips and tricks for people with varying types of jobs and activities.

Here's an excerpt I found particularly interesting to me, since it mentions the mighty J. K. Rowling, and her struggle to write the final book of her awesome Harry Potter series (I cannot compare myself to her, but the struggle to finish my Morgana Trilogy is definitely quite an arduous journey for me too):

   In the early winter of 2007, J.K. Rowling was struggling to complete The Deathly Hallows, the final book in her Harry Potter series. The pressure was intense, as this book bore the responsibility of tying together the six that preceded it in a way that would satisfy the series' hundreds of millions of fans. Rowling needed to work deeply to satisfy these demands, but she was finding unbroken concentration increasingly difficult to achieve at her home office in Edinburgh, Scotland. 

"As I was finishing Deathly Hallows there came a time where the window cleaner came, the kids were at home, the dogs were barking," Rowling recalled in an interview. 

It was too much, so J.K. Rowling decided to do something extreme to shift her mind-set where it needed to be: She checked into a suite in the five-star Balmoral Hotel, located in the heart of downtown Edinburgh.

"So I came to this hotel because it's a beautiful hotel, but I didn't intend to stay here," she explained. "[But] the first day's writing went well so I kept coming back...and I ended up finishing the last of the Harry Potter books [here]."

Interesting tidbit I actually wasn't yet aware of (shame on me). However much I wish I could do the same, my own life doesn't permit me to make that grand a gesture towards focusing on the editing/writing of Curse of the Fey (apparently the hotel costs $1,000 a night). But I try to do something similar whenever I can: go to a cafe (hopefully quiet--I'm not usually very lucky in this department, though), rent a cabin for a weekend (that one turned out to be quite fun and productive), go to my aunt's and uncle's place where I'm lucky enough to have full use of their office...

The Balmoral Edinburgh suite where J.K. Rowling stayed to finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

What about you, what kind of grand gesture do you find yourself doing to be able to get your important projects done?

May 10, 2018

When Life Gets Tough

"The tougher the circumstances are in our life and the more the odds are stacked against us, often the more of a catalyst those circumstances will be in propelling us to find our dream."  - Hero

February 23, 2018

Pleasure Vs. Happiness


I don't quite remember how I fell on this book (the joys of happenstance) by Robert H. Lustig, but The Hacking of the American Mind is turning out to be quite an interesting read (although it should change its title, because it certainly doesn't just apply to Americans)!

In it, he states that there are two clear definitions of the terms Pleasure and Happiness:

Pleasure, which comes from the French word plaisir, is a concept of reward:

  1. It's immediate
  2. It provides some level of excitement/amusement
  3. It's dependent on circumstance
Happiness, on the other hand, is about being content, about well-being and human flourishing (aka physical and/or spiritual growth:
  1. It's about life
  2. It's not prone to acute changes in one's life (so no roller-coaster of emotions)
  3. It's unrelated to circumstances--anyone can be happy!
These two states can certainly happen concurrently, but they also can affect one another in negative ways that I certainly hadn't always suspected (going all the way down to the molecular level of our brain!). In fact, "chronic excessive reward eventually leads to both addiction and depression," what Robert Lustig calls the twin epidemics, and therefore too much pleasure can actually prevent us from being happy.

For your (and my) ease, I've created a quick table of the 7 differences between reward (pleasure) and contentment (happiness) as expressed in The Hacking of the American Mind:


Note here that it's important to have some level of dopamine (it would actually be really bad not to), but it is addictive, whereas serotonin...isn't. On top of that, in terms of evolution, dopamine is
"stronger" than serotonin, or we'd still be cavemen (if still around at all) since dopamine is a hormone that keeps us motivated. But this also means that, if we're constantly releasing dopamine into our brains, we're effectively destroying our dopamine receptors...and our ability to feel happiness.*

Knowing this, it only makes the following fact all that scarier:

In his research and analysis, Robert Lustig has come to realize that "in the last half century, America and most of the Western world have become more and more unhappy, sicker, and broke as well. Marketing, media, and technology have capitalized on subverting our brain physiology to their advantage in order to veer us away from the pursuit of happiness to the pursuit of pleasure, which for them, of course equals the pursuit of profit."


"In fact, [these corporations'] recipes are continuing to improve: as the science of reward is elaborated and becomes more precise, new techniques in neuromarketing are now becoming mainstream. And as corporations have profited big from increased consumption of virtually everything with a price tag promising happiness, we have lost big-time. America has devolved from the aspirational, achievement-oriented "city on a hill" we once were, into the addicted and depressed society that we've now become.
Because we abdicated happiness for pleasure. 
Because we got cheap."

And you thought the world in Game of Thrones was bad**! 

In any case, after this intense intro, I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest of his book, including how indeed we did get hacked, and how we can claim our brains back (OK, this definitely sounds like a weird zombie movie now). I'll probably share a couple more nuggets as I go along :)

*OK, so this is highly simplified, and we have loads more hormones, but this doesn't make the above facts wrong either.

**I'm still crying that the last season won't come out till 2019, yes, yes, I too fall prey to this society of consumption, especially when it comes to stories...and sweets...and tea... Gah!

February 10, 2018

The Suckitudiness Of Self-Doubt

I suck at writing. My book sucks. My story blows.

Three tiny sentences I've repeated to myself on and off over the last couple of years. Something every writer experiences (at least from what I can tell from countless interviews, but perhaps there are a few lucky ones out there). Over and over again. And I assume it's the same no matter which art or profession on follows, or project one wishes to accomplish.

The key to winning this battle is to acknowledge this fear, take a deep breath, and then stick your butt in your chair (or wherever it needs to be to do what needs to be done) and just force yourself to work through that mental cement wall. It's not easy. I keep falling down because of it (this is one of the three main reasons why the third book in the Morgana Trilogy is taking so long to finally get into your hands), but the trick is to keep getting back up, right?

So no matter what your inner demons are telling you, keep faith in yourself, in what you're trying to accomplish. Get back up, and fight for yourself and your dreams! I will do the same.

Art by Narya Blackfyre

February 4, 2018

Unwritten Romance Storytelling Rule

I recently came across this quote by Hayao Miyazaki (yes, I'm a total fan of his) about how he likes to portray relationships in his stories(1):


I feel that in our day and age, when there's a huge backlash against typical fairy tales and a strong push to have girls and women take a bigger role in all storytelling (which I highly approve of), it's important not to forget either that the best relationships (in my opinion) are those based on mutuality: Mutual respect, mutual inspiration, mutual love...


Notes:
(1) If you haven't seen any of his movies, I highly recommend them--not only are they beautiful, but the stories are heart-warming in the best of ways! And if you wish to know which you'd like to see first...well all the ones portrayed here are a good place to start, without forgetting My Neighbor Totoro, and my personal favorite, Whispers of the Heart :)

January 1, 2018

Wisdom


Those who are already wise no longer love wisdom - whether they are gods or men.
Similarly, those whose own ignorance as made them bad, rotten, evil, 
do not strive for wisdom either. For no evil or ignorant person ever strives
for wisdom.

What remains are those who suffer from ignorance but still retain some sense
and understanding. They are conscious of knowing what they don't know.

~Socrates, in Plato's Lysis, 4th c. BC