September 30, 2014

Smile = Get Out Of Jail Free Card?

Yes indeed! Or at least give you a more lenient sentence from the authorities.

According to a research done in 1995, subjects who smiled usually ended up with a less severe reprimands than those who didn't (especially on minor issues)--even though they weren't seen as being less guilty. The reason being that a person who smiles appears to be more trustworthy fore we appear more sociable, attractive, and therefore more likable.

As you can see, smiles can be used for far more things than just a warning instead of a ticket, for example.

Smiles have been found to:

  1. increase people's willingness to trust you by ~10%;
  2. reduce any distress felt (at embarrassing yourself in front of others, say) -- though smiling at things inappropriately might make you feel better, but it won't endear you to others;
  3. and reduces stress so you can think about a problem better;
  4. it can also improve your poker face (if done well);
  5. get bigger tips;
  6. 50% of the time you're likely to get others to respond in kind;
  7. and you could prolong your lifespan as well!
  8. Besides, smiling makes you feel good, so why not practice it more often?
And for you ladies, a little smile when feeling "in the mood" will heighten your chances up to 60%! (Sorry guys, apparently this is more of a one-way street...)

So go on ahead, grab your mirror and start practicing!

Research Gate

September 23, 2014

Writing Children Stories In Rhymes

Ever since I've been a child, I've always enjoyed reading children's stories and nurseries in rhymes.

The rhythm of them lulls my senses to relaxation and I get to fully immerse myself in a tale of wonders and whimsicality that I don't necessarily get from books for older audiences.

Needless to say, as I go forth on my writerly quest, I have dabbled in coming up with tales in my own verses.

And in the process, I fell on this little gem that I thought I'd share with anyone else interested in creating Rhyming Picture Books:

Ode To Rhyming
If you are determined to write books in rhyme,
Make sure that your meter is smooth all the time.
Watch out where you place those long sounding words,
Or you will end feeding your text to the birds!

Craft stories that interest both parents and tot.
With fun situations that develop your plot.
Be careful with end-rhyme - these words must ring true,
And push the plot forward with things that are new.

Give thought to the words you fling onto your page,
Think of each as a gem sparkling bright for the age.
Snuggle up with Thesaurus - make him your special guy,
Then steal verbs and adjectives that make your rhyme fly!

Don't go into details - let the artwork do that.
Please, take up your clippers and prune out the fat.
Keep your rhyming way under those 1,000 words.
Or rejections will follow in gargantuan herds.

Make your verses paint pictures an artist can 'see,'
Drop clues in the rhyme that are plain as can be.
When words come together with pictures that glow,
Both writer and artist have a proud work to show.

And when you have finished your wonderful book,
Will publishers knock, begging you for a look?
Oh dear, no! You will first have to master the skill
Of queries, that prove your book fits their 'tough' bill.

~by Margot Finke

Wasn't this lovely? I particularly enjoyed how intertwined both writing and pictures are in these stories. Reminds me a bit of screenwriting, where the writer shouldn't put too much down on paper, to give more freedom to the actors and director for interpretation--thereby making movies (and picture books) a true team effort!
by Pamela Perry

September 16, 2014

On Generosity

I'm currently reading Dale Carnegie's How To Make Friends And Influence People (the version revised to match with our modern, tech-obsessed world), and am finding it truly interesting!

In it, there's a chapter talking about 'sharing the credit' for all the successes you encounter, and doing so genuinely gratefully, for then will you reinforce your relationships with people. They then use a homily to beautifully illustrate this fact:

The Sea of Galilee is teeming with fish and life. The Dead Sea is dead and devoid of life. They are both fed by the sparkling water of the River Jordan, so what's the difference? The Sea of Galilee gives all its water away. The Dead Sea keeps it all for itself. Like the Dead Sea, when we keep all that is fresh and good for ourselves, we turn our lives into a briny soup of salty tears.

September 13, 2014

Hounded - Iron Druid Volume I Review

Today, I shall speak to you about Kevin Hearne's Hounded: The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book One.

Hounded is a hodgepodge of world mythologies centered around a modern, smart-mouthed, 2100 year old "Iron Druid" named Atticus O'Sulllivan whose real name is the slightly less easily pronounceable Siodhachan O Suileabhain. And today's Druids don't "[wear] white robes and [grow] beards like cumulonimbus clouds," as Atticus likes to point out. In fact, the only remaining Druid on earth likes his hot, drool-worthy 21-year old body (trick to immortality's given in the book).

To comprehend this mishmash of divinities coming in and out of his world, demons, here is how Atticus explains it:

[T]he universe is exactly the size that your soul can encompass. Some people live in extremely small worlds, and some live in a world of possibility.

Of course, what would a Druid be without his trusted sidekick, the wolfhound Oberon (who's awfully smart for just a regular old dog). The two banter throughout the book (because of course they talk to each other), whether it's work-related (Atticus has his own shop):

<I'm coming to the shop with you?> he asked, his ears raised in query.
"Aye, you need to remain at my side until this business is finished. Do I need to remind you not to sniff my customers' asses?"
<You just did. and very subtly too, thank you very much.>

...or "work"-related (aka Druid stuff):

<I like the blond [witch]. She knows how to show respect,> Oberon said from behind the counter.
I busied myself making Emily's tea and spoke to him through our link. Yes, well, she's decided to take the high road, so I'll be happy to walk it with her as long as she likes.
<You don' trust her?>
Nope. She's a witch. A polite witch, but still a witch. She's got a charm on her hair that would have had me giving her anything she wanted if I hadn't been wearing protection. Don't take anything from her, by the way.
<You think she's going to pull a sausage out of her coat or something? She doesn't even know I'm here.>
Oh yes she does. Emily has probably already told her.
<Okay, fine. But seriously. You think she has a magic sausage for me?>

In the midst of rutting after every attractive girl (who incidentally gets the hots for him too), Atticus has to deal with his nemesis, a god, witches, an over-confident Tuatha De Danann warrior called Bres, Fir Bolgs (stinky giants with spears), and a plethora of other mythological and ordinary folk.

The main Celtic pantheon he has to deal (whether good, bad or neutral), include the following members of the Tuatha De Danann:

1) Aenghus Og:

[S]ome accounts provide a better picture of his character by also telling of his deeds, such as taking his father's house from him by trickery and slaying both his stepfather and his foster mother. Or the time he left a girl who was hopelessly in love with him and who died of grief a few weeks later. That's more the kind of man we are talking about.
No, the Celtic god of love isn't a cherub with cute little wings, nor is he a siren born of the sea in a giant clamshell. He is not benevolent or merciful or even inclined to be nice on a regular basis. Though it pains me to think of it because of what it says about my people, our god of love is a ruthless seeker of conquest, wholly self-serving, and more than a little vindictive.

Imagine her w/ bow & arrow

2) Flidais:

Flidais and her kind are forever rooted in Bronze Age morality, which goes something like this: If it pleases me, then it is good and I want more; If it displeases me, then it must be destroyed as soon as possible, but preferably in a way that enhances my reputation so that I can achieve immortality in the songs of bards.


3) The Morrigan:

[T]he Morrigan is not renowned for her bullshit detection. She is more renowned for whimsical slaughter and recreational torture.

I had a lot of fun reading through the story. Kevin Hearne's instilled so many funny, snarky passages, I couldn't help be smile (and sometimes chuckle) throughout the book.

The only thing I'd have to say about the humor is that Hearne also tries to be funny (or worse, philosophize) in the middle of battles which takes away from the immediacy of the fight. It's hard to imagine anyone having the time to think so straight in the middle of life-threatening battles, even if you are that old and experienced. Unless Atticus's adrenal glands don't work like those of humans anymore, which is entirely possible.

I understand that the story is told in the past tense, so technically Atticus telling the story now (a definite giveaway that he's going to survive everything, unless he turns into a ghost or something) means he can interject his current philosophies, even in the middle of deadly battles. But the effect remains the same: it takes away from the immediacy of the action and therefore doesn't elevate our blood pressure as we read (which, for my own health, is actually a good thing). Such philosophizing includes the following entertaining passage:

Drug addicts perplex me. They're a relatively recent development, historically speaking. Everyone has their theories--monotheists like to blame it on Godlessness--but I think it was a plague that developed in the sooty petticoats of the Industrial Revolution and its concomitant division of labor. Once people specialized their labors and separated themselves from food production and the daily needs of basic survival, there was a hollow place in their lives that they did not know how to fill. Most people found healthy ways to fill it, with hobbies or social clubs or pseudo-sports like shuffleboard and tiddlywinks. Others didn't.

The only other point that had me occasionally roll my eyes is: Why does every goddess and most other (stunning) female  automatically have the hots for Atticus? Unless he's related to one of the many gods/goddesses of love, that is. Wouldn't it be funny if Aenghus (originally a god of love, might I repeat) turned out to be his father. Then we could have a whole "Atticus, I am your father" scene.

Anyway, these two points didn't make me enjoy the story any less, and I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest of the series (though it's still in progress--5 out of 7 intended books are currently available) and recommend it to anyone who enjoys urban fantasies with sassy protagonists!

Oh, and one final note (or warning, really). Should you ever travel through Arizona and happen to cross paths with Siodhachan O Suileabhain, please remember his words:

I tend to take the long view on dealing with irritating people--as in, I'm going to outlive whoever irritates me, so the problem will eventually go away. I had privately changed "This, too, shall pass" into "You, too, shall die," and it helped me avoid all sorts of conflict.

September 9, 2014

Character Development

I was recently asked by a young writer I met while guest-lecturing at a writing camp for some tips and tricks on how to come up with good characters that people would want to read about. So, after lots of mulling and reading on the topic as a refresher, I came up with a really long and detailed answer that I figured I'd then share with you. Just in case any of you might be interested :)


Pick first a person or character that you truly admire, and write down the reasons why. Why do you remember him/her so well? What struck you?

Now think about the story you want to create. Think about the “inciting incident” and the “point of no return” in your story, and how both of those events would affect your character. This will flavor how you shape him/her.

Next, here are some pointers when trying to come up with your main character.

First, what are his/her characteristics, i.e. observable qualities that make him/her unique? (Physical appearance, coupled with mannerisms, style of speech and gesture, sexuality, age, IQ, occupation, personality, attitudes, values, where he/she lives, how he/she lives…). You don’t have to be super detailed about it, because the most important aspect is the second point.

Second, what’s your character’s “true persona”? This is what he/she truly is when he/she gets tested throughout the story on his/her way to what he truly desires (to help you on this point, think about what your main character wants, and why, though the why can remain a little mysterious too to account for the fact that human beings can be a little irrational as well). On that point, it’s important to note that most people want the main character to be someone who’s considered to be larger than life (yet feels real—which is why writers will attribute their heroes/heroines some flaws too). Think back to your first exercise and why you liked other heroes so much. What kind of qualities do you want to attribute him/her?

To help you in this regard, here are some key attributes to think about regarding your main character:
  • What’s his/her strength? Street smarts, compassion, intuition, wisdom, discipline, humor, hope, perseverance, humility, etc.
  •  Inner conflict. I mentioned above that your hero’s/heroine’s true persona will shine through, via actions, when faced with dilemmas. One source of such dilemmas is internal conflict—do I go find my one true love before he leaves for ever and we can live happily together ever after, or do I keep my promise to this little girl who doesn’t want to die alone? This point is really important, because readers are drawn by the struggles your character goes through. If everything was always peachy, it would make for one helluva boring story, don’t you think?
  • Self-regard. This too is important, because if your main character doesn’t care about what’s happening to him/her and around him/her, then why should the reader care? The more your character’s immersed in his/her own feelings, the more your reader will feel them too (I think that’s why the Twilight series did so well).
  • Wit and spontaneity. Again, make your main character greater than life, because he/she needs to do and say things we ordinary readers wouldn’t normally do. And again, actions speak louder than words.


Though a lot of stories that have such as the central “anti-hero” figure, a lot of them have failed in taking off because the author made them too dark and despicable, without any redeeming qualities. You want to write about a jihadist? His love of his daughter and a (what he believes to be) a better world for her is what redeems him to the eyes of the readers. And make sure this quality that makes your anti-hero humane to a certain level is shown very early on (as in the first few pages)—otherwise your readers won’t stick long enough to see how he/she goes through the rest of your story.

In this case, having your anti-hero make a profound transformation at the end of your story can be very profound and mark your readers as well—but only if you truly show how he/she’s battled everything in his/her way (outside and inside conflicts) while working towards that change. Again, the larger the conflicts and the harder it is for your character to get to his/her goal, the more rewarding the ending will be.


I don’t just mean “the treasure chest” or the “pile of gold guarded by the dragon.” It has to be something more rewarding (and therefore profound) than that. It has to be something your main character’s truly longing for, from the depths of his/her soul. Such as feeling the love of her family, being at peace with himself, accepting herself for who she is, etc.


What you want to think about when building your cast is contrast. That is, how they provide conflict for your main character—whether it’s by providing physical obstacles, or by contradicting your hero’s/heroine’s views. Once again, the more friction (and how your main character solves or doesn’t solve his/her issues) there is, the more your reader will be drawn in. I think a cute yet good example is given by Kronk (from The Emperor’s New Groove) and his shoulder angel vs. shoulder demon. They both provide friction by attempting to stop him from what he’s doing (his shoulder angel telling him to not kill Cuzco), or from going against his moral standards (his shoulder demon telling him to “go down the path that rocks”).

A pitfall writers may have is when they have too many secondary characters who then wash out. To avoid this problem, think about your cast and see if there aren’t any characters you can’t combine (say those who have similar views/standards). This will make that secondary character more focused, and therefore more memorable (vs. having a diluted point of view which then has less impact). When it’s hard for readers to differentiate between characters or even remember them, it’s because they haven’t been sufficiently individualized.

Your cast will also provide different viewpoints of your main character, and thereby help your hero/heroine get more and more fleshed out because your readers will be able to see him/her through someone else’s eyes (whether in a good or bad light).

The only thing I want to say about this point, is to draw him/her/it as well as you draw your hero/heroine. The reason being that the stronger your antagonist, the more it will elevate your own main character as well, and render their fight/opposition that much more epic.


The answer is by picking the character with the most conflict, the one who changes the most, who journeys the furthest, who’s the most captivating character.

And no matter which character you’re writing about, make sure to use yourself and your feelings to portray them (by putting yourself in their shoes). The more open and truthful to your own feelings you are, the more that sincerity will transpire on the screen/paper, and the more you’ll touch your readers.

I know some other writers who pretend to interview their main cast at a bar, to see how they would answer and get a better idea of their background and personalities to help them sort things through. But don’t worry if you don’t have it down immediately, you can play around with ideas until you feel satisfied you have a good protagonist in place. Then move on from there to show how he/she will change throughout the story (your character arc).

I know, this was an extremely long read, but I hope it has helped some of you when coming up with your own stories. Of course, please feel free to leave any questions you may have in the comments section, and I will do my best to answer them :)

Happy writings!

For those of you who want to read more on the topic (and even more so on writing in general), here are two good books for you:

Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers

September 2, 2014

Feeling Low Or Depressed? Blame Your Sweet Tooth

I’m a total sugar addict. There, I’ve said it.

Which would explain why I've already talked about the evils of sugar before. And, surprise surprise, I have more to say!

If I have sweets, I react like a druggie, and have to eat as many sugary things as I can get my hands on (forget about portion-controlling, give me the whole damn thing!), even long after I enjoy them anymore. Then, as is inevitable, as my insulin levels drop, so does my mood and mental well-being.

According to a research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, those who eat diets high in sugars and refined foods (like bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, alcohol, juices, and processed foods) which turn into sugar in our system are 58% more at risk to have depression. On the other hand, those who eat better meals, with more whole foods, were 26% less likely to get depressed.

So what causes this sugar crash? Here are a few hints as to the biology behind this phenomenon which I know doesn’t affect just me...


1. supplies very little nutrients;
2. uses up the mood-enhancing vitamin B;
3. diverts the supply of chromium which is vital in keeping your blood sugar level constant (and thus not getting severe mood swings and other nastinesses) via your insulin;
4. suppresses the activity of the BDNF (or brain-derived neurotrophic factor; also known as the brain growth hormone) hormone;
5. is the root of chronic inflammation which:
   a. impacts the brain—the neurotransmitters’ ability to communicate properly is impeded, especially in the hippocampus region which is in charge of memory, mood, etc.
   b. the GI tract (responsible for 80% of your immune system)—sugar feeds harmful gut bacteria (like H. Pylori) that then attacks your gut and allows for harmful toxins and food particles that haven’t been broken down enough to enter your blood stream, and from there the rest of your body.

Lovely, isn’t it?

I know some people very dear to me who’ve been taking antidepressants for years. Unfortunately, that is not the solution. They just provide a temporary patch, without fixing the root cause, and double as very addicting drugs too (which only compounds the problem, methinks).

Of course, sugar is important to our good health as well, but in smaller quantities. One way to resolve the problem is to avoid all processed foods and eat more fibers (like from vegetables and fruit) which reduce the speed at which sugar’s absorbed. Exercise is also important, and so is making sure you have enough vitamins B and D, omega 3 fatty acids, and probiotics in your diet.

America’s Sugar Addiction: How Our Need for A Sweet Fix Has Expanded Our Waistlines

Psychology Today
Depression Anxiety Diet

September 1, 2014

University Life - Paris, 13th century C.E.

It's that time of year again! The beginning of a new school year :)

As students start college, I'm reminded of my first semester at the University of San Diego. How overwhelmed and lost I felt, terrified of this new educational system I didn't know, of getting poor grades (many a tear was shed after computer science classes), and being forced to return to Belgium.

Thankfully, I had the help of some wonderful friends and even more wonderful professors, and thanks to them I learned to love learning.

So, for those of you wondering what's to happen to them on this new adventure of theirs, I thought this account of student life at the "model for northern European universities and the study of logic" might bring an interesting contrast (and perhaps some similarities?) to today's universities.

Almost all the students at Paris, foreigners and natives, did absolutely nothing except learn or hear something new. Some studied merely to acquire knowledge, which is curiosity; others to acquire fame, which is vanity; others still for the sake of gain, which is cupidity and the vice of simony. Very few studied for their own edification, or that of others. They wrangled and disputed not merely about the various sects or about some discussions, but the differences between the countries also caused dissensions, hatreds and virulent animosities among them, and they impudently uttered all kinds of affronts and insults against one another.

They affirmed that the English were drunkards and had tails; the sons of France proud, effeminate and carefully adorned like women.

They said that the Germans were furious and obscene at their feasts; the Normans, vain and boastful; the Poitevins, traitors and always adventurers.

The Burgundians they considered vulgar and stupid. 

The Bretons were reputed to be fickle and changeable, and were often reproached for the death of Arthur.

The Lombards were called avaricious, vicious and cowardly; the Romans, seditious, turbulent and slanderous; the Sicilians, tyrannical and cruel; the inhabitants of Brabant, men of blood, incendiaries, brigands, and ravishers; the Flemish, fickle, prodigal, gluttonous, yielding as butter, and slothful. 

After such insults form words they often came to blows.

I will not speak of those logicians before whose eyes flitted constantly 'the lice of Egypt,' that is to say, all the sophistical subtleties, so that no one could comprehend their eloquent discourses in which, as say Isaiah, 'there is no wisdom.' 
Don't both the teacher and students look so happy?!

As to the doctors of theology, 'seated in Moses' set,' they were swollen with learning, but their charity was not edifying. Teaching and not practicing, they have 'become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal,' or like a canal of stone, always dry, which ought to carry water to 'the bed of spices.'

They not only hated one another, but by their flatteries they enticed away the students of others; each one seeking his own glory, but caring not a whit about eh welfare of souls.

Have a wonderful school year and enjoy it all as much as possible (vacation time as well, if you can, trust me)!

The Heritage of World Civilizations: Combined Volume (9th Edition)
Text: Translations and reprints from the Original Sources of European History, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: Department of History, University of Pennsylvania, 1902)