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Writing Hacks

Hacks make our lives easier by removing barriers to ease and success. I hope these writing hacks do that for you.

One of the most integral parts of writing is to know your characters deeply. If you are a person that writes by the seat of your pants, a pantser, you may not always know the ins and outs of your story when you start a writing project like us outliners do. One thing both types of writers need is a clear, personal connection with your characters. How can you build a complicated- layered story about your protagonist if you don’t know them inside and out.  The next few hacks will help you get inside your character’s head.

1-Character development sheets.

These are widely available all over the internet. Here are a few of my favorites. (Character Worksheets) These can be brief, and just give you some personal info, descriptions, and backstory, or they can be hundreds of questions long, and include things like the character’s favorite song, meal, and the reason they secretly hate their father. This is the time I always develop a soundtrack to my book too. I think about my characters favorite songs, and create a playlist on Youtube or Spotify. It helps me to be able to get into my protagonist, antagonist, and love interest’s minds. It also lays a groundwork for a feeling or an era that my character is currently experiencing. These are the soundtracks to Myths, Monsters, and Mary, Hundred Book Summer, and Tilted.

2-Character art.  

I personally love character art during my writing process. My characters are framed around my writing area to remind me who i’m bringing to life. I go to comic conventions, and their are always a lot of artists that take commissions. I take them my character development sheets, and maybe print off a few key scenes about my character, and let them do their magic. You can also find artists on Fiverr (I have had both great and bad experiences on Fiverr, so carefully read reviews, and what they offer), and there are probably some other places. If you know any leave them in the comments. Make sure you do not pay for your art before receiving it. I prepaid for a well-known artist to do some character art for Myths, Monsters, and Mary at a convention. They got really busy, but promised to mail me the art in a few days. Three months later, after many calls and emails, I received a hastily done sketch as an email attachment.  Be specific when ordering your art, pay when you receive it, and only choose an artist whose work you enjoy. Here is some of my art, and as you can see some are much better than others.12033570_10153659770962743_753489214_n

3-World building.

Whether you are building a complicated Tolkien-style world, or if you have set your story in Dallas. Know your surroundings. I set most of my books in the made up town of Landover, Missouri, and I created a map of my city, so I’d always know where I was writing about. Here is a link to world building questionnaires that will help you get to the heart of your city. If you are placing your story in a real city, then google a map, so you know your way around.

 

Every writer stands to profit from increasing their knowledge of the art of writing.The next few hacks will help you with honing your craft.

4-Befriend writers.

Making writer friends isn’t always easy since we writers are often somewhat introverted. Again, conventions are a great place to network with writers, but social media has made it easier than ever to contact other artists. From Twitter and Tumblr to NaNoWriMo– there is a world of authors out there that know what you are going through. My best friend and my husband are writer-editors, and if it weren’t for social media I wouldn’t know either of them.

5-Increase your writing knowledge. Whether it’s watching writing videos on Youtube, taking a writing course, or attending a workshop you should always be refining your writing skill. Jenna Moreci, Ellen Brock, and Ava Jae are some of my favorite Youtubers. They are always posting fresh, easy to watch writing videos. They are also writers, and they are very responsive to their subscribers. You can always take writing classes, but be careful there are a lot of shady companies out there that are willing to pocket your money, and not give you much in return. I did take the James Patterson Masterclass, and it had a lot of good information in it. It cost around $100, so it’s not a bad deal. Writers workshops are a little more expensive, and usually require some significant travel. Here is a list of a few workshops.

6-Find some BetaReaders.

Betareaders are people that read your work, usually as it’s completed, and give you feedback. This feedback is key in making sure you are crafting a book that people will understand and enjoy. Sometimes you can get friends and family to do this, but they aren’t always motivated to give you honest, critical feedback. A great place to look for Betareaders is on Facebook, Twitter, and Fiverr. But again be wary, because often you get what you pay for. If a Betareader isn’t completing their end of your agreement – cut them loose.

 

Knowing everything about writing won’t do you any good if you aren’t actually writing. The following hacks are about meeting your daily word count.

7-Make a daily writing goal.

The daily target I had while doing NaNoWriMo was 1667 words. That sounds like a lot, but it is the minimum you have to do to complete a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I completed my book, Hundred Book Summer in 15 days. I did that by giving myself a reasonable goal, and then exceeding it as I felt comfortable. Sometimes I barely made my goal, but there were also a few 10,000 word days. Since I always work with an outline I know what I need to cover each time I start writing, and even though sometimes I get off track, the outline is there to put me back to where I need to be. Plan in advance for these writing binges, by stocking up on healthy (yeah right) snacks. I did this, because I knew I wouldn’t be leaving my room at meals. 

8-Go off grid.

Another way I made those big word count goals was going off grid. When I was writing Myths, Monsters, and Mary I gave myself 30 days to complete a book that I had been dicking around on for 2 years. I had been writing a few scenes, walking away, and repeating that over and over until I was at a crossroads. I knew I had to finish the book or give-up on calling myself a writer. So for 30 days I removed every game (which was the Sims 4 and Candy Crush) off my computer, deleted every time wasting app off my phone, and wrote. I hung a do not disturb sign on my door, put my cell on airplane mode, and started making my word count goals. I wrote longhand from 3:30am until I started work at 7:30am, and transcribed and edited from 5:00pm until 8:00pm. I treated it like a job, and I got that book done, and it felt glorious.

9-Do the writing.

The number one hack isn’t really a hack at all. You just have to do the writing. A blank page is hell to look at, but write one word and it is less intimidating. Write ten words, and you are on your way. Write one-hundred words, and you’ve showed it who’s boss. Soon you will have hundreds of pages if you don’t give up. DON’T GIVE UP!

 

The Crusades, Islam, and The Silk Road

The period from the beginning of the Crusades  through their close was a time of great upheaval in the Euro Asian continents. For 176 years there was a constant ebb and flow of changing borders, religions, and political regimes. Christianity and Islam grew simultaneously in adjoining continents, and rarely as comfortable neighbors.

While the different religious factions would skirmish, often near their borders, it wasn’t until Pope Urban II met with Alexius I from the Byzantine Empire that an all-out holy war was waged. Alexius needed Urban’s help in defeating the Turks, and Urban needed to unify the Catholics because an unsatisfied minority had just appointed a secondary Pope.

Urban rallied the Catholics by warning them about the Turks preventing them from visiting the holy lands and by promising them everything from absolution to indulgences. He was able to raise a pilgrimage to the holy lands with a side of war.1. The soldiers echoed the words of their leaders, “deus vult,” or God wills it.

During the nine crusades and the Children’s Crusade, little was done to obtain or retain the holy lands. Eventually the holy wars became about destroying lands that were anti-Catholic. Most of these lands were in Northern Africa. Under Alexius III, crusaders who were stranded and broke in Constantinople pillaged, raped, and killed Christians and Muslims alike. They left the city in such poor condition that it never recovered and was eventually taken over by the Seljuk Turks.2. You would think that would have brought the end of the crusades, but they waged on with five more wars before their final battle.

From the beginning of the People’s Crusade until the close of the last battle, nearly two million people were killed.3. They were pagans, Christians, Islamists, Jewish people, and many unaffiliated people as well. This took a heavy toll on the Islamic territories.

One of those territories, the Abbasid Empire, was more advanced in weaponry and technology than its predecessor, the Umayyad Dynasty. It was also more leery of the outside religions that closed in on its lands forcing them to pay a protection tax. And while the Umayyads increased the geographical growth of the Islamic Empire, the Abbasids expanded the cultural growth. Warriors and explorers in the Umayyad Dynasty gave way to intellectual and cultural innovators. Abbasids believed that God could be understood through rational inquiry and practice, and that belief should always be subject to reason.4.

The Abassids chose to follow a leader that was descended from Muhammed’s youngest uncle, Abbas Ibm Abd al-Muttalib, but the Umayyad political administration was split between two groups, the Sufyanids and the Mawanids. The Umayyad strength actually came from the powerful Syrian army.

The Umayyads had made a practice of allowing other religions to remain active even after their host nations were conquered as long as they paid a tax. Non-Arab Muslims found this very appealing. Many of those people converted to Islam. During the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, lands such as the Caucasus, Transoxiana, Sindh, the Maghreb and Al-Andalus were conquered. The Islamic lands spanned more than 6,000 miles. Both dynasties followed the five pillars of Islam, and they expanded their territory by a tactic known as “spread by the sword.” They differed in who they believed should be in power. Umayyads appointed Mu’awiya leader after the son-in-law of Mohammed was assassinated. During this time there was a lot of infighting between differing groups of Muslims. To alleviate this the Umayyads decreed Arabic to become the national language. This helped to unify the massive Islamic Empire. They also streamlined all of the money to a single coin style, which led to exponential growth in trade.

The Abbasids took control of the Islamic Empire, because of many reasons. The Umayyads were constantly warring which weakened their forces, and there were new plagues showing up all the time; measles, yellow fever, the black plague, and others cut swaths through the cities. The new Abbasid territory continued to prosper despite this. Their capital was moved from Damascus, Syria, to Baghdad, Iraq.5. This caused the Persian culture to move throughout the territory. Persian even became the secondary national language.

This Eastern movement created constant friction with the Chinese territory. During one of these battles a hostage taught the Islamic soldiers how to make paper. The speed at which paper could be produced and its highly portable nature helped to fuel the spread of information throughout the Islamic territories. European teachings — including those of Aristotle, Arabic laws, Greek math, and so much more — were available in every city. They were controlled by newly appointed regional governors who would invoke taxes as they saw fit. Under the Abbasids, the Islamic Territory became a massive kingdom. They eventually were destroyed by the constant wars between the Seljuk Turks and the Byzantines.6.

While the crusades raged on, and the Golden Age of Islam changed the shape of the inhabited world, walkways, paths, and roads became more interconnected.

These roads began linking cities, nations, and continents. Eventually known as the Silk Road, the route became the overland road that transported goods of all types across Europe and Asia. It was called the Silk Road because of the massive quantities of silk that were transported from China and sold or traded to the rest of the world.

Large caravans of merchants traveled and camped along the road. When they camped, they commingled with the locals, and when they moved on, they left mounds of refuse behind.

These things fostered the spread of disease at unprecedented levels. Sexually transmitted infections and many other diseases were being carried from town to town.7.   The worst of these was the Black Death. The plague had sprouted before in much smaller bursts.. Roughly 85 million people died during the pandemic, including 60% of the citizens of Europe. The time of the crusades and the Black Death cut huge swaths out of the populations of the world.

There is, of course, no accurate way to tell what advances in civilization might have been made during this time if it weren’t for the mass deaths. Most scientists were focused on making weapons or curing diseases. Millions of people that might have been the next doctor, inventor, or teacher lost their lives before being able to contribute to society.

 

References

Abbasid – ReligionFacts. (n.d.). Retrieved June 09, 2016, from http://www.religionfacts.com/abbasid-caliphate

Abbasid Caliphate. (n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbasid_Caliphate

History.com Staff. (2010, January 01). Crusades. Retrieved May 11, 2016, from http://www.history.com/topics/crusades

Lesson 1: History of the Abbasid and Umayyad Dynasties. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2016, from http://www.middleeastpdx.org/resources/original/the-golden-age-of-islamic-achievement/lesson-1-history-of-the-abbasid-and-umayyad-dynasties/

Silk Road. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk_Road

Timeline for the Crusades and Christian Holy War. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2016, from http://www.usna.edu/Users/history/abels/hh315/crusades_timeline.htm

  1. (2013, February 24). Abbasid and Umayyad Caliphates. Retrieved June 07, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIafnh6m6vU

Greece and Persia

Ancient Greece and Persia are eminently comparable. Both nations have centuries of history, politics, and culture. To begin with, both have interesting geographical points that make them unique. The mainland of Greece, a nation of over 1,400 islands, is a peninsula. On the western coast of Greece is the Ionian Sea, and between Greece and Turkey is the Aegean Sea; these are just a couple of Greece’s surrounding watery borders, but they are smaller parts of the Mediterranean Sea. Greeks built many harbors and ports along these waterways. The seafaring citizens flourished amidst the vast seas.
Persia existed in the Fertile Crescent in the Near East. The Fertile Crescent ran along the Persian Gulf down into the area that is modern-day Iran. The Fertile Crescent is known as the “cradle of civilization.” The ease of agriculture in the area made for quick population growth in Persia.
That growth led to the expansion of Persian culture.  Persians began to write poetry. There was a time when nearly all text in Persia was written in verse, even medical and law texts. The four kinds of Persian poetry are Epic, Ghasideh, Masnavi, and Ghazal.  Persian literature was considered one of the four main bodies of literature worldwide by Goethe.
Greece was no stranger to this cultural revolution either. The Greeks were the first Europeans to read and write with an alphabet. The dialects of the Greek language were Aeolic, Doric, and Ionic. Much like the English language, the Greek language was influenced by geography, the nationality of outlying peoples, and the nations that the Greeks conquered.
With this alphabet the Greeks developed theater styles that are still alive today. Comedies and tragedies are chief among the Greek theatre types. These have never gone out of style and are the basis of most modern movies and plays.
Many of these plays were complicated tales revolving around the numerous Greek gods and goddesses. There was a god or goddess for virtually every aspect of Greek life, from planting to prostitution.
The Persians, in direct contrast, were the first monotheistic nation. They were Zoroastrians who worshiped the prophet Zoroaster. Zoroastrianism was based on the belief in dualism; a heaven and hell paradigm that persists among other religions still today.
Philip II of Macedon was one of Greece’s most influential leaders. He was a member of the Delphic Council because he used his might and money to get a seat. He conquered many lands, expanding the size of Greece substantially. In fact, he was preparing to invade Persia when he died. This became a missionfor his son, Alexander the Great, who took it upon himself to target the Persian leader, Darius, and track him across Persia.
Alexander conquered one nation after another, naming many of them after himself or his horse. Greece had grown to epic proportions by the time Alexander died.
Greece started as an oligarchy, which meant it was being run by a small group of individuals who were wealthy, male landowners. None of the men had much individual power, and so decisions were decided on by a group consensus. When one man would start craving too much power, he became a tyrant. These tyrannies made life unbearable for the citizenry. Eventually the people began to rise up and come together to form the first democratic government.
Democratic rule is still the norm in Greece today. Modern Greece has become a tourist mecca because of the ruins of its epic past. It does still have its share of troubles. Invading hordes throughout history gave way to financial distress.Greece did fare better than Persia, which was conquered in 330 BC by none other than Alexander the Great.

References
Alexander Defeats The Persians, 331 BC. (n.d.). Retrieved May 04, 2016, from http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/alexander.htm
Ancient Persia. (n.d.). Retrieved May 04, 2016, from https://bmssancientcivilizations.wikispaces.com/Ancient Persia
Greece Timeline. (n.d.). Retrieved May 04, 2016, from http://ancient-greece.org/resources/timeline.html
Persian Culture. (n.d.). Retrieved May 04, 2016, from http://www.persiansarenotarabs.com/persian-culture/
Persian literature. (n.d.). Retrieved May 04, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persian_literature
Philip of Macedon Philip II of Macedonia Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved May 04, 2016, from http://www.historyofmacedonia.org/AncientMacedonia/PhilipofMacedon.html
Understanding Key Geographical Features of Ancient Greece. (n.d.). Retrieved May 04, 2016, from http://www.brighthubeducation.com/help-with-geography/87491-geography-of-ancient-greece/

Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt: A Comparison of Religions

As I was researching the ancient nations of Mesopotamia, India, Egypt, and China, I found it hard to choose only two to compare and contrast. They are all so rich in culture and history that they already have hundreds of books written about them. Many aspects of these great civilizations still influence our lives today.
    Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia have many things in common, but I’m choosing to compare their religious beliefs. Since both nations were polytheistic, I didn’t think that I would have that much to focus on, but there are so many individual gods and goddesses, mores, and worship practices that I hope to be able to get the gist of the subject covered in only two pages.
    The gods in Mesopotamia were blamed and/or praised for nearly every event, good or bad – usually bad, that affected the citizenry. The epic poem of Gilgamesh even claimed that the gods were annoyed by the Mesopotamians for making too much noise, so they sent a flood that wiped out all of humanity. These beliefs about the antagonistic gods made the rituals and ritualists that would appease these gods of highest importance. Priests become critical to the daily existence of the Mesopotamians.
    Eventually the Mesopotamian kings that wanted more power, societal value, and possible immortality began participating in sacred marriage. They would marry and/or have intercourse with the high priestesses of the city’s temple. After this the kings would eventually declare themselves to be priests.
    There were hundreds if not thousands of major deities, minor deities, demigods, primordial beings, spirits, demons, and legendary beings that were worshipped in Mesopotamia. Some of the most influential were Adad or Ishkur, Ashur or Enlil, An, and Istar. These gods garnered large houses of worship called Ziggurats. The townspeople would gather at the Ziggurats for services that ranged from worship and blessings to funerals.
    Ancient Egyptians believed that if they did their jobs, literally and metaphorically, that Ra, the Sun God, and the other lesser deities would do theirs. They believed these gods would provide for their people, protect them from wars, and bless their marriages and families. Egyptians also believed that pharaohs, already revered and worshipped, would become gods upon their deaths. This made it easier to convince peasants to devote several months of the year, alongside slaves, to build the ancient pyramids that were sarcophagi for these pharaohs.
    The ancient Egyptians did not have as many gods as the Mesopotamians. Bastet, Ra, and Anubis were the major deities, followed by Amun, Sekmet, Thoth, Horus, Sobek, Heket, Tefnut, Geb, and Hathor. Enormous temples to the gods were built of stone so they would last forever. Many of them still exist today. The gods were believed to actually inhabit these temples.
    Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia were both ruled by divine right. Divine right meant that the leaders were an extension of the gods themselves.These theocracies governed every aspect of the citizens lives. In Mesopotamia the rulers were believed to speak for their gods and to have a direct connection with them, but in ancient Egypt they were considered gods themselves. The biggest difference between the two nations was that Mesopotamians, while they believed in an afterlife, focused on their lives before death, whereas the Egyptians spent the majority of their living years concentrating on the afterlife. In conclusion, Egypt and Mesopotamia are at once strikingly different in their beliefs and worship styles, and shockingly similar.
   

References

Mark, J. (2009). Burial. Retrieved from http://www.ancient.eu/burial
Wikipedia. (2014). Ancient Egyptian Religion. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Egyptian_religion
McKay, E. (2010). Information About Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Retrieved from http://www.online-history.org

The Art of Slacking

Lately I have been slacking on my writing. I could blame it on work, college, or on all the details of getting married, but the truth is that what I’ve written lately hasn’t moved me at all. Sugary sweet words that could have spewed forth directly from Walt Disney’s frozen head, characters with paper thin structure and thinner motivations, and plots that have more holes in them than a piece of Swiss Lorraine.
There are 12 days of school left, and I had hoped to have Tilted finished by now, but in truth I need to go back through the last 10k words I wrote like a poorly knitted afghan and unweave them. My goals are to have 3 books in editing by the end of Summer vacation instead of the one that is there now. I hope to have good news about progress soon.

We did it…

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Last Saturday I married the man of my dreams. Our tiny home might not be big enough for our happiness and dreams. Our wedding and reception couldn’t have went more perfectly. The theme was literature, and we went all out with book scented candles from FrostBeard, custom books on each table, and literary readings during our vows.

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After an evening of recovery we took off to Taos, New Mexico to enjoy the artistic vibe of the ancient city. We soaked in the warm weather, relaxed, and explored until our hearts were content.

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It was an amazing experience, and I’m so glad that you have been here with me on this ride.

Thank you,

Phyllis York

Top 10 wedding questions I receive…

With only 40 days until we say ‘I do’ I wanted to share some of the questions I receive the most… Well, the appropriate questions anyway.

  1. Q: I was invited to the wedding. Can I bring my kids?                                                      A: Yes, you can bring your children. I just need to know how many people are coming, so I can budget appropriately.
  2. Q: Where are you registered?                                                                                               A: Ken and I are registered at Honeyfund, Amazon, and Walmart . We live in a tiny home, and didn’t register for many large items.
  3. Q: Will there be an open bar.                                                                                               A: There will be various beverages available, including champagne punch, but space and finances didn’t allow for an open bar.
  4. Q: Where are you going for your honeymoon?                                                                  A: We are going hot air ballooning in Taos, New Mexico. We will also be touring the many art galleries, the Pueblo dwellings, and generally enjoy 4 days of alone time. Our honeymoon is registered at Honeyfund.com.
  5. Q: Who is in your wedding party?                                                                                    A: My maid-of-honor is my best friend Tiger Jackson, and my bridesmaids are my daughters, Amanda and Jessica Rogers. Ken’s best man is his friend and coworker, Fines Massey. His groomsmen are his brother-in-law, Chris Dashley, and my son, WIlliam Jones. Our flower girl and ring bearer are the adorable Jude and Zander Dashley.
  6.  Q: Why are you getting married at a library.                                                                     A: There are many reasons that the we are getting married at the Lebanon-Laclede County Library that include the fact that we are having a literary themed wedding, we are both writers, we are both prolific readers, and it will just be a cool location.
  7.  Q: Are you having a band or a DJ?                                                                                      A: We are having both. The Ozark Winds will be playing at our ceremony, and JD the DJ will be spinning tracks at our reception.
  8. Q: Is there anything I can do to help?                                                                              A: We have everything taken care of, but if you want to help with set-up or break down of the ceremony or reception I wouldn’t say no…
  9. Q: Who are your wedding vendors?                                                                                   A: My caterers are Bethaney and Sherri Jackson. My wedding cake is being made by Alana at Heaven Scent Bakery. Wedding and reception decor are being rented from Whimsy. Miscellaneous accessories are from Etc Bridal Inc.
  10. Q: What is your story?                                                                                                      A: Ken and I became Facebook friends after a particularly brutal political flame war. I sent him a friend request, and he impressed me with his obscure Netflix recommendations. After a long time, and many terrible events in both of our lives a funny message let me know that he liked me too.

After our first date at Bennett Spring we were nearly inseparable. Three weeks and over 7,000 text messages later we were engaged. He came to Ozark Visions to talk to me while I was working. We were jokingly talking about our future, and when we would eventually be husband and wife. He said, “so does that mean you would consider being my wife.”

I laughed, and agreed wholeheartedly. He dropped down on one knee, and said, “I’m serious. This is a real proposal. Will you be my wife?” I squealed, cried, and basically lost it for a few minutes before showing off my ring and excitement to everyone I worked with. Since then we have moved into a tiny home, and have been happier than I thought was possible.

If you have any other questions for us ask them in the comments.

 

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