Archive for January, 2015

28 Jan

Writer Friend Feature: Lisen Minetti

In Writer Friend Features by MK England / January 28, 2015 / 0 Comments

Lisen_picI have some truly awesome writer friends. For serious. I don’t know where I’d be without them, and I think it would be terribly selfish of me to keep them all to myself. So, here we are at the start of a new series on this blog: Writer Friend Features. My dear writer friend Lisen Minetti has agreed to be my first guinea pig. Lisen is a co-coordinator of the Atlantic County Writers United meetup group in southern New Jersey, a writer of middle grade and young adult fiction, and a diehard Whedonite. Welcome, Lisen!

MK: Okay, basics first: Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself.

Lisen: Ugh, I hate talking about myself!  But if I have to …

I live outside of Atlantic City, New Jersey with my husband, two kids and a killer cat.  I currently work full time as a paralegal, and have a Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology.  I originally wanted to go to school for writing and / or journalism (really, anything along those lines) but the classes were only offered during the day, and I could only attend school at night, so I took the psychology / criminal justice route and just kind of went with it.  Serial killers fascinate the crap out of me, so I did really well in the program, and always thought that when I did sit down to write a book, it would be a thriller.  Or a murder mystery.  Something involving crime and death.  Instead what came out was a kid’s book.  Go figure.

As far as fun, untypical things about me go, I am an unabashed Browncoat (if you don’t know what that means, go watch the entire series of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, then come back – I’ll wait), I’m an archer in a medieval mercenary fighting group and if I had to pick one thing I absolutely want to do before I die it is have a library in my house with floor to ceiling bookshelves of my favorite books.  Preferably hardback first editions, but I’m not that picky.

MK: What’s the earliest story you can remember writing?

Lisen: The earliest story I remember writing was when I was in third grade and put together a book on the Bermuda Triangle, Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster.  I was the author and my little sister was the illustrator.  I wrote a page or two on each topic and she drew a picture.

It wasn’t until I was in fifth grade, however, that my writing really took off with “The Tale of the Talisman”, which was nearly seven (handwritten) pages and was a mystery about a necklace with magical properties.

Even back then I was fascinated with the unexplained, a theme that is recurring in almost everything I write today.

MK: What do you think is the secret to balancing writing pursuits with a crazy busy life?

Lisen: If there is a secret, I really need to be let in on it.  Between working full time and being a mother of two (along with everything that goes along with it) I have so little time for me, that I really have to work at making writing work for me.  Some days it’s simple, and other days the time disappears.  I get really irritated at people who drill in that in order to be a successful writer you HAVE to write EVERY SINGLE DAY.  For me, and, I think, most people, that’s an impossibility.  But finding the time to think about writing every single day is something I can do.  Whether it’s going to meet ups with others in my writing group, or reading a book in the genre I write, or paying attention to the character traits of a particularly charming villain in a movie, I am always thinking about the writing process: What I could be doing, what others are doing successfully, how what I read and watch influences me, and how those same things could make my writing even better.  I find that after a few days of taking a step back and just being cognizant of those things gives me a fresh start and then I jump back in not just able to write, but really excited to write.  So, I guess you could say my secret is not to force myself to write every day.

MK: What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

Lisen: I love editing.  I’m somewhat of a perfectionist and usually have to go through ten drafts of something before I don’t want to just hit the delete button.  I know what makes writing good – as an avid reader I know what sucks me into a world, into the hearts and souls of characters, into the story.  But the process to get to that point is long and arduous – like the journey most characters themselves have to embark on.  Like those characters, I know I can get there, I just have to put the work in.  And that’s why I love editing:  To take a bad draft with decent ideas, and salvage them.  To take those scraps and re-arrange them into something workable.  To scratch out, re-write and re-write again to make something solid.  To pound out the bumps and make something smooth.  To polish the surfaces, to make it graceful.  To add the finishing touches and make it magical.  That’s my favorite part, even if it takes days, months or years to get there.

MK: Tell us something useful. A piece of advice, a link to an article you found valuable, a writing reference book you love, etc.

Lisen: There two most useful things I have come across are Stephen King’s On Writing and my writing group (I belong to two).

First, On Writing.  I grew up reading Stephen King and really enjoy his earlier works.  And On Writing is different from every other ‘how to’ I’ve even glanced at.  It’s full of odd advice and personal touches that just really makes you realize how different writing is for everyone.  That there’s no one right way to do it.  That’s what I think I got out of it the most, and it was something that I really needed to hear.

Second – A writing group.  As I said, I belong to two different groups and they are vastly different.  The first one I joined was fairly far away from home, and well established.  The second one I somehow ended up being a co-organizer for, so I can schedule meetings anywhere I want to (ahhh, the power!).  But the best thing about my writing groups is being able to connect with other writers.  It is fracking amazing.  I have met so many wonderful people who have helped me in so many ways.  My groups are a support, a wealth of information and a swift kick in the ass when I need it.  Writing has long been depicted as a solitary endeavor, left to those in remote cabins in the woods, or locked away in attics scribbling prose by candlelight.  Maybe that was they truth fifty – or even ten – years ago; but today my writing groups are also my lifeline.

MK: What are you working on right now?

Lisen: 2015 finds me really busy from a writing perspective.  I am getting ready to seriously query a book I finished back in September of 2013 – it was my first completed MS so I shelved it for a long while to see how I would feel about it a year or so later, and I still loved it – so I have been busily working on query letters, a synopsis and agent research.  The story is a middle grade book about Cady Martin, an eleven year old witch who solves supernatural laced mysteries.

Once that fervor dies down, I am really excited to delve back into a YA novel I started drafting for NaNoWriMo 2014.  It’s a hot mess right now, but has a lot of potential.  Tentatively titled Dark Magicks it centers on an 18 year old girl who lives in a world where magick and evil are intertwined.  I would give more of the plot away, but I have a feeling it will change sooner than later!

———

You can follow Lisen on twitter (@LisenMinetti) and on her blog at www.lisenminetti.com.
Thanks for joining me today, Lisen! Give her some love, creatures.

20 Jan

Things I Loved in 2014

In Gaming,Personal,Recs by MK England / January 20, 2015 / 0 Comments

I’m terrible at making ranked lists of any kind. Really, truly terrible. I will agonize over list position, over whether my list really captures ALL THE THINGS, over every tiny decision. So, I’ve decided to save myself the agony and simply make a list of seven things that made my brain and soul happy in 2014.

This list is in no particular order, nor is it all-encompassing.

Grasshopper Jungle
by Andrew Smith | Feb. 11th, 2014 from Dutton
In the style of Kurt Vonnegut, with a front row seat inside a teenage boy’s brain (and all that entails). This book is filthy and demented and I loved every second of it. It is not for the faint of heart.

Dragon Age Inquisition
November 18th, 2014 from Bioware/Electronic Arts
Though this game made me rage over its buggy brokenness and I had a few issues with quest bloat, it was still a completely fantastic experience that I loved to pieces. I’ve adored this franchise from the start and I was much happier with this offering than the lukewarm-yet-enjoyable Dragon Age 2.

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition
August 19th, 2014 from Wizards of the Coast
I wasn’t a 4th edition hater like so many. It had it’s appeal, and was great for certain types of players. Fifth edition, though, is a return to an older style of play that I find very satisfying. Combat feels dangerous again, and though I’m having a hard time switching my brain back to that level of caution (and old spell mechanics), my favorite thing about the new edition is the character building section: ideals, flaws, and backgrounds all make for a more in-depth character creation experience, which I love to use to brainstorm characters for my own original writing, too!

Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (the Successful Kind)
by Holly Black | Short story in Lightspeed Magazine, September 2014
Holly Black is a well-known writer of middle grade and YA fiction, and while her stuff has never been my particular taste, I know she’s a super-cool lady and I respect her a whole lot. This story is a departure from her usual work, though; it’s a fun YA space opera written in the second person voice. Odd, but interesting for this particular story. As with most Holly Black stories, this one takes a turn for the dark at one point, but stick with it for a really cool ending.

Starfall
by Saundra Mitchell | Short story from Lightspeed Magazine, September 2014
Can you tell I love Lightspeed Magazine for short fiction? I don’t have much to say about this story other than ‘read it’. This one has a bit more literary tone, and the atmospheric feel ended up inspiring a short story of my own. It all starts with a supernova.

Young Avengers
By Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie | 2013-2014 from Marvel Comics
The most recent run of Young Avengers began in 2013 and wrapped up earlier this year, and I just. I. Look, the Young Avengers are my favorite superhero team, and this run was SO FULL OF GOODNESS. Fun adventures, lots of snark, gratuitous punching of things by Miss America Chavez – can you ask for more? This is a great one for those looking to add more diverse graphic novels to their to-read list. The team is overwhelmingly queer (which is obviously a huge driving force behind my love for them) and quite racially diverse. I won’t give spoilers, but you’ll have to read for details.

Ms. Marvel
By G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona | October 28th, 2014 from Marvel Comics
Kamala Khan is a 16-year-old Pakistani-American Muslim girl living in Jersey City who idolizes Carol Danvers, the former Ms. Marvel (now Captain Marvel). This series is groundbreaking for a whole lot of reasons, but it’s close to my heart because I work at a library in New Jersey with a lot of South Asian Muslim girls, and I love that I can put this book in their hands. And it’s GOOD, too. G. Willow Wilson is a fantastic writer, and Alphona’s art is perfect for the tone of the series. Issue one hit in February 2014 and the series is ongoing.

Guardians of the Galaxy (movie)
August 1st, 2014 from Marvel Studios/Walt Disney
I went into this movie with no expectations on a day when I really needed a laugh, and I came out of the theater an obsessed fangirl. Yeah, it had its problems, but it’s exactly the sort of over-the-top sci-fi camp that I love. I’m working my way through many years of Guardians of the Galaxy comics now, too. Very different, but an interesting part of the Marvel Universe that I’ve not read much of before. In the meantime, this is my new sick-day-feel-better movie.

What do you think, creatures – did any of these scratch your itch in 2014? Anything not listed here that you adored? 2014 may be over, but it’s never too late to enjoy the spoils of the year. Let me know your thoughts and recs in the comments.

12 Jan

Guilty Pleasures, Minus the Guilt

In Gaming,Personal,Reading by MK England / January 12, 2015 / 0 Comments

I recently came across the following blog prompt: What are your 5 guilty pleasures? And I immediately had Opinions, because I have no guilty pleasures. Why should I feel guilty about the things that make me happy, so long as they cause no harm? Instead, I will share with you five completely un-guilty pleasures. I love these things, and you can judge me all you want. Because while you’re over there being all negative and judgy about Taylor Swift, I’ll be rocking out to “Shake it Off” and having a blast.

In no particular order:

1. Video Games. Society yells at me for this all the time. Girls aren’t supposed to love video games. Adults who play video games are unproductive losers. FALSE. Video games are active engagement. They are a storytelling medium. They are puzzles. They are – WAIT I don’t have to justify anything. They are awesome and I love them in all their many forms. The end. Game over.

2. Tabletop RPGs (i.e. Dungeons & Dragons). Same as above. How am I a mouthbreathing loser for playing a game that involves storytelling, critical thinking, social interaction, and tons of FUN? You’re just jealous of my dice collection.

3. Fanfiction. Why should I be ashamed of READING? Who cares if the characters are from a TV show or book? If it’s well-written and engaging, I’ll read it, no matter what it is. So long as the author isn’t making any money from their transformative works, I see no issue with fanfiction. And I’ve loved it since my family got their first computer when I was in seventh grade, so I’m not about to stop 15+ years later. It’s no longer a hobby, it’s a habit. I’ve never been brave enough to write any, but I have immense respect for the Big Name Fans who gift their talents to fandom.

4. Young Adult Books. I can’t even stop rage-screaming long enough to say something pithy and scathing here. If you want to know what drivel people say about YA fiction, just google the name of any major newspaper and “young adult literature”. When you’re done clawing your eyes out, I’ll be here.

5. Comics and Graphic Novels. See item three. My mom recently bought me this shirt as a gift, which might tell you something about my Feelings. And you won’t see me being judgy about which graphic novels and comics count, because I read some of everything. Edgy, literary, indy graphic novels are no more inherently valuable or important than a well-written superhero comic.

*deep, calming breath*

So the lesson here, boys, girls, and non-binary folks, is that no one should make you feel ashamed of loving the things you love. Enjoy your hobbies. Don’t let the judgy opinions of others tarnish your love for ketchup on ice cream, sasquatch erotica, or sparkly vampires. If it makes you happy and doesn’t hurt anyone else, more power to you.

And now I have a horrible mental image of a sparkly vampiric sasquatch who drinks ketchup instead of blood.

I regret this post already.

07 Jan

Once Upon a Lucky Break

In Guest Posts,Prompts,Writing Process by MK England / January 7, 2015 / 1 Comment

Today’s post is a short story prompt written for my friend and fellow New Jersey author, Amy Holiday, who is hosting 30 Days of Short Stories over at her blog. Each day you’ll find a new prompt, and throughout the month she’ll be featuring many different methods for generating your own prompts. Today I’ll be talking about Once Upon A Time, a storytelling card game by Atlas Games.

I first learned about Once Upon A Time in an oral storytelling class I took as part of my MSLS* degree. It’s a card game for 2-6 players (ages 8 and up) where players collaboratively build a story using the “ingredients” on their cards. Despite the collaborative nature of the story, the game is competitve — each player has their own ending card, and the goal is to turn the story toward your own ending, using interrupt cards to jump in and take over narration. It’s a lot of fun with a creative group of storytellers, and I recommend giving it a shot with your local writer friends! The rules can be found online here.

However, the cards don’t have to be used to play the game. Honestly, my deck has been used for its intended purpose exactly once, because Once Upon A Time also makes an excellent brainstorming tool and writing prompt generator.

Once Upon A Time has three main types of cards: ingredient cards, interrupt cards, and ending cards. Ingredient cards come in five flavors: Character, Aspect, Item, Event, Place.

Interrupt cards provide impetus for change in your story.They’re the “until suddenly” that every story needs (as in, “It was a normal day, until suddenly a dinosaur fell out of the sky and vomited tarantulas everywhere.”). Ending cards are just what they sound like: the last line, the final goal.

Below, I’ve generated a short story prompt for your writing pleasure using one of each type of card from the deck. Feel free to use any number of them, or all. Interrupt cards may be used as general (the interrupt is a place, an item) or specific (the interrupt is a palace, a hammer). The deck lends itself best to fairy tales and fantasy stories, but I’ve used it for other works before with successful results. Give it a shot, and let me know what you think in the comments! And of course, if you write a story using this prompt and feel like sharing, link to it in your comment here and on Amy’s blog.

OUATcards
(click to enlarge)

Character: Enemy
Item: Window
Place: Ruin
Aspect: Lucky
Event: An Object Breaks
Interrupt: Monster (or Character)
Ending: She always wore it to help remind her.

If you like the feel of Once Upon a Time, you can buy the updated third edition of the card game on Amazon, and there’s even a Once Upon A Time Writer’s Handbook all about using the game as a writing tool for $2.99 on Kindle.

Happy writing, creatures!

 

* MSLS = Master of Science in Library Science. Not even lying, Library Science is a real thing. And I am a master of it, bwahahaha!

05 Jan

MK Does the Thing!

In Goals,Personal by MK England / January 5, 2015 / 0 Comments

I mentioned in my opinion-filled post on new year’s resolutions that I wanted to start seriously blogging here on mkengland.com instead of just endlessly reblogging dog pictures on my tumblr. So I’m doing it. I have 52 weeks of posts planned out (1-2 per week), with tons of writing-related topics and a few random bits in between. I’ve already copied a few relevant posts over from my tumblr and back-dated the posts, so be sure to check out the archives for those. Here’s what you can look forward to/plan to claw your eyes out for in the near future:

  • The library/author symbiotic relationship
  • YA agents who support diversity in publishing
  • Using tabletop roleplaying books as writing tools
  • YA is a category, not a genre
  • The power of really obvious advice
  • On guilty pleasures (minus the guilt)
  • A photo tour of my writing room

Of course, there’s no way I’m giving up my tumblr altogether, so you can still follow me there and I’ll love you forever. I can also be found in the brightly caffeinated halls of Twitterland.

Got any suggestions for blogging prompts or topics you want to see? Leave ’em in the comments.

I’m looking forward to connecting with y’all here, my dear creatures. Take care.

03 Jan

On Crushing Resolutions with my Tiny Yet Powerful Fists

In Goals by MK England / January 3, 2015 / 2 Comments

New Year 2015January always brings a rush of blog posts and witty articles bursting with either shining optimism or eloquent raging on the topic of resolutions. I may as well declare my bias right at the start: I’m pro-resolution. I love the feeling that comes with the new year, the feeling of a fresh start, a time to reflect and reexamine goals. I think Maggie Stiefvater best sums up my feelings:

“…I always keep promises to myself, because I like myself. Why would I lie to me, my dearest friend? What would I do to myself if I couldn’t trust myself to do the things I say?”

I may not accomplish every single resolution, but I make every one with the sincere intention of completing it, and you better believe I make an honest effort. I think setting goals is a powerful and essential part of achieving them, and if I happen to set those goals on January 1st, it doesn’t diminish them in any way, nor does it prevent me from setting additional goals throughout the rest of the year.

Apparently this topic gets me fired up with Opinions. I guess I’m just as guilty as the rest of the internet.

So, without further ado, I am publicly declaring my 2015 resolutions, writing-related and otherwise, so you can all watch me spectacularly crush them all over the next twelve months.

1. Finish querying Firestarter (YA novel)
2. Edit Space Academy Rejects (YA novel)
3. Begin querying Space Academy Rejects
4. Draft a third novel (stretch goal: draft a fourth one, too)
5. Go to the eye doctor and get new glasses, damnit. Five years is too long and you are a terrible example to everyone ever.
6. Ditto re: dentist. We won’t even discuss how long it’s been, self.
7. Play and complete 5 video games
8. Read 50 books (minimum 15 diverse titles, but make it 25.)
9. Go to zumba once per week (stretch goal: twice per week, or exercise at home in between)
10. Attend at least 3 South Jersey Writer’s Group meetings
11. Start blogging at mkengland.com (stretch goal: post once per week)
12. Make a household chores schedule (stretch goal: actually stick to it for more than a month)

See you on the other side, creatures. Happy New Year.

Do you have any resolutions, writing-related or otherwise? Share them below. I won’t judge you.