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.

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.

(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!

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 (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.

27 Dec

A Year of Writing and Gratitude

In Personal,Writing Process by MK England / December 27, 2014 / 0 Comments

2014 was a big year for me. As of January 1, 2014, I had written zero books. As of December 27th, 2014, I’ve written two. I’ve done immense amounts of editing. I’ve started querying my first book and participating in twitter pitch parties. I’ve made amazing writing friends, connected with supportive groups, and made tons of progress. I’ve started to see myself as a WRITER and find joy in the grind, the hard work and blank pages. I’ve finally figured out how to give the commitment to writing a permanent place in my life. And I have a lot of people to thank.

First, the long-suffering Man-Creature who endured endless plot brainstorming sessions, weeks of black moods brought on by self-doubt, and long stretches where he wondered if we were still married or if I’d left him for my laptop. Thank you.

Next, my writing communities: I met so many lovely people through the YA Buccaneers and found lots of encouragement and discipline through their bootcamps. I met new friends through NaNoWriMo and ended up finding a new local writing group because of it. Twitter has been amazing. No, really, I had no idea that twitter was where the entire publishing industry was hiding. So many agents, editors, and fellow writers throwing out 140 character wisdom for my ravenous consumption. Thank you.

Finally, though, I have to thank myself. I find it hard to explain just how difficult this year was on my mental health. I’ve suffered from anxiety and moderate depression on and off for my entire adult life, and the process of chasing my ultimate dream, writing a book, was fraught with intense fear, self-loathing, and a whole host of other unhealthy emotions. I finally typed “the end” on March 1st, 2014, and hoped that would be the end of it – fears conquered! On the path! Achieving my dream! Unfortunately, the process of rewriting, editing, and sharing my work with beta readers proved to be even more terrifying. Then starting to query. Each new step in the process brought new fears, fresh insecurities. But then NaNoWriMo happened, and I wrote a second book. And it was easier to master the fear. And querying is easier now, too. I’ve made progress. It’s still hard work, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve learned so much, met so many people doing the same things. I’ve come out the other side with two books under my belt and months of querying and editing ahead of me.

And I’m excited to tackle it all.

So thank you, self. Thank you for sticking with it. For not giving up. For proving you can do it, and that you can keep doing it. Thank you for reaching out for help when you needed it. Thank you for becoming a writer.

I share this with the hope that someone else who is struggling might glean a little courage to keep fighting for the dream. It’s possible. Keep going. Every word counts, even the ones you know are awful. Rip off the band-aid, take the time you need to look after your mental and physical help, and put in the work. You can make it happen.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, and productive 2015.

What 2014 accomplishment are you proud of, creatures? What do you deserve to thank yourself for? Share in the comments and receive high fives.

20 Oct

Questions for Unpublished Writers

In Personal,Questions Answered,Writing Process by MK England / October 20, 2014 / 1 Comment

I came across these questions for not-yet-published authors on this blog and thought I’d share my answers over here because they got way too long for a comment. Fun to think about!

1. Did you always know you wanted to be an author, or did the idea of writing occur to you later on? Describe the circumstances which led to that choice.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since elementary school, but I took a major break from that dream. I got picked to represent my class in the school-wide Young Author’s Conference in some really young grade, but didn’t get one of the final picks for my grade level to actually participate, which crushed my tiny 8-year-old heart. I stopped writing stories until I discovered fanfiction in seventh grade, but then I was too scared to share my work with anyone. I started roleplaying a bit in high school, and had an English teacher who was wonderfully supportive, but all creative writing classes conflicted with band. I didn’t write again for a long time. I had ideas, and I used to fill bits of scrap paper with endless notes, bits of dialogue, and story beginnings while working my retail jobs.

The early idea for Firestarter came during that time period, somewhere around 2006. I didn’t start really writing fiction again until 2009 or 2010, when I decided to finally start Firestarter. I got 10k words in and quit. Did the same thing the next year, and the year after that. It took me until 2013 to really get serious about it, but I still only hit 20k words. Finally, on February 1st of 2014 I said NO MORE EXCUSES. I sat in the chair every morning and built upon those 20k words until the book was finished, 28 days later. Now, I pursue writing relentlessly and professionally. I’m querying my first novel and drafting my second. Writing is a major part of my life, and I hope I never let it go again.

2. What are the things that inspire your work as a writer? Music, art, people, travel, life in general?

I’m mostly inspired by other works of fiction, whether they be books, movies, video games, or roleplaying games. “What if I took this character type, but threw them into this completely different setting and situation…” etc. Eventually the character and plot I end up with bear zero resemblance to what originally inspired them, but the spark was there to set it off. I read widely and game widely, and those two things inspire my writing more than anything else.

3. What types of books are you drawn to reading? What types of books are you drawn to write?

I’m finding it really hard to pin down what exactly draws me to a book. I know I DON’T like characters who are weak-willed or passive. I like my books like I like my food: bold and spicy. I like strong, tough girls, and yes that includes the physically-strong sword-wielding types. I know it’s not the only way to be a strong female character, but it’s the type of character that has appealed to me since childhood. I wanted to BE a lady knight and a starfighter pilot. Still do. I like tough girls who have big dreams and big ideals, or girls who struggle with issues of gender expression and traditional femininity because they reflect my own struggles.

I don’t do sad/deep/issue books much. It has to be really outstanding for me to put myself through that. I love a book with a great setting and subtle, awesome worldbuilding, but it has to have a great plot too (and here I’m thinking of the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix). I like to write the same kind of stuff I like to read, unsurprisingly. Snarky humor, big attitudes, lots of personality, and an interesting setting. If it’s real world, it has to be described so that it almost feels alien, like in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle.

I think I learned a few things about myself and my tastes after free-writing those answers. Thanks for the inspiration, S.M.!

Anyone want to offer up their own answers?