12 Mar

Critique Partners and Beta Readers

In Editing,Writing Process by MK England / March 12, 2015 / 0 Comments

winnie-the-pooh-readingI am so, so lucky to have several people who put eyes (and in some cases, teeth and knives) to my manuscripts before they ever see the light of day. These people, my critique partners and beta readers, are so valuable (and patient, and kind, and merciful). As writers, we are too close to our manuscripts to see a lot of potential problems. Our brains fill in the gaps for us–plot details, character motivations, foreshadowing, and more. Are those details clear to someone who didn’t write the book? No way to know without asking an outside reader. I can’t recommend outside readers enough–and you really need both crit partners AND beta readers. But what’s the difference, and you do you find them?

Let’s get the definitions out of the way first:

Beta Reader — A beta reader (or simply “beta”) can be anyone who reads and enjoys the type of material you’re writing. Their purpose is to read your work purely as a casual reader would, noting large-scale issues like plot issues, pacing, and characterization. They’ll give you some general feedback along the lines of “liked it/didn’t like it” and will note any major issues they saw and places they were tempted to put down the book. At least some of your beta readers should be people who won’t spare your feelings–people who aren’t your mom or your best friend.

Critique Partner — A crit partner (or CP) is typically someone who is well-versed in the mechanics of writing and storytelling–usually a fellow writer. This person will give much more detailed feedback. They’ll catch the same kinds of things your beta reader will, but will also comment on things like style, word choice, point-of-view and tense, conflict and motivations, etc. Your CP is the one who will nitpick your story to death to make sure it’s the best it can possibly be. It’s best if your CP is very knowledgeable about your chosen genre and age category.

The critique partner relationship is much more intense and demanding. With a beta reader, there is typically no expectation of a relationship beyond them reading the one thing you deliver to them, unless they are a fellow writer or you arrange things otherwise. There’s also not necessarily a requirement for reciprocation. A critique partnership is almost always a two-way street unless you specifically agree otherwise. Most writers don’t have more than one or two critique partners because of the sheer amount of work involved. Both beta readers and crit partners are necessary. Remember, to receive you must also give! Be generous with your time if you want others to be.

There are lots of places where you can connect with fellow writers online to form beta and CP relationships. However, I recommend setting up some ground rules and doing a trial run before committing to anyone long-term. Here’s how my local writing group runs our CP/beta connection:

The Rules — When someone agrees to read your work, start out by sending them the first two to three chapters or 25-50 pages only. Partners should agree on a deadline for delivery of feedback. After the feedback has been given on the first few chapters, readers/partners have the option to walk away from the relationship for any reason whatsoever, no hard feelings and no strings attached. The reason does not have to be stated; “I just don’t think we’re a good fit” is perfectly valid. If both people are happy, the relationship can continue.

This should go without saying, but just to cover all the bases: by accepting someone else’s work, you acknowledge that the work belongs to them and agree to never post, submit, plagiarize, or otherwise claim their work as your own or distribute it without permission.

Should my work be complete before I submit? — Not necessarily. Some people like to send their partners one chapter at a time as they write. Some prefer not to send until the work is complete and has been edited. As long as you and your partner agree on the terms, anything goes.

If you feel ready for a beta or CP, reply to this thread with the following:

Your Name:
Title of Work:
Age Category:
Approx. Word Count:
Is the work complete?:
Crit Partner or Beta Reader?:
Preferred Communication Method:
Content Warnings:

If you prefer in-person relationships, check with your Friendly Local Writing Group and see if they have a method for connecting partners. There are a ton of excellent places to find both beta readers and critique partners online, too, and they’re pretty much all listed right here for your convenience. If you’re a twitter user, you can also check out @critiquepartner.

Good luck, creatures! I hope you all find the CPs and betas of your dreams.

09 Mar

Addicted to Progress

In Editing,Goals,Writing Process by MK England / March 9, 2015 / 0 Comments

give_it_to_me_stephen_colbertGive me a wordcount hit, I need it! Need the rush, need that high, need the validation–I can do this, I will do this.

Like most people, I get into awful ruts where it’s nearly impossible to force myself to write, edit, or be in any way creative. For me, it’s often rooted in anxiety or depression, which still flare up now and then. No matter the reason, though, the solution is almost always the same:

The more I make progress, the more progress I make.

What the hell does that even mean? It means, dear creatures, that progress is a snowball rolling downhill, gathering speed and mass until it crushes unsuspecting critique partners at the bottom of the mountain. It means the first few words are painful, slow, and make me hate myself. Then I write a few more. And a few more. And after a few days, I’m spending hours on my work-in-progress. And then when I get a day off from work? ALL DAY. Hope the house didn’t need cleaning. Hope there wasn’t food needing to be cooked. (Uh, that’s what takeout is for).

Once I start, the validation becomes the reward. Every time I put my butt in the chair and make progress, whether it be writing, editing, or research, I’m proving to myself: I can do this, I am a real writer, I do have the mental fortitude to put in the hard work required. Writing is 1% talent and 99% hard work, and I’m crushing it like a boss.

In the drafting stage, it’s easier for me: I watch the wordcount tick ever upward, perhaps with a satisfying little meter on some tracking site or another. I creep little by little toward some goal: 50,000 words, 70,000 words, whatever it may be; I revel in the knowledge that every single word puts me closer to the magic number, even if that word is terrible. All forward motion is progress. The first draft is supposed to be awful. All I have to do is reach the magic number and make the story end somehow.

For editing, it’s worse. I have a hard time building that initial momentum to get me going, because the first step in editing is facing the monstrosity you created during the drafting stage. It’s ugly, misshapen, full of holes and flat characters and tiny, rare moments of something great. It’s not until I see how the puzzle fits together that I start feeling the pull toward the end. And if the book doesn’t have a solid ending? I can’t do anything until that’s written. I have to know where I’m going before I can figure out how to get there in a way that is meaningful and resonant.

Right now, I’m at the point where I’ve finally hit my editing stride with my second novel, Space Academy Rejects. I’ve done my first read-through and markup, written the ending, added a few scenes, and am currently blowing through my chapter-by-chapter revisions and line edits. Because this book has a cast of five characters, I’m also making a ton of work for myself by marking every line of dialogue or bit of action for every character in their own highlighter color. This is so I can go back and read each color individually to make sure that 1) their voice and personality stays consistent throughout, and 2) their individual character arc is successfully portrayed from start to finish.

I’ve set an insanely ambitious deadline for this round of edits because I’m dying to get it out to my critique partners and cultural beta readers for first impressions and feedback. This book makes me geek out in all the best ways. I hope I’ll get the chance to share it with you all.

Okay, time to take another hit dive back into editing. Until next time, creatures.


03 Mar

Read All the Things: 6 Novels for Superhero Fans

In Reading,Recs by MK England / March 3, 2015 / 0 Comments

Superheroes are being found outside the pages of comic books more and more often lately. From what I hear, literary agents are being swamped by superhero manuscripts, thanks to the success of the Marvel Comics movie universe and the DC comics TV universe. It’s not totally new, though; superhero novels have been a thing for several years, though they’ve never quite acquired trend status. Regardless, there have been several good offerings that are certainly worth your time, whether you’re a comic book fan or not. Below are six superhero novels (YA and adult) published within the last six years that you may want to check out:

The Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson
(2013-2015, Delacorte Press — Young Adult)
The author of the acclaimed Mistborn Trilogy has turned his worldbuilding prowess to the realm of superheroes. The Reckoners series begins with Steelheart, the story of the dark days following the rise of the Epics, humans with powerful abilities and intriguing weaknesses. The second entry in this series, Firefight, was just released on January 6th, 2015. The series has a tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating humor that really appeals to the man-creature, who rarely reads anything that isn’t a Redwall or World of Warcraft novel.

Vicious by V.E. Schwab
(2013, Tor Books — Adult)
You won’t find any black-and-white heroes and villains here. This noir-style novel follows two brilliant college roommates who turn to archenemeses, each with their own twisted plan for revenge. Victoria Schwab has written several books for both teens and adults. Vicious was one of Publisher’s Weekly Best Fantasy Books of 2013.

Hero by Perry Moore
(2009, Disney-Hyperion — Young Adult)
Thom Creed has three secrets. He has superpowers. He’s gay. And the league of heroes that kicked his dad off the squad have invited him to join. He wants desperately to keep it all from his disgraced father, but heroes who want to do good can’t hide for long. Hero is the only original novel written by screenwriter and director Perry Moore before his death in 2011.

The Young Elites by Marie Lu
(2014, Putnam — Young Adult)
Shelf Awareness called it “Game of Thrones meets X-men”; a 14th-century historical fantasy take on the exile and persecution of super-powered mutants. Marie Lu is the powerhouse author behind the bestselling YA trilogy Legend.

Soon I Will be Invincible by Austin Grossman
(2008, Vintage Books — Adult)
A supervillain super genius and a rookie cyborg super hero co-narrate this story, populated with stand-ins you’ll quickly recognize. All the usual themes are here — power and responsibility, etc. — but with a healthy dose of realism and emotional honesty. Grossman is a game designer and comic connoisseur, and his love for the medium shows.

Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld
(Forthcoming Sept. 2015, Simon Pulse — Young Adult)
This novel was co-written with Westerfeld’s two Australian author friends, Margo Lanagan and Deb Biancotti. They all met at a pub every Thursday to talk about how to make superpowers a fresh and interesting concept, and Zeroes is the result. Six teens, all born in the year 2000, possess a new kind of superpower that makes them anything but heroes. Pre-order it today!

In addition to the above, rumor has it that Marissa Meyer, famed author of the Lunar Chronicles (which I love), used NaNoWriMo 2014 to begin work on a new superhero trilogy with the working title The Gatlon School for Vigilantes. Everything about the project is subject to change, considering it hasn’t even been drafted yet, but you can read her initial announcement here.

Got any other superhero novels you want to share with the world? Post them in the comments, my dear creatures!


24 Feb

First Person, Present Tense Part 1: Background

In Reading,Writing Process by MK England / February 24, 2015 / 2 Comments

As a reader, writer, and peddler of YA fiction, I’m the last person in the world to get judgy about tense and point-of-view. YA has some of everything, even the POVs and tenses that are rare or looked down upon in other age categories. That said, I’ve always preferred third person, past tense–the standard tense for fiction. When I was a kid I read mostly adult science fiction and developed a pretty serious bias against first person POV. The book that started to crack my bias was I, Jedi by Michael A. Stackpole, a Star Wars Extended Universe novel.

(P.S. The Star Wars EU is now known as Star Wars Legends, as they’ve all been retconned due to the upcoming movies–but that’s a whole other rant. I digress.)

I’ll be the first to admit that I, Jedi is a severely flawed book by an author I typically adore. However, I love (lovelovelove) Corran Horn, an original character introduced in Stackpole’s X-Wing series of novels, which are literally my favorite thing about the Star Wars EU. Seriously, go read them right now. But I digress again–the point is, teenage MK picked up this book solely because it starred Corran Horn, and teenage MK was disgusted and heartbroken to discover it was in first person.

I didn’t read that book for months. I picked it up, then put it straight back down. Then picked it up again. One day, I actually read it and–lo and behold–I actually got over the POV issue within a few pages once the character and plot had a chance to grab me. I believe The Hunger Games was my first book that combined both first person and present tense. I read it and liked the combination in that particular instance, but I never thought I’d find myself writing a book with that combination.

judgy eyes

It is admittedly weird to be having tense and POV issues with my own book. Each time I come back to my latest novel (Space Academy Rejects) after taking time away from the manuscript, the tense throws me off for a few pages. At this point, I don’t know if it’s because of my writing, or because it takes me a bit to settle in. I suspect its the latter, though, because if I go back to the beginning after a full read-through, it doesn’t bother me. I suppose my critique partners and beta readers will give me the definitive answer!

All that said, writing in this POV and tense combination definitely comes with its own unique set of pitfalls. I found lots of little bad habits during my first readthrough and markup–and trust me, there’s a whooooole post dedicated to those bad habits coming soon. Hopefully that post will help you avoid making my same mistakes!

In the meantime, practice being non-judgey about POV and tense, dear creatures. Great stories are told in many ways.


03 Feb

Short Stories Shred My Brain

In Goals,Short Stories,Writing Process by MK England / February 3, 2015 / 0 Comments

YA author Maggie Stiefvater (my goddess) once posted some great words about writing short stories that really captured my feelings on the topic:

“I actually find writing short stories to be a completely different animal than novel writing. […] A good short story is not merely a chapter. It is not a shrunken novel. It is a story that by its very nature and telling is better suited to a short format. Short fiction doesn’t behave at all like a novel – it asks you to think about dialog and show-don’t-tell differently. Your brain must learn to understand what 500 words feels like, 2,000 words, 10,000 words. Maybe the biggest surprise to me was finding out that my reader and writer brain thinks best in 125,000 word chunks. I feel I have to justify any length shorter or longer. […] Every size story asks something different from you.”

This is so true.

I find it incredibly difficult to write short stories. My brain just doesn’t understand them. When I get a new idea, I always start asking questions: how did this character get here? What is the rest of the world like? What necessarily follows from this series of events? And before I know it, I have enough information to fill up a novel. Part of my problem is that I have this weird fear: that somehow, the idea is “used up” by writing it as a short story, restricting me from ever exploring that character, world, or plot line in a novel. It’s not true. So many excellent novels began life as published short stories — but tell that to my subconscious.

In general, though, my brain only ever presents me with ideas for novel-length works, so my complete lack of written short stories also stems from a lack of ideas. I have notebooks and word documents full of dialogue scraps, characters, and worldbuilding bits for novels. Short stories? Um, I’ve written one in the past ten years. I have two insubstantial, wispy sorts of story ideas percolating right now, but they refuse to take the leap from brain to keyboard. 300 words of witty phrases and evocative images does not a story make. Or maybe it does, and that’s my problem. Perception. Definition. Maybe some of those ideas I already have do need to be told in short format. Something to consider.

The most essential thing anyone can do to prepare for short story writing is to read short stories. Get the sound and the feel of 5000 words in your head. Read them from different sources: collections in book form, those published in literary magazines, flash fiction from curated websites. If you can find stories in a style you’d like to emulate, so much the better. For me, there were two stories in the September 2014 issue of Lightspeed Magazine that really inspired me, so much so that they made my list of Things I Loved in 2014. Check them out — I highly recommend them, obviously.

I think it’s time for a goal. Creatures, you know how I am about goals by now. I love setting them. I love achieving them. I love having something to shoot for. SO: in 2015, I will write, polish, and submit for publication at least six short stories. I’ve already finished off and submitted one that I started at the end of 2014, so I’ll let that count.

One down, five to go.

What about you, creatures? Do you read or write short stories? Are they easier or harder than writing a novel? Tell me all your thoughts on short fiction of all kinds. I’m terribly curious.

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
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.

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.