The Mighty Hippo

I have the wonderful opportunity to work as a seasonal zookeeper at my local zoo! When you’re a zookeeper, people always ask: “What animals do you work with?” Well, at my zoo, I’m a part of a team that cares full a variety of species of animals, but I’m getting trained to help with our lovely hippopotamuses. So, allow me to share some fun facts about the mighty hippo.

  • Hippos are herbivores (grass eaters). At the zoo, we feed them hay, alfalfa, and a high fiber grain mix. In the wild, hippos will leave the rivers they call home to travel many miles for grasses to eat. They usually search for food at night. Sometimes, their travels can cause issues with natives because they’ll enter and destroy farmland.
  • Hippopotamus is Greek for “river horse.” Hippos can be found in the rivers of Africa and they were given the name “river horse” because of how they walk along the bottom of a river, they look like trotting horses when they do. Hippos are denser than water, so this makes it easier for them to rest at the bottom of the rivers.
  • Hippos are highly adapted for living in the water. They can hold their breath for about 5 minutes at a time and can even sleep underwater! Their bodies instinctively push up while asleep so they can take a breath. Hippos also have their eyes, nose, and ears all on the top of their head so when they come to the surface of the water, they can see, smell, and hear everything around them. They can fold their ears back and close their nostrils so no water gets in them when sink back under.
  • Hippos are the most dangerous mammal in Africa. Like I said before, they’re herbivores, so they don’t eat meat, but they are extremely territorial. Hippos will open their mouths in a yawning motion to display their front teeth as a warning for those that get too close and they’ll charge to chase people and animals away. Hippos can move about 8 miles an hour in the water and up to 30 miles an hour on land; however, because they’re so dense, they can’t keep those speeds for long.
  • Hippos can live up to 36 years in the wild; however, in zoos, they can live much longer. There are zoos who currently have hippos in their 50s.
  • Hippos have powerful jaws. They can open their mouths up to 150 degrees (humans can only open to about 45 degrees). They can crush a watermelon whole, break holes in ships, and even have enough pressure to split a crocodile in half.
  • They have adorable whiskers, stiff like straw. When eating, they use their lips to pull food into their mouths. Hippos actually have 36 teeth (just like humans!). They chew their food with their molars in the back of their mouth.
  • Hippos can see colors.
  • Hippos have what is called “blood sweat.” It is not actually blood. It a secretion from their pores that helps keep them moisturized when out of the water. It also acts as a bug repellant and antibiotic to heal their wounds.
  • Hippos in zoos are trained to preform various behaviors and tasks to help keepers provide medial treatment and stimulation. Training all depends on whether or not the hippo wants to do it or not. If they do, they’re rewarded tasty fruits and vegetables.

Tips from #PhillyWW pt. 2

Hey everyone! As you know I got to partake in the Philadelphia Writing Workshop last weekend. It was a two day event with lots of different speakers. I already posted some of the notes I took for the first day last Saturday and today I’d like to share with you my notes from day two. I hope you find this helpful!

Seeking Representation; Next Level Querying by Sera Rivers
  • Before you query, have other writers in your genre review your novel.
  • When writing the query letter you need to include:
    • Genre
    • Word count
    • Hook
    • Description
    • Author Bio
    • A specific reason you’re querying that agent (you want to stand out)
  • When pitching your story
    • Introduce your main character and setting
    • Introduce main character’s wants and goals and the stakes involved in reaching them.
    • Be specific bout events in the story. Don’t use any words or phrases that can be taken many different ways.
    • Don’t give away the ending. (Advice that was given to me was to leave it hanging on a Hero’s Dilemma).
  • Writing your Bio
    • Include relevant information like any writing awards, achievements, education, etc.
    • Add any personal connect to your project like if your main character suffers from a disorder your share, etc.
    • If you don’t have any degrees, DON’T WORRY. Anyone can be a writer.
    • If you have writing experience that is dated, don’t include it. Only include recent writing achievements.
  • When writing a Synopsis:
    • Include every relevant main character
    • Hit all your plot points
    • Give away the ending! Tell how your characters have changed/grown
  • Do your research on agents before you query!
    • Find agents by checking the acknowledgement sections in books in your genre
    • Check Conference Faculty Lists.
    • Scout Twitter for Literary Agents lists.
    • It’s okay to professionally stalk them.
    • Check out their agency.
    • What’s on their Manuscript Wishlist?
    • Follow their Twitter for updates and querying process.
  • How to Query:
    • Tailor each query to each agent. Make sure you use the correct pronouns.
    • Change reasons for querying, make it relevant: “Because a book like mine is on your Manuscript Wishlist.” “Because you like dog stories.” “Because you’re interested in Alice in Wonderland meets Dark Shadows type stories.” Etc. Etc. Etc.
    • FOLLOW ALL GUIDELINES! If they want your query in an email, send it by email. If they only want the first page, only send the first page. Follow the guidelines or your query ends up in the trash.
  • FREAK OUT after you hit send. You just did a huge and brave thing! Congratulations! Have your moment, then go back to normal life because publishing is a SLOW process.
  • When following up:
    • Check your agent’s guidelines. Quite often some will say: “If you don’t hear back within this much time then consider it a no.” Respect the no.
    • If they don’t have that stipulation and you haven’t heard anything, Reply All or Forward your original email to the agent to refresh their memory of your project. Be polite and professional at all times.
    • If you’ve decided to not go with that agent, let them know.
  • Getting a Full Request (hopefully we all get one someday)
    • Follow your agent’s guidelines on how they want the full manuscript request submitted.
    • Wait out the timeline. It can take months for the agent to get back to you. They have to prioritize their other clients first.
    • If you get similar feedback for revisions and you agree, send the revised version to the agent requesting the full manuscript. Best they read the latest version.
  • The Offer of Representation:
    • You will receive a phone or video call from the agent. That is their chance to interview you and your chance to interview them.
    • Some common questions:
      • What are you looking for in an agent?
      • Do you have other projects?
    • Be professional, take deep breaths, the agent is just as excited and nervous as you are.
    • Ask to review the client contract
    • Reach out to other agents you’ve queried to let them know you have an offer.
    • Review the contract in full before signing.
    • Email your agent with follow up questions. Sometimes, in the midst of an interview you can’t think of anything to ask. It’s okay to email them questions you think of afterwards.
    • Respond to an agent by the deadline you gave them. If you need a couple days to think it over, make sure to respond within those couple days.
    • Let other agents know when you signed.
  • Sera Rivers, a literary agent and speaking of this webinar, stated her belief that there is an agent out there for every book. I, personally, found this encouraging.
  • When you requery an agent (so you’ve queried them before and got rejected, but you made major improvements/changes on your novel, you want to query again), make sure you let the agent know by saying: “I’ve queried you a couple years ago, but have made significant changes since then.”

Tips from #PhillyWW

Hey everyone! I have the wonderful opportunity to participate in the Philadelphia Writing Workshop this weekend. It’s a two day event, so I just wanted to share my notes from yesterday’s sessions with all my writer friends today. There were quite a few topics discussed, so I’m going to share a few bullets points in each topic. If you’re interested in attending one of these workshops for yourself check out the website writingdayworkshops.com, follow them on Twitter at @writingdaywksp.

Writing a NY Times Bestselling Novel by Julie Gwinn

This webinar focused on the first pages of your novel and how to grab the agent/reader. Here’s a few tips:

  • Begin with a BANG
    • Open with action
    • Limit backstory (beware of info dumping)
    • Keep characters in motion
    • Show the action, don’t tell us about it
    • You need to engage the reader ASAP
    • Introduce the audience to your main character ASAP to build attachment
  • Establish the Mood
    • Know the mood of your genre. If you’re writing a thriller, readers are going to expect the dark and eerie mood of that genre.
    • Use small details to spur emotion, but be wary of adding too much “Purple Prose” that bogs down the story.
    • Readers read to experience emotions. The author’s job is to manipulate those emotions. Think about what your readers are wanting to feel when they pick up your genre.
  • Watch out for No-no’s
    • Don’t introduce too many characters all at once
    • Be careful of adding too much backstory early on
    • Watch out for using the cliché’s of your genre
    • Be careful of explaining too much (especially in regards to fantasy). You don’t have to give every detail about the world you built right away. Ease into it.
    • Cut out “weasel words” like may, might, could, can, can be, up to, as much as, possibly.
    • Cut out the “that” (“he said THAT she couldn’t” “We all know THAT everyone is lying.” Etc.)
  • Final thoughts:
    • Write what you know–reading books in your genre is important
    • Research the word count of your genre
    • Research comparative titles
    • Know your genre and age group
    • Have a strong network of beta readers
    • Finish your story! Write it to the end!
Query Letter Tips by Chuck Sambuchino
  • Understand the parts of the query:
    • Intro: the details of the story and why you’re submitting to this particular agent. Make sure to personalize and don’t just say “I think you’ll like this story because it fits the genre you’re interested in.”
    • Pitch: the plot of your novel. Don’t give away the ending. Introduce characters and conflict.
    • Bio: the part about you.
  • Study examples of queries and pitches by finding debut novels published within the past two years. Study the voice, first chapter, and back cover summary.
  • Get into writing groups and get critiques
  • It’s okay to have multiple versions of a query letter. Just make sure you’re tracking the success of each one.
  • With comparison titles, it’s okay to use “X” meets “Y.” You can use TV shows and Movies alongside books. Example: “This is a fantasy where Star Wars meets King Arthur.”
  • Do your research in building a query list and only query a little at a time so you can see if your query and first pages are successful or not.
  • Avoid Generalities when describing your plot. You don’t want to use text that can be interpreted multiple ways. Example: “Mary is sad and depressed.” Be specific!
  • Mostly importantly: Be professional at all times!
How to Market Yourself and Your Books by Lesley Sabga
  • People invest in the author alongside the book
  • Consider your audience and what platforms you will be able to reach your audience at
    • Facebook: most popular for adult
    • Instagram/Pintrest/TikTok: popular for MG to YA
  • Research hashtags used by your audience
  • Study and interact with the platform to help understand it before you start posting
  • Be mindful of what you post. The internet lasts forever. You don’t want to offend or create potential rifts between you and your readers. Consider how people will react to what you’re posting.
  • Don’t just talk about your books. Talk about topics that are important to you and topics you can build connections through. If the topics pertain to your book, that a bonus. Topics can be about cooking, hiking, gardening, anything that interests you.
  • Agents want to see querying authors on social media
  • You have to be your own publicist. Publishing companies can’t do all the work anymore. There’s no one better to talk about your book than you. Start locally.
  • Partner with other authors, artists, social media experts to get each other’s work out.
  • Tell one person about your book everyday. Doesn’t matter who. Word of mouth sells.

These are some tips from the first three webinars of the Philadelphia Writing Workshop. They may not seem like long lists, but to writers starting their journey, it’s a lot. Personally, I felt comfortable with the first two topics. I’m revising my manuscript and feel like my first chapter is getting to the best version it can be. I’m not querying any time soon, but I’m comfortable where my query letter is at currently. So, for the start of this workshop, I was feeling okay about the advice I was getting and where my book is at. But, unfortunately, that didn’t last long when the topic of social media came up.

I am not a social media expert. I hardly know how Instagram works and I’ve never delved into TikTok. I’m also an introvert. I don’t like putting myself out there, so the whole discussion of social media building was poking at my anxiety levels. I mean, how do you juggle so much? There’s so many different platforms. I don’t have the time to write my own stories. How am I supposed to maintain all these platforms?

The answer: don’t. No one can do it all at once. The best advice I was given was to pick a platform and start there. If you’re audience is mostly on Facebook and you’re comfortable with Facebook, start there. If you’re not comfortable with TikTok, don’t pick TikTok, people will realize you’re uncomfortable and that’ll do more harm than good. When it comes to social media, you need to ease yourself in. I’m trying to take things in stages. My novel is currently undergoing a revision and that should be my focus. No one should start querying unless their book is done. My plan is to finish my novel, and I’ll invest more into social media when I start querying again. In the meantime, I stick to posting on my website twice a week.

A lot of information gets thrown at writers during Writing Workshops. The number one thing you need to remember is to not let yourself get overwhelmed. If you’re overwhelmed with trying to juggle everything, writing will no longer be enjoyable and you don’t want to ruin something you love.

No matter where you are in your writing journey, I hope you found some tips here helpful. After today’s webinars, I’ll work on getting more typed up for anyone who missed them. Again, if you want to join a writing workshop, check out writingdayworkshops.com. Good luck and happy writing everyone!

Be Wary, Young Adventure

Ah! Young Adventures! Welcome. Welcome to my humble hollow. Yes. Yes. Spare me your awe. I know exactly who I am. There’s no need to point it out. I am Nuray Solana, an old servant of the Wind, though you will know me more for my songs. Oh, I don’t play anymore. Age has taken that away from me, but it’s no matter.

Please, sit. Sit! Help yourself to some tea or lemon water. It’s been a while since anyone has come to my neck of the woods. Let me guess, you’re here because you want some advice? No need to be embarrassed. It’s wise of you to seek advice before taking off on some grand adventure. Well, since you made the trek here I suppose I can’t leave you empty handed. I’ll tell you three important things you should always remember when you undertake a dungeons and dragons.

Number One: Be bold! Don’t be afraid to take action even if it’s just a spur of the moment thought. Know your abilities inside and out and dare to take the adventure into your own hands. You see, when I and the other Defenders of the Wood: Norman the Hedge, and Mini the Gerbean undertook the quest of defeating the Fire Primordial, things often did not go according to plan, but we always seized the moment. Before entering the Fire Plane, we had to make a choice. We could go in and blindly search for the weapon to defeat the Primordial while trying to outrun his minions. Or, we could find a way to locate it directly so we would spend as little time in there as possible. We chose the latter and in doing so we controlled the story. We diverted from the path long enough to ensure we were ready to return to it. Interpret this as you will, but dare to act beyond what’s laid before you, and you’ll see you’re more powerful than you realize.

The second piece of advice I can give you is to remember to look up. So many adventurers fail in their quests because they reach a puzzle they cannot solve because they didn’t look up. Not to mention all the enemies that can come at you from above. I once had a friend, a vulpin named Ori, who had a companion almost get them killed. You see, they were exploring an abandoned spire and down the middle of this spire was an elevator shaft. They went about halfway up the spire through staircases and holes in the ceiling, but one of her companions decided to peak his head into the elevator shaft. He looked down and saw nothing but blackness. From that, he decided they were safe until warm breath came through the shaft. The companion looked up the shaft and saw a fifty-foot fire centipede glaring down at him. If he hadn’t looked up. He and Ori would’ve been caught off guard by the centipede and likely killed. So, remember young ones, always look up.

Now, the final piece of advice I can give you is to have faith. In yourself and your companions. You need to trust each other. Had I not trusted Norman and Mini, we would not have saved the wood. I regret to tell you we had our doubts at one point. There was a moment in our quest where we acquired a strange spellbook, a necromancer’s spellbook. Norman held onto it and the longer he did, the more Mini and I noticed a change in him. As you know, Norman was already an old hedge at the time, but after he got that spellbook, he no longer acted as old as he was. Not to mention, he was obsessed with the thing! Mini and I could not even hold it without him getting angry. We feared what it was doing to him. We feared it was manipulating him and one night, we confronted him about it. We cast our magic on each other because of it!

Ah…it fills me with regret to speak of what happened, but…in the end, though Norman grew obsessed with that book, the intentions of his heart remained the same. He still sought to defend the wood. Still sought to help people and still valued our friendship–in his own, grumpy way.

So, there, young adventures. I hope you take my advice to heart as you go on your way. You may rest here for the night, but you must be off at dawn. Leave this old bard with the wind’s song and build your own tales to stretch the horizons.

My Johnny Depp Story

I always found it interesting how one life can make a big impact. It’s like adding or removing a character from a story. You can drastically change the outcome. When it comes to celebrities, they impact a lot of people–millions of people–and they don’t always meet those people.

Yes. I’ve been following the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial. Yes. I know there’s probably more important things to focus on, but there’s a reason why I’m so dedicated to this trial and if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to explain it. I’d like to tell the story of how Johnny Depp made an impact in my life.

Pirates of the Caribbean; Curse of the Black Pearl came out in 2003 and I was 9 years old at the time. I didn’t see it in theaters. The first time I saw it was in the living room with my family. We got it through Netflix back when they were sending DVDs through mail. Pirates of the Caribbean instantly became my favorite movie after that and my favorite character was Captain Jack Sparrow. I did what any typical 9 year old does when they become obsessed with a movie: I copied Captain Jack, quoted Captain Jack, had a bunch notebooks, binders, and popcorn tins with his face on it and one Christmas, my brother and I got a bunch of Legos all about Pirates of the Caribbean. When next movies came out, we saw them in theaters.

As big a fan as I was of Captain Jack Sparrow, I didn’t consider myself a fan of Johnny Depp. I never stalked the history of Johnny Depp or looked out for his movies. To my 9 year old butt, Johnny Depp was just the actor who played Captain Jack Sparrow. They weren’t the same person. Yet, people always made that correlation. “Oh! You love (Captain) Jack Sparrow! You must love Johnny Depp!” and then you got my mom showing me all these nice photos of Johnny Depp like the ones from his Dior shoots.

I tried to resist it as long as I could. I got a stubborn streak when it comes to mainstream, “what’s in, what’s out” type stuff. I don’t like following the popular. I don’t like following actors who are just people and not their characters. However, in high school, a friend of mine sent me a “16 personalities test.” You the know the kind where your personality is a bunch of letters in a row? I remember taking it and I remember how scary accurate it was. I couldn’t tell you the personality it gave me, but one thing I specifically remember was at the bottom of the page it listed famous people with the same personality type. One was Shakespeare–which I remember doubting because he’s dead, how would people know? And the other one was Johnny Depp.

The actor who plays Captain Jack Sparrow has the same introverted and quiet personality as me. I can’t say if that was that turning point that made admit to being fan of Johnny Depp, but it certainly helped. I’m not the type of fan who knows exactly when his birthday is, when he started his career, who his family is, all that creepy stalker stuff, etc. etc. etc. I’m the type of fan where if I heard Johnny Depp was in a movie, I’d go see that movie.

Then life happens, you know? I went to college, started focusing on work, writing my book, and being me that Captain Jack Sparrow and Johnny Depp were the furthest things from my mind. I had no idea what he was up to. I didn’t even realize he was in Fantastic Beasts until I recognized him at the end of the film–which made me want to watch the sequels.

At some point, I heard about the domestic abuse allegations against him. I remember thinking: “That doesn’t sound right.” Johnny Depp a domestic abuser? I couldn’t see it. However, I knew that I was bias. I knew I didn’t have all the facts. The media likes to blow things out of proportion. And I had no idea what Johnny Depp does in his personal time. I had no grounds to say what allegations came up were true or not. So, when Disney dropped him as Captain Jack Sparrow–as much as I didn’t like it–I understood why they did it (didn’t agree, just understood). Then Johnny Depp was dropped as Grindlewald. I remember thinking that was a terrible idea. WB shouldn’t have done that and given how Secrets of Dumbledore is the worst faring Harry Potter movie, I believe I was right.

These abuse allegations must have bothered me more than I realized, because I ended up having a dream about him. I mean, it makes sense. The only actor I was a fan of as a child was now labeled an abuser. Anyone would take that hard. When it comes to dreams, everyone has different thoughts and there’s still a lot of study going into them–I’m certainly not an expert, but I can tell you what was in my dream. I was–for some unknown reason–working backstage on a Broadway production. My job was to help with costumes and whatnot. I remember standing in a red room in a slender, plain dress and getting degraded by this fancy, older lady actress in a ruby gemstone dress. I have no idea who she was. I just know when she left the room, I was feeling pretty ugly, meek, and worthless. Then, this gentleman walks in and I’m utterly speechless as I recognize Johnny Depp. I remember thinking “This is a person I have to be careful of because people lay claim that he’s an abuser,” but I wasn’t about to walk away from him. He smiled at me. Talked with me. Told me the gown I was wearing looked good on me. It wasn’t a very long conversation, but when he walked away, I remember thinking: “that man is an abuser? Really?! That man? There’s no way!” I know it was just a dream. I didn’t actually meet the real Johnny Depp, but it made me believe in him just a little bit more.

At one point, I heard that Johnny Depp was suing Amber Heard (and I’d like to make it known that I had no idea who Amber Heard was until social media said she was the leading female in Aquaman after Aquaman came out) and the trial was going to be broadcast live. I didn’t pay attention to the dates, I was going to stay out of it, but–of course–some of my friends on Facebook were posting #JusticeforJohnnyDepp. I remember seeing a picture of Johnny Depp wearing a mask over his mouth that said: “Believe all Women” and the post relating to it mentioned a UK trial. That picture definitely bothered me.

So that did it. I was curious. I started looking up articles about what was going on between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard and I discovered that this current trial was about an op-ed in 2018 that Amber Heard wrote. Reading about it led me to posting “The Power of Words” on April 20th. Eventually, found the trial live on Youtube. I think it was day 3 or day 4 when I started watching it. I was completely lost in what was going on, but then Johnny Depp took the stand.

It really hit me as I watched him tell his story. He stuttered over his words because he wanted to find the right ones. He was slow in explaining to make sure he knew what he was saying. He admitted to being a painter, a drawer, a writer, an overall creative soul. Like me.

I was reminded of that personality test I took in high school. The one that claimed I had the same personality type as Johnny Depp and seeing him on the stand made me believe it was right. No, we don’t have the same background, but we both escape to creative arts and get inside our heads when stress arises. I could relate to the reactions he said he had while facing different things. We’re both introverts and introverts don’t like to speak up or have the spotlight.

I was going through a rough time before the trial started. I left a job because I felt betrayed by it. The people there turned against me and my manager wouldn’t hear my side of the story. I got out of there because I felt if I didn’t, I would get fired for doing nothing wrong except being too quiet. I started blaming myself. If I hadn’t been so quiet, if I would’ve just spoke my side of the story and not let others drown me out. If I would’ve fought harder, things wouldn’t have turned out the way that they did. But, I didn’t fight. I didn’t speak up because I didn’t think I could. I’m the quiet one. The introvert. Who’s ever going to take the time to listen to me stumble to get my story out there? To wait for me to organize my thoughts just to say one sentence? It’s not possible in the world we live in today. You have to know what to say in the moment. Be willing to talk over and cut off others and I blamed my personality for me being unable to do that. I didn’t believe I could ever do that.

Then Johnny Depp took the stand.

I cried about it a couple times and it still sticks with me. Johnny Depp, an introvert, a “quiet one,” is taking a stand to tell his side of the story and he’s doing it live in front of the entire world. He took his time and stuttered on the stand. He fought back against cross examiner and even spoke over him and cut him off. I loved every bit of sass Johnny gave Mr. Rottenborn. Every day the trial takes court, the more truth comes out. The more the truth comes out, the more people are supporting him. He’s got millions standing in his corner. A “quiet one” has the support of people across the globe, because he was brave enough to tell his story. So, yeah. I support him 100%.

Thank you, Johnny Depp, for proving that the “quiet one” can have a voice. That it’s possible for an introvert to fight for truth and not be limited by our personality. Thank you for proving me wrong. I may not be at that point now, but someday. I now believe it’s possible for me to have a voice. To get my truth out there. Personality isn’t an inhibiter.

Thank you for proving that, Johnny.

When a Dream Fades

With a quiet tear,
You watch as all you hold dear,
Just sighs and falls away.

There’s no words to be said,
It’s more than in your head
And you’ve not even the energy to pray.

Pray and wonder why?
All you can do now is cry
As impossible comes knocking at your door.

Perhaps it’s your fault?
This dream’s come to a halt.
and put your heart at war.

All things have a purpose,
But is it really worth it?
This pain you have to endure.

All you ever wanted.
Now snatched, cursed, and haunted.
Where at once, all was so pure.

But love is never wrong.
It provides what makes us strong.
And you’ll realize in the end.

The dream had meaning.
Even without the weaning.
And in love’s hand you’ll mend.

Let your heart grieve.
But never believe.
That this was all your fault.

A plan is in place.
Have hope! Have faith!
Love keeps you safe like a vault.

Some day. Some time.
You’ll be out of the grime
And take your stand once more.

For even faded dreams,
Despite evil’s schemes,
Can be given the chance to soar.

Never Ending Reading List

Writers. Readers. We all have one. I dare you to share yours (or at least a part of it). What books are you reading? What books are you wanting to read? How long is your “To Read” list? Here’s some of mine (and I say some because I know I’ve probably forgotten one or two. Feel free to take a look through. You might find a book you want to add to your list.

Currently Reading: The Siren’s Depths By Martha Wells

Started, but never finished:
  • Dark Warrior Rising by Ed Greenwood
  • S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst
To Read:
  • The Wishsong of Shannara by Terry Brooks
  • Eragon Series by Christopher Paolini
  • The Spark by David Drake
  • The Dragon’s Legacy by Deborah A. Wolf
  • A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin
  • Embers by Ronie Kendig
  • Wolf Hunting by Jane Lindskold
  • Argonauts by Kevin Kneupper
  • Dune series by Frank Herbert
  • Isle of Hope by Julie Lessman
  • Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordian
  • The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima
  • Leviathan by Scott Westerfield
  • Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
  • The Once and Future King by T. H. White
  • The Immortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare
  • Fablehaven by Brandan Mull
  • Furyborn by Claire Legrand
  • Nottingham by Nathan Makaryk
  • The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton
  • Partials by Dan Wells
  • The King’s Blood by Daniel Abraham
  • Crown of Vengeance by Mercedes Lackey
  • Lament by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
  • Stalked by Flames by Susan Illene
  • Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep

Again, these are not all of them. These are just the ones I can find on my various reading lists spread through many different apps and journals. Please feel free to comment your favorite book on this page, my Facebook Page, and/or my Twitter if you’d like! Reading lists may seem overwhelming, but they’re meant to be long to give you any and all options.

The Power of Words

If you’ve been following the News this week, you’d know that there’s a trial going on between two famous actors: Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. Each one is trying to sue the other for millions of dollars. Now, I don’t usually get into drama/political debates, but, honestly, I can relate to this case. My relation may not be on such a grand scale that it involves lawsuits and long trials, but its essentially the same issue.

This trial is happening because of an opinion piece Amber Heard made in the 2018 Washington Post. She described herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” She gave no names. Didn’t associate a single person to her writing, however, given she divorced Johnny Depp in 2016, people saw Johnny as the abuser in her article. It ruined his career and any hope that fans had of seeing him as Captain Jack Sparrow again. Now, I don’t know who’s lying or who’s telling the truth in the Johnny Depp trial, but I know one thing: Amber Heard knew her writing would impact Johnny Depp even though she left his name off it. Why do I know this? Because, I did the exact same thing.

My writing isn’t making the grand scale drama like the Johnny Depp trial, but the situation is the same. About a month ago, I posted a poem on this website called Let Me Go. I wrote it out of hurt. You see, I was having a hard time at the place where I worked. Straight to the point where I was miserable. A coworker that I thought I was close friends with started cutting me off and treating me like I didn’t exist. They did this all because of a possibility of another lead position opening up on my team and when the lead position did open up, things got worse. Gossip started behind closed doors. The team was starting to take sides: hers or mine. It no longer felt like a workplace, but a battleground where if you didn’t watch what you did, you would get reprimanded for it and fired. I felt that my coworker was blinded by ambition and pushing out everyone that stood in their way. I was angry at myself for not being able to fix the relationship we once had. For being too reserved and unable to speak my mind. I started believing that I was the problem even though I felt I did nothing wrong. I realized I was no longer wanted. No one would listen to my side of the story. I still cared for this coworker and I knew she would be a great lead for the team, but it hurt the way she treated me. All that led to me writing Let Me Go. At the time, I didn’t see the harm of posting that poem. I only got about 10 views on my site a week anyway and considering there’s at least five of my family members who follow my posts, I didn’t think anyone else would see it.

Boy, was I wrong.

My website got over 100 views that week all because of that poem. One of my coworkers read it and they spread it to the rest of my workplace. I kept telling myself I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not the one who tagged my ambitious coworker to that poem and I had a right to freedom of speech. I’m a writer. I struggle to verbally communicate so writing is how I cope best. Yet, I knew who I was writing about when I wrote that poem. I may not have named them, but it was all about them. I don’t know what their reaction was to it, because we never spoke. Like I said: she treated me like I didn’t exist and that was way before the poem was posted.

My point is that deep down, I knew there would be backlash. I knew that if she ever saw that poem then it would hurt her and it was wrong of me to call her out like that. Words cut deeper than the flesh and I know mine probably did some damage. I didn’t put her name on the poem, but it still made her the target.

This is how I know that Amber Heard knew her op-ed in the Washington Post would affect Johnny Depp. Every writer knows there’s power in words. They’re one of the best weapons out there. They can tear someone down enough to make them contemplate suicide or build them up to make them feel on top of the world. You have to be careful with them and think long and hard on how you use them. Amber’s words hurt Johnny Depp whether the allegations are true or not. She could’ve done it out of sheer, dramatic spite, or she could’ve done it because it was the honest to God truth. I sympathize with Johnny Depp because I think about the target of the my poem. Even though everything I said in it felt like truth to me. Even though I have a right to post my freedom of speech on my website, it couldn’t have felt good to be on the receiving end of that poem and knowing all your coworkers are seeing it to. Johnny Depp’s and Amber Heard’s trial is going to last a long time and affect so many people. All because of a page long op-ed in the Washington Post.

Regardless of who you believe, I hope this article makes you consider how you use your words today and every day after. Whether its in response to trivial drama at work or on a grander scale like the Johnny Depp trial. The tongue and the pen have the power of life and death. Use them carefully.

So Bad

Just the other night, I got to enjoy two episodes of Star Trek; Deep Space Nine. My mom and I watch it together and so far, we’re on season 3. One of the things I love about Star Trek is how it challenges you to think broader. The two episodes I watched the other night were the Past Tense Part 1 & 2 episodes. If you’re unfamiliar with them, allow me to explain.

The crew of Deep Space Nine was returning to Earth for a lot of formal regulatory stuff. Well, while the commander, doctor, and science officer are beaming down to Earth, temporal particles disrupt the transporter device. Our three heroes make it to their destination safely; but, they end up arriving in San Francisco in the year 2024.

2024!

That’s 2 years from now!

Now, I’ve never been to San Francisco, but I like to believe the Star Trek version of San Francisco in 2024 is vastly different from what it really is. People in the Star Trek version of San Francisco who didn’t have jobs or places to live ended up getting placed in closed off areas called Sanctuary Districts. In fact, if they didn’t have an I.D. card on them, they got processed in those districts. The District our heroes got thrown into had over 10,000 people living it. 10,000 people were promised they would be helped in finding jobs, homes, and a way to sustain their own normal life. Yet, those promises went unfulfilled. The people were even divided by slang terms and demeaned often. A “dim” was someone with mental health issues that could be corrected if they were allowed the right kind of medication. A “gimmie” is someone who’s looking for help (a job or housing) and is making an effort to find it. While a “ghost” is someone inside the Sanctuary who preys on others for their food cards, clothing, you name it. The only person a “ghost” trusts is themselves.

The commander and doctor in our story got the opportunity to see every side of the Sanctuary while the science officer gets to see what life is like outside it. The upper class, the “haves”, or people with I.D.’s and jobs, they all know what happens in the Sanctuaries. Many believe they’re there to help people. To get those less fortunate off the street and back on their feet. Yet, our science officer begs the question that if the Sanctuaries are there to just help people, then why are there walls around them? The Sanctuaries ended up becoming a place for unfortunate people to get thrown into, forgotten, and mistreated like no one deserves.

Our heroes end up discovering that they have to live through a brutal point in Earth’s history (all because they got someone very important unintentionally killed and screwed up the timeline). You see, in Star Trek lore, the only thing that ended these Sanctuaries was a riot that got hundreds of people killed. One man (the guy our heroes got killed) kept hostages safe through the entire thing. He got the stories of innocent victims of these sanctuaries told through the internet so that the world could see what was really going on. All that paved the way for change–and apparently helped pave the groundwork for Starfleet and the Federation of Planets.

As wonderful as it is that our heroes righted history and made all things good again, the episode ended with one pondering question. Our dear, Dr. Bashir asks: “How could they have let things get so bad?”

“How could they have let things get so bad?”

That’s a great question, right? How could things in those Sanctuaries that initially had good intentions get so bad? And with it being the year 2024, it makes you wonder how much of Star Trek is going to be right? We may not have full blown Sanctuaries, but something similar? Something you look at that makes you think: “that’s wrong,” but you don’t do anything about it. Climate change, homelessness, job losses, illnesses going untreated, people going hungry.

There was something else said in the episodes that felt like a wake-up call to society. Our good doctor, Dr. Bashir, is trying to reassure one of the hostages. He tells her that it’s not her fault things are this way and she tells him: “Everyone thinks that; yet, nothing changes.”

I think people these days are guilty of seeing a situation and using that excuse.
“It’s not my fault that person is starving.”
“It’s not my fault the country ended up this way.”
“It’s not my fault those people are dying in a war they didn’t ask for.”
“It’s not my fault. I didn’t know.”
“I’m just trying to survive myself. I have too many problems to worry about. I don’t have time for yours.”

So, tell me: how can you make a difference in the world? How can we stop things from getting so bad that a riot needs to happen for change to occur? How can things get better if society remains in a “Me First” focus?

Imagine how unstoppable humans can be if we banded together to make things better. If we looked out for each other instead of ourselves.

You can tell yourself: “It’s not my fault that person is starving,” but are you in a position to help them? You may not be able to help feed them for life, but you can help feed them for today. Give them strength to keep trying.

It’s so easy to get into that mindset. “The government’s corrupt and that’s not my fault!” But it’ll be your fault if you let it stay that way. If you just stand by and watch problems grow or people starve. You’re still to blame for doing nothing.

OOF. This is a heavy post. Yet, sometimes people need a kick in the teeth to do something about the wrongs in the world. You might be thinking of something now that’s been eating at you, but you’ve stood idly by. Maybe it’s that guy on the corner who begs for food and money or a policy in a workplace that doesn’t help people like it should? My point is: I dare you to make a difference. It doesn’t have to be anything big and extraordinary! Everything starts out with baby steps–even walking! So, I dare you to take a look around during your day to day and look for a way you can make a difference in someone else’s life.

The Past Tense episodes of Star Trek; Deep Space Nine aired in 1995 and their prediction for 2024 isn’t a great one. We may not have Sanctuary districts, but wouldn’t it be neat if future generations looked back at our 2024 and thought: “that was a good year. That was a year people truly cared.” We could inspire them and make a difference to last through the millennia so no one ever has to ask the question: “How could they let things get so bad?”

For the Escape Artists.

Playing a game. Casting magic. Exploring.
Or reading a book of adventure, not boring.
Watching a movie of a place far away,
Or writing out demons to keep them at bay.

What magic there is to be flying the clouds.
And wishing you never have to come down.
Be a swordsman, a ranger, a solider in space.
Something else besides your own race.

There’s lessons in there, a story of wonder.
And details and details to make you ponder.
An artisans work, a craft from the heart.
All for the stories so you can take part.

Whether a game, a movie, a book, or a play.
There’s something to keep reality at bay.
With decisions and bills arising such stress.
You realize the real world is kind of a mess.

So, thank the author, the director, the playwriter too.
And the game designer with worlds so brand new.
For the escape–for a moment–to keep stress at bay.
When reality comes to ruin your day.

Such artists offer their hearts and their souls.
To build an escape you can tenderly hold.
The pressure of life weighs on your shoulders
And expectations from others rolling like boulders.

You run and you run, an Indiana chase.
Until an artist comes in to break up the pace.
They reach out their hand, pull you out the side-door
And show you new worlds of wonder galore.

And reality, for a moment, has to take a sit
And wait for you to get your fix.
Then you can face reality and its dreadful scorner
With all of these artists backed in your corner.

So thank the designer, director, and all the plot twists
Delivered to us by our escape artists.