March 31, 2016

Author Spotlight: Rick Riordan


Welcome to Author Spotlight, where I talk about my favorite authors. I'll cover the author, their books, and what I enjoy about their work. Today I chose Rick Riordan, one of my top authors.

Biography

Rick Riordan was born as Richard Russell Riordan, Jr. and is 51 years old. Both of his parents taught and he followed in their footsteps, teaching English and history. While in college he was a camp councilor, which he says gave him the idea for Camp Half-Blood. Rick started writing in middle school. He has a wife and two sons.

His oldest son has dyslexia and ADHD. That is what inspired him to write a story whose hero had those characteristics. It started out as a bedtime story. Eventually he wrote it down and it became wildly popular.

Books

Rick Riordan is most famous for his Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. But if you didn't know, here's a list of all his books.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians- A five book series that introduces us to Percy, the son of Poseidon. He discovers the Greek gods are alive and so are all the monsters that come out of the Greek myths. He and his friends must save the world from the Titans.

The Heroes of Olympus- Our journey with Percy continues, but now it has a whole new cast of characters- part Greek, part Roman. In five new books, the two former enemies must unite to defeat Gaea.

Percy Jackson's Greek Gods- Percy tells us all about the twelve major Greek gods. But he tells it using modern language and that make it funny.

Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes- The same as the Greek gods, but about- you guessed it- Greek heroes. You are so smart. I like it because it includes some girls.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard- Magnus is the cousin of Annabeth from the Percy Jacksons. Only he is the child of a Norse god and he's dead most of the book. You've got to read it to understand. I don't know how many books this will have but it will probably be between three and five.

The Kane Chronicles- This series is about the Egyptian gods and follows Carter and Sadie Kane. Their parents are gods and they're magicians. This series has three books. Rick has recently written some short stories where the Kanes meet Percy and Annabeth.

Tres Navarre- Rick's series of mysteries for adults. I have never read them (though I'm thinking about it) and don't know anything about them.

The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones- One of the many 39 clues books. The first one in fact. Amy and Dan are part of a contest to collect the 39 clues for a serum that will turn out to have deadly side affects.

The Trials of Apollo- His newest series about Apollo. He is cast out of Olympus by Zeus and turns into a human. I assume he must find a way to return to Olympus, perhaps by doing something. It sounds a bit like the plot of the first Thor movie.

What I Enjoy About His Work

The thing I most enjoy about his books, particularly the Percy Jackson's and Magnus Chase's, is the humor. No matter how dark things get, they're willing to crack a joke or make a witty comment. He gives humorous takes on many things that we don't see. You've got to read them to see it. (Oh, the dam jokes. Or Moose Pass Gas.)

I also love how he shows kids mythology without being dry and boring. He brings fresh life to the stories by bringing them to a modern setting. You don't realize how many of the adventures are real myths until you read the stories. Then you go, wow, I didn't realize that was a myth. I especially felt this way with the Magnus Chase books, since I'm less familiar with the Norse myths.

Do you like Rick Riordan? What do you like most about his work?

March 28, 2016

Setting (And Keeping) A Writing Schedule


If anyone ever tells you writing is easy, ignore them. Also ignore anyone who tells you to wait for inspiration to write. Dan Poynter said "If you wait for inspiration to write, you're not a writer, you're a waiter." That is true but to write instead of wait, you need to have a writing schedule.

Why You Need A Writing Schedule

You improve at what you practice. Writing is an art, just like drawing or music or sports. It's hard and takes a long time. You wouldn't learn to play the violin, then only practice when you felt inspired to, right? Or if you did, you would never get better. The same goes for writing. A writing schedule helps you keep practicing and learning.

It also has benefits. You complete things fast when you write daily and steadily. It teaches you dedication. And you become a better writer. What's better than that?

Setting A Writing Schedule

A writing schedule is a time and amount you'll write every day. You set these going by various factors. Answer these questions to get started and actually write your answers down.

  • When are you most productive? Sunrise? Mid morning? Late night? If you don't know, try some different times and see which works for you. Most people are either a morning writer or a night writer.
  • How do you write best? With paper and pencil? On the computer? Using poke berry juice and a sharp stick? Whatever it is, make sure you have all your supplies one place. Try having a nice little kit you grab and go.
  • Where do you write best? In your bedroom or at your desk? If you have a dedicated place to write, great. If not, always writing in the same place makes it easier on your brain. It starts to recognize this place as where you work.
  • How fast do you want to finish your novel? This will indicate how much you should write a day.
  • How much can you write a day? If you want to write 500 words a day but have never written more than 300, you may have to work your way up. Also, how long you can concentrate on writing indicates how long you should work.
Now that you have these answers you can make a schedule. Write down when, where, and how much you will write daily. Like I write in my bedroom between ten o'clock and noon and do three pages. 

Congrats! You've made a writing schedule.

Keeping Your Schedule

Like all things, you'll probably flub up your schedule. But here are some tips to keeping it.

Make goals. Start small, like writing every day for a month (not counting Sundays). When you've done that, try for a bigger one- maybe two or three months. Or if you're feeling really brave, go for a year. You won't want to mess up your goal, and before you know it, writing every day won't be so hard.

There will be days you simply don't feel like writing. I suggest doing something a little different those days. Set aside your current project. Instead, search for a writing prompt on Pinterest or Google. Write for half an hour. And make sure you keep it when you're done. You never know what a gem it may turn out to be.

Reward yourself. Keep a bag of candy and have a piece when you finish your quota. Or save something you really want to do, like read a book, watch a movie, check Facebook, whatever, until you're done. Not only will it feel sweeter, it give you motivation.

Bonus tip- this can work for editing too. Setting a schedule and sticking to it can help you while you edit. Just make sure to have times when you set your work aside to rest.

I hope this helps you with your writing. Even on the hardest days, don't give up. How do you know if you have the next big thing or the next classic if you don't write your story? Follow that dream.


March 24, 2016

Book of the Month: The Testing


The Testing- Joelle Charbonneau



The Testing is another one of the highly popular dystopian novels. It's title alone sparks interest. What are they testing and on whom? The maze pattern in the cover's background gives only a tiny hint to what goes on inside the book.

Sixteen year old Cia Vale is our story's heroine. She's a mechanic and the daughter of a farmer. Cia lives in the United Commonwealth, which has been ripped apart by the Seven Stages War. Basically, it's the United States far in the future, messed up by war and then the earth itself.

When students graduate, there's a chance they could be chosen for the Testing, a program that will admit them to the University, if they make it through. Cia has always wanted to be picked, but since all her brothers were ignored, she doesn't think she has a chance. However, she and several others from her colony are chosen, including Tomas, who she becomes friends with. It seems like a dream come true. When Cia arrives at the University, where the Testing will be held, she learns that passing won't be as easy as it seems. There are many tests, which if you fail, could lead to injury or death. The final test is the worst. They have to make it from an unknown city back to the University. The candidates are kept on a path back to the University filled with animals and each other. Cia must decide who to trust while using her wits to survive.

Thoughts about The Testing

This was an enjoyable book. Cia is a great heroine with all the spunk and smarts to make her lovable. She's a got skills and faults. She's a good character. The world was good. There are some awesome gadgets. My favorite is the skimmer, or what we call a hover car. The story is original too, though at first I was afraid that it would just be a cheap Hunger Games imitation. I wouldn't be surprised if it's made into a movie.

I do have several problems with it, though. First, the romance between Cia and Tomas. When the book starts she barely knows him, by the end they're head over heals in love. It's not impossible for that to happen, but this isn't a romance novel. I don't believe Joelle gave the spark between the two enough time to develop. Also, as the series progresses, the romance only gets in the way. Tomas would have served the story better as a good friend not a boyfriend.

Second, I don't think she gave enough backstory to her world. Writers tell you not to overwhelm readers with backstory, however she does the opposite. Joelle leaves you confused about things like the Seven Stage War. (After reading all three books I'm still not sure what happened.) Unlike the Hunger Games or Divergent, that give you the right amount of information about the world, the Testing doesn't give you enough.

Lastly, her prose is stiff. It's written in first person present tense like many dystopian novels, however, she didn't do a very good job using that style. Veronica Roth wrote beautifully using this format. Joelle's prose, while quite descriptive, is stilted and awkward. Sorry, but it just doesn't work for me.

Recommendations

Fans of the Hunger Games, Divergent, and the Maze Runner will probably enjoy this. Especially if they're looking for something new in the same genre. As for age, I suggest the reader should be at least 15. It has scary scenes and images that disturbed even me.

March 21, 2016

Where Can I Buy Jewelry?


You can get jewelry almost anywhere. But it may not be the best idea to get it from just any store. At least not if you want it to last a while. Allow me to talk about my favorite places to buy jewelry. (All opinions are my own.)

Claire's
This is one of my favorite places to get jewelry. It has pretty pieces and good prices. Not only does it sell jewelry, it also sells make-up, accessories, and little girl jewelry. There's something there for everyone, from sophisticated pieces to funkier stuff. Claire's is great place to check for trendy and more classic pieces.

Charming Charlie's
Charming Charlie's is a store organized by color, which makes it super easy to find what you need. Their prices are also good. I love so much of the jewelry here. They also have some accessories- shoes, scarves, purses, and a few clothing items. The pieces look good and are actually quite durable. Charming Charlie's is great for when you want a piece of jewelry to go with a certain outfit.

Etsy
Etsy, of course, is all homemade or vintage items. That means that the items are more expensive than things you might find in the store. As a person aspiring to open an Etsy shop, I know you have to price your items a little higher to get a profit. You can get almost anything on Etsy. The jewelry you can find there is diverse, basically anything you want. I suggest Etsy for specialty pieces that might not be able to find other places. Or if you want quality or handmade jewelry.

Other Places
Here's are a few other places you can get jewelry.
Target- They tend to have trendy and modern things. Best for people who like a modern look. Great statement pieces here.
Walmart- Be careful when shopping here. Many of the pieces are nice and you can find some great stuff. But there are some cheap quality things. So just watch out.
Gift Shops- These can have cool pieces, often centered around the places they come from. If you want a little something different, try them. Sometimes they're even handmade.

Do you have a place you like to shop for jewelry? What do you think of these ones?

March 17, 2016

Crafting Characters


All stories are populated by characters. Whether it's a human like you or me, a mythical creature like an elf, an animal, or an object, your novel needs characters to do anything. Sure, you could write a whole story about piece of scenery, but no one would read it. But how can you create good characters?

Step One: Concept

Many times you have an idea for the character you want for your story. But you probably don't know much about him or her. You may want a teenager, a magician, or a certain gender but know nothing else. Other times you might know nothing about the characters you want. That's okay too.

The first step is to learn about your character. Every writer goes about this differently. Some like to know nothing more than name and gender. Others need to write the whole history of the person from when they were born until whenever the story starts. (That seems a tad extreme to me, but if you works for you, that's fine.) I fall in the middle. I like to start by knowing the basics- name, age, gender, family, favorites, and all that.

I suggest finding a character fill-out sheet to use before you start outlining. Often the plot is driven by character actions and if you don't know the character, you may end up with something that doesn't work. Try this character worksheet by Trica Goyer or this one from Writer Owl. You can also look for them in books or online. Find one you like. If you don't want to answer all the questions, don't. If it doesn't have something you want to mention, add it.

Step Two: Deeper Understanding

Once you've written the first draft of your novel, you probably know your character pretty well. But at this point, I like to write a what I call a character sketch. Basically, I just write down everything I can think of about the character. This is an in depth look at whoever I'm writing about and helps me to learn even more about them. I've discovered that her dad likes LEGO or she has a rec room downstairs. You don't have to do it in this order. You may want to start by doing this step. This is how I do it.

Then as I edit, I refer to the character worksheets and sketches frequently, to make sure that this is what she would say or do. I use the information I have gathered to make my character more believable. Beware, though, about using everything you know. Just because you think it's really cute how your character and her cousin used to make up songs and sing them to the family when she was five, if it doesn't add to the story, cut it out.

Believability is key when crafting a good character. That means you need to give them flaws, faults, and problems. No one likes a perfect character. Even if you want readers to like your character, which is important, you have to make your character unlikable or flawed at times.

Additional Options

One thing I often find helpful is to actually draw the character. If you're not an artist, don't bother with this. But if you are, try it. Drawing whoever it is helps me fully nail down the character's appearance and posture, and gives me something to look at.

Another option is to make a board on Pinterest for your story. Name it after the story. Then, using Pinterest and Google, look for things that relate to your character. Find the exact shade of her hair and pin that. Know what hairstyle she has? Find a match and put that there. Discover what types of clothes and other stuff she likes and add them. That way you can build a great visual of what he or she looks like. You can also pin all sorts of other things that relate to your story. (Maybe I'll do a post on Pinterest story boarding later. Would you like that?)

Remember, this is all my opinions. Take away what you think you could use. I'm not a pro, I'm still learning myself. How do you craft your characters? Any tips you'd like to share? Tell me in the comments.

March 14, 2016

6 Ways to Wear Denim


I love wearing denim, whether it's in the form of a jacket or a skirt. Here are six ways to wear three different denim pieces- a long skirt, a jacket, and a midi skirt.


1- Casual
For a nice, at home look, try a midi skirt with a tee shirt or hoodie. Add tennis shoes and pony tail to complete the look.


2- Skirt and Jacket Combo
I've read that you shouldn't mix denim and denim but I don't agree. Pairing a denim jack and denim skirt looks cute and chic. A long shirt that peeks out between the two and breaks them up and a pair of flats finishes the ensemble.


3- Summertime
The midi skirt is also one you can wear in the summer. Pair it with a cute tank top, a pair of sandals, and some jewelry. Put your hair up to stay extra cool.


4- Winter Beauty
The long skirt can be worn with a long sweater for a warm winter look. Boots finish it off.


5- Cool Weather
For fall or spring, wear the long skirt with a long sleeved shirt. Put on a pretty necklace and some flats and you're ready to go.


6- Jacket Over Dress
If you pick out a dress and wear a denim jacket on top, it can look really good. Add boots or flats and put on some make-up, and you're ready to hit the town.

Let me know what you think. What's your favorite way to wear denim?

March 10, 2016

How to Make Feather Earrings


Don't be intimidated by the thought of making feather earrings. For a long time I was. They sounded, and looked, hard. But then I found an easy idea. I tried it and liked the results. Today I'll show you how to make them.



Supplies:
Feathers
Earring hooks
Tacky glue
Cord ends
Needle nose pliers



Step 1: Choose your feathers. You'll need two for each earring. You can either use two of the same color, or two different colors. If you use two different colors, decide which will go in front.



Step 2: Put tacky glue inside your cord end.



Step 3: Slide the feathers inside the cord end. Let dry for several hours or overnight. Put them somewhere out of reach of children and animals while they dry. (Our cat chewed one the first time I tried to make these. I had to make a new one.)



Step 4: Open the top of the cord end and put the earring hook in. Shut it again. You may need two pairs of pliers for this, as cord ends are stiff.



Step 5: Wear your cool new earrings!


March 7, 2016

Let's Talk About: Casey Neistat

casey neistat blog pic

Welcome to Let's Talk About, an once in a while discussion of people who inspire me. Today I chose Casey Neistat. So. . .

Who Is Casey Neistat?

Casey is a vlogger or video blogger. Instead of writing about his life and interests, like I do, he makes a video about it and puts it on YouTube. He's from New York City, has a wife and two children, Francine and Owen. Later this month is his birthday and the one year anniversary of his vlog. His YouTube channel has over 2 million subscribers. His vlogs are know for there quick cuts, time lapses, and of course, Casey.

What Makes Him Inspiring?

First, his personality. He is himself and he doesn't care what you think of that. He'll be the first to admit he's made mistakes. Like anyone, he has his quirks and they make him interesting.

Second, his dedication. Almost a year ago, he decided to become a vlogger. Casey didn't just decide to do a weekly vlog, he chose to upload daily. He hasn't missed a day yet even if it means staying up to insane hours. On the side he produces other videos like tutorials or his popular snowboarding video. Doing that takes immense dedication. And he's like that in most things. He throws himself wholeheartedly into everything he does.

Third, he made himself. Casey was a teenage father (to Owen, who he is still close with), dropped out of high school, and didn't exactly have the best teenagehood. But he decided to take a risk and move to New York City. When he started vlogging, barely anyone knew his name. Now he owns Beme, a social media, has a huge YouTube following, and people recognize him on the street. He's a celebrity despite his start.

I don't completely want to be like Casey. I don't want a kid at seventeen and I don't want to live like he does. But I do want to be as fearless as he is. I want to be as committed as he is. I want to make something of myself.

Casey is a cool guy. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel. What do you think of him?

March 3, 2016

Classic of the Month

book

March has begun, and for this month's classic I chose a book full of flowers and plants.

The Secret Garden

This is one of Frances Hodgson Burnett's three famous novels. It is about a little girl named Mary, who was raised in India. She's the child of typical Victorian era perents. Have a nurse to keep the child out of the way unless they want to show her off. Left alone a lot and unloved, Mary is a surly, stuck up thing at the beginning of the book.

The story begins when a cholera epidemic hits and kills everyone in the house and grounds except Mary. Having no other family, she is packed off to her uncle Archibald Craven in England. He lives in a giant old manor house out on the moors with many locked or off limit rooms. He also knows nothing about children. Mary learns from one of the maids, Martha, that there's a locked garden. This excites her curiosity and she starts to look for it, like any child would. She's a persistent girl and finds it through a turn of events you would call almost magical. As she works to make the garden come back to life, she becomes a more caring person and gains several friends, one of whom is a bird. Mary discovers her uncle's hidden son, Colin, one night. She takes him to the secret garden and between her and Dickon, one of her friends, they make him strong. When his father returns, the family is whole once again.

What I Like About It

One of the themes of the book is healing through living things. When Mary finds the garden, she stops being so priggish and becomes a healthy, happy little girl. Colin, her cousin, is the same. Instead of a bossy boy, he turns into a stronger, happier person. That one little garden, that brought her uncle so much pain, in a way brought him even more joy.

I also like the way Burnett talks about everyday magic, the type you or I don't notice because we've always seen it. The magic of the way things turn from a tiny seed to a beautiful flower is lost on us. But Mary and Colin think it's the most wonderful thing they've ever seen. If our world acted that delighted about watching a rose bush grow, I think people would be happier.

And of course, there's the wonderful thought of a secret garden. I've always hoped to find a garden hidden away somewhere. Even after Mary discovers the garden, it remains a magical place. The manor is cool too. They don't make houses like that in America. Over a hundred rooms with all sorts of things to discover, almost like Professor Kirke's house. A garden with three or four parts. Hidden parks in the woods. I've always wanted a house like that.

Movie and Book Adaptations

Unfortunately, there are no good movies made from this amazing book. I remember watching one when I was really little, but I don't know which one that one it was or whether it was any good. Someone should consider doing it. It could be such a great movie. There are also no books that take this story and twist it, or at least that I know of. There is, however, an excellent audio drama by Focus on the Family. My eight year old sister loves it, and I did too at her age. I would recommend it for anyone.