I Promise You Won't Learn A Thing From This Blog

The official blog for author Ashley Chappell. Check back every week for a few laughs at my expense or, if you know the love-hate process that is writing, commiseration.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Elizabeth Over!

Today I'm handing over the reigns to one of my favorite people in the whole wide world AND the interwebs - Author Elizabeth Seckman! Elizabeth, for those who don't know her, is not only a champion of authors everywhere, but she manages to be a prolific writer as well as Super Mom and Super Wife. She is my hero! And her Coulter Men series is a seriously smart, snarky, and realistic romance series you have to read. I've never been one to pick up a romance series, but Elizabeth makes it fun for even those of us who still believe that boys have cooties!

So without further ado.... here's Elizabeth and her newest release - Defying Reason!


Thanks for having me over Ashley! It's so good to be here. I tried to think of something I could teach a smart gal like yourself, and decided I'd show you how to be a cheap and easy tease.

I know you're now married to an uber smart guy and don't really need to worry about easy, but there are plenty of people who do. 

For my book launch, I wanted to have some teasers. Problem was, I didn't even know where to begin. 

But with hard work and plenty of frustration, I made this:

I have to admit, this tech moron was pretty pleased with the results. And honestly, it was so easy!

1. I bought pictures at Dollar Photo Club. There are plenty of stock photo purchase sites, but I chose this one. I like easy and their rules were simple. A dollar a picture, with a minimum purchase of ten. 

2. I then went to PicMonkey. They have plenty of free photo shop applications, like adding text and overlays, or you can get the full site for under $50 a year. (Great for fixing blemishes on family photos too...when I have time, my albums are getting an update!)

3. Download a picture on Pic Monkey and start tinkering. There are tutorials to watch, or you can do trial and error with all the cursing and hair pulling until you get it right. 

4. Then save your masterpiece. 

5. Share.

I even made one for you, Ashley! I know you're quite the Star Wars fan, so I gathered up a few of my favorite lines and put them together. It was so easy! I mean seriously? If I can do it...anyone can!

The Blurb:

Jo Leigh Harper comes from a long line of trouble-making, white trash stock.
Tanner Coulter comes from a longer line of wealth-creating, blue blood stock.
Jo graduated college top of her class, moving toward a future full of possibilities.
Tanner dropped out of college, trading a law degree for drinking games and one night stands.

A family crisis throws the rich party boy and the poor genius girl together. The attraction is immediate, though neither one is a heart-in-the-sand-drawing believer in true love. But as the summer sun heats up along the shores of the Outer Banks, so does the connection between them. Maybe, just maybe, they can win at love by defying reason.

Author Bio:

Elizabeth is a multi-published author of books for people who are believers in happily-ever- after, true love, and stories with a bit of fun and twists with their plots. The mother of four young men, she tackles laundry daily and is the keeper of the kitchen. She lives along the shores of the Ohio River in West Virginia, but dreams daily of the beach. 

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Happy Friday the 13th!

Just swinging by to wish everyone a happy Friday. This happens to be my lucky day! I had turned 16 and got my driver’s permit on Friday the 13th, turned 21 on Friday the 13th, and tonight I’m going to drink a beer and play Borderlands until my heart is content. How are you spending yours?

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Schrodinger's Egg

Sculpted by M. Pena and sold by
 Windstone Galleries
Like most authors I know, I like to surround myself with odds and ends that inspire me when I write. And as I sat down to write this morning, I accidentally locked eyes with one of my favorite little pieces of inspiration. I purchased this ever-hatching egg from a vendor at the Alabama Phoenix Fest last year and it instantly earned a prized placement among the items already on my desk, ranging from dragonflies and signed Neil Gaiman novels to pirate ships and krakens.

When I found him, this little fella sat on a display shelf surrounded by gorgeous sculptures of dragons, cats, unicorns, and other mystical animals that were totally life-like. M. Pena, the artist, is a master of sculpture. But this simple egg, its inhabitant peeking out at me perpetually, called me more than any of the others.

Sure, the others were astounding gallery pieces and I probably could have written an entire book about one of those characters cast forever in stone. But this little guy.... he could be absolutely anything at anytime. He's the veritable Schrodinger's egg; until he hatches, he is a gargoyle, he is a dragon, he is a world-turtle, he is anything I can imagine him to be forever. Until he hatches, the possibilities are endless.

And that, my friends, is exactly what I love so much about sitting down to write the stories as they begin hatching in my mind. I always sit down with a clear picture of what I intend to transpire in this scene or that scene, yet it never fails that as my mind dictates one thing, my fingers begin typing another entirely. Some writers I know are Master and Commander of their stories; they can plot their course from beginning to end and seldom waver from the outline. I've never been one of those, even in writing short stories. I start with an idea, a mysterious egg, and begin writing just to see what hatches. It's the excitement in the discovery of what happens in the end that drags me back to my laptop whenever I can.

Though it seems that lately I haven't been back in this seat for that purpose often enough at all. This morning as I met his judgy orange eyes on beginning my day of writing, I'm pretty sure he said: "It's about time."

My pet egg, according to the website, is a gargoyle. But I won't believe it until he hatches. In the meantime, I think I'll call him Erwin.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Stuffageddon: Going Tiny Means War on Stuff

There comes a time in every woman's life when she has to finally ask herself - "Do I need 24 coffee mugs? And what about this eggy-separatory-thingy?" Unless I'm opening a diner that specializes in coffee and hollandaise sauce, the answer is no. No, no, no, no, and no. 

And that's just the beginning.

Our safari into the darkest reaches of our kitchen cabinets turned up mysterious unidentified kitchen utensils that might have been better suited for the Spanish Inquisition. ("That? Oh, that's our antique eyeball scoop. Just put it with the melon ballers.")

When we consolidated households almost three years ago, we both owned houses of comparable size that were filled with our own respective Stuff, and then had to cram all of that Stuff into one of those houses. We did donate a decent amount of Stuff at the time; things that neither of us had any need for and honestly couldn't even remember how they came into our possession. Things like a ceramic figurine of sandals that said 'Dominican Republic' (a place neither of us have been), or a broken pole saw that was beyond repair. 

Those were the easy ones. 

Then came the items that fell into the "Perfectly Good Useful Stuff" category where we had duplicates. You can imagine... Two toasters, two water filters, two microwaves, two sets of mixing bowls, two oak beds, etc. The discussion around things like that always resolved into a decision that we should keep them "just in case" we needed them someday. We're taught that it's always good to have a back-up. Well, we had back-ups for our back-ups. It always made perfect sense at the time to keep all of it, because you never want to find yourself having to re-purchase an item that you'd foolishly parted with, of course. And if I managed to set my toaster on fire, I'd be awfully glad I still had that other $20 toaster up in our attic, right? Right.

Skyrim, Hoarding
If I hoarded in real life as much as I did in Skyrim, we'd really be in trouble.

So we justified all of the extra attic space we expanded into without a second thought. One day, completely without warning, my super handyman husband sent me a photo of a gaping hole he'd cut into our kitchen ceiling for a brand new attic space, opening up all kinds of storage options for our tiny over-flowing home. The sub-par Martha Stewart in me had a minor heart attack, but the burgeoning hoarder had eyes only on the ultimate storage prize: Do you have any idea how much STUFF you can get into a stand-up attic space that size???

This philosophy has continued in our household for the past three years and we were close to reaching a critical mass of Stuff in every room of the house, from the Catio to the Robot Lab (What? You don't have a Robot Lab in your house?). 

Our dream has always been to purchase a huge tract of land in the mountains and build our dream home in the middle of it with my hobbit hole writing office in some picturesque corner of the property. In fact, we started our 5 year plan to make it happen as soon as we got married and part of our accumulation of Stuff has been to furnish this someday home. We literally have a bed under our bed and another bed in our closet. Our master bedroom is so crammed with mis-matched furniture that my shin has a permanent goose egg on it from night time navigation. We've purchased two storage ottomans in the past few months and were on the brink of buying a new buffet for additional kitchen storage to house all of this Stuff that we thought we couldn't live without.

And then Steven called me at work one day with an idea that changed everything. The gist of his call was this: If we scale back in the short term, our 5 year plan becomes a 2 year plan. That means getting rid of everything we can so we can squeeze into a Tiny Home for a few years.
Tumbleweed Tiny House
Seriously, isn't this Tumble Weed House just the most adorable thing ever?
We've been interested in the Tiny House movement for some time, but we've never had a motivation to seriously consider it as anything other than a vacation cabin. The utility and flexible design makes these tiny houses on wheels, usually well under 200 sq ft, perfect for a weekend getaway. But a long-term residence? Nah. We've got too much Stuff. 

But when getting rid of things that we may never use and don't really need suddenly means getting onto our dream property 3 years sooner (for us, it's always been more about the land than about the house), then show me the way to the dumpster! So now we've already taken one truck-load to be donated and our living room floor is piled with boxes full of other things we don't need now, never did before, and probably never will. And every single box we fill becomes another blazing symbol of our freedom from this tyranny of Stuff that we'd never recognized before. It's even becoming addicting to throw things out; I find myself looking at everything in the house with new eyes now. 

("Do we really need a sofa? We don't have people over. What about that dining set? We always eat on the sofa. Oh, maybe we do need the sofa.") 

It's an incredible feeling, honestly. I've always thought of myself as being practical by holding onto items of value that might one day be useful, even if one day never came. But I'm starting to believe that the road to Hoarder Hell is paved with Practical Ideas (though likely there are stacks in the corners).

Tonight, after I write for a while on A God of Gods, I'm going to walk into my closet and pry out some clothes wedged tightly in the back that probably haven't seen sunshine in 4 years (or 25 lbs), and toss them on top of the pile, too. And considering I'm going to follow all of that up with ice cream, I'm probably never going to have to worry about whether or not I'll have to eventually re-purchase a size 2 pair of jeans again.

If I hadn't downsized my face paint, this is how I would have
celebrated my escape from Stuff Culture.

Granted, it's going to take a much larger lifestyle change to adapt to a Tiny Home than just throwing away excess Stuff, but for us every box we donate is a celebration of this first step toward achieving our dream. We've gone from needing to buy more Stuff to contain our Stuff, to having empty cabinets and shelves that we never thought we'd see again. If we can do this in two weeks, what can we do in two years? What can YOU do in two years? 

Consider it. The War on Stuff can be your first step to freedom, too.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Distractionless December

I'm making #DistractionlessDecember a thing. Who's with me? I'm never good at sticking to New Year's resolutions and I think that's largely because I can't kick the subconscious stigma that they're made to be broken anyway. Everyone makes resolutions, but who actually thinks of them as firm life decisions? They're basically little glittery ideals flitting around with fairy wings that we look at and think "Oh yeah, I should totally do that" and stick them in a glass jar to show everyone how cool this little shiny thing we have is. Then they die after a few weeks of not being fed. (Don't judge me. Everyone had a butterfly or lightning bugs in a jar at some point. We're all murderers and we're all in this together. Right?)

Screw that. I'm starting now.

For my Distractionless December, I'm swearing off all forms of TV with one cheat night allowed per week. I'm also not allowing myself to even log into my Steam account, let alone play any games. I won't spend an hour or so a day browsing 9gag or updating my Amazon.com wish list.

Bottom line, if I'm not creating something, achieving a goal, or enriching myself somehow, I'm not allowing in my December. My goal is to balance my growing need for passive stimulation and get back to the place where I begin drawing my energy from being actively creative by the end of the month.

No more excuses.

No more distractions.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Hubby, I mean, Happy Thanksgiving!

As we hit the hard road from Alabama to Kentucky, I just want to share a quick look at what I'm so thankful for on this, our first married Thanksgiving together.  

This gorgeous man giving me a pirate snarl for the camera while sporting his brand new Street Fighter head band from Loot Crate is no small miracle. He gets my obscure jokes, knows exactly where to scratch that elusive itch on my back, stands beside me through every event as my arm candy and pack mule, and he gives the best head pets in the world. And I didn't even have to build him in a lab! 

My best and warmest wishes to all of you this holiday. May it be filled with laughter, stories you'll never forget, and, if you're lucky, a little magic as well. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Surprise! I write real books, too!

*Spoiler*  - The "Surprise" in the title is pure, beautiful, and somewhat bitchy sarcasm.

Okay, mostly bitchy.

What follows might come across as a re-hashing of an old topic, but since it seems to keep rearing its fugly head I'm not going to apologize for making you read it yet again. This one just really got my hackles up.

What happened? On our recent honeymoon (yes, I promise a post is coming about that soon, too), we were on a cruise with some of the most well-educated and interesting people that I've ever met. Keep in mind, we were the outliers in average cruiser age by about 35 years, but these people have done everything - taken over banks, vacationed in Antarctica, built working test farms in drought-ridden African settlements, the list goes on. And I could have listened to the stories of 90% of these brilliant people until the sun rose. But that other 10% - pardon me while I take a drink for courage - were entrenched academics in primarily liberal arts disciplines.

Let me clarify here: The liberal arts are my lifeblood and where all of my passions go to snuggle up with a book, a surrealist painting, and a tangy wine and cheese pairing. But, in the darkest and narrowest parts of that arena, you can find the most immovable and pompous know-it-alls in the entire population of people with heads up asses.

You guessed right. This is the embodiment of the 10% I'm talking about here. These were the people who, despite the gloriously diverse selection of wine bottles paraded by our dinner table every night, tut-tutted with disapproval over every sip. Somehow conversation at these tables was always eventually guided to the topic of literature, an arena in which our resident academics were practically frothing over with wisdom they were dying to share. Whether we wanted it or not. And, without fail, they drew their prim little lines in the sand and placed fantasy, SF, and all popular fiction on the opposite side from 'Real Literature.'

The incident that got under my fur the most (and the one that left me lying awake in bed wishing I were more confrontational and not just a passive-aggressive blogger), was the dinner with the lady I will refer to as the I-can-quote-articles-I-read-on-Slate-Lady. Maybe I'll just call her Slate Lady for brevity.

This time the topic came up before I could even wave my Author Flag (they have those, right?), and Slate Lady made it clear immediately that she only read 'Real Books.' This, it turns out, is a literary unicorn of non-fiction and obscure authors who devote their lives to developing dark symbolism that would be a wet dream for any classic Russian novelists. I couldn't help myself. I asked the question:

Me: "What about Fantasy and Science Fiction?"
Slate Lady: *Sniff* *Derisive laugh* "Um, just no."

 That was mere moments before she launched into her tirade of shaming adults for reading YA that came almost verbatim from this Slate article that ticked off readers and writers of all genres this summer.

And no, *sigh*, I didn't call her out. I didn't acknowledge the immediate surge of brilliant rebuttals including this one from the Washington Post and this one from CNN. I did at least turn to another lady at the table (one of the sassiest and my favorite from the trip) and started talking loudly about how awesome it is that popular fantasy and even comic books are bringing a new generation of previously non-readers, especially among young boys. Remember that passive-aggressive thing I mentioned before? Damn it.

Eventually, that same awesome lady (an angel, she is) next to me pointed out to Slate Lady that I was an author.

Slate Lady: "Oh? And what do you write?"
Me: "Young Adult Fantasy and Satire."
Slate Lady: "Hmm."

I didn't say a word. I'd love to say it was because I just didn't want to spend the rest of the cruise on a small ship with someone at whom I'd thrown my glass of wine, but I just plain suck at confrontation. With or without alcohol. Eventually I'd have just gotten emotional and flustered and ended with an eloquent "Up yours," so I decided to save my venting for you lucky readers on the blog.

What I WISH I could have said to her is something along these lines:

I write a series about a young girl who was abandoned by her parents and forced to discover who she was all on her own in a world that wasn't forgiving of her 'gifts.' It's about a child in what amounts to slavery who's never known a life outside of abuse and neglect, but who overcomes her pains and heartache by retreating into her imaginary world.

It's about laughing at ourselves and the empty traditions we value without knowing why and taking stock in our instincts before we let our fickle brains over-rationalize us out of the right choice.

It’s about learning the hard way that maturity, at any age, is no match for experience. And finally, it’s about remembering that the right thing to do is still the right thing to do when no one is looking. It's a novel for anyone who’s struggled with how they identify themselves and learned to define their own niche in a world that doesn't have a place for them.

It just happens to be set in an alternate universe filled with magic, gods, and creatures. But yes, it is a REAL book. 

So this blog, I suppose, is as much about venting as it is a rallying cry for all of the writers and readers who've faced the accusation that fiction has nothing to offer because it "isn't real." Authors might seem magical to those who don't write, but we don't have wands that create mystical social, family, financial, or political situations that could never exist. It's pure insanity to think that our stories are anything other than a reflection of the world we live in, with the good and bad of personal experience all rolled into one literary package.

And yes, Ms. Slate Lady, I used the word 'literary,' because whether you believe it or not, I write real books, too.