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, 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.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Excerpt from A God of Gods

It seems like every time I share a snippet of my current work on A God of Gods: Dreams of Chaos #3, it's a scene with Ali and Andi Bentley. But I just can't help it - I love these girls and, darn it, they just made me cry.


“Really, Mona? This is what had you so upset?” Ali said, stifling a yawn as she let the lace curtains fall back over the window. Her little sister Andi was stargazing in the walled garden just beyond. “Nothing bad can happen to her in Mom’s garden.”

Mona pursed her prim mouth even tighter, turning what little color that still remained in her lips to white. “She’s been out there for hours! I’ve told her repeatedly to come in before she catches her death out there and she’s ignored me completely. It’s not proper for a young lady to be out at night alone like this.”

“She isn’t alone,” Ali said, turning back to the window with a soft sigh. Andi looked pale and fragile in the moonlight, nothing like the rambunctious twelve year-old that had just tried to scale the massive baro tree that towered over the opposite end of the mayor’s mansion earlier that day. “I told Andi after Mom died that part of her would always be here in the garden she loved so much. Now she comes here anytime she really misses her. This has been hard on her, you know. She would have died yesterday if Eric hadn’t saved her, and even without that kind of terror, today was bound to be emotional for her.”

“Today? Oh, dear, your mother’s birthday. It must have slipped my mind,” Mona said, wringing her hands under her lace cuffs. Ali knew there had been no love lost between Mona and her mother so she was touched to see such a deep regret in her eyes, even if it was swallowed by her unyielding devotion to duty a moment later. “I am sorry for the both of you,” she continued, “but she can’t stay out there all night. If she won’t come in I’ll have to get your father.”

Ali tried to smile politely, but her patience with the uptight governess was wearing thin. Mona actually had a heart of gold, but sometimes it got lost beneath her tightly corseted sense of propriety. “It’s a lovely night, Mona. Besides, my father has a city to run. Go on to bed and I’ll take care of Andi. I promise I’ll get her to bed soon,” she added when Mona opened her mouth as if to protest again.

When Mona was out of sight Ali snatched the quilt off the settee by the door and slipped into the garden to where Andi sat perfectly still, her knees tucked up to her chest and her dimpled face turned up toward the sky. Fallen leaves crunched under her feet, but if Andi heard her approach she didn’t show it. Not even when Ali draped the blanket around her shoulders.

“Hey Spunkster. Playing statue again? Hey,” she said, wrapping her arm around Andi when she didn’t even respond to the nickname she normally hated. Ali sighed and fell into silence beside her. She’d spent the day putting on a strong face for her father because she was certain he’d been putting on a strong face just for her. With her father locked behind doors in a late-night meeting and her little sister lost in her own memories, she was finally able to let the mask slip away for the first time all day. It wasn’t long at all before her cheeks were wet with tears. It felt so good to let them fall.

“I miss her, too, kiddo,” Ali said eventually.

“What if they’re not that far away?” Andi said, her gaze still locked on the sky.

“What?” Ali asked. “Who are you talking about?”

“The stars. Master Earl said that the stars are all just dreams that didn’t get to be real like us. But does that mean they’re dead? Why would Chaos dream about dead things?”

Ali inhaled sharply and made a mental note to have a conversation with her sister’s school master. 

“Well, sweetie, I don’t think they were really ever alive – ”

“But if those dreams are dead,” Andi plowed on, “does that mean Mom could be up there, too? And if we can see them, that has to mean they aren’t that far away. I could see her again,” she said, her eyes, full of hope, finally falling on Ali.

Aha, Ali thought. I should have seen that coming. She felt like she was suddenly in way over her head. What could she possibly say that wouldn’t break Andi’s heart even more? “Do you remember what Sister Patricia told us after Mom died?”

Andi nodded glumly. “That all dreams return to the Dreamer eventually, and that one day we’ll be reunited with Mom in the final dream of Chaos. But the Book of Haela says that Chaos never sleeps. How can he be the Dreamer if he never sleeps?”

“Well, he’s just – he’s not like us. He wouldn’t need to sleep, or eat, or anything like we do. Remember the Book also says that everything you see is part of Chaos. You, me, this garden, even all of those stars up there.”

“Even all of those stars,” Andi echoed, looking back up to the sky again. “Then I just have to figure out which one of them is Mom.”

Ali’s heart wrenched at the determination in Andi’s voice, bringing a fresh crop of tears to her own eyes. “I hope you do, kiddo. I really hope you do.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Writerly Tools: From Post-its to Final Draft

I love getting to talk to new authors and trying to help them answer the same questions I had when I first started writing novels. One of the big ones I get asked most often is about what software tools they should be using for writing. Unfortunately, that question is every bit as subjective as asking how to write the novel itself.

My brilliant and wonderful engineer husband would call me ‘artsy-fartsy’ for what I’m about to say, but it’s nonetheless true. Creating a novel is a personal journey and no one process will be exactly like another. Some writers need guided help developing characters before they even start writing, while others develop on the fly with the bare-bones plot in the back of their mind. Sometimes the problem is keeping the sub-plots in focus so the novel doesn’t end with unfinished business. If there is a problematic area in writing, you can bet there’s software out there to help remedy it.

But which to choose? Like every other process in writing, the answer to this requires loads of research into each program’s capabilities, but be careful weeding through the advertisements and the sometimes paid-for endorsements. There are endless recommendations of different writing software by authors all over the web. You can’t even go to a writer’s forum without having software ads flashing brightly across the banners these days. In terms of pricing, there is free software with limited functionality such as Storybook or you can spend as much as $250 on something like Final Draft. But here’s the thing...

A tool is only as good as the person using it.

I don’t mean anything about writing skills when I say that. I’m simply talking about dedication to the tool. Just like buying exercise equipment doesn't get you in shape if you don’t use it, most writing software requires you to be fully committed to really be effective. That means doing every bit of your plotting, writing, brainstorming, EVERYTHING in them. Most of them have libraries where you can enter every imaginable detail about your characters, world, sub-plots, etc. But if you don’t use them to the fullest you’ve wasted your time and money. At worst, the wrong software (even though the description sounded so great when you chose it) can even sabotage your work if it forces you to adopt habits that are in conflict with your writing style.

That was the exact experience I had with writing software. I decided before I started God of Gods: Dreams of Chaos #3 that I needed to get myself better organized and convinced myself that using software was somehow more professional (yes, I’ve been that na├»ve). The software I tried had the element libraries that I thought would be great to help me keep up with my 60+ characters and it used a tracking system in which every scene was written individually and the characters, locations, and dates were all recorded for the reports it would generate to show you the story flow visually. Sounds amazing, right? I did great with populating the element libraries, but when I had to start treating the scenes as individual elements I discovered it completely wrecked my sense of flow. I was no longer able to feel the motion between scenes and that led to a draft with no momentum and a feeling of disconnect between each scene. I’ve actually started the novel over twice now and I’m still struggling with getting the flow right.

Unfortunately, there's no Sorting
Hat for writers!
Since then, I’ve talked to other writers who thrived when writing scene-by-scene and a few others who came to a grinding halt with it like I did. That’s part of what makes this choosing process so very subjective. I’m all for software if it helps, but I think the idea that you have to use software to write a great book is as dangerous as telling a writer they have to use an outline when they write.

If you’re having trouble managing your WIP, try software, notebooks, Post-it notes, note cards, whiteboards, or tattoos even. Try anything. Actually, try everything. Creativity is all about being open to new ideas and resources and sometimes they can come in unexpected forms.

So I’m going to say it again, artsy-fartsy or not, but creating a novel is your personal journey and no one else’s process will be exactly like the one that ultimately works for you.

Once you’ve found that magical process, get out there and make something amazing!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cover Reveal and Some Piratey Goodness!

One thing I love doing on my poor malnourished blog is hosting the earliest stage of book birthing: the magical Cover Reveal. If you're an author, sharing your cover with the world is tantamount to releasing that first ultrasound to Facebook and waiting for everyone to share a virtual cigar with you amid the congratulations. If you're not a writer and you find yourself rolling your eyes at this idea, let me tell you right now...

Yes. It's really that big.

Books begin life, as have so many authors, as a mere twinkle in the eye and after conception most of them even have a longer gestation period filled with with all the highs and lows you'd expect when, well, expecting. But the best and primary difference between birthing a book and birthing a baby: authors are not only allowed to still knock back a beer or three, but most of those who know us highly encourage it just to tolerate being around us.

That said, I'm even more excited to be a part of this cover reveal for author James Raney because this is the culmination of a series I've grown to love and admire. The Jim Morgan series is an incredible middle grade fantasy adventure that combines magic, pirates, and fantastic creatures with the power of friendship to overcome all odds. The first two books were pure magic, and I honestly can't wait to read the this final book!

Now that I've yammered on, here is the moment you've all been waiting for.......

******************Drum roll******************

Jim Morgan and the Door at the Edge of the World is the climactic follow up to the IndieFab Book of the Year FinalistJim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull, and the final chapter in the Jim Morgan series. Check out the first two books here, and look for Door at the Edge of the World in Fall 2014.


How seriously awesome is this? Be sure to tell James what you think!

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Meet the Bentley Girls!

After months of wedding planning and crafting to keep me away from writing, I finally have my first FULL weekend of nothing to do but immerse myself back into the world of Aevum. Getting back to work on God of Gods feels like finally scratching an itch I haven't been able to reach - a thoroughly pleasurable and satisfying relief.

Of course, getting to focus on playful characters is a huge help in re-establishing my long-ignored writing groove. For those of you who've read Tilt (and for those of you who haven't, get on it!), Mayor Bentley had two daughters who were 16 and 11 then and were referenced several times in the story but were sent to Ostano with their mother to escape before you ever got to meet them. In God of Gods, the girls play a much more integral role and, I have to admit, have absolutely won my heart. I keep finding myself giving them new reasons to appear in a scene simply because they have a youthful energy that propels the story along and sometimes makes it move in directions I didn't originally intend. Ali and Andi Bentley have somehow wound me around their fingers every bit as much as they have their father and I honestly cannot wait to see where these girls lead me next.

Want to meet them? Here's a quick snippet of a scene I'm working on now set during the festivities in Sarano celebrating one full year of recovery after the Tilt that nearly destroyed them:

“Stop fidgeting, Spunkster,” Ali admonished Andi, leaning over to whisper in her ear, “people will think you have fleas!”
“Will not!” Andi whispered back, rolling her eyes dramatically. She always pretended to hate it when her big sister called her by her nickname. “And it’s not my fault. This stupid dress itches too much.”
“Mine does, too,” Ali conceded. Mona had definitely been a little carefree with the tulle when she put these celebration gowns together for the girls. Granted, in the King Jared II box, the most elite private box named for the theater’s most historically renowned patron, their fidgeting was probably more than concealed from any prying eyes. But with this being the first formal event since before the Tilt – not to mention the first official event without their mother – Ali thought it would be best if both Bentley girls were the perfect models of office tonight. Especially if Ali was going to get away with that little side project she’d bribed Mona to finish for her…
“You know what, Spunkster? I’ll bet I can go way longer than you can without scratching,” Ali whispered conspiratorially to Andi. “In fact, I could probably go all the way through the show until we got home,” she added with a shrug, as if nothing could possibly be easier.
Andi eyed her suspiciously. “You couldn’t,” she challenged.
“Could. I’d even bet an entire tray of caramel fudge taffies that I could. If, you know, you like that sort of thing.”
Andi’s eyes lit up like two perfect green moons. “Those are my favorite!
“Really?” Ali asked in mock surprise. “Well, if you can go all night without scratching, it sounds like I’m going to have to make you a tray as soon as we get home.”
“Before bedtime? Mona would have a fit,” Andi giggled.
“Then it’ll have to be our secret,” Ali winked.