The Centaur Mentor

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This time last year I was a novice cosplayer. Honesty, I’m still a beginner by most standards; however, turns out, I’m just experienced and knowledgeable enough to offer advice on the subject.

A friend of ours invited my sister and I to talk to her club about attending their first con. She was very impressed with our Mirkwood Elves cosplay and wanted us to share our experience. This time last year we were in their shoes. We told her we weren’t professionals (not that there are professional cosplayers) but that was part of the reason she chose us. Our first cosplay was a big success by any standard. We received a lot of praise and photo requests–not to mention a $200 cash prize in the costume contest.

So I arrived at the school in my centaur costume to mentor the kids about what they should know to attend their first con.

the centaur mentor

the centaur mentor

I’m not a stranger to the class room or guest speaking. I’ve given presentations to students before; I’ve just never given one in a centaur costume. The topic was a first too. Usually I talk about auto insurance and the importance of maintaining insurance and a clean driving record. It was nice getting to talk about something I’m passionate about. I felt like I got to take my hobby to the next level by sharing my passion and knowledge with others.

We talked about what to bring, how to plan and budget a costume, what to expect, etc. We showed them my latest cosplay along with pieces from last year’s Mirkwood elves cosplay. They enjoyed trying on the ears and the Thranduil crown.

My sister even snuck in a little shameless marketing for her books.

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It was a very rewarding experience, and a great networking opportunity. Many of the kids came to the con. Several even bought my sister’s books. We even connected with another librarian interested in scheduling a day to have us talk to her club about cosplay.

Book sales, networking contacts, new friends. You don’t need a ruler to measure that success.

When I made this costume, my expectations were to wow and amaze people. I never thought it would lead to opportunities to network, guest speak, inspire, and teach.

I’ll get to mentor as the centaur again in the near future since the librarian at Eastern wants us to guest speak and the theatre director at Northwestern wants me to make a costume for his production of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I’m looking forward to it.

For those of you who have been following my post about creating the centaur costume, I will be posting a very detailed how-to very soon, I promise. Just got to get caught up on a little housecleaning, book outlining, and rest–lots and lots of rest after the play and the con. I’ve also got to get my receipts and notes together so I can give an accurate account of how many hours it took to make, the cost, and all the materials that are required.

Stay tuned.

I’m going to build a butt

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For those of you who don’t already know, I was cast as the Centaur in The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.

I’m sure you all know what a centaur is, but for those of you who don’t …

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A centaur is a mythological creature that essentially has the head, arms, and torso of a human attached to the torso of a horse.

Let’s see . . . I already have the torso and arms of a human, but I don’t have horsey parts, which  means . . .

I have to build a butt–a horse butt.

I’m starting to suspect that this casting decision was made more for my cosplaying abilities rather than my actual acting talents.

(and with the lines the centaur has, it’s going to be hard to show off my acting abilities, so this costume is going to rock)

Most people would be daunted if given the task of creating a centaur costume.

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On the contrary. It’s actually quite doable, even without CGI. So when I was offered the role of centaur I said

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED

And where did I go to research concepts for my costume–why, the internet of course.

Female_Centaur___ centaur-on-the-hill at-avrat-silah_522556 centaur_huntress_by_janiceduke-d5grw9q Centaur_Danaan

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Oops, sorry, that’s not a centaur. That’s Kim Kardashian. I guess I could just sit on my ass until my booty is big enough o glue a tail on.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with this guy

Centaur_Narnia

He pops up a lot if you Google centaur. His name is impossible to pronounce and equally challenging to spell, so I’m just going to call him that cool, muscled guy from Narnia.

For those of you who remember Xena: Warrior Princess or Hercules, you might remember these dudes–er horse guys, or whatever.

Orphanofwar_Centaurs

Not bad special effects for their time … considering Xena had some of the best–and worst–CGI I’ve ever seen.

But alas, I will not be using CGI or green screens. I will be doing this the old fashioned way.

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Between Google, YouTube, forums, Pinterest, and all other forms of social media, I found a lot of pictures of finished centaur costumes … but very little on the step-by-step process.

So it seems no one wants to share their methods. No problem.

If you’re interested in making a centaur costume (or just want to see how mine turns out), keep in touch with me via Facebook, twitter, and my blog for tutorials, production updates, as well as reveals of the finished project.

Allow me to be your “Centaur Mentor.”

Next post–building the skeleton.

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The Immortal Christopher Lee

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This has been a truly sad year for fantasy fans with the death of Terry Pratchett, Leonard Nimoy, and now Sr. Christopher Lee.

I find it hard to believe that Sir Christopher Lee has died. The cult theories that he was immortal or a vampire seemed legit considering his health and abilities at such a generous age. Even Elijah Woods seemed to agree in a recent tweet stating:

“If anyone was going to be immortal, it was Christopher Lee.”

He seemed timeless. At 93, he could easily have been younger or older considering his acting career started shortly after the second World War (and the fact that he once met Tolkien himself).


christopherleeChristopher Lee was a household name. If you don’t know his name, you’re at least familiar with one of his roles considering he’s acted in over 200 films and played many beloved villains including Dracula, Count Dooku, Saruman, and Francisco Scaramanga (James Bond).

Not to say he didn’t want to be the good guy from time to time, having coveted the role of Gandalf (played by Sir Ian McKellen).


Considering his long, unconquerable acting career, his acclaim, honors, noteworthy deep voice, and superior eye-brow acting (according to adoring fans), perhaps the theories of immortality were true. Christopher Lee will live on in the memory of friends and family of the film industry, in the hearts of loyal fans, and the roles he played.

Writer on a Warpath: Dylan Saccoccio Rampages against Reviewer

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There’s only one way to respond to a negative review: DON’T

Authors who challenge a review do nothing in the way of damage control. Quite the opposite, actually.

This is a major writing faux pas. At best the author comes off defensive or childish. At worst, the author comes off psychotic, especially when they threaten to post revenge reviews or even file a lawsuit.


On the offenders registry are authors Stephan J. Harper, Carroll Bryant, Emily Giffin, Chris McGrath, and now Dylan Saccoccio.

Today, I’d like to focus on Dylan Saccoccio (author of The Tales of Onora) for going on a rampage against a recent reviewer.


dylanDylan is an author I’m rather familiar with, having purchased his book based on the number of reviews, comparisons to Tolkien and George R.R. Martin, his impressive Amazon Best Sellers Rank, and the fact that I’m a sucker for an attractive cover.

You’ll note I did not determine my purchase based on the number of positive/negative reviews.

Similar criteria attracted the recent reader who left a less than positive review.

How Dylan responds is absolutely cringeworthy. See for yourself. If you’d like to see a train wreck, follow the link here.

His arguments aren’t even valid. He accuses negative reviews of being damaging to his novel’s success and a reflection of the reviewer instead of the author or book.

What I find funny: It’s his response to the negative review–NOT the negative review itself–that risk damaging his book’s success and his reputation as an author. So essentially he’s causing the very thing he is afraid will occur.

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With over 100 reviews (60% being positive), a large twitter following, a loyal fan base, and a high Amazon ranking, it’s petty and ridiculous that he would even hone in on this one review.

He is so afraid of others threatening his writing career, he isn’t even aware he is committing career suicide. That’s like worrying about getting West Nile from a mosquito bite while smoking a cigarette.

Let’s look at the damage, shall we?

The review did no damage whatsoever; however, his response could cost him fans (new and old), damage his reputation, hurt sales, and lose followers.

Case in point. I used to follow him on twitter, but I simply can’t follow any author who behaves this way. Will he notice the sting of one bee? Maybe not. But if enough bees sting . . . you start to feel the venom.

So what did he accomplish in the way of damage control? Nothing but assuage a bruised ego.


So why did he respond to this review? The simple reason would be a lack of logic. He wanted the reviewer to remove his review because he worried it would damage sales. So in truth, he wasn’t trying to be a defensive man-child. He was responding to misconceptions of the dreaded negative review.

Misconceptions

Negative Reviews Discredit Your Book or Writing

Negative reviews add legitimacy to a book’s reputation. Case in point, I almost didn’t purchase The Tales of Onora because it had too much praise. Without a negative review, I’m led to believe that his friends and family (or paid people) were a majority of his reviewers.

Negative Reviews are Slander

Slander and opinion are very different things. Can anyone tell me what a review is? Yes, for those of you who said opinion, you would be correct. We live in ‘Merica where everyone has a right to an opinion–whether informed, well-constructed, or biased. Does the latter describe this recent review. Hardly. He simply didn’t like it, and to be honest, neither did I. And for a lot of the same reasons as this guy, I might add. I guess I’m glad I didn’t review it. I’d hate to be the target of damaged pride.

Reviews are Personal

Youve_Got_Mail_20917_MediumHere’s where he really lost it, accusing the reviewer of having no sympathy or humanity. As if the reader’s goal was to bring down his career. Most of the time, reviewers don’t know you. Your success or failure isn’t their concern–and it shouldn’t be. This isn’t heartless, it’s just a fact. They are interested in finding a good book that they will enjoy. You are not their focus when they leave a review. Reviews are for READERS, not authors. They are telling other readers why they liked/did not like a book and whether they think it is a worthy read. Their opinions can be hurtful, but it isn’t an attack.


For the record, the ONLY good way to respond to a negative review is to NOT RESPOND.

You could try NOT READING THEM, though I think an author interested in growth should read and consider all their reviews.

Instead of going on a rant, consider these alternatives to take the sting off.

  • take a shot for every negative review (non drinkers can substitute shots for chocolate)
  • frame them on the wall of shame
  • burn them
  • put a hex on the bad reviewer
  • determine if their negative response is in fact positive criticism and use that to improve your writing in the future
  • whine to a friend
  • re-read positive reviews
  • sing Let it Go
  • go online and distract yourself with cat memes

Well there you have it. I’m a firm believer in learning from other’s mistakes, so let this be a lesson to the rest of you. When you get a review–good or bad–be gracious, be humble, be prepared, and most importantly be quiet. Whatever your response is, keep it out of the spotlight. In the end, your success or failure relies more on you than your reviews and readers.

Tuesday Tip

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tip#1 Seven days a week just aren’t enough days to get everything done. I think we need a day between Saturday and Sunday so we can all have an extra day. It could be called Sundurday or Satday. Oh, the things I could accomplish with an extra day, but since I don’t, I’ll have to make due with the seven I’ve got.

For those of you who read my last blog post, you know what my to-do list looks like. To-do list help me create daily structure. Daily structure is great, but I can’t live day to day. I need to visualize my entire week. Being a single mother, with a mother battling an illness, living with a busy sister, working 5-6 days a week, and writing on top of that, I can’t just plan my weeks day by day.

Make a Weekly Schedule

Making a schedule won’t give you more hours in the day, but it will help you make the most of the time you already have.

Making schedules might be painful, but consider the alternatives. Going on a whim. Relying on memory. Schedules not only give you peace of mind, they help you balance life and increase productivity.

My sister and I share a joint Google calendar so we can coordinate our lives, but you can use a good old-fashioned wall calendar or weekly planner.

Plan What you Need and Want to get Done

Start with your obligations. Record the days you work, appointments, etc. After that, record the things you want to do. Other than work, doctor appointments, and my son’s visitations with grandparents, I also need to schedule when I will write, edit, go to the gym, and visit my mom. It might sound cold and calculated to schedule family time, but I’ve found that by scheduling time with friends and relatives I actually see them more and have more quality time. This gives them the full attention they deserve.

Make a List of Priorities

Writing is a priority, and if you don’t treat it like one, you won’t find time to write or justify the time you dedicate to it. My priorities are as follows

Main Priorities

  • writing
  • family
  • work
  • editing
  • grocery shopping
  • chores

Secondary Priorities

  • gym
  • Netflix
  • friends

Tips to Remember

  • Be realistic with your time frame
  • Make a new schedule once a week–before your week starts
  • Make the schedule of the week you want to have
  • Adhere to the schedule, but be flexible. If it rains on a day you were supposed to plant your garden, you might want to rearrange.(check the weather if weather is a factor)

I hope that helps you add a little structure to your busy life. Do you keep a calendar? What are some ways you balance writing with family and life?

Do dishes, go to the gym, pick up child from school, write the next best-selling fantasy novel: You know, just your typical to-do list.

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The life of a working adult is busy, and writers are no exception. If anything, we’re busier than the average adult.

My to-do list today literally looks like this:

  • buy drano
  • get gas
  • blog
  • wash dishes
  • fill out forms for summer camp
  • clean car
  • put clothes away
  • finish outlining book one
  • edit chapter 9-10 of sister’s fantasy parody
  • pick up child from school
  • go to gym

Yup, just your typical to-do list . . . if you’re a writer, anyway.

A non-writer’s list stops at put clothes away, freeing them to watch Netflix or pursue some other pleasure in their–what’s that word again? . . . oh yeah, free time.

A list certainly helps categorize, order, even prioritize chores that need done, but a calendar is so much better. Join me Tuesday for my next Tuesday Tip which will be all about making a writing/life calendar. Guaranteed to help you turn your to-do’s into already done.

What does your to-do list look like? How many writing vs non-writing items are on your list? How many can you check off in a day?

Ask An Author

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The first Friday this month happens to fall on the first. It just so happens to also be time for another Ask the Author, the feature that puts the author in authoritative.


phpXT7GODPMMay’s featured author is none other than Charles E. Yallowitz, author of the Legends of Windemere. He also happens to be one of the first authors I followed when I started my blog back in 2013.

Back then he had two books published in his fantasy series. Now he’s up to number seven in just over two years! He makes it seem easy, doesn’t he, but planning and writing a series is hard work. Have no fear, because Charles has plenty of advice about planning, writing, and marketing a series whether your series consist of three or twenty books.


Creating and Marketing a Series

may5The Legends of Windemere series is a fantasy adventure that currently has 7 books out and is planned for 15 overall. I believe this is where people groan or run away because long series seem to scare many readers and writers. Well, they are a big challenge and I’m here to give some advice on how to create and market a long series.  (Note: All advice is personal opinion and can be discarded as the ravings of a madman that needs to get out more.)

Planning a Series

First, I’m going to talk a little about planning. I use a lot of notes and outlines to keep my series going smoothly. For Legends of Windemere, I’ve had all 15 books outlined since I finished writing the third one. This helps me create foreshadowing and get a sense of where I want the long term storylines to go. A full outline isn’t even necessary if you want to dive into the writing immediately. Maybe you only need a page of notes about what you want to happen later on or a few future events that you’re heading for. To be honest, mine tend to get changed as I go and I have to rewrite the next outline after every book I write. Still the meat of the story is there and that’s what I use to help me guide my characters to their various destinations. The truth is that every author has his or her own system of organization. Detailed outlines and character bios work for me, but there are those who create great stories out of a trio of Post-It notes.

One of the biggest challenges for a series author is continuity. You need to make sure the rules and details remain the same throughout the adventure. This is where character bios and outlines can come in handy. Even if you don’t do a full outline, future installments can be helped by jotting down important information as you move along. Take a little time to review what you wrote every night and list whatever you think you won’t remember. For example, I kept forgetting character eye colors early on and one of my heroes abruptly changed from green to blue for some reason. I had to keep a note by my laptop for a few chapters to make sure I remembered. Eventually, it locked in and then I did the genius maneuver of having something change his eye color to brown. Worked for the story, but it was one of the spontaneous decisions that caused a few stumbles in the next book. A common question in regards to planning a series is the following:

How Long Should Your Series Be?

The answer is as long as it has to be. You might be scared of readers dropping out before the end, but that happens with trilogies too. Yes, the longer the series, the higher the chance of a reader walking away. So the author has to decide if they’re writing to tell the story they want to tell or the story that they think will sell better. These are not always the same thing. I can only speak from my personal experience and I will say that I couldn’t do Legends of Windemere in less than 15 books. It used to be 12 and then I realized that there were characters whose stories weren’t being told. I write using an ensemble cast, which means I want each hero and villain to get a story to shine in. Many of them can do this within the original stories, but I had those that needed something more to evolve. Do I regret doing a series this long, which nets me a few complaints? No. I’m happy with the adventures I’m telling and that should be one of the author’s main goals. If you’re enjoying what you write then it will come through your words and draw in the reader.

Marketing a Series

A brief mention of marketing since this is an area that many authors are concerned with. I’ve found that later books in a lengthy series will not have the same impact as the earlier ones. Not unless you have a massive support system and fan following. The reason for this is because you have people going in and out of the series all the time. A person drops out after Book 3 while another picks up Book 1, but you only see how there are fewer sales for Book 4. It took me some time to realize this and then I aimed more for continuous sales across the board instead of major sales of the most recent. So I do the big marketing things on either most recent book or the first one, Beginning of a Hero. I try to do a little for the middle books too, but you’re going to see a wide variety of sale numbers in there. It’s the nature of the series beast and all you can do is keep pushing on.

Tweets, blogging, guest posts, interviews, various chat platforms, and helping to promote other authors are where you will find most of your marketing power. (Note on that last one: Reciprocation is a great thing. I’m a big believer of helping those who help me.)

All of what I said might seem like an overview and oddly brief considering a big series is a major undertaking. Well, you would be right because all another author needs in terms of advice here are the basics. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that every author, actually artist, has his or her own methods. My series is long because I focus a lot on character development, but it would be shorter if I was more concerned with the main plot. That’s just my way and it took quite a few years for me to realize that along with my specific style. So I give advice and add that this is my personal experience.

Now, is writing a long series a thing for everyone? No because it’s a lot of work and dedication with a high risk of writing yourself into a corner. Still I say follow the story and your gut. If it says a 10 book series then go along with it until you finish or find that it might work better as 5. You can always rewrite the outline.


51WkCW8ZDoL__UY250_To connect with Charles and to learn more about the world of Windemere, check out his author website and blog.

You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook

Check out his Amazon author page here to purchase his current novels as well as learn about future projects.

Don’t forget to be on the lookout for the next book in the series.

So, Real World, We Meet Again

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I live in the real world: escape to imaginary ones–or at least that’s what it says on my twitter profile anyway. Recently I’ve spent more time in the real world than my imaginary one, which feels like being far from home. One world is filled with magic, suspense, romance, epicness, and awesomeness. The other . . . 40-hour work weeks, bills, lawyers, and other fun adult stuff. Guess which one I live in . . .

Due to the demands of the real world, I’ve either been too busy or too tired, or often a little of both to write. After working all day, running errands, paying bills, and dealing with lawyers, let’s just say I’m not in the mood to write–I could, however, go for a nap. And that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing with my free time which used to be writing time.

Life is hard, but you don’t have to adult hard. For the record, I’m not telling you to de-evolve into a state of pre-adolescence. I do not condone shirking duties, skipping work, or neglecting pets and children. Functioning in the real world is about finding things that help you cope with your problems, not finding ways to avoid them.

Writing is one way I escape from life, but since I’m not doing much of that, these are the ways I’ve been coping.

Adult like a Child

To clarify, there is a difference between being immature and childlike. I can watch cartoons while eating marshmallow cereal all I want as long as I complete my adult duties. I like to think I’m childlike because I’m positive, enjoy simple pleasures, and because I like things that are considered a little out of my age level. But I am unquestionably an adult. To be frank, I get shit done, but I make it as painless as possible.

  • I write grocery and to-do list on Frozen and Dr. Suess stationary with a pen shaped like a squirrel.
  • I store my documents for my lawyer in a folder with a picture of Tinker Bell and Periwinkle.
  • I have reusable grocery bags with Disney characters on them
  • I keep an owl stress ball that lights up at my desk
  • I mail bills with fun stamps and return address labels with flamingos on them.
  • I write “Lannisters always pay their debts” on all of my checks and money orders.
  • When I leave the office I leave a note on my desktop that says “I’m Going on an Adventure!”

Those are just some of the ways I take the edge off of doing adult task.

The Wonderful World of Disney

03bIf I can’t escape to the worlds I created, I’m going to escape to the wonderful world of Disney. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of Disney movies. I grew up with these movies, but I never grew out of them.

Even if I didn’t have a six-year old son, I’d still go to the theaters with my sister to watch the latest movie. It’s not that I don’t like movies made for adults, I just don’t have the focus or energy to enjoy them or their real-world themes.

I don’t know if it’s the music or the colors, but I don’t think about my worries while I’m watching Disney movies. Not that animated characters don’t have their problems, but it’s pretty bad when you’re watching a movie and you’d trade your own problems for theirs. Save China, unite two nations, become king, free a genie, that’s nothing. Try getting my ex to pay child support.

Power Nap

catI’ve always thought the term power nap was an oxymoron. There is nothing powerful about napping. You just lay there like road kill or a potato. I’m not gonna lie, right now I need about two to three naps a day. I can’t say that I feel more rested, but I do feel less stressed, especially since I don’t nap alone. It doesn’t matter when or how often I sleep, this cat always sleeps with me, beside me, on me, under the covers, on my pillow, but always with me like a stuffed animal or a possessive boyfriend.

Music, Music, Music

frozen-meme13-1I love music. I find singing and listening to music in general to be very therapeutic. In my office, while I’m marketing, during the drive to and from work, and while I’m writing, I listen to music. My favorite music source is Pandora. My favorite stations right now are my Irish music stations, my Ellie Goulding station, and not one, but two Disney stations. Yes, I’m a little obsessed with Disney if you haven’t gathered.

Singing is stress relieving, and it’s ten times more fun when you’re belting out “Let it Go” or “I’ll make a man out of you.” Since I grew up watching these movies, I know the words by heart. It’s super nostalgic to sing “Colors of the Wind” remembering when I used to sing it while running barefoot in my back yard. Life was simpler then.

Speaking of Letting it Go . . .

Part of being an adult is making your own choices and forming your own identity. I use to worry about being judged, and so I hid a lot about what made me well, me. Elsa-image-elsa-36809047-160-200

  • Don’t tell people you like Tolkien and fantasy. They’ll think you’re a nerd.
  • Don’t tell people you write. They’ll think you’re weird.
  • Don’t buy that Frozen merchandise. It’s for kids.
  • Don’t decorate your bathroom in owls. It’s not sophisticated.
  • Don’t put toys on your workstation. It’s not professional.

Now I don’t care what others think. I don’t have time for that. I’m 28 years old, and I have a lego Legolas at my work desk, tons of Frozen stuff (I have Frozen fever), I eat Disney princess gummies and children’s cereal, and watch cartoons. I’m not immature. On the contrary, I’m a very responsible adult. I take care of my son and help out my mom, I pay all of my bills on time, and I work hard at my job. So if I come home and snuggle with a cat on a bed that has owl pillows, that’s my prerogative.

I think we all hit this point from time to time, where our real life demands as much if not more from us than our writing. I’ve got a lot to get done before I can give my full attention to writing. Of course, I’m dreading starting again after a lapse; however, I will get back in the saddle–or for those of you who have never fallen off a horse–back on the bike. I guess my advice is don’t lose connection with the real world, but likewise, don’t lose connection with the ones you create.

And speaking of losing connection, I don’t want to lose contact with my wonderful followers. Tell me, how do you cope with the real world?