Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why I LIke the Dark

I was talking with someone recently. A colleague. A sunny sort of woman dressed in draping sparkly things. She's kind and intelligent and I like her quite a bit, but you wouldn't have to look further than our wardrobes to see that we don't have much in common. 

We were talking about books, as us reading-folk are likely to do. I'm a pretty eclectic reader, and I'll give almost any kind of book a shot, but Sparkle and I couldn't find a single title in common in our recently reads or TBR lists. 

You see, I like the dark. 

In real life, I try to stay in the sun, in the sense that I'm looking for the up-side, the silver lining, the half-full glass. 

But when I read, watch television or movies, write, draw, play video games, or even listen to music, I skew dark. I'm drawn to pessimistic characters, wounded birds with vengeful hearts. I'm not really interested in the happy, glossy stuff and I distrust completely happy endings. They feel false to me. 

Maybe it's like Papa Tolstoy said:

Maybe in spite of my can-do attitude and belief that hard work can get you out of almost anything, my deepest darkest heart takes, well, a darker view. Am I a cynic at the core? 

I'm not sure. I mean, I am a skeptic. But like Mulder, I want to believe. I don't think it's just morbid fascination. It's not that I like pain and suffering, even on the page. It's more like I value the coming out on the other side. The hard won truths. If it comes too easily, I doubt the value. 

I'd like to think it comes from personal high standards. I'm the type of person who pushes herself--looking for the crucible that transforms me into the best version of me. I want to be challenged, to prove myself. 

And I'm looking for stories that do that, too: test the limits of the heart, the body, the mind. Confrontation reveals the best of us (and sometimes the worst). The dark night of the soul of the hero's journey. 

Maybe that's it. I explore the darkness, the better to live in the light. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Virtual Fantasy Con Blog Hop: Guest, Mary Schmidt

Hi, I’m Samantha Bryant, author of the Menopausal Superheroes series, among other things, and I’m your host for this stop in the Hunt. For my regular readers, please note that this is a special guest post as part of the Virtual Fantasy Con Blog Hop.

If you would like to find out more about the Hunt, please click here -

Somewhere on this page is a hidden number. Collect all the numbers from all the authors’ posts, and then add them up. Once you’ve added all the numbers, and if I am your last author, please head to the official website and click on the ENTER HERE page to find the entry form. Only entries will the correct number will qualify to win.

The author I’m pleased to be hosting for Virtual FantasyCon’s Blog Hop Hunt today is Author Mary Schmidt

Hi I’m the author of “When Angels Fly”, and seven other books, and I’m your guest for this stop in the tour. My husband and I write under the pen names of S. Jackson and A. Raymond.

S. Jackson is a retired registered nurse; a member of the Catholic Church, and has taught kindergarten Catechism; she has worked in various capacities for The American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Cub and Boy Scouts, (son, Noah, is an Eagle Scout), and sponsored trips for high school children music. She loves all 49 forms of art but mostly focuses on the visual arts; as amateur photography, traditional, and graphic art (especially fantasy works and book cover) as her disabilities allow.

A Raymond is a member of the Catholic Church, and has helped his wife with The American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Cub and Boy Scouts, and sponsored children alongside his wife on music trips. He devotes his spare time to fishing, reading, playing poker, Jeeping, and travel adventures with his wife. Keep on reading until you find our give-a-way!

Our first book, ‘When Angels Fly’, is a touching memoir, and it is a memoir, survival fraught with tragedy that will hold your soul. In utter sadness, great hope and faith grows. This is the inspirational story about a woman who was able to rise above an extremely abusive childhood and later marriage, to learn faith, love, and motherhood from her own son’s courageous fight with cancer. It provides an illuminating example of how women who are in physically, mentally and emotionally abusive relationships can successfully escape even in the most challenging of times. It also warns of how the actions of medical professionals can be a soothing balm or a deadly arrow. The story draws the reader into the life of a mother and her wonderful little boy who is strong beyond his years and who leaves a lasting impression on all who knew him.


Excellent read. Tragic story of a woman and the abuse she suffered growing up and later in marriage. This book shows the struggles she faced while in an abusive marriage, losing two children, and one child's battle with cancer. She tells of hospital life while sitting by her son’s bed and having to be two hundred and thirty miles away from her other child. And how she finds true love and a man to love, cherish, help her through, and spend the rest of her life with. ~ Janese Base, RN, BSN
Tissues are a must. A true story about pain and suffering, life is not the same for anyone, and in this case it is so very tragic. A heart-warming story and I don't want to give anything away, but once you sit down to read it, you won't put it down. This is a must read book and a must share when you are done. I highly recommend When Angel Fly. ~ Susan Vance, Author, Eyes Like Mine

I was fortunate enough to be given this book as a gift, and I am so grateful to my friend for giving me this to read... it was truly inspiring. I can honestly say that no book that I have read in recent times has had the emotional impact on me that this book has had. I rode right alongside this mother from the first diagnosis of her child's illness, right through to the conclusion. Even before her child's illness, I had to keep asking myself; are there really parents out there who treat their children as horrifically as this woman's mother and her family had treated her? She went from an abused child, to a loveless marriage filled with physical, mental and sexual abuse, to losing her first child to a stillborn birth and then finally reaping the rewards with two beautiful young boys. Life was finally looking up for her before little Eli was struck down with cancer. We follow his journey, step by step as the young mother attempts to keep her sanity, split her time between one child in the hospital and one two hundred and fifty miles away. You can really feel her anguish and pain in every page. All the while, the very people who should have been helping to ease her burden; her mother, her siblings and her soon to be ex-husband were so busy plotting and planning on how they could benefit from this turn of events, she was left to struggle along with support only from some special friends.

This book is a harrowing read, make no mistake, but it is also incredibly rewarding. To anyone who has ever complained about how hard their life is - I say; read "When Angels Fly". To anyone who has ever said their life sucked - I say; read "When Angels Fly". When you have seen the courage, the fortitude and the immense challenges that this woman and her beautiful son faced you can't help but be uplifted and reminded just how much we all have to be grateful for.

This book reveals our indomitable human spirit in such a powerful and uplifting way. The book is in a large part a daily journal of Eli's time in hospital but I totally understand the need the author felt to document every day - every day with her son was so very precious. This book had a powerful impact on me as a reader. I was truly moved by and genuinely felt everything this poor woman had to endure... mostly alone. There was no way I could not give this book five stars. The memories of Sarah, Noah and Eli will live in my memory well after I've consigned this book to the "read" shelf. I feel privileged to have shared Sarah's harrowing journey. When Angels Fly does exactly what it sets out to do I believe - it reminds us that "There but for the grace of God, go I". I recommend this book to all.... it will make you cry, but it will also uplift you. Well done.
~ Grant Leishman, Author, The Second Coming

We have a picture book out which contains forty works of art from the M Schmidt Photography Gallery for others to enjoy. Mediums used include photography, traditional watercolor and oil paintings, as well as digital works and fantasy pieces mostly using bamboo, watercolor and/or ink stains. Please enjoy our selection of surreal works, which include fantasy, dark, sensual, and supernatural pieces.

We also use our real backyard squirrels, along with their funny antics, as inspiration for our visually creative comics, geared for young and old alike. We think that our funny squirrels mixed with old costumes and scrap art pieces will have readers laughing for a long time. Prop illustrations/graphics belong to our children and are used for educational purposes. One of our squirrel books is educational, and promotes all of the United States National Parks.

Lastly, we have an educational children’s book series in the works with two books published so far. The first, How a Dog and Two Squirrels Become Best Friends, is about how one small dog, a baby squirrel and his mama squirrel become best friends. A baby squirrel is lost and found safely. This story book helps children to learn how to be safe when they are outside their home and illustrates that children always need to keep the adults in their lives aware of where they play and how to stay safe.

Review: “How a Dog and Two Squirrels Become Best Friends” was an enjoyable read from the first page. One would never think that a dog would not only befriend a squirrel but help him. I was reading with a smile on my face. I will certainly read this story to my grandchildren and buy as a gift for others. This would make a wonderful children's story for my church. Thank you for your efforts in making this a lovely book. The graphics are awesome..." Susan Vance, Author, Forever My Sister

Connect here: @MaryLSchmidt

Your chance to be chosen to receive one of five fantasy book covers / art pieces that I will give-a-way!!! I will post ten designs and five lucky winners will each receive a free one!!!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

#IWSG: How do you know your story is ready?

So, the prompt for this month's IWSG is right down the dark alley of my insecurities: How do you know your story is ready?

I have a history of mild overconfidence and it has definitely bitten me in the butt before--embarrassing me by having my work in front of people when it wasn't really ready. When the kind-hearted publisher or editor has to say something diplomatic like, "Maybe you should go through this manuscript one more time to clean up the inconsistencies."

Then again, constantly waffling and second-guessing yourself isn't going to "get 'er done" either. You can easily devote your entire life to a single piece that way.

So, like everything, it's finding a balance. Perfection is the enemy of the good. And if you want to make a career of writing, as I do, you have to finish things--and you can't take ten years per project either. We need something between slapdash and OCD. 

What's been working for me is a two-pronged tactic: utilizing first readers, and knowing when to put it down and walk away for a while.

When I'm writing something new, I LOVE it! I think it's the best thing ever…until I hit the first snag. Then I think it's all garbage. Un-rescuable. A stupid idea in the first place. 

Then, I find my way past the snag and I love it again…until I hit the next snag. But I've learned to persevere. That the most important thing about a draft is finishing it. Making it good is what second, third, and fourth drafts are for. 

My first readers (I use a few different groups of people, depending on what I'm doing, where I am, and how much time I have to get it write: online writer friends, real life critique group with a schedule, the husband and older daughter, etc.) are often there for me in the middle of that process. Helping me see the things that are good in something I might only be able to see the flaws in. Letting me bounce ideas off them or pissing me off by being right. I'm so lucky to have them!

The "walking away" advice is some of the best I've ever gotten. You don't do yourself any good banging your head against the wall. You do stupid things in that mindset, like deleting whole manuscripts or slashing and burning indiscriminately. So, when a piece of writing really isn't working for me, I put it down. I take a walk. I write something else (because I write every day… even on days that I can't make progress on my main project). I call my mom. I watch bad TV (it really helps: I know at least that my writing isn't *that* bad). 

So, how do I know when it's "ready"? 

I read it again after a pause of at least a few days…longer if the piece is really personal. If it still mostly feels good and right, it's time to stick a fork in it and call her done. If it doesn't, I'm usually calm and distant enough after that pause to be a little dispassionate and manage to throw out the nasty bath water without also losing the baby. 

If I can't find the problems for myself, I go to some of those first readers and see what they have to say. Often, it's not that they tell me what to do, but something in the conversation will be the click that puts the gears back on track and I get my A-ha! moment and fling myself back at the keyboard with gusto. 

I often wish writing was more like baking, where you could literally poke it with a toothpick and know that if it comes out clean, you're ready for primetime. But these are the best tests I've found. It's still a game I play by feel. 

What works for you? Whether it's writing or some other creative endeavor, how do you know when you're done? 
If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Find Out What They Don't Want You to Know: Read a Banned Book!

Click the picture to check out the ALA information on Banned Books Week

Someday I hope to see my books banned. Given the caliber of literature that attracts this kind of ire, I would be in excellent company. Sherman Alexie, Toni Morrison, Harper Lee, JD Salinger, Alice Walker, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck. It's quite a list of literary luminaries.

If my books were to be banned, it would mean I wrote something that truly mattered--that scared certain kinds of people with the power of the words and ideas. It would mean I shook the establishment. That would be quite a measure of success!

This is Banned Books Week, which is always a great opportunity to see what "they" didn't want you to read. So, to celebrate,  here are some thoughts on the top five Banned and Challenged Classics on the ALA list. It turns out I've read them all, because I'm a rebel, Dottie.

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

Well, of course, they don't want you to read this one. It might give you the impression that rich people are not infallible bastions of society out there to protect the common people with their good sense and practical decision making. You might come away thinking that money can't buy happiness and that there are dangers in trying to be something you're not. G-d forbid!

2. The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger. 

Another dangerous, subversive book. A person reading this might come to think that there is beauty even in a flawed world or a flawed person. They might come to value sincerity and honesty. A reader might feel less alienated by connecting with a character who feels even more alienated than she does. Can't have that now, can we?

3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. 

Bad things happen in this book. Good people come to harm. And they don't just roll over and take it. They keep moving, they fight back, they endure. Despite their seeming powerlessness against big bankers and the one-percenters of their day, the Joads have a nobility. You might just walk away from these pages thinking that there is such a thing as righteous anger and that respect is worth fighting for. I'm surprised they let this one stay in print. That's some dangerous stuff there.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Atticus Finch has gotten a bad rep here lately, thanks to another book. But he was a voice of reason for generations, and I think he still deserves his reputation for patience and calm, clear thinking. The novel allows for plenty of shades of gray when it comes to big moral issues. There is no black and white, even in a story that is largely about the relationship between blacks and whites. Truth is messy. Kindness and empathy are keys to understanding that many forget they have in their pockets, especially during a presidential election. So, yeah. Obviously this book is the devil.

5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

This one is a triple threat. The main characters are poor, black women. Three things a lot of America doesn't want to talk about, especially not when they pile up into one person like that. Life has not been easy for Celie and Shug, and the story doesn't pull any punches about that. It's not a diatribe or a rant. It's a moving story, one that lets you in on realities that are not pleasant or easy to stomach. So, if we're to keep denying that racism, poverty, and misogyny are problems in this great nation, then this book must be stopped!

So, there you have it.

I'll never understand the impulse to ban a book. If you're not ready to have your horizons stretched or your assumptions questioned, then, fine, keep reading only the things that feed your own egocentric world view. But, it's really not your business what other people read.

When someone tries to tell you that a book is dangerous, I recommend you rush out and read it immediately. Because your mind is your own. You should look at things for yourself and decide their worth. Otherwise, what's your brain for?

Happy Banned Books Week! Read something they'd rather you didn't.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Burden of Creativity: a #HoldOntoTheLight post

Sylvia Plath was the beginning of awareness for me about the tangled relationship between creativity and mental health wellness. Her suicide happened in 1963, before my own birth. I learned of it in the 1980s, when we read one of her poems in a high school English class. I'm pretty sure it was "Daddy," a poem which confused the heck out of me even while it broke my heart.

I'd been a pretty sheltered kid. I mean, sure, one of my best friends was bulimic and another was sometimes afraid to go home, and there were weird relationship dynamics all around, but I still believed that everyone around me was basically all right. My rose colored glasses were firmly in place. The idea of someone mourning that her father died before she could kill him herself was quite a shocker. The biographical fact that the poet later killed herself even more-so.

Sylvia's suicide was glossed over in the biography in my textbook. It probably said something euphemistic about death by her own hand, rather than giving the shocking details I later learned, wringing them out of English teachers, since this was before you could just google things like that.

I couldn't understand.

I couldn't grasp why she couldn't persevere, couldn't believe in the possibility that things would get better.

Some of my friends could, though.

We talked about it with a morbid kind of fascination. We read The Bell Jar and Flowers in the Attic. We talked about Romeo and Juliet for months after our English class was done with it. My friends told me about the times they had almost taken the walk off the crumbling bridge above the railroad tracks at the edge of our hometown or showed me the scars from aborted attempts to end their suffering. They talked about feeling like others would be better off without them or that it might be easier just to stop fighting.

I listened with wide eyes, weeping sometimes and begging them not to give up. I wanted to think that it was just overly dramatic talk, a way to stand out, like an outlandish hairdo or coming to school with visible hickies on your neck. (I probably knew even then that it was something else entirely, but I denied it as long as I could.)

It was like that for me--I was interested in the dark side, but it didn't drag me in. I could still walk in the sunlight. I wanted it to be that way for them, too. I didn't want to believe that people I knew and loved could have come so close to taking themselves out of the picture entirely. That was too awful to contemplate.

In college, I was an English major. I read The Awakening, Antigone, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, all books where strong and vibrant women came to tragic ends. I learned about Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Parker, Anne Sexton, John Berryman, Ernest Hemingway, Vincent Van Gogh, Jean Michel Basquiat, Alan Turing--so many authors, artists, and geniuses who took their own lives.

As a creative writing minor and habitué of coffeehouses and open mic readings, I heard and saw a lot of creative work about the struggle against inner darkness, against demons of doubt and despair. It began to seem that despair and creativity were two sides of a single coin, or just different interpretations of the same view. Like stubbornness and determination, which are really just the same thing, viewed differently. Creativity seemed to come so often intertwined with a darkness. The same agile minds that can create wonders can create demons--and sometimes the demons consume us.

Imagination is a blessing…and a curse. A double edged sword that sometimes cuts us back.

I was a grown woman, a teacher in a classroom of my own, the first time depression truly beat someone I loved and took them from my life. I know now that I was fortunate to have made it that long. Like everyone else around me at the time, I asked myself what we missed, what we should have seen, what we could have done. I still want to know.

And there have been too many lights extinguished in this way. Co-workers, students, friends, uncles, cousins. Stars in my personal sky that no longer share their light.

So, please. I beg you. When it feels like the darkness is winning, reach out to someone. The world needs all the light within all its denizens.

(There are a list of places to reach out for help or to donate to support in the message below)

#HoldOntoTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOntoTheLight, find a list of participating authors, or reach a media contact, go to

Saturday, September 17, 2016

My votes: #SonofaPitch

It was my great pleasure to provide feedback and vote on which pitches would go onto the next round in the 2017 Son of a Pitch contest.

We had some really fantastic entries this year! My schedule was incredibly tight (remind me not to judge a contest and have a writing deadline during the same week, especially not during the schoolyear!), so I didn't get to comment on as many of them as I would have liked, but I definitely enjoyed the reading!

Here are my top five picks for #SonofaPitch 2016:

Best Laid Plans in Scotland: I don't even read romance, generally, and I want to read this one!
Improbable Girl: Great protagonist. I was really drawn in by the first 250.
Fount of Power: I was already rooting for the MCs in just this short selection.
Doleful Creatures: Delightful storytelling style.
The Doll Train: Strong narrative voice.

Pitch contests and other critiquing experiences are always a great learning experience for writers at all stages. Having to articulate why something does or doesn't work for you, and offer suggestions for improvement trains your mind to read like a writer: identifying the techniques, word choices, patterns, etc. that make a piece work, or not.

Round three begins next week, with agents and publishers. You can follow the action over on Katie's Stories. Katie Hamstead Teller is a talented novelist, and the brains and heart behind this feedback intensive pitch contest. She's part of why it's such a pleasure to participate, and why I came back for a second year.

We're already planning another one for February. Hope you'll all come back then!

Monday, September 12, 2016

#SonofaPitch #10: Crave Me

For my regular readers, these are some special posts this week as part of a pitch contest I'm providing feedback for.

For participants, welcome to my blog! I'm happy to host you and excited to see what kinds of stories you've written. Please remember that only the author of this piece and the participating judges are supposed to comment. All other comments will be deleted.

Title: Crave Me
Age and Genre: NA
Word Count: 100k


Mourning his mother’s death, Dante Arzola seeks refuge from the world of wealth and corruption he was born into by trying to win the affection of childhood friend, whose darkest secret could ruin them forever.

First 250 Words:

Dante Arzola

If I had to pinpoint it, everything began with one drunk, redheaded cheerleader. Or, at least, she might’ve been cheerleader.

From her stance on top of Sade’s bar, I—along with the rest of the party—had a perfect view of her legs that looked far too soft as they flirted with the crowd before them. Had me abound with inappropriate thoughts. She definitely had cheerleader legs.

The heat in the room incremented. I was in mutual agreement with most of the men here. She could have been wearing jeans, the windows would still be fogged with our fervor. Things like that were bound to happen when you were in a room full of intoxicated college students whose perception of adequate clothing lay somewhere between way too small and way too tight. We’d all become libidinous and ready, men and women alike. Our bellies would heat and our pulses pick up speed with each stinging shot of Finlandia.

I sat so much farther from the others that to a bystander I’d look like a bystander. Then again I was a wallflower, blending in with the furniture.

It wasn’t that people failed to see me, it was that they ignored me. It was like this most of the time, and I’d been dulled to any insult it should have encased. There were perks to being invisible.