A Bit of Sunshine for a Revamped Website!

Bethany Jennings over at The Simmering Mind posted up this Sunshine Blogger Challenge. In honor of my revamped website, I figured I’d give this a shot!

1. If you could have any magical/supernatural ability, what would you choose?

This one always changes, but I’m currently keen on being psychomimetic.


By Vanessa Paxton

The user can gain/replicate the knowledge and abilities, including their mental and physical abilities, be it knowledge over a subject, a foreign language, or mastery of a fighting style. The user is able to duplicate information from creatures or inanimate mediums of data, such as books, computers, etc. by touching them or by just being near them at the time.

Sounds super handy!

2. What’s one of your happiest childhood memories?

Wow, no pressure, huh? Probably the day my family brought home Ziggy, this overweight, retired breeder basset hound we adopted from a certified breeder. She was a lovable old curmudgeon who was the BEST napping buddy–and she lived another six years!

3. What is your favorite writing spot / workspace like? Why do you like to work there best?

Usually my couch, because it’s comfortable. I was home-schooled during high school and I did a lot of work on the couch then too. Now, even though I have an office, I still like couches.

Dark blue on dark blue – super comfy and spits in the face of photos!😉

4. What’s one thing that is close to your heart?

Writing, communicating, and helping people dive more deeply into their thoughts–while still having fun!

5. Chocolatey desserts or fruity desserts?

It depends entirely on my mood, but I gravitate towards chocolate as a rule. Although chocolate isn’t a dessert. Chocolate is an essential nutrient of life.

6. What was your favorite book as a small child?

I honestly don’t remember. I burned through books at the speed of sound as a child, and I do remember always enjoying new books.

7. What’s something you used to be afraid of but aren’t scared of (or not as scared!) anymore?

…well, I can tolerate people in giant animal costumes a lot better than I used to. Although I still find them pretty creepy. Sorry to anyone who does this for a living! I’m sure you make many people smile. Just ignore me walking in the other direction.

8. What’s your favorite kind of outfit to wear?

It depends on the situation, but I like being comfortable whether I’m dressed up or dressed down.

9. What quote has motivated or challenged you most recently?

This one. Good reflection of Psalm 86:6-7

10. How do you feel about roller-coasters? Love ’em, hate ’em?

There was a brief window in my teenage years when I LOVED roller-coasters–and then that window slammed shut and now even looking at them for too long makes me queasy. I will happily hold ALL the bags/cell phones/wallets at amusement parks and enjoy watching my family/friends scream their lungs out.

11. Do you like sad endings or movies/books that make you cry?  Why or why not?

I’ve never read a book that’s made me cry. Only two movies have made me cry: Inside Out and Mighty Joe Young. As long as the movie or book is well-made, I don’t really have an opinion either way!

Random Surprise Answer to Unasked Question

I recently co-taught a class on mycology (fungi) at an awesome science camp. I lectured on Fungi in Ecosystems and Fungi As Poison in History. Fun stuff!


Okay, now it’s my turn! Here are eleven questions. Answer any/all that you want, wherever you want (the comments, your FB page, a blog post) and toss me the link!:-)

1.) Where is the best place to sleep or take a nap?

2.) What five foods could you live on for the rest of your life?

3.) Hovercraft, spacecraft, or teleportation? Note: teleportation doesn’t work in space and the spacecraft do NOT hover!

4.) What is your least favorite word and why?

5.) If you were given a million dollars and could donate it to any charity or charities, where would you donate to?

6.) What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten? You get to define what ‘weird’ includes – no judging here!

7.) Would you own a robot pet? Why or why not?

8.) If you had to pack up and move anywhere and stay there for the rest of your life, where would you move to?

9.) What is your favorite tool or appliance and why?

10.) You have to change your eye color to something not normal for humans. What color do you choose and why?

11.) What makes you laugh? What doesn’t make you laugh?

Character Test 2 – Do You Use Contrasts?


Why did I return to contrasts? Because it is one of the quickest, most effective ways I’ve found to enrich plot, build tension, add humor, and/or add character arcs. And it’s so easy!

Easy + Quick + Effective = you get a friendly reminder from yours truly in the form of this awesome test.

There is also now a video to go along with the post! As per my habit of perpetual self-improvement, the video has new examples and spins on the concepts contained in the blog post.

Thanks for tuning in! Scroll down for the text.

Do you use any contrasts in your stories? What are your favorite contrasts? Please share in the comments!

A flying dragon who is afraid of heights. An elephant who doesn’t want to drink the water because of potential bacteria. A brilliant doctor who saves lives, but doesn’t get along with people.

What do they all have in common? They use contrasting elements. They put two opposing elements together and then sit back and watch the conflict of those elements create compelling interactions with other characters and within the overall narrative.

Contrasts are a great way to spice up characters and plots. Not only do they create conflict, which is essential to any great story, but they are also quick fixes if a character gets boring or stuck in a rut…. Click here to read the full post on Author Culture.

Cover Reveal – “A Time To Rise” by Nadine Brandes

There are books that give you happy feelings, like eating double chocolate cake

There are books that give you wounded feelings, like finding a pit in supposedly pitted Kalamata olives

Then there are books like hot sauce – they punch your mental taste buds with their potency and burn your brain with harshness, but you somehow keep coming back for more. Because hot sauce.

(Why yes, I am writing this post while hungry…)

Nadine Brandes Out of Time series is one of my favorite types of novel hot sauce. Main character Parvin Blackwater goes through cringe-worthy difficult trials and deeply intense spiritual journeys. Whether or not you share her faith, any reader can admire her convictions and the incredibly hard situations she has to endure for the sake of freeing people from a truly toxic dystopian system.

Well folks, the journey comes to an end this Fall.

What more can you sacrifice than your life?

Parvin Blackwater is dead.

At least…that’s what the Council—and the world—thinks. But her sacrifice tore down part of the Wall long enough to stir up hope and rebellion in the people. Now she will rise again. Strong, free, and fearless.

Parvin and Solomon must uncover the mysterious clues that Jude left behind in order to destroy the projected Wall once and for all. Meanwhile, the Council schemes to new levels of technology in its attempts to keep the people contained. Can a one-handed Radical and a scarred ex-Enforcer really bring shalom to the world?

Nadine Brandes is also an incredibly authentic person who also dared to answer one of my favorite questions to ask anyone: Would you eat a fried tarantula? Check out the video below.

You can also check out her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Thanks for tuning in! For more thoughts, check out my reviews of A Time to Die and A Time to Speak.

Oh, and would you eat a fried tarantula?

Book Review: “Saint Death” by Mike Duran

((I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in return for a fair and honest review. Note, spoilers if you haven’t read The Ghost Box. Which you should anyway)).

Reagan Moon didn’t plan on being an earth guardian.

He was your average paranormal reporter…until 1,000 volts of raw electricity fused an ancient relic into his sternum. It left him with Powers and lets him do things most humans can’t. There are others like him, six of them to be exact. They call themselves the Imperia and are charged with keeping earth from going down the toilet. This usually involves fighting monsters, tweaking the laws of physics, and keeping lots of booze and bandages on hand.

But when Saint Death comes knocking, no amount of holy water and hand grenades can slow her roll.

She’s the queenpin of the Santa Muerte pantheon. The folk religion’s central deity often appeared as a Virgin or a bride. Some called her the Grim Reapress. But mostly she was known as Saint Death. Now she’s got a companion. With the help of the Summu Nura, a Neuro priestess has rediscovered the Grimoire of Azrael, the Archangel of Death. And the Tenth Plague is about to be unleashed upon Los Angeles. Apparently, only Moon and his weathered compatriots can prevent the angel’s arrival. Yet earth guardians aren’t indestructible…as Saint Death is about to prove (Amazon.com)

First of all, another great book cover by Kirk DouPonce! It aligns well with his previous efforts for The Ghost Box, and offers a fresh look at the same time. I’m excited to add it to my collection.

Saint Death is the second in the Reagan Moon supernatural/thriller/noir kitchen-sink style of urban fantasy fiction that Mike Duran is currently cranking out. Although I didn’t find it as smoothly-written as The Ghost Box, Saint Death delivers a solid story and some intriguing new developments into the fight between good and evil.

Reagan Moon is lost. In The Ghost Box, he was at least a solid agnostic with a wry, cynical outlook on the world. Now that he’s realized all that spiritual stuff is real–and that he has a major role to play in the supernatural world–he spends an awful lot of time ping-ponging back and forth about what he should do. This is understandable, and makes him sympathetic. Moon is clearly out of his league, and his trademark sarcasm comes out in full force to cope–as well as some stupid decisions that seem like the best choice at the time. This is a valid way to push plot, and Moon is established as the kind of character who jumps right into the crazy. However, I did feel like the ‘do stupid things’ plot twist was used a little too much towards the end. Reagan’s still learning, but because he’s so quick-witted, I would have thought he’d learn a little faster. Still, he is human and kudos to Duran for daring to show all the human foibles.

Duran used this book to expand upon the Imperia and the great fight between good and evil. He uses some tropes very effectively, and I enjoyed meeting more members of the ‘knights errant’ with their own superpowers (and consequences). However, broadening the world-building also means less time on individual characters, and since this is a fast-paced book told from Moon’s perspective, I had a harder time connecting with all the newbies. Kanya, the mysterious shapeshifter from book one, came off pretty well, and I enjoyed the inclusion of a new character to deliver the backstory that Kanya is so reluctant to share. In addition, expanding the world and raising the stakes was the best move for the story as a whole.

Note: like The Ghost Box, this is a mature read, with a scattering of profanities and plenty of content dealing with the occult, various worldviews and philosophies. A lot of times, it really seems like good won’t win out–at least from Reagan’s bewildered perspective. Duran certainly builds tension effectively in the plot, and his creepy-horror scenes are some of the best writing in the book.

Final Verdict: Saint Death is a good installment in the Reagan Moon novels. While it suffers a little from ‘expanding world’ syndrome and a few protagonist missteps, the pulse of the plot remains strong, Moon is his snarky-lovable self, and the heightened stakes add fine dramatic tension.

Character Test 1: Is Your Protagonist Happy?

((Another sneak peek from Character-Building From the Inside Out–plus, video!))

Long time, no update! I’ve been super busy working with Uncommon Universes Press. We just finished a massive business meeting that involved a lot of discussion about interpersonal communication, internal growth, and extrapolating personal goals for communal benefit.

DeathtoStock_Medium5Basically, knowing how you work, what you’re good at, and what you’re NOT good at, so you can use that knowledge to help others and be even more awesome.

This is important in writing as well. Your job is to make your protagonist someone that readers  relate to and want to succeed. A book I’m reading, Novel Shortcuts by Laura Whitcomb, recommends figuring out how your character’s personality traits make your story possible. I would go another step, and say that to a certain extent, your novel needs to highlight your protagonist’s strengths and weaknesses. Your narrative needs to feature what that main character is good at, and then create a story where ultimately, through toils and trials, they get to shine.


I advised a client on a fantasy novel with a protagonist who was strongly driven by their personal feelings and values. One value the character had was to always, always defend family. So all the client had to do was threaten the people the character loved, and they would get into all kinds of trouble (re: conflict and incidents that lead to story). However, at another point in the story, the client suffered massive writer’s block, where her protagonist wouldn’t talk to her. The client had done such a good job of making the character stress out over saving their loved ones that the character just shut down. Their personal feelings were too great to manage. In turn, because the protagonist set the tone for the story, this was a sign that the story itself desperately needed a few scenes of levity and peace between all of the mayhem. When the author ‘gave the character what they wanted’ for a bit, all of the gears started turning again–and as a reader, I was able to relax for a little before the next catastrophe happen.

Moral of the story? Know thy protagonist.

Character Test 1

Note: if you find your protagonist is boring you, or doesn’t seem to push plot, that’s a problem. If you find yourself writing lots of scenes where the main character is stressed out or unhappy, and you can’t picture writing a happy or even moderately neutral scene for them, there’s a chance your main character is 1.) in a story where their strengths aren’t being highlighted and/or 2.) not really the protagonist.

On a personal note, I’m constantly evaluating at my strengths and weaknesses to make sure I’m giving you awesome readers the best of my capabilities. In my day job, I’m a teacher, and over the last seven years I’ve gotten pretty good at talking to people and explaining things verbally. So I’m going audio-visual! If you’re an oral learner or just like watching videos, I’ve embedded one below about this blog post, which is also available on my YouTube Channel (subscribers welcome!). And yes, because I always like thinking up new ideas, the video isn’t a word-for-word repeat; if this blog post didn’t reach your brain, the rephraseology in the video just might!

Also, due to my other duties and a desire to provide superior content, I’m narrowing my blog posts to once a week (twice in the case of World-Building Wonders guest blogs or book reviews). However, I’m always reading fun books and coming up with fresh ideas to inspire people, and all that content has to go somewhere. So, if you want unfiltered sneak peeks/reviews on new books, exclusive content to reshape how you look at writing and world-building, and some random humor, feel free to sign up for my newsletter!

World-Building Online Launch Party (with autographs!)

I have a sharpie and I know how to use it!

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Although in that picture I’m using a pen. The reason I’m writing in brand new books is that several people have either won or special ordered autographed print copies of World-Building From the Inside Out. So I take sharpie in hand for the grand moment, as Suzy Q taught me, and I sign–and then I reach for the pen (because I’m a rebel).

Signing books is a thing for me. In my family growing up, a book gift didn’t REALLY count until the giver had signed and dated it with a personalized message. Didn’t have to be long, didn’t have to be fancy, but that little touch had to be there. Something to make it memorable.

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There’s the sharpie!

As I sat down yesterday to sign the books, I had the jitters as I realized I wasn’t signing for family (okay, some of it was family, because that happens, but not ALL for family😉 ). I was writing for friends and people that I honestly, deeply wanted to help with these materials. Due to some personal reflection lately (always fun), I learned that I’m in fact a sometimes socially-awkward extrovert. I’m pretty good at cracking a joke and chatting about ideas, but not so great at communicating how deeply I care about people.

Writing these instructional materials wasn’t a way to get a speaking engagement or make a quick buck (although I do love teaching and money is helpful). First and foremost, I wrote World-Building From the Inside Out because I really wanted to make a quick, usable reference/primer for writers who struggle with finding time or energy or resources to world-build. Who get scared at the idea, or get bogged down in all the choices to make.

Who sometimes feel like giving up.

I know what it’s like to squeeze out words when all you want to do is sleep and the voices in your head are telling you that there has to be something else you could be doing. To pray for inspiration when you are spent after a long day. To try to explain to people “yeah, so I write” and they ask what else you do–and you don’t have anything else, because your life is filled with jobs/kids/cleaning/occasional sleep and you have to fight for those moments at the computer screen. Or to spend hours searching for just the right world-building element and meanwhile no words are getting on the page.

And I say to you: Keep going. Be bold enough to put crazy fantastic ideas on the page that no one ever has. Be brave enough to use your unique voice. And be AWESOME!

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Also, if you have a chance, be at the online launch party this Friday on Facebook from 8 pm-10 pm. There will be epic guest authors H.L. Burke and Kat Heckenbach, games, and videos! Plus, lots of fun prizes, including print copies of World-Building From the Inside Out (textbook and workbook), fantastic fiction, and a free custom illustration of a creature or book character (for writers) or a custom piece of fan art (for readers) by artist Julia Busko. Hope to see you there!


World-Building Wonders – The Gliding Lands

Welcome to another installment of World-Building Wonders! Find an escape into an author’s awesome world — and worldview! Today’s featured author is Deanna Fugett.


Life is precious to me. I wanted to emphasis that in my writing. In my story Ending Fear, there is a place called The Gliding Lands where they do not value life. Much like communist China, the Uppers are only allowed to have one child (this has recently been changed in China, but for many years this was law). In the world I created, if you try to sneak a second baby into the world, it will get thrown over the edge of the Gliding Lands, only to fall hundreds of feet to the earth below. Pretty horrific, am I right? And heaven forbid you get to keep and raise your own children. That’s what the governments for. It takes a village and all that jazz.

In The Gliding Lands you must surrender your baby to the PediaLab where they then will determine whether your baby is fit for society, or to be thrown over the edge like a piece of trash. Only beautiful and wanted babies will be kept. My main character is a fourteen year old girl named Fear, who was one of these babies. Only she was one of the lucky ones. She was a parachute baby.

This is where our own society is headed if we fail to address that all life, no matter what, is truly precious in God’s sight. Wanted, unwanted, beautiful, disfigured, every person has a purpose and everyone is sent to earth for a reason. God don’t make no junk.

The Bible says there are darker days to come. This epidemic won’t get any better. In fact with each passing year it has gotten worse. In the end times people will go so far in their sin it will be unthinkable, but by then it will be completely normalized to a society that has been totally desensitized. It made me realize I had to show what our world would look like, or at least my imagined version of it. Where life is almost completely unvalued. That’s part of the reason why I created The Gliding Lands and the Uppers who live there. To expose the evil in our hearts. The evil that is already prevalent in our society and the world as a whole.

I hope my book Ending Fear and the world I’ve created will shed some light on the subject of the sanctity of life and cause people to pause and think: Isn’t there value in every life?

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While Deanna Fugett isn’t writing or connecting with others via social media, she can be found cleaning up after playing with her four kids or cooking dinner rubbing her husband’s shoulders, because she’s nice like that. Her favorite TV shows are Once Upon a Time and Arrow, and she frequently revisits every nerd’s favorite show, Firefly. She might even have a weird crush on Simon. Deanna has an endless TBR list and has numerous books she’s started reading lying around the house, none of which she can find time to finish. She is off-the-wall excited about her debut novel coming out with Love2ReadLove2Write Publishing this year, a YA Dystopian called Ending Fear. It is the first novel in the Gliding Lands series, and she really hopes you will buy it and enjoy every second of it.

Deanna Fugett blogs at Quills and Inkblotts

You can also find her at these locations: Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Pinterest ~ Goodreads


Living in a sin infested future, Fear, a fourteen year old girl, learns she was dumped over the edge of the Gliding Land as an infant.

Kicked out of her hovel due to her mother’s own insanity, Fear finds strangers willing to take her in and show her love. Surely they can’t be trusted.