Dialog. Short, Sweet, & Pungent.

Sometimes, it's good to break rules, shake things up a bit. Sometimes, bad grammar, fractions, run-ons, and the like are necessary in order to create an affect that transcends the ordinary. The rule that I shared yesterday is another rule that was made to be broken.

Here is an example from my story Dreams:

"Debris incoming," the computer interrupted.

"The scrolls, dragon," Lelea said with a sigh. "We found the scrolls." She smiled at him, her eyes empty as though she wasn't really seeing him. Ahern felt chills run down his spine, and he shuddered.

A dull thud—like the fall of a dead body—sounded against the ship's hull and echoed through the cockpit.

"Computer," Lelea said, "retrieve the scrolls and open the hatch."

"Negative. Dysfunctional."

Lelea hit a few buttons. "Both the hand and the hatch are now functional."

"Preparing to comply."

Those eyes looked at him again. "Ahern, I'll need your help to pull in the body."

"I thought you said it was the scrolls."

"He is."

Some of these responses are actions, reactions, thoughts, and feelings, all rolled up into one. "I thought you said it was the scrolls," Ahern said. There is emotion in those words: frustration, annoyance, disbelief, jealousy. Those words are practically torn out of him.

Her response—"he is"—is also action, reaction, thought and feeling. It's as though her words have stabbing power. They punch him in the gut. They have impact. Short. Sweet. Pungent.

That's the time when I drop all the gluing prose—the reactions and feelings and thoughts—when I want the words to stab.

Here is another example from the same story. Ahern puts the "scrolls" on a bed and then watches the kid wake up. The resulting conversation isn't very friendly:

The white-haired boy stirred and moaned. "Where am I?" he muttered.

"Good question."

"At least you could answer it."

"Suppose I could."

The boy stared at him, a smile spreading across his face. "You remind me of
someone I know."

Ahern cocked an eyebrow at him.

"You do not like me, do you?" the kid asked.

Gluing Dialog Together with Prose

A story that only contains action lacks depth. A story that has little to no action lacks plot. It is the job of a write to blend the two seamlessly. One of my favorite writing books Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon describes a formula for balancing action, thoughts, feelings, responses, and description into well rounded prose. The formula goes like this:

Action --> Reaction --> Thoughts / Feelings --> Action

Dialog is action, and good dialog deepens tension between characters. To intensify that tension, add reactions and thoughts / feelings. It makes the story more realistic because when we talk to people we react, we have feelings, we think. Many times, what goes on inside is nothing like what's on the outside.

Consider this excerpt from my book Infiltrate:

"Where's Lelea?" Jaak demanded, looking around. "She's the one that scares me. She's the one that'll get us killed."

Jadon wadded her hands into fists and leaned across the table. Jaak turned white. "Lelea knows what to do," Jadon growled.

She wasn't going to admit that she had her doubts too. Sure, Lelea could do the mission in her sleep, but that didn't change her sister's strange behavior. And it wasn't the chip in her brain that made her so unstable. Jadon had run diagnostics on it many times over the last year. No, there was nothing wrong with it...

She sneered at the scub cowering in front of her. "She's been training for missions since she was two, but you haven't even made it through Lunk. Remember, scub?"

Action: Jaak accuses Lelea of likely getting them killed.
Reaction: Jadon wads her hands and leans forward.
2nd Reaction: Jaak turns white.
3rd Reaction: Jadon growls and defends her sister. Arguably, this could be an action, but in this case, I used dialog as part of her reactions to Jaak.
Thoughts / Feelings: Jadon considers whether Lelea really is up to the task.
Action: Jadon throws Jaak's inadequacies back in his face.

All rules are made to be broken. There are times when dialog should be back to back with nothing in between. When do you break this rule? The answer is coming tomorrow.

Interview with Kevis Hendrickson

I met Kevis online through a goodreads forum. For a limited time, he was offering one of his e-books The Legend of Witchbane for free. I jumped at the chance and thus enjoyed the reading of a fascinating tale. I decided then and there that this was an author whose career was worth following. He has so much potential, and as he grows as a writer, I am certain that his tales will grow as well.

Well, after reading his e-book, it seemed like everywhere I turned, there he was, giving wisdom to new writers, offering reviews, encouraging others. He had such a knack for lifting people up. I thought, "That's what I want to do."

My mind lately has been focused on dreams, pursuing them, living them, encouraging others to find them. So it seemed a natural thing to approach Kevis for an interview.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Rita: What has motivated you to pursue your writing and to keep at it?

Kevis: I am immensely fond of storytelling and always knew since I was a child that I would spend my life spinning my own tales. For me, there is no greater thrill than to play god of my own universe. But the real magic happens when my characters start to come to life and behave in unexpected ways. I’m always in awe when my characters cease to be words on a page and transform into real people.

Although it took me many years to finally make my work public, I always yearned for the day when I would be able to showcase my writing to the world. Writing is a very introverted occupation. Unfortunately, a writer can never reach his or her full potential if they don’t have an audience for their work. Without readers, a writer can never take that next step which involves the sharing of his inner self. In other words, the writing process is incomplete without people to read the writer’s work.

Beyond the need to share my work with others, I take great pleasure in being able to move someone with my writing. Only a few weeks ago, while feeling a little sour that my book sales weren’t where I wanted them to be, I received an email from a ten year old girl who told me how much she and her little sister loved reading my children’s fantasy book The Legend of Witch Bane. Needless to say, my spirit soared after reading her message. Here was a total stranger who had enjoyed reading my book so much that she had to tell me about it. It is moments like these that keeps me plodding on even through the rough patches of grass that I encounter as both a writer and author.

One often overlooked benefit to being a writer is that I get a chance to create something that will outlast me. Long after I am gone, I would like to know that a part of me still lives in the form of my writing and the stories I tell. To me, this is the closest thing to immortality that any person can achieve.

Rita: Did you ever want to give up? And how did you talk yourself into continuing?

Kevis: Without a doubt, writing is a process that I am still learning. But the most frustrating part of my career is not the writing, but rather learning how to promote my published works on a shoestring budget. Book promotion is an entirely different beast than writing. It is a time-consuming, energy draining, and quite frankly, humbling endeavor that often forces many would-be career authors to give up their pens. I personally do not enjoy being forced to give up my precious writing time to engage in what sometimes feels to me like self-prostitution. In fact, I never once ever felt like giving up my career until I was forced to publically hawk my wares, so to speak, to get people interested in my books.

Like so many other indie authors, my finances do not allow me to promote my book using the traditional venues (paying for advertisements, hiring a PR rep, travel expenses, etc.). Thus, if I want my book to be read, I have to put in several hours a week using unconventional means of self-promotion such as using social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. But I always try to keep in mind that my anything worth having is worth fighting for. And if I want people to read my book, I have to fight for their attention. But nothing is more important in that regard than learning to have patience.

Rita: What has been some of the pitfalls, hurdles, or lessons learned that you have had on your road to becoming a writer?

Kevis: The greatest pitfall that I have had to face as a writer is finding the time to write. Writing is not a simple art form as many people think. Writing is a science which can be exacting to a degree not unlike any other craft. Because most writers have to work for a living or have other personal obligations including school or family, we do not have the luxury of writing for as many hours a day as a professional writer. But without spending quality time developing one’s writing skills, a writer will never achieve the level of ability that is necessary to create high-quality work.

Between the demands on my time brought about by family, friends, and work, I find that most of my writing time is consumed by other pursuits. I had to learn to create a schedule for myself where every day I would write for a certain amount of time no matter what. In my opinion, a writer should write for at least 8 hours a day just like any other full time job. However, since this is not practical for most writers, including myself, I have structured my life to ensure that distractions do not get in the way of me achieving a certain amount of writing every day.

It takes serious discipline to overcome the hurdles created by distractions. But I have learned that if a writer is determined, persistent, and organized, he or she will find the time they need to not only write, but improve their skills which is necessary to having a career as a writer.

Rita: What advice would you give to someone who is pursuing artistic talents (i.e. drawing, painting, poetry, music, or writing)?

Kevis: Take pride in your art and spend as much quality time as you can to master your talent. But you should also allow yourself to fail. Failure is not always a bad thing. Sometimes, it is only through learning from one’s failures that one can achieve their goals. Thomas Edison is famous for having made over 10,000 attempts before successfully creating the light bulb. Every failure brought him closer to his goal because he learned something new every time. True. It takes hard work to turn your failures into a success. But when in doubt, always remember this famous quote by the legendary Sammy Davis, Jr., “If you want to be the best, you have to work harder than all the rest.”

First Day of School

Today was the first day of the Webb School of Independence--the beginning of our third year of home schooling. I spent the weekend setting up our school room and my office (which is all one big room). The books are neatly stacked. Can I manage to keep things organized? I am thankful that I have a better system this year.

I can't begin to tell you how exciting it is to watch them learn and enjoy it. Now that they are all in bed and the day is done, I got all these warm and fuzzy feelings burning in the pit of my stomach. It's called joy and pride in a job well done. This is why I home school. Because learning should be exciting, spontaneous, and simple. Learning should be the central part of life.

We don't do tests. We read and write and do math. Raise some frogs, collect insects for pets, have lots of time to run wild, listen to music, dance. And we talk. I know they are learning because they talk to me. I remember when our electricity went out after a storm, and Makani (barely 6 years old at the time) explained to Rowena why the lights wouldn't work. Then her grandma comes over, and she tells her all about the roly poly--how it lives, how it grows, the various names it's called. That's how I test them. I listen.

Rowena and I have been working on reading all year, but she is finally beginning to understand. She can sound out words now, and her sweet little face lights up when she gets it right. Then I have her write the story she read and draw a picture. Today she read "that rat is sad" and then wrote it in her notebook. She practically preens when she is done with her lessons. And I want to cry with joy to see how confident she is becoming.

Makani read a chapter out of her book Meet Felicity, a historical fiction, and then wrote a short synopsis. We had to discuss that Mr. Merriman, Felicity's father, couldn't have elevators in his store and that Felicity didn't know what a computer was. In the course of her writing, Makani learned how to spell three new words: special, thought, and computer.

Kaylee is too little for school, but she wants that special time with Mommy too. So I did a puzzle with her and had her draw. She pretended to write, and then I read her some books. She sees me give reading lessons to Rowena, so she pretends to read too. But I've learned not to push it. I won't be even trying to teach her to read until she is at least 5. We're not in a hurry.

Then lessons were done, but Makani wanted a music lesson and to do a craft and to draw another picture and to read another book and to keep me up all night long with more projects. "One subject a night, girl," I said. I have to do lessons with her sisters as well, after all. And I still work all day and have writing to do and my own studies.

They do math everyday in the mornings, and art, music, reading, and physical activity is a constant part of their day. Everything else is one short hour at the end of the day. Could you imagine? An education with no tests and a school that only lasts 30 minutes in the morning and an hour in the evening? What kind of people would that make?

The Monkey Metaphor Contest

I have a confession. I am terrible with writing metaphors. I try to be brilliant and witty with them and instead end up sounding ridiculous. It leaves my editors saying "huh?" Good thing I have editors.

Oh, every now and then I have actually come up with something good, like this:

She commanded respect even if she was as crazy as a painted desert lizard, running in circles, dizzy from the hot sun.
-- from my book Dreams

I was so proud of myself for that one, but my first-line editor (my husband TJ) said, "For once, you have a great metaphor, but it interrupts the flow of the paragraph." A tangent, he said. Great. Just great. My first good metaphor and I have to cut it.

Well, I didn't cut it. I reworked the rest of the paragraph to make it fit rather than it being a tangent and a distraction.

So this is a contest for writing the worst metaphors and similes. Maybe, subconsciously, it's a way to make me feel better. But honestly, I just mean for us to have a lot of fun. This contest is meant to make people laugh, so write the silliest, the most horrible, the most ridiculous metaphors ever.

The Rules

1. The competition is open to a paragraph containing a metaphor or simile.

2. Submit as many entries as you want.

3. All entries must be in English, original, unpublished, and not submitted or accepted elsewhere at the time of submission. CYA maneuver.

4. To enter the contest, post a comment with your entry and then email me your mailing address to along with an author's bio. In case you win, I'll need this to send you your prize and to post some information about you.

5. Entries must be submitted by midnight Tuesday, September 1, 2009.

6. I will choose several of my favorite entries and allow readers to vote to determine the winners. Voting will start Tuesday, September 8, 2009, and run to midnight Thursday, September 10, 2009.

7. Winners will be announced on this blog by Monday, September 14, 2009.

8. The first-prize winner will be determined by the entry with the most votes. The winner will receive the games Munchkin Fu & Munchkin Fu 2: Monkey Business as well as free publicity by having the winning entry and author's bio posted on my blog.

9. The second-prize winner will be determined by the entry with the second-most votes. The winner will receive the game Munchkin Booty as well as free publicity by having the winning entry and author's bio posted on my blog.

10. The runner-ups will be determined by any entry that I enjoyed but did not receive the top votes. All runner-ups will have free publicity by having their entry and author's bio posted on my blog.

A Humorous Tale of Two Toads

"Here hold my toads, Mommy." And two toads were plopped onto my book. Makani has recently added a new toad to her collection, which had dwindled to just one, a little orange toad named Skydiver. We are a home school family, after all, and science is hands on in our house.

Skydiver is the tamest amphibian I've ever seen. It perches on Makani's shoulder like a bird and doesn't try to escape. Makani carries it all over the yard, takes it on bike rides, catches bugs for it, builds mud houses for it, cleans its cage almost daily, and creates little play areas for it. I can't tell if this toad is pampered or tortured, but after all this time, it doesn't seem to mind anymore.

"So what is this new one named?" I asked. "How about Jumpy?" It certainly wasn't tame. It was hard to keep hold of, always jumping about. Though, that seems to be changing quickly.

"We're going to call this one Leap Frog," she said, "because it likes to jump on top of Skydiver."

Oh really. Just great.

So is anyone in the market for some baby frogs?

8 Reasons to Never Give Up

Someone on the message boards asked if her story was good enough to continue. I've sometimes asked myself the same question. Am I wasting my time? Is this worth the effort? If I'm not any good at this, why bother?

I've got children and a husband and a job and home schooling to deal with. Putting my time into writing--especially if it's not good enough and won't make money--isn't easy, and there have been times I have considered quitting.

But there are many reasons why I don't. One is that writing has become such a part of me that giving it up would be like ripping my arm from my body. Another is that I watch my kids follow in my example, writing and dreaming and building stories and writing some more. Because they see Mommy do it. And watching them create as I do is worth ever minute of doubt and pain.

Even their childlike attempts have value. It makes them grow and learn, and it warms my heart. Isn't that why we all have picked up the pen to write or draw? We have a dream: to create something worthwhile and to have others admire our work.

Whether you pursue music, art, or writing, you always have something to offer.

Here are 8 reasons why you should keep going and never give up:
  1. No one else can give what you have in your heart.
  2. No one else can express art with your emotions.
  3. No one else has your vision, perspective, or personality. Think of the portraits painted by Van Gogh. Even with skewed noses and misshapen eyes, there was more character, personality, color, and life in his paintings than many other artists put together. Imperfections and all.
  4. An emotional performance from the heart has more merit than a perfectly executed musical piece.
  5. Just like you benefit from exercise even if you are not a gold medal winner at the Olympics, you gain from exploring art.
  6. There is more than monetary gain to drawing, writing, and performing.
  7. It makes your heart and soul and spirit blossom.
  8. The more you write, the more you draw, the more you practice, the better you become. What you write today may not be worth publishing or selling, but what you learned from the practice may help you to create something tomorrow that is of value to others.

So when that malicious whisper in your ear tells you it's not good enough and you might as well quit, what do you tell yourself to keep going?

Shoot for Mediocrity: B A 3

Today's guest writer Joseph F. Gergis agreed to share this with you, at my request. Joe is a professional software developer that I have known for a few years now. We've actually been through a lot together, working at the same job we were both on the canned list. He is also one of my editors, a great friend, a fellow dreamer, and an awesome musician.

There are those who would call me a talented software engineer. I am grateful for the compliment. If one assumes for a moment that their assessment is accurate, one would expect to find a rather successful, reasonably wealthy individual with stature and prominence in the field.


The truth of the matter is, I am not successful in the material sense. Nor do I have wealth that rivals Bill Gates, nor am I really all that known in my field. I have made impressions at every position I have ever held, but my name is not spoken at the various software conferences nationwide. And why is this? Because every position I have ever held has been as an employee for a company. And it does not matter if the company is large or small; either way, I have still been a slave to the desires of some corporate machine.

Let me share an example from my past.

One day, Rita stopped by my cube, and saw a rather interesting quote on my whiteboard. Aside from the various bits of code which littered most of its surface, a quote, outlined in the corner, read: “BE A THREE.”

“Be a three? What does that mean?” she asked, with a puzzled look on her face.

“Oh, that.” A mischievous grin appeared on my face in response, for the quote had produced precisely the response I’d wanted. I proceeded to explain what being a three meant.

The traditional model of work involves an employee starting at a new job and making a good impression. This means working extra unpaid hours, showing that the new employee is dedicated to corporate goals. Before too long it is virtually assumed that said worker will always put in extra hours. This employee is dependable. Soon, said employee is now being overloaded with up to twice the normal workload.

What explains this is a curious twist of logic: do a good job so you’ll do well on your evaluation. That’s what this is about. Evaluations.

In the past year I had worked well over and above what any sane person ever would consider. I took work home. I would be up at 2AM driving to the office just to check on the status of a job I’d started before leaving earlier that day. And why? Because I wanted a good evaluation.

Public schools teach children to please their teacher. Do well to get a good grade. As children mature, it becomes more about standardized test scores (1600 on your SATs! 5 on your AP exams! Push! Harder! You need to do this to get into a good college!) and less about pleasing people, but don’t worry! The drive has been ingrained. I am not in the least bit ashamed to admit that I, too, am a product of this engineering. The result of this engineering, the schooling, the years spent in college, the training, the internships, all of this, is for one goal:

Get a good job, make your boss happy, and do well on your evaluation. After 40 or so years, you’ll retire on your pension or 401k. And if you do lose your job on the way, it’s ok, you’ll just get another job and keep going.

Folks, let me shatter your illusions. I did this. I did a phenomenal job. I made sure the team met its goals and deadlines. I wrote some great code, and furthered the the project along with everyone else on my team. I fully expected a grade of 2 on my evaluation (on a scale of 1 to 5 with a 1 being the best you can get).

Imagine my dismay when during a staff meeting, it was hinted that upper management was rather unhappy that my manager has passed too many “2” evaluations, and that many were sent back to be “normalized.”

My question of “What’s the problem of having a bunch of neurotic overachievers for a team?” went unanswered and should have been my first clue.

Now, as a minor aside, please let me point out that I have no illusions about my role there. I was a cog in the machine. I was a corporate tool. My job was to produce code, and produce code I did. But I never felt any true loyalty to where I worked (I did towards individuals but not to the corporate entity itself), not in the sense that I felt the company took any loyalty to me. And yet, I am still a product of my environment. Like everyone else, I fought for the evaluation grade.

After all that work, all I got was a three. A THREE! I was ‘meets expectations’.

The day that occurred, I made a decision. If all I rated was a three, all they would get was three-level work. Never was I staying late again. I would not push any harder than I had to in order to ‘meet expectations’. If a three I was rated, a three I would be.

The end result of all of this was that I was laid off. For all of my hard work, I was tossed aside with everyone else as the company moved in pursuit of ever higher profits, and had to cut expenditures such as the salaries of most of their employees. In retrospect, I was very pleased that I did not push as hard as I could. I did not bleed myself for the company’s profit and benefit. I’ll explain why this is important further down.

I sound bitter, don’t I? I sound like a man at the end of his years looking back at a field of broken dreams. Truthfully, I was more angry, than bitter, because I cannot abide stupidity. But I was actually elated to be on the layoff list, because all I could see was that things would only get worse. Besides - after I’d made my decisions after ‘being a three’ I’d already known I’d never be able to be to view my career the same way again.

What had I done instead of pushing harder and harder, ever in pursuit of that ‘2’? I travelled a bit. I enjoyed my evenings, for a change. And I took an opportunity to pursue a love of mine: music. I produced and released an album of music (find it on iTunes or, something I never thought would happen anytime soon. How could I have done this, by being the employee dedicated to his own demise?

The lesson I learned is this: know to whom you are investing your dreams and efforts. No one else but you will protect your aspirations. I am not suggesting that people should, en masse, quit their jobs and head for the hills. Bills need to be paid. Food needs to be bought. But the pursuit of these mundane tasks should not overshadow or otherwise replace those dreams where your heart lies.

Dream big. Do what you need to do to survive, but dream big. And remember to chase those dreams. No one else will do it for you.

Check out Joe's music on iTunes or here on his profile.

Come play a new RPG!

Some friends came home from a con in Pennsylvania, raving about this new RPG from Shard Studios and the beautiful artwork that went with it.

"Go to this site and check it out," one of my friends said.

So I did. But it wasn't just beautiful; it was awesome. The anthropomorphic drawings and the world were so realistic and vivid--full of color and imagination and wonder. My first thought was that I wanted to read some novels about this world. I wanted the chance to live in it and experience it, to submerse myself in it.

Anyway, we quickly pulled our gaming friends together to plan a campaign. I'm going to play a tiger or lioness, though I was a bit tempted by the elephant as well. I love elephants. And my friend Kat is going to GM.

After looking at all the art and the books and the website, I was impressed. And envious. Shard Studios had managed to do what I have dreamed. Oh not, the RPG thing. But rather, they are successful at making their dreams come true. In great awe, I contacted them for an interview. I just had to know how this all got started.

So I hope you enjoy this as much as I did:

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Rita: What inspired you to build this world and the game to go with it?

Aaron: The world of Dárdünah came about as a result of two things: 1) a college project for a Classics class called Parageography at the University of Texas (where the goal was to build a fantasy world from the ground up), and 2) a desire to experience a fantasy setting that was quite different from the standard medieval European setting that dominated fantasy gaming in the early 90s. The result was the core setting and basis for what ended up becoming the SHARD RPG.The decision to publish the setting as a roleplaying game was driven by Scott Jones, who embraced the setting from the moment he was introduced to it. His passion and commitment helped shape the product that is currently on the market. He playtested the initial rules extensively and added a great deal of content and art to the setting. Once I decided to jump onboard, we formed Shard Studios and began a year long process of designing, writing, editing, and laying out the final product. We're very proud of that collaboration.

Scott: My introduction to the world of Dárdünah came just after I befriended Aaron, and not long before I began working in the computer-gaming industry. In those days, having left many members of my older roleplaying game group behind when moving to my current home town, I was hungry for something new, and really wanted to get back into RPGs, which were a big source of inspiration for me artistically.

Like Aaron mentioned, I was really quick to embrace the world he had created because it was so fresh and unique compared to most of the content to be found in the RPGs of the time. Now, don't get me wrong, I grew up on a constant diet of D&D and Call of Cthulhu, and had fallen in love with everything most paper RPGs had to offer. But here was something I had never experienced before! Ancient India represented a culture that no other paper RPG had yet explored. Add to that the alien elements of enchanted crystals, ritual magic, flying ships, and animal warriors,...and I was instantly hooked!

Even before I talked with Aaron about continuing to create the game for official publishing in the years that followed, the concepts that would eventually become the SHARD RPG had already begun to dominate my artistic creativity. The game system that evolved from it was a sampling of all the things that pleased us the most about paper RPGs in general, mixed with all the specific elements necessary to evoke the unique "look and feel" of the world of Dárdünah.

Rita: How did the Shard Studio team first come together?

Scott: Well, like I mentioned earlier, Aaron and I became friends after I moved to central Texas. Both of us enjoyed playing paper RPGs, so it was only natural that our communal interests would find us working together on creative projects of this kind. Not only did we game together with various different groups of our friends, we eventually worked together in the computer-gaming industry for a number of years and in several different companies.

Those years were tough on our personal time, since the computer-gaming industry in general can be pretty demanding when it comes to overtime hours (which they lovingly call "crunch-mode"). It was really hard for me to find the extra time to work on side projects like the SHARD RPG. It was only in the recent few years, after both Aaron and I left the computer-gaming industry, that we actually had the chance to collaborate and form Shard Studios. It was pretty economically tough for the both of us, but absolutely the way to go since we wanted to promote the fruits of our creative labors, and get our game into the hands of other folks who might appreciate it.

Aaron: Scott and I met at a costume party sometime in the late 80s. He had made these amazing masks that he and his roommate were wearing. I walked up, complimented him on his work, and a big group of us ended up going and having a late night dinner at Denny's and talking about all of our interests (many of which overlapped). That was, as Rick would say, the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Scott joined our regular gaming group shortly thereafter and started playing in this quirky new fantasy RPG I had come up with called Dárdünah, World of the False Dawn. We've been friends ever since.

We didn't actually form Shard Studios, however, until the Winter of 2008. Scott had already been working on publishing the SHARD RPG and had done an enormous amount of work on the books, including all of the art in the Basic Compendium and an amazing amount of content. I'm afraid I came in and slowed the entire process down. I decided to rewrite, edit, and clarify the Basic Compendium as best I could in an effort to make it as "user-friendly" as possible. Scott and I are both incredibly pleased with the results, and (in retrospect) are very happy we took that year to get the book ready for publication.

Rita: How much fighting did it take for your team to put this RPG game together?

Aaron: Haha! I really should have let Scott answer this first. Scott and I are both intensely passionate about our work and equally convinced that our way is the only way to do it "right." At first, there was a good deal of arguing and tempers did indeed flare, but we soon learned to tame those passions and communicate in a very effective way. We delineated very clear responsibilities for each of us, focusing on our strengths as artists and allowing those strengths to benefit the final product. Scott had the final say on anything having to do with art, layout, color palettes, and visual design. I had the final say on writing, editing, and world content (history, cosmology, characters, geography, etc.). We both, however, collaborated very closely on the game mechanics, each of us championing what we felt was best about various mechanics. I focused more on the basic rules and character creation, while Scott focused on the combat and magic rules since he had playtested them rather extensively. But the final game design was a complete collaboration.

And for the record, it is my firm belief that a quality creative product is not possible, especially a collaborative one, without a good deal of fighting and struggling. If it's not uncomfortable and messy and even painful when you're in the midst of creating it, you're either perfect (in which case everyone will hate you) or you're not doing it right.

Scott: Aaron is totally spot-on about all of this! Heh! And honestly, most of the fighting was right at the beginning during the most stressful parts (where Aaron described initially coming in and "slowing down" the process). You see, I had been going "full-steam ahead" for a number of years on my own before Aaron had the chance to come back in and get involved in the process once again. By that point, I was really wanting to be done with the whole initial production thing and wanted to see the game out and finally published. Essentially, I loved the baby dearly, but I really wanted to go ahead and give birth to it. Aaron, finally having the chance to read what I had done more carefully, convinced me to go through some last minute editing. What we both initially believed would be a quick edit and polishing session of a few months became a year-long editing process that, as painful as it was, really needed to happen. Just as Aaron described, my strengths lay in the art, layout, and general visual design. And although we are both pretty darn creative when it comes to content, my own way of writing tends to be pretty wordy. Aaron's strengths with creative writing and editing were really necessary to insure that what we were putting out wasn't merely good, it was something we would both be quite proud of.

Like I said, however, this part of the process was really stressful, and when two creative types like us butt heads over stuff we're so very passionate about, thunder rolls and lightning flashes. We'd argue over the littlest things till we finally learned how to temper our communications so that we weren't just raking each other over the coals of our own emotions all the time. And of course, as Aaron mentioned, dividing up the tasks so that we were more trusting of each other's strengths was the key. One thing we could always come back to, and totally agree upon, was that we both want what's best for the game, our company, and the intellectual property that we'd like to see expand and become something great. We started this company because we both have so much respect for each other, and what we've brought to the table. That alone is something that helps us get through the crazy times.

Rita: What should we expect next from Shard Studios?

Scott: We have several irons in the fire at this point, includingadditional free downloadable content on our website, such as mini-adventures and a few new Animal Templates for character creation.

Earlier on, we had considered putting out two other hardcover books at the same time we released the Basic Compendium (an expanded book of Magic and Martial Arts and a World Guide) but we had to rethink that due to time constraints. Although we have a lot of content for those books, they still require quite a bit of editing before they are ready for publication, and we're considering expanding them with additional sections containing more templates for our animal races, and an expanded bestiary (which is always cool).

We're also hoping we'll be able to take the time to develop some Traveler's Guides, which will essentially be little booklets that highlight each of the countries of the world individually, and in much greater detail than even a World Guide might be able to do. That kind of thing becomes a great resource for GMs wanting to expand the cultural flavor of their campaigns.

Aaron: We're also talking to a variety of other game-related companies, such as T.O.G. Entertainment and Iron Wind Metals, about the possibility of creating SHARD tie-in products, such as a card game focusing on duels in the Spiral Arena and in the Dream Realm, and a series of limited edition SHARD miniatures. In addition, we've begun to work with an artist and a sculptor to create a series of SHARD maquettes featuring characters from a SHARD comic book we hope to publish. And finally, we're in the process of developing some SHARD novels. Since fans will likely want to know more about the world of Dárdünah (and we happen to know many incredibly talented writers), tie-in novels will likely be in Shard Studios' future.

I suppose you could say we have our work cut out for us.

Rita: I was really excited about doing this interview, and after reading all of Scott's and Aaron's responses, I am grinning from ear to ear. I loved the stories about the fighting and their honesty and their frankness in sharing what was a very tough road. Check out their website here.

Congratulations to Renee!

It was a great contest, and I want to thank everyone for their participation. This was a lot of fun for me. I loved the friendly competitive banter and the overall good-sport attitude.

The Werewolf Poetry Contest winners are as follows:

First Prize -
Changing by Renee Miller-Johnston

Bio: Children's author and aspiring horror writer and Mom. Slightly crazy, taking my meds. Writing has always been a passion, but only recently have I tried to do more than dabble. Now I am an addict, can't go a day without writing something. The darker, the better.

Check out her blog here.

Second Prize -
Of Werewolves and Authors by J. Gergis

Bio: Joseph Gergis is a musician in the Dayton, Ohio area. His primary focus is the electronic genre, and his first CD release, The Darker Light, illustrates the fusion of his classical training with his passion for analog synthesis. And sometimes he writes bad werewolf poetry upon request.

Check out some of his music here.

Runner Ups -
Wishes by Lauren Stone

Bio: Lauren Stone is an accomplished musical theater actor who is transitioning back into a writer. Already a published poet, she has recently decided to go back to school to hone her skills as a fiction writer. To learn more about Lauren go to

Run with the Wolves by Jessica Lynn Wright

Bio: I have always wanted to write since I was a little girl making up stories in my head. I mainly write poetry but I am beginning to attempt to write my first novel which happens to be about werewolves and vampires. Lets hope its a good one. You can read her poetry on her blog.

You can read the poems of the finalists here.

Teenagers, Follow Your Dreams!

SarahK posted this comment to the blog post about writing the teenage perspective:

I am seventeen, in High School and am trying to deal with social and family pressures while trying to write my novel. Every person around me tells me that I am too young and that I should wait until I have some "Financial Security."

I wish I had financial security. It would make following my dreams a whole lot easier. I also wish I had continued to write and follow my dreams ever since high school, rather than waiting until my thirties to start trying. I wish I had had more financial sense and understanding. There are so many things I would have started to do ten years ago rather than now when I have 3 children and a house and responsibilities. But I would rather be free to pursue my dreams than to be secure in a dead-end job.

The better path is to follow your dreams and educate yourself on wise money management.

The people preaching "financial security" are both right and wrong all at the same time. The typical path to financial scurity:

  • work hard in high school
  • go to college
  • get a good degree
  • get a high paying job
  • work hard to make someone else rich

Get a job so you can have a high-paying salary, benefits, 401K, and a pension plan. Your employer and the federal government will take care of you. Then you will be secure.

Tell that to the unemployed who've been laid off after slaving away for years for companies who barely paid them enough to feed their families. Tell that to my father-in-law who is dying from asbestos exposure after working in a power plant all his life.

I worked for ten years at a prestigious information technology company for less than standard pay for a software test analyst and then was laid off after training my incompetent replacement. The company would rather have cheap incompetence from India (not all Indians are incompetent, but these ones were) than to pay a fair price for a good product.

So I got my severance package. I was planning to use it to live on while I started my career as a writer. After 10 years of working for them, it should have covered almost six months of salary. But the government took almost 50% and left us with enough to survive for just a few months. We are in the process of losing our house to foreclosure now.

One of my coworkers who was also laid off had only been there a few years, not long enough to keep the company's matching part in his 401K. Because of the downward spiral of the economy, he'd been losing money, and when the company took back their share, they did not prorate for what was lost. They took 100% of their money and left his 401K empty.

And yet it was the people who stayed--the ones that weren't laid off--that I felt sorry for. They now had to depend on incompetent teammates to get the job done or do it all themselves, working longer hours, weekends and evenings. It was those that stayed that were the bitter ones, trying to keep afloat a sinking ship.

So now I can say: Security is a cheap substitute for freedom.

A Better Path
There has to be a better way. In pursuit of finding a better way, I started studying the Rich Dad series. Rich Dad, Poor Dad is a book about a man (Robert T. Kiyosaki) whose father was poor but his friend's father was rich. Rich Dad made it through 8th grade and then built a multi-million dollar empire. Poor Dad lived the system I described above and died penniless.

Rich Dad mentored Kiyosaki and helped him to find the path to riches. The books are about the lessons that he learned along the way--the struggles, the failures, the successes, the wisdom, the learning that he gained as he built his own empire, following in the footsteps of his Rich Dad, listening to the wisdom of one who had gone before him.

To end, I want to include this quote from Mark Twain:

What work I have done I have done because it has been play. If it had been work I shouldn't have done it.

Who was it who said, "Blessed is the man who has found his work"? Whoever it was he had the right idea in his mind. Mark you, he says his work--not somebody else's work. The work that is really a man's own work is play and not work at all. Cursed is the man who has found some other man's work and cannot lose it.

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Related Articles:

5th Marketing Strategy: Being Smart

In the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, Chris Gardner put his life savings into a dead-end investment that has left his family broke and penniless. This was going to be their ticket to the big life--riches and happiness and freedom. Instead, Chris is stuck with a pile of machines that he can't sell and no way of getting out of the hell hole they found themselves in.

He finds an apprenticeship at an investment company. They will train him, but there is no pay for 6 months. And at the end of that six months, he only gets the job if he is the best in the class. One student out of the group will be chosen.

Then his wife leaves him and their son, and he soon finds himself homeless, living on the streets while caring for his boy and trying to be the best in his class. Many things are against him:

  • he is impverished--homeless--and he's trying to keep it secret
  • he is black
  • his teachers are treating him more like a servant boy than a winner, as if they already expect him to lose
  • he has less time than anybody else to focus on this because he has to take care of his child

They teach him to make cold calls, starting at the bottom of a list that is organized by income. After receiving rejection after rejection, he decides this plan--going to the poorest first--isn't working. So he jumps to the top of the list and immediately gets an interview for his sales pitch. Eventually he succeeds because he thought his strategy through.

In the article How David Beats Goliath: When Underdogs Break the Rules , Malcolm Gladwell says that the weak and powerless have the strength to win when they chose strategies that defy the usual rules of combat. In David and Goliath's time, you were supposed to be decked out in armor, wielding a heavy sword, and pitting strength against strength. But David used his strengths--mobility, skill with a slingshot, passion, and faith--to beat the giant. He won by agility rather than strength.

We too have the ability to win even when the odds are set against us--if we are willing to play by our own rules. You have to let go of preconceived notions and standard philosophies that you had been taught since childhood. I've been reading the Rich Dad Poor Dad books, including one about building a business, Rich Dad's Before You Quit Your Job by Robert T. Kiyosaki.

In this book, Kiyosaki teaches the following steps to success (my paraphrase):

1. Make a plan.
2. Try
3. Fail
4. Get a mentor
5. Try
6. Fail
7. Study (take some courses, get some books)
8. Keep trying and failing.
9. Succeed.
10. Start all over again.

The point is that when you try and fail, you don't give up, but you also don't keep doing the same failed strategies. You learn and analyze and find a new approach until you finally get the winning combination.

However, you don't stop with the winning combination. You find a new idea and make that work, applying the lessons you learned the first time through. And you do that for the rest of your life.

Writing Powerful Dialog

I was having an IM conversation with a friend of mine about his job situation. He had been unemployed for some time and was looking at a possible job offer that he wasn't sure he really wanted. I could understand that this job offer took him away from his dreams, but I was concerned about the hopelessness I'd seen in him lately.

So here is how the conversation went:

whoever: i really have no comment on the matter just yet
whoever: i can't know how they treat people, aside than to see that most people have been there for some time
whoever: with the exception of the direct manager i'd report to, who's been there for 3 months
Rita Webb: i think i agree with your father.
Rita Webb: to move forward cautiously, but i'm not so sure you should turn it down.
whoever: i'm not either, really. but as i said, i don't know.
Rita Webb: i mentioned earlier that i was worried about you stagnating.
whoever: mmmm, you've said that
Rita Webb: so anyway, i hope it all goes well for you.

My last line really didn't fit with the rest of the conversation. Obviously, my mind was churning on something. (Basically, I thought I said too much and was back-pedaling.) Mr. Whoever laughed at me and said that if I had put that in one of my stories, he would have ripped it apart and told me to start over.

The problem was that the glue which holds the dialog together was missing.

So here is a possible rewrite, making that conversation story worthy:

"I really have no comment on the matter just yet," he said. His face was sour as if his job prospects tasted like lemons. Quiet for a moment, he looked out the window. He was brooding.

I fidgeted, just wishing I could reach in and fix the whole thing. Finally, he turned back to me with a bitter smile. "I can't know how they treat people, aside than to see that most people have been there for some time. With the exception of the direct manager I'd report to, who's been there for 3 months."

I chewed my lip, trying to figure out what to say. I wanted to say the right thing. Something that would give him hope and courage and help him down his way. It had to be more than just "get a good job so that you can be secure." He and I both knew that was foolish advice and led you nowhere. How long had it been since we'd been laid off from that company that sold us down the river? Not even six months.

But at the same time, he had been growing more and more hopeless. More and more bitter. "I think I agree with your father," I finally said. My words were tentative, testing his reactions. "To move forward cautiously, but I'm not so sure you should turn it down."

"I'm not either, really. But as I said, I don't know."

I shut my eyes and let out a deep breath. Should I say it? I had said it yesterday—about his stagnating and my worries—but had he listened? I swallowed before I opened my mouth. "I mentioned earlier that I was worried about you stagnating."

"Mmmm, you've said that."

I felt like kicking myself. It was more of a dismissal than an acknowledgment of what I had said. I should have just kept my mouth shut. This really wasn't my business, what he did or didn't do. "So anyway, I hope it all goes well for you."

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See the difference?

Got any interesting dialog from your stories to share? Please post.

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Coming over the next few weeks I will write about how to create powerful dialog in your stories by filling out the following topics:

Short, Sweet, & Pungent
Realistic Voices
Unique Dialog of Unique Characters
Gluing Dialog Together with Prose

Werewolf Poetry Contestants - Let the voting begin!

You can vote by leaving a comment with the contestant number.

Contestant #1

by Lauren Stone

It’s so peaceful here.
I wish I could feel like this all the time.
I wish I could lay naked in the cool wet grass forever.
To bathe in the moonlight
With no one to disturb me.

I wish I could be this free in the day time.
To run wild with no one telling me it’s wrong
No one telling me what to do
With no one to please
And no one to disappoint.

I wish I could just stay hidden in the forest.
But this is dangerous to.
I’m not safe in this world.
And I’m not safe in theirs.

If someone learned my secret
It would destroy me.
I wouldn’t be allowed to spend my days with people
And my nights here in the forest.

This is the one place where I feel like I can slip away
And be myself.
I’m just afraid that I won’t be able to find my way back
If I lose my humanity
I will be no better than a stray dog
Discarded and put to sleep.

I don’t think I was made to feel this way.
I was given all this power
Yet I am still so weak.

So susceptible
So confused
I don’t know what I’m supposed to be.
I don’t know how I am supposed to be.
How to juggle these two worlds
Without losing myself
Or compromising to one of them.

Sometimes I wish I was normal
So things wouldn’t be so hard.

I want to run away
Find a place where I can just be alone
And lay naked in the grass
Under the moonlight
With no one to bother me
But that’s no way to live.

Contestant #2

by Renee Miller-Johnston

Running, panting, it howls in the night.
Shivers tingle down your spine.
Gaining ground, it has you in sight,
You escape to the safety of the pines.

Snarl, sniff, it has your scent.
You can’t shake it from your trail.
It smiles at the blood you’ve already spent.
Your skin grows cold and pale.

“Come to me,” it growls through the trees.
No, you won’t, you can’t.
“It is done.” It says, “Can’t you see?”
Then you see your hands.

Fur, claws, they begin to grow.
You shake your head, it can’t be.
This isn’t real, it can’t be so.
It’s all a terrible dream.

Horrible pain, wrenching through your body.
You collapse on the ground, you are spent.
Your thoughts grow dim, your mind is foggy.
You try to get up but you can’t.

Above you now it peers down.
It licks your face like a lover.
This is the end, it’s done now.
Your life as you know it is over.

Slowly you rise, upon all fours.
It backs away, giving you room.
You want to feed, to fill the ache.
You feel the pull of the moon.

You follow it into the night,
Your human self is gone.
You crave the hunt, the taking of life,
At least until the dawn.

Contestant #3

Of Werewolves and Authors
J. Gergis, 2009

My muse must be missing
Said the Author to her Pen
How will I write?
I don't know if I can!

The Werewolf ate it,
Said the Pen to the Author
What were ---

The Werewolf began to sing,
And dance with a spin,
The song he chose to sing:
"I've Got You Under My Skin"

So now the Pen was sad,
And asked the Werewolf to write,
But dear reader, werewolf poetry is BAD,
Such a horrible sight.

The Author began to wonder,
But what about my muse?
Where will I find inspiration?
Who will light my fuse?

The Werewolf whsipered in her ear,
With a toothy grin he said,

Sweet girl, my dear,
*I'LL* be your muse instead.

The Author said, aghast,
You're a Werewolf, not a muse!
How can you inspire me?
To write the words I choose?

Ask yourself this question,
How is an author like a werewolf?
Will she attack the page on a mission,
And sink in a tooth?

So the Author listened to her new muse,
And wrote throughout the night,
When finished, she made the news!


Contestant #4

Run With the Wolves
by Jessica Lynn Wright

I run with the pack
through the dead of night.
The moon calls to us all,
As we hunt for our prey and plan to attack
Wind rushes past us
We can feel the dirt beneath us
are we human, or beast
we will let you decide

Teenage Motivations

This conversation has shown that there are many deep thinkers among teenagers today—analytical minds that are willing to look deeply at themselves and at society—and then articulate clearly the truths that they have seen.

But today, many teenagers stagnate because adults give them no room to test an awakening that has grown in their spirits. They are relegated to the role of child, and parents seem so afraid of their children's failures that the teenager cannot learn from their mistakes. They do not make mistakes because their choices are taken away from them.

Historical Teenagers
Throughout history and throughout the world, many cultures and races and tribes of men ushered their children into adulthood at puberty. There was a rite of passage, a spirit quest, or a ceremony to mark the occasion. At twelve or thirteen, children became a contributing member of society. Girls were married and began having children of their own. Boys started to learn a trade.

Even the Bible shows a spiritual awakening that occurs at the age of twelve. Most of the strong people throughout the Old Testament, who changed things for the better, started their mission—their battle—at very young ages:

* Joseph was just 17 when he first had his dreams and was sold into slavery.

* King David was a boy in his father's field when he was anointed as king.

* Josiah was 8 when he began to rule, and then at 17, he purged the land of evil.

* Jeremiah was young when God called him as a prophet.

* Mary was in her early teens—as she was still unmarried—when she was chosen to be the mother of Jesus.

*And Jesus was 12, teaching the scribes and Pharisees in the temple.

In the book Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki, a father comes to Kiyosaki for advice. His son wants a car, and the dad doesn't know whether he should buy it for him or make the kid earn it on his own. Kiyosaki suggests that the father use this as a teaching moment, so the man and his son play the game Cashflow and discuss the wise use of money. Then the father gives his son $3000 with a stipulation that he cannot directly use the money on a car.

The boy starts investing in the stock. He studies books from the library and quickly loses $2000 of the money his father gave him. But he's learned some lessons and he goes back to get more library books. He's forgotten about the car—material possessions mean nothing in his newfound freedom.

But freedom isn't really the word, is it? It's purpose that he found.

Having a Purpose
Teenagers have a God-given mission—to change the world for the better—and instead they are acting the role of children, twiddling their thumbs, and being told that success (good grades, going to the best colleges, finding security in a good job) is all that matters. Because somebody wiser has learned from experience that that is how the world works.

Oh, I agree with gergiskhan that experience has deepened the adult perspective, but experience can only do two things:

* give you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes

* or just kill your spirit for adventure

With our society's focus on success, we are more and more likely to learn that living on the edge is too risky, and it is better to be safe than to live with vigor and passion.

Yes, teenagers yearn for freedom, but I don't think that is what causes teenage angst. It is bitterness that comes from the feeling of ineffectiveness when a passion burns in their hearts to affect the world with fire. And truly, our world needs such an awakening.

What Teenagers Need
Therefore, this is what I believe teenagers need from adults—what I hope to give my own kids today as well as when they are teenagers:

* An environment where failure is celebrated as equally as successes

*A safety net where experiments gone awry can cause the least amount of trouble

* The encouragement to try new things

* The empowerment to make things happen

* The respect and trust of a mind and a heart that is capable of making wise decisions

And The Winners Are...
It was a very hard choice to decide who to award the books to. Everyone was very thoughtful and well-spoken. The three finalists are:

Ilana Shayn
Olivia S.

Please email me at with an address that I can use to ship your Little Brother books to you.