What I’ve Learned about Romance After 8 Years of Being in Love

Happy Valentine’s Day! February is the official month of love, so what better time of the year for writers to think about romance? Love is one of my favorite themes, and when I think about the best romantic stories I’ve ever written, I often find hints of the real romance I’ve been living with my boyfriend over the last eight years. I’ve learned many lessons about love in my personal life, and I like to think they’ve made me both a better writer and a better person!

So in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, here are three lessons I learned from being in love that have served as inspiration for my romantic fiction. I hope they’ll inspire you too! Enjoy!

1) The greatest romance is with your best friend.

I know some guys still have a hard time believing this, so let me clear something up right now: there is no such thing as the “friend zone”! Trust me: this is coming from a woman who’s never dated a guy she didn’t consider a friend first. Just saying.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying you should always establish a friendship with someone before you start dating them. I’m just saying that when you do fall in love, it should be with someone you consider a true companion: someone who makes you laugh, who makes you feel safe, and who will always be there for you no matter what.

In other words, your best friend.

Me when my boyfriend is playing PC games while I’m writing
Illustration from the comic “Soppy” by Philippa Rice

I had the good fortune of falling in love with a man I already loved and trusted as a friend. This took a lot of pressure off the beginning of our relationship, and it’s only gotten better ever since! It’s no wonder so many of my fictional couples start out as close friends; it’s worked out so well in my real life!

2) True love isn’t in extravagant gifts and declarations; it’s in everyday words and gestures.

Any woman who grew up watching Disney princess movies from the 20th century probably reached adulthood with unrealistic expectations of men. After all, Disney princes are valiant heroes who give magic kisses and go to incredible lengths to rescue the women they love. Real-life guys can hardly compare, right?

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my current relationship, it’s that the so-called true love in fairy tales is very different from true love in real life.

Love is in the little things
Illustrations by Puuung

I know beyond a doubt that my boyfriend loves me, but not because he showers me with gifts or writes me poetry that would rival Shakespeare’s. I can see it in the little things: the way he looks at me, the way he smiles at the sight of me when he comes home from work, the way he tells me I’m beautiful even when I’m wearing sweats and my hair is a mess, the way he knows exactly what to say or do to make me laugh.

In turn, I do my best to show him how much I love him in the same way: I compliment him every day, I constantly remind him how proud of him I am, and I do whatever I can to cheer him up when he has a bad day. Love is a two-way street!

Drawing inspiration from personal experience, I often add the same details to the relationships between my characters. True love means making each other happy, and in the long run, isn’t that much easier with small everyday gestures than with grand declarations of love?

3) You deserve someone who loves you just the way you are.

There are too many stories out there about girls who change everything about themselves just to please their guys, like Twilight or Grease or The Little Mermaid. Personally, I prefer the kind of story where the guy falls for the girl because she’s already everything he needs and vice versa.

The Difference between Love and Lust
Illustration by Karina Farek for CollegeHumor

I like to think my boyfriend and I found each other at the right time in our lives. I was in college and constantly feeling lonely and frustrated because I couldn’t seem to fit in with my classmates, while he wasn’t exactly at the highest point in his life either.

The initial connection we had and the relationship that followed have since found their way into some of the best romantic stories I’ve ever written. My favorite of these was about two young people who, despite being fine enough on their own, completed each other and made each other stronger. I didn’t have to look far for the inspiration behind that one!

There’s no better feeling than having someone who always supports your dreams and loves you just the way you are (besides your parents, of course). So if you love writing about love, I highly recommend experiencing it yourself. With a true romance in your life, you’ll never run out of inspiration!

What about you? What lessons have you learned about love in your lifetime? How have they inspired your writing?

Here There Be Dragons: About My Self-Publishing Experiment

Last week, I sent out a call for beta readers for three of my short stories about dragons. If you haven’t seen it yet, find out more here!

I mentioned that the stories I’m editing are going to be compiled into an ebook as part of a self-publishing venture. So today, I want to talk about what this little experiment is all about.

The Dragon Story Experiment

After five years of blogging, I realized it’s high time for an upgrade in my status as a writer. Obviously this includes actually publishing a book already, but there’s more to it than that.

After a month of reflection, I’ve been getting myself excited about changing… well, pretty much everything about my online presence.

But before I do, I want to “test the waters” of the Kindle market. And I felt there were no better stories to start with than a handful that I’ve already shared online and found moderate success with.

Why these stories?

I chose three stories with a common theme that have already been well received, which gives me a major confidence boost going in.

Here’s the catch, though: all the feedback I’ve gotten on these stories so far has come from writers, fellow artists who are already familiar with the craft and the work that goes into every story.

On the one hand, this is good because experienced writers can identify mistakes that go unnoticed by the untrained eyes of average readers. On the other, writers may be more inclined to be positive and encouraging than brutally honest to fellow artists out of empathy. We all want to be supportive, right?

So my experiment is to try to expand the reach of my writing and see if it still holds up with average readers who are just looking for a good story.

The first step is to show my stories to beta readers who have volunteered to point out the strengths and weaknesses in my writing and help me make it better. The next is to put the final drafts of those stories in front of paying readers and see how they fare. Whatever happens, I’ll take what I learn and apply that knowledge to my future self-published books.

Why now?

Now is probably a good time to mention that my “author persona upgrade” will almost definitely come with a name change! Wait, what? Again, more on this later.

This test run is therefore a way get my work out there without the fear of failure. Nobody likes it? No problem; it’s not really me! Everyone likes it? Great, now I know for sure that I can write stories readers enjoy!

So what does this all mean? Well, nothing yet. For now, I’ll continue writing and blogging as usual. But I am planning to change that in a couple of months when my blog turns five years old!

Until then, I’ll be focusing on my mini short story anthology. Here’s hoping my experiment is a success!

Are you interested in being a beta reader for my short stories? Sign up for my beta readers’ list!

Wanted: Fantasy Beta Readers! (Feb 2018)

Do you like fantasy? Do you like short stories? Do you like dragons? Do you love free fantasy short stories about dragons? Well, then do I have an exciting offer for you!

So remember how I mentioned at the beginning of January that I want to finally self-publish this year? Well, I’m kicking off that New Year’s resolution with a little experiment!

I’m compiling three short stories about dragons that I’ve already written and published online into a single ebook. I’m editing those stories now, but when I’m done, I’ll need some beta readers to look them over and give feedback to help me polish them into a “publishable” form.

This small short story anthology will be a self-publishing “test run” while I prepare to make some big changes to my platform (more on that later).

If you’re interested in reading early drafts of my stories, sign up for my beta readers mailing list (no spam, double pinky promise)! You should receive a confirmation email first, then a welcome email after you finish signing up. 😉

Note: if you don’t receive a confirmation email after using the form above, try signing up again here: http://eepurl.com/di4ZE9

Be sure to leave a comment if you sign up so I can check that you made it onto my list! And please let me know if you have any problems signing up! I’m still new to this whole email thing, so there may still be some bugs to work out. Thanks!

To those of you who choose to sign up, thank you so much for your interest in my stories! It seriously means the world to me!

Thanks for reading, and may you all have a productive and successful 2018!

Off The Bookshelf: 1984

Last year was certainly an interesting one for history, but also for my reading list! I finally got around to enjoying a few classics I’d been wanting to read for years, so today I’m focusing on one of them for my first book review of 2018. As if you haven’t heard about it enough in the past year, here’s my review of 1984 by George Orwell!

1984, by George Orwell

Summary

First published in 1949, 1984 (or Nineteen Eighty-Four) is a dystopian political novel and the last book ever written by George Orwell. The protagonist of the story is Winston Smith, an Outer Party member living in the fictional totalitarian superstate of Oceania. The government of Oceania is run by the Inner Party, commonly referred to only as the Party, and enforces an ideology known as Ingsoc.

Winston works in the Ministry of Truth, revising historical records for the government while secretly hating the Party and dreaming of rebellion against their leader, Big Brother. The novel follows Winston as he navigates through a world where history is fiction, the government is always watching you, and independent thinking is punishable by death.

Review

First off, I know it may seem like I only read this book now because it feels more relevant than ever, but while that was a valid reason that did make the book easier to find (I picked it up from a “bestsellers” table at Barnes & Noble), the truth is that George Orwell’s 1984 is a book I’d been wanting to read for years but that I hadn’t found the time (or copy in English) to read until last year.

Having said that, the fact that I read the book in 2017 may have made it that much more realistic and terrifying.

Movie poster for 1984 (1984)

The totalitarian nightmare that is the world of 1984 is one of the scariest things I’ve ever read in a book, probably because it feels so real. Modern history aside, the idea of an authoritarian government with absolute power existing only 35 years into the first edition’s future speaks volumes about how easily people can be manipulated and controlled.

The most obvious criticism within this theme is against communism (Ingsoc being short for “English Socialism”), which was still on the rise in Orwell’s day, but the author was warning us about the dangers of psychological manipulation and the control of information even in democratic societies. As is mentioned later in the story, the Party seeks power solely for the sake of power, and in so doing, deprives humanity of the very freedoms that make us human.

But as noted in this TED-Ed video, “authoritarian alone does not Orwellian make.” The scariest part of Oceania’s totalitarian regime isn’t the omnipresent surveillance nor the persecution of individualism, terrifying as they are; it’s the control of thought and behavior through language.

The official language of Oceania is Newspeak—a version of English stripped down to its barest bones. In Newspeak, most words have a single concrete meaning, sentences are constructed via a basic grammatical system, and entire words and definitions have been scrapped from the dictionary. The point of this is to completely eliminate critical thinking from the population, thus maintaining the Party’s power indefinitely. If that idea doesn’t send chills down your spine, I don’t know what will.

It is in these portrayals of language and thought that George Orwell’s astute observations about society are most evident. In his essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946), he examines the use of language as a political device—or more accurately, the distortion of language as a catalyst for political manipulation.

Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. – George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” (1946)

Overall, 1984 is a chilling yet fascinating read that deserves its place among the greatest novels ever written for its timeless message of warning to humanity. Though I’m sure he could never have imagined a future with the Internet and social media, Orwell was right to urge us not to lose our language and individual thought. They’re our greatest defenses against the threat of a world where war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.

Inspiration

Orwell’s 1984 is considered one of the most powerful and influential literary works of the 20th century, and with good reason. Despite having been written in the late 1940s, the book only seems to become more relevant with each passing year. Why else do sales of this novel continue to spike over half a century since its debut?

Along with Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, 1984 is part of the trilogy of quintessential “negative utopia” novels of the mid 20th century. To this day, it inspires us to imagine a world without the basic freedoms we take for granted and to question if we’re really headed in the right direction as a society.

In the digital age, we’ve long been at the point of willingly trading privacy for convenience, and a case can be made for how we already practice “doublethink” every day. It’s no wonder this novel continues to top bestseller charts in the 21st century: we’re already living in the future of mass surveillance and public manipulation!

It’s worth noting that spikes in sales of 1984 are not that uncommon. Remember Edward Snowden and the NSA scandal? Current events have a way of drawing people back to this classic again and again, but whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on your perspective. Yes, it’s scary to think we’re becoming the world Orwell predicted in the ’40s, but it’s good that we’re recognizing the signs early, right?

While it’s easy to read a book like 1984 and fear the expanding powers of government, Orwell’s story is more of a cautionary tale for society as a whole. It’s not just our democracy and political integrity that we must protect, but our language and our ability to think critically.

Like the people of Oceania before the perpetual war and the rise of Ingsoc, we are responsible for the course our history takes. The difference is that we may still have a chance to preserve our rights and defend our individuality before it’s too late.

Five More Books I Want to Read in 2018

Last week, I shared the first half of my list of top ten books I want to read in 2018. Now let’s dive into the second half! Here are the other five books I want to read this year! Enjoy!

6) A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

After finally finishing A Game of Thrones last year, I just got the second book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series for Christmas! Like its predecessor, A Clash of Kings is an epic story spanning a few hundred pages, and given that I’m a relatively slow reader, I admit that I probably won’t finish it this year. Still, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it as much as the first book. Hopefully this one won’t take me another three years to finish!

7) Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Speaking of “the second book”, another series I started reading last year is The Hunger Games. Since I enjoyed the first book and all four movies, I’m looking forward to continuing the series with Catching Fire. And yes, I’ve heard that the sequels aren’t quite as good as the first book, as is often the case with YA series, but it seems a shame to start a trilogy I like and not finish it!

8) Arrival by Ted Chiang

This one is a slightly different choice for me, as it’s actually a collection of short stories instead of a single novel. Originally titled Stories of Your Life and Others, Arrival is the book on which the movie of the same name is based—or rather, it contains the short story on which the movie is based, “Story of Your Life”. Considering I’d like to read more sci-fi and short fiction this year, I’m looking forward to reading these stories!

9) Good Wives (Little Women, Part 2) by Louisa May Alcott

Did you know that the novel Little Women exists in two versions? One is only the first part, spanning a single year in the lives of the March sisters; the other is the full story that continues into their adult lives. The second part, when published separately from the first, is usually sold under the title Good Wives.

Well, I read Little Women two years ago and loved it, but since the copy I had was only “Act 1”, I still have yet to enjoy the whole book. This year, I plan to get my hands on a copy of the full version of Little Women so I can finally finish the story! (Yes, I’ll be sure to keep tissues handy!)

10) Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Yes, it’s another nonfiction space book by Neil deGrasse Tyson! Like StarTalk, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is another book I intend to borrow from my boyfriend, who received it as a birthday gift last year. We’re both fascinated with space and I do enjoy popular science, so I know I’ll have fun reading this book!

And that concludes my list of books to read in 2018! I hope you enjoyed it, and as always, thanks for reading!

What about you? Any books you’d like to read this year? What other goals have you set for 2018?

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