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I'm so excited that my lifelong dream of becoming a published author has come true. If you'd like to go straight to excerpts, descriptions, and buy links for my books, click on the covers below on the right.

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Guest Post on Fresh Fiction: Why I write -- and read -- Urban Fantasy

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Southern Magic Readers' Luncheon in my home town of Birmingham, Alabama, where I met one of the editors for the Fresh Fiction website. As they say down here, we got to talking, and I pitched my writing/psychology blog posts as a possible guest spot for them. She was interested, and so today, I am very excited to say I have a guest post on the Fresh Fiction site.

In a recent blog interview, someone asked me why I write fantasy. My answer was that I always wanted the world to be more interesting than it really is. For example, one autumn morning when I was a child, I looked out to see a leaf that looked like a little fairy perched on a wind-tossed tree branch. I imagined it was a tiny gnome hanging on for a wild ride. When I got older and discovered the genre of urban fantasy, where magical elements are part of ordinary life, I was hooked.

As a psychologist, I can't help but ponder the question of why I and others like fantasy, and especially urban fantasy, from a psychological perspective. There's definitely the aspect of wanting more magic in life, but I believe it goes deeper. A lot of the problems people come to me with end up boiling down to how they handle real or perceived power imbalances, both externally and within themselves. Urban fantasy is a great way to explore power and how it works – and could work – in our world.

So, with that in mind, here are some reasons I write and read urban fantasy: 

To read the rest, click here.

Another reason to check it out? Comment at the Fresh Fiction site for a chance to win an electronic copy of The Mountain's Shadow.

Thanks, as always, for stopping by, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Character on the Couch: A Superhero with Self-Esteem Problems

Image Source:  http://samurai-ko.deviantart.com/art/Close-Enough-to-Touch-by-HPS-102055941
One of my Twitter writing friends sent me the following dilemma (and the above and below awesome pictures):

Character name: Sorina Tavarisch

Age: 36

Gender: Female

Species (if applicable): Human

Cultural or historical context (if important to the story, e.g., if it's a Regency)

Modern-day/slightly futuristic US city (a la Metropolis or Gotham), where superheroes (and villains) are a common sight.

Brief description and relevant history: (Height 5'10", weight 145 lbs, a rangy, athletic build, long dark hair and dark eyes)

Theoretical physicist, paramilitary munitions expert, and field technician, Sorina "Tava" Tavarisch is one of the new generation of scientists and superheroes taking part in the cooperative efforts of the United States and Russia. She is also a low-level telekinetic - at best, she can move small things around with just a thought. It was these unexplained powers that led her into becoming a physicist, but to this day, she still doesn't understand how she does what she does. As far as she's concerned, though, if it works, it works. With a little help from some customized technology, however, her powers become much more potent.

Where you're stuck, or why your character needs a psychologist

Two areas of her life are causes of concern. The first is that, despite her being a decorated war hero, a superhero, and a scientist, Sorina constantly feels inadequate. No matter how good her inventions are, no matter how hard she tries, no matter how many lives she actually saves, she feels guilty that it's not more. The second is that she is absolutely clueless when it comes to romantic relationships. She is far more comfortable in a lab or a classroom or on the battlefield than she is on a date... and now she's dating one of the other leading scientists and superheroes of Paragon City, who is probably just as clueless as she is when it comes to relationships. And she's terrified of screwing it up.

What you may not want me to share generally in the post: Oh, feel free to share!

My follow-up questions:

First, what is at the root of her insecurity? Or is that part of the question? It sounds like your heroine is quite accomplished (and fascinating, btw), but there's got to be a failure or perceived failure in her past that keeps her from owning it. Is it that her superpowers aren't as good as everyone else's? Or did she fail in something in her past that she feels she should've done better with?

Basically, it's that her superpowers aren't as good as everyone else's. And after getting shoved headfirst into a worldwide invasion where everyone (super and normal alike) are doing all that can to keep humanity from being wiped out, the one area that she was good at (scientific invention) was immediately pressed into service of "if this doesn't work, people will die". It doesn't matter that her work HAS saved countless lives and in several small ways, helped turn the tide of the war; all she sees is how her skills are inferior to the challenge of facing alien technology, and that no matter how many times she improves it, she's haunted by those who died because "she didn't get it right the first time".

Second, a similar question goes for the relationship problems. Is she in her first serious relationship at the age of 36? What kept her from doing so previously? Or, in other words, what beliefs does she hold about herself and relationships that caused her to wait so long?

She has been in semi-serious relationships before, but originally her research and her teaching kept her from longer, more serious commitments. And after the Rikti invaded, and she saw so many people die, she became almost afraid to become too attached to someone. (At one point, she has a complete emotional breakdown after she inadvertently jeopardizes a mission because she is more concerned about protecting the guy she's with at the time instead of taking the lead in combat.) Her natural seriousness, plus as I mentioned, her credentials as a war hero and a scientist, tends to distance her from a lot of men.

Image Source:  http://aentheartist.deviantart.com/art/Commission-After-The-Storm-210059056
Dear Michelle,

Your heroine is fascinating and troubled, just how I like 'em. You made her particularly challenging in that she seems like a very concrete person rooted in the literal, not theoretical, which is somewhat ironic because she's a theoretical physicist by training. That seems like it would make it particularly hard for her to translate her research into something immediately useful. Perhaps that's one of her problems.

Tava would be a tough patient because she's got so much evidence – at least according to her – of her unworthiness. One question would be what holding on to the core belief of unworthiness, which translates to feelings of inadequacy, allows her to do or not do. Has she not tried to grow as a scientist, focusing instead on the five years of superpower training that didn't go anywhere, because she's afraid she'll fail or will somehow be found lacking in spite of evidence to the contrary in the scientific realm? What does she risk if she allows herself to be worthy on her own rather than because of her superpowers or scientific inventions?

One way to get her to budge from her stuck position would be to work on reframing and refocusing. The rant you pasted above sounds like someone in a lot of pain but also someone who is focused very much on themselves, as we tend to do when we're hurting. One thing that may help would be to figure out Tava's core values and having her be in situations where she can act on them in different ways. Also, she seems to have bought into her society's values that the individual is measured by his or her superpowers and following that, how many lives they can save. How does this conflict with her own values, or the principles she lives according to? I'm not saying that saving lives isn't important, and it seems like she's been fairly successful at it, but there might be another value at play. She needs to figure out what motivates her more than fear.

For example, she sounds like she's ruled by her head, but there's a huge compassionate component to her heart, which she's focused on success as defined by numbers, which seems to be how things work in her world. Perhaps she can translate that to individual people rather than focusing so much on statistics and learn not to discount the lives she saves in favor of obsessing over the ones she couldn't. Often my clients who feel like they're not doing enough in whatever area can benefit from giving themselves credit for what they have done, even if it's just a few things per day. Is she making a difference on an individual level, or is she even aware if she is? Yes, it will be uncomfortable to move to that realm since she prefers the predictability of the lab or classroom, both of which provide distance between the professor and others.

From what you described, another one of Tava's values is independence. Of course this gets challenged in the face of invasion for two reasons. First, she doesn't get to choose her own path professionally because of where her talents are needed. Second, you didn't say whether the Rikti are aliens who enslave or who kill, but either way, they take the ability to decide one's fate out of one's hands. It makes sense that she would choose a partner who is also constantly in danger because the chance of losing her independence to a long-term relationship is lessened, not to mention going through the emotional pain of grief.

It seems that what we're coming down to is that she needs to find a principle that's more motivating for Tava than fear. What you want to do with her character arc is up to you, but it sounds like she needs to get out of her "invadee" mentality, which is reactive, and focus her energy on what she truly wants and needs.

Figuring out the principles one lives according to can help, as can focusing more in the moment and on what one can truly control. Doing so will help Tava move toward what she can do with others and find other ways she can be helpful and worthy. Maybe she doesn't need to enhance her literal superpowers but rather to develop her own emotional abilities through gradually allowing herself to connect more with others, perhaps some of the people whose lives she saved. Yes, this will feel like a risk to her. As she grows emotionally, she'll be better able to advance her science and her relationship. She could also teach something to her society, which is fragmented into superheroes and villains, about what's needed to repel technologically advanced alien invaders. You have the potential for a great story here, and I look forward to reading what you do with it.

Michelle tweets as @Samuraiko, and hopefully her website will be up soon at superheroromance.com 

If you want more superhero writing, check out Tony Noland's guest blog post from September on superheroes and alcohol.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Review Roundup for Cyber Monday: Mindfulness and The Mountain's Shadow

My blog tour ended up coinciding with two of the busiest weeks I've ever had at my practice, so I wasn't able to post reviews or links to guest posts as they occurred. Yeah, until my writing really takes off, the day job and its demands have to take priority. Someday... Until then, it's been interesting to apply the psychology part of my mind to the experience of having a book out, particularly with regard to how people see the book. A couple of interesting themes have emerged in the reviews.

One of the principles I teach is Mindfulness. The definition of Mindfulness is nonjudgmental present-moment attention. As you can imagine, this is particularly important for people who have anxiety and/or are having trouble sleeping.

Beyond the day job, Mindfulness is coming up in the reviews of The Mountain's Shadow, although none of them mention the principle specifically. No, I wasn't thinking about Mindfulness when I wrote the book. Apparently the twists and turns in the book itself cause people to have to focus on reading it. As one of my friends who read it upon release said, "You have to really pay attention."

I first got an inkling that this was the case for others when I saw this sentence in the review I got on the Fresh Fiction site (click here for the entire review):

To be honest, I did find it a little too complicated for a quick read, but this is a good book from a different angle in the paranormal world.

At first, I wasn't sure how to take that part of the review. When I got Samantha's review from Chick Lit Plus, though, that particular bit of feedback made more sense.  She said:

I’m one who likes to multi-task, such as watching football while reading, but that doesn’t work with this novel either! You really have to give it your full attention so you can keep up with it. 

The Fresh Fiction review also picked up on a theme that keeps coming up in the reviews:  the Mountain's Shadow is a different take on the werewolf world and brings something original to the paranormal/urban fantasy canon.

The Escape into a Book review started with, Wow, this book is very unique and different from what I've read before. 

Ms. Nose in a Book said, I think what I really liked about this story was the story behind the werewolves, how they came to be and how they were being exploited. I think that the story behind the werewolves is so interesting, original and I can totally see it happening in the real world.

There were other similar comments, but I'll finish with one from Storm Goddess Book Reviews:  This story has SO much going for it! Unique, great writing, suspense, captivating....I love how the elements came together and brought so much to the book. 

Other reviewers commented on craft, and I particularly liked the one I got from Library Journal, which began:

Debut novelist Dominic is also a clinical health psychologist and has wisely chosen a subject area familiar to her, a choice that places this story above the average paranormal romance in plot, as well as in characterization...

If you'd like to check out full reviews, here's a list:

Library Journal (second one down)
Fresh Fiction
Chick Lit Plus
Authors to Watch
Ms. Nose in a Book
Escape into a Book
Storm Goddess Book Reviews (includes my FAQ about the book)
Keep Calm & Blog On

If you'd like to buy the book, you can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and other ebook retailer sites. You can also buy it directly from the publisher by clicking on the book cover image to the right. They have it in all digital formats.

I'll have another Characters on the Couch coming toward the middle of the week. I hope your holiday season is off to a wonderful start!