Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book Giveaway

Got this info from Scott Bury, who did a guest post here on Rules and How to Break Them. And i did a post for him on the Good, Bad, and Ugly of Writing

Now, Scott is part of a book giveaway. If you're looking for new books, check this out. It's FREE. Here's their official announcement:

From September 1 to 3, independent Authors international (iAi) is holding its first free book giveaway: seven great books from seven free-thinking, independent and original authors.

iAi is a cooperative publishing organization of independent authors from around the world, whose aim is to support and legitimize the independent author movement, and bring new voices to readers throughout the world.

To promote the organization and its authors, seven iAi members are making their books available for free downloads for the Labor Day long weekend through

3 days
7 independent writers
7 great books 

The Five Fortunes of Fulano by Benjamin X. Wretlind — contemporary literary fiction
LOST by R.S. Guthrie — mystery-thriller/contemporary horror
American Goddesses by Gary Henry — contemporary urban fantasy
Gray Justice by Alan McDermott — action/adventure thriller
Cassidy Jones and Vulcan's Gift — MG/YA superhero adventure
At Road's End by Zoe Saadia — historical adventure fiction
The Bones of the Earth by Scott Bury — epic fantasy/magic realism

For full information on all the titles available for the first iAi Labor Day Free Reads, visit or

Enjoy, and let me know if you like the books!

~The Chipper Muse~

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sweet Swag Almighty: The Benefits of Local Blogging

Ah, yes. You're a blogger. You blog, blog, blog about whatever suits your fancy. But do you take advantage of all the benefits you get from being a local writer and photographer? Because, believe me, they're out there. Swag awaits. And so does a good time!

Blogging and candy going together?
That's what I call sweet!
Lately, for me at least, the benefits have involved food. Which makes me happy because as an Italian, I've grown up loving food. It's a sign of love when an Italian feeds you. And good eats are a vital part of enjoying life. But what's really great is when I get to connect my love of food and my love of writing, and that's where writing locally comes in handy.

To take advantage of being a local blogger, you've got to let people know you're out there.

For me, this happened when another local blogger, Tasha, scheduled a Meet Up for bloggers in our area to meet and greet each other. She arranged with a local restaurant to host us, and the restaurant provided light snacks while we paid for our own drinks. (Let's face it: alcohol is a major money-maker for restaurants, so this was a win-win situation for everyone.)

I went to the Meet Up, even though I tend to be a little shy in crowds of people, especially when I don't know anyone. It stretched me out of my comfort zone. I chatted with a few people, most of whom I admit I haven't stayed in touch with. (I made a friend, though, Marty aka the Napkin Dad. I keep in touch with him on Facebook. Check his work out here.)

Now, this event happened two years ago. But my name went on a list of local bloggers, and lo and behold, I got invited this week to stop by the grand opening of See's Candies in our area. Because my name was on the list. Cool, eh? Here are pictures of the store. And all the lovely candy!

Talk about fun! We got to go behind the counter and attempt to box candy, like the classic I Love Lucy episode, which as it turns out, was filmed at the See's Candies factory in Los Angeles. We watched video of the 7,000-pound, Guinness Book of World Records chocolate lollipop that See's made and displayed in California. We sampled chocolates. We took candy home. My sweet tooth is quite content today.

And the opportunity came about because I'm a local writer. How cool is that!

So, how do you take advantage of being a local blogger?

1. Do a Google search to see who is blogging in your local area. Or use Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter to ask around for contacts in your area. When you final local authors and bloggers, connect with them and see what happens. This is how I connected with a local food blog that I plan to write for.

2. Keep an eye and ear out for media pieces on TV, radio, and in the local newspapers. Often, local bloggers are local freelance writers looking for opportunities. Tasha, my initial contact, used to do a radio segment on things to do locally on the weekends. I connected with her on Facebook because of it, and that's how I found out about the Meet Up she was arranging. Which leads me to...

3. Check Meet Up ( to see if there are already writers and bloggers groups in your area. If there are, join the group! If not, consider starting one. Most writers know the value of networking. Not all of them will be good at it. But some are. And it'll be fun to meet them, so do what you can to get out there.

4. Tell people you're a blogger. Word of mouth is a great way to network. Often it happens indirectly. You know the whole Kevin Bacon thing. Six degrees. But you can often do it in less than that. Friends of friends may be blogging. Friends of coworkers may be freelance writers. The nurse at your doctor's office may be working on a novel of her own. (That's a true story, by the way.) This is a good way to connect because it's informal, but these people know you and know their friend, and they may be able to hook you up so you can help each other.

Now, you share: How do you make local writing connections? If you have ideas I haven't mentioned, I'd love to hear them. Do you find it easy or hard to network locally? Have you had successes because of your local connections? Tell me all about it. Inquiring minds want to know!

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Examining the Elephant: Why I Won't Label My Writing Christian

You remember the old parable of the blind men and the elephant? They gather around the elephant to learn what it is like. They can't see it or experience it fully because of their blindness. All they can do is touch the part of the elephant nearest to them, and as a result, they all feel something unique. One touches the hard, slick tusk. Another feels the long trunk. Yet others touch the thick and unmovable leg, or the thin, flimsy tail.  Not a one of them is experiencing the exact same thing as any of the others.

Keep this story in mind, because it's going to mean something for your writing and reading in a moment, if you'll bear with me.

For the past few weeks, we've taken a look at different aspects of how to use (and how not to use) our personal religious and spiritual beliefs, doubts, and past experiences in our writing, as well as ways we might incorporate religion as a pillar of the worlds we create for our fantasy and science fiction stories. Thanks to guest bloggers Scott Roche, M.E. Anders, and Bryan Thomas Schmidt for being brave enough to share their thoughts on this hot-potato topic.

Now, I'm going to weigh in with some thoughts of my own. And I hope what I share here, along with what my guest bloggers had to say, will spark you to give some thought to how this area of your life may impact your writing.

First of all, some disclosure: Although I'm a Christian, I'm not tackling this topic out of my own concerns about fitting religion and spirituality into what I write. I'm tackling it because of what other people at church often say when I admit (like a confessing sinner) that I'm writing a fantasy novel. They ask immediately, "What audience are you writing for? Is this for the Christian shelves?" It is literally the first question on so many people's lips that I've come to realize this is a major issue for a lot of people.

As you can guess, the question they're asking makes me immediately defensive. I want to say, "And what if I want to put my book on the non-Christian, secular shelves where all kinds of Buddhists and atheists and scientologists and UFO fanatics and vegetarians...might come across it and enjoy it? Because odds are, they're not stopping by the Christian section, because your us-versus-them mentality is already scaring them off. And who can blame them?"

Now, it's not a bad question in general to ask ourselves who our ideal reader is. As writers, when we know our ideal reader, we can market our books more effectively. And we can write more appropriately. (I mean, I suppose you could write a sex scene into a book for ten-year-olds, but what self-respecting publisher is going to print it, and what self-respecting parent is going to buy it? That's the stuff for adults, not kids. And so on. And so on.)

But the obsessive nature with which some Christians feel a need to define where my book is going to be shelved is maddening. Is there some secret judgment going on? (She's not writing a "Christian" book? How evil!) Or perhaps these people are trying to decide whether they can read my book without knowing anything about it. (Well, if it's not officially "Christian," then it could be dangerous to read it.)

Is it bad to admit that I hope it is dangerous for fellow Christians to read what I write? That I hope to provoke them, to make them uncomfortable enough to perhaps grow beyond where they are?

Well, that's my issue. But this blog isn't just for me. It's for fellow writers, and to you I say that my attitude toward incorporating spirituality, religion, or any other beliefs and values into your writing is simply this:

It's going to happen, whether you like it or not. You won't be able to help putting what you believe and value into what you write.

So, you better be aware of what you believe and value. And if you're smart, you'll harness it like a team of oxen and make it plow ground for you to grow something that'll feed you and others.

I'm convinced that who we are and how we think is destined to end up in our creative works, because creativity is born out of our deep selves to begin with, and for writing in particular, we end up writing what we know. You've probably heard of that piece of well-worn advice by now anyway: Write what you know. And I've never thought that meant writing only what you've directly experienced, or there'd be no fantasy, no science fiction.

No, writing what you know means, to me, writing what's in your heart, what you know is true, what you feel is important, what you believe deep down is the way to live and to evaluate the world. If we believe in some form of God, we somehow write that into our stories in the form of hope, forgiveness, and what is right and wrong, much like we see in The Lord of the Rings. If we believe in the power of honesty, then it should be no surprise if our characters are noticeably honest or dishonest, and if the power of words and truth is a major part of our story, which we see in The Sword of Shannara. If we know that love and intimacy and perseverance in the face of brutal difficulties can bring about redemption, then we end up with a beautiful story like the manga Fruits Basket.

In other words, it's not going to matter where my novel ends up on the shelves, because ultimately when someone reads it, it's going to have the things I believe in it. And it'll address the things I'm concerned with. Things like... what it means to be a hero, the importance of refusing to give up, the gift of finding humor even in hard circumstances, love's power to redeem people and situations, and the absolute necessity of hope, without which there's no point in living, it seems to me. A life without hope is no life at all. Oh, and yes, there will always be issues of right and wrong in my fiction, and the value of choosing right no matter the price. Because that matters to me. So I can't help writing about it. In fact, why would I want to do otherwise? If I don't write about the things that I'm passionate about, then what's the point?

These things I've mentioned above are important to me partly because I'm a Christian, but also because I've been a fantasy reader since childhood, long before I practiced any religion with deliberation. And most fantasy novels talk about these themes, and they resonate with me. I personally believe that by knowing this about myself and mastering it, I can make my writing work for my readers better than I could if I pretend I'm going to be objective. I'm not. I have a subjective view of the world, just like every other human being does. But my passionate beliefs can have an outlet in my fiction and be worth it to others, even those who may differ in their beliefs and values, if I honor and respect that not everyone thinks like me and so I write accordingly.

For that reason, I feel it's imperative not to write just for the Christian shelves, any more than I want the Buddhists and atheists and scientologists and UFO fanatics and vegetarians to write for only their shelves and not include me. We have to talk with each other, share with each other, and challenge each other to see the parts of the elephant that we're not normally seeing from our point of view. To do otherwise diminishes our art in some ways. Or at least narrows it to speaking only to those who want to agree with us. I'll never stop you from doing that if you want to, but I hope you'll be aware of the choice you're making. Make it a conscious choice, at least.

That's what I'm doing. I'm making a conscious choice not to fit only among Christians. I'd rather be able to talk to a larger group, and let the chips fall where they may. There's a big, wide world out there, and I kind of like it. I kind of like that people think differently than I do. It makes me more conscious of why I choose to place value where I choose to place it. And maybe my stories can help others consider their whys too. Call me an idealist if you want, a romantic, a Pollyanna. But I prefer to call myself a writer. A fantasy writer. And I'll leave the Christian label for other places.

What about you? Where would you prefer to shelve your books, and why? What do you think of the whole topic of spirituality, beliefs, and fiction?

For other entries in this series:
Use with Care: Religion in Worldbuilding by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
How to Fuel Compelling Plots from Past Religious Experiences by M.E. Anders
Shoehorning God by Scott Roche

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Use With Care: Religion in Worldbuilding by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

A while back, I interviewed this week's guest, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, about his book The Worker Prince, which combines a science fiction setting with political and religious conflict to create an exciting story. (You can read that interview here.) This time around, I've asked him to talk a little about how he incorporated religion into his worldbuilding and plotting for the novel, and his thoughts on how to include spirituality into your writing without being preachy. Here's what he had to share.


Book 2 in the Davi Rhiiuniverse is now available.
Ideological warfare is a key element in my Saga of Davi Rhii space opera novels. One group is trying to oppress another, and the roots of that conflict stretch back centuries. In this case, I chose to use real Earth religions for reasons I’ve already blogged about, but thanks to Michele for inviting me to discuss how to incorporate religion into worldbuilding without being preachy and how to keep it in proper balance with the story and other elements.

First, you can’t be determined to sell religion to anyone.

Yeah, that’s right. If your goal is to evangelize, you’re going to be preachy. It’s unavoidable. No matter how smart you think you are, you are going to preach. It’s inevitable. Elements like religion are controversial and, thus, must be used with care. There’s a reason people often use real religions but make up fake names and terminology to disguise them. And one of the biggest complaints about “Christian” or religious books is preachiness. People don’t like it. So, keep this issue in mind when you go into writing a story with religion in it.

Second, you must employ any worldbuilding element as organic to character and world.

In other words, it must naturally fit and be a part of the fictional world and character you've created in word and deed. If the religious element is forced by you, it’ll seem forced by your characters. The religion has to be part of the worldview not just of characters who practice and engage in it, but others around them must also reconcile their beliefs and worldviews with that religion in some way. And that reckoning shouldn’t be because men in suits on bikes are riding up to their homes to preach but because to live in harmony as a community, the various worldviews must interact and dialogue in some way. It may be oppositional and confrontational or there may be a begrudging peace. It might be indifference. But the people in your novel must understand what separates them from their neighbors and why they make different choices, and that knowledge will inform their decisions and the way they think about themselves and their world.

Third, depending on genre, religion has to be balanced with the needs of the story.

Religion is just one element of a larger picture, not the most important, dominant element. It’s tempting to put your passions front and center when writing by incorporating your ideals with those of your characters. It’s tempting to have them talk about what you care about, and to say things the way you would say them. But it doesn’t make your story better. It makes it obvious and preachy. That’s why I said it has to be organic (item 2). Spiritual beliefs must seem such a part of the people and the way they understand the world and live that it doesn’t stand out with flashing lights like you’re drawing attention to it. It must not overshadow other areas and concerns, and that’s why having the right goal is so important (item 1).

Borali crest from
The Saga of Davi Rhii
For my books, I employed agnostic and atheist beta readers on purpose. When none of them brought up the religious content, I felt good. When they mentioned it as standing out, I knew I had to make some polishes. Mostly, they said nothing. They weren’t offended or put off by it. It was just there. Knowing my own values and how I live and my fondness for spiritual things, they expected it, yes, but they also didn’t feel put upon by the presentation, and that’s important, because it detracts and distracts from the story majorly when elements stand out above and beyond their place in the world and role in the story.

Good storytelling involves creating something wherein readers can immerse themselves, suspend disbelief, and visit a place that’s different from their contemporary one yet feels believable. While yes, it’s true that people allow religion and faith to dominate and manifest in their lives in different ways and that can be true of characters, nonetheless,  since not everyone does it the same, you can’t expect readers who don’t to find your presentation less than overbearing if you do it in your work.

One key element of good writing and storytelling is showing, not telling, which involves knowing when to exposit and when to let characters’ actions, dialogue, etc., demonstrate something instead. It requires a balanced concern with how much and how soon to include elements and when and where to draw the lines. In writing the Davi Rhii books, my rule of thumb tends to be to try and experience these things through characters’ eyes, so although I was criticized for more fully explaining the Vertullian religion and not the Boralian (until later books), I did not have a POV character who practiced Boralian religion on a daily basis in the same way as many Vertullians did. So, the explanations came more from reactions than from internal and external actions as it does later on. This was not an attempt to slight the explanations but, instead, to avoid preachiness and exposition and instead let everything come into full explanation over time through the characters. I think it’s a balance. As writers, we don’t always get it right, but we do the best we can. And having a clear understanding of how you plan to approach religious elements in your fiction is vital.

Readers and Writers: How does faith plan an element in your worldbuilding? Do you avoid real religions or do you employ them, and why? How do you avoid preachiness? We’d love to hear about your struggles and experiences in the comments below.

Copyright © 2012 by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

In Bryan’s second novel, The Returning, new challenges arise as Davi Rhii’s rival, Bordox, and his uncle, Xalivar, seek revenge for his actions in The Worker Prince, putting his life and those of his friends and family in constant danger. Meanwhile, politics as usual has the Borali Alliance split apart over questions of citizenship and freedom for the former slaves. Someone’s even killing them off. Davi’s involvement in the investigation turns his life upside down, including his relationship with his fiancĂ©e, Tela. The answers are not easy with his whole world at stake.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. A freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction and also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Friday, August 3, 2012

How to Fuel Compelling Plots from Past Religious Experiences

Today's guest post in the religion and fiction series is by M.E. Anders, whose past experience in a religious cult have fueled her writing. Here, she explains how to mine your past for the gems that will make your novels shine. Thanks in advance for sharing, M.E. This is a great post!

Butterflies equal transformation
(at least to the Chipper Muse)

Have you ever encountered a negative experience that sent you reeling in the aftermath? You are not alone in this dilemma. As a writer, you have the potential to transform your negative experience into fuel for a compelling plot. Now you can answer the essential question, “What should I write about?”

As a religious cult survivor, I discovered my solution to psychological healing was through crafting novels with a foundation in my religious past. I was born into an extreme branch of the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement. I spent my first twenty years in that suffocating cultic environment before embarking on my escape plan. (If you'd like more details about my story, you can check out my essay, Cultic Devil Daughter.)

Five years later, I have penned three psychological thriller novels, two of which are cult-centric. These novels are NOT autobiographical, but they do utilize much of my exposure to religious dictators, cult hierarchy, and the dark side of religion. In essence, I turned my own negative personal history into a captivating story for my readers.

You want to do the same? Here are five simple steps to get you started:

1.  Recognize the Trauma.

Some of us are afraid to admit that we survived trauma. We want to appear normal. Our society often upholds a standard of perfection for personal achievement. If we do not fit this mold, we feel damaged. We should not be afraid to seek professional guidance or counseling in our recovery process. 

For example: I waited five years before I felt comfortable discussing my experience with a psychologist, but I wish I would have sought immediate assistance while going through my initial cult recovery process. 

Tip: Don't rush through this first step. 

Remember: You can only move on after you fully recognize the trauma.

2.  Feel the Emotion.

Allowing ourselves to feel negative emotions can become uncomfortable. Should we avoid feeling negative emotions in lieu of only the positive emotions? Before we can utilize these negative experiences in our writing, we must indulge our negative emotions. If we want our readers to deeply feel the characters' angst, we must first do so as the author.

For example: Growing up in a cult, I was brainwashed to believe that I should never feel negative emotions. Our motto was, "Fake it 'til you make it." In other words, ignore all the negative and focus on only the positive. Therefore, I tend to bury all my unhappy feelings without fully feeling the hurt. But I learned to overcome this suppression.

Tip: Don't be afraid!

Remember: You will tap into the full extent of these emotions in your storytelling! 

3.  Write Your Experience.

Should we journal our traumatic experience? Yes! This puts us one step ahead in our writing.   We will utilize these journal entries as a resource for our writing.

For example: I recently went through a unique divorce situation. In my research to connect with similar soon-to-be-ex-wives, I realized there were limited discussions on my specific situation because of its sensitive nature. Immediately, I began journaling my experience on a daily basis, which resulted in 60,000 words on the topic. That's a book in itself! After allowing myself time and space to clear my perspective, I plan to utilize these pages for their raw emotional content.

Tip: Don't feel guilty!

Remember: If you have not yet written about your experience, do so as soon as possible.  I would most highly recommend writing about your experience WHILE YOU ARE GOING THROUGH IT, if possible.

4. Choose Memoir or Fiction.

This is the shortest step of all. We need to determine whether to tell our story through memoir or fiction. Some writers are better suited to telling their story as fact. These are the powerful non-fiction writers among us. Others of us prefer to elaborate and exaggerate ad infinitum. We must make this distinction before writing.

For example: I prefer to dramatize my writing. Sticking to the facts is constrictive to my creative nature, so I utilize my religious cult past as a jumping-off point for my storytelling.

Tip: Don't feel pressured!

Remember: Each person's story is better suited to one medium or the other.

5.  Plot Your Book.

Lastly, we need to start plotting that book. Are we Plotters or Pantsers? Plotters feel more comfortable plotting out their stories before actually writing the book itself. Pantsers just start writing their stories from page one. If you are a Plotter, I would recommend Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder AND Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. You can organically pull pieces from your own story to inform your plot. If you are a Pantser, I would recommend On Writing by Stephen King. As we are writing our story, we simply reference our journal entries for their raw emotional content.

For example: I'm a Plotter! I storyboard plotted my novel before I actually began writing. If you want to see an example and pictures of this process, you can check out my storyboarding here.

Tip: Don't procrastinate!

Remember: Read books about writing suited to your style of plotting or pantsing.

Thanks for hosting me today, Chipper. (You're welcome, M.E.!) I appreciate the opportunity to talk about how my experience as a cult survivor and a writer intertwine. If I were still religious, I might (almost) "thank God" that I grew up in a cult because I have twenty years of experiences to tap into for my storytelling career.

Readers and Writers: What negative experiences can you be thankful for, now that you know how to transform them? What tips could you add to this list for using past experiences to inform your own writing process?

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.E. Anders. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

My life reads like a tale of escape from a modern-day Jonestown. Born the preacher’s kid of a burgeoning fundamentalist society, I battled critical thinking as the unforgivable sin. Mining those experiences for storytelling, I pen psychological tales exploring the difficult questions of the human condition. These sagas excite the mind and stop the heart. Weaving webs of twisting plots are my specialty, horror tempered by mind-bending drama. My passion is to shed light where all is darkness. To bring hope to those living in shadows. Fiction and fact blur seamlessly into my gripping thriller novels.

To connect with M.E. Anders, find her in the following places: