Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Ask an Expert: Dance, Acting, and Musical Theatre in Writing

So you want to write about a dancer? A singer? Here are some common pitfalls to think about.
Renee Frey, COO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Since joining Scribophile as a new writer, I’ve really found a niche sharing my experience with dance and theatre to help people with their WIPs. There are a couple of mistakes I see a LOT of people make—and with the best intentions in the world!
Before I go into this, let me give you a little bit of background on me, and what qualifies me to talk about performing arts. 
  • I’ve been dancing since I was three, and teaching dance since I was in my teens. 
  • I studied musical theater (including acting, dancing, and singing) in NYC.
  • I’ve directed and choreographed full-length stage productions for children, adults, and mixed-age casts. 
So here are a couple of the questions I get asked most frequently, and the errors I commonly see.

What is _____ step? What step is in this picture/video/animation?

Please consult with a dancer for the names of steps. There are some great diagrams on Pinterest, and lots of online resources...but there are also a lot of things you may not think to ask or consider.
Ballet, for example, has several different “schools” or methods:
  • Vaganova
  • French
  • Cecchetti
  • Balanchine
  • Royal Academy
  • Bournonville
They are from different regions, such as Russia (Vaganova), Great Britain (Royal Academy), and depending on your character’s location, different methods are taught. And to make it even more confusing, the position of your arms and the names of steps changes from school to school. 
So if you have a British character taking ballet classes in London, she will have slightly different positioning and terminology than an American ballerina. 
With how prolific dance schools and styles are, you often have students (in America at least) who study with multiple teachers who teach in these different methods AT THE SAME TIME. So each studio tends to get its own slang of shortening step names, marking steps, and everything else. 
So it’s usually not just as simple as looking at a picture (but I’ll do what I can). It’s also not always “right” in the dictionary since we rarely are that technical in class, especially in multi-discipline studios. 

How long does it take to learn to dance?

It depends. Learning a few steps doesn’t take long. I’ve taught people who weren’t dancers how to perform a tap dance with simple steps in a couple of months. However, to teach them to execute those same steps flawlessly could take a year or more, depending on the student. 
It also depends on the genre of dance. There are a lot of FANTASTIC self-taught hip-hop or breakdancers, Some of them have a natural talent and can learn common moves relatively quickly, dancing at a professional level in the space of a year or so. Some people take longer. With ballet, on the other hand, it is SO SPECIFIC that it can take years to learn to execute even the simplest steps well. 
What this means for your writing is that if a character is a dancer, they (more than likely) have studied for many years, beginning sometime in their youth. If they haven’t had this much study, they really won’t be proficient, and if they think they are, likely the character is wrong. You can probably see how to use this for comedic effect. If you don’t believe me, look for events where local dance schools perform, and compare the more serious schools with the recreational ones. Or peek in at a class at a camp or gym or other recreational venues, and compare that to what you’ve seen professionals do. 
Don’t believe me? Gene Kelly actually recorded himself tapping three times for Singin’ in the Rain rather than try to teach others the steps and hope they executed them well. 

Theatre is just like what I see in the movies...right?

Um, no. 
Okay, not ALWAYS.
Professional theatre is actually just that: professional. 
There is an expectation of punctuality and Cinderella stories like Sutton Foster taking over the lead of Thoroughly Modern Millie are the exception, not the norm.
If you are asked to learn a track, you are expected to know it. We all help each other out, but I went on as the understudy once without any rehearsal. Yep, you read that right. And that is NORMAL. And no, it wasn’t the panicked “Oh my God, I have to do it? I haven’t practiced!” you see in the movies. It was planned, as the show ran for a very long three months, and I just had to do my best. 
When you see a live performance, oftentimes there is that little slip of paper telling you that such and so will play this part today.
No drama expected. 
There are actually really strict rules meant to help with any cattiness or unprofessionalism, such as rules against giving corrections or notes to other actors, expectations of learning materials, and other things. It’s hard work, not something that anyone can do. 

What is auditioning like?

It is hell.
You walk into the building. Depending on the building, your waiting area may be an empty dance studio, or in the case of Actor’s Equity, a hall where the only bathroom is in the member’s lounge and no, your sorry ingenue booty is not allowed in there. You sign in and give your headshot, then find a place to wait. If it’s a dance call, you’re stretching and warming up as best you can in your tiny one foot of floor space. If it’s a singing call there’s usually chairs and you pull out some knitting so your nerves go into your hands and not your voice. 
You then sit in this room and look at all the people who are just as good if not better than you: just as talented, pretty, whatever. 
And you usually sit there judging yourself and finding yourself wanting for at least a half-hour. 
If you can make it through that, the actual audition isn’t so bad. 

But anyone can act. Why would someone take acting classes?

Sure, anyone can act. But not anyone can act well. Just like how some people can’t lie well, when you get down to it, acting is telling a very convincing lie. 
There are actors that are naturally talented and don’t take classes and are successful. And yes, there are even actors like Joey on Friends who manage to be successful without really knowing acting. 
But let’s take a closer look at that. 
Acting for film is VERY different than acting for stage. You can have someone be wildly successful at one and terrible at the other. Because they are different mediums, a very different skill set is required for each. 
With our ultra high-definition film nowadays, looking good on camera is more important than ever. You cannot hide even a single wrinkle (well you can with copious amounts of make-up and perfect lighting, but when they’re casting they’re trying to avoid dealing with that). It also means that most film actors actually under act. They hold back, because they don’t want to overact and have the scene come across as melodramatic instead of genuine. 
Stage actors, on the other hand, have to project out to large audiences. Yes, there are microphones, but as with all technology, those have issues. You can’t blindly trust them, and if your mic goes out, you can’t stop the show. You have to overact at times, especially compared to film acting, so that your emotions, tone, and body language read to every audience member. 
The best actors, the ones who could do both (Robin Williams, Jesse LL Martin, Jerry Orbach, John Lithgow) are almost always classically trained (Williams went to Juliard, Lithgow went to the London Academy of Dramatic Arts, Orbach went to the Actor’s Studio), which means they study lots of different areas of the craft, including method acting.

Singing isn’t THAT hard…

Actually, yes it is. Believe it or not, singing is mostly technique, and talent only accounts for a small portion of it. 
There’s a reason that serious singers take excellent care of their voices, from drinking tea to avoiding certain foods and on and on. 

You didn’t answer my question!

Ask it in the comments! I will drop by and make sure to answer any questions. 

Renee Frey is the pen name of Renae Donald, who appeared in professional productions in NYC, Philadelphia, Ocean City, and Wilmington. She’s been teaching dance for over 12 years, choreographing for just as long, and teaching theatre for 10 years. With her married name, she’s choreographed The Little Mermaid and Music Man for a community theatre in Philadelphia.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Ask an Expert: Hair

Insight into the common mistakes and misconceptions about hair and hairdressers in fiction
B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Welcome to our Ask an Expert series! Despite our research, we as writers can get a lot of real-life details wrong. People who are experienced in their field will spot them instantly—and are likely tired of seeing them. Here’s our chance as writers to get direct advice to avoid these pitfalls. Today’s expert is licensed cosmetologist B. C. Marine.

Beauty Professionals

A lot of misconceptions start with the profession itself, so let’s start there.
Is a hairdresser really an expert?
Yes! Despite the public perception of beauty professionals as unskilled customer service workers on par with waitstaff, these are not jobs that someone can walk in off the street and get. These are absolutely skilled trades, and while most of these professionals do not have four-year degrees, they are not uneducated. Nail technicians, estheticians, barbers, and cosmetologists all require hundreds to thousands of hours of school to apply for a license. It’s not unusual to see about half the students in a beauty school class drop out before the end of the program. The license application process involves both written and practical exams, and in my state, so many people fail them that it’s considered impressive to pass both on the first try.
In addition to the obvious technical skills, beauty professionals learn necessary elements of physiology, chemistry, anatomy, pathology, and business. A large percentage of them are actually small business owners or self-employed, renting a booth or room from a larger salon or setting up mini shops. If you listen to two hairdressers talking shop, you might be surprised to hear them casually talk about parietal ridges or the occipital bone. Though there are some truly ditzy people out there, many more downplay their knowledge so as not to intimidate their guests. I can tell you from experience that customers often don’t take well to finding out their hairdresser is actually intelligent or well educated.
Nobody on the job is new.
This might be a bit obvious with my talk about training before, but beauty professionals go through apprenticeship during school. They perform real services on real people, so by the time they are in a salon, there are no basics they haven’t done before. They will experiment with variations on certain things—a new perm wrapping technique or a new pattern for applying color—but they’ve done all the services. Even in school, they’ll try everything on mannequins first before they’re allowed to graduate to working on real people.
We all have battle scars.
You’ve likely noticed that most beauty professionals are relatively young. This isn’t because they kick you out if you’re too old to follow trends. It’s because the jobs are tough on the body. These occupations are more hazardous than most people realize: carpal tunnel, contact dermatitis, back problems, and foot problems all commonly develop on the job and can be career-ending. The toxic fumes used in some products can also lead to asthma, cancer, and dementia, and the popularity of Brazilian blowouts has led to many hairdressers getting levels of formaldehyde poisoning normally seen in morticians.
If you’re writing a character who has been a beauty professional for a while, they’re bound to have some kind of work-related injury or condition. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of what and when. Cosmetologists and barbers especially all have scars on their hands. We have all burned ourselves on hot irons and cut ourselves with shears and straight razors. Part of training is learning to hold tools pointed away from the clients, which often means pointing them at ourselves. Constant shampooing can make the skin on our hands crack. We get hair splinters and inhale and ingest hair—it permeates everything and burrows into our clothing and skin. And we casually handle all of this because our colleagues are doing the same.

Cosmetic Processes and Services

With the prevalence of home hair color and scissors in everyone’s homes, it might seem easy to have your characters change their looks as the plot needs it, but as any pro can tell you, there are plenty of ways that can go wrong.

Haircuts: Don’t try this at home!

We’ve all seen the style-savvy character grab a random pair of scissors on a whim and give themselves or a friend a makeover with a perfectly chic new haircut. That’s not how it plays out in real life. Technically, you can cut hair using anything with a sharp edge, but the scissors from your kitchen or office will not produce as precise a haircut as a pair of sharpened hair shears will, no matter who is wielding them. Add in someone without training, and it’s a disaster waiting to happen. If it’s just a straight line on hair that isn’t too thick or a plain buzzcut, an amateur with a steady hand and good eye might pull it off. Otherwise, things go south quickly.
I will never forget a particular incident that happened while I was in school. A local library wanted to hold an event for hair donations, but nobody there bothered to connect with any salons and beauty schools. They held the event anyway, and when people showed up, a couple librarians grabbed some scissors from their office and decided it wouldn’t be that hard to cut off some ponytails. Several poor patrons came to my school to have their bizarre haircuts fixed. Even with instructors helping and occasionally stepping in, some of them were too messed up to completely even out.
Sorry, Haley Mills, but there is no way you gave yourself that pixie cut in The Parent Trap.
Hair coloring is not magic.
I won’t go into full details of how it works because you don’t have all day to read this, there is a limit to what it can do and how many times it can be used. It’s a form of dye, not paint. What’s the difference? Paint covers something with a new color. The old color might show through if the paint isn’t thick enough, but with enough coats, you can replace the color of anything that way. Hair color does not work that way. Have you ever drawn on colored paper with a marker or highlighter? You’ve probably noticed that the resulting color is always a mix and never lighter than the paper you started with. And if you have, say, black construction paper, the markers won’t show up at all.
Hair works much the same way.  With virgin hair—hair that’s never been colored—regular color with the right developer can lighten a few shades, but if you try to do too much, it can damage the hair or turn bright orange or yellow. On hair that’s been colored before, it will not remove the old color but will mix with it instead. The darker the color, the more limited the outcomes are. The only way to remove previous color is with lightener first, and even that only gets you a few extra shades at a time. If you’ve ever heard of double-processed blond, that is the first step of the double process. The hair must be lightened first, and then a toner or dye is applied to get the right tint.
If the old color is a bright red or dark brown, it can take multiple sessions with lightener to get to blond without frying the hair. There is no way that someone on the run is going to accomplish it with a box of color from the grocery store. As for fashion colors—ones that don’t occur in nature, such as green or blue—most of them stain the hair and cannot be removed until they fade and grow out. If a character needs to get blend in suddenly, you can have them go deep red if they started with pink or orange; otherwise, dark brown is really the only dye that will work, and it will have an undertone of whatever they started with.
Timing is everything.
Most chemical processes weaken hair by design. Whether it’s color, lighteners, perms, or relaxers, they accomplish permanent change by breaking down a part of the hair and reforming it. Unless your goal is to have a character’s hair melt—and that can be a compelling plot point—they can only do so many of these processes back to back or at all. Image a strand of hair as a Jenga tower. When you pull out a block and place it on top, that’s a perm or dye. If you do it too many times or too quickly, it will collapse on you.
This is why spy shows usually opt for wigs. If a character needs to change their look every few days, they can’t do that to their real hair. It generally takes at least two weeks in between processes, and you can only do a handful of times in total over the same piece of hair. However, due to the extreme breakage involved with perms and relaxers, they can never both be done on the same hair until one has fully grown out.
We’ve only just begun…
As you can see, there are a lot of factors that can affect hair! I’ve really only scratched the surface today. If you’d like more in-depth examples or answers, let us know on Facebook or Twitter. You can also follow my #BeautyWritingTips on Twitter on Tuesdays.
Are you both a writer and an expert in a field yourself? Contact us, and you might get to be featured in a future An an Expert blog post!

Join us next week for another Ask an Expert with Renee Frey on dancing and theater.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Author Interview: Karen Heenan

Thanks for joining us today, Karen! First thing’s first, what inspired you to write Songbird?
I’ve been somewhat Tudor-obsessed since I was a kid, and I read a lot of Tudor history. This story was inspired by something mentioned in passing in a bio of Henry VIII, that he was such a music lover that he once bought a boy to sing in the royal choir. That character does exist in Songbird, but I came up with Bess’s storyline because I wanted to explore what it would be like for a girl to be sold by her parents—it gave her a better life, obviously, but as a child, that wouldn’t be your first thought.
Tudor history is definitely one of the more interesting periods. Are there any themes, symbols, or motifs in your story? 
Finding out where you belong is really a big part of the story. It’s important for everyone, obviously, to feel that they belong somewhere, but if you don’t have a family or a stable living situation, it’s more difficult to figure that out, and sometimes it leads to some bad decisions. At least on the part of Bess.
I think that’s a theme that many people will relate to. Let’s switch gears a little bit: Who is your favorite character?
That’s a tough one. Bess, because she’s my main character, and the story is told through her point of view (and because I see a lot of myself in her), but also Tom, because I put the poor guy through so much.
It’s hard to pick my favorite, but I’d lean toward Bess myself. Did you find it difficult to research for your novel?
More the opposite—I found it difficult to STOP researching, because there’s just so much out there about the period, and one tiny question can lead to books and websites and blogs and another book…well, you get the idea.
There’s definitely a lot of information out there! What about this time period drew you in?
This has always been an interesting period for me, but I hadn’t originally intended to write about it, because there’s a world of good Tudor fiction out there. Then again, there’s a world of Tudor fiction, and those of us who read it are always looking for new stories or points of view, and I thought I found a new way to look at the era without making it specifically a Henry-and-the-Wives book (though they’re in it, of course).
Henry VIII made the period feel a little more like Keeping Up with The Tudors compared to other periods. Do you have a favorite wife of Henry VIII?
I have two—Anne Boleyn, because if she hadn’t come along, Henry might have stayed married to Katherine of Aragon, England would have stayed a Catholic country, and all of Europe might have been different, and Anne of Cleves, because she kept her head and got a great life out of giving Henry what he wanted, which in her case was a divorce.
It’s hard to choose a wife, but I think my favorite would be Anne of Cleves for the same reason. But enough about history—if you can even believe I’m saying that—who are your favorite authors? 
Dorothy Dunnett is my absolute favorite—her Lymond Chronicles are a master class in historical fiction. I also love Mary Doria Russell, Barbara Kingsolver, Laurie Colwin, Libbie Hawker, and Margaret George. Mostly historical fiction but not all.
All great authors. I’ve got one last question for you before I let you go: What can we expect next from you?
I’m working on two different books at the moment. One is about two sisters during the Great Depression, set in coal country and Philadelphia. The other, which I just accidentally started, is another Tudor novel about a supporting character from Songbird. Your guess is as good as mine as to which will be finished first.
Both sound really interesting! Thanks for joining us today, and readers don’t forget to come to the launch party on November 2nd for your chances to win a free print copy of Songbird!


By Karen Heenan

Bess has the voice of an angel, or so Henry VIII declares when he buys her from her father. As a member of the Music, the royal company of minstrels, Bess grows up within the decadent Tudor court, navigating the ever-changing tide of royals and courtiers. Friends come and go as cracked voices, politics, heartbreak, and death loom over even the lowliest of musicians. Tom, her first and dearest friend, is her only constant. But as Bess becomes too comfortable at court, she may find that constancy has its limits.

You can pre-order your copy here.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Tips to Take a Great Author Photo

Make your author profile look professional, even if you can’t afford a photographer!
B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
As authors in the age of social media, having the right image to represent you is more important than ever. Now, we writers tend to be solitary creatures by nature, so the thought of having your picture taken makes most of us want to hide. That’s okay! I’m here to help you with some tips and tricks to get you an image you’ll be proud to upload—or at least less embarrassed. There are many alternative ways to create a profile picture, such as a logo or drawn portrait. But the vast majority of authors use a headshot—and it’s what most readers expect—so today, so that will be our focus.
To provide some context and practical application, I’m going to use my author photos as an example. This is not because I think I look especially awesome but because I know exactly why I made the decisions I made and can walk you through them.

Get a photographer...or a friend...
Or at least a warm body. While you don’t necessarily need to hire a professional, your official author photo is usually not the best place for a selfie. Why? Even a zoomed-in or close-cropped image will not look the same as one actually taken within arm’s length of your face. When the camera is too close, it will distort your face, making whatever is in the center—usually your nose—look larger and rounder. Another person will be able to stand farther from you and get a more flattering angle.
In my case, I opted for a professional. My second son was only a few months old at the time, and I was still feeling deeply self-conscious about the extra baby weight, so it felt worthwhile to pay someone who get the right lighting and poses. However, as you’ll see, I saved money elsewhere. If you have a talented friend, are highly photogenic, or simply lack the funds, you can still get a good photo without a professional photographer, but I definitely recommend having someone to take your picture.

Choose an inspired background.

This is important to pick first because it will affect most of the other choices. What kind of author are you? Are you serious or whimsical? Do you write a lot of urban, historical, or fantasy? Your background can reflect that. An old barn door might work for a historical or ranch romance writer. An indoor photo against a plain background would be good to keep the focus on you. For me, the Pacific Northwest is a huge influence in my work, so it was important to take my photo in the forest.
Although the background is an excellent place to add some personality or flavor, be careful that you don’t overdo it. If your background is too busy, you can get lost in it. So for mine, we took pictures in just in front of things—a tree, a trellis, a pond—but if we’d tried to capture large sections of the garden behind me at once, it would have been too much.

Dress like yourself—mostly.

While it is important to look like yourself or make a statement, don’t get so hung up on that that you discard some basics. You want to be comfortable, because it will show in your photo if you aren’t, which means not wearing something you’d never normally wear…to a point. If you wear T-shirts and sweatpants every day, you’ll want to step it up a bit for a professional image.
Much like your background, simple clothing is better to keep the focus on you. A plaid shirt is a Pacific Northwest staple and essential to my closet as well, but I went with a solid-color sweater instead because busy or bold prints can be distracting.
You’ll also want to take into consideration your overall coloring when choosing your background and clothing. In my example, white or pale pink would fade into my skin tone, so they would be poor choices for me but might look lovely for someone else. And anyone who knows me well wouldn’t be surprised to know that green is the predominant color in my wardrobe and is usually flattering on me, but I didn’t choose it for my picture. Why? Because with a background of leafy plants, a green shirt would blend in and make me look like a floating head. Instead, I went with a rich burgundy sweater to complement both my coloring and the green in my background. Though not my all-time-favorite color, it was still a shirt that I liked and would wear—and do, in fact, wear fairly often now.

Make sure you’re well groomed.

This might seem obvious, but make sure your hair—if you have it—is properly styled, cut, and colored as needed. You don’t need to change your whole look, but if you have a couple inches of roots from a grown-out color or are overdue for a haircut, schedule to have that taken care of before you plan to have your picture taken.
Admittedly, this is where I had an advantage in saving some money. As a cosmetologist, I have the training, tools, and products to do my own hair and makeup, but there are some tricks to save money here for you too. If you get your hair cut or colored the day of your photo, it will be styled as part of the service. Even if it’s the type of salon that charges extra for styling, it should still cost much less than a blowout or shampoo and style on its own.
You can also get a demonstration or mini-makeover from a cosmetics store or department if you’re shopping for something. Granted, not every store will do this, and some will only do part of your face to discourage people from scamming makeovers. However, if you buy at least one of the products they use on you, you can make it worth the salesperson’s while.
Lastly, hair and makeup tend to diminish in front of the camera. You don’t need to look like you’re entering a 1986 Texan beauty pageant, but a little extra volume in your hair and slightly more makeup than you’d ordinarily wear will look normal in a photo.  

Take a gazillion photos and poses.

You’re not likely to get the perfect picture on the first shot. Try as many angles and poses as you can, including different facial expressions. In this digital age, it’s not like you’re going to run out of film! Sometimes, the best image will turn out to be the one you least expect. My favorite picture ended up being one of the last ones taken of me during my shoot.
When you pick out your official image from all the pictures you take, it can also help to have some input from others. Get someone you trust to be honest with you to take a look. Certain aspects like approachability or pensiveness can be difficult to gauge about yourself. You might think a photo makes you look serious when it actually makes you look angry or intimidating.

Remember that it’s a headshot.

The primary use of your author photo is for the back of your books and profile images on social media. These are usually teeny tiny pictures, the social media ones tend to be cropped in a circle now. You want to make sure people can see you in them. A traditional headshot is the best way to do that as it will have your face somewhat centered and taking up an ideal portion of the image so that you can be seen well without being cut off. For a larger picture like your author website, a shot from the waist up or even a full-body shot might work, but you’ll want to crop or zoom to no lower than mid-chest for a headshot. Further out than that, your face becomes difficult to distinguish in a profile picture.


Pictures can be replaced, especially if you’re taking a lot of them. It’s not the end of the world if some of them don’t turn out. The more fun you have with your shoot, the more it will reflect in your expression. Remember how I said some of my best pictures were at the end? That’s partly because I was less stiff and comfortable with the process by then; my expressions were more natural. So relax and go with it!

I hope some of these tips will help you with your next author photo. Join us next week for our interview with Karen Heenan, author of Songbird.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Why Don’t You Have Any Pants On?

This isn’t a nudist colony; put some clothes on your characters!
Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Oh, Sweet Baby Jesus, congratulations to us. We’ve finally made it to the end of this worldbuilding series, and if you’ve read this whole thing, you deserve a gold star. Two gold stars, even. I wanted to make this my last post in my series because often, clothing is the last thing that authors think about for their characters. Poetic, right? I thought so.
What do people wear?
What we wear is a reflection of our personality, and what our wants are...most of the time. There are always exceptions to the rule, like having to wear a school uniform or living in a time period or country that has religious restrictions on the type of clothing people—women, especially—can wear.  
Names of certain types of clothes can be a little tricky. When you go into specific articles, you can either do a fantastic job of describing it so there’s no question as to what the character is wearing, or you can name it. For the latter option, I would highly recommend adding A Dictionary of Costume and Fashion: Historic and Modern into your library.
Is it era-appropriate?
This is mostly going to be for the people who are writing historical fiction or historical fantasy, but it can be useful if you’re making up your world and having it set in an era based on Earth’s history like myself. First, you’ll need to figure out what century your story will be set in, be it the late 1800s during the Victorian or in the Renaissance in the 1300s.
My recommendation for an amazing visual guide—sometimes you don’t know what you’re looking for until you see it, you know?—to putting realistic clothing in your world is What People Wore When. This book has served me, and others, very well. If you want the basics of what not to do in your fantasy world (or real-world Historical Fictions!), I’d give Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer's (& Editor's) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, & Myths a read.
Girl, that dress was so last season. 
Do your characters care about fashion trends? If they do, you’re going to need to figure out if they’re going to be the same fashion trends that we see in the real world, or if you’re going to be making them up all on your own. Maybe your fashion trend is going to be golden brassiers with flowing gossamer dresses that end in a cathedral train. Would it be ugly? Sure would. But beauty standards are determined by the masses following suit, not one person's opinion on how ugly a thing might be. And that’s also not to say that there aren’t ironic trends, where the wearing knows that the fashion is hideous but wears it anyway to fit in. 
Another thing you’ll need to consider about fashion trends is what happens if someone doesn’t follow them. Will they be a social outcast? Will anyone care? Only you can prevent forest fires decide.
Social Status
The richness of our clothes often reflects the wealth that the wearer has. So what are going to be some indicators in your world that someone is of a higher social class? Will they have lace collars that are made by nuns in the mountains who hand rear silkworms like they’re heaven on earth? Or will they have a jacket or dress made out of handmade velvet that can only be produced eight inches per day, costing $250 per yard? Do they have a dress dyed with the ridiculously rare and expensive ultramarine? Are they dripping with jewels?
On the flip side, how is someone shown as poor? Do they have holes in their clothes? Do they wear clothes made only of muslin? Is there a certain style of dress that the poor wear, such as plain day dresses rather than fancier dresses that require hoop skirts or bumrolls? Something as simple as length of fabric is a big indicator too since more fabric means a greater cost. Certain types of fabrics that are affordable to the masses? Do they only have simple silver or gold wedding bands when they marry instead of lavish precious stones—or have no jewelry at all?

Traditional Dress

I left this out of my talk about culture in You’re Not From Around Here, Are You?  so that I could talk about it here. These are going to be outfits that people wear at religious ceremonies, like a white robe at a baptism or a lehenga at an Indian wedding. 
So what traditions will you have a specific dress for? Will you have coming of age ceremonies where a teen becomes a woman and wears a wedding dress for all to see she’s marriageable—similar in a way to a quinceaƱera. Will you have solstice celebrations where men and women have certain clothes to wear and certain ways to do their hair? Do your religious orders have ceremonial robes that they were day-to-day or only on high holy days?
Knowing your traditions and what people wear for them will help make your world richer and more relatable to our everyday lives. 
This is also something that I left out in another blog post—This Means War! in case you were wondering—because it was already astronomically long, and it would fit better in this post anyway. However, this section isn’t going to focus solely on military uniforms, but uniforms in general. 
So what do people in your world need uniforms for? Do you have schools that only wear uniforms for their everyday wear so that all the students have to think about are their studies? Does your military have all one uniform, or do they have a daily working uniform and a dress uniform? Several dress uniforms? What colors are they?
Does your police force have a certain uniform, or do they wear normal clothes to do their jobs with a pin indicating their profession? Do your sports teams that have uniforms? What about prisons? Though, for some of these, it’s less a matter of whether they exist, but whether you need to mention them in your story.

Thanks for sticking it out with my worldbuilding series. Join us next week when we give some tips on taking an author photo. 

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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Author Interview: Madison Wheatley

Thanks for talking with us today, Madison! Shall we dive right in? What inspired you to write Ambrosia?
Well, not surprisingly, I thought of this story while at the gym. My husband and I had recently joined a local YMCA. It was winter break, and we didn’t have much else to do, so there were days when we spent hours at the Y without intending to. Exercising was hard to start, but once I got into a “groove,” there were times I didn’t want to stop. My mind wandered a lot while I was in that state, and while running around the track, I thought, “What if I couldn’t stop working out?” So as I worked out that afternoon, the pieces clicked together for Ambrosia. I started planning a story about a girl who gets sucked into a magical gym and gradually loses her memories of the outside world. 

I think the gym is one of the best places to brainstorm—especially if you forget your earbuds. Are there any themes, symbols, or motifs in your story? 
Different themes will stand out to different readers. For me, though, the strongest theme in this novel is that of the consequences of burying one’s past. Crystal, the protagonist of Ambrosia, carries a load of regret and shame on her shoulders, especially when it comes to her ex-boyfriend’s death. Since his last words to her were a dig at her weight, she blames all of her pain on her body. This self-hatred is what causes her to obsess over Mount Olympus in the first place, and it’s what she must overcome if she has any hope of escaping. 

As for symbols and motifs, water is prevalent throughout the novel. I was a swimmer throughout childhood, and some of my favorite memories have involved water, so water shows up in a lot of my fiction and even some of my poetry. No surprises there. There are other symbols in the novel as well, but I’m not going to go over them. I’m an English teacher, after all, and if I start talking about symbols, before you know it, I’ll have typed a five-paragraph essay in MLA format, complete with works cited page. I’m more than happy to talk with readers about any symbolism they find interesting, though! 
We can be the same way when you get us on a subject. Let’s switch gears a little bit: who is your favorite character?
I’ve grown to love Crystal. I didn’t always feel that way. There were times I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and give her a good shake. I mean, it drove me crazy how she sabotaged her own happiness. However, beneath Crystal’s cynical exterior is an undercurrent of hope. Throughout the novel, this hope flickers and wanes, and at times, Crystal tries to snuff it out entirely. But it’s there all the same. I mentioned themes earlier, and the power of hope is another theme that ties the novel together.

I had fun writing the secondary characters, too. From Sasha—the over-excited receptionist at Mount Olympus—to Rory—the charming fitness enthusiast whom Crystal crushes hard over, each character has some little quirk that makes them fun to work with. 

Speaking of Crystal, she struggles a lot with self-confidence. Is this something you struggle with? 
Yep. I didn’t always struggle. As a kid, I had no shame; I was boisterous and rambunctious and didn’t care what anyone thought. As I transitioned into my teenage years, though, things changed, as they often do for teens. For a variety of different reasons, I became hyper-aware of myself. The opinions of my peers meant a lot to me, and it seemed that no matter what, I couldn’t seem to measure up. I was anxious, bigtime. 

I’d like to say that that anxiety has gone away, but it hasn’t. I’m working on it, though, which I know is something a lot of people my age can relate to. Crystal has gone through a lot of issues that I haven’t experienced, but her insecurity? I get that. Writing Ambrosia didn’t “fix” my self-confidence issues, but it did help me to explore them, which was cathartic in its own way. I hope that it will do the same for readers. 
We hope it can do the same for the readers, too! The gym is named Mount Olympus, and they have a drink called Ambrosia. Do you have a love of Greek mythology?
I find mythology in general fascinating; it’s something that my husband—a huge history and mythology nerd—love to bond over. Before I wrote Ambrosia, I didn’t intend to reference Greek mythology as much as I did, though. At first, only the concept was connected to it; the story was loosely based on the tale of the Lotus-Eaters in The Odyssey—an account of how Odysseus’s men were entranced by a magical flower that kept them from wanting to leave the island where it bloomed. But then, one thing led to another. I thought, “Ambrosia is a good name for this magical beverage.” By that point, naming the gym Mount Olympus seemed like the perfect way to tie it all together. 

That certainly does tie it all together. Tell us, who are your favorite authors? 
First, let me get a little nostalgic. As a teenager, I devoured novels by Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti. They instilled in me a love of thrillers, and without them, I’m sure I wouldn’t have written Ambrosia in the first place. 

Throughout adulthood, there have been many authors that have inspired me as a writer, authors whose work boasts complex characters and strong themes. Some examples include Neil Gaiman, Blake Crouch, Tomi Adeyemi, Toni Morrison, Patrick Ness, and Gillian Flynn. 

Last question, and we’ll go ahead and wind this down. What can we expect next from you?
I’m working on a modern fantasy novel. It tells the story of a naiad-like creature—here I go again with Greek mythology!—from another universe who’s trying to learn the truth about her magical origins. I’m currently in the pre-writing stage, and I’m looking forward to knocking out a full draft during NaNoWriMo 2019! 

That sounds really interesting; we’re looking forward to it! Readers, don’t forget to join us for the launch party this Saturday for an opportunity to win a free print copy of Madison’s book!

If you can’t wait, you can get your copy here.


By Madison Wheatley

Two words have haunted Crystal for years: fat pig.

So when a handsome and athletic stranger promises that his gym will change her life, how can she say no? With its cutting-edge facilities, beyond-friendly staff, and endless free samples of Ambrosia, their signature energizing sports drink, Mount Olympus seems too perfect to be real—and maybe it is. Crystal needs it all, but is she willing to lose more than just weight?

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Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date on our books, authors, and more!
Can't wait? Check out our website for available books!