Why I write fantasy

Once upon a time….

Those are the words that start off many fairy tales. As a child, you hear tales of mermaids, fairies, trolls, unicorns, knights and magic. In these stories, animals can talk and often magic exists. It is a wonderful world of escape.

This is one of the things I love about books. They allow you to enter another time, another life, another world. You can be anyone. You can do anything. This is the magic of reading that I discovered as a child.

And when I became an author, I knew that I wanted to be able to sweep readers up into the story. I wanted to be able to let them enter another world, to experience magic, romance and adventure. I wanted to be able to do what other authors have done for me.

DragonIn the four years since I began this blog, I have never actually addressed the question of why I write or more specifically, why I write fantasy.

I think it is that early introduction to fairy tales and their world of magic that drew me to this genre. I have always liked unicorns and dragons. And I have always been fascinated by the idea of magic.

Even my choice of television shows (Merlin, Highlander, Buffy, Once Upon a Time – to name a few) and movies (DragonHeart, Marvel movies, Star Wars – again just a few to give you the idea) often reflect my interest in fantasy or science fiction.

In high school and college, I read Terry Brooks, David Eddings and Anne McCaffery. I got lost in their stories. And it fueled me to with the desire to write my own fantasy adventure.

Yes, I love writing and could write many different genres. I do love to read romances and mysteries, but they don’t call to me the same way the idea of creating fantastic lands with mythical creatures. I love creating whole new worlds. Yet, I have shied away from science fiction because of the science and technology issues. (Not my strong suit.)

The wonderful thing about fantasy is that there are no rules. Anything can happen. The only limits are my imagination and the prescribed order of the universe I create. For me, fantasy offers the ultimate escape.

I only hope that my fantasy stories allow readers to immerse themselves in another world, in an adventure that allows them to escape, dream and believe in a world of magic and magical creatures.

Cooking with the kids

This summer I worked on teaching my kids what I called Life Skills. We worked on doing the laundry, discussed money, banks and saving for the future, and we cooked. I wanted to teach them the skills that they will need when they go off on their own – even though they have many years before that becomes necessary.

And one of the skills I think everyone should know is the basics for cooking. They need to know more than just how to use the microwave. I wanted them to be able to read a recipe and plan out a home-cooked meal.

CIMG1076

Jase (age 2) making scrambled eggs.

Now this summer wasn’t the first time the kids have helped in the kitchen. They had washed dishes before as well as stirred or added ingredients to a pot. Jase loved to beat eggs for scrambled eggs when he was a toddler even though he didn’t eat the eggs.

And started them off at young age is really the best way for them to learn and be comfortable in the kitchen. Yes, it is easier to banish them from the kitchen so that you can cook in peace. But there are many benefits to inviting them to help.

  • Helping in the kitchen can encourage them to try new things. Kids often are willing to try a meal that they helped prepare.
  • Working in the kitchen also helps them learn planning ahead. Not only do you need to have all the ingredients, you need to plan it so all the dishes in a meal get down at close to the same time.
  • Cooking in the kitchen helps reinforce reading (the recipe) and math (adding and fractions).
  • It teaches them to appreciate the chef. Putting a home cooked meal on the table takes time and effort.
  • It builds their self-confidence and self-esteem as they learn a new task.

And don’t think your toddler is too young to help. Even small kids can help tear lettuce for a salad or smash crackers to cover the chicken. Here is a link to a list of age appropriate tasks for kids in the kitchen.

There are also plenty of websites and cookbooks out there with kid friendly recipes and tips for introducing your kids to the kitchen and to cooking.

As for my summer lessons with the kids. They went well. Both of them made a dessert – frosted brownies from scratch for Lexie and cookies for Jase. They learned how to make their favorite meal – Zippy Beef & Mac Casserole.

I also had them each pick out a recipe, shop for the ingredients and prepare the whole dinner. Jase made chicken drumsticks that were a hit with Lexie. He loves French fries so that was part of his dinner though we just used the frozen type. Lexie made cracker chicken and skillet potatoes – two of her favorites.

Yes, cooking with the kids might mean more of a mess in the kitchen and it might take twice as long to make a recipe but I firmly believe the benefits certainly outweigh the negatives. With school starting we have slowed down on cooking together but maybe I will start having them help on the weekends.

 

Today’s Featured Author – Leonard Stegmann

Today I welcome Leonard Stegmann to my blog. His latest book, There Are Places I Remember, came out in June. You can purchase it on Amazon.

Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself. 

I was born in Queens, New York and grew up in Bethpage, which is a little further out on Long Island. After college graduation in 1975 my equally clueless friend and I loaded our stuff onto a tiny Toyota Corona and headed to California, never having been there and not knowing a soul in the entire state. Without jobs or references we got a modern furnished apartment, with a pool, Jacuzzi and tennis courts, for $189 a month. It was a different time, for sure. I currently live in the beautiful coastal town of Half Moon Bay, California with my wife Melinda and a fluffy orange cat named Celine.

What or who inspired you to start writing?

There was never any decision like, Hey, I’m gonna be a writer! Sure, like anything you have to work at it to improve, but I’ve always believed that the desire, or rather the compulsion, to write, or make music or to be an artist, is often something with which you’re born. For example, I’ve been playing guitar for over forty years and I’m terrible at it and always will be. For me it’s always been the written word. I remember writing a poem about Halloween when I was about six or so. I tell you, it was a big hit with the family! When the creative writing instructor came to our elementary school class once a month, I was the guy who was excited while most of the class just groaned.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

My Jobs Cover JPEGAlmost always. I’ve had dozens of miserable jobs, as documented in my book My Jobs and Why They All Sucked. And in each of these jobs I was always of the mind that Sure, I might be getting paid to call deadbeats about their delinquent car payments or sweep out the back room of a x-rated book store, but I’m really a writer.

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?

(Laughs) All of me! At least in most of my books. I write mostly first person humorous non-fiction. At least I hope it’s humorous.

What fuels you as an author to continue to write?

Damned if I know. I recently finished my twentieth book and had the idea in my head that, Okay that’s enough, I’ve said it all. Also, I think part of it was I liked that twenty was a nice even number and the books could all be arranged in a neat 4 x 5 rectangle! Then almost before I knew what I was doing I put out the twenty-first book, and am nearly finished collecting the topics for the twenty-second. They once asked Ringo why, at his age and with his wealth, he continues to go on tour and perform. He explained that he’s a musician and that’s what he does. I guess I can relate to that. Except, sadly, for the wealth part.

Please tell us about your current release.

It’s called There Are Places I Remember, and it’s my second book of nostalgia. When I started writing in earnest the last thing I thought I’d be doing is writing stories about the ‘olden days.’ I figured I’d be the new Hunter Thompson, a wild man trying to expose all the hypocrisy in the world. I finally came to realize that this was unlikely, as I avoid confrontation, have never fired a gun and don’t really like to drink. You have to find your own style, your own voice. Re The Beatles CoverOne day I noticed that I did a lot of these nostalgia stories and, more surprising, that they were my favorite pieces.  I’ve also just put out a collection of my writing on the Beatles, called Re: The Beatles.

If you could jump into any book, and live in that world, which would it be?

The Kama Sutra.. Next question!

Is there a specific place in the house (or out of the house) that you like to write?

We use the smallest bedroom in our house as a little office. When we first moved in my wife and I called it ‘the turn-around room,’ because that’s about all there was room for. We live a few blocks from the ocean, but unfortunately I can’t see it from my office. Sometimes I can hear it, but more often than not it’s drowned out by that yappy little mutt next door.

Do you have a specific snack that you have with you when you write?

I have many, many favorite snacks, and when I’m writing might be the only time I’m not actually eating them! I go through phases where I drink a single glass of wine when I do my night’s writing. Even then, I sometimes don’t even finish it. Did I just hear Hunter Thompson spin in his grave? Incidentally, Hunter Thompson once threw an ice cube at me. I’ve always been very proud that I caught it in mid air!

Do you have an all time favorite book?

I’m not sure you can have one favorite book any more than you can choose a  single favorite movie or Beatles song. In elementary school I read all the joke and riddle books in our school library, so I’ve always been drawn to humor. To this day I can answer nearly any riddle a kid throws at me. There was a recent thread in a writers’ forum where people named their favorite writers. As soon as I wrote mine I remembered a bunch more.  Some of my favorites, at least as of today, include Mark Twain, Larry McMurtry, Philip Roth, Douglas Kenney, too many to list. I’ve known of H.L. Mencken for most of my adult life, but only have recently begun to appreciate him.  To me he’s to the written word what Clapton is to the guitar.

What book are you reading right now?

I picked up a biography of Henry Miller in a thrift shop the other day and put it on my nightstand. I figured I’d maybe get through it someday, but since I started reading it I’m having trouble putting it down.

Tell us some random facts about you that we never would have guessed.

I’ve eaten kangaroo, I’ve never been to an NFL game and I have webbed toes.

Book Blurb

There Are Places Cover - thezombiestudioThe follow-up to Leonard Stegmann’s nostalgic “People and Things That Went Before” once again takes you back to a time of bottle rockets and snow days, Beatles albums and Kool-Aid stands. Warm, funny and sometimes sad, “There Are Places I Remember” will stir memories of those not-so-long ago-days that you once believed would never end.

About the Author

Leonard Stegmann PhotoLeonard Stegmann is an American humor writer. He was born in New York City and currently lives in Half Moon Bay, California with his wife Melinda. And a cat.

You can find out more about Leonard on his Facebook page. You can purchase his books on Amazon.

 

Reading Aloud as a Proofreading Method

I wrote last week about proofing everything you write even the simplest Facebook post. Proofing what you wrote whether it is a simple email or blog post to your actual full-length novel is extremely important. One of my favorite methods is to read your writing aloud.

Often when we read silently, our eyes skip small errors and typos. Reading aloud forces you to notice every single word. It can help you notice run-on sentences, missing words, awkward transitions as well as other grammatical or organizational issues.

It also lets you hear the dialogue allowing you to determine if it sounds like two (or more) actual people holding a conversation. (This is actually the best way to have natural sounding dialogue.)

The key to reading aloud is to make sure you are reading exactly what is on the printed page (or computer screen if you don’t want to print out your text.) You may want to follow along with your finger, pointing at each word. This helps you stay focused and not skip anything. Or you may want to cover up everything but the section you are currently reading so you concentrate on just it and not what is to come.

Another option is to read your work backwards, sentence by sentence. This helps you focus just on the text and not the ideas. It can be especially helping you catch sentence fragments.

Methods to reading aloud

Read aloud to yourself – Reading aloud encourages you to actually read each and every word.

Read to a friend – This can allow a second pair of ears to hear the prose and allow for additional feedback on what is missing or needs improving.

Have someone else read aloud – Allowing a friend to read to you lets you concentrate only on what is being read. You can note where your friend stumbles or gets lost. You do not necessarily need to follow along as they read but can certainly do so to make notes and corrections as long as you don’t start reading ahead.

An alternative to this would be to have the computer read to you. This works great as the computer will definitely read EVERY word.

For those of you who use Microsoft Word, this feature is already available to you. If not you can find many web-based services that can help you get your computer, smart phone, tablet or e-reader to read your work out loud for you. (Search ‘text to speech’ or ‘text reader.’)

For MSWord – At the very top of the screen is your Quick Access bar (circled in the below image). Click on the down arrow (Drop Down Menu) on the right. Select More Commands.

quickaccess1

On the left side is a list of features/tools you can add to your Quick Access Bar. Go down to Speak and click the button to add it to your bar. Click OK. quickaccess2To listen to your text, highlight the text to be read and then click the Speak icon (now located on your Quick Access Bar).

No matter which method you choose to use, reading your text/novel/post aloud will be beneficial. 22

 

Posting your kids’ picture or achievements on social media

Many people from grandparents on down to kids too young to legally have an account are on social media these days. Some parents are even setting up pages for their newborns even though use restrictions of sites such of Facebook require users to be at least 13 years old.

And many of those using Facebook and other sites post with little regard everything about their life. Even as employers began scrutinizing social media as part of their hiring practice, people continue to post just about every incident or thought in their head.

And without a second thought, many of us post images of our kids at the zoo, celebrating their birthday, on their first day of school or even when they are having a tantrum. But few of us take the time to think about whether we SHOULD post about our child. It is after all their life and now that picture/post is out there for everyone to see/read. And remember the Internet if forever. Those pictures aren’t going away.

I know my own son has sometimes asked about whether I am going to post a picture I just took on Facebook. (Even at 11, he has his own Facebook account which only family members can access. He got it in order to play a game on his iPad. My daughter (age 8) often asks for an account, but we have not set one up for her.)

I recently read a blog post on the NY Times about a blogger who decided that she would stop writing about her children. She admitted to sharing intimate details of their lives on her blog, in chat rooms and on Facebook. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/07/29/why-i-decided-to-stop-writing-about-my-children/

And while I get her point and do think parents in general need to rethink what they share about their kids’ lives on social media, I won’t be stopping posting about my kids for several reasons.

The first is I have very strict privacy settings on my social media account. Only family and friends can see my posts.

The second reason is that I am very careful about what I post both on my blog and my personal Facebook account. I don’t post pictures of my kids naked or of them in their underwear. I don’t post when they are having a bad day or when they have gotten in trouble. In fact, I would say only a third of the posts currently on my page from the past month are about the kids. And they are not doing anything out of the ordinary – riding bikes, learning archery and attending the first day of school.

As for my posts on this blog, well, I post about my kids and topics that come up based on what is happening in their lives. However, I decided in the beginning that I would never post their actual names. I have given each of them a “new” name for this blog. No friends later in life or employers are going to find this site when they are looking for information on my kids. I have even done Google searches on their real names and nothing comes up. (But searching their alias do bring up images.)

Now I can’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. But I do caution all parents to take the time to think before they post. Think about your child’s feelings when you post about their latest exploits and embarrassing photos. It is just your life you are affecting after all, it is also your child’s. And let those thoughts be what guide you.