Archive for January, 2014

Surround yourself with art

Posted: January 30, 2014 in Art
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SplatterAs a creative person, it is so incredibly important to immerse yourself in a creative world. Surround yourself with other people’s creativity — whether it’s their writing, their drawings, their music, or something else entirely. Living in an artistic environment will transfer some of their energy and creativity into your personal space, guaranteed.

I experience this all the time. I track down artists that I enjoy and like them on Facebook, follow their Tumblr, or add them on Twitter. Most of them time they’re just freelance artists. Sometimes they have regular jobs, and sometimes they have made it enough to turn their hobby into a full-time gig.

If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what it.

My favorite artist is Karen Hallion, who creates incredible works of art, my favorite of which are her Doctor Who/Disney mash-ups. It reminds me to think outside the box (pun intended) and to maybe try to put two things together that might at first seem as though they don’t work. You might be surprised by what you discover.

Looking at art gives me the same sort of feeling that reading a good book does. You get those goosebumps and that swelling feeling in the pit of your stomach. That’s what inspiration feels like for me, and it’s such a great feeling to have. It reminds you that other people are doing exactly what you want to do, that it is possible, and if you can just put in enough effort and enough hours, you’ll be able to have what they have.

Who knows, maybe you’ll be the one doing the inspiring some day.

This all comes down to feeding your muse. Do it in whatever way works best for you, whatever form of art gets her excited and ready to create. I prefer looking at art and reading books, but others enjoy writing to music or watching a good movie. Whatever you choose, do it often.

What do you choose to surround yourself with in order to inspire you? Do you have a favorite artist, writer, or musician that you usually turn to?

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Oftentimes when people see an individual with tattoos, assumptions and stereotypes fly through their brain and sometimes out of their mouths.

“Aren’t you worried what that’s going to look like when you’re old?”

“How do you expect to get a job with those things all over your arm?”

“Did that hurt?”

Let me get one thing off the table right now. Yes, getting a tattoo hurts. Anyone who tells you it didn’t hurt or that they fell asleep while getting tattooed is lying. Having a needle stabbed into your skin thousands of times hurts. Sure, it hurts more in some places than others, but it’s a painful experience no matter what. Getting tattooed sucks, which brings me to another often-heard question:

“Why would you do that to yourself?”

The main reason I get tattoos is because it’s my body, it’s my skin, and it’s my business. Getting tattoos is an art form. It’s an expression of my personality and my interests. Just like I show my interest of writing by, well, writing, I also show it by getting tattoos. I show my love for superheroes, writing, and, yes, even bands.

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I also show my love for music. I’ve been a vocalist of the screaming variety in three metal bands, and it’s been a big part of my life. I’ve made some great friends because of my love for music, and I chose to show it by getting a tattoo.

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As for when I’m older, well, tattoos have come a long way since sailors were getting pinup girls and anchors on their arms. The ink is better, and there are ways of taking care of tattoos that ensure they stay bright and keep their color for a long time. I have no doubt that when I’m older, whether my tattoos have faded some or are still bright and vibrant, I will still love them the same. They represent the things I care about, and the things that mean a lot to me. They’re a part of who I am, and that’s why I proudly display them on my skin.

Thanks for having me on your blog, Karen!

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You’re welcome, Chris! And thanks for joining me here. If you want to know a little bit more about Chris, check out his bio and follow him on his various social media platforms. I’ve also included information about his upcoming book The Rotten Apple, which I read and loved!

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Chris Stocking is a writer and author who dabbles in the steampunk, young adult, and various other genres. He grew up in Wayland, New York, is currently attending The College at Brockport—majoring in print journalism—and plans to enter the journalism or public relations field until one day he can live off writing novels.

Stocking’s hobbies include blogging, reading, writing and boxing. He has a ferocious addiction to coffee, has published several novels and a collection of short stories and has several other novels in the pipeline.

Stocking is also a freelance editor, a copy editor for Upstate Metal–an online music magazine–and is publishing editor for Eat Your Serial Press, giving him a wide range of skills sets allowing him to be proficient in various areas.

Stocking has also worked as a public relations intern at Noyes Health where he spearheaded an eight-page magazine project, seeing it through from conception to publication, along with covering events and writing press releases for the hospital.

Most recently, he has taken the position of Director of Web Development and Marketing for Brigantine Press, a new book press soon to be launching its flagship publication, Steam Patriots, an alternate-history steampunk series.

He currently resides in Dansville, New York with his wife, Casey.

Follow Chris: Facebook | Twitter | Blog | Goodreads

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The Rotten Apple:

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New York City, 1950 – Detective Naomi Blake sits in her office, craving a cigarette. Her phone rings. Mark Falco, owner of Falco Corporation, is in interrogation room one. Falco Corp. trucks have been spotted making late-night deliveries to an out-of-business warehouse, and the NYPD wants answers. Mark lawyers his way out. As always.

A woman comes in to the station. Says her husband is missing, possibly kidnapped. Before she can say by whom, a mysterious man bursts through the doors and sinks three slugs into her head, then vanishes. Even picks up the shell casings. The work of a professional.

Suspicious activity by Falco Corp., a missing husband, and a murdered woman. Three separate events? Or a concoction so vile it could mean the end of peace and justice in New York City?

The Rotten Apple is set to be released Saturday, March 22, 2014 in both print and Kindle formats. Add The Rotten Apple on Goodreads!

On the importance of delegating

Posted: January 23, 2014 in General
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I’d venture a guess that most people — particularly creative people — have a hard time giving up control. You want everything to be perfect. You want everything done right. You want everything done your way.

Trust me when I say I know exactly how this feels. I’ll admit I’m a bit of a control freak. Part of that stems from enjoying planning and organizing, and the other part stems from wanting things done quickly. And, okay, yes, wanting things done right.

Aside from the fact that your way (or my way) isn’t necessarily the best plan of action (hate to break it to you, but it’s true), you can’t always do things yourself. You’ll run yourself ragged, and I know this from experience. You may think you can take it all on, and maybe you can for a while, but eventually it’ll catch up to you. Doing everything yourself is exhausting, and the more exhausted you get, the more the quality of your work decreases.

The solution, then, is to delegate.

Delegating is the act of entrusting a job, or part of a job, to another person. In other words, giving up control.

Does it make your skin crawl like it does mine? Sometimes I just want to do everything myself, consequences be damned. I hate waiting on other people when something need to be done RIGHT NOW. I hate knowing that they might only put forth 50% of their best effort when I’d put in 110%.

It’s hard relying on other people, especially if they have their own responsibilities that must contend with their attention. This is especially difficult for creative projects because what’s in your head might not necessarily be in their head.

But it can also be a wonderful thing. I’ve worked on a hundred projects for Hypable in which I have to relinquish creative control to our graphics team. I’m a writer, not a designer. So even though I have an idea of what I want to see my article turned into, I can’t create that image. The fact of the matter is that I’m just not that skilled.

But they are. And oftentimes they come up with something a lot better than what I originally had in mind. And I’m so grateful for that. It’s taught me that delegating doesn’t always mean you’ll be disappointed; sometimes it means you’ll be impressed.

Even if you have the skill set to do something, it doesn’t mean you should. If it’s a labor- or time-intensive job and you don’t have enough hours in the day, delegate the task to someone else. If they’re willing and you trust them, why not? It allows you to focus on the more important tasks, and in most cases you’ll be able to check over their work to see if it meets your standards. Even if they don’t get it right the first time around, usually people are willing to do it until it’s right, especially if you’re a good boss or a good friend!

So, while I think trying to be Superman or Wonder Woman is a novel idea, it just isn’t possible. Reaching for the stars is great, but having someone help you get there is even better. Delegating is hard, but the more you do it, the more natural it’ll feel. And as that happens, you’ll become a more efficient person, whatever your aspirations are.

It’s something I continue to struggle with, but aspire to get better at. It’ll never be easy for me, but at least I’ll get more used to it.

Do you have trouble relinquishing control? What helps to get over that hurdle? Do you have any good stories about how delegating a task to someone else became a positive experience?

Saving-Mr.-Banks-PosterI’m not one to sing the praises of stretching the truth, particularly when it comes to blockbuster movies that tweak the facts to suit their own stories, hoping to dramatize a person’s life to make it “interesting.”

Real life is interesting, plain and simple.

But could there be a case where fiction is actually better than the truth? I haven’t found many examples, but I think an argument can be made for Saving Mr. Banks.

Saving Mr. Banks follows the story of P.L. Travers, creator of Mary Poppins, as she tries to decide if she’ll sell the rights to her stories to Walt Disney so he can make a movie based on her characters.

Travers wasn’t exactly easy to work with, as she — understandably — felt extremely protective of her characters and her world. A lot of the story was based around feelings and events from her childhood, so there was a strong, personal connection to the story.

The movie did a great job of portraying this in Travers, and Emma Thompson was brilliant at bringing this person to life on the big screen. The film also captured the vibe of the 1960s in America, and especially what it was like to work at Disney.

But, as per usual, not every detail was right. Some were small, some were changed in order to give the movie a plot, and some were there to throw a kinder light on some of the characters — especially Travers.

You can read about the nine major things Saving Mr. Banks got wrong if you’re unfamiliar with those facts already. But, basically, the main difference between real life and the story we saw on screen had to do with the final reaction from Travers.

She never danced. She never cried tears of happiness. And she certainly didn’t leave her relationship with Disney in a good place by the time Mary Poppins was released.

But is this a bad thing?

I don’t know the intimate details of the true story, but as far as I can tell, Travers was a difficult woman to work with. Mary Poppins is a timeless, classic movie, and I can see why people would want to know the story behind it. Those two facts are at odds with each other, and it makes sense that the studio would want to change a few things to make the ending give you the warm fuzzies when the credits roll.

And I’m okay with that. Can you imagine leaving the theatre having just seen Travers refusing to watch the movie, walking away from Disney with harsh words, and basically hating every part of the film once she finally did sit down to see it twenty years later?

That doesn’t exactly scream “good movie” to me.

So, yeah, they fibbed a few things for the sake of the story. I think it’s important to recognize the truth of Travers’ life, but I also think it’s important to just be happy with watching a beautifully written, wonderfully acted, and superbly shot movie. They were going to change details anyway, so I’m glad they changed the ones that ended up leaving us with the warm fuzzies.

Have you seen Saving Mr. Banks? What did you think of it?

Professionalism with personality

Posted: January 16, 2014 in General
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twitter-featured1Social media is a scary place for a lot of people. Or it can be a comforting place — maybe too comforting.

On the one hand, what you say will be seen by hundreds, thousands, or maybe even millions of people. And it’s out there forever. You might be able to delete it, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone. A good rule of thumb is that everything you put out on the internet will exist there for all of eternity, whether you realize it or not.

But on the other hand, it is a place to gather with friends, co-workers, and people who you may not know but share a common passion with. It’s a community represented by avatars, where everyone can be exactly who they are, and damn the consequences. You have opinions, after all, and they need to be heard.

There are pros and cons to both approaches. Do you be professional or do you be personable? Do you spend all day promoting yourself, or do you sit around and tweet about how flipping adorable your cat is?

The answer is both. As with anything else, you need balance. You need to be professional because, yes, everything on the internet stays on the internet. But you also don’t want to assault your family, friends, and fans with links about your next book every day, all day.

You need to have spunk because people fall in love with the person, not the product. They want to get to know YOU, not become familiar with your Amazon links. They want those pictures of your cat, but maybe not every day, all day.

See the pattern yet?

I represent a lot of facets of myself. On the one hand, I’m a blogger. On the other, I’m a huge nerd. I’m a writer, but I’m also a reader. I’m a journalist and an editor, but I’m also just a person. So I need balance to show off each one of those aspects of myself without overwhelming people with one or the other.

I’m not saying I do it right all the time (God knows I talk about Teen Wolf more than any single person should), but I do have some general guidelines:

1. Don’t say anything you’d be embarrassed to say to your parents (or your grandparents or your children, etc.). One day they’ll find it, and that’ll be awkward. This is just a general rule of thumb for life anyway. Don’t be rude and obnoxious. You wouldn’t act that way in front of your grandmother, so don’t act that way when she’s not around.

2. Keep the links to a minimum. Sharing is caring, but don’t spam. People will eventually learn to ignore you, and that’s counterproductive.

3. Talk about your day. People actually want to know, believe it or not. They’re on social media to — get this — be sociable. If you talk about how you spent three hours chasing a chipmunk out of your house and back into the wild, someone will come along and share a similar story. Or at the very least laugh at your misery.

4. Interact with your peeps. Ask questions and you’ll get answers. Ask for tips and you’ll get suggestions. People are friendly (for the most part) and, like I said in the previous point, they’re there to talk to those who have interests similar to their own.

5. Have a filter. Sometimes I really want to rail on something I’m mad about. But is Twitter really the place for that? Is Facebook? Sometimes it is. Sometimes you just need it off of your chest. But other times no one cares. They don’t want to be dragged down by your daily reminders of how depressing your life is. (Harsh, but true.) Social media is a tool to use to your advantage. Whether you’re a writer or you’re just on there for fun, save the private conversations for private. You’ll thank me later.

6. Have fun. Be professional, but have a personality. Don’t think of social media like a chore and it won’t become one. But don’t let it run your life either. It’s addictive, and it will take over if you allow it. Set yourself limits if you have to, but remember that people want to get to know the real you. So loosen up and enjoy.

What made me want to be a writer?

Posted: January 14, 2014 in Writing
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SplatterLike most things in life, it wasn’t a specific event or person that thrust me down this path. It started with a proclivity for the matter, then a deepening curiosity, an insatiable desire, and finally, a bit of luck.

My stories, like the tales of most writers, started off terrible. It’s not something I’m ashamed of. In fact, sometimes I miss that era when an entire story could be encased in a single paragraph. Everything you needed to know was bound with a messy bow within five run-on sentences. It makes me cringe now, but for a fourth grader, those words were gold.

And why shouldn’t they be? That was a time of pure imagination. There were no rules, no constraints, no doubts; just an empty page and a story in my head that needed to be told.

My stories today, I’m glad to report, are a bit more complex and imaginative. Though the price I must pay for that comes in the form of rules, constraints, and doubts. Nothing in life is free.

Even then, in fourth grade, I enjoyed writing. I liked stories and I liked telling them to people. I liked describing things and putting them down on paper, like that very act made them true, made them real.

That proclivity turned into a curiosity. Could I do more? Could I go bigger? Could I actually write a novel? The answer was yes. And though it would take me a long, long time to actually finish one, I spent every moment of my free time trying to do just that.

This is when I realized that the act of writing was a monster that had grown deep within me. It was not something I could cut out of me, even if I had wanted to, because it was so deeply rooted. It had unknowingly become a part of my soul.

I would spend hours on a quest that had no ending. There was no solid goal in mind, just a need to write and the ability to do so. So I wrote. And I wrote. I jumped from project to project without a care, without structure, and without discipline. But I didn’t need any of those things because writing was still just an idealistic dream. Something to strive for while I was asleep, when the inhibitions of life were less pronounced.

That step from dream to realization hasn’t been completed yet, but I’m almost there. My heel is in the grass, and my toes are just waiting to slap against the dirt. I’m moving in slow motion, but eventually my dream will manifest. I just need patience.

That step, that initial heel-to-the-grass motion, didn’t begin to occur because of me — or at least, not entirely because of me. There was also quite a bit of luck involved.

Although my entire journey was a confluence of events, it was this single step that I took next which solidified me on this path. Or, I should say, a single person.

In college, I took several required English classes, and had several wonderful professors. In their own way, they each encouraged me and nudged me in the right direction. But it was only when I finally took an elective creative writing course that I realized this is what I want to do for  the rest of my life.

My professor in college was quiet. She would look around the room, focusing on each person, making sure no one had anything else to say about whatever we chose to talk about that day. Her class was less about the end result and more about the journey. It was about the discovery of self, about learning the craft and implementing it, but also learning about yourself and putting that information to use.

I learned a lot about myself in that class, and even more when I went on to the next elective. I learned that I sucked at writing. I learned that sucking was okay. I learned to be better. And I got better. I learned that critique doesn’t always equate hate. And I learned that some people will pull you up while others will drag you down.

But most importantly, I learned that writing is not just a job or a way of life or a means to an end. God knows that it’s not a means to an end for most people.

Writing is, without a doubt, something spiritual, something ethereal. It’s something we can’t help but doing. It’s something that pulls at our insides until we have to move our fingers across the keyboard and string those letters into words and the words into sentences. It’s an insatiable desire, and one that I plan on feeding endlessly.

Disney’s got the right idea

Posted: January 3, 2014 in Movies
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Disney has been around for a long time. It has a proven track record for being one of the greatest companies on Earth. It also has a certifiable formula for making great films; a formula that will work every time and entertain children who just want to see princes saving princesses and funny animal sidekicks.

The greatest thing about Disney — the absolute best thing about them — is that they know their greatness can be even better. Eventually, stagnation will turn into loss, and the Disney name will no longer bear the strength it once had. They know that as times change, so must they, and that taking risks is just the first step in becoming even better than they once were.

Disney has made mistakes, of course, and there have been plenty of flops. But that happens to even the most ingenious of people, and it’s all part of the learning curve.

When Disney is great, though, it truly is the best.

The three films that immediately spring to mind are Tangled, Brave, and Frozen (major spoilers ahead, by the way). They’ve turned this genre on its head and have paved the road for, I hope, more films to follow the same path — animated or otherwise.

I think Mulan must be mentioned at this point. In a lot of ways, it pointed the way for these other movies while still having one foot in the Golden Age for Disney. Mulan is about a girl who saves her entire country. She has to pretend to be a boy to do it, and it still feels like a princess movie, but that doesn’t completely detract from the a-typical storyline this movie presents. The guy didn’t save the girl. In the end, the girl saved everybody.

Tangled falls closer to this film than the other two. It’s a guy-rescues-the-girl-movie, but I think there’s one important difference here: the happily ever after is focused on family, not romantic love, and the marriage proposal happens after many years. The last fact is one of my favorite things about Tangled because so many Disney movies (and not just the animated ones) jump from Problem Solved to Now We’re Hitched Because We’re Totally Meant For Each Other.

It’s a beautiful concept, but not exactly realistic.

And right from Tangled, we jump into Brave, which completely throws off the shackles of True Love and deals with more realism than I thought possible in an animated movie. Merida doesn’t want to be married, despite the fact that she is a princess and is destined — by the law of the land — to take a husband. Although there are suitors in this movie, there’s no Prince in Shining Armor. And there isn’t even a real villain. Merida is both the protagonist and the antagonist, and it’s her actions — not the actions of the witch, who really isn’t wicked at all — that bring about everything that happens in the movie. In the end, Merida gets her wish and learns a valuable lesson in the process. And no prince had to help her along the way.

Lastly, there’s FrozenFrozen feels like a different beast altogether, though I’d say it’s a blend of what both Tangled and Brave do for this type of story. The greatest thing about Frozen is that it throws all the tropes at you at once — the princess, the prince, the instalove, the marriage proposal — and then stuffs them full of dynamite and blows everything apart. By the time Frozen ends, the Prince in Shining Armor is actually evil, and the Boy Who Is a Nobody is the one who really steals our (and the princess’) hearts. While that latter point wasn’t exactly a shocking twist, I loved how the move ended on a kiss between the two main characters. No marriage proposal, no Happily Ever After. Just a realistic ending to a movie that was truly about two sisters and their relationship to one another.

I think a lot of other companies and franchises could benefit from doing what Disney has been doing for the last few years. We need more stories that fall outside the box but still give us the satisfaction of having all the parts we typically love in these types of narratives. It’s tricky, and it certainly is a risk, but if done correctly, the rewards could be astronomical.

Besides, creativity should be heralded above profit, don’t you think?

In particular, I would love for these ideas to be applied to superhero movies. We need some female-led superhero films, and not just the kind where the heroine is super hot and hooks up with the guy in the end. Although any female superhero movie would make me happy at this point, I’d love to see Marvel, for example, go outside the box and give us something truly great and creative.