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Posted in General

Stay At Home.

As of writing this post (around 10:30, Thursday morning) Arizona has 508 confirmed cases of COVID-19. On Wednesday we were at 401 cases. 251 of those cases are in the county where I work: Maricopa county. While Maricopa is a big county, the explosive growth of cases is alarming.

UPDATE: As of March 28, 10:15, Arizona has 773 confirmed cases and 15 deaths.

I know you all are sick of hearing this. I know, staying at home is hard to do and it’s boring but please, stay at home. Some of you cannot, and I understand that. Your jobs have not been closed down (and for some of us, they likely won’t be). If you can, make sure you’re protecting yourself and anyone you come into contact with. Sanitize and disinfect your work surfaces as often as possible. Wash your hands as often as necessary (and don’t forget to use some lotion so your skin doesn’t dry out).

To those of you who are already doing these things, thank you. Thank you so much for following advice and doing what you can to try and limit the community spread. This is an incredibly difficult situation to be in and your efforts are noticed and appreciated.

I understand staying at home is boring and can get tiresome. If you have any sort of outdoor yard (especially one that is fenced in), now is a good time to use that space. Grab a blanket and have a picnic in your backyard. Play a game of tag with your kids if possible. Use a spare pillowcase for capture-the-flag. Make a scavenger hunt out of items like holiday decorations you have in storage. These can also be hidden around your house, not unlike an Easter Egg Hunt.

Try to avoid community outdoor spaces like pools and open barbecues. Hiking trails have become crowded as people try to find some way to both social distance and entertain themselves, don’t make the community spaces around your neighborhood into a danger zone for spread as well.

If you don’t have a reserved space outdoors or your weather makes the outdoors unusable, take your activities inside. Build a pillow fort. If you have kids or old children’s toys, go ahead and play with them: no one will judge you and you’ll entertain yourself. You can try clearing out a space to do an at-home workout, plenty of which you can find online.

Alternately, create something! I’m running a challenge this April if you’d like to get in on it. This also coincides with Camp NaNoWriMo. If writing isn’t your style, grab some paper and doodle, sketch or draw. I find artprompts.org a great place for inspiration. Alternately, I use the app What to Draw (on Android). You can also find hundreds of free coloring pages online. A quick search through your preferred platform can find you lots more.

You can also take this as a great time to expand skills or learn something you’ve been considering for a while. Duolingo is a good place to learn languages. You can also find  free courses through Alison and a rotating handful through CreativeLive. YouTube is another great place to find instructional videos, and a web search for free online classes will turn up even more.

While you’re at home with nothing else to do, go ahead and binge watch something (just remember to take a break and stretch every once in a while). Many streaming services have free-trial periods you can utilize. If you’re looking for something to read, there is a free Kindle app for both computers and smartphones–no e-reader necessary. Many books can be found for free (or check in with the authors you favor, they may know when their books are scheduled to be free or have other options for reading material. For instance, you can check out all of my free short stories and the links on my short stories page.) I also highly recommend The Drabble.

UPDATE: April 4th. Crimson and Gold is free today! Aurarin’s Song will be available for free from the 4th to the 6th.

If the lack of socializing is bothering you, hop onto Skype or Discord. Skype is great for video calling and sharing what you’re doing with others, while Discord can be used to set up groups like an online book club or DnD game, as well as stream between friends. You can also join up with friends in lots of online games, many of which can be found through the free-to-play section in Steam.

I know it’s hard because this is such a drastic change in lifestyle and routine, but please do what you can. Stay at home. And again, if you already are doing these things, thank you.

Posted in blogging, General

May Recap

It’s been a whirlwind of a month. It’s hard to believe it’s already over. There’s been a huge amount of changes, starting with: I’m moving! It’s only to the other side of the city, but it’s still a massive amount of work to get everything done.

Writing-wise I’ve got a smaller project finished and ready to go through edits. I’m really excited to see how it goes and I’m hoping to start showing it in July. Keep an eye out for more information on it!

I’m behind on tracking my word count for the month. It’s all been written down in my agenda, which got packed. As soon as I can get those numbers put in I’ll be able to get an accurate count for the month. For right now, I feel like I didn’t get a huge amount written for May.

How was your May?

Posted in character

Character Development

Characters are a mix of different things. Strengths, flaws and quirks can all combine to make a unique and whole character that readers can connect and engage with. Unfortunately for the writer, getting those mixes to work together isn’t easy.

Strengths are easy enough to understand. These are the places your character excels. This isn’t just in skills either, but in personality traits. Your characters will develop their own personality throughout the course of the story. They’ll show loyalty, cleverness, and even bravery.

Characters also show flaws however. Again, these aren’t just skills where they’re weak, but flaws of, well, character. Perhaps they’re gullible, or they lie a little too easily. Their strengths don’t cover all of their personality traits and what strengths don’t cover, their flaws should.

Both flaws and strengths go a pretty long distance when it comes to character development. There are numerous ways to play strengths and flaws off one another to make a character memorable and unique. In my earlier post on flaws I brought up the Mary Sue character. Pretty, popular and lovable. All positive strengths. But to make her flawed and less of a Mary Sue and more into a rounded character, it helps to make give her weak points. She’s pretty because she’s vain. Popular because she’s a social chameleon. Lovable because it’s hard not to love someone who’s pretty and who compliments everyone, even if those compliments mean nothing.

While both strengths and flaws handle personality however, character quirks can help your readers visualize the character and how they should look and act. Quirks are often little habits we don’t think about. These might be bad habits of nail biting, or shuffling our feet. They can also be other habits, like smiling often or carrying a few extra items on them just in case.

When developing quirks, it helps to consider their backstory. Backstory can also help you flesh out their personality traits. Someone who grew up in a neglectful household might tend to act out more to get the attention they’re craving—making them have a tendency to shout, or to dress outrageously. This lends itself to being the frontal leader always up for a bad idea or a good game of chance. It also leads itself to being temperamental and overly critical.

By contrast, someone who grew up in a supportive household might be more of a social butterfly. They might be a little more likely to compliment others, and be suited to hanging back to provide moral support for endeavors. They’re also likely the ones that know how to cut the deepest and might not be above selling their friends out.

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Bloom

Jeremy sat with his knees drawn up to his chest, staring at his grandmother’s garden. He heard the screen door creak open and then a sigh from her. “What’s wrong, muffin?”

He shrugged. He didn’t want to say it, but he knew he couldn’t lie. Something always kept him from uttering even the tiniest lie.

His grandmother settled next to him. Her hair only had a few grays in it, the only sign that she was fifty-five. Otherwise, she looked almost young enough to have just been his mother.

For a moment, they were quiet before she inhaled. “You know, I never could get those daffodils to survive long enough to bloom.”

“They need dryer soil and more sunlight,” he said. He knew that from talking to them.

“Do you want to help me move them then?”

Maybe. It would give him something to do, something to keep his hands busy so he wasn’t brooding.

But he wasn’t sure he wanted to either and shrugged.

“Is this about your parents?”

Annoyance and anger sparked up. “They don’t want me,” he said.

“Jeremy, they—”

“They gave you papers saying that you could make any choice you wanted or needed to. They don’t even know what school I go to. They didn’t know I’d joined the debate club. Most of the time they just send me to go get dinner on my own when they have a date night or some stupid trip and I have more of my things here than I do at home. I didn’t even pack anything this time. They’ve been home less than a week and they already decided they had to go somewhere else. They don’t want me.”

His grandmother paused a moment and inhaled as she looked at the garden before she looked back at him.

“It’s a little harder to explain,” she said.

“I don’t need it explained,” he answered and poked at a knot in the wooden railing next to him. “I figured it out. Why do they even bother taking me home if they’re just going to turn around and drop me off again anyways?”

“Because they do love you,” his grandmother replied and Jeremy snorted. “That’s something you do need to understand. They do love you. They’re just…”

“They like the idea of having a kid but not the work.”

His grandmother sighed and looked down at her hands, where they were callused and scarred from years of work.

“You know, I had your mom when I was barely eighteen,” she said. “And I tried so hard to make sure she had every opportunity.”

“I know,” Jeremy said.

“But, for whatever reason, she had you when she was barely eighteen herself. Some kids aren’t ready to have children, and as much as I don’t want to admit it, your mom is one of those kids.”

“She’s not even here.” Jeremy put his head down. “And she hates the weird stuff I do.”

“That weird stuff is magic,” his grandmother said. “You and I both know that.”

“Yeah, but try telling either of them that. I get told I can’t have magic because that would make me a Caster and I’m not supposed to be a Caster.”

“People are supposed to be a lot of things.”

“Like supportive parents,” he muttered it to himself mostly, but his grandmother chuckled.

“Yes,” she agreed. “But they aren’t always what they’re supposed to be. And that means that even when they’re not expected to be something, sometimes they are.”

Logically, it checked out and Jeremy knew it.

And yet, it still burned him. He knew what the plants were in need of, could feel the power in streams and the occasional windstorm.

Rather than answer, he grunted and put his head down.

His grandmother chuckled. “I’ve got to get those daffodils moved,” she said. “Do you want to help?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“That’s fine. I have cookies cooling inside if you decide you don’t want to help, and I’ll be down in the garden if you do want to.”

He had to smile as she stood, going down the steps. “Thanks,” he said.

“Only for you,” she said and kissed his head. “Don’t eat too many cookies. I’m making chicken casserole tonight.”

 “Spicy chicken casserole?”

“I could be talked into it, but it does take a little bit of work and I really do want daffodils this year.”

He laughed and jogged down the steps. “They just need a little more sunlight,” he said. “I know the perfect spot for them.”


by A.J. Helms

If you enjoyed this short, you can find more on my short stories page, or by checking out my published books. Thanks for reading!