The Legend of Corina and the Shattered Sea

Hello, friends! This is a legend from the world of Storm Raven. For the Toastmasters group that I’m in, my next presentation is to tell a folk tale. However, the requirements do not say that it must be an existing story from our world, so I wrote my own! I hope you enjoy it.

How many of you are familiar with the Shattered Sea? None of you? Well, the Shattered Sea is a large expanse of jagged islands to the north, scattered over an area almost as large as our own continent. On a map, it looks as if a giant smashed a clay pot and tossed the pieces into the water. A web of treacherous channels carves through the islands. Lurking in those waters are marauders, waiting to attack anyone who ventures too close. However, that part of the world was not always that way.

Many generations ago, long before our great nation existed, the area of the Shattered Sea was occupied by a full continent, which was attached to our own. In those days, that landmass was united under a single massive empire, whose name has been lost to the ages. Back in that time, the gods had gifted humanity with the power to shape their world in all kinds of miraculous ways.

They could create fire as hot as any forge to make steel far stronger than anything we can make. They could bring water from the very earth in a drought, allowing them to feed their populous cities. They could even command the wind itself to cross the oceans with unheard of speed. With their command of the elements, they constructed massive buildings and monuments. People prospered and flourished across the empire. Even the workers that made it all possible lived happily and comfortably.

One day, one of those workers, named Corina, was gifted with more power than any other worker had before. However, instead of demonstrating gratitude for her gift and using it for the good of the empire, she decided that she still didn’t have enough. Corina seduced one of the people that had given her her new abilities, managing to convince him that they were in love with each other. Together, they fled into the northern part of the realm. There, she traveled from place to place, turning workers against the generosity of the empire. She spread the idea that she and the other workers still didn’t have enough. She drew others into her web of greed and finally led them to rebel. The empire never saw them coming, so the workers were able to rapidly take control of the northern half of the empire.

Eventually, the empire rallied and held the rebels to the northern half of the land. Thousands died on both sides of the war. Some within the empire even turned against their homeland. As the deaths mounted on both sides, with no end in sight, the people of the empire turned to the gods to ask for help in ending the conflict. The gods answered these prayers, but not in a way that the people expected. First, they struck the northern half of the empire with a tremendous amount of power, smashing it and pushing the pieces far from the southern half. This created the Shattered Sea as we know it today. Next, the gods took back the gifts that they had given to humanity, deeming them unworthy of wielding such power. The gods’ punishment had crushed the rebellion and killed Corina, but those who were left had to scrape in the dirt to survive. The old empire fell and eventually, new nations rose from the ashes.

Now, we pray to gods that, so far, refuse to listen in the hope that they may decide to one day be merciful and raise them up again. We must also be vigilant in case another with the ambition of Corina arises to lead us away from the path that the gods would want us to follow.

The Weight of History

Last month, I went on a great vacation to Hawaii with my parents and sister. As you might expect, I spent quite a bit of time relaxing the beach while reading and basking in the sun. However, while we spent most of the trip lazing around, we also went on an excursion to Pearl Harbor. Along with a handful of other places I’ve visited, such as Dachau, the World Trade Center Memorial, and a slave fort in Africa, Pearl Harbor is a place where I felt the weight of history.

The first part of excursion involved seeing the Arizona Memorial. The USS Arizona was one of the battleships docked in Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, when Japanese forces attacked. When a bomb struck the forward magazine of the ship, causing them to detonate in a catastrophic explosion. Over 1,100 crew members perished on the Arizona alone, many of them still entombed in the sunken vessel. It’s difficult to put into words the emotions one feels watching drops of oil, called “black tears,” float up from the remains of the ship. The weight of reflecting on those who perished and the events that followed sat heavy in my gut.

After visiting the Arizona Memorial, we ventured to the USS Missouri, docked not far away. Walking around the deck of the Missouri is a drastically different experience from visiting the Arizona. The USS Missouri is the ship where the Articles of Surrender were signed in Tokyo Bay, bringing an end to World War II. Instead of a tragic beginning of years of violence and destruction, it represents the end of the worst war in human history. Being able to read the original Articles of Surrender on the spot on the deck where they were signed was a pretty amazing experience.

Visiting both of these ships in the same day, especially in the order that we did, enhanced the experience. It was a bookend tour since we saw both where the war for the United States began and where it ended. Together, they signify one of the most extraordinary periods in history. They also serve as a reminder to avoid such violence in the future. Overall, this experience will stay with me for quite some time as I reflect on the history of those two vessels.

Review: Welcome to Nightmare Academy: Nightmare Academy #1 by Anthony Avina

I was fortunate enough to be offered a review copy of Welcome to Nightmare Academy: Nightmare Academy #1 by author Anthony Avina. In addition to this review, I also have an interview with the author.

For a brief overview of Welcome to Nightmare Academy, here is the synopsis provided by the author:

The novella focuses on Francesca, an immortal vampire teenage girl who finds herself attending the mysterious Nightmare Academy. A prequel to the adult series “Nightmare Wars”, this YA series will explore the lives of Francesca and the friends she makes in the academy, which is filled with creatures from myth and legend. She will have to learn what the academy’s true purpose is, all while navigating teenage hierarchy and dealing with budding friendships and romances, an experience difficult for her as she must learn who she can trust, and who she cannot. Soon a deadly threat emerges, and as Francesca struggles to hold onto her own secrets, she must find her place within the Nightmare Academy.


  • The story flows quickly and easily, which is important both for the novella format and the YA genre. A reader could pick up and enjoy this fun, light story in an hour or so.
  • Francesca, the protagonist, is both relatable and interesting. She’s around 100 years old but was turned as a young woman. The mixture of teenage emotions with decades of experience create some intriguing internal conflicts that make her character unique. Her friends and allies also round out a solid ensemble cast.
  • The setting of the Nightmare Academy, with a wide variety of supernatural beings gathered together to learn and develop bonds within their community. However, the facade of just being a school soon falls away to reveal something more sinister at work, which is central to the main conflict and the reason Francesca is at the academy.

Areas for Improvement:

  • The moment when I was most taken out of the story was when a couple of the characters recounted their backgrounds. They speak for paragraphs about themselves and those parts feel a bit like information dumps. To avoid bogging down the story, I would have made those pieces more conversational or turned them into flashbacks that play out more as scenes. I think that would feel a bit more natural.
  • The perspective seems to be third-person limited throughout the story, generally focused on Francesca’s point of view. However, there were a couple of moments of head hopping, where the point of view shifted without a scene break. These moments can be just a bit disorienting for the reader.

Overall, aside from those couple of issues that I’ve identified above, I found Welcome to Nightmare Academy to be an enjoyable read. The setting drew me in and Francesca’s experiences at the academy kept me reading. If you want something light and quick, it’s a fun way to spend an hour.

You can purchase Welcome to Nightmare Academy at these links:
Amazon (Also available on all Amazon Markets)
Barnes & Noble

Check out my interview with Anthony Avina, as well!

Author Interview with Anthony Avina

Today, I present an interview with Anthony Avina, author of Welcome to Nightmare Academy and the Nightmare Wars sereis.

1. First, tell me a bit about yourself. What would you like readers to know about you?

Well, my name is Anthony Avina, and I have been a self-published author since 2010. I live in Southern California. I have a Yorkshire Terrier named Sammy, a Golden Retriever named Clark Kent and a Black Short-Haired Cat named Robin, (his brother is Batman). By day I am a freelance writer and by night I work as an aspiring full-time author and YouTube creator. I’m kind of a certified “geek”, as I love superhero stories, play video games and can talk about Star Wars all day. I love to write fun, interesting and meaningful stories that all stem from one common theme in my work and my life: hope. I want to show that hope can overcome hopeless situations, and I want people to think of hope when they read one of my books or watch one of my videos.

2. Can you tell me about your current project?

My latest project is a YA supernatural action/horror novella called Welcome to Nightmare Academy. It is a prequel series to my adult series, Nightmare Wars, and tells the story of a vampire girl named Francesca. She is sent to the mysterious Nightmare Academy, and while navigating the foreign world of a high school like atmosphere, she must learn the school’s dark secrets and must learn who she can trust within the dangerous halls of the academy. It’s the first of a planned series of novellas I hope to combine into full novels in the future.
After the book’s release on April 25th, I am going to continue working on the third book in my science-fiction/action and superhero series, The Legend of Electric Fusion. This series tells the story of Electric Fusion, the first superhero in the world, and the legend he inspires, as well as the other heroes who rise as a result of his influence. I hope to have that finished and published by the 2017 holiday season.

3. What drew you to writing in the horror genre?

I love the creative freedom that the horror genre brings. You can delve into the darkest minds of a serial killer, but also show the kindest or bravest soul of the hero as they navigate a deadly plot. I like to write about hope and love helping to overcome the horrors faced in my stories, and I also like to break misconceptions within the genre and challenge people to ask themselves: what makes a monster? For instance, in my series, “I Was An Evil Teenager”, I showcase a story of an evil killer, but rather than make the killer this large, monstrous looking man who lives alone in the woods, I focus on a teenage girl who’s considered the “it” girl in her hometown, almost like a girl next door type of girl. People take one look at her and assume she’s the prom queen, animal loving, and a kind soul kind of girl you’d always dreamed of dating, but instead, she’s a demented killer who hides her ugly nature with a beautiful smile. I love to write characters that challenge preconceived notions like that.

4. What generally seems to come to you first? Plot, characters, or setting?

Generally, the characters come to me first. I’ll get a great idea for a character, such as the teenage killer in my “I Was An Evil Teenager” series, and the plot and setting will flow from the initial character concept. For instance, in my upcoming novella, I came up with the concept of Francesca first. I thought about what it would be like for a teenage girl to be turned into a vampire, and to spend 100 years living the life of a vampire, only to be thrust into the high school situation she never experienced in her human life. Then I thought this would make a great concept for a prequel YA series, and thus Nightmare Academy was born.

5. How did you discover your love of writing?

I was sixteen years old, and I had just suffered a pretty rough injury, (tore a ligament in my ankle). I had always loved reading, but after the injury, my health changed drastically, and reading kind of became an escape from reality to me. My injury and health declined greatly, (still does to this day), but I got lost in the familiar worlds of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower or Dean Koontz and his Odd Thomas series. Later, in 2007, I was taking a Creative Writing course in high school, and we were asked to come up with the concept for a short story. After reading the Dark Tower for the fourth time, I came up with this idea for a character very similar to Randall Flagg (the man in black), from the Dark Tower series, and I thought, what would happen if he were to come along and offer this failed author who is at the edge of sanity a chance to become the star author he’d always dreamed of becoming, but when that dream becomes a reality, the price this author pays is beyond imagination. Thus, my first short story was born, and I called it Death for Sale, (it’s still published on Amazon today, although my writing has gotten better since then, I swear)!

6. What is your favorite part of being a writer?

My favorite part of being a writer is being able to entertain readers and to be able to create new worlds filled with characters that both reflect those around me and characters I would like to meet and befriend in real life. I like to create, more than anything, and I like to create these fantastic stories and worlds that help me escape a little, and I hope I can provide that same escape for those who choose to read my work.

7. What is your greatest challenge as a writer?

My greatest challenge is writing too much. By that, I mean that sometimes when I get into my writing, I start to loose myself in the writing to the point where I am writing everything down, as if I’m explaining to the reader why they should feel a certain way or why a character said this specific thing, and I had to learn how to draw back a little bit on that and allow the reader to discover those things organically.

8. How do you find inspiration and motivation to write when you feel stuck?

I either read one of my favorite stories, take a step back and come back to it after I’ve had time to clear my head, play a game with a great story (like Mass Effect 2), or I talk it out with my family to get their perspective. A fresh pair of eyes can sometimes see the answer to your problem when you can’t.

9. What’s your favorite way to take a break from writing?

Like I mentioned above, I like to play games, go out with friends or family to grab a meal or see a movie. I also like to spend time with my pets, and I love to travel and explore, whether it be local haunts or taking my new drone out to film Red Rock Canyon in Nevada. These all help me not to get stagnate in my writing and help me to enjoy life.

10. What’s one piece of advice that you would give to aspiring or new authors?

I would tell new authors that finding a team of people to support you is key. This ranges from family and friends sharing links to your work online, to finding people to beta read your second to last draft to find things in the book you may have missed, to finding a “street team” of sorts. These are the people who will form the foundation for your readership, and they will be your biggest advocates and supporters going forward. Also, as a given but important piece of advice, don’t get into writing for fame or fortune. If you do it for those reasons, you are destined to fail. Writing should be a passion of yours, and should be done because you have an absolute need to write and get something down on paper or screen. Always make sure you have a passion for writing before becoming a writer.

Thank you so much for this amazing interview, and I appreciate you and your audience giving me time to introduce myself. I look forward to seeing
you all in the future and I hope you will order and enjoy my new book!

Thanks to Anthony for his time in doing this interview. You can also read my review of Welcome to Nightmare Academy.

You can purchase Welcome to Nightmare Academy at these links:
Amazon (Also available on all Amazon Markets)
Barnes & Noble

Stay tuned for more author interviews soon.

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So You Want to Make America Great? Embrace Its Scientific Legacy

Science March Sioux Falls

As I walked with the March for Science today, I reflected on everything that science has accomplished, along with the history of science in the United States. A large part of what helped turn the USA into the world power that it is today has been its strong history of supporting scientific endeavors and cultivating a fertile environment for significant advances. Our cultural embrace of science is major factor in what made America great in the first place.

If you look back through history, the United States has been at the forefront of scientific advancement in many fields for the last two centuries. We’re the nation of Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone. We’re the nation of advances in electrical technology under Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. We’re the nation of Jonas Salk and the polio vaccine that has saved countless lives. We’re the nation of the invention of powered flight by the Wright Brothers, the breaking of the sound barrier, the creation of liquid powered flight by Robert Goddard, and the nation that first put humans on the moon. Along the way, the United States has won by far the most Nobel Prizes.

We’ve also accomplished huge feats of large scale engineering. The United States created the Erie and Panama canals. We built the Transcontinental Railroad, spanning the nation and passing through multiple mountain ranges. We built the interstate system, a massive nationwide infrastructure project that still connects us to this day. During World War Two, our engineering and logistical prowess turned us into an industrial giant. By the end of the war, the United States had over half of the entire world’s industrial capacity. None of this would have happened without a cultural commitment to science.

Today, however, that national heritage of scientific pursuit is in jeopardy. President Trump, a significant number of Republican elected officials, and many of the people that voted for them are denying science in a number of critical areas such as climate change, vaccination, and evolution. The thing is that the same fields of science (biology, physics, chemistry, etc.) that gave the United States so many wonderful advances are the same fields of science that warn us of the dangers of continuing to use fossil fuels, assure us the vaccines are safe, and demonstrate through evidence that evolution is a fact. If we turn our backs on this research and refuse to act on it, we are turning our backs on one of the very aspects of American culture that have turned us into the strong nation that we are today.

Will it be easy to tackle the challenge of preventing further damage to our environment from human caused global warming? No, it won’t. However, I fully believe that the nation that went to the moon, out-built the world during WW2, and all but eradicated polio has the ability to rise to the occasion. Right now, all we need is the courage to act. If we truly want America to be great, we need to embrace our scientific legacy instead of rejecting it. Otherwise, we risk sitting on the sidelines as other nations take the lead. History is generally unkind toward nations who cling to the past and refuse to move into the future. They fade into the background as the nations around them race past. Let’s not allow that to be the fate of the United States.

While I am primarily a fiction author, science, history, and politics do inform my writing. Going forward, I aim to incorporate pieces into my blogging schedule where I will cover interesting information on those topics that I encounter in research or casual reading. If that interests you, I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter in the field below.

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For the Love of Dog

Bailey (left) and Jake

On my run around the Augustana campus the other day, an unexpected theme connected the observations I made. Since it was a beautiful spring day, it wasn’t a surprise to see a number of people taking their dogs for a walk. However, three instances stand out in my mind, both in the diversity of what I saw and in how I connected with them through my own experiences with what we do for our pets and what they do for us.

I first encountered a woman walking three dogs by herself. They all seemed to be behaving, neither getting their leashes tangled nor dragging their owner along the sidewalk. Seeing this woman with her pack reminded me of the times I’ve gone for walks with my parents and their two dogs, Jake and Bailey. They generally do well, but it can still be an adventure wrangling two energetic dogs, especially if they see a squirrel or a rabbit. It also reminded me of the joy that having more than one dog can bring. Having watched Jake and Bailey become good friends, I always love it when my parent send me pictures of the two of them together.

Soon after passing the woman and her herd of canines, I saw another dog who had gotten loose. The dog dashed along the opposite side of the street from where I was running and his owner sprinted after him. Despite the fact that the owner seemed to be in good shape, he was no match for a dog running free. Watching him give chase took me back to a couple of times when I’ve had to do that myself. Once, I had to chase our old collie on a mad dash through all of the backyards on our block. Another more recent time, when Jake and Bailey escaped through an open garage door, I ran after them barefoot through the snow, until the rest of the family could mobilize to chase them down. In those moments, the dominant emotion is fear. The fear of losing track of furry friend, along with the fear of seeing a dog run into a busy street. As I watched the man across the street pursue his own dog, I couldn’t help but get anxious as the dog approached 26th street, one of the busier streets in the area. Luckily, the dog turned around before he got there and decided to run back to his owner. By the time I turned the corner on my route and left them behind, the two had been safely reunited.

Finally, near the end of my run, I passed an older gentleman walking his small dog. The man had a cane and he moved with more of a shuffle than a walk. His walk was slow enough that I lapped him with my cooldown walk not long after passing him on my run. It was then that I appreciated the beauty of watching the gentleman taking his small friend out for a walk, even if it probably wasn’t the easiest thing for him to do. Despite the physical difficulty, it mattered to him to take his dog out and make sure she got her exercise. This is not something that I’ve experienced myself, but it brought me to reflect upon the flipside of that, where I’ve spent time with our family dog in the twilight time of its life. When a furry friend is nearing the end, it makes you appreciate all of the time left that you can get. There’s something special about humans and dogs helping each other stay happy right to the end.

It wasn’t until after this final encounter that I felt like the theme of my run somehow had become focused on dogs. Nonetheless, that’s where my mind went. As my girlfriend and I discuss the possibility of getting a dog, it makes me look forward to that idea all the more.

Interview with Doug White


Today, I present an interview with Doug White, author of The Habitué and Birds of a Feather.

1. First, tell me a bit about yourself. What would you like readers to know about you?

I’m married with two daughters, one that is nineteen and the other sixteen. I’ve been a software developer for the last nineteen years, working at a frozen food company, a bank, a consulting office for a transportation company and finally a company that makes medical software for urgent care clinics.
I’m an all around nerd on a wide variety of subjects. My first nerd love is Star Trek but Doctor Who is worming it’s way in there pretty deep. I also love Star Wars and have been a fan of comic books since I was a child, my favorite being Superman and after that, the Hulk.
My Birds of a Feather book talks about our dog, Kirk, named after Captain Kirk in Star Trek. Unfortunately he passed away last Thanksgiving, at the age of 10. He was a beloved member of the family and it’s been tough to have lost him. However, recently my mother bought our family a dog whom we have named Luthor (after Superman’s greatest foe!) and he is quickly becoming an integral part of the family as well.

2. Can you tell me about your current project?

My current book is a sequel to Birds of a Feather. I have two tentative titles for it, either Skua’s Revenge or The Nalpure. I’m hoping to know which makes more sense by the end of my first edit! It picks up a short time after the original. The kids back home are confronted with individuals with similar abilities as they have but with malevolent intentions.
I have another book I wrote several years ago entitled Familiar Strangers which is an alternate universe story. It’s been on the back burner, but I hope to get back to it after I get the Birds of a Feather sequel done.

3. What inspired your ideas for The Habitué and Birds of a Feather?

With The Habitué, the only thing I knew when I started was that there was a young boy named Ben and he lived in a house that had a well in the backyard. At the time I thought the well would play an important part in the entire story. However, while it turned out to be important to the story, it was so only in the beginning! Within a short time I had a mysterious group working with Ben named The Keepers and I wanted a group that would work against them and was struggling to find a good name for them. With my oldest daughter’s help, we came up with The Habitué and it had a great, slightly ominous sound to it and I knew it would work. The rest is history!
With the Birds of a Feather, my kids and nieces and nephews inspired me. My two sisters have three kids and I have a cousin who grew up with us that has two kids of her own. Those kids and my daughters have grown up together and I wanted to write a story about them. Each of the kids have a special characteristic that I think of when I think of them so I wanted to write a story where that characteristic becomes the defining force behind who they were in the story. So, for example, my oldest is a social butterfly, so in my story she’s The Butterfly. My youngest is very smart and so in the book she’s The Brain. I wanted to write the kids into the story as if they weren’t related though and I knew that they would all be living in this apartment complex and that there would be no adults – but I didn’t know why when I first started. In the early part of the story, my youngest is contacted by an individual named Dove and at the time I didn’t know this, but having Dove in the story would be the driving force for the rest of the story.

4. Which authors have most inspired your work?

I am a huge fan of Stephen King. While I don’t write thrillers like he does, the way he weaves a story and how he handles characterization of the individuals in his stories is something that I find very appealing. With my stories, I aspire to build characters that are as interesting and full of life as the ones he builds.
I also became a Lee Child fan about four or five years ago and now own all of his books. The stories always center around his main character Jack Reacher and some mystery that he needs to solve. In all of my books, there’s some type of mystery that the main characters are working through.

5. What generally seems to come to you first? Plot, characters, or setting?

It seems to vary for me. With The Habitué it was definitely setting, with Familiar Strangers it was the plot and with Birds of a Feather and its sequel it has most definitely been characters. Each story has taken me in a different direction which is part of the fun of writing!

6. How did you discover your love of writing?

I’ve always enjoyed writing going as far back as I can remember. In the 2nd grade, I had a teacher who had us write stories based off writing prompts she would give us and I still have those stories saved away. I also used to write a short story every Halloween – roughly about 1 page long – and tape it to the window of our front door. I was sure that every kid coming to Trick-or-Treat would read my story!
In high school, I took an interest in Journalism and came close to pursuing it in college. I chose to go down the path of software development which is its own form of writing in of itself!

7. What is your favorite part of being a writer?

Getting to hear people’s reactions to what I write. I love sharing what I’ve written with people. If it’s not good, that’s tough to hear, but important for me to do so, in order to get better. But when I’ve written something and it turns out to affect someone deeply, that is the absolute best experience to have.

8. What is your greatest challenge as a writer?

Editing. It’s not that different than the concept of refactoring in software development. Refactoring is where you take existing code and work on making it better, more efficient, easier to understand. Editing is a lot like that and the toughest part of it is knowing when to stop and give your creation over to your readers!
Oh, that, and commas. 🙂

9. How do you find inspiration and motivation to write when you feel stuck?

A lot of my ideas simply come to me and I’m not sure where they come from, but I love that I’m able to pull some of them down and get them on paper. But in my stories there’s always a little bit of something in my life that ties into the stories. It might be something that happened to me that I add to my story but slightly varied, or as in the case of Birds of a Feather it was my kids and their cousins.
I’ve not really ever dealt with writer’s block but I do have periods of time where I don’t write as much as I like. I need to make more time for myself to write. When I take time and get away from anything and just write, I am always pleased with the result.

10. What’s your favorite way to take a break from writing?

I don’t have a specific way to take a break from writing, it’s the reverse that is actually true, I need to take more time TO write!

11. What’s one piece of advice that you would give to aspiring or new authors?

Write. Do it as much as you can with the time you have free in your life. Also, realize that your story is important and there are things in your life that will help make your stories even better. Put it on paper, all of it, and work the junk out of it later. The time to edit will come, get it all on paper first.

To learn more about Doug and his work, you can check out these links:

Stay tuned for more author interviews soon.

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Not So Different: Visiting the Muslim Community Center as a Non-Muslim

Earlier this month, I and a number of members of LEAD (Leaders Engaged and Determined) had the opportunity to visit the Muslim Community Center in Sioux Falls. As a non-Muslim, I found it to be a fantastic and educational experience. We had a question and answer session, followed by the Friday sermon and prayer service. Even though I cannot fully capture everything about that visit, I wanted to share a bit of what I saw, heard, and learned while there.

The event began with an hour-long discussion with Mohammad Qamar, MD, Director of Interfaith Dialogue and Public Outreach at the MCC, where he answered our questions about Islam and the Muslim community. A large portion of the conversation covered a million dollar question, “What are some misconceptions about Islam?” Our host joked that he could spend four hours talking about that topic alone. One of the more unfortunate misconceptions is that Islam is a violent religion. Dr. Qamar spoke about how the teachings of the Quran actually oppose violence, except in cases of self-defense. By using Islam as an excuse for violence, ISIS and other terrorist organizations are corrupting and twisting the religion, along with committing the worst kind of blasphemy.

We also learned some more about Islamic traditions, including the holy month of Ramadan. If you’re not familiar with Ramadan, it is a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. Because Islamic tradition uses a lunar calendar, this holy month occurs at a slightly different time each year. This year, it is scheduled for June. With the long summer days, fasting can be quite challenging. However, it is supposed to be a time to reflect on one’s self and experience humility, while also being generous with charitable giving. By religious law, Muslims are required to give a certain percentage of their wealth to charitable causes each year, or their wealth is not considered to be legitimate.

The part of the experience that resonated most with me was when we had the chance to listen to the sermon that day. The message of this sermon was not so different from what I’ve heard growing up in a Lutheran church. As the preacher spoke, I heard messages promoting kindness and generosity. We were encouraged to treat others with the same respect that we would like to receive ourselves. He spoke about how everyone deserves kindness, regardless of race, religion, or background.

Overall, my experience visiting the Muslim Community Center was incredibly positive. Everyone there was very welcoming and I want to thank Dr. Qamar and the MCC for being willing to host us and answer our questions. If you have a chance to visit the MCC in Sioux Falls, or someplace like it in your own community, I highly recommend that you take that opportunity. I expect that, like I did, you will find that there is much more that unites us than divides us.

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Interview with Irene Elliot

irene elliot

Today, I present an interview with Irene Elliot, author of Lucid.

1. First, tell me a bit about yourself. What would you like readers to know about you?

I have a conflicting love of things that are both utterly darling and horrifically strange. I like to write my interests, which tend toward horror, fantasy, and dumb things that only I seem to think are funny (like walrus feet). I put everything I got into what I write. I really want people to believe in the characters I write and feel like they are a part of their lives. I hope that those characters stay with them and, with any luck, help them consider something they never have before.

2. Can you tell me about your current project?

My current projects are a little all over the place. I’m working on finishing up my second novel in what I hope becomes a series of books called the Twelliger Family Tree (still a working title). It follows a family of monster hunters struggling with their place in the world, but more where they stand with each other. The first book in the series features Pauline, a young woman trying to cope with the loss of her mother and find the path she wants her life to follow – slaying monsters, or exploring the world of culinary excellence. Her father, Hunter, is struggling with the loss of his wife and desperately trying to keep up with his father’s legendary exploits. They are both at odds with each other, but there’s something bigger than both of them looming on the horizon, and they don’t have the strength they need to stop it. Should be a quirky, dark, and strange run through a fun and familiar setting for urban fantasy fans and horror readers.

3. What inspired you to explore the world of dreams in your book, Lucid?

For a long time (and still today), I struggled with insomnia sometimes caused by some pretty horrific nightmares. Sometimes I’d just lay in bed and all the gears would start turning in my head, and after I finally would sleep I’d pop up trembling from bad dreams and couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night. Nothing would really shut off or shut up, so I was looking into medical options, or seeing a doctor about sleepless nights – and eventually this lead to my discovery of lucid dreaming. The whole point about lucid dreaming concerns controlling your dreams, but it takes weeks or longer of meditation, repetition, and dedication to perfecting the technique. The best I could manage was to wake up, then fall back into the same dream. It didn’t really help much with my sleep, but at the time, I was reading the book Fade, by Robert Cormier, and the themes in that story just clicked with the sleep issues I was experiencing. I loved the idea of a teenager having this amazing gift, but you know, being a teenager and not quite knowing how to control it or use it responsibly – everyone loves a super hero story like that. I was really excited to write something that could touch on so much of what I was living in my own day-to-day.

4. Where did you get the character inspiration for Olive?

Olive is different pieces of people I knew growing up and went to high school with. I wanted to dig a bit into loner type characters that want to feel close to people but don’t quite know how to approach them. Giving the character an ability to do this without socializing is a good way to explore themes of isolation, social anxiety, and how an atypical girl thinks about these issues.

5. How did you discover your love of writing?

I was in middle school and burning through every Michael Crichton book I could get my hands on, and also some not so great teen horror novels… yeah. I wrote the worst, pulpy horror stories imaginable and I would show them off to my friends just to try and gross them out, or get a reaction. Most of the time it worked, but from there, I just loved creating something from the dumb pit of my brain and now I just like to see it build into something bigger.

6. What is your favorite part of being a writer?

I love writing dialogue. I don’t know what it is specifically about it, but it’s really satisfying to have a good, natural string of words evolve between two characters. It’s one thing I’ll say I do well at. I’m not sure what that says about me that I can make two fake people have a natural sounding conversation when I’m bumbling and stumbling over my own spoken words in the same situations, but there you have it!

7. What is your greatest challenge as a writer?

Marketing yourself. That and not giving up. They go hand-in-hand really. It’s a vicious pairing really. I’m not one to really talk about myself in any capacity, so when I’m trying to sell myself and my work – it’s extremely difficult. I’m proud of it, but I have trouble convincing people to purchase something I worked really hard on. Maybe that’s a Midwest thing, or maybe it’s a social thing – but it’s hard! So, when you’re getting about $1 to $2 margins for a paper book, and $3 digital sales (minus 30%), it can be incredibly discouraging. It’s important to look at what you’re doing, evaluate what’s working and what’s not. It might force you into doing something you’re not comfortable with, but in the long run, it will likely help your career. I didn’t think I would do any sort of book fairs, but I did two last year and I’m lining up to do another at Siouxpercon because they can be really beneficial in getting the early word out, get people to take a chance on you because they can put a face and a personality to the cover. It’s something I keep working on every chance I get.

8. How do you find inspiration and motivation to write when you feel stuck?

I tend to dig around a lot in some massive image folders on my laptop or listen to new types of music to generate new thoughts, latching onto lyrics and turning them into concrete ideas. I’ll also just read up on some topic I know I’m interested in and come up with little snippets of stories that may not go anywhere, just to see if the idea is worth exploring. Worst case scenario is just writing whatever my brain barfs up. It’s going to be hot, clichéd garbage, but it gets me in the groove of writing consistently and making it a habit. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a small nugget of gold somewhere in all those muddy words. Or maybe it’s just mud, and that sucks. But hey, you won’t find the big win if you don’t try, so. See question seven regarding “staying positive and not giving up.”

9. What’s your favorite way to take a break from writing?

I’ve always been big into video games, so I’ll hop on a few different multiplayer games with some friends, play something one-on-one with my husband, or deep dive into a stable of well-worn horror games where I feel like I’m in my element. I also love hiking and being in nature, so if I can get the chance, I like being isolated out with my hubby in the middle of nowhere.

10. What’s one piece of advice that you would give to aspiring or new authors?

The old adage “good artists copy, great artists steal” has always stuck with me. People always say there is nothing new under the sun, only different perspectives and takes on plots and themes we already know. But if you think the idea for your story already exists – so what? This is YOUR take, YOUR story, YOUR words. Own it and spread your perspective. I’d love to see it, just like I hope you will love to see mine.

You can follow Irene Elliot at these links:

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Goals for the Next Five Years

Today is my 30th birthday. As I reflect on where I’ve been and where I want to go, I decided to come up with a list of goals that I want to accomplish over the course of the next five years. I initially wanted to do something clever like “35 before 35”, but I couldn’t think of 35 goals that were substantial or meaningful enough to warrant inclusion in a five-year plan. That said, I believe the goals that I have laid out will still keep my plenty busy. While updates on my writing goals will be the most frequent, I will also occasionally write posts about the other goals as I hit milestones. I hope that writing about them will help me stay motivated and accountable.

Writing Goals:
Read 150 Books
Finish and publish one novel each year
Read an average of one book per month on writing itself
Write one short story each month
Get a short story published in a literary publication or magazine
Be able to write full-time
Participate and win NaNoWriMo each year

Fitness Goals:
Achieve body weight of 180 pounds
Run 4 miles in 30 minutes
Bench press equivalent of body weight 20 reps
Pull up equivalent of body weight 20 reps
Squat self + equivalent of body weight 20 reps

Political Goals:
Write letters to the editor once a month on issues I care about
Contact Representation once a week on issues I care about
Run for public office or help a friend do so

Become reasonably proficient in a second language (probably Spanish)
Learn to cook one new recipe a month