Wednesday, February 3, 2016

My issues with the whole "cool girl" thing

Hi everyone! My name is Mary, and I'm a girl. *waves* Here are some things I like:

  • Make-up. Especially lipstick. Pretty, cherry red or rose pink or vibrant coral lipstick.
  • Retro A-line skirts that could have been plucked from Mad Men (the Mad Men-ier, the better)
  • Purple and pink. They are awesome colors.
  • Chick flicks. They make me laugh.
  • Romance novels. They make me swoon.
  • Lace and flower patterns. Preeeeetttyyyyyy...
  • High heels. They make me feel fabulous.
  • Tea and tea cups and tea sets and all things tea. They are adorable.
  • Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and a whole squad of fun pop music
  • Disney princesses. Mulan's the best, of course, but Ariel's my secret favorite, thanks to a childhood of watching her movie on loop. Whatever you say about her changing her whole self for a guy, she was doing it because she wanted to. Let the girl have her legs.
  • Lots of other wonderful, frilly, totally girly things
Here are some other things I like:
  • Star Wars. Seriously, I'm obsessed. I'm the girl carries her R2-D2 backpack around whenever she's not at the office. I'm the girl who knows more quotes from the Jedi than from the Presidents of the United States. But you already knew that.
  • All sci-fi, actually. I don't just obsess over it; I write it. And fantasy (which Star Wars arguably is... see, I'm nerd enough that I know that). Give me kings and elves and magic wands and secret portals any day.
  • Comics, superhero movies, and superhero TV shows (Marvel all the way!! Though Superman will always hold a special place in my heart). So different, yet too interrelated to divide into different bullet points... I've already spread this nerd thing over three.
  • Action movies and thriller novels. Bang, bang, kaboom--get the bad guys!!!
  • Beer. Cognac. Whiskey... especially Scotch. Neat, please. Rocks just dilutes the awesomeness. And Maotai, which is deadlier than those three combined... and so, so delicious. Also, while craft beer is obviously the best, I'm not above chugging the cheap stuff.
  • Chili dogs. You can never have just one.
  • Steak. The rarer, the better.
  • Burgers. Also rare, though give me enough ketchup, and I'll eat any kind. Okay, now I've just spent three bullets on food... and made myself extraordinarily hungry.
  • Rock music. Both modern alt rock and classic rock. Rock on.
  • Dirty jokes. What??? They're funny! And I'm not above making crude comments.
  • Cursing. I hold back a lot because I take no pleasure in making people uncomfortable for no reason (especially since I never know who'll see the stuff I post online), but I'm seriously foul-mouthed.
  • Lots of other stuff that would put me in that much-maligned "cool girl" territory
The whole "cool girl" thing goes beyond Gillian Flynn's iconic passage in Gone Girl. It's seeped into comedy and criticisms on many fronts. And it bothers me because it feels like another way to pit women against women. When someone implies that a female can only like things such as beer and Star Wars because she's seeking male attention, that drives me nuts. Because Jedi with sabers and bright, hoppy flavors are two of my favorite things because I like them. And when I'm taking a swig of my Guinness while watching Empire Strikes Back, I really don't care what some guy thinks. Every time I see a rant against the "cool girl", which very often mentions sci-fi, I want to scream, "But Star Wars is my favorite movie!! And who says sci-fi's just for guys???"

At the same time, I get the sense that the whole thing was a way of criticizing the super girly-girls who seemed superficial due to their love of pretty things. The after-effects of the "glitter canon" that targets little girls with dolls in pretty dresses and further shoehorns them into a rigid kind of femininity. No doubt there are those who have felt trapped by such expectations... told to wear a dress with a pink bow and play house when really, they want to scrape their knees in jean shorts and climb trees. But neither is more genuine than the other. And they're not mutually exclusive... I was the girl who pranced around in her poofy, sparkly, totally amazing pink princess gown in the morning, then changed into shorts, built a fort out of branches, and came home with bloody scrapes in the afternoon. Today, I'm the girl in the bright purple coat. With a bow.

"Not like other girls" has become something of a trope these days, and it makes me cringe. It's implying that you have to reject a certain kind of femininity to be likable, desirable. It also implies that the aesthetic you're trading the lipstick and heels for is not femininity, and that is just false. Women are not a single, definable mass.

Sexism is very real and very harmful to women of all kinds, and it's doing women no favors to push them toward one extreme while harshly condemning the other. So please, next time you're criticizing misogyny (which you absolutely should!), try not to stereotype any kind of woman in your opinion piece. Because for those of us with varied tastes, it's not fair to make us pick a side. 

Monday, February 1, 2016


An interview with Nihar Suthar, author of The Corridor of Uncertainty.

Hi! Welcome to Zigzag Timeline. Can you tell us about your background as an author?

Hi! Thank you so much for inviting me onto Zigzag Timeline. I’m excited and honored to be here. I am a pretty young author - 20 years old and just graduated from Cornell University in New York. I majored in Applied Economics and Management. As you can imagine, I don’t exactly have any formal training in writing.

However, anybody can uniquely and creatively express themselves through writing. That is exactly what I have done. I make it a point to express my positivity through my writing. All of my work has to do with some sort of true, motivational story.

I’ve written two books so far. My first book was Win No Matter What, released in May 2013. It’s a compilation of short, inspirational stories with messages on how we can improve our mood, attitude, and perception of others.

The second book, which I’m most excited about, is titled The Corridor of Uncertainty. It actually just came out today (February 1)! That book is about the miraculous rise of the Afghan cricket team against the Taliban.

What got you into writing?

Strangely enough, I never envisioned myself being a writer. When I was going through high school, I hated both writing and reading! The story for me becoming a writer has to do with a few experiences I had, though. I originally come from a very small town in Pennsylvania. As a result, when I went to New York for my first year of college, I was SHOCKED. Culturally, emotionally, and just about any other type of shock one could have. It was a huge change for me, coming from a small town to suddenly being in the middle of all the action. In my first year of New York life, there were two observations I ultimately made:

1.     There is a ridiculous amount of negative information in the world! I don’t think I ever heard more than one positive piece of news per day while in my first year of college.
2.     Everybody in New York has a unique way of expressing themselves. I needed to find a unique way to express myself as well.

I have no idea what happened or why I did it, but one day after class, I just sat down at a computer and wrote out a few motivational stories. It was my way of expressing myself and increasing the amount of positive information in the world. Since that point, I’ve fallen in love with writing – and I hope to be an author for quite some time J.

What was the first idea you had for your book, and how did the story grow from there?

The first idea I had for my newly released book, The Corridor of Uncertainty, was just wanting to write something that was different. I wanted to write something inspirational that also broke down countless boundaries. I found the perfect idea one day without even consciously searching for it. In January 2014, when my family was on holiday in Australia, I saw a short article in the local newspaper (I have no idea what the name of it was now) about the Afghan cricket team. My first question (as many other people also now ask me) was, “Afghanistan has a cricket team?!”

I looked more into the story and found out that it was perfect. I could write about religion, politics, cricket, and the Middle East area – all topics that many people in today’s world are not completely comfortable talking about.

Among your characters, who's your favorite? Could you please describe him/her?

My favorite character in The Corridor of Uncertainty is by far Karim Sadiq Khan. He becomes one of the star cricket players on the Afghan cricket team after growing up in a refugee camp. He’s the best though because he always cracks jokes. No matter what the situation is, he’s always lighthearted. He also loves bragging about his muscles. I relate most to him because I like to think that I am also lighthearted and make good jokes (though some people may not agree…haha!).

What's your favorite scene from your novel? Could you please describe it?

My favorite scene from The Corridor of Uncertainty is when the Afghan cricket team finally qualifies for the 2015 Cricket World Cup. It’s just incredible to see the impact that a sport has on the entire country of Afghanistan. When the Afghan cricket players come back home to celebrate their qualification for the World Cup, thousands of fans came to congratulate them. Even members of the Taliban are happy. It is the only day where there is no violence in all of Afghanistan.

It’s as if cricket mended the entire country from all its troubles (hence the “how cricket mended a torn nation” subtitle in my book).

What's your favorite part of writing? Plotting? Describing scenes? Dialogue?

My favorite part of writing is most definitely adding the detailed descriptions of scenes and characters. I just think it requires so much creativity, and it really makes me think out of the box. It’s always nice to do that. I don’t think most people get enough of a chance to do it on a daily basis.

How long does it take you to write a book? Do you have a writing process, or do you wing it?

It depends on the book. I wrote Win No Matter What in less than six months, but writing The Corridor of Uncertainty took me about two years. This is because The Corridor of Uncertainty required a lot of research. I even studied Pashto, a language spoken in Afghanistan, to write that book. Generally, if there is a lot of research required, it will probably take longer to write that book.

I do have a writing process (with just a little bit of winging). In my first pass of writing, I just get all the content down without worrying about grammar or anything. Once I am satisfied with all the content, then I go back for several rounds of editing and revising. Finally, I give my work to a professional editor to read.

What is it about the genre you chose that appeals to you?

As I mentioned, I just don’t think there is enough positive information in the world. What most appeals to me about inspirational books is that I can literally change the lives of people around me. Many readers of my books have told me that I impacted their life in a positive way. That keeps me going J.

Are there any books or writers that have had particular influence on you?

I can’t point to one specific writer – every writer I have run across has been motivational to me in some way!

Did you ever surprise yourself when you were writing your book? Characters who took on lives of their own? Plot elements that took unexpected turns?

Every author surprises himself or herself in some way while writing. I definitely have surprised myself a lot while writing. I dream up scenes and ideas that I never even knew I could dream up. For example, in The Corridor of Uncertainty, I thought it would be vital to include some sort of main female character. I couldn’t think of how to incorporate a female character into a story about an all-male cricket team. However, then it hit me. I could focus on one of the cricket players’s mother and how she inspired him in tough situations! I made Hamid Hassan’s mother a very inspirational character in the book.

Thanks for stopping by!


In 1979, Afghanistan erupted into one of the most brutal civil wars ever. The fighting lasted almost a decade, throwing the country into a period of political instability, harsh leadership, and extreme danger. Hundreds of thousands of civilians died, and millions relocated to refugee camps. The rest of the world began to believe that violence would always define Afghans. 

However, deep in the refugee camps of Pakistan, displaced native Afghan children had a dream to unite their country once again with peace. The solution was disguised in the game of cricket. These children began to learn cricket, and persevered against the danger, criticism, and unrest to create the first-ever Afghan national cricket team. With unrivaled access to the team and players during the 2015 Cricket World Cup, Nihar Suthar tells the story of their inspiring journey to change Afghanistan in one of the most under-told, heart-warming sports stories of all time.


Nihar Suthar is an award-winning writer, covering inspirational stories around the world. Believe it or not, he
stumbled upon writing completely by accident after moving to New York City for the very first time (at the young age of 17). While in the Big Apple, Nihar noticed that there were thousands of people missing out on the greatness of everyday life, due to the very fast paced lifestyles they lived.

As a result of his observations, he had a big idea to inspire people around the globe by writing a book (which was strange, because he always hated reading books. Why would he ever write one?). With the support of his family and friends though, Nihar ended up debuting his first international book, Win No Matter What, with Balboa Press in May 2013. 

Since then, Nihar's work has taken him to both distant parts of the globe and down strange alleyways. For his 2016 release, The Corridor of Uncertainty, Nihar traveled to the United Arab Emirates and received threats from the Taliban, as he sought to chronicle the miraculous story of the Afghan cricket team. To deepen his understanding of the Middle East region, Nihar also studied Pashto, one of the official languages of Afghanistan.
Nihar currently calls Boston home, and is constantly on the prowl for fresh, inspiring stories to document.

Author website -
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Find The Corridor of Uncertainty at: 

Monday, January 25, 2016

12 bits of writing advice from Star Wars

As everyone who knows me is well aware, I'm completely obsessed with the Star Wars movies. I've got a Star Wars quote for every occasion, and I know far more than I should about behind-the-scenes-type stuff from watching all those DVD extras and reading all those interviews with actors/filmmakers/screenwriters/costume designers/art directors...

Anyhow, there have been tons of Internet articles out there listing bits of Star Wars wisdom. Here are some quotes that work as writing advice...

12. "Take off that mask. You don't need it." - Han Solo
The books that really stay with readers are the ones that ring true. So when writing, don't try to imitate someone else... just write as you.

11. "Your eyes can deceive you. Don't trust them." - Obi-Wan Kenobi
When you've spent ages and ages staring at your own manuscript, your eyes are going to gloss over errors... from little typos to phrases you use eight times in the same chapter. This is why editors and proofreaders are essential.

10. "Impossible to see, the future is." - Yoda
Unless you're super-speedy and self-publishing, don't write to trends. It's impossible to tell which direction the tastes of the masses will sway, and by the time your book comes out, chances are, the market will be super-saturated, and what was once trendy will be considered toxic.

9. "You can't stop the change, any more than you can stop the suns from setting." - Shmi Skywalker
The writing world is always changing, from writing styles (buh-bye, third omniscient! hello, first present!) to how people read (audiobooks rule!) to how the publishing industry works (advances are shrinking! the market is supersaturated! authors are making less money than ever!). There's no use in moaning about how back in the day, Dickens did this or Austen did that. All one can do is adapt.

8. "There's always a bigger fish." - Qui-Gon Jinn 
No matter how famous/well-reviewed/popular/lauded, etc., a writer is, there's always more good stuff to be had... and it will always feel like everyone else has what you want. For writers, there's never "enough." Always another goal, always more to do.

7. "Stay on target." - Gold Five
Sometimes, writing can feel like a Death Star trench run. You've got a job to do, but everything seems to be exploding around you. Just write, dammit.

6. "You will find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." - Obi-Wan Kenobi
As you probably know, this whole writing business is, by its nature, super subjective. That means what one person thinks is the best thing ever, another person can't stand. Which is why, while it's important to listen to critiques of your work, you shouldn't take anything as an absolute.

5. "Sometimes, we must let go of our pride and do what is requested of us." - Anakin Skywalker
If multiple people are flagging the same issue in your writing, it probably means that something is off. No matter how much you adore that lengthy, lovingly crafted description, if your beta readers/editor/critique partners, etc, are telling you it's overwritten... it's probably overwritten, and it's time to swallow that writerly pride for the sake of a better book (painful as it can be).

4. "Search your feelings." - Darth Vader
Sometimes, when writing, you just need to dig a little deeper to bring your stories and characters to life.

3. "All mentors have a way of seeing more of our faults than we would like. It's the only way we grow." - Padme Amidala

Writing mentors come in many forms, whether it's your English teacher, your book-loving best friend, a critique partner, someone you met through an online writing community, a professional editor, etc. And if they really care about your writing, they'll always find areas for improvement. The only way to grow as a writer is to listen, whether or not you agree.

2. "Never tell me the odds." - Han Solo
It's a great big world, and if you think too much about how hard it is to write a book, get it published, sell it, etc., etc., etc., you'll overwhelm yourself before you even begin.

And, of course, this classic...

1. "Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try." - Yoda
When it comes to writing, you've gotta just go for it. Do your research, practice your craft, get those words written, show them around... Just write!

Oh, and here's one that's not exactly advice, but that all writers will completely relate to...

"I know all about waiting." - Rey
Waiting for beta readers to critique your manuscript, waiting for agents and editors to get back to you, waiting for reviewers to give their verdicts... This whole writing thing is a giant game of "hurry up and wait."

Sunday, January 17, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Fires of Stone (The Children of Terra, #2) / Annika Brynley

TITLE: Fires of Stone (The Children of Terra, #2)
AUTHOR: Annika Brynley
PUBLISHER: Self-published

Science Fiction/Fantasy -- Romance

Caitlin has spent her entire life underground as a member of a high-tech society that developed after a war supposedly rendered the surface uninhabitable. But now, several hundred years after the inhabitants of Atlantis gave up on the earth, it's been discovered that not everyone perished, and Caitlin is among the first of her people to travel to the surface. But she scarcely has a chance to explore before she's kidnapped by one of the comparably primitive bands of humans who survived on the surface world. She soon finds herself the captive of a clan leader named Draken, whose old-fashioned culture seems barbaric to her. Yet the more she learns about Draken and his culture, the more she realizes that both are more complex than she initially gave them credit for. And the more time she spends with the handsome warrior, the more she's drawn to him. Even though he often infuriates her. 

Fires of Stone is a deliciously fun romance novel about a modern woman and a warrior of yesteryear. It's like a time travel romance without actual time travel, thanks to Annika Brynley's unique world-building. The clash of cultures, traditions, perspectives, and attitudes makes their relationship a thrill to read about, especially with the heated love/hate dialogue. Caitlin is a strong and relatable heroine who won't take crap from anyone. Draken, meanwhile, is a powerful presence who can be either an infuriating barbarian or a surprisingly tender suitor depending on the situation. 

Meanwhile, the rich descriptions of Draken's tribal society make the sci-fi/fantasy world come to life on the page. Like Caitlin, I found myself unexpectedly drawn toward this different and fascinating culture. The surface holds a much larger and more complicated world than Caitlin imagined, and it unfurls before both her and the reader as we learn about the society that evolved on the surface while the Atlanteans were hidden underground... the politics, the rivalries, the battles.

While Fires of Stone is technically a sequel, it reads well as a standalone. I actually read an advance copy of it before going back and reading the first book in the series, The Love Beneath, which revolves around a different romantic pair and focuses more on the high-tech underground world of Atlantis. It occupies a funny space between sci-fi and fantasy.... while the set-up is sci-fi, this particular story reads more like fantasy due to the depictions of an ancient-seeming culture. But whichever spec fic genre it falls under, it is at its heart a romance. I had a great time reading about the whirlwind of emotions and desires that fuel Caitlin and Draken's tempestuous romance. I had a blast reading this story, and I look forward to the sequels!

Annika Brynley currently lives in New Jersey and she is as passionate about reading as she is about writing. She developed her love for stories and storytelling at a very early age, when she would listen to her grandmother tell stories of epic proportions. She has been spinning stories in her head ever since. She has a facility for languages—she speaks four currently—and earned her BA in Spanish from Rutgers University.

Since then, she has worked in the financial services industry, joined the Army, visited the Grand Canyon and New Orleans and been deployed to Iraq in 2008. She had a personal epiphany not too long after her return home and she began to seriously pursue her love of writing.

She is still holding out for Mr. Right, but in the meantime, when she is not working or studying, she can be found curled up with a good romance or writing one.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cooking Up a Tasty Crime Novel

Cooking up a tasty crime novel

by Russ Hall
Author of A Turtle Roars in Texas

In a crime novel, the reader wants complex engaging characters, a tangle of a story that is rich in detail through which the protagonist must navigate. Add to this a setting that provides an appropriate backdrop to the fairly constant tension and danger. From this carefully balanced stew, catharsis can emerge from chaos and conflict.
If you had to compare crafting such a novel with, say, cooking, you might want to lean to the dynamic dishes of something like Thai cooking as an example.
There, in addition to the four basic tastes of sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and saltiness, you have an additional savory taste known as umami. It’s not an entirely new concept, since some culinary experts have for years included “pungent” as a fifth taste.
Since umami has its own receptors rather than arising out of a combination of the traditionally recognized taste receptors, scientists now consider umami to be a distinct taste.
Tomatoes are rich in umami components, as is Soy Sauce. Malcom Gladwell asserts that umami is behind the lasting power of ketchup as an ingredient. Not surprising since the original ketchup was a fish sauce that contained anchovies. Anchovies are also a key ingredient in Worcestershire sauce.
When To Hell and Gone in Texas came out, the first book in the Al Quinn series, someone said it had umami. I replied, “That’s what I was going for.”
Umami has a mild but lasting aftertaste that is difficult to describe. It induces a sensation of furriness on the tongue, stimulating the throat, the roof and the back of the mouth. By itself, umami is not palatable, but it makes a great variety of foods pleasant especially in the presence of a matching aroma.
Many people may not care for anchovies, for instance, but like the pungent, or umami edge they can provide when part of the cooking process. Italian chefs know that the strong fishiness of anchovies melts away when cooked early into a pasta sauce.
As I wrote A Turtle Roars in Texas, the next book in the Al Quinn series, I was after that same balance of the basic four tastes, with umami thrown in for lasting satisfaction.
It’s not hard to spot the bitter, sour, salty, and even sweet stretches in a crime book. But umami is what pops the novel to the next level of the kind of book that is hard to put down, and is memorable once finished.
So, without going to hoisin or oyster sauce, I seek as an author to aim for a good crime book that has a good balance of all five tastes. The umami bits come in as a snippet here, short scene there, edgy moment, or other ingredient that might not stand up on its own but is swept into the mix. Not one of the tastes should overpower, but in the end it is that hard to describe umami that raises a book to stand out not as just another book in a genre, but something a little special.
Why would an author seek this somewhat difficult-to-describe quality? Well, a psychologist might say it’s because of the gestalt: when the sum of the whole becomes greater than the parts. As with a memorable meal, the author seeks an experience for the reader that lingers from a tasty book that was worth reading.

And that is just what I sought to do when crafting A Turtle Roars in Texas in my writing kitchen.

A Turtle Roars in Texas

By Russ Hall
Genre: Thriller/Suspense
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing

Trouble rides through Texas. 
Detective Al Quinn had hoped to spend his retirement fishing at his lakeside home and taking care of the local deer. That bubble pops when Gladys Sanders, the sixty-year-old co-owner of an organic farm, is found dead by her two sisters, her body displayed like a scarecrow. On the same day, her son is run over in his kayak.  

Evidence slips away from the scene right under the noses of two deputies, so Sheriff Clayton asks Al to mentor a younger detective. That simple task explodes into raw danger when three rival biker gangs with ties to Mexican cartels start mixing it up in earnest.  
ICE Agent Jaime Avila tells Al that old turtles ought to leave the fighting to the young. But when the danger involves Al’s brother, Al dives into the heart of the ruckus. Before the war is over, the gangs just might get to hear the turtle roar. 

Author Bio
Russ Hall is author of fifteen published fiction books, most in hardback and subsequently  published in mass market paperback by Harlequin's Worldwide Mystery imprint and Leisure Books. He has also co-authored numerous non-fiction books, most recently
Do You Matter: How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company (Financial Times Press, 2009) with Richard Brunner, former head of design at Apple, Now You’re Thinking (Financial Times Press, 2011), and Identity (Financial Times Press, 2012) with Stedman Graham, Oprah’s companion.

His graduate degree is in creative writing. He has been a nonfiction editor for major publishing companies, ranging from HarperCollins (then Harper & Row), Simon & Schuster, to Pearson. He has lived in Columbus, OH, New Haven, CT, Boca Raton, FL, Chapel Hill, NC, and New York City. Moving to the Austin area from New York City in 1983.

He is a long-time member of the Mystery Writers of America, Western Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime. He is a frequent judge for writing organizations. In 2011, he was awarded the Sage Award, by The Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation — a Texas award for the mentoring author who demonstrates an outstanding spirit of service in mentoring, sharing and leading others in the mystery writing community. In 1996, he won the Nancy Pickard Mystery Fiction Award for short fiction.

On Red Adept Publishing 
On Goodreads:
On Amazon: