Elana Johnson's Blog, page 3

May 23, 2014

Okay, so this post has absolutely nothing to do with writing. I mean, not really. But my tagline for the blog is "Navigating the publishing world with splashes of real life," so I figured I'm covered to talk about real life too. Right? Right. Okay.

So if you're friends with me on Facebook, you may have seen me post this week that I've finally broken through the lost-50-pounds ceiling. And I have! I'm super-stoked about, and it is so motivating to see the numbers coming down on the scale.

But a lot of people are asking, "How?" or "What's the secret?"

I wrote a post on losing a while back, but I thought I'd expound a little bit.

First of all, there is no secret. I'm not taking a pill, or following a diet, or ordering foods from a company. I meal plan, buy all my own groceries, make all my own meals, every day, day in and day out. (Yes, I am tired just writing that. Ha!)

Basically, I subscribe to this principle: Eat less, move more.

That's really general to what I do. I am eating less, but not only that, I know exactly how much I'm eating. Down to every last calorie. I count calories. For a couple of months there, I was guesstimating, and I wasn't losing weight. So I went back to strict calorie counting, where I write down everything I eat.

This is not has hard as you might think. I email it to myself. In general, I eat 200 calories for breakfast, 300 for lunch, 100 for an afternoon snack, and 500 for dinner. That's 1100 calories/day. No more.

I do move more, but it's more specific than that. I do weight training twice a week, for 20 minutes. It's not hard to fit into my morning pre-work routine, and I listen to something uplifting while I do it. I go to the gym for carido 5 days a week (if my schedule allows, but never less than 3 days. I'm not that busy! It's usually 5 days/week) and I work out for 45 minutes.

I walk on the treadmill (with an incline) because running is only what happens when dogs are chasing me. If I'm bored of the treadmill, I get on the elliptical. I think I'm going to add a water aerobics class this summer for even more variety.

And that's what I do.

I personally think the key is in what you eat. I could probably reduce the exercise and still lose weight. But for me, the exercise MOTIVATES the good eating.

I'm not really sure what "Paleo" or "clean eating" are, but I think that's what I'm doing. I eat low-fat proteins, fruits, vegetables, eggs, and cheese. I eat very, very few carbs (bread, rice, muffins, cereals, granola, etc.). The only sugars I take in are from fruits.

Is it hard? Absolutely. Sometimes I just can't take it anymore, or I really need a treat. I have a stash for these days, and I am disciplined in how I eat them. (This means I eat the chocolate caramel covered pretzels, but I count the calories.) Sometimes I drop off the program for a week or more. And that's okay. I'm not on a diet. I'm living my life.

See, I'm an emotional eater. Eating makes me happy when I'm sad, distressed, stressed, overworked, mad, happy, joyful, celebratory, etc. No matter the mood--even if it's good!--eating makes it better. I have a little bit of an anxiety problem, and eating has always soothed that. Eating for family celebrations is awesome.

I'd like to eat everything, everyday, forever. The problem is, I weighed a lot. I could still do everything I wanted to do, but my quality of life was suffering. I didn't do some things because I was too tired, or didn't feel good about myself doing them.

One of the best posts I've ever read about losing weight went up by a friend of mine, Tristi Pinkston, a few weeks ago. Pretty much everything she says, I could ditto. I felt her post deeply, because it could be mine.

In the end, if you want to lose weight, you have to be doing it for yourself, for your own increased quality of life, for your own better health. You have to be dedicated to it, because it takes time away from writing, from work, from family, from friends, from everything. I do it, because I think my health and myself are worth the time away.

Maybe I didn't think I was before, or maybe I was just being lazy. I remember a time at critique group when we were talking about losing weight, and I remember thinking, If I wanted to lose weight, I could--and would. I don't need to. I'm fine the way I am.

I was lying to myself. I didn't know it then, but looking back, I can see that I wasn't being truthful with myself, rationalizing away the fact that I wasn't healthy or happy.

I don't know if I'm a ton happier now, because well, eating makes me the happiest. Ha! But I'm definitely healthier and I enjoy my life more, so that has to count for something.

And there you have it! How I've lost over 50 pounds. I hope to keep going, maybe lose another 25-30 pounds.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

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Published on May 23, 2014 05:00 • 38 views

May 19, 2014

Okay, so up today is part six in establishing your magic system. I hope you've been keeping up, but if you haven't, the links to all the past questions are at the bottom of the page.


Question 6: What is the cost of using magic?
Magic use should have a priceThis can be a physical cost, like getting a headache or being weak. It can be something that has to be made up in nature later. Perhaps magic acts cannot be performed close together, or simultaneously. This is where you can make your fantasy and your magic system DIFFERENT. You should always be looking for a new slant to put on your magic, and the cost of using or being associated with the magic is a great place to do it.

The cost can establish character weaknessesThis is where you can establish weaknesses in the magic and provide something the enemy can exploit later. This will force them to grow and change BEYOND the magic (the magic can’t save them, they have to save themselves), and give you good conflict when you’re building your world and characters.

Simply associating with magic can have a consequenceThis is not to simply be more complex. It’s to force you to create better stories. You can do so here, with the cost of the magic. You set a limitation, and you stick to it. Don’t let yourself give your MC (magic user) a new power every time they need one. Resist using magic to solve every little problem in the book – unless you’ve already explained and shown that aspect of how the magic works. Be careful about writing laws into your system simply so you can use them once in a specific situation. Be more creative than that!

So what is the price of using magic in your world?


I did use Google to aid me in my research. I found three places that provided me with the most insight and useful information: Brandon Sanderson's Laws of Magic (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), WikiHow (don't laugh, it had good stuff!), and The Four Part Land (he has six parts, but they're all linked at the top of this one). My magic series is here: Question 1, Question 2, Question 3, Question 4, and Question 5.

So I read (ahem, maybe I skimmed a little. Some of the posts are long!) up on magic systems. I thought about what *I* liked in a magic system. I thought about the fantasy novels I'd read (because I don't read high-high fantasy like Sanderson or many of the authors/titles they talk about in these posts). I thought about Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, the TV show Merlin, movies like The Prestige, and other -- in my opinion -- accessible references. (Basically I'm saying I was too lazy to take the time to read those high fantasy novels. I reflected on what I was familiar with. And that's a tip I always give when I'm teaching: Use what you know to draw conclusions and create learning for what you don't.)
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Published on May 19, 2014 05:00 • 22 views

May 12, 2014

Oh my heck, you guys, I am so far behind on my list of things to do! I feel like I've abandoned you a little bit here on the blog. Because I have.

But the end of April found me planning an Eagle court of honor for my son, and then finishing up all the prep to teach at a major Utah writer's conference, at which I was also the Faculty Coordinator. It was busy to say the least. And then May hit, and for teachers, this is a very busy month.

So I'm sorry! But I am back today with Part Five of how to establish a great magic system.


Today's question is: How Are Magic Acts Performed?

chants, spells, songs = SPOKENwands, hand movements = PHYSICALLYMENTALLYcombination of the above

We see examples of all of these in Harry Potter. Harry and his friends first learn the words they need to cast spells. These have to be spoken clearly or you could end up in the wrong alley.

Some spells have specific wand movements – a physical skill that must be performed correctly. But later on, we see that spells can be cast without words, suggesting that as a magic user progresses, they can simply use a wand and their mental capability to cast spells and perform magic. Some of these are done all together, some separately, but they can all achieve magic.

So what do the characters in your book need to do in order to perform their magic? Does it require another person, a specific tool, a list of memorized lyrics, etc. to get the spell accomplished?

I did use Google to aid me in my research. I found three places that provided me with the most insight and useful information: Brandon Sanderson's Laws of Magic (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), WikiHow (don't laugh, it had good stuff!), and The Four Part Land (he has six parts, but they're all linked at the top of this one).

So I read (ahem, maybe I skimmed a little. Some of the posts are long!) up on magic systems. I thought about what *I* liked in a magic system. I thought about the fantasy novels I'd read (because I don't read high-high fantasy like Sanderson or many of the authors/titles they talk about in these posts). I thought about Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, the TV show Merlin, movies like The Prestige, and other -- in my opinion -- accessible references. (Basically I'm saying I was too lazy to take the time to read those high fantasy novels. I reflected on what I was familiar with. And that's a tip I always give when I'm teaching: Use what you know to draw conclusions and create learning for what you don't.)
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Published on May 12, 2014 05:00 • 25 views

April 29, 2014

Okay, so I'm here today with my good friend and long-time blogger, Kelly Pollark! Her debut middle grade novel, ROCK 'N' ROLL PRINCESSES WEAR BLACK, just came out! I hope you'll all get a copy to support her!


About ROCK 'N' ROLL PRINCESSES WEAR BLACK: Music class and recess totally rock, but being teased in school and ignored at home totally stinks. Stefani Lucas is a rockin’ sixth grader who loves music and dresses like a mini hipster in all black, but there's one thing cramping her style - her lame baby brother who manages to hog all the attention from her parents.

When classmates tease her about her clothes and even double dare her to (gasp!) wear another color, Stef decides a minor makeover may be in order. Can Stef change for others and still stay true to herself?

BUY:Amazon | B&N | Kobo
About Kelly: Kelly Polark is a married mom of three and educator/author from the great Midwest. ROCK 'N' ROLL PRINCESSES WEAR BLACK is Kelly's debut middle grade novel. She is also the author of the ABC picture book, ROCKABET: CLASSIC EDITION and two Meegenius books: BIG SISTER, BABY BROTHER and HOLD THE MUSTARD! In her free time, Kelly loves to hang with her fam, read books for all ages, and sing along at rock concerts.

FIND HER, STALK HER:Twitter | Facebook | Blog | Pinterest | Goodreads
I hope you'll get a copy of ROCK 'N' ROLL PRINCESSES WEAR BLACK!!
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Published on April 29, 2014 05:00 • 25 views

April 24, 2014

Dude, so it's the last Thursday of April, which means that National Poetry Month is coming to a close. So I thought it would be fun and appropriate to put my verse novel on sale. So from now until the end of April, ELEVATED is on sale for only 99 cents!

I hope you'll consider getting a copy if you haven't yet, and helping to spread the word to anyone who likes YA romance.


About ELEVATED: The last person seventeen-year-old Eleanor Livingston wants to see on the elevator—let alone get stuck with—is her ex-boyfriend Travis, the guy she's been avoiding for five months.

Plagued with the belief that when she speaks the truth, bad things happen, Elly hasn’t told Trav anything. Not why she broke up with him and cut off all contact. Not what happened the day her father returned from his deployment to Afghanistan. And certainly not that she misses him and still thinks about him everyday.

But with nowhere to hide and Travis so close it hurts, Elly’s worried she won’t be able to contain her secrets for long. She’s terrified of finally revealing the truth, because she can’t bear to watch a tragedy befall the boy she still loves.

Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo
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Published on April 24, 2014 05:00 • 15 views

April 23, 2014

Okay, onto Part Four today! We're flying through these! I hope that you've found them somewhat useful as you consider writing a fantasy or science fiction novel. (See Part One, Part Two, and/or Part Three.)


Onward and upward to Question 4: How Is Magic Viewed?

By societyBy other magic usersBy the MCNot only magic, but how are magic users viewed? By the public? Each other?
This is where you establish how the magic is viewed in society. Is it generally accepted? Unaccepted? Laws against using magic, or being a magician? How does the MC view magic and magic users? If s/he is a magic user, how do they feel about their society’s limitations or opinions on magic? How is the magic viewed among magic users? Is that different from society?

How are magic users viewed? Feared? Respected? Abhorred? All this should be established as you’re building your magic system. A lot of this can go toward limiting your magic users and your main character as well. So don’t skip over this step.


I did use Google to aid me in my research. I found three places that provided me with the most insight and useful information: Brandon Sanderson's Laws of Magic (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), WikiHow (don't laugh, it had good stuff!), and The Four Part Land (he has six parts, but they're all linked at the top of this one).

So I read (ahem, maybe I skimmed a little. Some of the posts are long!) up on magic systems. I thought about what *I* liked in a magic system. I thought about the fantasy novels I'd read (because I don't read high-high fantasy like Sanderson or many of the authors/titles they talk about in these posts). I thought about Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, the TV show Merlin, movies like The Prestige, and other -- in my opinion -- accessible references. (Basically I'm saying I was too lazy to take the time to read those high fantasy novels. I reflected on what I was familiar with. And that's a tip I always give when I'm teaching: Use what you know to draw conclusions and create learning for what you don't.)
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Published on April 23, 2014 05:00 • 20 views

April 21, 2014

Okay, so I'm back again, now onto the third question you might consider as you build and establish a magic system. (You can see Part One and Part Two here.) I think it's important to consider all aspects of the system, but if that freaks you out before writing, never fear! I answer some of the questions before writing, some as I'm going, and some after I'm done. So if you're not an outliner, you can still use the questions you need, in the order YOU need them.

Question 3: What is the Purpose of the Magic?

Contributes to character motivation?Main element or mysterious?Plot-based?Serves the story?
Maybe this should be question 1, but you need to know the purpose of your magic system. Is it the main element of your book, or something more mysterious, happening behind the scenes? How much does it affect your main character, what they do, their motivations?

The purpose of the magic should be to serve your story. If it’s just some “cool” element and has no real place in the plot, you’ll have a well, not a very good book. The purpose of the magic must be convincing and cohesive to both character development and plot, or it’s just lame. So make the magic integral to both character and plot.

I think any time you can make the elements of world, setting, character, and plot cross -- meaning one impacts the other in a meaningful and uncontrived way -- your novel will feel like it was done deliberately, and readers always want to feel like the author is in control of what's unfolding on the page.

So examining the purpose of the magic can help you develop character motivation, character flaws, character strengths, and determine character growth. The purpose of the magic can (and should!) advance the plot. The purpose of the magic can be tied up in the world/setting. Everything can be intertwined so that when things start going bad, everything starts going bad -- which allows your main character to develop into a hero.



I did use Google to aid me in my research. I found three places that provided me with the most insight and useful information: Brandon Sanderson's Laws of Magic (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), WikiHow (don't laugh, it had good stuff!), and The Four Part Land (he has six parts, but they're all linked at the top of this one).

So I read (ahem, maybe I skimmed a little. Some of the posts are long!) up on magic systems. I thought about what *I* liked in a magic system. I thought about the fantasy novels I'd read (because I don't read high-high fantasy like Sanderson or many of the authors/titles they talk about in these posts). I thought about Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, the TV show Merlin, movies like The Prestige, and other -- in my opinion -- accessible references. (Basically I'm saying I was too lazy to take the time to read those high fantasy novels. I reflected on what I was familiar with. And that's a tip I always give when I'm teaching: Use what you know to draw conclusions and create learning for what you don't.)
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Published on April 21, 2014 05:00 • 23 views

April 17, 2014

Okay, so it's Thursday, and I've been spotlighting an amazing verse novel every week this month for National Poetry Month.

Today's title is THE SOUND OF LETTING GO by Stasia Ward Kehoe. This is Stasia's second verse novel, and the first, AUDITION, is just as compelling and beautiful.

I sort of stumbled onto Stasia's work through a group I used to be involved with, The Bookanistas. We formed several years ago as a support system, and one of the things we did was mail around ARCs for review. Sometimes they were just ARCs we got from publishers, but sometimes they were our own ARCs.

That's how I came upon AUDITION. I read it early in my genre exploration of verse novels, and I loved it. Since then, I've left The Bookanistas, but I didn't forget about Stasia's writing. So when THE SOUND OF LETTING GO came out earlier this year, I couldn't wait to read it.


About THE SOUND OF LETTING GO: For sixteen years, Daisy has been good. A good daughter, helping out with her autistic younger brother uncomplainingly. A good friend, even when her best friend makes her feel like a third wheel. When her parents announce they’re sending her brother to an institution—without consulting her—Daisy’s furious, and decides the best way to be a good sister is to start being bad. She quits jazz band and orchestra, slacks in school, and falls for bad-boy Dave.

But one person won’t let Daisy forget who she used to be: Irish exchange student and brilliant musician Cal. Does she want the bad boy or the prodigy? Should she side with her parents or protect her brother? How do you know when to hold on and when—and how—to let go?

I even blurbed the book. Here's what I said: “Achingly beautiful, The Sound of Letting Go takes readers down a dangerous path while touching the heart and encouraging hope.”

And that's how I feel about it. It is achingly beautiful. It is about hope, about Daisy learning how to stand up for what she believes while still being a sister and a daughter. I loved the struggles she goes through, because they felt real -- and they're struggles that don't stop just because we become adults. So the book felt real to me, even outside of being a YA novel. It felt true to life, true to having to make hard decisions in many different areas of life.

But it was also hopeful. I don't need a perfect ending. I just want to feel like the main character will find their way, whether I see it on the page or not. Because I want to feel hopeful about my own life. I don't know what's going to happen yet, but I want to believe that I can figure it out -- just like Daisy does. And THE SOUND OF LETTING GO does that.

What have you read that has provided you with hope?
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Published on April 17, 2014 05:00 • 15 views

April 16, 2014

So we started exploring how to establish a great magic system earlier this week. (Click here to see it.) I said there why and how I started exploring this topic, as well as citing the Internet resources I used. I won't bore you with those again, but I am going to link the resources again at the end of the post.

But for today, let's dive right into question 2.

Question 2: Where Does the Magic Come From?

what powers it?where does the energy come from?do the characters, the setting, or the world contribute to the magic?

I think the best way to form a cohesive book is to tie elements together. They don't operate independently of one another. The magic in your novel should facilitate the character development and plot. The plot should facilitate character development and world-building. The character development should facilitate the magic system and the setting. If you can tie them all together, the individual elements won't feel tacked on or extraneous. Your book will feel well-thought out and cohesive.

So as you're planning and developing your magic system, use it to tie your world elements, your setting, your plot, and your characters all together. One way to do that is here, in Question 2: Where Does the Magic Come From?

The source of the magic, or what’s powering it, can provide conflict if you want it to. Conflict for the plot. Conflict for the main character, either externally or internally. Look for things that have good ties to the nature of your world. The elements, the characters, the setting. How can these contribute to where the magic stems from? Look for things that tie the magic to other setting elements and which make life hard for the practitioners--especially the main character (if they're a magic user).

So now we've examined who can use the magic, and what's powering the magic. Stay tuned for part three, coming next Monday!


I did use Google to aid me in my research. I found three places that provided me with the most insight and useful information: Brandon Sanderson's Laws of Magic (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), WikiHow (don't laugh, it had good stuff!), and The Four Part Land (he has six parts, but they're all linked at the top of this one).

So I read (ahem, maybe I skimmed a little. Some of the posts are long!) up on magic systems. I thought about what *I* liked in a magic system. I thought about the fantasy novels I'd read (because I don't read high-high fantasy like Sanderson or many of the authors/titles they talk about in these posts). I thought about Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, the TV show Merlin, movies like The Prestige, and other -- in my opinion -- accessible references. (Basically I'm saying I was too lazy to take the time to read those high fantasy novels. I reflected on what I was familiar with. And that's a tip I always give when I'm teaching: Use what you know to draw conclusions and create learning for what you don't.)
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Published on April 16, 2014 05:00 • 22 views

April 14, 2014

Okay, so a while ago, I was asked to speak at a teen writer's camp at BYU. I love talking to teen writers, so I said yes. A few months pass, and finally I have to give a topic I'm going to teach about. Well, it's a science fiction and fantasy camp, so I decided to go with "How to Establish a Killer Magic System" -- something I'd been studying and learning about myself.

See, I've written a futuristic fantasy that I'm going to self-publish this summer, and I've got a contemporary fantasy I'm hoping my agent can sell in the traditional market. I love fantasy. I read a lot of fantasy. But I always think there's room for improvement in my own craft, and as I've been revising the futuristic fantasy for publication, I realized that I needed to really cement my magic system.

So for myself and for the class, I came up with 10 questions authors can ask themselves as they establish their magic systems. Oh, and this works for technology systems in science fiction novels as well.

I did use Google to aid me in my research. I found three places that provided me with the most insight and useful information: Brandon Sanderson's Laws of Magic (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), WikiHow (don't laugh, it had good stuff!), and The Four Part Land (he has six parts, but they're all linked at the top of this one).

So I read (ahem, maybe I skimmed a little. Some of the posts are long!) up on magic systems. I thought about what *I* liked in a magic system. I thought about the fantasy novels I'd read (because I don't read high-high fantasy like Sanderson or many of the authors/titles they talk about in these posts). I thought about Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, the TV show Merlin, movies like The Prestige, and other -- in my opinion -- accessible references. (Basically I'm saying I was too lazy to take the time to read those high fantasy novels. I reflected on what I was familiar with. And that's a tip I always give when I'm teaching: Use what you know to draw conclusions and create learning for what you don't.)

After I'd done a little light Internet reading, I formed my 10 questions. Today, we'll just explore the first.


Question 1: Who Can Use the Magic?


the main character?special characters?everyone?the wealthy?a specific gender?only those trained?

You must decide who in your world can use the magic (or who has access to the technology in the world). Only a few people, designated to do so? Is the main character included in this group, or not? Can everyone use it? Only the wealthy? Or the poor? Only men, or women, or children? Only those who are trained? Those who are genetically capable? (Which leads us to another question we’ll get to later.)

But you have to know who can and who can’t use the magic, or who does and who doesn’t have access to the technology, in your world. This will help you establish weaknesses and limitations on the magic--also something we'll discuss in a later question.

So when creating a magic system, the first step is determining who will be able to access that power -- and why. Why them, and not everyone? Why only a select few? The why is important too.

So there's Question 1. I'll be back over the course of the next several weeks exploring all 10 questions, and I hope you'll join me!
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Published on April 14, 2014 05:00 • 18 views