All posts by writersblockpress

The Growing Author

I think it’s pertinent to share my thoughts with everyone on what I learned through the release of my second novel, The Curse of Pirini Lilapa. It was officially published on June 21, but I didn’t have its release party until June 22.

The undertaking in releasing this book was something like I have never experienced before and has made me but luckily I had some experience already in this sort of thing. The hardest part, of course, was the language barrier and communicating my ideas and design to someone whose native language is not English. Luckily, I had met a few contacts who could speak a decent amount of English and worked in the positions I needed them to work in. I knew someone in an advertising agency who could design the inside of the book with her staff. I also knew another person who knew a book printer who could help me with printing books. This, my readers, is known as 關係(Guānxì). It means relationship in Chinese and it is part of the cultural identity that thrives here in China. So many times I have seen this play out, sometimes in bad ways (like when students enter our program because they simply know someone), sometimes in good ways (like my case) but it’s a fundamental idea that one has to be cognizant about while in China. If you’ve ever heard of the phrase “Don’t burn your bridges,” and thought it was just an idiom, it is actually life over here.

In fact, this idea permeates through more than just simple relationships, but it also affects how we are perceived as foreigners. For example, I recently went to a family lunch for the parents of a recent graduate to our program. I had never heard about this lunch until the day before, but no one actually invited me. At 7 p.m. at night I finally get an invitation from a colleague who must have “forgotten” about me (all too common in China), but I refuse the invitation as I already had other plans. Then the father personally adds me and invites me to the lunch. Now, I actually do enjoy these lunches and dinners quite a bit, and I did eventually end up going, but only because the father actually took the effort to invite me. So, there I was, the only foreigner in a room of 200 or so Chinese, and I needed to be there in order for them to have the ability to say that they know a foreigner, in order to give them 關係. Now, how does this relate to the novel? I only mentioned that story to show you how essential it is for Chinese people to have us at events, no matter the event, even if it’s simply taking a picture with you so they can claim to have a “foreign friend.” So, getting back to the book release, I held this event at a coffee shop and when asked how much money it would be to reserve the second floor they said there was no money needed, just that everyone should buy at least one drink and that they would have the ability to take photos of us for use as promotional material. Compared to other places and prices that I looked at in Yixing, this was a great deal and I ended up having my event there. You can see some of the pictures below, but again, it reverts back to this idea of relationships and not only that but “the face” here in China.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

China is, lack for a better word, shallow. They DO care about how you look. They DO care about your skin color. They DO care about your sex. Although they may not say it explicitly, it goes back to their cultural identity and never losing “face” to someone. Face is like reputation, and because people take photos of me, or have lunches with me, or have their coffee shop filled with a bunch of foreigners, they automatically gain a lot of “guanxi” and they gain a lot of face.

 

Another thing that was extremely surprising to me doing the second release of the book is that, since traveling and teaching abroad, I have actually gained more fans than in the States. You think that this would be the opposite, right? Back home people know me, I grew up with them, I have established long-term friendships with them. While that is true, some of my best friends are actually the ones I have made abroad and I think it’s because we have gone through the same thing. We are both living and adapting to our environment and the struggle we share is similar. That is why support is so high here. Even from the Chinese actually. Although they most likely cannot read the book, they still buy it and support me and that matters a lot to me. I also think it’s because when people find out that I’m an author and a traveling teacher it kind of makes me an outlier. I mean, it’s like randomly seeing a celebrity on the street. Now, I’m not trying to equate myself with a celebrity, I am far from rich and famous yet, but it’s not that many times that you run into someone (especially someone so young) who has published a novel—that, too, I believe helps me gain fans and supporters.

The last thing I learned doing this book release was that timing is EVERYTHING. Now, this should be obvious, but it’s even more so when you are living abroad (especially in China). As I have an American fan base and a Chinese fan base, I need to post things on social media at the specific times where it can gain the most traction. Typically for me, this is in the morning (or the night before for America) or late at night in China around 9 PM which will then hit America at 9 AM. This, for the most part, I did successfully; however, I did fail in getting pre-publicity reviews before its release, and I hope that doesn’t really hurt me and my sales for the book. This time doing it I am much more cognizant about the money that I spend in promotion and marketing because the last book cost me waaayyy too much money and I doubt I’ll ever make a profit on it (to be honest, most authors don’t make a profit on their first book anyway as it’s just a way to gain your fan base and establish your credibility). Also, I’ve learned that I waited much too long to release this second book as it has been 5 years or so. I really should keep sequels to no more than 3 years, so I will be much more diligent on this third novel and hope to release it maybe in my early 30s, maybe before 30, who knows, it all depends on where the story goes. I do know, however, that China has given me the time and the economic freedom to publish my books as an author which is fantastic.

Overall, as I turn my nascent author career into one that is hopefully full-time professional career I will need to keep up with the times and learn new things on the way. That is the most exciting part about being an author and a traveling teacher, never growing stagnant. I always have to adapt to situations and it has made me a more confident and competent person than I was before.

Do you have any experiences that have shaped you as an individual? I think we all do. I would like to hear them in the comments if you would like to share!

  • Michael E. Thies

P.S. Also, it’s my birthday June 29th. As a birthday gift to all of my fans I have discounted my books on Amazon from 2.99 to .99 cents. So, download them while you can by clicking on the links here. The Trials of the Core and The Curse of Pirini Lilapa. Also, you can win autographed copies of both books by going to The Guardian of the Core Facebook page, liking the page, and sharing the most recent post with your friends!

It’s Finally Time

Well, it’s the time again.

Normally this is the time where I start to count down the days until the school year ends. How many more weeks do I have to teach? How many more class periods do I have? When are the finals going to be? This year, I am doing that, but I am also counting down to something else—the release of my second book.

I am happy to say that on June 21st of this year, when the sun is at its brightest and fullest, the second book in the Guardian of the Core series will come out. Why this day? Well, in the book the event, Pirini Lilapa, is when the two suns converge, creating a purple aurora in the sky and bringing with it heat, chaos, and beauty. What better day to release it than when our own sun is at its brightest and hottest! Below is a small video trailer I put together to create hype for the book’s release. Watch!

The Curse of Pirini Lilapa takes place immediately after the conclusion of the Trials. Coronation has elected a new apprentice to Guardian of the Core. Since, Zain Berrese, Prince Hydro Paen, and Eirek Mourse have gone their separate paths, thinking each other a distant memory. But, it seems that fate has other plans. As the three travel their paths, they find that their lives are not so separate after all. The persons who they thought they were at the end of the Trials are now tested even more as the suns draw closer to their convergence. To an event known to bring only bad luck, sorrow, and pain. To an event that occurs every 150 years. To an event known as Pirini Lilapa.

Some look to the sky in superstition, others look to the sky in fear, and yet, some look to the sky in contemplation. For in the weeks and days before the suns converge, plots perspire, deities die, and families are fractured as no one is safe from their harsh and heinous gaze. . .

For me, this is a dream come true to see it finally being printed and produced. I feel like a proud father now with this new baby of mine about to enter the world as for many years I kept pushing back the delivery. Now, I feel confident and stable enough to put it out there and as you will notice while you read, the world has expanded and to help you, maps have been included at the beginning of the book and character trees in the back so that you may keep track of all the people.

If you haven’t read book one yet, you can start now and finish it before the sequel comes out in June. Here is the link on Amazon. Also, you may preorder your book now for the Kindle version for only 2.99. After its official release, the price will jump to 3.99. You can do that by clicking here.

Looking to the future, the next thing for me to do is to finish writing the series. I have an idea about how it’s going to end, but that always changes, and is already starting to change in my mind (for I have two possible endings). It has been exhilarating, albeit frustrating at times, publishing the book in China. I have even gotten many people to ask for a Chinese version of the book, which I am contemplating actually about the first book. This could be another way to expand my marketability as an author, so we will see. At the end of the day, I need readership and followers and perhaps that initial investment in having it translated will pay off. What are your thoughts on that? I’d like to know. Also, what did you think of the trailer? Are you excited for the release of book 2!?

Let me know in the comments!

Happenstance: Freedom vs. Fate

You know the saying, “It’s such a small world” when you meet someone you didn’t expect to meet again? Or, perhaps “What are the odds?” when something crazy happens? Well, I believe that our life may be composed of serendipitous, rather chance, opportunities falling in place. It makes me believe in this idea of fate and everything always happening for a reason.

Let me give you a few recent examples:

When I wrote my first novel, The Trials of the Core, the characters were individuals, yes, but, in the grand scheme of things, I did not see them as more. As I have finished writing the first draft of book three, and have plotted out how I will end the series in book four, I am starting to see unintentional symbolism arise in my writing.

The idea had first been planted by a fan of mine who, after reading my first book, had asked me if a certain main character was supposed to represent something. I told him he was no allegory. But, as I have revisited book two in preparing for its release later this year in June, and as I have a clear idea of how my series will now end, I can definitely say that this individual was correct. A few of my characters will be symbols to a very important event that happens in the book. Their actions will have coincided with the figures they are meant to represent. Now, of course, this is extremely vague to you as readers, but I don’t want to spoil anything so it is my intention to keep it vague.

The second surreal instance happening occurred on the 31st of January 2018. On this date,  there was an event known as a “Super Blue Blood Moon.” You can read more about it here. Now, why is this interesting?  Well, for one, this event hadn’t happened for 150 years. What’s more, it was a special sort of eclipse. As you will soon read in the second novel, The Curse of Pirini Lilapa, the event as described in the title, is a special event. Pirini Lilapa is also an eclipse and also occurs every 150 years in the universe that I have created. What are the odds of this occurring the year that I plan on releasing book two and on the year that I plan to go to Thailand to experience a Full-Moon Party? Well, to make a pun, the odds are astronomical. In Thailand, I wasn’t able to witness as good of a view as others were (especially those in Alaska or Canada), but I found some images of the moons online that show just how surreal the event was.

Super Blue Blood Moon 1
Super Blue Blood Moon 2

Just as it creates disorder and chaos in the book, I am sure this party will be no exception (as I have heard a great deal about this party). Of course, I’ll be safe. No worries there. But, I still cannot fathom how perfectly this has worked out for me.

And, to top all of this off, I have made a large life-changing decision for me and that is to move from my rather isolated and boring city of Yixing to Suzhou, a much more renowned and foreigner-friendly city here in China. Normally, this would not have been an option as Suzhou was on the brink of closing the doors to its Ambright Program, however, the specific location is reopening because of the new leadership of the Suzhou School which now wants to experience a better relationship with their international program. This propels me forward not only socially, as there will be more foreigners there, but also because there are more foreigners there is more of an opportunity to see my book (or books at this point). Two, because of my move I will be receiving a higher salary than I would have received back in my old city and will have more time on my hands as the duties weighing me down in Yixing will be non-existent in Suzhou. I will continue teaching English, just under less stress and a better environment. Hopefully, this means more consistency in my writing, but regardless, I am on pace for planning my releases when I want them to be released.

These three instances really bring to question in my mind freedom or fate. Although I think we make our own decisions, I do believe that every decision we make is some sort of greater purpose in our life and so we really can’t ever escape our destiny (to be poetic).

To say my stars are aligning is cliché, so I’ll use a phrase from book two that I crafted: “Some names are sung for sorrow, others are fit for fate, and yet some are given for greatness.” It seems that I truly am fit for fate.

The 20/20 Vision

Last week I talked about making New Year’s Resolutions, and I offered four resolutions that I will try to complete in the year 2017. In case you forgot, those resolutions are:

Resolution 1: I will successfully pay off all of my credit card debt by putting at least half of my paycheck aside each month.

Resolution 2: I will finish writing the first draft of my third novel (title still undecided) by the end of the academic school year (July 2017).

Resolution 3: Assuming I complete the first two resolutions, my third resolution will be to publish my second novel, The Curse of Pirini Lilapa, by the end of 2017 in both e-book and paperback forms.

Resolution 4: I will begin work on my 3-year Professional Development Plan (PDP), in order to move from a probationary to a professional teaching license by the year 2020.

I would categorize all of these things as short-term goals. Hopefully, everyone reading knows that there are two types of goals, though, short-term and long-term (short-term again being the ones listed above).

This week I want to expand on that and help you to create resolutions that are long-term resolutions or goals. Sometimes it’s necessary to think about the bigger picture, too. For example, if you’ve ever been asked this question in an interview “Where do you see yourself in five years?” They want to know your long-term goals, and it’s a point of seeing how well you can organize your life because, essentially, completing long-term goals comes down to organization and persistence if I had to choose only two qualities (although I’m sure there are more).

So, this all came about when my friend and I decided to make our goals for 2020. We vacationed together while in South America and have been in contact lots since we have both gone our separate paths but we always talk about our return to South America in 2020, we call it, our 20/20 Vision. Catchy, right?

This return to South America (specifically Chile, Columbia, and perhaps Brazil) would be seen as the incentive, right? Because you have to earn it. So, what are the long term goals I plan on accomplishing before this time? Well, let’s take a look.

20/20 Goal #1: I will have written the first draft of all four books in my series, Guardian of the Core, by the summer of 2020.

20/20 Goal #2: I will have completed my PDP and successfully achieved professional licensure in Secondary English Education.

20/20 Goal #3: I will have set aside a sufficient amount of money in order to take the vacation in question by putting money into a separate account every month.


Okay, so I want you, the readers, to look at these goals carefully. What do you notice? What isn’t on my goal list? Things such as “I will have settled down and have a family by 2020,” “I will have settled down at a permanent job,” “I will have published all of my books,” or even, “I will have published three of my books by 2020.” All of these things do not belong on long-term lists.

So, why don’t I include goals like those? All of them are great goals, and I wouldn’t be opposed by having any of them happen, but why shouldn’t goals like that be included? Perhaps you can already think of the reason. It’s because of this word: indeterminable. All of those goals that I mentioned in quotations depend on outside factors that are beyond my control and that I shouldn’t worry about. Would I like to have a family? Absolutely. But, will I meet the right person by 2020? Who knows. . . By having that as a goal, I am putting myself in a position to search for anyone instead of searching for the right one. Would I like to have a permanent job by 2020? Yes, of course! But, this requires that I like the school district that I end up at in that time, and that the environment is good, the pay is good, and the opportunity for advancement is there. All of those things I cannot control.

Okay, so how about the last couple, the ones about my book. You can control those, why aren’t they up there, you say. Well, you’re right, I can definitely control how fast I work and could potentially get them all published or even three of them published by 2020, but even they have indeterminable factors. For example, any good book needs multiple edits, and it needs people to read it, and these proofreaders have lives as well, I cannot demand that they read something in a month and then send it back to me so that I can stay on schedule. The market has a volatility that I have to be cognizant of and perhaps one year may be better for releasing than another year.

But, what else do you notice? Anything? If you noticed that all of my goals for 2020 are related to my resolutions for 2017, then congratulations, you’re correct. I firmly believe that in order to have good long-term goals, you need to make them relevant to what you are doing now. This has two factors: (1) when you complete your short-term goal, you are completing part of your long-term goal (2) and because of this, you become excited and motivated to continue your resolution instead of fizzling out. This is huge because as I mentioned before two qualities of successfully completing your long-term goals is organization and persistence. If you are currently dating someone you really like and you want to get engaged to them, and you know you want to get engaged to them, well, you don’t wake up with 1000+ dollars one day, you have to set money aside and start planning for the investment of that ring. I’m not going to wake up and have money for this trip to South America unless if I first clear my debt and then continue to put aside money for the trip. This is where organization and persistence comes into play.

So, I ask you this question, what is your 20/20 vision? How would you define your perfect life by the year 2020? I highly recommend you create some sort of long-term goal for your plan because just as completing short-term goals helps with long-term goals, the same goes for short-term goals. By having long-term goals, and having them be relevant to your short-term resolutions, it will hold you more accountable to achieving those resolutions.

Happy goal-setting and as it’s officially 2017 now, I welcome the new you, and the new visions you plan on accomplishing this year and the years to come.

Sincerely,

Michael E. Thies

Goal-Setting for 2017

New Years. It is a time to spend with family and friends. It is a time for partying and staying up late (at least until midnight.) And, finally, it is a time for New Year’s Resolutions. It is a time for change, to break the monotony of your current life. But, many people make the resolutions and then they fall flat and fail within months of trying to do them. The best example of this is the ever popular “I’m going to get in shape this year” resolution. If you are a gym-goer you know how crowded your local gym gets in January and even February but by March it has returned to the same status quo. So, what then makes a good goal? What are good goals?

Let’s examine that first. Here are a few things that I recommend that have worked well for me in the past. If you have ever heard of “S.M.A.R.T Goals” you will find similarities here, as that is how I have always achieved my goals.

SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goal setting concept presented on blackboard with colorful crumpled sticky notes and white chalk handwriting

Tip #1: Only create one or two goals, definitely no more than three.

Reason: When you clearly have only one or two things to achieve, you can focus on them that much more. It is the same as multi-tasking essentially. You can get one thing done faster and more completely if you only focus on that one thing versus trying to handle multiple things at once. So, with only one or two or three goals, you shouldn’t be so overwhelmed that you quit.

Tip #2: It is not enough to have a goal, but a plan of action.

Reason: Many people can create a goal like, “This year I will get in shape.” You may ask, what is the problem with this? Well, it’s vague. There is no plan of action. Create one. Let’s use the above example. “This year I will get in shape by eating more fruit and exercising more at my gym.”

Tip #3: Be as specific as possible.

Reason: It is one thing to say that you will get into shape this year, but what does that actually mean? Does that mean you will get the six-pack you’ve always dreamed of having? Does that mean dropping two pants’ sizes? Or does that simply mean losing one pound or one kilogram per month? What is it? Define it. And then, come up with a plan of attack for doing it. So, taking the example above, we could say something like: “This year I will lose two pounds per month by exercising more at my gym and eating healthier foods like fruit in order to get into shape.” We have a goal, a plan of attack, and we are specific. This is how you should make your resolutions, and write them down. I always feel as though writing down your resolutions commits you to it more than just saying it to yourself.

– While all of this may be good now and you feel as though you are ready to go, you aren’t. –

Tip #4: Have an incentive.

Some may ask, “Isn’t the incentive the feeling you get by losing two pounds per month? Isn’t the incentive getting into shape or looking better?” My response is, NO. Those are results, not incentives.

To have a good example, let’s put it into the context of bodybuilders. A bodybuilder may say that they want to gain 5 lbs of muscle this year, albeit it will actually probably be a lot more. So, they will eat more meat, increase their protein intake, and get jacked for lack of a better phrase. But, there has to be some sort of incentive pulling them along. That incentive is a cheat day. Every bodybuilder or athlete I know has one. Maybe it’s one day per week, one day per month, but it’s a day where they abandon their rules in order to give into their carnal desires of maybe that bag of potato chips, or a scoop of that ice cream they have been salivating about. By creating some sort of incentive throughout your resolution, or at the end of your resolution, that you ONLY do if you complete it will make you work that much harder for it. The key here is that you have to be true to yourself and ONLY give it to yourself if you earn it. That will make it be that much better.

In the example above of getting into shape. Maybe one plan of attack is eating healthier so you cut out your love of buffets. Well, perhaps an incentive then is you treat yourself to a buffet at the end of each month or every two months.


Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at some of my resolutions for 2017.

Resolution 1: I will successfully pay off all of my credit card debt by putting at least half of my paycheck aside each month.

Resolution 2: I will finish writing the first draft of my third novel (title still undecided) by the end of the academic school year (July 2017).

Resolution 3: Assuming I complete the first two resolutions, my third resolution will be to publish my second novel, The Curse of Pirini Lilapa, by the end of 2017 in both e-book and paperback forms.

Resolution 4: I will begin work on my 3-year Professional Development Plan (PDP), in order to move from a probationary to a professional teaching license by the year 2020.

 

Okay, many of you are probably wondering, what gives, I have already disavowed my rules of no more than three resolutions. To that point I say, I haven’t. Although there are four, resolution three can truly only happen if the first two are complete and then resolution four is an ongoing one, to be started this year but not completed. Also, I know that my first resolution will be complete as of February or March this year, so my only huge resolution that I’m focused on is number two.

To an extent, I know that all of these are within my grasp if I choose to really go after them. I am confident I can get these done. Also, I have an incentive. Something I want to do if I accomplish all of them (especially number 2) is to take a grand vacation in the summer of 2017. I will want to take a break from writing for a little while, hence the reason I want to finish it before I go. And then if I do manage to publish my second book by the end of 2017, then I can take a nice winter vacation in 2018.

And while all of these are great, this is only just the beginning. In my next post, next week, I will tell you how to plan for your long-term goals as well. But, first, focus on what you are going to do this upcoming year, then come back and see how you can build upon it for later in your life.

Have a happy New Year’s everyone. Stay safe and have fun.

Sincerely,

  • Michael E. Thies

Education In China

 

It has been officially two months here in China, and I finally decided to write a blog post on education over here in China. Why? Well, first and foremost, I’m an educator and these kinds of things interest me quite a bit. Secondly, I haven’t written a blog post for a while, so I figure I should write one haha.

china_education_of_children

Okay, so let’s do it.

Shocked. I think that is the one word that accurately describes my feelings for the education here in China. Shocked. But, I cannot say if this is in a bad way or a good way, it’s just, shocked. In many ways, it’s astounding what these students can do here, but at the same time, it’s horrifying and horrible.

First, let’s set the context for my school and surrounding schools. I am working through a company that has an agreement with a school to come in and teach classes only in English for students who want to go to the United States. So, my school, significantly smaller than the Site School, has its own goals to try and achieve. In a relatively small town in China, Yixing,  a population  of one million, the whole school consists of 2,000 students. My program consists of about 50 of those students. Here is what a schedule looks like for one of my students, Monday – Saturday. Yes, Saturday (although Saturday is only a half day.)

6:45 am – 7:20 am: Morning Reading = students are given a passage of text to read and memorize during the thirty-five minutes. My job is during the last five to ten minutes to quiz them to make sure they have memorized the material.

7:30 am – 9:00 am: Periods 1 + 2 = Each class is 40 minutes long, making it very difficult to achieve things in the course of the class.

9:00 am – 9:30 am: Running Period = Students are taken to the school track and they run, military style, around the track for two to four laps.

9:30 am – 11:10 am = Periods 3 + 4

11:10 am – 11:50 am = Lunch time.

11:50 am – 1:05 pm: Rest period = This is different for my school. The students get to rest so many of them sleep at their desks for the hour. Students at the Site School, however, are assigned another period of class and aren’t allowed to sleep.

1:05 pm – 2:35 pm = Periods 5+6

2:35 pm – 3:00 pm: Running period. Again, students report to the school track and made to run two to four laps.

3:00 pm – 5:20 pm = Periods 7 + 8 +9

5:20 pm – 6:00 pm = Dinnertime

6:10 pm – 9:00 pm = Regulated study time. Students remain in their classroom for three hours under the supervision of teachers and work on homework.

Then, they get to go home. They repeat this Monday through Friday. So, these students have a 14 hour day at school which involves nine class periods, two running periods that total at least one mile, and only one hour for rest. Again, that is for my school, the Site School doesn’t get that rest period.

On Saturday they have a half day starting at 7 am and ending by 11 am. In that regards, the Site School is the same. However, unlike the Site School, our students do not need to come back after noon on Sunday for a half day of schooling there. Yes, that’s right, they only get half a day Saturday and half a day Sunday to rest. It’s awful to see and no longer makes me complain about anything I’ve had in the States.

Because they are so test oriented in China, everything they do is memorization. Yes, this may sound like a generalization, but it’s not. They literally try and memorize everything, from the passages during morning reading to the passages on international tests such as the TOEFL. They memorize the latter just in case they experience the same TOEFL prompt on their actual test. It’s such a flawed system, it’s ridiculous, and it leads to Chinese students not really being able to think creatively or have any of their own thoughts. For a lack of better words or stronger comparison, they are simply machines. Many of the parents of these machines want their students to continue studying even after they are finished with school so teachers get chastised if we give too few homework. All of these things together leads some of the children here having more gray hairs than my grandma.

Also, in terms of schooling, there is even more interesting matters in how teachers are looked upon. So, in Asian culture teachers are actually very valued members of society, they rank right up there as equals to the parents for their children. Knowing that is essential if you are to command a classroom of Chinese students. But, also, I find the society very superficial. What do I mean by this? Well, they like to judge things aesthetically, meaning, if you are handsome you can do no wrong in their eyes. This is actually one of the first things people say to me all the time, “You’re so handsome.” I went to a parent teacher conference with students of a more disruptive class, Senior II, here one of my first weeks in Yixing. I introduced myself, my plan for the students, and asked for questions from any of the parents. None of the parents had any. But, for the Chinese teachers, there was a plethora of questions. Interesting, right?

Finally, another point about schooling: many of the students are arrogant. Really arrogant. This is rather harsh, I know, but let me explain. Students in our program specifically come from wealthier families who can afford to put their students in English-immersion high schools. Next, until just recently (maybe one or two years ago), China had a strict one-child-only policy, so many of these students don’t have only siblings. This, combined with the fact that they come from more prominent families, means they are spoiled beyond belief. Harsh, but true. Because of this, I found it rather difficult to command their attention at times earlier in the year, but now I am getting the hang of it, although it can be a constant power struggle all the time. And, for an English teacher, our subject is viewed as non-important in the eyes of the typical Chinese who usually complete math and science first. This is ironic as they are going to an English-immersion school and all of the tests that they have are based around knowing English, but it is what it is.

This is lengthy, but everything here is what I have experienced personally. No, it may not be similar to other schools, but my guess is that it is. The competition in China is so high for a job that this is the reason that schools go so late and are 6 days a week. If they aren’t, the Chinese fear that their child will get left behind. This predicament, sadly, leaves many of these students with no place to vent their struggles. There are no extra-curricular activities to build comradery and team-building functions with classmates. There is no time for a social life even as 14 hours of their day are in school. There is only time for Sleep. Memorize. School. Study. Repeat.

Teachers at the Site School have it bad as well as they are required to come 6 days a week to teach the students. They are responsible for class sizes of 40 – 50 students (my class sizes are 16-18). Many of them are paid 5,000 – 7,000 yuan per month, this equates to 750 dollars – 1000 dollars every month for the teachers there. My salary is significantly higher as are the salaries of the Chinese teachers in my department.

As a former educator in the States, this is disheartening to see, but it’s definitely given me a new perspective on our education there. If you want to come to China, I suggest to do it. I even suggest teaching in China, the benefits are fantastic, but just be prepared for a culture shock when you get here. It is unlike you have ever seen.

Michael E. Thies

P.S. One quick thing I forgot to mention is that Chinese don’t really believe in holidays. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s say that a Holiday is scheduled for Thursday and Friday during a week. Well, they will schedule the holiday in question for Thursday and Friday and then make students come to school on Saturday and Sunday to make up the classes that they missed on Thursday and Friday. It’s rather annoying as that means sometimes I need to teach on Saturdays and Sundays. It is what it is, like I said before. Shocked. Shocked. That is what I am constantly in whenever I think about the education system here.

Inspiration – What Makes It Happen?

So, this is my first post on this blog for a year or more now. It’s interesting, then, that I should write something about inspiration as I have not seemed to have it for the past year or more. And while that’s not entirely true, I did want to sit back and comment on a few things that I think writers have some trouble with and some easy remedies as I have found that these things have helped me more than I know. Hence, the reason I am writing now.

#1 Problem = Coming up with Ideas

Whenever I tell people that I have written a novel they always ask me two questions to begin. (A) “What is your book about?” … And after I tell them typically the second question is (B) “How did you think of it?”

The second question is the one I want to answer here. To be honest, one of my best friends in high school had a collection of drawings of people and figures. I was fascinated with it and in middle school we went through the process of creating a card game from these figures based off of something like Yu-Gi-Oh. It was an interesting concept with it’s own twist. Anyways, these cards became the characters for a short story that I wrote in school. And then three years later as I was cleaning out my room in high school I found that short story again and I thought to myself, “Well, what would happen if I continued writing it.” So, after many many revisions and character additions and reductions, I arrived at The Trials of the Core by Michael E. Thies. My first novel.

And, although this may be self-explanatory, I wrote because I saw things. It seems elementary but if you take a look at any writer one of their greatest tools is the power of observation — to see something that is beyond the page or beyond the person in question. In Californication, for example, during the first season we see the author protagonist, Hank Moody (David Duchovny), tell a woman who she is based off merely the power of observation. She gets mad (because Moody is not very tactful) and storms off, but under that an analysis is that perhaps she was embarrassed that he was right about her. In the second season we see him shadow the life of a rockstar in order to write a book about him.

And that’s what we do as author, we observe. So, when I saw those drawings in my friends book of sketches, I saw more than just figures I saw people that were dying to come off of the page and hop into a story. And, now, I have actually gotten many inspirational ideas through sleep. I have crazy dreams, and I mean crazy dreams, that I wake up and wonder, “Well, what if that turned into a novel…” So, I jot down what I remember quickly into one of my notepads for writing and at a future date maybe I’ll get back to it and actually write a story or short story about it. Right now, I can’t, because I’m focused on Guardian of the Core but when I finish that series I will need something new to write about and who knows by then!

So, in essence, we get inspiration because we use our eyes and not just physical ones, but a mental eye (your brain as it dreams) and it’s imagination, as well.

Problem #2 = Coming up with sentences

Alright, another problem. Maybe you have a vivid imagination. Maybe you have an idea for a story. But, you don’t have the words. Where can you draw your inspiration from then? Well, I have had this problem, too, with inspiration. Honestly, this is how I solve it.

I read.

I remember that my writing improved so greatly after I started reading The Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin. After reading such a great book like that, it makes you want to write. It makes you want to see if you can craft a sentence as perfectly constructed as he does. At least, this was the side effect I had.

Even if a book isn’t necessarily good, like the book I am reading now, I still find it an inspiration, but an inspiration in a different sense. I want to write to write better. i see the flaws of that work and I write and make sure I don’t see any of the same flaws happen in my own book.

But, regardless of if it’s a good book or a bad book there are still ways that it can enhance your writing. Vocabulary, for instance, is something that is built through reading.

Problem #3 = Time for writing

This is probably the hardest issue to deal with. It’s true, there is just not enough time in the day. It gets more complicated when you have a family and a job. I am extremely fortunate that I have a profession, an English teacher, that allows me time for writing. In the States it would be during the summer when I don’t have the hustle and bustle of the school year to contend with. Now, while I’m over in Chile, it’s when I go on vacation to renew my passport. My mother came down to take me on a cruise from Valparaíso down around Cape Horn up to Buenos Aires. It was the best 14 days of my life. And, while on that cruise, I managed to write five to six chapters. I had never been more into my writing (besides when I’ve had to write for a deadline). It was fantastic and I wish I could live on a permanent vacation, but, alas, my books aren’t popular enough for that yet haha. But, maybe one day.

Anyways, like I was saying before, as a teacher not only do I get vacation time, but I get the luxury of being able to teach anywhere. I am currently taking a position to teach English overseas in China for a year, or more, and I’ll have lots of time to explore and write about the places I see. I am positive that Chile and my experiences here will turn up in my writing eventually. In fact, unknowingly, it already has, but it wasn’t as intentional as I would have liked.

So, what happens if you don’t have a profession like mine?

Then you have to go above and beyond in order to tackle this boundary to inspiration. Like the Corona commercials you have to “Find your beach.” Meaning, find a place that relaxes you and where you can write. Ideally, this is a beach, but not everyone has a beach in their backyard. So, without a beach, maybe you can have a beach be your writing den, or living room before the kids wake up, or the kitchen area. The idea is, though, that you need to create a routine that works for you in a setting that works for you.

Analysis 

For me, inspiration comes and goes like the wind, although I definitely do have more inspiration in any of the three situations I outlined above. Unless if I have to, I never force myself to write, because when I do it doesn’t come out as well as I want it to. That is why I stopped writing this blog a year ago when I was cranking out a post per week. Now, I want to continue but at my own pace, maybe at once every two weeks or once a month. I don’t know the exact time table but I had the itch to write a blog post today and that is what I did.

So, the next time you have any type of writer’s block, don’t feel that you have to write. It may be more painful for you to do so. Instead, perhaps try one of the methods outlined above, and then see how you feel. Welcome writing, don’t worship it or feel inclined to do it.

-Michael E. Thies

John Carter Review

john-carter-movie-poster-6

This week’s blog post, like I mentioned last week, is going to be a review. And, because I am doing “Sword and Planet Fantasy” this month, I decided to pick a movie that would go well into that genre. That movie is John Carter produced in 2012 by Andrew Stanton. This is based off the book by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Something I learned within the movie is that one of the initials characters we meet at the beginning is the “nephew” to John Carter, Edgar Rice Burroughs (guess he wanted to put himself into his novels quite literally).

Anyways, before we go further, let’s review what the characteristics of a Sword and Planet Fantasy novel are. They are:

1) There is a hero, usually an Earthman, and he typically uses a sword to fight off an alien race while trying to rescue a damsel in distress.

2) Adventure. Lots of adventure. There needs to be in order to make up for the generally stock-type characters that develop in these types of novels.

3) Anachronistic situations. For example, aliens possessing the technology to use space crafts, but domesticated animals are used for ground transportation.

Firstly, yes, there is a hero and his name is John Carter and he is from Earth. He is a rebel fighter from the southern state of Virginia (as this story takes place during the Civil War, 1881 to be exact). He is rude-mannered but seems to know his way around a fight. He is a loner and no longer is married and with child as they died some years before this story takes place. With that being said, he definitely seems to be a stock-type character as there are not many unique qualities about him, and, in truth, this is fine there are many characters in today’s literature that are not that impressively unique but as long as they grow by the end of the novel then who cares?

During the movie, although there are guns and laser beams a plenty, much of the battling is done using spears and swords. Although, I do admit, some of these swords can materialize with this blue light called “the ninth ray” that is supposedly the source of life and infinite energy. It has a variety of ways that it can be utilized in the movie and freezes people who come in contact with it, also it controls people who are in contact with a source-holder (one of the people who hold a special medallion that utilizes its power). These powers don’t seem to be very consistent as, for example, the main villain throughout much of the story “Sab Than” can utilize this laser beam weapon on his arm given to him by these deity-like beings, but he chooses to use this weapon as a sword most of the time.

These instances speak of the anachronistic situations that are prevalent throughout the movie. Now, did these situations really detract from the story, no, I don’t think so, because the movie did such a good job at drawing us in right away with a lot of action which, what do you know, is the last trait we have to talk about.

Right from the very beginning we get introduced to the two separate warring factions on Mars, or Basoon as it’s called in the movie. A fight scene occurs and Sab Than gets bestowed with a weapon of ultimate power with the claim that he will rule over all of Basoon if he obeys the deity-like beings that stop the warring. There are many more fight sequences throughout the movie but one of the final scenes is a great coliseum type battle with two giant, but blind, white apes with four arms. John Carter does what he does best and destroys them and then goes after Sab Than and tries to reclaim Helium (the name of the city) for the damsel in distress who is meant to marry him.

Although a lot of this is just summarization of the movie, I do it to show that this movie is a definite archetype of the Sword and Planet Fantasy genre. It’s 100% Sword and Planet Fantasy and I can see why it is considered the pedigree for this type of genre. I give the move, in general, a 7/10 because it didn’t mention a few critical things early enough and relied too much on the action instead of character building. This lack of character building also led to lack of a defined intention for some of the characters including the antagonist (we never really know what he’s going to do if he gets his way).

Anyways, do you know any other movies that may fit this genre? Have you seen this movie? What did you think of it? Do you believe, as well, that it fits this genre type? I would love to know, leave your comments below.

– Michael E. Thies

P.S. If you have an idea of the type of fantasy you’d like to discuss next month let me know as well.

What is Sword and Planet Fantasy?

Well, when we define things, just as we defined Epic Fantasy last month, we break down the etymology of the (in this case) phrase. And, maybe not so much the etymology (the linguistic changes the word has gone through) so much as the history of the word itself and what it is in our language today. So, in order to define Sword and Planet we must look at both of those terms individually and continue onward from there.

For most readers this should be review but swords are simply weapons. When I think of swords, I think of medieval and King Arthur and battles and war, although I know that swords have been around much longer than those times. The idea, though, is that it is connotative of this sense of historical renaissance.

Secondly, the word planet is, well, a large mass in space that is comprised of many different substances and some being able to hold life and others not. It moves around a sun and is in some sort of solar system. But, more importantly, when we think of planet, at least when I think of planet, I think of space exploration. I think of traveling and what the future is going to be like. I think of things like Star Wars or Star Trek. In essence, this word is very connotative of a futuristic world.

So, when bringing these two words together, we know that we are going to get a type of fantasy that is archaic, yet futuristic. Interesting, yes? I think so. That is why I wrote my own novel use those ideals. (However, to be fair, once I started researching this type of fantasy much more, I would say mine doesn’t necessarily fit in with it for a couple of reasons).

Alright, so now we have the definition out of the way, let’s take a look at what these characteristics are that translate from what we just broke down.

1) There is a hero, usually an Earthman, and he typically uses a sword to fight off an alien race while trying to rescue a damsel in distress.

2) Adventure. Lots of adventure. There needs to be in order to make up for the generally stock-type characters that develop in these types of novels.

3) Anachronistic situations. For example, aliens possessing the technology to use space crafts, but domesticated animals are used for ground transportation.

In fact, bestsciencefictionbooks.com sums up the major happenings of the plot rather concisely when it says in an article, “a chivalrous man is transported from Earth to an alien planet, the Earthman discovers he is the lone human, the Earthman becomes involved in a conflict between two parties (two factions, nations, or species), he picks the side with the most beautiful woman, the woman is kidnapped, the man takes his sword and goes to rescue her and along the way fights off monsters and alien animals.”

Although there are books that would fit this genre that prelude this, the prototype for this type of book was first introduced to us by Edgar Rice Burroughs through his series, A Princess of Mars. Many of you may not be familiarized with that name, but it is the recently repopularized movie about John Carter who is a Confederate officer and soldier, has taken up prospecting in Arizona after the war to regain his fortune. Under mysterious circumstances, he is transported to Mars.

And that is actually where I am going to segue into next week’s blog post. As you know I try to review a new book or movie that fits the genre each month and as my kindle is still broken I haven’t been able to review anything in terms of reading yet, but I will take a look at this newly put out movie, John Carter, and see if it truly does fit these characteristics that we have detailed here.

So, stay tuned for that. Also, I already have a general idea of the fantasy that I’ll be detailing for next month, but if you have thoughts or comments I’d be willing to take a look at them and try to come up with some alternative!

Thanks!

– Michael E. Thies

Month of March – Sword and Planet Fantasy

I’ve been thinking about what kind of fantasy to try and review, and at the very least blog about, this month and so I’ve decided to do “Sword and Planet” fantasy. I’ve chosen to do this kind because, well, it fits my own genre of fantasy that I write and I just released the cover photo of the second book in the Guardian of the Core series, The Curse of Pirini Lilapa. I figured I’d let my blog followers in on the treat as well and get a glimpse of the new cover reveal.

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.56.50 PM

Hope you enjoy the cover. We will have plenty of discussion on this topic of Sword and Planet Fantasy within the coming month so stay tuned!!! Also, if you have a particular book you’d like me to read while diving into this genre a little more, please feel free to share it in the comments and I’ll see if I’m able to take a look at it!

– Michael E. Thies