Check This Out: The Compass Key

Hello, and welcome to one of my favorite pastimes on the blog: author interviews. Today on the blog is the always awesome Charles Yallowitz, the author of the Legends of Windemere fantasy series. Welcome, Charles!

You undoubtedly know Charles from his blog. But do you know his series? Five books have been published, the latest of which is The Compass Key. (Read the synopsis here.) Take a look at the groovy covers with art by Jason Pedersen.

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Later, I’ll tell you about a giveaway I’m hosting. If you’ve read an interview on this blog before, you already know what I’m giving away. Let’s talk to Charles, and you can see if you’re right.

El Space: Now that you’ve published the fifth book of your series, what have you learned about yourself as an author?
Charles: I learned that I’m still learning how to improve my style. Through writing full-time, I’ve made friends with other authors and some editors who have given me pointers. So I’m using this knowledge to improve my writing as I continue. My core style remains the same, but it’s more the mechanics and how to make things neater that I’m improving on.

Honestly, the fifth book didn’t really change anything for me. I expected a lot to happen, but it seems to be business as usual as far as sales and social media activity. In fact, I was kind of disappointed since so many people said “things change” when the fifth book of a series is released. So I’m starting to think that I should focus more of my attention on editing and writing the other books than hunting for trends. In that respect, I’m falling back into the role of carefree writer than number-obsessed author, which is what I was for a little while.

El Space: What pleases you most about your characters’ evolution? Is there anyone whose growth surprised you? If so who? Why?
Charles: I like how I never know exactly how the characters will evolve. I get the basic ideas of where I want them to go, but they routinely take detours, fall a few steps back, or go in opposite directions. It feels very organic and natural since I’m not forcing them to step out of their established personalities just because I want them to be a certain hero. I think it makes the characters more relatable since everyone has had moments where they fall back in their personal “evolution.”

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Luke and Nyx

It’s hard to pick a character who stands out since so many of them went differently than what I planned. Baron Kernaghan, the main villain, came out a lot more benevolent and kind than I expected. I enjoy writing his scenes because I actually like the guy even when he’s doing something evil. Every piece of his past that appears makes him more human and oddly sympathetic. On the other hand, another villain was supposed to start off mildly evil and rise into sadistic menace. Then I started writing him and his first big scene is him torturing one of the female heroes. I’m not sure where this character can go from there and I really look forward to the book where I get to kill him off because he’s so vile.

El Space: What did you find the hardest about writing The Compass Key? The easiest? Nonspoilery, of course. :-)
Charles: The hardest part about The Compass Key is that it closed up a lot of old plotlines and introduced several new ones. It was a rough transition and I was always wondering if I was doing justice to the things I was retiring and introducing. This was made more of a challenge with the book having more action scenes than the previous volumes. I believe I counted 36 separate fights throughout the book, which is why I had the characters showing signs of mental and emotional exhaustion near the end. Don’t get me wrong though. Writing the action scenes was a lot of fun and it helped me see how the heroes interacted with each other, but it felt strange to have so much action after being more focused on dialogues and character interactions. Nothing I could do though, because everything was necessary. Oh and there’s a scene near the end that was truly gut-wrenching to write.

The easiest part about The Compass Key was that I had been planning it for so long. It’s a turning point book in the series, so I’ve had to foreshadow toward it. So it meant that there was more of a foundation than the books that had their own relatively contained story like Allure of the Gypsies and Family of the Tri-Rune. Those had planning, but they were so character driven that things kept changing as I wrote. That wasn’t the case with this one because it was very much about jumping from the old stories to the new.

El Space: If a videogame were to be made using characters from your series, what would you envision as a quest? What characters would be involved in the game?
Charles: Somewhere in my room is a notebook with information on a Legends of Windemere videogame and I believe I got as far as designing Timoran Wrath. Given the epic quest and character-driven stories of the series, I’d go with an RPG along the lines of classic Final Fantasy, though I’d like more active combat where you can switch between the characters on the field. Again, I have the naïve setup somewhere and I think I had it as squads depending on how many characters were involved in the scene. Since you need all of the heroes in the story, it would be set up that you could take control of whichever one you wanted.

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I do remember there was a side quest where you gathered magical instruments, sheet music, and other bard-based items so that the six champions can perform in a tavern. It doesn’t come up that often in the books, but each hero knows how to play an instrument or sing.

El Space: Recently I read an article at this website on the future of science fiction and fantasy. How would you answer the question posed there: “What is the future of Science Fiction and Fantasy?”
Charles: The future is ahead of us and possibly behind us. The genres are kind of weird because it really depends on what an audience jacks into. I can only speak for fantasy, but currently it’s all about dark, gritty stories with political intrigue and anti-heroes. This is probably due to the popularity of Game of Thrones. Before that, you saw more quest-based stories like Lord of the Rings and there were the series revolving around a chosen hero like Harry Potter. So there are cycles that happen within fantasy and you never know when it’s going to come around.

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If people are wondering if these genres will vanish then the answer is no. Fantasy will always be around because it’s pure escapism and I think that will always have an audience. There does seem to be a rise in people reading to find plot holes or show how science disproves magic, but that could just be a vocal minority. In the end, fantasy will survive and continue drawing people out of reality either by quests, gritty dark fantasy, or whatever else the genre will evolve into as new authors appear to put their own twists on things.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Charles: Right now I’m finishing up this interview. After that, I’m going back to editing Family of the Tri-Rune in my project to read through all of my books and use my new knowledge to clean them up a bit more. This is nothing more than cosmetic changes and I’m double-checking my continuity. I already have the first 8 books written, so I want to make sure everything is in its proper place before I tackle Book 9. That’s another big transition book, especially for two of the heroes. As far as publishing goes, Curse of the Dark Wind is still being edited and I’m waiting on cover art. I’m not able to say when it will be released, but I’m hoping for December to take advantage of Christmas. It really depends on how chaotic things are for me and everyone else involved.

Thanks, Charles, for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by!

You can find Charles at his blog, Facebook, Goodreads, Wattpad, and Twitter. The Legends of Windemere series can be found at Amazon. One of you will win all five books of this series. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on Tuesday, October 21.

Cover art for the Legends of Windemere by Jason Pedersen. Character art by Kayla Matt. Final Fantasy image from arts-wallpapers.com.

A Patch of Blue

All morning I’d been gloomy over the gray, gray skies and a dearth of ideas for my novel. Having felt about as creative as a spoon, I went for a drive—a usual head clearer for me. As I headed home, however, my spirits lifted at the sight of a patch of blue in the gray sky, a patch like the blue lining of a gray pouch.

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Though “the blues” is a euphemism for depression, the color blue “is a practical, happy color for many,” according to an article, “What Your Car Color Says About You.” Look for that here. In another article, one at the Huffington Post website (from 2012—I couldn’t find a more current one), blue is a favorite house paint color for many in America.

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My favorite color is red, but I also love blue. The house paint article mentioned the “serenity” of the color blue. I can understand the feeling. You can too, right? Many of us would gladly loll on the beach, gazing at cool blue water. Watching the waves gently lapping the shore makes me feel peaceful. And I usually cheer up immensely when I see a blue sky after days of rain, rain, rain let loose from an iron gray sky.

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There are sooooo many beautiful shades of blue.

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Here’s one of my favorite blue items (the TARDIS from Doctor Who in case you’re wondering):

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And this one:

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Seeing that patch of blue in the sky during my drive reminds me that gray won’t always be the prevailing color. There is the hope of change.

Random daisy photo (another reminder of hope):

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Blue shoes from blackbridalbliss.com. Buttons from galleryhip.com. Blue water from fanpop.com. Pantone blue shades from genx10.com. Blue sky from iloveeasthampton.blogspot.com.

Cover Reveal: Surviving Santiago

You’ve heard that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a village to produce a good book—a literary “child.” And that’s true of Surviving Santiago, a literary child by the awesome Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Feast your eyes on the cover.

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You might know Lyn from her blog and from her visits here.

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A good book needs a place to call home. Surviving Santiago, a young adult novel, found a home at Running Press. It is a companion book to Gringolandia (Curbstone/Northwestern University Press, 2009) and debuts June 2, 2015. Here’s the synopsis:

To sixteen-year-old Tina Aguilar, love is the center of her world with its warmth and ability to make a place into a home. Thus Tina is less than thrilled to return to her birthplace of Santiago, Chile, for the first time in eight years to visit her father, the man who betrayed her and her mother’s love through his political obsession and alcoholism. Tina is not surprised to find Papá physically disabled from his time as a political prisoner, but she is disappointed and confused by his constant avoidance of her company. So when Frankie, a mysterious, crush-worthy boy, shows interest in her, Tina does not hesitate to embrace his affection.

However, Frankie’s reason for being in Tina’s neighborhood is far from incidental or innocent, and the web of deception surrounding Tina begins to spin out of control. Tina’s heart is already in turmoil, but adding her and her family’s survival into the mix brings her to the edge of truth and discovery.

Romance and intrigue intertwine in Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s coming-of-age story set amidst the tense anticipation at the end of the Pinochet regime in 1989. Fans of Gringolandia will recognize the Aguilar family as they continue their story of survival and redemption.

You know you want this book. I can tell.

A good book needs champions at a publishing house. One of Surviving Santiago‘s champions is the editor, Lisa Cheng, who also edited The Color of Rain by the ever wonderful Cori McCarthy, who was interviewed on this blog. Another champion is the publicist, Val Howlett, who helps spread the word about Lyn’s book.

Last, but not least, a good book needs a good cover. (That’s your cue to take a second look at the cover above.) Surviving Santiago‘s cover was designed T. L. Bonaddio. Click here for her website.

Wondering what Lyn thinks about the cover? Wonder no more:

My reading of Latin American detective fiction influenced Surviving Santiago, which blends history, romance, and suspense. One of my favorite authors for adults is the genre-crossing Chilean-Mexican-Spanish writer Roberto Bolaño. Surviving Santiago’s cover references his Distant Star, a novel that explores truth and revenge at the end of the Pinochet dictatorship.

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Looking for a good book? You can preorder Surviving Santiago here:

Indiebound
Amazon

Curious about Gringolandia (another good book)? Click here.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the author of Gringolandia (a 2010 ALA Best Book for Young Adults) and Rogue. She has an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and an M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin. She is the former editor of MultiCultural Review and has taught English, social studies, and Jewish studies. She is the assistant host of Vientos del Pueblo, a bilingual radio show featuring Latin American and Spanish music, poetry, and history. She grew up in Houston and currently lives in New York with her family. You can visit her online at http://www.lynmillerlachmann.com/

Lyn is represented by Ellen Geiger at Frances Goldin Literary Agency.

Like a Movie?

I’ll get to who won Kinda Like Brothers by the awe-inspiring Coe Booth in just a minute. But first, you know me. I have to share what’s on my mind.

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Three years ago, I wrote a fight scene and submitted it to one of my grad school advisors, thinking that it was pretty good. She totally ripped into it. Her problem with it had to do with cause and effect. If Adam punches Claude (cause), what is the effect of that punch? If the effect is Claude falling against Jared, why didn’t I state this? Why did I instead cut to Sam throwing a knife, when I started the fight talking about Adam and what he’s doing to Claude? And where is Adam positioned by the way? Where is Claude? I didn’t provide enough information to make the fight understandable. 

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Though I thought I adequately conveyed the scene I saw in my head, I left out key steps to help a reader track the action. I’ve begun to think of that experience as “movie shortcut thinking.”

In a movie, we can see a ton of action in a wide shot. I can’t help thinking of a scene from The Return of the King (2003, directed by Peter Jackson), specifically, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields where thousands of characters fight. (Um, my fight scenes are not on such an epic scale by the way.) A camera can easily pan or zoom in quickly to show us key elements in a scene. Also, a director might make the decision to fade to another scene altogether in the blink of an eye.

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The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

We’re not bothered by the switch in scenes, because the eye can process a lot of images quickly. We’re getting used to seeing films like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, directed by Peter Jackson), which was filmed at 48 FPS (frames per second). But the mind’s eye is different. In a book, a reader’s imagination requires more cues to track the action. While writing my fight scene, I had taken too many shortcuts, as if I were a camera panning across a landscape. The scene I presented to my advisor needed more work than I’d originally thought to make it effective. Every action needed a reaction. Newton’s third law at work.

According to Newton, whenever objects A and B interact with each other, they exert forces upon each other. . . . For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

fall_2013_sketcheskey_3I needed to show the pertinent actions and reactions in this fight. Doing so doesn’t mean spelling out every microbe (which would be boring) and spoon-feeding a reader (which would be condescending). It simply means making the action clear and compelling. That required slowing down and writing the fight step by step.

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But I didn’t understand all of this when my advisor ripped into my scene. Understanding dawned finally this year when I was asked for my opinion about a manuscript written by the relative of a friend of mine. I had trouble tracking the action in—you guessed it—a fight scene. I didn’t understand who was fighting whom or which actions caused the reactions described. Now that I had walked a mile in my advisor’s shoes, I understood her frustration with my scene. Some lessons take years to sink in, I guess. The gist of the lesson: when it comes to writing, a shortcut is not a good thing.

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for: the announcement of the winner of Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth.

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That person is . . .

. . . Is . . .

. . . Is . . .

. . . Is . . .

Sharon Van Zandt!

Congratulations, Sharon! Please confirm below. Let me know if you want a hardcover or eBook.

Battle of Pelennor Fields image from comicvine.com. Step 1 from kirbasinstitute.com. Step 2 image from addictionblog.org. Action/reaction image from wired.com. Fight scene image from forgotmylines.com. Mind image from bubblejam.net.

Cover Reveal: Skyscraping

Stand by for some awesomeness. Are you ready? Boom.

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Now that I have your attention by this gorgeous cover, let me give you the stats. This awesome novel in verse was written by a friend and fellow VCFA alum, the fabulous Cordelia Jensen.

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But wait, there’s more. Check out the synopsis for Skyscraping:

A heartrending, bold novel in verse about family, identity, and forgiveness

Mira is just beginning her senior year of high school when she discovers her father with his male lover. Her world–and everything she thought she knew about her family–is shattered instantly. Unable to comprehend the lies, betrayal, and secrets that–unbeknownst to Mira–have come to define and keep intact her family’s existence, Mira distances herself from her sister and closest friends as a means of coping. But her father’s sexual orientation isn’t all he’s kept hidden. A shocking health scare brings to light his battle with HIV. As Mira struggles to make sense of the many fractures in her family’s fabric and redefine her wavering sense of self, she must find a way to reconnect with her dad–while there is still time.

Told in raw, exposed free verse, Skyscraping reminds us that there is no one way to be a family.

And check out this blurb:

Skyscraping is brilliant, sharp and bright. A stellar story. Jensen has written a powerful tale about love and loss, a story that will stick with readers long after they’ve reached the end. Her poetry is vivid, tangible, and visceral. She’s a rising star with a breathtaking debut. This is a novel made of star stuff.
       —Skila Brown, author of
Caminar

Skyscraping, edited by Liza Kaplan and published by Philomel, debuts June 2, 2015. But you can preorder it right here. Look for it on Goodreads also.

If you live in the Philadelphia area, you can preorder Skyscraping from the Big Blue Marble Bookstore. Email orders@bigbluemarblebooks.com or call 215-844-1870. In January, you also can preorder Skyscraping at Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores.

Stay tuned! Cordelia will be interviewed on the blog a little closer to the pub date for Skyscraping. In the meantime, you can catch up with her at her website and Twitter. Here’s more about Cordelia:

Cordelia Allen Jensen graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. Cordelia was Poet Laureate of Perry County in 2006 and 2007. She is a Writer in Residence at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia where she teaches creative writing classes for kids and teens and conducts author interviews for their blog. She also teaches in the creative writing department at Bryn Mawr College. Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.

Check This Out: Kinda Like Brothers

Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of talking with wonderful authors. That’s definitely the case today as I talk with the marvelous Coe Booth, who today will discuss her latest book, a wonderful middle grade novel (her first)—Kinda Like Brothers, published by Scholastic Press.

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Coe is represented by Jodi Reamer at Writers House. Here is a synopsis of Kinda Like Brothers:

Jarrett doesn’t trust Kevon. But he’s got to share a room with him anyway.

It was one thing when Jarrett’s mom took care of foster babies who needed help. But this time it’s different. This time the baby who needs help has an older brother—a kid Jarrett’s age named Kevon.

Everyone thinks Jarrett and Kevon should be friends—but that’s not gonna happen. Not when Kevon’s acting like he’s better than Jarrett—and not when Jarrett finds out Kevon’s keeping some major secrets.

Jarrett doesn’t think it’s fair that he has to share his room, his friends, and his life with some stranger. He’s gotta do something about it—but what?

Cool, huh? Let’s talk to Coe!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Coe: (1) I’m seriously afraid of moths (and all kinds of creepy flying bugs!) (2) I’m a vegetarian, but I enjoy letting my characters eat meat. (3) I have a somewhat unhealthy addiction to fountain pens and pretty notebooks. I have more notebooks than I could possibly use in my lifetime! (4) I go on at least one week-long meditation retreat every year—a silent retreat where reading, writing, and even talking are not allowed.

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El Space: Awesome! You’re well known for young adult novels like (Tyrell, Kendra, Bronxwood). What inspired you to write a middle grade novel?

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Coe: When I was really young, I hated reading. I loved writing my own stories, but I didn’t like reading books because I couldn’t relate to any of them. That all changed in fourth grade when my teacher gave me a copy of one of Judy Blume’s novels and I discovered that books could actually be fun. Ever since then, I recognized the power that middle grade books can have, and I’ve always wanted to write for that age group. My hope is that I can write something that can grab kids who don’t like to read and possibly change the way they think about books, too.

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El Space: Kids in blended families will relate to Jarrett and Kevon. How has your background prepared you to write their story?
Coe: Several years ago, I worked as a child protective caseworker, investigating child abuse cases. Sometimes I would have to remove kids from their homes and place them in foster care. Working with foster families is what sparked the idea for Kinda Like Brothers. I was always curious what being a foster family was like for the biological children in the home, the ones who had to adapt to kids coming and going from their lives over and over again. Jarrett is one of those kids. He’s used to the foster babies because his mom has been taking them in ever since he can remember. But when Mom takes in Kevon, who is a year older than Jarrett, this is a little more than he can handle!

El Space: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
Coe: With all my books, I struggle the most with characterization and voice. This book was no exception. I spent so much time writing and writing, and then I got to the point where I felt like I knew who Jarrett was and what he sounded like. Unfortunately, everything I had written up to that point wasn’t really the story I wanted to tell, so I ended up deleting the whole thing and starting all over again. That was really, really hard. But in the end I’m glad I let go of what wasn’t working so I could make room for what was.

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El Space: What do you hope readers will take away after reading your book?
Coe: There are so many foster families, and so many kids living in foster care. I hope I’m giving readers a little insight into a world they may not have thought about. But more importantly, of course, I hope readers fall in love with Jarrett and Kevon, and enjoy the story of how these two boys become (kinda like) brothers!

El Space: You’re on the faculty at VCFA. Yay! You usually have to give advice to students. Lately many people have addressed the need for more diversity in books. What advice do you have for aspiring writers on this topic?
Coe: Diversity is one of those things that’s easier said than done. Achieving diversity in the world of children’s books is a complex matter. It is so challenging getting these books written, published, and placed into the hands of children, and attention needs to be placed on each of these stages. As writers, we don’t have to force diversity into our novels. All we can do is make sure our writing reflects the world in its entirety and diversity would be accomplished in a natural way.

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El Space: What’s some of the best advice you’ve received about writing?
Coe: You don’t have to know where you’re going to get started. Just sit down and write.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Coe: Right now, I’m working on another YA novel. I’m still in the thinking-on-paper stage, so I’m not really sure what it’s about yet, but it’s fun discovering what this novel wants to be.

Coe, thanks so much for stopping by! You’re welcome anytime! And thanks to everyone else who took time out to join us. I’m giving away a copy of Kinda Like Brothers. Anyone who comments will be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced Wednesday, October 8.

Can’t wait for that? If you have to have Kinda Like Brothers right now, you can find it here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Powell’s

Looking for Coe? Check out her website and Twitter.

Flags image from diversity.uno.edu. Judy Blume cover from Goodreads. Fountain pen from eBay.

Supervillain Preparedness Plan

robots_incrediblesBefore I reveal the winner of Don’t Touch by the awesome Rachel M. Wilson, I have to pose this question: Would you know what to do if supervillains or giant robots took over your city or town? Watching movies like Megamind and The Incredibles and also watching a slew of superhero shows made me realize my lack of preparedness. Usually when supervillains attack or send surrogates (like killer robots), many people run helter skelter or drive their cars while screaming. Eventually those drivers crash into each other or into stationary objects (like plate glass windows) and cause even more chaos. Those who aren’t running and screaming just stand there waiting for the superheroes to show up and fight on their behalf. They offer no assistance when the heroes show up. My guess is they don’t quite know what to do, especially if they haven’t been bitten by a radioactive spider or are sadly lacking a power ring.

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Archvillains Megamind and Lex Luthor

While you wait for the Avengers, Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, or Spider-man to show up, you can be proactive. Think of how proactive you are when you learn about a storm heading your way. You either take out an umbrella or a shovel (for a snowstorm). (In the advent of a storm of locusts, well, you do what you can.) With a supervillain takeover, here are some ways you can be proactive.

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1. First, determine the threat level. Check out the news reports to assess the imminence of the threat. How far along in the nefarious scheme is the villain and his or her henchpeople? Are they still at the threatening stage? (“Unless I’m given one meellion dollars, I will . . .”) If they are, you still have time to get packed and get going with the next tips.
2. Practice your self-defense. While you’re waiting for the villains to make their move, make yours by practicing your kung-fu, archery, knife throwing, or even your tai chi. Supervillains usually come with loads of henchpeople. You may be able to conquer at least one or two with your fighting skills. Also, while everyone else panics and races about, you can chill with tai chi.
3. Keep hydrated. You might have to hide in sub-basements or caves for a long time when the fighting commences. If so, you’ll be thirsty. Start stocking water now, so you can keep hydrated. Try to set up more than one water cache in your town, in case you have to move around.

Horrified_Man_Running_Fast_clipart_image[2]4. Make your relationships betrayal proof. Can you count on your family and friends to avoid selling you out or eating you if they turn into zombies, thanks to the evil gas the supervillains released into the ozone? If not, make your relationships betrayal proof by making things right with friends and relatives while everyone is still human. Offer forgiveness and affirmation. Keep reminding them that friends and family stick together.
5. Keep vaccines on hand. Speaking of zombie-producing gas, you’ll want to stock up on vaccines and other medicines. Again, have more than one cache of these—preferably someplace cool and dry.

VACCINE-VIAL6. Keep off the bridges and high floors. Everyone will be attempting to travel across the available bridges as they flee the city. That means time-consuming gridlock. Look for alternate routes (sewer tunnels, trees [squirrels manage to go from tree to tree at a good clip]), mailing yourself via UPS box). Also, avoid hanging out on high floors. They’re usually the first place enemy drones crash through.
7. Learn how to use a machete. You’ll know why when the time comes.

No need to thank me. Just doing my civic duty. Feel free to pass along any other tips you would add to the list.

And now, let’s get to the winner of Don’t Touch by Rachel M. Wilson.

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That person is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

The lovely and vivacious Brickhousechick!

Congrats, Brickhousechick! Please confirm by commenting below!

And for the rest of you out there, keep safe. A gas mask might be the only fashion statement you need to make.

500fullThe Incredibles Omnidroid 10 from gonewiththetwins.com. Vaccine from daiasolgaia.com. Lex Luthor from youngjustice.wikia.com. Megamind from worldsoforos.com. Man running away from paulsjourneytolife.blogspot.com.