Photography

I love being in nature, and I try to capture it on camera as often as I can. Some of my photographs have been featured in calendars and collaborative books. So, I’ve decided to showcase some of my nature photography on my website.

Go to the My Photography link to check it out!

The Fight

Society has molded you.

You have to prove your worth.

Empty words surround you,

You no longer know the truth.

Choas reigns supreme

In this world in which we live.

The benefits you gain don’t match

The effort that you give.

But you can’t give up and can’t give in

No matter what the cost.

Fight the good fight, carry on

And try not to get lost.

You have to be on top each day

And finish in first place,

Although the endless race you run

Paints worry on your face.

The words inside your head conflict

With what you know is right.

It causes you to question life,

And keeps you up at night.

But you can’t give up and can’t give in

No matter what they say.

Fight the good fight, carry on

And take life day by day.

Self-doubt kicks in, you lose that drive

To cross the finish line.

Your eyes spot road blocks everywhere,

And you’re running out of time.

Give up the dream to appease the beasts

That rumble in your head.

They’ll tell you time and time again,

“Give in to fear and dread.”

But you can’t give up and can’t give in

To the wicked words they say.

Fight the good fight, carry on

And make it through the day.

The voice screams louder and fear sets in,

The battle rages on.

Fighting gets you nowhere

When the beasts already won.

So you look to the horizon,

Seeking solace from the noise.

Soak in the view and breathe in deep,

Stand firm and make a choice.

You won’t give up and won’t give in

To what these voices say.

You’ve fought the good fight, carried on

And made it through the day.

-LM Nelson

Writing Your Characters by Dennis Scheel

I was talking with a friend about writing and the complexities of character development suddenly hit me. We are all on a journey and will be affected by positive and negative events… yes, even those of us who are blessed with good fortune. These experiences shape who we become. With this in mind, since our […]

Writing Your Characters by Dennis Scheel

Creative Outlet

Hello!

The last year and a half has been, well, strange to say the least. My family and I are safe and healthy, and we’ve all adjusted to the new normal.

During this time, I’ve taken on a new creative outlet that I thought I’d share with you. I’ve started oil painting. I’ve never oil painted before, but thought I’d try something different. As much as I love nature and photographing nature, naturally, that’s what I paint.

I’m learning new techniques as I go, and have been focussing on certain elements each time, ie water effects, mountains, reflections, etc… I’m becoming more comfortable with a palette knife and my color blending is improving.

Here’s the progression of my painting progress.

This is my very first attempt at oil painting. Notice the mountains are not great.
This is attempt number two. I focussed more on mountain structure with this one and wanted to show more depth.
This particular painting was all about water effects and trying to make land look like land instead of a giant glob of paint.
This one is lacking in the reflection department, but I was focussing more on foliage details.
This was my first attempt at a seascape, and I wanted to try something besides a rectangular canvas. My waves need help. On a side note, creating the effect of moving water is really hard, especially crashing waves.
This one was fun. My first attempt using a black canvas, which I am now obsessed with. I love the blending effects I get from black canvases.
With this one, I was trying some new sky techniques and trying to create a dawn/ dusk effect. That’s supposed to be Mt. Rainier.
Remember when I said creating moving water effects is hard?  Yeah…waterfall attempt. Need to try another one of these because this one…nope. Not the effect I was hoping for.
Attempt number 2 at a sea scape. The waves turned out much better this time. I will reemphasize that waves are especially challenging. I still have a lot to learn and need more practice with ocean scenes.
This is another black canvas painting. Lots of color blending techniques going on here.
I used a different technique with my mountains on this one, which I like much better. Quicker way to shape them and the snow / shadow balance was much easier to pull off.
This one was all about the mountains, practicing the new technique I learned and becoming more confident with a palette knife.
My mountains are starting to look like mountains now, so let’s focus on trees and ground cover…slowly making progress.
Ok.  With this one, I was attempting to add more fall colors. Not quite what I was going for. Need more practice with fall scenes.
This one I’m pretty proud of. This was a culmination of all the mountain work, ground cover, sky effects, and water effects I’d been working on all rolled into one. This one is now hanging on my wall.
Tried a snowy scene on a black canvas. The blending effects mixed with the depth of this piece turned out decent.
Working on a night scene and focussing on light reflection with this one. This is also painted on a black canvas.
Moving away from the traditional rectangular canvas again, I tried a round one. Making snow look real is challenging. But I do think I pulled off the coldness effect. Brrrr.

So…this is what I’ve been up to, besides my 40+ hour a week job. Painting relaxes me, and I’ve found a stress- relieving hobby that I actually have a talent for. I still have a lot to learn and need more practice, but I’m enjoying my artistic journey.

How to Write More Character-Driven Stories

Today I have a guest post from Desiree Villena, who is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories.


A dichotomy is often set up between plot and character-driven stories. In plot-driven stories, plot itself is the most important factor and characters may be interchangeable; in character-driven stories, character takes a front seat and the plot unfolds in a way that depends on their personalities and choices.

But the distinction between plot-driven and character-driven stories isn’t always so clear — and frankly, all the best stories have both exciting plots and well-developed characters. With that said, here are some particular things you can do to establish your characters more firmly at the heart of your story!

1. Get to know your characters

If you’re going to be writing about your characters deeply enough to convince your readers of their authenticity (and of your story’s authenticity in turn), you want to know them inside-out. One great way to delve into the depths of each character’s psyche is to do some character exercises. These need not be long or complicated! For example, you might:

  • Make use of character questionnaires or interviews, which require you to think about how your character might answer particularly obscure questions.
  • Come up with specific scenarios and write a short piece detailing how each character would think, behave, and react in such a scenario. What would your character do if they got stood up on a date? What if they accidentally locked themselves out of the house?

As well as thinking about what your character is like at the time your book takes place (for instance, do they find it difficult to trust people?) you should also think carefully about their backstory — how they came to be the way they are. This backstory can then be woven into your writing to lend context to your character’s behaviors and make them feel more real.

Carrying out this thorough groundwork as you plan your novel will give you a well-formed understanding of your characters to keep in mind as you write. This will be hugely helpful in terms of guiding the thoughts and actions you ascribe to them — which will in turn guide the overall arc of your story.

2. Remember that nobody is perfect

We all love our characters, and may even want to believe they’re flawless… but when a character is portrayed as completely perfect, they lose that believability and relatability that makes readers emotionally invest in and connect with them. In other words: making a character perfect actually dehumanizes them, and weakens your story.

And for a character-driven story to really come to life, simply giving your character a minor flaw or two won’t cut it. In a plot-driven story — where characterizations may not be as complex or relevant to the story’s action — we might expect the line between characters’ flaws and virtues to be well-distinguished. But in character-driven stories, characters are not just supposed to be imperfect, but a little bit messy as well.

Between their flaws and virtues, the difference might not be so clear-cut, adding to their intrigue. The journey from unawareness to awareness of their flaws and potential for change will make their character arc much richer, like Briony’s journey from immaturity and righteousness to recognizing her mistake and wishing to make up for it in Atonement.

Try thinking about your own characters’ personalities and what their corresponding flaws might be. For example, if they’re a hard worker, one of their flaws might be refusing to ask for help, or ignoring their family and friends in favor of getting ahead at work. Having a handle on these flaws will give you a much better idea of their natural progression through the story.

3. Make your character’s goals clear

As you build this in-depth picture of your characters, you will hopefully identify their desires and goals. To make their goals into focal points of your narrative and really lead the plot, it is important you establish them clearly and early. Goals, after all, motivate your characters to make the decisions they do, guiding the story on its path. Some more examples:

  • Emma Bovary’s ambitions for excitement beyond dull everyday life drive her to engage in multiple affairs and excessive spending.
  • Jay Gatsby’s desire to win Daisy back leads him to throw lavish parties in hopes of getting her attention, and to make increasingly reckless decisions to gain her love.

Where in a plot-driven story, the story’s ultimate destination would be a piece of action that would occur regardless of characterization, the destination for a character-driven story will be the protagonist’s goal or reaching the endpoint of their character arc. (In both of the examples given above, this is the character’s tragic downfall and ultimate death.)

Of course, character-driven resolutions are not exclusive to plot-driven ones — again, in any great story (and in the examples above), both characterization and plot should manifest in the ending — but in terms of ensuring your story is as character-driven as possible, try to think about character first and foremost. Still, you do want your strong, consistent characterization to feed into an excellent plot! On that note… 

4. Don’t lose sight of the external world

Character-driven stories often focus on internal conflict. But while this is obviously very important, you don’t want to get so caught up inside your characters’ heads that you forget about external conflict.

In fact, external conflict is necessary to create internal conflict. As a writer, you have the joy of creating an interesting and challenging world for your characters to live in. By allowing your characters out into this world you have created, they will be faced with the inevitable complications it presents.

These external challenges then serve as a stage on which your characters’ stormy internal conflicts can play out. When they’re forced into making a hard decision, the push-and-pull factors that give rise to their internal conflict(s) will be brought to light. The focus on these internal struggles takes your story further towards the character-driven end of the spectrum while, again, not sacrificing plot.

5. Give consequences to actions

One tell-tale sign of an overly plot-driven story is when a character mysteriously gets away with something they probably shouldn’t. Here it becomes apparent that what the characters think or do is of little consequence to the plot, because the plot is pre-established and the characters are simply instruments that enable the progression of events.

To keep a hold on your characters’ actions determining your story, try to ensure that all your characters’ actions (no matter how small) have consequences. Be these consequences that hinge on other characters’ reactions or simply consequences that make sense based on the way our world — or the world you have built — works, doing this will ensure you don’t end up contorting your story just to hit a plot point.

For a final example, one of my favorite instances of this is the ending of the 2019 blockbuster Uncut Gems. Those who have seen it will remember that Adam Sandler’s character gets what was coming to him — a resolution that’s surprisingly satisfying for viewers because it’s absolutely realistic for his character.

Writing more character-driven stories comes down to how well you know your characters and remaining conscious that your plot should be built around them, rather than the other way round. I hope this helps, and best of luck with your writing!


If you would like to get in touch with Desiree, you may email her at desiree.j.villena@gmail.com

Adventures in the Pacific Northwest

Hello everyone!

What a crazy year 2020 has turned out to be. So many changes, challenges, and uncertainties in life right now, but through it all, my family and I have found new ways to connect and make memories together.

After living in Texas for 18 years, we decided to go back home. So we uprooted ourselves, only a few months before this whole pandemic thing happened, and moved across the country, which resulted in my family being separated from each other for several months. Our lives became a bit more crazy and chaotic. Since that time, we’ve settled into our new home, new jobs, and new surroundings. My daughter has rejoined us, my husband is now able to travel home after being on the road with his job for an extended length of time, and my family has had several opportunities to enjoy the beautiful area we now call home…the Pacific Northwest.

This area of the country has everything we love all wrapped into one wonderful package. Mountains, trees, rivers and lakes, the ocean, and spectacular views surround us everywhere we go. I’ve long awaited opportunities to explore and hike through my old stomping grounds. I thought I’d share some of our adventures with you.

Welcome to Seattle!

I don’t know why, but for some strange reason, I have an unusual obsession with ferries. They fascinate me, and I think they add unique character to the Seattle area.

A ferry on the Sound

Another icon of this area is the Space Needle, which is one of the coolest architectural structures I’ve ever seen. There are similar buildings in other large cities, but in my eyes, none will ever compare to the Space Needle.

The Space Needle, Seattle, WA

Another very distinctive element of Western Washington is lighthouses. We’ve visited a few now, but have many more to see.

Mukilteo Lighthouse

Buildings and boats aren’t why we returned here. The natural beauty of the area is what brought us back home. They say you don’t realize how much you miss something until it’s gone. Never has that statement been more true than returning home after spending 18 years away from it. I didn’t realize how much I missed the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest: Puget Sound, the Pacific Ocean, the Cascade and Olympic Mountains, forests, waterfalls, rivers, and trees…so many trees. It’s green everywhere you go, something I had missed beyond description.

The waterfalls are quite spectacular.

Snoqualamie Falls
Wallace Falls

There’s water everywhere you go.

Carkeek Park, Seattle
Camano Island
Mukilteo
Skykomish River
Wallace River
Bitter Lake
Puget Sound

When the sun sets and reflects off the ocean…nothing compares to that.

Western Washington is surrounded by majestic Mountains. The views are breathtaking.

Mt. Rainier
Mt. Baker
The Olympic Mountains
Winter on Stevens Pass in the Cascade Mountains

There are so many places to hike and enjoy the natural beauty of the woodlands in this area.

American bald eagles nesting atop a tree on Whidbey Island

The distinctive change in seasons is yet another wonder of the Pacific Northwest.

Fall in Ballard
Winter in Everett
Winter in Seattle
Spring in Mukilteo
Summer in Seattle

Western Washington has its own culture and quirkiness attached to it as well.

Pike Place Market before the pandemic
Historic Arlington
LaConnor
Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle
Fremont troll
Jimmy Hendricks statue, downtown Seattle
Ballard Locks
Camano Island
Fort Casey
Random art murals everywhere. This particular one is by a local spray paint artist known as “henry”
Seattle Pier, which is about to be dismantled 😞
Leavenworth, one of our favorite places

The photos and images here don’t do the Pacific Northwest justice. It’s one of those places you have to experience in person. Although this worldwide pandemic has put a halt on much of what used to be considered “normal”, such as travel, dining out, and just spending time with friends, one positive outcome from all this has been the bonding time and reconnection my little family has had. We’re enjoying our natural surroundings, getting outside, finding new things to do, and soaking in the beauty around us, PNW “coastal distancing” style.

Needless to say, we love our new environment and have settled in quite nicely to what we now call home (for me, it’s a return home).

Stay safe, everyone, and cherish this time with loved ones.