Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Luck Illusion

Every month, members of teamTEENauthor write a blog post for teens on a specific topic. March’s topic is Luck.

Good Luck. Get Lucky. Lucky Number Seven. Lucky Lotto Numbers. The Luck of the Draw.

We all seem to spend a lot of our time trying to 'play' the game of life. Every one of us turning on a giant roulette, wheel waiting to land on that fated number. Then we’ll be millionaires, get the girl (or guy), get the A grade and finally be all that we’ve ever wanted to be. The flipside of this (sometimes absurd) hope is bone-crushing disappointment.

We depend so much on kind fortune that I wonder if it does us more harm than good. For this, I’d like to call to account in the Court of Epic Discontent, William Shakespeare. His eponymous characters, Romeo and Juliet, 'two star cross'd lovers', are 'fated' to their doom from the very first line; Macbeth’s threat to Scotland is destined to fail, Othello is predestined to be tricked by Iago, and there is always going to be a shipwreck in the Tempest.

 By telling us stories with the endings first the great bard gave a certain inevitability to all his tragedies, making events that were merely coincidental inevitable. It wasn’t just Shakespeare, though. From Le Morte d’Arthur ('We shall now seek that which we shall not find') to The Hunger Games ('May the odds be ever in your favour'), authors, playwrights and screenwriters have been drip-feeding us serendipitous dinners for centuries.

Take James Cameron’s Titanic, for instance. The true events that film is based on are often described as a serious case of ‘bad luck’. If that pesky iceberg hadn’t been there at that time then everything would have been fine. Neat and tidy. However, a colossal series of errors led to the Titanic’s demise, luck didn’t actually have all that much to do with it.

So… I hear you ask. Eliza, what is your point?

My point is – luck is an illusion. And here’s the 'Inception' moment: the illusion works. If you believe in your good luck, you can make pretty amazing things happen. It happened to me in 2012 with the release of my first novel, Sacerdos. I had dreamed of being published for years and before I knew it, I was in Amazon’s top ten.

Luck isn’t a universal force that creates fantastical things, it’s more often a culmination of hard work and self-belief. Imagine, what a put down it would be, after years of training for the 2016 Olympics for people to say, you don’t deserve the Gold Medal, you just “got lucky”. So rather than believing in providence, destiny or chance, how about believing in yourself? It can work wonders.
Elizabeth Amisu is a writer, reviewer of film and fiction, and a lecturer in Film and English. She is the author of The Sacerdos Mysteries. Her third novel, Waterblood, will be released on Kindle in April.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Question is: Does Luck Believe in Me?

Every month, members of teamTEENauthor write a blog post for teens on a specific topic. March’s topic is Luck.

Photo by Ellen Datlow
Talking about being lucky, having bad luck, or getting lucky (heh) is just one of those things people say without really meaning it, right? In my opinion, "luck" is about something happening to you, good or bad, that you have little or no control over. No doubt, this kind of thing happens all the time. A bird pooping on you as you walk to a job interview: that's bad luck. Finding a $5 bill on your way to work: good luck. Having a bird poop on you while you're picking up a $5 bill: Weird.

I do believe in luck, and I believe I've had a very fortunate life. I'm not particularly religious, but it's almost impossible to buy into the idea of luck without being somewhat spiritual or superstitious. More specifically, I support the concept of karma, which simply put, means "what goes around comes around." If you do good things for others, good things will happen to you, and if you're a royal jerk, you'll get what's coming to you.

Obviously this isn't a hard and fast rule, because lots of people get away with crappy behavior all the time. My point is, why chance it? If you believe in luck as an unknown force in the universe that somehow cares whether you get a job, or a date, or a publishing contract, then why tempt fate by acting like a horrible person?

The danger in believing in luck, fate, deities, all that stuff, is that there's an impulse to trust in it and not take responsibility for your own actions. After all, what's the point in putting in any effort if it's all down to chance or the whims of a capricious god? Well, there's another saying: "God helps those who help themselves." And despite not being the most religious person around, yeah, that's what I think too. I think to a large extent we make our own luck, whether karmically by doing good deeds, or by working hard and not being a jerk and taking responsibility for ourselves so that more opportunities present themselves and we're aware of them.

There's always a certain amount of randomness in the world--that's just how it's built, and I mostly like it that way. I like surprises, the good ones, anyway. But I'm not willing to just let things happen to me. If you write a novel that way, people won't like it because your protagonist lacks agency, and real life is like that too. I try to make good things happen for me as if a) luck doesn't exist and b) luck is actively trying to screw with me. If something good happens, that's awesome, but when bad things happen, I respond and try to turn it around.

Earlier I said that luck is when something is pretty much out of your control, and a lot of being published is that way. You do as much as you can and hope for the best. School, too--you can study hard for an exam, but you can't prepare for every conceivable question. If you're lucky, the test will ask you about something you reviewed just the night or morning before, but you can also get a nasty essay that seems to come from out of nowhere. If you hadn't studied at all, you would have been in trouble in either case.

Luck exists. It's the only way I can explain some of the amazing things that have happened in my life--the friends I've met, the books I've discovered, the jobs I've landed, the novels I've sold. But in almost every instance, if I trace it back far enough, all of those great things resulted from some choice I made in my life, or a decision someone else made that had a direct impact on me--even if it took years to show some kind of positive result.

But bad luck? Psssh. None of that's my fault. Fate can be a harsh mistress.
E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and a public library in Yonkers, New York. His young adult novels, Fair Coin and Quantum Coin, are available now from Pyr Books. He currently lives with his wife, two doofy cats, and a mild-mannered dog in Philadelphia and shares way too much information about his personal life at and on Twitter @ecmyers.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Do you feel lucky... punk? Well...Do ya?

Lucky Charms Story #4: Author Adam N. Leonard
Well, you've gotta be lucky to some degree because you are presently breathing and your heart is beating. You are able to smell gooey chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven... you are able to feel the sun warm your skin in the summer, and smell the hot black top  mixed with the scent of freshly cut grass. These rather insignificant, cliché examples are experiences we all share and can relate to, and those are a few of the thousands of things we take for granted each day.

As a high school teacher, I see a lot of kids who feel bad about themselves. It can be easy sometimes to be overwhelmed by superficial issues and forget about all the wonderful things that we take for granted everyday. I had a couple of friends who committed suicide long ago over things that seemed cataclismic at that point in their lives- but were really insignificant in the grand scheme of things...

So sad that they will never feel the sunshine on their skin again... even sadder that they have missed out on what it feels like to get married,  to have your own child call you "mommy" or "daddy" for the first time; they missed so many things. Had they lived, they probably wouldn't even recall the situation that had caused them so much angst in those hormone filled years.

So my point is that you are lucky- lucky to be alive and healthy and here, now, able to experience all the wonderful little things that occur everyday. And no matter how bad things seem occassionally when your boyfriend dumps you, or you make fool of yourself somewhere- somehow... all will be forgotten soon enough and replaced by so many new and wonderful experiences yet to come!

Now, what about FATE? Are you a slave to a pre-determined fate of some higher being's creation? Or is it all you and the choices that you make that determine your future?

I think it's a little bit of both... I believe in fate as far as karma is concerned anyway. I have lived long enough to see that the good that you do DOES come back to you in some way. And conversely, the bad you do will come back to bite you

What about God and the whole "it's all part of God's plan" philosophy? What do you think about that?  As for me- hey, I have no idea, but there are definitely many times in life when it seems that something is guiding me, pushing me, creating freaky coincidences that seem too perfect to just happen...

But, I also believe that you have to make your own luck. I think fate opens doors, creates coincidences and opportunities for great things to happen- but it is ultimately up to YOU to do the work that will make it happen. If you do poorly in high school or college, for example, you will limit your options for the future. That is something that is hard to see sometimes when you are young, especially because often those who get good grades are labeled nerds or brown nosers, but those are the people who will become successful later in life.

So, let me conclude by saying: Enjoy and appreciate what you have, don't take those small pleasures for granted. Make your own luck, work hard now and you will be glad you did down the road. And remember  these words of singer - song writer James Taylor:

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time
Any fool can do it
There ain't nothing to it
Nobody knows how we got to
The top of the hill
But since we're on our way down
We might as well enjoy the ride

Adam N. Leonard

Author and Teacher

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lucky Story #3: Author Julie Cross

This month, teamTEENauthor is blogging on this topic: do you believe in luck? 

Today, I'm going to explain how luck played a HUGE role in my path to publication.

My writing path began in May of 2009...with a story about Jackson and Holly....sort of.

Holly the I like to call her, was an aspiring Olympic Gymnast and Jackson the first, was an Alien.
Before the book opened, Jackson time traveled once. Using his otherwordly mind.

Two months later, my first book was finished and it was looong. Really long. And I decided since I finished it, it should be published. Because that’s what you do with a finished publish it, right? That’s what Stephenie Meyer did and who knows? I probably had the next big hit series in my computer.

So, then I sent query letters to literary agents for my very first book titled ENEMIES OF TIME. The query letter started like this:
Dear Mr. Deneen,
I am currently seeking representation for my completed 120,000 word
young adult novel, ENEMIES OF TIME. Nineteen-year-old Jackson Meyer has only two goals in life, make Holly Flynn fall in love with him- again, and keep her from dying two years from now.
The letter was catchy. It had a great hook and a high concept premise. And it got me somewhere in the vicinity of 20 partial requests and 8 full manuscript requests. Those stats are actually really good.

While I waited for replies from the 200 or so agents I queried...

I wrote another book about a girl who’s dreaded Algebra teacher keels over and dies during a solo-detention. He comes back to haunt her and together they have to solve the mystery behind his death, which turns out to be....MURDER...via poisoned insulin injection. At the end of the book, the teacher goes to heaven and the girl goes prom.

Then there was the third book about Eleanor, the shy Catholic school girl who dealt with cyber-bullying...

I followed this up with a neurotic 17 year old girl who creates her own, much more scientific version of with the hopes of winning the national Science fair only to realize *gasp* she’s fallen in love with one of her incompatibles therefore proving the inaccuracy of her project...

after that, I went back to Jackson and Holly but ditched the gymnastics and the high school...and sent Jackson to a CIA camp in Area 51 to learn about his Alien Heritage. 

He still wasn’t time traveling except just before the book starts but he did learn to read minds.
I set that aside for a while because the plot was getting a little weird.

Then I started a new book about a girl who joins a teen support group after her alcoholic mother goes to rehab and she decides she too, wants to change her party girl ways to support her mom. She makes a few unlikely friends and writes an anonymous blog about her wild days titled Diary of a Hot Pink Party Girl.

All of these stories have one thing in common.

None of them are as good as Tempest. Some of them are very bad. Two are so bad I didn’t even mention them here.

In January of 2010, an agent who had my very first book in his cue and wanted to read it...the one with Holly and her Olympic gymnastics dream and Jackson the Alien...this agent said he’d been looking for a teen time travel story for a while now. This is the exact email he sent me:

Hi Julie, I haven’t had a chance to read your material yet but I wanted to let you know that I’m now an editor and hope to take a look soon.


Brendan Deneen
Thomas Dunne Books
A Division of St. Martin's Press

And I wanted to tell him...No! please don’t read that book and if you could possibly burn it...

But instead, I said, “Sure...go ahead and read my time travel book.”

So he did.
about six weeks later, I got this email:

Hi Julie.  While I really LOVE the premise of your book, it’s unfortunately not really working for me in its current form.  There’s just not enough action and/or time travel stuff in there for me, and too much extraneous stuff, like descriptions of gymnastics.

If you ever do a major rewrite, I’d be open to taking another look (though I’d want to see a revamped synopsis first).

Best of luck with it in the meantime.  It really is a fantastic premise.

And I was like...well, good thing I have that version where I got rid of the gymnastics and sent Jackson to Roswell, New Mexico in search of his alien relatives.

So, I sent the synopsis for THAT version...   

and 4 days later, I got this email:

Hi Julie.  This is unfortunately still a pass for me but I do wish you the very best of luck with it!

And I can clearly remember thinking, wow...that was kind of nice getting a personal rejection...usually it’s a form letter politely saying thanks but no thanks. And I can also remember laughing to myself about it,’s not like I actually thought I’d ever publish a book. It’s fun to send query letters and all that but nothing’s actually going happen. I can honestly say I was okay with just writing for fun. I’d gotten to a place where I had friends and family that would read chapters and pages for me. And I figured, I’ll just keep doing that.

Or so I thought...

About a month later, Mr. Brendan Deneen sent me another email:

Julie, I find myself thinking about your book now and then.  I really want to find a YA time travel book.  But the alien stuff in yours is a show-stopper for me.  Are you open to tweaking your novel?  If not, that’s cool but I wanted to reach out once again.

and I said...


Yes, I'm up for tweaking. The alien thing stemmed from needing to justify why my main character can time travel. Nobody goes to outer space or another planet so it could easily be changed.

and then he said...

Can’t he just be a mutant?  Or the victim of some kind of government experiment?

and I said..

The government experiment would work perfect because he already is part of a government experiment to mix the alien species (which could be the mutant) with a normal person to create a half breed which gives him slightly cooler abilities than the full blood mutants.

I don’t know whether I should be more shocked about the fact that he contacted me after rejecting me twice or that he actually understood that last email.

Then he sent me a looong reply listing everything I needed to change and some places where we needed to figure out the direction of the plot. I won’t include all that here because there’s spoilers for those who haven’t read the book, but the email ended like this:

If you’re open to these changes, I’m wondering if you’d be open to putting together a chapter-by-chapter summary.  Each chapter doesn’t need to be super long……just a sentence or two each.

I really want to make this book work but I also think it needs shaping/editing.

Let me know what you think, and either way, thanks!

So, I started on a whole new journey...I had my character names...Jackson and Holly...and I had my setting...New York and New Jersey...but everything else got scrapped and I started over from page one.

about three and a half weeks later, I had a finished manuscript and a Title my editor came up with...Tempest.

And by June of 2010, I had an offer for a three book deal with Thomas Dunne Books and a pre-empt for a film option with Summit Entertainment. I also had a literary agent.

And now, upon hearing this entire story, you should be able to understand why I might scratch my head and look confused and possibly do the deer in the headlights thing when asked, “What is the inspiration behind Tempest?”

Unfortunately, I didn’t fall and hit my head and suddenly have the formula for Flux Capacitors. I didn’t go to sleep and have a dream about a vampire who sparkled and the girl who dared to go near him...

I don’t have a great idea story to tell, but I think it’s because I wasn’t born to write Tempest, I was born to write stories and one of them happens to be Tempest and Vortex and whatever book 3 will be called. But there will be more to follow those.

So when I look back on this entire story and how I went from very normal non-writer to International Bestselling Author, I do still believe that luck played a big part but really it was more like the train ride that took me to the big audition. I wouldn't be there without it, but I still had to sing the song on my own. Or write the book...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Luck, Superstition, and Coincidence

This month, teamTEENauthor is blogging on this topic: do you believe in luck? 

Here are three things I’ve never admitted this in public before.  1. I believe in luck.  2. I’m more superstitious than your average major league baseball player.  3. Even the tiniest hint of coincidence in my life gives me a thrill.

I don’t typically own up to these things because my pragmatic side tells me it’s all just a bunch of foolish nonsense.  And yet, there’s a part of me that wants to find a deeper meaning in everything, even if it means helping create meaning that’s not inherently there. So, it’s easy for me to get excited when the book I’m reading mentions an obscure town in Europe that I was just talking about that very day!  Or when I’m daydreaming about my latest six-figure screenplay sale when I just so happen to drive by a mailbox with my “lucky” number on it:  14.

The rational, intelligent voice in my head can shoot down this faulty logic quicker than a critic of “The Secret” can point to Darfur and wonder why it’s power hasn’t worked for all of those poor folks over there.  But no matter how illogical it is, I can’t seem to stop seeking out these magical connections in my own life, which feel sacred to me, even necessary.

I am not a religious person, but I consider myself a spiritual one.  I love feeling connected to my fellow man and to the Earth, and for me, that’s where my sense of spirituality lies.  Some days I feel more connected than others, but during the times when I’m feeling most “at one” with the universe are when my best “luck” seems to emerge.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Aruba with my family, and my mother made plans to take me to the casino for Ladies Night.  Normally, I don’t like to gamble, but I’d just gotten some good work-related news earlier that day, and was feeling very positive about life and generally “in the flow” of things.  It was with that attitude that I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I would win money that night.  So, when I walked away from the casino $195 richer ($80 at the slots, $65 at the roulette table, $50 at blackjack), it felt great, but not too surprising. 

Did my positive thoughts manifest my good luck, or had I simply recognized that I was tuned in to the flow?  Of course, the sensible side of me says it all pure coincidence.

I’m not sure I’ll ever know the real answer, but I’ve experienced this feeling enough to know that when I’m feeling like I’m “in the flow,” good things come my way.  The real trick is managing to stay in it. ;)

Side note:

My young adult novel, Reunited, plays with the theme of luck and coincidence quite a bit.  Here’s a short excerpt from Chapter One, just after Alice learns about Level3’s one-night-only reunion show. 

“How could one day be this crazy? And yet, it was like everything had always been with her old favorite band—meant to be. Tiernan used to have a Yiddish word for all the coincidences between Level3 and the girls.  Beshert.  And when something was beshert you didn’t tune it out. When something was beshert you went with it. It was all you could do.”

Hilary Weisman Graham is a screenwriter, Emmy-nominated TV producer, filmmaker, and the author of Reunited (Simon & Schuster), her debut young adult novel.  Visit her at:

Monday, March 11, 2013

Luck of the Dice

This month, teamTEENauthor is blogging on this topic: do you believe in luck? 

I come from a culture of dice. 

I’m a geek, which for me means that I play a lot of games involving dice.   I roll fists full of them every week.  I own jars of dice: matched sets for all the different kinds of games I play, and a big clear bowl for all the extras. 

Wait, let me get you a picture. 

These are just some of my dice. 

(I once wrote something where I mentioned six-sided dice, or as we call them in geekdom, D6s.  A critiquer suggested I cut the six-sided part, because aren't all dice six-sided?  I forgot that this is true in most peoples' worlds, but not in mine.  If you look close, youc an even see our 36 sided die.  Why do we own that?  I don't know.  But we do.)

Why own so many dice in the first place?  Partly because after many years of playing games, they just seem to collect over time.  But partly because when a set of dice isn't rolling well, you just have to switch it out over time.  Some times, some dice are just plain bad luck. 

There is some truth to dice superstition, as most gaming dice aren't perfectly made.  I had a friend once who chose her set of dice by taking the jar at the game store and rolling them all.  Then she picked up all the ones that rolled the highest number, and rolled them again.  She kept narrowing it down, taking only the ones that rolled high, until she was down to the number of dice that she needed.  Then she bought them.  Everyone swore her dice were lucky, and they probably were.

But there are other reasons for dice superstition.

Sometimes dice superstition is all a matter of etiquette.  Won a game but want to be a good sport about it?  Wow, my rolls were on today.  Lost a game but don’t want to feel bad about it?  Man, I could not roll for anything.   It’s not me.  It’s the dice.   The truth is, the best games are the ones in which your rolls truly do not matter.  It’s your own tactical ability that wins or loses you the game--but blaming the dice becomes a matter of good manners.  Of course I’m not better at this than you.  It’s not you.  It’s the dice.

Do I believe in luck?  I believe in skill--that if you practice at something you’ll get better at it and succeed more often.  I believe in chance--that sometimes things just happen to people, and there’s no rhyme or reason or master plan.  I believe in God--that some things in the universe are ordained by a higher power. 

Luck, though?  I think our perceptions or luck, or the lack of it, are mostly our brains trying to pick out patterns and make sense of the world around us.  When we’re focused on bad things, it seems we’re unlucky.  When we’re focused on good things, we couldn't be luckier.  The patterns that arise over time are almost always the sets of things that we’re paying attention to. 

But when my dice don’t roll well?  I switch them out.  You can’t be too safe, when it comes to dice.