Inspiration in Every Day Things

Last night I was half-paying attention while we were watching tv. A local commercial for insulated windows came on and I happened to look up at just the right time to see a photo of a house that had been covered with a gray filter whiz by the screen. The purpose was to show how terrible these windows were, but LOOK at these crisp clear insulated windows in this bright shiny photo next to it! You want them for your house!

I was struck with inspiration for my work in progress.

Now, insulated windows have absolutely no place in a fantasy based on the ancient Mayan culture, yet a very cool scene materialized itself in my head because of that photo-shopped picture in a modern commercial.

I am often asked “Where do your ideas come from?” And the simple answer is everywhere. For example, window commercials.

My brain has been conditioned to find inspiration in the most random, sometimes insignificant, and always unpredictable places. I believe you’ll find this is the case with most writers and creative types.

I think this has been the case most of my life, but since I have actively started pursuing publishing my stories, I have trained myself to see things and find inspiration all around me. Yeah, sometimes I get the occasional odd stare when I whip out my notebook to write something down or inadvertently shout, “Oh, I can use that!” But in the end, I hope my lightning bolts of inspiration produce stories that people want to read.

Since I’m a fan of lists and to show you how easy it can be, here’s my list of things I have found inspirational in the past week.  Maybe you’ll be able to spot them in my published stories one day!

USA Women’s World Cup Soccer Team

The poetry of Robert Frost: Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Matt Damon’s ponytail

Rainbows

Flipping an omelet without breaking it

This:

hate is easy

The finish line

Baby toes

Thunderstorms

Seriously, have you seen Matt Damon’s ponytail?

Four leaf clovers

The first word typed on a blank page

Dew

Norman Reedus’ cat

Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor

A brand new box of crayons

May you find inspiration in every day things!

ponytail

(See what I mean? Although, now that I look at this closely, I’m not sure it can be counted as an every day thing. This is a special occasion ponytail to be certain.)

hashtag amwritingchallenge

This month I am participating in the #amwritingchallenge. Writers are posting photos of various things on a list to their Instagram or Twitter accounts. (I’m posting on Instagram.)

I think this is a cool idea because it not only because it builds a community of people who are going through the same things, but it allows writers to give some thought to the thing we love to do–write.

Yesterday’s challenge was to post a pic of the view FROM WHERE I WRITE. Today’s challenge is a PAGE FROM YOUR MANUSCRIPT.

Already on Day 2 I have gained new Instagram followers/friends and have enjoyed seeing the myriad of pictures from all over the place. Today I’ve even gotten to peek inside some awesome manuscripts!

I’m looking forward to seeing what comes up during the rest of the month. If you’re a writer, consider joining me for this fun challenge.

amwritingchallenge

To check out my #amwritingchallenge photos, visit my Instagram page.

Cherished Memories

Firstly, a belated thank you to all of you who serve in the military and gratitude to those who have passed on in service to our country.

In the spirit of Memorial Day, I’ve recently been giving a lot of thought to memory.

I don’t want to go too much into detail and give the plot of my current fantasy project away just yet, but I’ll tell you that memory plays a big part in the manuscript. I did some flash fiction exercises to help me flesh out the characters yesterday. From time to time, I like sharing these little exercises with you or give you a little peak into my brain as I develop these characters.

Here are the 100(ish) word pieces describing cherished memories or things they’d like to remember.

(I’m not quite ready to give up many character names yet, so you’re kind of flying blind here. Sorry about that.)

My little sister is not the same since she escaped the jungle. I remember her laugh most of all. When she laughed it seemed like it bubbled up from her toes like water, free and smooth and full of energy. When she was a baby my Papa used to shake his medicine stick at her and she’d gurgle for what seemed like hours. The rest of us would always end up laughing with her. As she grew older she still found joy in the smallest of things, like hummingbirds or juicy green apples or teasing me about getting married one day.  I miss that.

*

I wish I could remember the day I was born. I’d love to see the look on my mother’s face when she tied my quipus around my chubby little baby wrist. I can imagine the love that went into tying each knot, identifying every trait I was born with, wishing on each my birth stars. I can only imagine her humming lullabies to me, showing me off to my brothers. She’d never believed they’d grow to hate me or that my own father would think I’m a disappointment. Nope, she believed in me from the minute she saw my sweet little face. I feel it when I look at the stars.

*

Logically, I should say I would like to remember the day I first got my power. It was an important day in my life and I should pay it the honor it deserves. But if I put logic aside, I think I’d choose the day Chip and I abandoned our lessons to go swimming in the waterfall a few years ago. We spent hours splashing and swimming and just being free from restrictions before Chip got stung by the sunset fish. I had to carry him most of the way back, but I didn’t mind. That’s what friends do.

*

Carina and I used to race the king’s horses for fun. Of course, I’d usually win, but this time I had big plans to let her win. She’d be so happy she’d have no choice but to fall into my arms in gratitude. That was the plan anyway. But a sudden summer storm came out of nowhere and spooked our horses. We ended up riding out of control until the horses almost collapsed outside an abandoned barn. We had no choice but to go inside and wait the storm out. Hm. I never did thank those horses.

*

Once Dorado and I were out riding the king’s horses and got stranded in a storm. I’d actually kept an eye on the clouds rolling in for hours and I knew we’d get stuck in it. As usual, I had an eye on the back of Dorado’s horse too because I always let him win our races. Plus, don’t tell him this, but he looks hot on the back of a horse. By the time we found the barn, we were both dripping wet and laughing about it. That was the first time he kissed me.

*

When my eldest son Phoenix, came back to the palace with the first skull, I knew my reign would be triumphant. The Star Gazer had foretold of power and riches, but I didn’t dream they would come in such a strange form. I felt it as soon as he lay it down on my lap. The power was strong and my pride in Phoenix even stronger. He was born under just the right sign for an heir- brave, competitive, proud. I knew he’d bring me greatness and he did on that day.

I used to have many memories in my head. Not only mine, but the memories of our people too. They’re all gone now. There’s no memories to tell, nothing left to share. There’s only one thought rattling inside my mind now—the jungle. Shadows and nightmares, screams and demons. Nothing makes sense except for the pain. It reminds me of what I’ve done, of what I’ve become. The pain is my friend and it calls to me when I try to speak. It tells me to be still. It waits for me to sleep then comes out to play.

Pitching a Fit (for Pitch Contests)

Pitch contests seem to be “the new black” for YA writers these days. You can’t read Twitter without scrolling into one. I’ve read many getting the call stories that begin with, “When I entered Pitch-something, I never thought I’d be picked and it would lead to an agent and a deal,” proving that pitch contests can and do launch careers.

Personally I have had some success with contests. I’m not ready to write that “When I entered…” story just yet, though. But now that I have experienced several of these contests with two different manuscripts, I feel like I’ve learned some things that I can share with you about these contests.

  1. They are predominantly filled with YA writers. Yes, you will find Adult, NA, MG and even PB in these contests, but when the age category is open to all, there will be more YA writers enter and more YA manuscripts chosen. I think that’s just because Twitter is where YA readers are, therefore that’s where YA writers are. This doesn’t mean a great adult story can’t win/won’t be picked, it just means that adult/NA/MG/PB writers should expect to compete with a lot of YA.
  2. Take a look at the “winners/chosen” for the contests. THERE is where you’ll find what agents want right now. The current trends and “no-way-not-going-to-even-consider-its” will start to show. Right now, contemporary is the LBD (Little Black Dress) of publishing. EVERYONE needs a LBD in the closet. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enter your High Fantasy in a contest (unless it’s a paranormal vampire dystopian romance. Might want to think twice about that one). It means that you’re going to have to really stand out among the contemporaries.
  3. I firmly believe that not all manuscripts are Tweet-friendly. Many pitch contests have a Twitter component that includes writers tweeting their MS and agents requesting pages based on those tweets. That gives you 140 characters, minus whatever hashtag the administrator of the contest is using. That’s not a lot of space to hook agents and editors. I have some great success tweeting EVERGREEN but BETWEEN SOUND AND SILENCE is very hard to whittle down because there’s a lot going on that influences the MC. If you’re considering a Twitter contest, the best piece of advice I can give you is to make sure to include something unique about your MC and make double sure to include conflict. Otherwise you’ll end up with a generic tweet that won’t grab attention.
  4. The best part of any pitch contest doesn’t have to be the “prize” at the end. Yes, it’s fantastic to receive agent/editor requests that often come at the end of these contests, but sometimes the more valuable “prize” is the feedback you get from mentors or the community that develops around these contests. It’s always great to connect with other writers and make connections that go beyond the contest date.
  5. Too many contests can be a bad thing. I know it may sound counterintuitive, but exposing the same manuscript over and over and over can actually hurt you. There is agent overlap in these types of contests, meaning some of the same agents/editors are participating in several contests. You’re wasting your time if you enter multiple contests with the same agents. Additionally, if your Twitter feed is full of unsuccessful pitch contest tweets, that could turn agents/editors off. It’s best to check the participating agents/editors beforehand and enter only those contests that have agents/editors that you have not already queried or read your material in other places.
  6. Failing to “win/be chosen” doesn’t really mean anything. That’s good news. You can still query in the traditional way. And you should. Your career does not hinge on one contest, or two or three… Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t picked. Keep writing. Keep improving. Keep at it.

So, why am I talking about this today? After entering a massive (almost 1000 entries) Twitter-based pitch contest a couple months ago and failing to get picked, I entered another one. Why?  It had a fun theme, outstanding mentors whom I admired and that would be giving detailed feedback on my manuscript, and a super list of participating agents.

The contest was #Nestpitch and I was chosen for #TeamEvilBunny!

I’m thrilled to be working with the amazeballs Sharon Johnston   and her slush bunnies, E.L. Wicker and J.C. Nelson. I’m going to take their notes and suggestions and polish my manuscript for the agents. Even if no requests come from this, I’ll already have come a long way to making my manuscript better.

To read more about Team Evil Bunny and the rest of the Nestpitch teams go here.

LokiBunny

ROAD WORK NEXT 85,000(ish) WORDS

Every time that I sit down to write, I learn more about the process of writing. Of course, there’s no “right way” to do this as long as the words get on the page. There are some things writers can do to make the words they write better.

I have a couple irons in the fire right now and I’m letting my latest Sci-Fi manuscript simmer before I take another pass at it, so I thought, why not get this idea I have in my head for a fantasy down on (virtual) paper?  And that’s what I did.

In this blog, I’ll share how my latest WIP has developed. My “Writing Trip,” If you will.

roadtripmuppets

Unfolding the Road Map

Before I wrote a single word, I had a good working premise of the story I want to tell. (Based on a really weird dream I had) Since my natural process is to let the story develop organically, I find the best way to that is have the major plot points lined out and then let the characters tell me how they want to get there.  With my inciting event, turning point, mid-point, setback, and climax in mind, I had a road map. Now I just needed to know who was driving the car.

CARPOOL LANE ONLY

This MS has a dual POV. It took me a few false starts to get the voice of each character right and more importantly, different from the other, but once I got a good grip on that, it became easier. This story has an astrological theme within it, so it was very easy for me to give the MCs a birthdate then make their personalities mirror traits from their astrological signs. I recommend doing that if you’re stuck for character personalities, even if you don’t have an astrological theme. It’s a great jumping off point when you are just discovering who you’re writing about.

Then I used their back-stories and let the culture they live in inform a lot of their personalities. We’re all products of our upbringings. I instilled a very specific set of beliefs in both of them which helps me when I have to decide how they will react to an event.

Now these two characters come from very different worlds and they each start in their own space, so in a sense, I made it harder on myself because I had to invent not one, but two worlds for them to live in.

GOOGLE 4 MI —>

Research. Boy, did I research. Every day I’m still researching. And every day I find some new juicy tidbit that sparks an idea that I can use in my MS. Frequently I will set out to research some particular fact and find myself closing the browser with some other nugget of information that I didn’t expect or even know existed. I love it when that happens.

For instance, did you know that the ancient Olmec Mayans were the first to process cacao beans and turn them into chocolate? Yep. They also put jalapeno peppers with their chocolate so you can thank them for the frosty nontraditional shake served at Sonic today!

I certainly didn’t set out to find out about Mayan chocolate, but when researching, I discovered this little nugget which will become a hilarious fish-out-of-water scene for one of my characters. How this person reacts to spicy chocolate is going to say quite a bit about the way he/she approaches new things, which shows character development.

So now I’m rocking along at almost halfway through the MS and I know where I need to end up and I know who is driving and I even have a pretty good sense of what snacks they brought for the road.  The next thing for me to determine is what their flat tire is going to be.

CAUTION SPEED BUMPS AHEAD

Conflict is the key to writing a compelling story. My MCs are each seeking different goals. They have different desires and different flaws that are inhibiting them getting what they want.  I don’t think I’m giving too much away by revealing that their paths will cross and then they will begin to affect each other. I’m enjoying playing with the differences between them, but picking out common threads to weave them together. One of my MC needs external gratification, the other internal, but both of these have to do with their families.  One character is bolder therefore gets into some sticky situations sometimes, the other is more reserved and misses a lot because of the fear of acting.  The potholes that I choose to throw in their roads are what will determine how they grow and where they end up. I’m using things from my extensive research as the smoking engines that slow them down and force them to make tough decisions.

The things I’ve uncovered in my research have made me excited about this MS. It’s a departure from what I normally write but I think that’s what’s keeping me motivated and writing well over the speed limit.

Spring (Gimme A) Break

Because my day job happens at a college, I am blessed to have a Spring Break. I love Spring Break. I look forward to it like I’m a beer-guzzling hard body in search of beach bunnies in Florida. (Okay, admittedly my head *may* be stuck in a bad 80’s movie because I have never been beer-guzzler, hard body OR beach bunny.)

Anyway, this week I have five glorious days in which to do anything I’d like to do. Oh the possibilities! So what did I decide to do? I’ll give you three guesses.

I just finished what I hope is the final draft of my MS set on board a space station, so I decided the one thing I want most to do is start a new manuscript! Because if I don’t release the plethora of ideas swarming in my head, it may actually explode, which will make it quite difficult to perform my day job next week.

So as you already guessed, yesterday I began a new fantasy MS based on the ancient Mayan culture. I can already tell that I will fall way short of my projected Spring Break goal, but I am starting to love these characters already. This is a sign that I will carry this thing out to the end instead of abandoning it for something else.

When I began this project, I was determined to try some of that plotting thing people are always talking about. I have already designed a pretty good story arc for both main characters, but there were some things plaguing about the story itself, so I set about to do some research.  I came across this article on K.M Weiland’s site.

Helping Writers Become Authors

I am in no way affiliated with Ms. Weiland, and I have not yet purchased her book, but I was dumbfounded by the advice she lists in the article. She made it very easy and understandable. I found it helpful in honing in on the Inciting Event in my new manuscript. I am considering it my big (Spring) breakthrough. (See what I did there?)

Give it a read if you’re just starting out. It may help you define your story and save you from some harrowing rewrites in the future.

Until next time, enjoy whatever break you have and if you don’t have one, make one for yourself!

Nineteen Signs That You Love YA

  1. You know the difference between Veronica Roth and Veronica Rossi.
  2. When you meet a guy, you size him up by his ability to pick a hot best friend that’s full of snark. (Your friends think you should end up with HIM.)
  3. When you declare your team, you don’t mean the Cowboys or Yankees.
  4. When you’re asked to pick a number between 1 and 10, you always say Four.
  5. You can pronounce Tahereh without any help.
  6. Tuesday is your favorite day of the week.
  7. You ask for B&N gift cards for Christmas and birthdays.
  8. If your life were a movie, you’d be played by Jennifer Lawrence or Shailene Woodley. Ansel Elsgort would portray your boyfriend. Or brother.
  9. You think aliens are hot and that Daemon is a perfectly acceptable name for a guy.
  10. You’re not afraid of the zombie apocalypse because you know you could survive.
  11. You couldn’t care less who wore what designer at the Oscars, but are up early on cover reveal days.
  12. Tahereh + Ransom = OTP
  13. You can’t cite a classic work of literature without comparing it to the contemporary retelling of it.
  14. You can find the heart of gold in every bad boy you meet.
  15. You believe everything should come in trilogies.
  16. When you meet someone, you automatically sort them into Houses, Factions, and Districts.
  17. You have a color-coded spread sheet of upcoming release dates (Or is that just me?)
  18. You know how to book shimmy and do so frequently.
  19. You never forget to be awesome.

Happy reading everyone!