How Michelle Got Her Groove Back

I know, dated movie reference, but hey, it’s been a while since I blogged. In fact, blogging was a thing the last time I blogged. But, I haven’t quite made it to podcast levels of entertainment and information, so I’ll keep blogging for now.

When last we met our intrepid heroine… I was writing. Then I wasn’t writing. And frankly, that part sucked. Life got in the way and I guess you could say that I lost my mojo. I’d invested so much into my last manuscript and had (still have) such high hopes for it that when the rejections came in, it threw me for an emotional loop. So, I took a breath and re-evaluated. I still think my boy band manuscript has a lot to offer and I still have agents considering it, so I’m not giving up, not surrendering.

Now, I know enough about the writing industry to understand that while manuscripts are being considered by publishers and agents, you work on something else. *Picture Dory* Just keep writing…just keep writing.

Trouble was, I couldn’t wrap my head around what to write. I tried tweaking several of my previous manuscripts and that worked for bit, but I never could get to the point where I was spending hours of my day working on my writing. That’s where I was before and where I wanted to be again. My life, my general state of being, is always better when I’m writing. So you can imagine how miserable I was when I wasn’t.

Lucky for me, I have great friends and writing cohorts that didn’t let me give up. I thought about it but I knew, deep down, I wouldn’t give up. A writer is who I am. So I listened to their advice and encouragement and waited for an idea to spring into my mind.

I know that’s not the best practical advice to give other writers in my situation, but it’s what I did. I listened to my favorite songs by my favorite bands, I kept an eye/ear open while I watched tv, I imagined scenarios while I was driving and showering.

Then one day, BOOM. A song I must have listened to a hundred times gave me a specific image. I built a scene around that image. I loved the scene, but I didn’t know the characters or the story. All I knew was I wanted to write the scene. So I did. In my head, at first. Each time I listened to that song, new details cropped up. I spent a lot of time saying (in my car mainly) “Oh, I can use that.”

Fast forward a week later to when my husband was watching YouTube and came across a little nugget of a video talking about [subject redacted]. Again. “Oh, I can use that!” Another detail of my world, but still no story.

The following day I was kicking around ideas at work and one of my colleagues who happens to know a lot about the [redacted subject] and I started talking. I told him I’d always wanted to write about [that] but it would have to be a fresh take on it or it wouldn’t work. Another colleague jokingly threw out an idea that was indeed, fresh. It was so ridiculous that we all laughed a good minute or so.

But then…

I stopped laughing.

Because: Oh, I can use that!

So right then and there, I pulled up a doc and started writing it. Five hundred words later, I had a real working story idea and a killer first line. I know it’s a good line because everyone who has read it laughs out loud at it.

And now I’ve gotten up early and stayed up late to write; I’ve called my daughter to have one of our “What If…” conversations, something I’ve done with every manuscript that helps me organize and reign in all the chaos in my head; I’ve done about three hours worth of research online and have so many tabs open that you can barely tell they’re tabs.

These are all positive signs in my writing life.

It remains to be seen if this is the best idea everrrr or so ludicrous no agent would ever consider it. Right now, I have nothing but positive reviews (Crit partners: Your day is coming. I will be sending this to you before our next meeting!) Honestly, what’s most important is that Michelle has gotten her groove back. And it feels so good.

 

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Three Things I Thought I Would Never Do

I’m doing something I never thought I’d do.

Scratch that.

I’m doing three things I never thought I’d do. That’s a lot of things all at once. It’s kind of scary, but also exhilarating. Doing these things sort of snuck up on me, so I thought I’d share the story of how it happened.

The ubiquitous They—you know of “They Say” fame—say that writers should always write something when they’re waiting on responses on queries or submissions. Since I’m in that place, I’ve been actively trying to find other things to write. I started on a sequel to my current MS and I got very far along in it before I decided to flesh out my planned ending better. So, I abandoned it (temporarily) for a shiny new idea about muses that I had. Wrote two scenes in that before I realized I had a great premise, but not the characters or conflict to go in it. So, I stopped writing to give those things more thought. (Again, temporarily.) At that point, I found myself a writer with nothing to write.

Understand: this was KILLING me. I missed writing and my life was truly lacking because I had about a six-week period where I wasn’t writing.

Enter my friend, Nicole.

I work with Nicole at a historic museum that centers on life in the 1820-1850 period. Now I’m really lucky that my bosses have asked me to write some companion stories to go with some of our education materials, so I’d been writing those for a while. It’s fun and I like it. But I made the comment to Nicole, “I like what I’m writing just fine, but it’s basically middle grade narratives and that means THERE IS NO KISSING IN THEM!!! ARRRRGH.”

Have I mentioned I like writing romance? Yeah. I do.

Nicole nodded her head, understanding me because she likes reading romance. She innocently said, “You should write a story about a girl who lived here on our (museum) block who falls for the hot young Print Shop apprentice, but her father has arranged for her to marry another man, but here’s the thing: that man isn’t evil or bad. He’s completely worthy and a nice guy, so the girl has to make a hard choice between the two of them.”

I laughed out loud for a good minute. Me? Write an historical short romance with a triangle in it?

Yeah, no.

But then…

I had an idea. Not just an idea, but a very clear picture of hot print shop apprentice and the girl who’d fall for him. I turned to Nicole and said, “Hold my Diet Coke.” (Because I don’t drink beer, you see.)

Okay, maybe those weren’t my exact words to her, but her idea sparked my interest and I wanted to see if I could do it. She threw out a couple of things she’d like to see in this short historical romance and we had a great afternoon “writing” our story. Or, you know, throwing out crazy ideas and laughing about it until passers-by started to wonder if the museum was actually selling grog in our Grog Shop. (It isn’t.) She even did some research for me and came up with real people from the area and a gorgeous daguerreotype photo that served as inspiration for my apprentice!

That night, I went home and tried to write it, just to see if I could. I like a challenge.  I wrote a scene where the apprentice and girl meet for the first time and a big conflict scene between them that would occur far later. (Nicole was very specific about wanting this scene in my story! By the way, she was right. It’s a great scene and I love it!)

Proud and a little excited of what I’d created, I took them for her to read. Her reaction was to squeal and insist I continue…as long as I put in a scene about X, and Y, and Z.*

So, here I am writing a short story. I’m a wordy writer. I’m always trying to find ways to cut words instead of adding them. Short stories are difficult for me because I NEEDS ALL THE WERDZ! But I’m managing. As I write this blog I’m close to 20K and I’m almost to the last dramatic scene. Not exactly a short short story, but it’s not going to be a novel.*

And I’m writing a piece set in 1848. 1848!! I’ve dabbled in almost every genre there is, but never once did I consider writing something historical. In my (erroneous) mind, if I couldn’t use modern slang or references, I wouldn’t be able to do it. Turns out that my natural tendency for formal prose works well in an historical. Only a few times have I caught myself using modern terms. (And hey, research is fun for me. Did you know that lemonade was first served in 1857? Sadly, my MC can’t offer her hot young apprentice a glass, but he can be compared to Casanova, who died in 1798!)

Finally, I’m doing it. I’m writing an actual love triangle. For me (though not for everyone) triangles are tedious and I really don’t care for them unless they’re very well done. (For YA: see The Selection series by Kiera Cass or for a steamier NA: see Colleen Hoover’s Maybe Someday for triangles done well, IMO.) I hope when I finished my triangle is well done. It’s been interesting to write because I, the writer, clearly have a favorite, but I wanted to show merits in the other guy too. I hope I’ve done that.  We’ll see. For Print Shop apprentice is pretty hot…

I’m not sure if anyone but Nicole will read this little experiment of mine, but I do know that it’s gotten me excited about writing again. I’ve been in the zone where I can’t type what’s in my head fast enough. I’m thinking about scenes when I’m driving to work and writing until I have to get up and go to work or fix dinner.

If you’re a writer, I encourage you to try this type of experiment. You may be surprised with what you end up with.

 

*I’m not sharing any other details yet because I don’t know what I’m going to do with this thing. I may post it on the blog or Wattpad for others to read. Or I may just pass it around to the museum folk who will absolutely be able to picture the setting. I’ll let you know when I decide.

 

Chasing After Motivation

Recently I was struck with a great motivational quote from what some would say is an odd source–a tweet made by a member of O-Town.

You remember O-Town, right? MTV’s Making the Band reality show where attractive and talented young men lined up to audition for their chance at stardom…back in the good ole days of Boy Band Supremacy.

(Are you singing “All or Nothing At All” right now? You should be.)

Yes, O-Town is still making music and touring. And yes, I have a ticket to see them in Vegas. YES, I am insanely excited about that. But this isn’t a post in which wax poetic about how amazing this particular boy band is. Maybe I’ll do that another time.

This is a post about motivation.

Last Wednesday O-Town member Jacob Underwood so aptly tweeted the following:

If you wait and want, you’ll spend a lifetime waiting and wanting. GO GET!!!

It really struck me because he’s right.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a child. It was one of those unattainable dreams that I answered when adults would ask me “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I never really thought I would actually do it.

Fast forward to adulthood: (I promise I am an adult) After having tried this writing thing seriously almost four years and not finding that big break yet, I can get a little discouraged. I have writer friends that are securing agents and getting book deals, indie publishing and I am thrilled for them. But sometimes it becomes difficult to not land in the “But why not meeeee?” zone. When I get there, it’s hard for me to pull out the WIP and make myself make it better.

But that’s what I have to do if I’m going to succeed.

Just this morning I emailed my crit partner whining about needing to finish line edits on this manuscript, and rewrite my pitch for another. I didn’t want to do either of those things. It was too daunting to think about it. To me, the fun part is the first draft where the words and images come easy. The rewrites are challenging. But the rewrites are where the magic happens.

So I ignored my huge pile of new books that I got at the RT Booklover’s convention and focused on Jacob’s tweet that’s been post-it noted in between my “We Bought a Zoo*” inspirational quote and “JSS**” reminder. I turned up the music (O-Town’s Chasing After You, specifically. I defy you not to love that song.) and I set about GOING and GETTING.

I’m pleased to say that I got a lot done and I’m even closer to my goals.

If you’re a writer that’s struggling with motivation, I challenge you to find your own boy band. Or heavy metal band. Or classical orchestra. Whatever you’re into. And if music doesn’t work, use magazine photos or poems or inspirational quotes with cat pictures. Whatever you find, grab onto it and don’t let go. Keep writing through the hard stuff, keep querying, smile through rejections and write some more. Don’t sit back and wait for something great to happen to you. Like Jacob says, GO GET!

 

*From WE BOUGHT A ZOO. (Imagine Matt Damon saying this): Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty second of just embarrassing bravery and I promise you, something great will come of it. 

**Just Survive Somehow from THE WALKING DEAD

 

 

Water Day

Today I’m celebrating World Water Day. I’m taking a moment to be grateful for all the good things water gives us.

I wrote about the water crisis last week, so I won’t start spewing facts and statistics at you again. They’re available on water.org if you’re interested. I recommend taking a look as soon as you can. Check out the introduction video on the site. I hope it’ll open your eyes like it did mine.

I’ve been aware of water.org for a few years now but only recently after doing some research for a couple of novel ideas that I have, did I come to fully understand what the organization does and how it impacts communities across the globe. They’re doing good work to provide lasting solutions to the water crisis.

Personally, I’ve found myself very grateful for my toilet. Seriously. It’s not something we talk about in civilized conversations, but maybe it should be. Because I have a clean toilet I can use any time I want. (And I use it a lot because I pretty much mainline Diet Coke.) But what if I didn’t have a white porcelain throne and instead had to squat in the mud where seventeen other people have squatted today? Suddenly a new role of Charmin seems more precious than gold.

Millions of people are dealing with this every single day. And it breaks my heart. And that’s why I support water.org and celebrate World Water Day. Because how can I turn a blind eye to something so fundamentally important to every living soul on the planet?

Visit WaterDay.org to celebrate Water Day with me. You can create your own photo to share what water gives you. I’d like to share a couple with you- mine and Matt Damon’s.

 

And because I like to put feet to my words, I’ll share something I was inspired to write after seeing a water.org photo on Instagram. It’s not easy for me to share this because it’s not a complete scene or story, or even fully edited, but it’s what came to me.  I hope it inspires you to do something. Share. Donate. Celebrate. Think. Give thanks. Act.

 

Six hours. Six hours isn’t bad as long as she begins in the morning just as the dew is starting to form in the fields. Six hours over dusty, rock-laden paths beat down by the footfalls of a thousand other women who came before her.

Six hours. Three each way.

Every day.

Without ceasing.

A yellow plastic jug trails behind Darsha, leaving a chalky mist in its wake as she trudged from the outskirts of the slum she calls home toward the place where she will gather today’s water.

As the sun peeks over the horizon creating a hazy golden glow on the fields, Darsha temporarily forgets where she is and what she’s doing. For a brief moment, she rests on the shore of some nameless crystal lake with her toes dug into the mud and the cool water trickling over her shins. But as the odor of the men squatting in the field beyond her assault her nose, she remembers and picks up her feet.

Six hours for her family.

Six hours for life.

Only six hours.

The day has twenty-four. 

 

And In Time, We Will All Be Stars

November is National Novel Writing Month. In short, writers commit to writing 50,000 words, the  better part of a novel, in thirty days. NaNoWriMo is not for the faint of heart. It is a laborious task that can seem daunting at the least and downright impossible at the most.

Given that I am 65,000 words into my work in progress, a YA Fantasy based on the ancient Mayan creation story, I have decided to NaNoWriMo a little differently this time. My goal is to finish the novel within the first week of the month. Let things simmer (meaning: DO NOT GO BACK AND READ IT) during the second week. Then, take the following two weeks (and a couple days!) to begin revisions.

I am at a crucial point in my story and because I am a “pantser” and didn’t know exactly where my story was going to land, I have found myself struggling with the ending. (Though my fabulous and wise Crit Partner could tell you I pretty much struggled through the ugly middle part too! Thankfully I can trust her not to share my deepest inner writer freak-out moments OR the strange rabbit holes my brain takes me down at times.)

For this manuscript, I know what the two POV MCs need to go through at the end. I was just not sure how to make it happen effectively. So, I spent a little of my writing time yesterday searching for inspiration. I had pretty much exhausted all of my Mayan culture references and was still coming up short. But something I wrote as a “place holder” line stuck in my head and I couldn’t let it go.  The line was something to the effect of “burn with the fire of a million stars.”

I tried to figure out where I had heard that before because it kept coming into my head with a specific tune. Then I was hit over the head with my past. That line, and that particular tune were from one of my favorite songs in the classic 1980 film, “Fame.”  (Yes, I was one of “those” nerds that not only had an intense love of all things Sci-Fi, but also stricken with a case of Broadway dreams.) The song was based on a Walt Whitman poem, so you can imagine the intensity that this word-geek loved that! The lyrics to the song and the poem itself are spectacular.

I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

So, after I read the poem a few times, away to youtube, I went. I found a clip of the song. Just listening to it did the trick to open up my mind. The score of the song fit in perfectly for the scene I was working on, starting out in a vulnerable place, then building into a crescendo. I was able to find inspiration and a jumping point for a pretty large reveal in the scene I was writing. All was right with the world.

But, I caution you, my writer friends. This tale does not lead to a happy ending.

After I heard the song a few times, it was in my head. And I started remembering how much I loved not only that movie, but the TV show that followed it. Which led me to googling Lee Curreri, as he played Bruno Martelli, my favorite character from the movie and tv show. (Even named one of my characters in a previous MS, Martelli!) So I spent longer than I care to admit seeing what he’s been up to since the days of Fame. (A lot, actually. He’s a working composer in Hollywood with some decent credits. Ooooh, I wonder if he’d score a book trailer? Hm…)

So, the moral of my tale is this:Inspiration doesn’t have to match your genre or draw directly from your outline. Consider favorite old songs, poems you wrote in high school, movies from your childhood. Inspiration can be found anywhere. Just don’t let it get in the way of your writing.

For more info on NaNoWriMo, click HERE.

And to see my inspiration, I Sing the Body Electric from FAME, click HERE.

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.)

A Phoenix Rising from the Ashes

I’m still in post-retreat mode, so I’m going to talk a little bit more about the after effects of the retreat.

As I mentioned last week, not only did we benefit from some informative sessions on craft, but also from professional critiques from an agent and an editor as well. I came away from those professional meetings with some advice on ways to change parts of my story to make it more marketable to agents/publishers. Who doesn’t want that, right?

The thing is, I love EVERGREEN and I’m so emotionally connected to the main character that is just hard for me to rip in there and throw those changes in without giving it a lot of thought. I’ve revised this manuscript a few times and I believe in it. The hard part is trying to decide whether or not to keep it as is or follow (the almost conflicting) advice of two professionals.

So, EVERGREEN is on the shelf while I ruminate on my notes and wait for the responses to the queries I still have out. Putting the manuscript I had been working on for over a year on temporary hiatus was difficult, but necessary. I felt a little defeated because this story that I love so much hasn’t managed to capture the heart of an agent yet. Perhaps there’s more to be done? Perhaps I just haven’t queried the right agent yet? Both of those questions were heavy in my heart and mind at the retreat. And they still are.

But I happened to have packed my Harry Potter “Fawkes the Phoenix” shirt for the retreat. As I put it on the last day of the retreat, it became a representation of how I was feeling. What’s a writer to do while waiting for responses or revisions or the creative muse to strike?

Duh, write.

The idea of a phoenix rising from the ashes became my symbol, my mindset, my way to let Frankie go again, at least for a little while, and create something new from the ashes.

To do that, I purposefully did a few things. First of all, I had to leave Frankie’s head and get into the head of the MC in my new story. That’s hard, but considering how different these characters and stories are, I found it refreshing to speak a new POV. My new MC is confident, determined, interested in facts—completely in contrast to Frankie’s inability to see her own value, insistence in believing what she is told, and being heavily tied to her emotions. I’m personally looking at the world through different eyes and I love what I am seeing. Writing her is fun! I gave her a particular quirk that comes through in her voice. It’s unique to her and as I write her now, I find that quirk coming more and more naturally to me. In fact, I had to delete some of her voice from this post as I wrote. The way she thinks is in my head now, fighting to get out and tell me how to approach things.

Secondly, I made a new pre-writing music playlist. My EVERGREEN playlist is dark, gritty, and hard—Imagine Dragons, AWOLNATION, Skillet, 30 Seconds to Mars, The Fray. It matches the tone of the story and contains songs specific to the characters in it. My new playlist? Maroon 5, Ed Sheeran, Snow Patrol, Artist vs. Poet, One Direction. (DO NOT MOCK ONE DIRECTION. Boy Bands are cool.) Those songs match the tone of my new MS which is more quirky, contemporary, lighter, but still packed with emotion.  Letting those new songs speak to me helps me focus on the new MS. It sets the mood before I write.

Then I went from green to blue. It’s a little thing, probably something that most people would find OCD or just plain odd, but for me, it helped. I use a white board for notes and plotting. Sometimes when I’m trying to figure out a name or plot or scene I will write all of the choices on my board, live with them a while, then pick the one that keeps standing out to me. When I wrote EVERGREEN, the marker I used was green. Now, I’m using a blue marker. It’s a visual reminder that I am in another world and in another head.

My little tricks are helping cope with leaving Frankie behind temporarily. I’m energized to be writing a new “contemporary” Sci-Fi story. One of the best transitions though, is my writing muse, Yoda—who was there every day to remind me that it wasn’t easy for Frankie to be green—is now there reminding me of my new MC’s obsession with Sci-Fi. There he is every day, a tiny green cheerleader bridging the gap from one story to the next.

My Yoda

Helps me too, he does.