Finding Your Crocodilian

My baby sister wrote a book for the final project in her class. It’s about a Crocodilian named Bob, who goes on an adventure, gets lost, is saved by a strange creature, learns to get over his fear and becomes friends with the fox, and then returns home.

I asked her how she came up with the idea. She shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I was interested in it and it was fun so I wrote it.”

Y’all, when did we get so much more complicated than that? With all our talk of CPs and the market and character development, plot, conflict, is my use of language right? I hope my voice is powerful, maybe the next big thing.

Those are all important. We can’t write like children, because we aren’t children. We have necessarily and rightly grown beyond that into something cleaner and more artistic. But if you’re anything like me, somewhere in your study and development, you may have squashed the part of you that says plain and simple, I like this story and I want to write it – nothing more, nothing less.

If you’re writing purely for what’s selling, stop. If you change everything about your story, so much that you lose the part of you in it, stop. And if you’ve listened to so many voices and so many great pieces of advice that now you don’t know who you are as a writer or what you yourself like, regardless of anyone else, stop.

Take out a blank, unlined page. Draw a picture. And ask yourself what would happen if…
Then write the story you want to tell.
Everything else can come after.


Book Review: Lady Wild

Hi friends!

A special Friday post for you – bringing the fabulous LADY WILD, a lovely romantic novella written especially to raise money for charity! The proceeds from LADY WILD are going to hospice, which I think is incredible and amazing of the author, and the book is (spoiler) FABULOUS, so let me tell you a bit about it and then you can go see for yourself!

Lady WildLady Wild is the sweet, honest, swoony story of a young woman named Ophelia, whose family once circulated among the titled and wealthy, and now has been relegated to a crumbling cottage in the country. Ophelia lives alone with her dying mother, and while she faithfully nurses her mama and desires to be present for her, the other part of her feels as though she’s dying right alongside her mother.
Enter Viscount Andrew Stark – handsome, rakish, and empty inside. After an incidental meeting in the river and his subsequent visit to the ramshackle cottage, he enters an agreement with Ophelia’s mother to take Ophelia under his wing and ensure her connections to the art world, which Ophelia has longed to enter as a model. He sponsors both Ophelia and her mother and brings them to London – but ghosts from his past, and reminders of all the things he never had, haunt him when the ladies take up residence in his home.
Lady Wild is filled with romance and fun, while also remaining a touching and truthful story. The slow decline of Ophelia’s mother is treated with respect and portrayed truthfully, in all it’s pain and emotional upheaval, and the relationship that develops between her and Andrew is quite touching. Some of the language was a bit archaic at times, though this is due more to the time period than anything else, and there are a few romantic scenes that go into detail, but if those aren’t your thing, don’t let them stop you from reading the rest of this lovely story about trust, openness, courage, and of course, love.
I really enjoyed Lady Wild and recommend it to anyone who loves historical romances and/or stories about family. For a love story that encompasses much more than attraction, look no further.

(I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review)

MaireuseAbout the Author: 2011 Golden Heart winner Máire Claremont first fell in love with Mr. Rochester, not Mr. Darcy. Drawn to his dark snark, she longed to find a tortured hero of her own… until she realized the ramifications of Mr. Rochester locking his first wife up in his attic. Discovering the errors of her ways, Máire now looks for a real-life Darcy and creates deliciously dark heroes on the page. Oh, and she wants everyone to know her name is pronounced Moira. Her parents just had to give her an Irish Gaelic name.

This novella is available to you at such a low cost, is for such a fabulous cause, and is such a fun read that I hope I’ve convinced you you just have to read it! You can buy it right here You can also read more about the fabulous author and this fundraiser here


Finding the Silence

My move is done!! At last, all my old business is concluded and I am fully adrift in a sea of possibilities and uncertainty. Which is largely less glamorous than it sounds, but that’s neither here nor there.

One thing that has changed in the extreme this last week is my ability to write. Not the ability of my fingers to type or even necessarily the ability of my brain to weave together impossible thing, but my ability to find the headspace I need to quiet my thoughts and let the story fill up the forefront so everything else fades away.

Here’s why: I’ve been living back with my family for three days. On Sunday night, we had a family movie night, and then I hung out with the littler girls for awhile, and then crashed because I’d been up finishing the move since five that morning. On Monday, I spent the day filling out job apps and finishing writing-related projects that were not writing, as well as doing reading for a review do very soon. In the evening, I helped with algebra homework, supervised science homework, and had a smores and Lego date with my baby sister. On Tuesday I went and got a haircut, ran some errands, filled out more job applications, spent two hours helping my other sister find and apply for jobs, and spent the evening cutting pieces for baby sister’s collage piece due Thursday, doing CP work, and dodging the puppy, who laid down in a mud pit and then tried to cuddle. Twice. I spent some time with my parents, and then stayed up late finishing review reading.

Which brings us to today. The morning is almost gone, and I’m just getting this blog post put together. I’m also wondering if I’m ever going to sit at a keyboard and make a book again.

I don’t say this to whine. I adore my family, I love being helpful and useful, and I wouldn’t exchange that time with them necessarily. We all make choice about every moment we spend, because each one happens once and never again. I’m not going to look back at the end of my life and wish I’d spent less time loving-as-a-verb my family. But I will still wish I’d written more.

Words are as much a part of me as my skin. That’s just the way it is. I won’t wither and die without spending time writing, but I will be less of who I am, and I don’t want to lose that. Maybe there were moments in the past few days when I could have spent some time writing, but even if the time presented itself, I couldn’t empty my mind. It takes time to settle in, switching off all the questions and thoughts, and slipping into the story. It takes trust in the environment, and comfort in where you are, because for me at least, slipping into story is like being another person, unaware of what’s happening around me or who might need me. And every protective and helpful facet of me panics trying to do that when I might be called or asked something or engaged in conversation at any second.

(case in point – while doing CP reading last night, I was interrupted twice to watch youtube videos, three times by the puppy, once by history homework, and constantly in the background was the sound of the shed being built and the two other dogs fighting. Prime concentration environment, naturally.)

So this week, and probably the rest of the summer, I’ll be working on finding my deep places. The silences inside of me, stronger than the environment around me, that will allow me to create. I’ve never been a believer in can’t, or the muse, or that the environment should control peace, productivity, or anything else. It’s all about my own strength and focus. I’m rusty and out of practice because of three years living alone, but I’m confident I can find it again – that ability to lay everything else aside, and let the words flow.

I’ll probably be posting again as I develop tips and tricks to reach this state, but meanwhile, what do you do in chaotic environments to find your writing? How do you set aside everything else and give in to the story?

A Well-Rounded Cast

I was hunting for ideas last week and someone suggested I do a post on character names – so here it is!
I had a hard time deciding which book to choose to highlight the characters, but I ultimately decided to go with the one with the biggest cast of characters – my first MG, Dragon Dancing.
Dragons is about a girl named Ros Durrell. Her full name is Rosalind, and frankly I have no idea where it came from. But the old fashioned grace of it suits her. She’s a bit stand offish and not generally inclined to like people. She’s very smart, scientific, and independent – so you can imagine that when she realizes she’s going to need other people’s help to solve her problem, it’s something of an issue.
Ros’s brother is Norton, which I chose because he’s a little bit odd himself so I wanted a name a little off the beaten path. He’s a little goofy and likes to have fun, so I didn’t want something too traditional or with the same more rigid connotations as Rosalind, but I liked that it has more timelessness than say Jax or Parker.
Ros meets a girl early on in the story who is both surprisingly similar to her and very different. Paisley Jones has four braids that stick out in all directions and the same interest in science, but her family has only been in the US for a few years, and she lives in a crowded basement apartment in a building her dad cleans. I actually stole the name Paisley from a girl I worked with for a short time. I thought it had a fun, different ring to it that could have come from being part of another culture, and I liked that it was so memorable.
The other kids Ros, Norton, and Paisley spend time with are Yeng, Clarice, Alex, and Lilly. Their names I borrowed from some of the kids I’ve spent time with in various environments. My goals was to create a group of kids that was representative of the experiences and personalities of many different kids, so that anyone reading the book would find someone to relate to. Yeng is so smart he skipped a grade, but struggles with peer relationships. Alex plays the trumpet and fancies himself the king of swing, Clarice is bold and decisive, and Lilly is a meek vegetarian.
The three most important adult characters in the book are Mrs. Feasty, the kids’ science teacher, the Durell’s mom, Emma, and the dancing Instructor – Master Bartholomew Z, or Master Beez as the kids call him. I liked Mrs. Feasty because she’s not a particularly pleasant character, and her name feels sort of mealy to say. Emma Durell is a tired, overworked single mom who loves her kids and does her best to keep up with their shenanigans despite the stressors of daily life, and I’ve always loved the name Emma. Master Bartholomew Z had an interesting advent: my friend has always wanted to name her first son Bartholomew, and I liked the very old-fashioned, historical sort of quality to the name. However, Master Beez is…not from this planet, shall we say, so I couldn’t give him a traditional first and last name. The solution was giving him just a consonant, and then for most of the book having the kids use the nickname they assigned him as a shortcut.
So, there you go – a brief overview of Dragon Dancing’s characters and names. Where do you find inspiration for your characters names? Does the name or the personality come first?

Just Three Days

Pardon the divergence from your regularly scheduled programming here, but I have to tell you all a tale.
It is a tale that begins Monday night of this week, and extends through today – and God bless it, I hope not through any more days for a very long time.
On Monday night, I was meeting friends for supper, despite the fact that when I finish a big project like, say, a degree, I tend to get a temporary sort of narcolepsy that leaves me slipping off to sleep just about anywhere. Trying to do anything in this state can be an adventure of its own, but what really kicked this evening off happened before the half-asleep four course meal.
I live in a basement, which means anytime other people are home the ceiling shakes so hard it seems that it’s about to fall on my head. I also hear all the conversations and their television makes my windows rattle. So, on Monday night, I knew someone was home, but as I ascended the stairs into the kitchen, I swiftly learned that whoever was home was engaging in some nefarious activities. I almost choked on the smoke.
So, on the way to girl’s night, I had to text my landlady and inform her she may want to investigate what her teenage daughter was up to that afternoon. As you can imagine, despite my exhaustion, this did not make me eager to return home.
It seemed the weather wasn’t eager for me to return home either, because it began pouring rain. My friend and I stopped for groceries and drove the last several miles home sitting in rainwater puddles. Naturally, drenched though we were, we were eager to be less drenched, so we carefully plotted the dash to the garage door so I could buzz us in – only the garage door was stalled half open, so it took five attempts to get it to open properly, and once we entered, it took all of thirty seconds to realize we were locked out.
Back into the rain we went, and as I reached for the hidden key, a bolt of lightning snapped through the sky and the following thunder shook the entire front porch. It did, in fact, take me a full thirty seconds to feel sure I hadn’t been zapped.
Exhausted, we slept for much of the next day and spent the rest of it packing. When most of my apartment was squashed up into boxes, we sat on the couch to relax. Only, that relaxation was rudely interrupted…for hours and hours.
WARNING: the below paragraph contains information about certain creatures that live in my apartment. If you will have nightmares, as I will, skip to the next paragraph.
Over the course of an hour, we slayed three spiders in my living room. Now, the basement I live in is jam packed with disgusting bugs of all kinds and I loathe it with all of my being, but because of this three spiders is not as huge a deal as it might otherwise be. However, when I went in to go to bed, I decided to stay awake for a bit and read. Until I looked up and saw two dime sized spiders scampering around overhead. Naturally, I summoned my friend to do the killing for me, and as she walked in, she spotted and killed two more demonic yellow-green spiders . And so on. Until within twenty minutes, we had killed eleven spiders. In. My. Bedroom. And on top of that, the last spider that emerged was quarter-sized…and dodged the shoe we were beating it with, leaping instead to some undetermined location in or around my bed.
Obviously there was to be no sleeping after these events, but it was 1 am and therefore too late to call anyone, and we were much too poor and cheap to pay for a hotel room.
This left the car.
So, at 1:15 am, I loaded four blankets, three pillows, two books, and all our electronics into my laundry basket, and we crept up the stairs and into the garage. In the garage, the door was once again propped halfway open, and given the issues with the garage door the night before, we didn’t dare try to open or close it, especially given the hour. My friend waddled through first, and was yea close to success when she stood up to fast and slammed into the bottom of the door so hard I thought it might fall off completely. I, on the other hand, did a remarkably ninja-like tuck and roll…during which I slammed my knee and scraped my elbow.
Once in her car with the seats folded down, we proceeded to spend the next six hours shivering, elbowing each other, attempting to nest into the rock hard floor of the car, and catching snatches of sleep between the melodious yowling of cats, rumbling of cars passing by us, and, in the morning, the racket of garbage trucks passing by and the possibility of some suspicious neighbor peeking in the car and calling the cops on us.
Today, following our impressive 3.2 hours of sleep, we packed most of the rest of my stuff and then, in a fit of ambition, decided to run errands.
We got lost on the way to the DMV. Then we tried to find a post office, and also got lost in that attempt, until we realize it was locked in an inaccessible construction zone, upon which we gave up and went to the grocery store. My friend is preparing to do a health food month, and in accordance with that need we attempted to locate ghee. Let me skim over this part and explain that, by the end of it, we had an assistant manager, two stock workers, a cashier, and a back room stock manager involved in the hunt.
The only thing we did successfully was hit up the half price books. I bought twelve.
Anyways, I’m settled in for the evening now and hoping for a calm, peaceful, silent evening. Creature-free. But I’m not holding my breath.
Tell me have you ever had a stretch of time you just can’t quite believe was real? Been through some events you can’t even believe happened? Tell me about them!

Making It Work

Pre-post Announcement: Y’all, I finished grad school!! Saturday was my last day of classes. I can’t even believe this two year nightmare…um, I mean journey…is over, but it is and I am free!! I just had to share 🙂

It seems like something we all struggle with as writers is where to find the time to make the words happen. Time is something no one ever has enough of, and it’s particularly strange and unwieldy for writers due to such inconveniences as blocks, research and prep work, and inspiration or the lack thereof.
I thought I’d share what my approximate schedule has looked like this past year, just to give you some ideas for where and when you might be able to fit in words. I always learn better by example than by just suggestions, so take it for what it is.
The disclaimers: I am not married, not dating anyone, have no kids, have no pets, and don’t have a roommate. Therefore, on a regular day, no one can intrude in my schedule except the people I allow in (friends, in crisis or for preplanned activities, etc.) although my landlady’s dog and the assorted people in and out upstairs make a valiant effort at disrupting my crypt-world.
Morning: all the usual waking up things, play on Twitter, sometimes blog time, and then Be Somewhere- either at work, at my internship or, on Saturdays, at school (now done forever let’s all party!!!)
I am the sort of person who doesn’t work all that well in lengthy, focused blocks. Or rather, I do, but then there’s usually a period in between where I can’t focus to save my life. I combat that by being extremely efficient, and then switching over to personal things for a bit. If I’m at work, I check my personal emails, sometimes respond to some, draft a homework assignment, or spend my lunch break writing. When I get to do this, it makes my whole day more productive because knowing I’ve been able to accomplish 500 or 1000 words already is a huge boost. If I was more of a morning person, I would absolutely write early in the day for that same reason.
Evening: usually recovery time. I do housework, make supper and watch tv, play some more on Twitter, etc. This is when I read articles on craft via Twitter links, usually seven or eight of them a day. Reading about other people’s projects and productivity is often the push I need to get started on my own.
If I have homework, I often do this first. Not only is it harder not to feel guilty about writing if there’s homework looming overhead, but I know my own laziness: if I’m sleepy, I’m much more likely to fight it off if I haven’t written yet than I am to fight it in favor of getting that homework done!
I often get more done by engaging in writing sprints with Twitter friends. It’s easy, just announce a time, usually a half hour amount, and get some other to join you in writing for that half hour. Whoever writes the most wins! Simple, no cost, and fun, not to mention a huge productivity booster.
This is also the time I have to CP. If it’s just reading and make general comments, I save it for before bed, but if it requires detailed work I also finagle it into this window of work time.
I live my life by lists. I also am not good at doing “a little bit of everything” every day, it just doesn’t mesh with my style. So, in a normal week, on a Monday night I’m staring at a list that includes two CP projects, my own WIP, edits or a piece due such as a short story for a showcase and blogs, reading 5-6 journal articles for school, and usually at least one if not two papers.
I’m more likely to break it down so Monday is read all the school things, Tuesday is write all the school things, Wednesday is write all the fiction things and CP, Thursday is revise and submit all the school things, and Friday is another write all the things day, than to divide the tasks evenly across the week. I’m much more productive going for broke on each project individually than cumulatively.
However, I don’t like to be away from my WIP for very long or I lose momentum, so I do have a minimum daily word count – 1k- to keep me engaged with the piece. Sometimes I get it done over lunch or down time at school (very rare!), occasionally I’ll do it right when I get home from work, or sometimes it’s the first thing I knock off the to do list to get me pumped up for getting to work. Lots of times I save it for the end of the night, for above mentioned reasons and also because if it’s going really well, I have a terrible time stopping and shifting to school mode and that messes with my ability to get things done on time.
So, there you have it – some ideas about managing schedules, commitments, and chunks of time to help you get things done. I realize that compared to some I have it easy, because I don’t have anyone else to worry about, but at times it feels like this is also a negative since there’s no one else to cook, clean, run errands, or even remind me when it’s nine pm and I skipped supper because I was too excited about what I was doing. Two sides to everything, after all.
This schedule is also dramatically different from when I was working a 50+ hour week my first year of gradschool – needless to say, I only drafted 2.5 books that year and revised one, since the time crunch was significantly bigger, and that’s different still from when I was just working full time before I went back to school. I graduate next week and will be interested to see how my time management changes when I’m back to a more “normal” living/working arrangement.
What’s your schedule like and how do you manage your time?

Why Middle Grade?

I’ve been thinking about this lately, because I feel as though MG is maybe a lesser known or discussed category. There aren’t as many blockbuster MG as there are YA or NA, and I know many writers who say they couldn’t ever write books for kids as young as MG readers or who, when they try, find it too difficult to enjoy.
Me? MG is no more difficult for me than any other category, in fact, for me, YA is probably the hardest category in terms of voice and pacing. And for me, there’s something really free and wonderful about MG.
I like that in MG, characters are unabashedly themselves. For the most part they’re young enough to notice how they’re different, and to maybe start being concerned about it, but it’s often too early for a sense of their differences being less than or so deeply ingrained that it sets them apart. I feel like in MG there’s more room for the weird and wonderful and adventurous. MG characters have that precocious sense of possibilities and celebration that YA and NA struggle to find again – the spark of individuality and the idea that the future is bright, endlessly open place.
Is there poverty, fear, loss, sadness, hurt, betrayal, hunger, and the other kinds of wounding experiences and circumstances of YA and NA in MG books? Certainly. There must be. To do anything else would be to tell an incomplete, and therefore untrue, story.
But MG kids are resilient in brilliant ways. They are creative, imaginative, and empathetic. They have big hearts and quick wits that for the most part don’t have the doubts and sense of a world being against them that can appear in the older ages. The world is new and big and endlessly entertaining. They have the room and the confidence to be remarkable because, for the most part, either no one has told them it’s wrong or they haven’t yet had that idea pressed so strongly on them that they’ve adopted it.
MG is both hopeful and whimsical, and heartbreakingly deep. Think of those powerful, formative moments in life when you first confronted the reality of people who didn’t love those you loved, or that death is real, or that those you love could fail you. How you experienced and responded to those moments has shaped who you are. But you have been equally shaped by your earliest dreams and aspirations, by the truths you discovered and by the possibilities you still quietly believe in.
All of this can be portrayed in MG books. I can write about girls who travel planets and save dragons, or boys who go up against pirates and win, or kids in wheelchairs saving robot friends or young super villains in the making and somewhere inside there you will find lost pieces of your own childhood. For me, at least, it’s easy to relate to MG books in a way I don’t always connect to YA or NA. As we grow older and change our stories diverge sometimes dramatically, but the qualities of children are so often the same, regardless of their circumstances. I love writing about those times, ripe with potential and magic.

That’s why I write Middle Grade. Why do you write what you do?