My 1st….Featured-AUTHOR-of-the-month:

I do not have words to express how beyond taken I am with this new writer I recently discovered!  Therefore, I will give you roughly  four hundred and seventy-some words to tell you about  my newfound EXCITEMENT.

The last time I had a new author crush was a couple of years ago when I came across Lisa Unger and her “Red Hunter” (whose blurb you can access under “Book Reviews”) – but man, Walker’s narrative voice ( W H O A ) &  her ability to immediately throw me head first into the stories, these worlds she has created, is astonishing. I first dove into “The Dreamers” earlier this year and was so changed by the fictional town of Santa Lora and Mei’s story and all the other souls that lived and breathed and became my own worries and concerns throughout a telling that was equal parts horror and beauty! I knew the minute I opened the first page I wanted MORE! And by the time I got to the last page I NEEDED more of Walker’s writing.

Imagine my joy when I goggled her to find she had a debut novel I had missed some years before titled, “The Age of Miracles.” I cannot tell you how long it took me to minimize my google window (because it was under a fraction of a second) as I jumped onto Amazon to buy myself a copy. I started reading “The Age of Miracles” thinking at first, and prejudging as many of us do (despite the fact we should NOT) and questioned, given that it was her first baby, was she as lyrical, as powerful, and as precise and intimate with her words then?.

This debut would introduce us to a new fictional landscape; an apocalyptic end-of-the-world type of story with an inexperienced eleven-year-old as our central narrator. So, of course, I had my doubts…

…but then I opened the first page: “We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin.”

WAIT, WHAT???? OMG! That is literally PURE POETRY: our days have smooth edges? And those edges were bulging? So much, they were like a tumor….but not any tumor…one that was “blooming beneath skin” – HOLY-MOTHER-OF-ALL-THINGS-LITERARY…..WALKER IS A GODDESS AMONG US ALL!

There is only ONE horrible, awful thing about her work….have you guessed it yet? It is AMAZING writing like Walker’s (which inspires me as a developing writer) but at the same time paralyzes me. It makes me want to stop my futile banging of the keys and pick up basket weaving or something. No ill will intended, but here’s to hoping she was a really sucky writer at some point. Fingers crossed that literary genius like hers can actually be worked at and practiced and developed (or close to it anyway).

This is the END OF MY VERY FIRST FEATURED AUTHOR POST – I will definitely do more of these – that was FUN!

Beyond Excited About Masterclass!

I’m lucky to have a husband that, not just loves me, but pays close attention. He gave me an early birthday present and surprised me with a year’s subscription to the online series of Masterclass!

 

I am beyond excited and have started, of course, with the Margaret Atwood course. I am on lesson #7, but I was moved from her first sentences in the introduction. To paraphrase this great literary master, she urged all writers (established and beginners alike) to not just see writing as a way to express ourselves, the way much writing advice suggests, but rather use the potential of the blank page and our words (which she reminds us, is all we have in our toolboxes) – to evoke and conjure up “for the readers some curiosity, some suspense, some interest…”

As a veteran beginner in this writer’s life, very few words, very little writing advice has made more sense, been so concise and precise as these. The Atwood course and lessons continue to make exquisite sense. Hers are simple, applicable and wise words! Her Masterclass has done so much to get me out of my current writing “slump” – such inspiration and hope of doing what we do with her every anecdote and her every example from her own writer’s experience.

MORE DETAILS & SHARES FROM THE MASTERCLASS SERIES COMING SOON!

DISCOVERING I SHOULD BE USING MY OWN VOICE

I have, “wherefore I know not” discovered, realized, accidentally stumbled upon…or whatever the right phrase might be – discovered quite by accident the true issue with my writing, writing progress, or lack there of. It isn’t writer’s block, or procrastination (like it sometimes feels it is).

My writing woes have, it seems, one very specific, and peculiar origin. I turns out I have been (for lack of a better metaphor) chasing literary rainbows. I have played at, and pretended to live the life of a Nora Roberts, a J.K. Rowling, and when all that failed, my latest attempt at mimicking the  new acclaimed new YA bestselling author, Adeyemi without a doubt was doomed to failure as well.

In all these experiments, I have succeeded in only one thing: to ignore my own writing truth – that which the greats call VOICE. I’ve ignored the stuff of gut that calls to me and begs to be poured out in buckets onto the blank page. I’ve ignored the subject matter and the humanity of the everyday – that which ills and soothes, which destroys and reinforces – those life moments and the people that occupy them. Those are what I am most preoccupied with, that which instead of being ignored, should be at the core of my writing material and projects. Instead, I insist on following the path of a copycat – of trying to write an amateur version of someone else’s success. So, as of now, I task myself with the difficult endeavor of diving only into projects that are utterly, completely and unapologetic me! It will not be easy, but that which is not easy tends to (almost always) be the right thing to do.

A New Lease After Living a Little of the Writer’s Life

With the beginning of a new school year, I find myself turning a new lease on life! These great middle grade titles are my next READS!!!

After taking a “hiatus” (for two and a half years) in order to give my writing career a chance, I found that a couple of years was not nearly enough to discover myself as a writer. I struggled with the completion of my first project and finally self-published it on Amazon after rejection letters floated my inbox.

I mustered up the courage to put that “failure” behind me and carried on with my debut’s sequel (also landing on my Amazon author page with little to no ,monthly sales despite my social media attempts to get the word out there). With those two “women’s fiction” novels behind me (and the quotes are there because so many critics disagreed that mine followed the appropriate plot & character requirements to be called women’s fiction) – I knew it was time to play around with other genres – I thought, perhaps, I was not working within the right genre for my writing style.

I committed to a new genre and tried my hand at a by-the-book romance novel. After much research and difficult months at the keyboard, I had what I thought was a good story. Unfortunately, that one too, was received with countless rejections. I pushed it on to my Amazon collection and decided to try something else.

I spent the rest of the year pivoting between a dystopian/sci-fi piece and a young adult fantasy. As I dove into the dystopian piece (a story set in an alternate, future America), I discovered (after a beta reader pointed it out) that my strongest scenes were those that described food and other detailed human-interest scenarios, rather than showcasing the action/adventure & suspense that should have been the focus of the intense, politically-charged text.

I threw the dystopian project in a drawer and turned my attention to a young adult fantasy novel I’d been working on for some time. Two years after my first finished manuscript, I knew my writer’s life could come to a close – our financial situation started getting away from us and I realized I’d have to return to the classroom (after 16 years of being an English teacher). I worked hard and fast to make the fantasy novel work – I was 14 chapters done (out of 30), when I hit a dead end. Unsure if I was still not writing the “right” stories, or if the plot had lost its luster (because writing 14 chapters had been a slow process) – I knew the end was near.

Three weeks ago was the beginning of a new school year – and I found myself taking a middle school English teaching position, of all places, at the school where my children completed middle school. It has been a hectic three weeks – IO am clearly RUSTY! Though I am excited to return to the classroom and be responsible for infecting students with the passion reading and books, I am mourning the loss of my writer’s life.

In the coming months, I must figure out if teaching and writing are careers that can be done well, simultaneously. For now, I have turned a new lease on life and become the proud teacher of 140 bouncy, wonderfully energetic 7th graders (who have already taken an awesome “Book Walk” in our classroom to select their next reading book from 10 titles). Reading and discussing great middle grade books is absolutely a great consolation prize for having had to give up (even if temporarily) my full-time writing status.

How Can I Be Sure I’m Writing the Right Story?

The mere fact that I am asking the question would have experts yelling the more obvious answer…if you have to ask if you’re story’s the right one, IT’S NOT!

But, answers to such complex questions are not that black and white – it isn’t always so clear cut. On the one hand, this is a project I have been wanting to complete for some time now – one I started with complete optimism and excitement. So, what’s happened since? Why do I find it so difficult to make it to the keyboard everyday and do the actual writing required to complete the manuscript? Is it the story has lost its allure? Have I changed in someway – it is feasible that in the time it takes for a writer to write a first draft (which for me is even longer due to my lack of experience) that something in the writer may have changed enough to make her current project seem obsolete.

In these cases, does a writer treat the new lack of excitement and commitment to the initial story as a normal side effect of the writer’s life, or is it a sign that something is fundamentally flawed with the story, its plot, character, pov, etc? Would the experts advice to hunker down and see the project through, or to table it and move on to a new flavor of the month? Either path has risks. If ignored the lack of luster may be responsible for producing a manuscript that simply lacks – if the writer abandons it and head to where the “grass is greener” he risks being the type of writer that will, in the future, fall into a pattern of defeat and failure.

If I were to follow my own advice – and listen to a recent and very powerful quote I read recently which states “the grass is greener where you water it” – I would stay the course and finished the first draft. Every great idea, no matter how long ago it originated, deserves the chance to at least become a first draft – and as the great Hemingway once said, “The First Draft of Anything is Shit.” So, after writing this little blog (which is precisely why I continue writing them) I have answered my own question: finish watering and nurturing the first draft of my current manuscript, knowing it is going to be utter shit! #WRITERSLIFE

Can the World and Its Chaos Taint Mood and Writing?

It is getting increasingly difficult to ignore the chaos in the world – tensions and divisions seem to be ever increasing. The creative, whether it is someone making music, art, dance, theater or writing, is a very visceral – a person that responds to the vibes that surround them. What happens to our creative output when it crashes with constant negativity, overwhelming political strife and an uncertain future? Some writers channel frustrations into their art, some are weighed down with feelings of helplessness.

So, do you protect your art from the ills of the outside world, or allow life to come crashing in and allow your art to meet it head on? I say, do a bit of both – allow the world in but ensure your art maintains your signature and its initial goal – great art by definition should always reflects truth and the artist’s heart.

In an effort to combat my constant frustration and anger with the current political climate, I have turned my creative energy to inspirational journaling. This journaling has become a dialogue with myself – therapeutic and relaxing; allowing me to destress at the end of a crazy day. When the voice in my head insists on feeding me fear, anger and helplessness – I respond by creating/drawing an answer to my fears, like in this colorful piece to the left, in which I tell myself:

“When the world around you makes no sense – and there seems to be no clear path forward…allow yourself to look past the inevitable…and find comfort in the beauty all around you.”

“Tell Me a Story, Please!”

OUR FASCINATION WITH STORIES GOES AS FAR BACK AS MAN’S ORIGIN.

The human race has been dazzled and charmed by the power of the narrative since the days our ancestors sat around the fire to captivate and entertain us with their tales of heroism, danger and adventure. Our love for storytelling has survived across millennia, and has even sparked the curiosity of the scientific community (which despite their many theories and data-collection, continue to struggle to definitively explain the roots of our fascination).

This unexplained phenomenon manifests itself in a plethora of flavors, from the most humorous accounts to the most gruesome of tales. Some of us love fantasy stories; its journey into the magical realm allows us the escape from the grind of daily existence so many of us crave. Many of us prefer Science Fiction; fantasy’s counterpart which serves a similar escape into new and “undiscovered” worlds driven by the lore of scientific speculation and mysticism. Then, there are those of us who yearn for the emotional voyage into the world of happy-ever-afters of romance novels – some argue this is perhaps to escape our disillusionment with the realities and complexities of relationships. And, of course, how can we leave out the thrillers, suspense and mystery novels that fulfill the need for puzzle-solving and deliver that rush of the whodunit that comes when all is revealed. The YA and realistic or more literary masterpieces, often serve those who seek to answers life’s most challenging and infinite questions. And this is all just the beginning…

There are unforgettable war stories, David and Goliath stories, and success stories (hence our fascination with biographies and autobiographies – in which the more the person struggled the better). Some people obsess over characters, rather than the stories themselves – hence the countless fans of such fictional heavyweights as Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Laura Croft and Indiana Jones. We shouldn’t leave out the large readership of great world-building masters like J.K. Rowling, R.R. Martin and Tolkien.

Beyond literature, lies a world of stories in visual form that have been just as successful in capturing our attention and validating our obsession with storytelling: the grand and colorful world of movies and television. Star Wars. Star Trek. Jurassic Park. E.T. Every Harry Potter ever produced for the big screen. And you may be surprised to know, that in that same vein, at the heart of every epic story is a character we love, cheer for, for cry for and ultimately make part of our own life. Character struggle makes our fascination possible – its the reason we may read one of the great heroines of all time, Elizabeth Bennet, and in that same night, tune into our favorite episodes of the Kardashians. NO – Kim Kardashian is NO Elizabeth Bennet – shame on you for even thinking I’d ever propose that! This risky comparison is just to illustrate that at the heart of every great story is a character that makes us continue to want more; more conflict, more battles, more mysteries, more challenges, more of that magical journey that happens when PEOPLE face off with LIFE (fictional or real, magical or mysterious) – WE WANT MORE AND ALWAYS WILL – long live our fascination with stories and characters, despite WHERE that fascination comes from! Don’t fix it, if it ain’t broke!

Fantastical Fantasies & How to Make Them Unique

Our insatiable fascination and craving for fantasies; YA fantasies, Historical Fantasies, Urban Fantasies, Magic Realism, Medieval Fantasy, Paranormal or Steampunk, Epic Fantasies, and all manners of Fables, Fairy Tales and more. No matter what your flavor of fantasy, there is a subgenre out there for every one of us. The days in which these fantastical tales where written for and read solely to children is in the past. Adults, like with the new trend of coloring books, no longer have to lie about the titles they buy and claim it’s a gift for a child. We can hold our heads high when prying eyes take a glance at the spines of the books we’ve stacked tall on the bookstore counter and say, “No, thanks. No gift receipts needed. These are all for me.”

With the same intensity that adults everywhere have taken to this limitless genre, I presume writers of the fantasy genre are doing the same. They are throwing caution to the wind and writing their stories the best way they see fit. Ignoring the rules used to often mean death to a manuscript before it even got off the ground–nowadays–agents and publishers alike, can agree on one thing: they don’t know what they are looking for but they’ll know when they read it. The latest trend in any genre, particularly in fantasy is, no trend at all. They are looking for something new. A new concept, a new voice, a new landscape–they just want that which has not been done. This creates an all together new challenge for writers because, if we are to be completely honest here, every story has already been told (over and over and over again). So, to sit down and commit to creating something that has never been done is quite inconceivable and downright terrifying. Truth be told, everything has been put down on paper. Every story has been told–the saving grace in such a seemingly bleak outlook is that even if every story has been written, you can be assured (without a doubt) every story has not been written by YOU!

Ultimately, it’s the narrative voice, the pace of the plot, what the writer decides to insert and what they chose to delete, what wonderfully multi-faceted characters they create and what memorable moments and unforgettable tapestry they paint with their prose. Fear not, novice writer. Write your story. Any story. Because no one has ever done it like you before. Of that, we can be certain. 

“When Reality Sets In” – The Frustrated Writer – Part 2

Six days after my previous post, in which I discussed how I might shake the paralyzes and writer’s frustration I was feeling – I confess I failed to stick to the plan – it was a simple plan – it was a plan easy enough for a kindergartner to follow: get up the next day, grab one of my many coloring books, open up my case of markers and begin to color! This fun activity was to fuel my creativity and prepare me for the writing day ahead. Instead…I spent the day ignoring my previous day’s conviction and went out with my husband to a lavish brunch – delicious – then moved on to walking the isles of Target where we indulged in buying more crap for the house we did not need – and the day – and night – came and went. No coloring. No creative burst. No focused writing session. At the end of the day, my consolation prizes were a new favorite egg dish and some decorative pillows.

Lesson learned: It may be less about how to warm-up for a writing session, what works to spark creativity, what might work to pull me out of my “frustrated writer’s” funk – and more about DISCIPLINE! Yes. I say it. I can bravely admit it now. Writing takes discipline. Which ever way you go about getting started, whether you are a morning writer or one that burns the midnight oil, whether you need to have four cups of coffee before tackling that next chapter, or run two miles to get the endorphins flowing – at the end of the day – it is your discipline and commitment to the writing itself – not the story or the characters – since both can tend to go astray without notice – it is commitment to the writing process! Period. It’s not about publication. It’s not about being the next J.K. Rowling or R.R. Martin – it must be about the love and passion for the word – every word – every sentence – about creating something you are proud, that you can hold your  head high defending against the harshest of critics. Wanting to be the next bestselling author and writing the next great American novel are simply not enough to fuel a writer to walk over to her computer, pull her chair out, take a seat followed by a deep breath and open her manuscript to create a story she is completely invested in.

Takeaway: The only thing to be done now, that my previous plan to color my way to a writing session failed, is to wake up tomorrow and make a concerted effort to bring to front of mind tonight’s lesson! To make myself walk over to the computer, pull my chair out, take a seat, followed by a deep breath and start writing!

“Jump Starting Productivity”-The Frustrated Writer – Part 1

I am a complete “writing” mess of late. I’ve been stuck in the dreaded “Frustrated Writer” cycle for too long. I get up every morning with every intention of making the day more productive than the one before (which is an easy task, since the previous day has zero progress and zero writing to show for it). The morning goes sluggish, despite a good breakfast and the all-important cup of coffee. By midday, after I’ve checked my emails, messages and devoted some time to social media, I look at the clock and try to heed the warnings of time: 1) Half the day is almost gone! 2) Must get started! 3) Stop procrastinating!

But instead of listening, I go about the rest of the afternoon in a slow motion fog between more social media and more checking an email inbox that is empty of new messages. I text my children then get up to get myself a snack. Stagnation taking hold of the entire day. I feel my husband’s words in the silence of the house, “Stop procrastination.” I ignore his stares, preferring instead to label him as someone who doesn’t know, doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a writer, what it takes to write. All the while, the other half of my brain , the stronger half, disputes, “Being a writer requires writing, so stop doing everything else you’re doing, or not really doing, and W R I T E “

Again, I am inclined to ignore solid advice. I spend the rest of the precious time I have with clenched teeth, tight fists and a tense, stiff neck. I dwell in the frustration of not sitting in front of the keyboard until something semi-worthwhile pops its pretty little head above the glaring white screen. Eventually, I will look up and find that it’s midnight and tell myself I should go to bed. I find solace in the fact that “tomorrow” will be different. Right? Tomorrow is where and when I will write; tomorrow I will sink into the world of my story and develop great plot, characters and prose. Solace turns to disappointment seconds later when I realize that my “tomorrows” all face the same dreadful fate. They are all doomed to be wasted in a never-ending cycle of frustration; a wasteland filled with unfinished manuscripts, great characters that could have been, unfulfilled adventures, battles and victories that were never written.

CAN CREATIVE JOURNALING SAVE THE DAY?

Tomorrow, in an attempt to stop (or at least, interrupt) the cycle of frustration I’m putting into action what I read on one of my favorite sites for writing advice: The Writing Cooperative.

Because it’s true, that writers are creatives, and creativity can be found or sparked by a myriad of things around us, I am going to try CREATIVE JOURNALING as soon as I get up. It is said to fuel, not just creativity (which goes without saying) but can also help focus the mind for a productive workday ahead. The rationale? Simple. After you have spent the necessary time allowing your mind to brainstorm and run wild with a creative endeavor like journal, painting, coloring or any other free-flowing “stuff,” the mind is then able to settle down and do more serious, structured work and labor-intense tasks like writing sentence after sentence for hours at a time (which of course is what is required of every writer). I will also pair the creative journaling with another great idea I saw in Twitter, which I wasn’t sure was for me at the time: Mood boards. Every since I was a little girl I have been fascinated by and inspired by the fluid beauty of collages. A mood board will do wonders (for both) igniting my motivation and keeping my “eye” focused on the story at hand to avoid too much wondering off the storyboard path.

Hope to update soon and share whether my ideas to break the cycle of frustration proved effective.

How do you battle your writing frustrations?