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JOIN ME FOR THE IMAGINE OTHER WORLD WITH AUTHORS BOOK SIGNING EVENT!

JOIN ME FOR THE IMAGINE OTHER WORLDS WITH AUTHORS BOOK SIGNING EVENT


cedar rapids book signing event august 5 2017

 

Let's Go to the Mall

Join me and over other 30 other authors from MULTIPLE GENRES at Lindale Mall in Cedar Rapids, IA on Saturday, August 5, 2017 from 10 am to 3 pm. We will be gathering at the Mall to meet readers and sign books. I hope you can join us for the free event!

Here's preview of the authors attending the event. Click on their names to learn more about them and their amazing books.

Children's/Young Adult Authors

CJ Anderson | Jolene Buchheit | Mary Griffith Chalupsky | Shakyra Dunn
Corrine Fosnaugh | Karen Carr | Ann Morris/Ana Morris
Jordan Pinckney and Will Lenzen Jr. | Jed Quinn | KT Webb

The event is FREE and open the the public.
Register today to be eligible for door prizes.


Fiction Authors

Stephen Brayton | Robert Dunbar | Jade Eby | Dennis Green | Craig A. Hart
E.D. Martin | Bartenn Mills | Shannon Ryan | Erik Therme

The event is FREE and open the the public.
Register today to be eligible for door prizes.


Fiction Authors

Joseph Dobrian


Romance Authors

Tricia Andersen | Elle Boone | Cassandra DenHartog | Lanna Farrell | Cassie Leigh
Sarah J. Pepper | Michel Prince | Mica Rossi | Dakota Trace

The event is FREE and open the the public.
Register today to be eligible for door prizes.


Science Fiction/Fantasy Authors

Aaron Bunce | Melissa Christopherson | Ben Clayton | Beth Hudson | Kellina Kilts | Michael Koogler | Dennis Maulsby | D. Moonfire | Stacie Sugioka | David Taylor II | M.L. Williams

The event is FREE and open the the public.
Register today to be eligible for door prizes.


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About I.O.W.A.

Imagine Other Worlds with Authors (I.O.W.A.) is the brainchild author Aaron Bunce, a member of Writers Anonymous, a group of word addicts from the Cedar Rapids Metro area and beyond. Our first event was held on July 16, 2016 at Lindale Mall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

I.O.W.A. is registered with the State of Iowa as a 501(c)(7) not-for-profit organization. You can contact I.O.W.A. by visiting the web site.

 

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I'm Not Ready to Make Nice

They say time heals everything... but I’m still waiting.
— Not Ready to Make Nice | Dixie Chicks

If you know me or have been a long-time reader or follower of mine, you know that I don't shy away from the hard things. I am open and honest about a lot of things including my depression and anxiety. Some of you may know that I'm also a sexual abuse survivor. And if you didn't - now you do. What a lot of people don't know though, is how many times I've been silenced about this part of my life. How many times I've been labeled a "liar," (see below confession from a family member) and an "attention-seeker," and a "whiny baby who didn't understand what actually happened." Listen, none of us are strangers to the way things are in our society. The way rape culture is rampant. The way abusers are protected instead of punished. The way a victim's voice is pushed aside. You've seen the media coverage, just as I have. And if you're anything like me, you've been enraged by it. But how do you deal with it when the situation has happened and is happening to you? How do you go about your day with a smile, knowing that the man (and his family) who hurt you is walking around without a care in the world because he knows that his punishment will be light? How do you learn to "deal" with the fact that so many people, including the criminal justice system have minimized (and often just plain squashed) your voice?

The answer: you don't.

You never learn to deal with it because it's not something you should ever have to deal with. 

I’m not ready to make nice.
I’m not ready to back down.
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round.
— Not Ready to Make Nice | The Dixie Chicks

So why am I writing this post now? Because I've been silenced for the very last time. A year and a half ago, I received a call from my father who is not usually an emotional man. But the minute I answered the phone, I could tell something was wrong. 

"He did it again," my father said. 

"What? Who?"

"Leonard. He hurt your cousin," he responded, his voice catching. 

That single moment will go down in history as one of the worst in my life. Because in that moment, I felt the things NO ONE should have to feel. Guilt. Shame. Disgust. I felt like what he was telling me was my fault. I'd failed to prevent another person from getting hurt. I was overcome with a sense of hatred toward myself. Why didn't I make a bigger deal out of what happened to me? Why did I work so hard to forgive him? Why didn't I grow up to be a sexual abuse case-worker? Why didn't I make sure to raise my voice louder instead of keeping quiet? Why did I have to be so well-adjusted -- no one pays attention to the well-adjusted kid. I should have made more poor decisions and MADE people pay attention to the things that had happened to me.

Logically, those are some of the most ridiculous thoughts to have crossed my mind. But in that moment - logic doesn't matter. What matters is how you feel. And that's exactly how he made me feel. 

It's been a long year and a half. To be honest, this case has affected me more than my own case against him has. I'm older and unfortunately, not as resilient as I was at 10 years old. So when I was told that I was not going to be allowed to read the Victim's Statement that I worked weeks on... the statement that contained ALL the things I should have said years ago and hadn't... I was furious. Livid that they were once again silencing a victim. That the re-victimization this case has caused was not nearly as important as the actual crime he committed. The son of a bitch took a plea deal. His punishment was set (only 2 years in prison - second offense). And still... they would not allow those of us who have been destroyed by him to tell him that. 

My only consolation is that there is a sort of justice within the prison system. And though I generally don't condone violence -- I am a believer in vigilanteism. Because if the people we trust to protect us are not doing so - who can we trust? I hope that the prison system enacts their own form of justice so that perhaps the man who has hurt so many people will understand what it's like to be held accountable for his actions. That he understands that even though the justice system has protected him, he cannot be protected from all. That there are others out there who care enough about his crimes to enact their own form of revenge. I know that this may seem unhealthy to a lot of people. And trust me... I've been in therapy long enough to know that even most therapists may think that there are some healing, processing and forgiveness steps that I missed along the way. 

But the truth is that life is not a forgiving place. The world does not go 'round in a black and white way as we'd like. We hurt people and people hurt us. And contrary to the popular quote, "No one can make you inferior without your consent" - I call bullshit. People are cruel and the way I was abused, without my consent, did make me feel inferior. I've spent a lot of time coming to terms with all the emotions that are wrapped up in being a sexual abuse survivor. As much as people would like to tell you what and how you should feel - they can't know what it's really like to be your position. Even in talking to other sexual abuse survivors - you discover that there's a variety of ways people handle the situation. 

All of this is to say that I'm writing this post because I can. Because I won't be silenced by the judge presiding over my uncle's case. I will not be silenced by his family who continue to lie about what happened. I will not be silenced by the criminal justice system that continues to fail me and plenty of other victims. And I will not be silenced by society -- a place where it's uncomfortable to talk about things like this. A place where people would rather see "good" than "evil" and acknowledge that it exists.

If the criminal justice system and his family will not hold him accountable for his actions, I hope his fellow community members will. I've never liked the idea of publicly shaming people for their actions, but that was before I realized that some criminals just don't care. They don't care about their victims. They don't care that they've been hurt. They don't care that they've been silenced. So today, I invite you to read my victim impact statement. To look at the documents that I've had in my possession for the last twenty years. 

I will not stay silent. And I promise to always raise my voice against injustices like mine.


TO MY ABUSER,

I am a daughter, a sister, a wife and a sexual abuse survivor. It's taken me many years to say those words aloud. And until now, I’ve never had the opportunity to address my abuser in this capacity and say the things I should have said years ago.

Leonard, I can still remember, vividly, the way it felt when you touched me where you weren’t supposed to. There are times, in the dead of night, when I can remember the fear of hearing your footsteps coming toward me, your body heat as you laid down next to me. These are unwanted memories I wish I could forget -- visceral reminders of the injustice and pain a loved one can cause. You can’t get rid of memories, though; it doesn’t work like that. What happens, instead, is that the memories impact every choice you make in your life. I am incredibly careful with who I trust. Who I show my true self to, because I don’t ever want to feel the loss of control I felt when I was a child in your care. I have learned to love on a case-by-case basis and to dole out that love little by little so as not to be betrayed. I have guarded my heart to protect myself – often to my own detriment – because of the residual effects of what you did to me. 

I’ve lost a lot of things thanks to you, and I want to tell you what all of those things are so that you can understand that what you did impacted my life in every way.

The first losses are the obvious ones -- the guilt, shame, and disgust that I felt at ten years old knowing that you had put your hands in places they didn’t belong. I had to explain over and over to various family members and counselors what happened to me. It was hard. It was horrible.

I didn’t know it then, but looking back, I now realize that you also took something very important from me as a child: my ability to say no. You made me feel small and insignificant and scared. You took my voice when you betrayed your role as a caretaker… as a trusted family member … and when stuck your fingers inside of me, you robbed me of a moment that should have existed solely for my future self to enjoy with a trusted and consensual partner, someone who respected me and my body. 

That loss of consent has impacted my decisions throughout the years and shaped me into someone who has a hard time recognizing that I have a choice. A choice to say no. A choice to stand up for what I disagree with.

Sexual abuse does not claim only one victim, and you should know that. When I came forward about what you’d done, the pain rippled throughout our entire family. Sisters and brothers that were once close were torn apart. Grandparents and grandchildren were separated. More importantly, a family I once trusted and believed loved me, became the family that treated me as if I were the one who committed the crime. I am the victim in this situation, but while my siblings and I were denied precious time with our grandparents, you were allowed the luxury of staying in contact with your loved ones. Your children and your wife got time we didn’t get.

You robbed us of that time and you robbed me of the chance to get to know my relatives. While your grandchildren grow up and learn who their family is – I am certain that I’m not in that history. My cousins will never get a chance to know the real me, because their knowledge of me will have been marred by your lies. The town that I should be proud to walk through because I have a rich family history there was taken from me, too. A town I grew up wandering the streets of, a town where people would smile at me because I was a Hankes. Now, I can’t stand to be in your town where the people believe you are a respected part of their community. That is not a community I can support. 

My dad has always been a fierce defender of his family. He has expressed such a deep love and loyalty to his parents and siblings that when he was forced to miss Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners because you would be there has been one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve had to watch.  It pains me deeply to know that my grandfather, one of the most inspirational and courageous men I’ve ever known thought of you as a son. That he respected you. I imagine that he is rolling over in his grave right now, disgusted with the kind of man you’ve proven yourself to be.

But the biggest thing you took from me was the narrative of my childhood. While I refuse to let you believe that you ruined my entire childhood, I can’t deny that when I look back at my youth, those painful years stand out the most. Those years of nightmares. Of therapy. I have loving parents and an amazing family, and for that I’m grateful, but my childhood memories often turn to this traumatic time in my life instead of the moments I’ve shared with them. And that’s your fault. You did this to me.

I want you to know that despite all the ways you have altered my life and the way I live it – you did not break me, no matter how many times I believed that you might have. I stand here today, strong and confident in who I am. And I know that I am one of the lucky few. My support system was bigger and more robust than anyone could have imagined. The people in that circle of support believed me. And loved me. And sent me to therapy. But the thing I remind myself of every day? I’ve been surrounded by the best male role models I could have asked for. Thanks to my father and stepfather, my uncles and my husband, I’ve learned that men do not have to hurt you to love you.

I know that you and some of the other people in this room might be asking, “Why is she still talking about this when it happened to her so long ago? Why can’t she just let it go?” The answer is that it’s still happening to me and to your other victims. It will always be happening to us. The day you decided to touch another little girl and that brave little girl told her mother was the day that I became a victim all over again. What I didn’t expect was to feel the weight of your actions fall upon me.  Like the guilt of not being able to protect that little girl or any of the others you may have hurt after me. Because of the disappointment with myself that I didn’t stand up and raise my voice in a louder way. So no, I will never stop talking about it

I also became a victim again when I found out that you rewrote the truth, when the cousins and family that should have known what really happened were told lies about me and my family. The most disgusting part of this is that you painted an inaccurate picture of my mother, making her out to be a vindictive woman in order to gain custody of her child. My mother, who at the time not only trusted and loved you as her own sibling, but was an outstanding mother and gave me every ounce of love and support she had within herself – all so you could keep the truth about yourself hidden. 

My mother did a great job of sheltering me from some of the more painful aspects of this situation. It actually wasn’t until recently that I was able to read the interview you had with the child protection worker assigned to my case and Officer Steve Holst. In that interview, you admit and I quote, “I knew I had a problem and I told my wife about it. We didn’t know what to do.” And yet you sit here today, claiming that you have done nothing wrong.

There is another part of the interview where the officer asks your wife, Roxy, if I had told her what happened. She acknowledged that I did tell her.

I remember the day that I told you, Roxy. And the day I told your son. And the way you both brushed it off. Looking back, is it any wonder I was so scared to tell anyone else? You made me out to be a liar, when you knew the entire time what your husband was doing. Why you continue to stand by his side, even now, baffles me. To know that you care more about a man who hurts children than you care about your own flesh and blood is appalling. Knowing that another adult was aware of what was happening and didn’t care enough to stand up for me has been a hard fact to accept. I beg you, Roxy, to reconsider the example you’re setting for the younger children in this family by staying with a man who purposely hurts children. What he’s done is not okay. And it’s not okay that you’ve supported him. 

Leonard, a few years ago, you wrote me and my father a letter (see below for actual letter). And I’d like to quote that letter now. “I am communicating with you now because I have been seeing (with Roxy) a specialist in counseling trauma survivors. He has helped me to see that the possibility exists that you may feel that I have no remorse or guilt for what I have done to you since I have never communicated it to you. As such, I am taking this effort to say the following to you now. I want to deeply apologize to you for what I did to you. Both at the time of my abusing you as well as any resulting effects that have or may yet, linger. You did nothing wrong, you were just an innocent child and I was the adult who abused you. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but my selfish thinking blinded me to the true wrongness I was engaged in.”

I spent a lot of time with your letter. I read and reread it. I spent countless hours talking to my therapist about it and came to the conclusion that I had to open my heart to forgiveness. Your letter felt genuine, which is why I allowed myself to be in situations that made me uncomfortable for the rest of my family. To allow my father time with his parents. To enjoy pivotal moments in my life with the rest of the Hankes family.

But you did it again. You abused another child. You broke the promise you made in that letter. And worse than that – you deny that you did. To anyone reading that letter – you may sound like a man who regrets what he has done. Who has resolved to change. I bought that story hook line and sinker and worked to forgive you. But you didn’t change. To this day, you continue to put your sick needs ahead of your family and you continue to hurt innocent children. It is this letter that ignites the most rage in my soul. In writing it, you hurt me again. You betrayed me, again. I want you to know that I will never forgive you for what you’ve done. 

I want everyone in this courtroom to know that just because a person does good things, it does not mean he is a good person. Sure, Leonard may usher at your church and take collection every Sunday. He may cut your lawn and help you when you’ve fallen. No one denies that he has worked hard and done good things in his life. But he is not a good person. He is not a good man. A good man would never hurt a child knowingly, would never allow himself to be put upon a pedestal when he knows the things he’s done to hurt others. 

That’s why I’m disappointed that he is not being punished to the fullest extent. It is not right that a repeat offender is able to spend a brief amount of time being punished for his crimes while his victims will spend the rest of their lives dealing with the pain he inflicted. I am astonished that a man who has admitted his guilt and who has been proven to be a predator is granted such leniency and will undoubtedly have the ability to continue to hurt children. 

You can tell that, despite the trauma you’ve caused me throughout my life, I am an extremely well-adjusted and productive member of society. I do work that allows people to raise their voice and tell their stories, and I am very good at it. I credit my success to my support system. But because of the luxury I have enjoyed, I owe it to the rest of the world to raise my voice for other little girls who have been traumatized and abused. It is not only my duty and responsibility to speak out and educate people on sexual abuse – it’s my deepest desire. I will not be an idle participant any longer, and I will not keep quiet, even when it makes some people uncomfortable, even when it means rocking the ship. I feel bad for your children because of the lies they’ve been fed. But I hope that they recognize the truth in my words and the words of all the victims’ statements that will be read today. I hope that they realize their legacy can be so much more than that of their father’s. They do not have to sit by idly and support him. They, too can have a voice that matters. And if they decide not to? That’s okay. My voice is loud and it will carry over them and be the light for other victims. 

I do not detect any remorse from you, Leonard and Roxy, but if you care even the tiniest bit for me or the other people you’ve hurt, you will do the right things. You will recognize how deeply you’ve hurt us and impacted our lives. You will admit the truth to yourselves and to your family. Your children and siblings deserve that much. They deserve to know that they were lied to and manipulated by the people they love the most.

I came here today to make it known that I would not let this moment pass by without telling you the things I should have said years ago. I am a sexual abuse survivor – but that label does not define me. I am so much more than what you did to me.

Thank you. 


If you've made it to the end of this - thank you for reading. I would like to take a moment to thank some people for their unwavering support during this difficult time. These people have made an impact on my life in positive ways which will always mean more than the traumatic history. 

My incredible family and husband, first and foremost, who have stood by me through every single horrific moment of this. 

Kim C - for being my first set of eyes on this and being a wonderful supporter. 

Emerald - for being an advocate and supporter when I needed it the most. 

Whitney - for her support, ear and comic relief during the darkest of days. 

Jennie - for helping me craft the perfect way to say all the things I've been too afraid to say until now. 

And any and all of you who read and share my story. <3

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Wildly into the Dark

I was abnormally excited to get an Advance copy of Wildly into the Dark by Tyler Knott Gregson. As you can see from the picture above, I have read/loved his previous books as well and this one really rounds out my collection. In true Tyler fashion, the poems are scattered throughout on various types of media and photographs (Tyler is also a fantastic photographer). 

The poems are just as visceral and moving as his other books, but in this book, I appreciate the little anecdotes or "musings" as he calls them. It's just another insight into Tyler's creative mind/process and I really love that.

One thing I LOVE about Tyler and his releases is that he's so cause-specific. And this one is no exception. For Wildly into the Dark he has an awesome pre-launch deal going on. 

$1 from EVERY pre-ordered book will be going directly to To Write Love On Her Arms, a wonderful charity that presents hope for people struggling with addiction, depression, self-injury and thoughts of suicide while also investing directly into treatment and recovery.  Here’s where you can order:

Order on Amazon
Order on Barnes & Noble
Order on Indie Bound
Order on Books-A-Million
Order on iTunes

SPECIAL PRE-ORDER SIGNED PRINT GIVEAWAY!

Click on this Pre-Order Signed Print Giveaway Form to fill out your information to receive a free signed print as part of this pre-order package!  The first 1,500 to sign up will get one mailed directly to them!  If the link isn’t working, go to:  bit.ly/WildlyPrint

*Unfortunately, this is for U.S. residents only as shipping made it impossible to send all over this rad globe.*

FOLLOW TYLER KNOTT GREGSON

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My Love Affair with the Freewrite

If you’re a millennial like me, you might be more used to the slight tinking noise of your laptop keyboard. Perhaps it’s the click of your cell phone keyboard. But, when the developers of Freewrite decided to bring the past back to life (with a just a touch of modernity), they realized they’d capitalized on something people take for granted… nostalgia.

The developers at Freewrite (Astrohaus) wanted to make a typewriter that held true to the elements that everyone loves(d) about typewriters but also add some of the newer technology to complement the needs of modern day writers.

So, what does that look like?

A compact, sleek thing of beauty that has wi-fi capabilities, an e-ink screen, the capacity to sync your documents to the cloud and that’s about it. It retains the nostalgic clank and clamor of the keys. The delay in the words you see on the screen. The inability to go back to previous sections with a cursor. And though the wi-fi is built in, it’s purposely left for only limited use. You can only use it to sync your documents, update the device's firmware and a few other minor details. There’s no clicking to the internet. No checking Facebook for “just a second.” No tweeting.

It’s just you and the keyboard and a screen full of your words.

So how does the Freewrite fare when put side by side with modern technology we know and love?

As you might have guessed, I decided to purchase one. In fact, I’m typing this post on it right now. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not only addicted to my precious Mac devices - I'm pretty confident that I'd die without them. However, I felt myself wishing things could be simpler. I found myself saying, “I wish I had the willpower to stay off the internet for even a day!” And I know what you’re thinking. “Well, c’mon, it’s not really that hard. Just. Do. It.”

I hear you, I do. But as my therapist would say, “if you can’t summon the willpower - take away the temptation.”

So there you have it. As of October 3rd, I had not written a single word in months. And the last thing I’d written before that was a short story. 10k words. Now, some might think that’s okay and it would have been if I were happy about it. But for someone who previously was writing upwards of 100K a year, this was NOT okay. And I was unhappy. The one thing I loved to do so much had stopped. And the truth was, I was using distraction as an excuse.

So when I saw the Freewrite on sale (it still is!), I knew it was time to make a radical change…if even just to jumpstart the momentum.

So did it work?

YES! There is something oddly compelling about sitting down with the Freewrite, no internet and just going to town on your draft. The lack of editing capabilities forces you to either

  1. Murder your inner critic 
  2. Be VERY methodical and critical as you write so that you end up with a fresh draft by the end.

And the sound… I will admit that I’ve fallen a bit in love with the sound of the keys. The higher pitched tone of the delete key and the slight, but discernible tink of the return button.  And the screensavers that rotate and change and make me smile when I pass it.

Now, don’t get me wrong – there are some issues. I’m not going to sit here and claim that it’s all sunshine and rainbows. Some of the things that bother me are also some of the same things that also make me happy. I know, I'm contradictory.

The lagging screen, the lack of arrow keys, the posture required (okay, that’s probably just me) - the inconsistency of the backspace button - they’re all things that drive me batty because they come so easily on the computer. In fact, I believe we take those things for granted. I have never loved my shiny mac as much as I did after a two-hour writing session on the Freewrite.

At first, I tried to love the Freewrite for everything, but it’s NOT an everything kind of device. To me, the best and most important thing that the Freewrite provides and encourages is distraction-free possibilities. It allows you to get out of your head - for even just a few minutes - to get your words on the screen. I have achieved some of my greatest word counts using the Freewrite and that’s impressive because I’m naturally a very fast typer/drafter. The Freewrite unlocks some kind of freedom in your mind. Allows you to push away the outside world and do what you always want to do: just write.

I truly believe that if I hadn’t forced myself to get the Freewrite and start drafting something… anything... I may not have gotten started again at all. And to me – that makes it worth its weight in gold.

But the fact that I still like to use it (like when I’m on deadline to write out a blog post about a modern day typewriter) makes me feel a burst of warm fuzzies. I love that I can always pick it up and expect to see Poe staring back at me, telling me to set my story free.

2017-02-08 22.48.21.jpg

I love that when I sit down at the table with just the Freewrite - it encourages me to indulge in my intentions: to set my stories free.

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What I Love About Love Stories

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not UBER romantic. I'm kind-of-sort-of romantic and definitely more into romance than my husband is, but I think romance and love are two different things. And romance can be feigned. Can be dramatized. But love? Love is a bit of a shiny unicorn. What do I mean?

I mean that love is so nuanced and different for everyone that it's hard to capture what it actually is. But that's why I LOVE "Love Stories" because when you're reading a good one, it doesn't matter if the characters resemble you or not, you still FEEL a bit of what they're feeling. You understand what they're going through, even if you haven't gone through it yourself. It's strange - but love is universal although there's no one size fits all to it. 

If you're married or in a long-term relationship - you may understand this sentiment: when you read/see/hear of a romantic gesture or someone getting engaged/married or falling in love and you wish, for the tiniest of moments that your experience had been like that. Or that you wish you could have it all over again. But then you snap back to reality and realize that's not going to happen and you don't really want that. 

But when you read a love story... you get to experience that over and over again. 

For me, I don't write a lot of love stories or romances. I'm drawn more to the darker elements of life. But most of my books still have some small element of romance or love in them because I truly believe that love is one of the strongest driving forces in our lives. Whether it's a romantic love or the love of a family member/special person, etc. Love and Fear are the strongest emotions humans can feel and I LOVE the way books can explore those topics more in depth.

I absolutely love reading a romance or love story where I'm invested in the characters and either they're redemption or their demise. I get ALL the feels when I fall in love with the characters falling in love. It's one of my favorite things about reading AND writing love stories. 

Do you like reading love stories? Why? Tell me in the comment section!

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GREAT BOOKS I'VE READ #2

As 2016 quickly comes to a close, I'll admit that I've been hustling to get in some reading to meet my Goodreads goal. But man, the last half of 2016 did NOT disappoint with the books. I was on a roll there, reading good book after good book. I figured, I'd do a little year-end round up of the last 6 great books I've read. 


I listened to The Good Girl on audiobook, so it took me a long time to get through. I usually listen to my audiobooks while I'm cleaning, doing laundry and various other things around the house. So naturally, it took me a bit to get through. But perhaps some of it was also my wanting to savor the book. I *loved* the narrators in this book. They all had such distinct voices and soon I felt like I knew them. I was drawn in by the premise initially - I love a good mystery or psychological thriller. But to be honest - I'm not sure that's what this book was. This is a hard book to categorize because it does go from one thing to another. From thriller to mystery to suspense to a little bit of romance, even. What I loved about it was the way we see the  main characters developing a complex relationship with each other. They're intwined for disturbing reasons, but that doesn't stop the characters from forming them. And there's a twist I can say that I didn't see coming. I even gasped a little when I realized what happened. That, my friends, is the sign of a good book. 


This book. It's been on my radar for a long time, especially after some of my fellow authors and good readers praised it. I'll admit that I was nervous to read it given the hype it was getting. But it was everything they said it was. Deliciously disturbing and mysterious. Compelling. I was glued to my Kindle until I was FORCED to get off by my family. I would have read straight through to the end. Now, usually I'm weary of books that claim to be like other books. But in this case, it's true in the good sense. It's like a mashup of The Girl on the Train (the good parts) and Gone Girl (again, the good parts). Or maybe it's the feeling you get when you read them? Regardless, this kept me on the edge of my seat, wanting to get deeper and deeper into the mystery and to the truth. There's something insanely creepy about how easily this situation could happen to anyone. It reminds me just how bat-shit crazy people are!


I already knew I was going to love Big Magic. I love Elizabeth Gilbert and I pretty much creeper stalk all of her social media account and have watched all her interviews and TED talks. I'm a superfan. So it's no surprise that I enjoyed Big Magic immensely, but what I didn't account for was just how much I was going to relate. How much I was actually going to GET from it. Being a creative person is not easy. It's sometimes really shitty and lonely and depressing. But there's also something magical about it... in a lot of the ways that Gilbert explains here. I'm not typically a "woo-woo" type of person, but some of her theories in this book spoke to me. Especially the idea about speaking to your ideas and how they don't belong to you. If you don't give your idea attention - it will float away, unannounced and land with someone else. It's kind of exciting to think about it like that. This is a MUST read for any creative and I know, without a doubt, that my creative tendencies are exactly the right kind of shit sandwich for me (that's a metaphor she uses in the book... read it to find out why!).


There's so much to say about All the Ugly and Wonderful Things but honestly, I'm still recovering from reading it to really articulate them as well as I could hope. This book is controversial. No doubt about it. And maybe that's partly what drew me to it. To see what the hype was about. But also because I was intrigued by the blurb. Intrigued by how someone could turn something so... disturbing... into something good. But I was blown away by Bryn's ability to not only make me have all the FEELS but to also genuinely love this book despite it's subject matter. We all come to books with our own biases, beliefs, and perceptions. I can see how many readers will hate this book and vehemently oppose it, but for me, it was the mark of a genius... an insanely talented writer to take characters and relationships that were taboo and hard, gritty, shit and turn it into this masterpiece. You don't have to condone or agree with things to understand or appreciate the art behind it. This is a book that will leave me thinking about it for months afterward. A book I will enjoy talking with others about whether it's in debate or in praise of it. If you don't shy away from the hard things... then this is a book you will probably enjoy.


I hadn't read a good YA book in a while and I was super intrigued by the premise of this book. Plus, the author is from Minnesota and I like to support authors from the state I live in, so I thought, "eh, let's give it a whirl." And I'm so glad that I did. It was beautiful, sad, and yet hopeful. I have a soft spot in my heart for cancer books ever since The Fault in Our Stars and though this one didn't make me cry like TFiOS did, it was still a touching story about a young woman going through something no one should go through, let alone a teenager. I loved that we were allowed into the main character's head so intimately. By the end of the book, I felt like I knew her. Like, truly, deeply knew her. I gobbled this one up and I'm so glad that I gave it a chance. If you like sad YA books with a touch of humor - this one should be on your list.


Tarryn, Tarryn, Tarryn. You've done it again. I fell in love with Mud Vein. Fell harder with Marrow. And now, Bad Mommy. I'll be honest, I was a little concerned I wasn't going to like this one. But being in Fig's head immediately sent me to the "ZOMG, IS THIS HAPPENING?" zone where I fell deeper in love with Tarryn and her writing. The thing about this book is that it almost has two layers. It has the surface creepy, psychological thing going on, but underneath is another layer of almost meta-ness. It's brilliant and smart and Tarryn subtly brings out messages and themes that you'll miss if you're not looking close enough. My absolute favorite thing is the exploration of human nature. The fact that each narrator staunchly believes in themselves. "I'm not a bad person... she is." "That chick is crazy, I'm not like that." "I'm being kind and generous..." What this novel does is expel the very fact that we, as humans, naturally believe ourselves to be certain things. We do, say and act certain ways and we're sure... so sure... that we're not the problem. That there's nothing wrong with us. And we are so blinded by our own faults and narcissism, we can't even see what others see about us. I'm so glad this was one of the last books I'll ring 2016 out with because it was one hell of a red


I hope you've had a wonderful year of reading and if you're willing to try out a new book in 2017 from this list, let me know what you thought of it!

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In Which I Write a Sappy Thanksgiving Post

Made by moi in Procreate app on Apple iPad Pro

Made by moi in Procreate app on Apple iPad Pro

As I sit here writing this, a few days before Thanksgiving, I find myself debating about whether or not to write this post. Mostly because it's pretty much the week EVERYONE starts lamenting about how grateful and thankful and blessed they are -- and shouldn't we be doing that EVERYDAY? Shouldn't we be grateful and thankful more than just around the holidays? We should - but sometimes, we all need a little reminder that it's time to count our blessing and reflect. 

So I'm writing this today as a reminder. Both of where I've been, where I'm at and where I want to go. I never believed the theory that "so much can change in one year," when I was a child. But as I've grown into adulthood, I'm learning just how true that is. The last three years of my life have had more changes in it than any years past and you know what? They humble me. 

I've had some really really shitty times in the past couple years and some really amazing ones. But regardless of whether it's a good or bad time in my life, I need to remind myself of the blessings that I have. 

  • I am a smart, capable woman who has a great career and by all accounts - a dream job. I get to write books, help people write books, do what I'm good at doing. I get to sit in my pajamas and do the work! I get to take a nap in the middle of the day if I want. 
  • I have family and friends that support and love me - in spite of my bad habits and judgments and grumpy exterior sometimes. At any one time, I have no less than a dozen people I could pick up the phone and call if I were in trouble, or needed to talk to. 
  • I am able to channel my passions into creativity and enjoy the fruits of my labor. 
  • I have readers who love my words and tell me so and it makes my heart swell with pride and love that they are there. That I write for them. 

On Monday, I spent the day talking at my old High School to a group of creative writing students. Young adults who have yet to cross the precipice of the beginning of their adult life. They are cautious and curious and full of unbridled yearning to touch the real world. I admire that - because there is a sort of jadedness that comes from growing up. I watched their eyes light up when I told them that like a lot of them - I was told a lot what I "couldn't do," but that I stopped listening to those voices and instead turned to the ones that said, "you can." I watched them get excited when I explained that having a good job that pays well isn't something that is always linear -- or what society expects. That if you work hard and believe in what you want out of your life and take control of it yourself, you can do what everyone thinks is impossible. The economy is a scary thing right now and a lot of the generation is being told what they should do. The kind of jobs they should have. But I think it's important for them to hear that if that's not the direction they want to go, they don't have to limit themselves. They can do what they want so long as they have the drive and passion to do it.  

After the last question had been asked and I walked out to my car to drive home, I felt incredibly grateful and blessed to have that opportunity. That someone thought *I* was someone those kids could look up to. I've always known I wanted to help other and do something important with my life -- but I never guessed when I was younger that the way in which I would do that is by doing what I love to do and being me. My words help people. My knowledge helps people. 

And for that, I am beyond grateful, thankful and blessed. <3

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Monthly Writing Prompt #4

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Monthly Writing Prompt #4

Let's face it - most of the time when we read something by an author, it has been through rounds of critiquing, beta-reading and editing. What you see as a finished product is often VERY VERY far from where it started. And I bet you didn't know that many authors do a lot of "practice" or "method" writing inbetween working on their drafts or editing. I thought it would be fun to show my readers what honest, in-the-moment writing looks like. No editing. Misspelling and plenty of errors abound. But it's often raw and honest and on-point. Sometimes, it's not. Sometimes, all it is is just a nice little exercise to jolt the muses awake for the "real thing." So once a month, I'll be a hosting a "writing prompt" post where I take on a new prompt and give it all I got. Feel free to jump in with your own version of the prompt in the comments or your blog!

PROMPT SOURCE:

Six-Word Memoir on Love & Heartbreak

THE PROMPT:

Write your six-word memoir


Finding

the

right

words

is

hard. 


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Books That Have Changed My Life

It sounds weird - but I've been thinking a lot about life-changing books lately. Mostly because the book I'm writing for NaNoWriMo is one of those books that I'm writing because of a need to explore a topic that is therapeutic and honest in written form. As I've been drafting - my mind keeps slipping back to the thought: this could change someone's life. And that thought had me thinking about the number of books I've read in my lifetime (*Spoiler Alert* It's a lot!) and which ones have changed my life in some shape or form. I thought I would explain what a few of those are and why. Fair warning - this is a whopper of a post ;)


WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS BY WILSON RAWLS &

OLD YELLER BY FRED GIPSON

I know a lot of people had to read one or both of these books while in school, however, I did not. But my Dad loved these books, and so when I moved on to chapter books, these were the first two I read. I can remember crying through both of them -- and learning for possibly the first time what it meant to love and bond with an animal. I learned about the pain of losing another part of your family. One of my favorite memories is of my dad and I watching these two movies after I finished reading the books and reliving the experience of reading them. I believe these are two books that every child/young adult should read. 


THE BOXCAR CHILDREN BY GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER

Ah, the books of my early youth. I was a voracious reader - even when I was a young girl. I whipped through The Boxcar Children books as fast as I could. I envied the siblings' adventures and remember wishing so badly that I had a sister (and then finally, I did). The Boxcar Children taught me what it mean to be loyal to your family and really, the moral implications of the stories taught me about the world, even if I didn't know it then. I recently got the boxed set as a gift for Christmas and I treasure it because they are such a classic part of my childhood. 


GOOSEBUMPS & FEAR STREET BY R.L. STINE

via wantoncreation.wordpress.com

via wantoncreation.wordpress.com

screengrab via Google

screengrab via Google

I know I've talked about my fascination with horror (like here) and most of the people who know me well - know that I love all things scary, horror or macabre. But I would take a guess that my true love of horror stories began with Goosebumps and Fear Street. I have fond memories of curling up in my bed under the covers and reading these with a flashlight. I also remember having nightmares afterward, but also kind of loving that. I quickly moved on from the often silly themes in Goosebumps (this guy made a ranking of the Goosebump books and it's awesome) to Fear Street pretty quickly. I was reading books I shouldn't have been reading pretty early on. I think this is why I probably am not that scared in my adulthood - I was LITERALLY scared out of my mind when I was young and read/watched the scary things I wasn't supposed to. 

In all honesty though, these were such great books to learn the horror tropes and to ease into the genre. Without them, I'm not sure I would have developed such a love for horror. And that would be a shame, because it's so much of who I am today. 


GONE WITH THE WIND BY MARGARET MITCHELL

When I tell this story, my husband rolls his eyes (because he feels like I'm tooting my own horn) and my mother beams (because she's proud of me) and I just love telling it because this book, more than so many others, really did change my life. I was in Seventh or Eighth Grade when we had "reading groups" and we'd all had to take a test to determine what group we'd be in (it was based on comprehension and a bunch of other stuff) - my test landed me 2 things: in a reading group by myself and a trip to the "gifted" classroom. 

I chose Gone with the Wind as my reading group book because 1. I was by myself and 2. my grandmother really enjoyed the book and 3. I wanted to impress my teacher. I know, I know. But here's what happened: I fell in love with Southern history. I fell in love with love stories (not romance), I found I had an affection for rogue bad boys, and I found myself for the first time in my life, both loving and hating a character. Gone with the Wind was the first book I'd read up to this point that forced me to think about life outside of myself, and what I had experienced. It made me think about life during the civil war and how women and people of color were depicted. Also for the first time, I actually FELT a character's desire for something (Scarlett wanting Ashley) and her immense regret (There's always tomorrow...). A piece of me identified with Scarlett but I was also so angry with her for being so stubborn and stupid. My heart fell for Rhett Butler and there hasn't been another book boyfriend that holds a place in my heart quite like him. 

This was also the first time in my life that I got that: I want to do this. I want to write like this. I want to tell a story like this. It changed my world and to this day is one of my favorite books. 


TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD BY HARPER LEE

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This book is probably on a lot of people's lists as it should be. To Kill a Mockingbird was one of the mandatory reading selections at school, and I'm so glad that it is. Obviously it's right in line with my love of Southern novels, but Scout immediately grabbed my heart and I went through the journey of her story WITH her. What I love about this book (and what I've heard from others) is that if you read it young, it's almost as if you're experiencing the same realizations that Scout has throughout the book. I wasn't knowledgable about rape trials at that time and I barely knew anything about criminal trials and was just starting to learn about the discrimination African Americans faced in the south during that time. I felt like as Scout's eyes were opened to the tragedy and hope and admiration of her father, so were mine.


THE HARRY POTTER SERIES BY J.K. ROWLING

Again, I know I'm not the only one who has this series on the list of life-changing books. These books... I can't even begin to describe what an impact they've had on my life. I was the same age as Harry when the books came out. I literally grew up WITH Harry, Ron & Hermione. I think many people can relate to one or more of the characters, but in school, I always felt like someone who didn't belong. I had some friends, but I was not popular, I was a geek, but not a smart geek. I didn't fall into a category. I felt invisible most of the time. I took solace in the world of Hogwarts and magic. I reveled in the world-building and finding all the connections. And I knew early on that more than anything - I wanted to be J.K. Rowling. Not that I wanted to write fantasy -- but I wanted to write stories that touched people and saved them the way Harry Potter saved my life during my darkest of days. While I don't want children, I yearn to be around a child that I can read these books to so I can experience the joy and magic of the stories once again, with someone new. I'll just have to beg my siblings to let me do this with their kids ;) 


THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS BY ANN BRASHARES

This series holds a dear place in my heart -- even though I will admit that my tastes have changed dramatically. What I loved about these stories was that each girl was different and representative of someone you would know in real life. They weren't barbie doll types or the girls from Sweet Valley High... they were realistic depictions of girls I could relate to and their situations were also relatable. I remember reading the first book and understanding for the first time what sexual tension was. That butterfly inducing, anticipation that came from wanting the characters to kiss, touch and more. I loved that Ann Brashares didn't shy away from depicting some non-healthy relationships and framing it in a sensitive way. 


MISERY BY STEPHEN KING

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Ah, my first Stephen King book. All it took was one book and I was hooked on one of my favorite authors to date. Just like my relationship with Goosebumps and Fear Street -- this book took my love of horror and suspense to a new level. I remember first, being in awe of how truly terrifying writing could be and then second, how talented a writer could be. When I read this book, I was in the backseat of my mother's car, on the way to see my dad for the weekend, and I came to a particular part in the book where I gasped. I remember that it was so well written, and so evocative and no other book had ever done that to me before. I'd never been pulled into a terrifying world like Stephen King had done. It was love at first book and now I can't imagine my life without King's books in it. 


A TIME TO KILL BY JOHN GRISHAM

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My mom really likes John Grisham. And she'd leave his books around the house when she was done but she'd take them to my grandma's before I could get a chance to swipe one. So I remember checking this book out at the library and the librarian calling my mom saying that she thought it was too "adult" for me. My mom said that if I could understand it - I could read it. That was my first dance with Grisham - and after reading this book - I felt much like I did with To Kill a Mockingbird (coincidence about the name and content being similar? I don't think so...). Grisham goes into so much more detail in terms of the case and the crime and I was as fascinated with the story as I was when I read Stephen King. I learned more about court cases and criminal proceedings from John Grisham than most people know today. He instilled in me a theme that I find in my own writing very often: that of justice and whether or not it's served appropriately. This book asks you to think about hard subjects and I remember having a long conversation about the realities of the world with my mom after I was finished. 

You could say that this book single-handedly influenced much of what and why I write the type of books I do, today. 


THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER BY STEPHEN CHBOSKY

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I reluctantly believe in fate and destiny. I'll admit it. I don't think it happens often, but I think once in a while - it does. One of those instances is when I stumbled upon The Perks of Being a Wallflower right at the exact moment that I was going through turbulent times as a teenager. I was going through hard times with my parents. I was invisible at school. I didn't have any good friends then and I was scared to be myself. Everyday was angsty and my journal was full of sad, depressing things. And when I read this book - it was like the salve to my aching wounds. I related with the Charlie so much it ached. He was into reading and writing - me too! He was a wallflower - me too! He had a gay friend - me too! His PTSD about being molested - me too! But what this book did was tell me that it was okay. It was okay to be invisible, because sometimes you grow up and you're not anymore. That it's okay to be angsty and confused. That it's okay to admit something traumatic happened to you and you still feel the effects years and years later. 

Mostly, this book taught me that it was okay to be me. 


MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE BY NICHOLAS SPARKS

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I checked out this book from the school library mostly because I recognized the title as a movie my mom loved. I figured if my mom liked it - I probably would too. But that's not what happened -- I didn't just like this book, I loved it. It was the first "adult" love story I read and not only that - it was the first love story that touched on tragedy. The emotions contained in this book - especially for a hormonal teenager were explosive. I remember being cradled up and crying when it was over. My mom consoled me with ice cream, like I'd just broken up with a boyfriend. I was devastated by what happened in this book and also deeply deeply moved by their love story. I became a Nicholas Sparks fan from that moment on. I don't care what anyone says about him or his books -- I have a fondness for them that I'll never deny. 

Later in life, when I looked back on why I loved this book so much - another thing struck me. It taught me how good a story can be when you connect with a character. When their emotions become yours and you understand the depth of love and grief and all that comes with it. I try to apply these principles to my own writing and often think back to this book and the way it made me feel. 


THE PACT BY JODI PICOULT

Going along the lines of love stories - I specifically picked up this book after reading Message in a Bottle because it said "A Love Story" - I had no idea what I was in for - or that I would fall in love with author Jodi Picoult either. This book broke me in half, simply put. It was also more relatable because it was a love story about teenagers grappling with teenage things. Especially surrounding something that I struggled with myself: depression. This book touches on suicide and had I known that from the beginning, I may not have read it as I'd just had a friend commit suicide shortly before reading this book. But once I was hooked on the book - it didn't matter, because it touched on so many things my friend (and I) had felt in terms of our depression. This book made me feel like I was again, not alone. That my depression was something more serious than just feeling sad all the time. It also confirmed what I'd felt months earlier when my friend committed suicide - that terrifying, utterly devastating feeling of knowing someone you love has taken their own life. I loved the way Picoult wrote both sides of the coin - the teenager POV and the parent POV - and I learned very early on that Picoult has an innate ability to present moral issues in a new light and make you question everything. That's why she remains a go-to author for me. 


LOOKING FOR ALASKA BY JOHN GREEN

Looking for Alaska.jpg

I don't remember which girl on my dorm floor recommended this book to me, but she should get a prize. Because the moment I read the first sentence of this book was the moment I fell head over heels in love with John Green. The way John Green writes is so unique and distinctive (my first year of college was extremely formative for me in terms of my writing identity and life) and I devoured every word and beautiful sentence he wrote. I fell in love with his language and his characters. But this book - it touched me to the core because of what I was going through. I've always struggled with depression - but my first year in college was my first year of dealing with it away from my family. Friends. My best friend and I fought and we started to drift. I didn't have a best friend then. I had no one. And I felt it. That's why Alaska spoke to me. I also yearned for someone to admire me the way Miles adored Alaska. The intriguing, melancholy girl who was too smart and wore darkness on her sleeve. This was my first John Green book - and is one of my favorites to this day. My husband has learned that my "one pass" would go to John Green if ever there were a chance ;)


ROOTS BY ALEX HALEY

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I'm embarrassed that it took me as long as it did to read ROOTS. It was mandatory reading for my African American Literature class in college and I remember being both excited and terrified of the 900 page saga. But I blew through it and I remember crying for days and days afterward. I felt ashamed that I didn't know more about African American history. I felt ashamed that my ancestors and kin were taught to hate and treat others the way they did in the books. Of course, I learned about slaves during middle and high school - but nothing I learned then came close to reading the words Alex Haley wrote. Nothing. I learned after reading this book, the impact that words can have on a person. The way they can shape and deconstruct history for someone. The way they can preserve a piece of history - no matter how good or bad it is. I was sickened by the events in this book and it had such an impact on me that it's why it belongs on this list. But I will admit that it brought out so many emotions in me that I never want to read it again. The heartbreak of it was enough once, I don't think I could deal with that pain again. 


EAT PRAY LOVE BY ELIZABETH GILBERT

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I read this book after a move to a new city, with a new school and a new job and I barely knew anyone. I had been in a bit of a rut, I was feeling down about my prospects in life. I was very much one of those people just "going through the motions." I thought I would hate this book - #truestory. I am not really into the whole new-agey thing. And at the time I read this - I didn't think I could relate to someone who was such an adult and going through adult things. But it turns out - this book was exactly what I needed at that time. It's not so much about the struggles that Gilbert was going through, but HOW she refocused her intentions and her life to find the answers to the questions she'd been asking. And really -- that's where I was at. My life was a giant question mark waiting to be answered. What I discovered through reading this book was not that I needed to go to Italy or travel to Bali to find myself, but that I needed a fresh perspective, a new way to approach my life. 

And shortly after I decided to approach my life with this renewed sense of "discovery," I met my now-husband. Funny how that worked...


THE NIGHT CIRCUS BY ERIN MORGENSTERN

I'm honestly not sure I've EVER read a more beautiful book than The Night Circus. I picked this one up mostly because it sounded good, but also because the author was a huge supporter of NaNoWriMo (which I talk about here). So I decided to give it a try. And I think it was the first time since I took writing seriously that I sat down in awe of how truly beautiful a book could be. I mean, the words! The dialogue! The description! Every single thing about this book sang. The prose is to die for. And the minute I closed the book - I knew that my goal for the rest of my life would be to put out a book as beautiful as The Night Circus. It hasn't happened yet - but every time I open a document and start writing, I remind myself of this goal and what I want to achieve one day. 


WYNN IN DOUBT BY EMILY HEMMER

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Full disclosure: Emily is my friend. But that makes no difference in how I view this book. There comes a book every once in a while where you connect SO deeply to the character, he/she might as well be you. Wynn Jefferies is me. I bet she's a bit of you, too. The thing about Wynn is that the issues she face, I think EVERYONE has faced sometime in their life. Wynn is doubtful of herself. Unable to move forward because of fear of not being good enough. Not thinking she can have what she truly wants. Its a universal feeling. But what Hemmer does with Wynn is weave a relatable story in with an epic and controversial side-story that touches your soul. Maybe I related to this book so heavily because I felt exactly like Wynn at the time that I read it. Maybe it's because she wants an adventure for her life and so do I. Whatever the reason, I knew after I finished the last word that I was changed. That like Wynn, I couldn't be content just "waiting" for my life to happen. I had to take it into my own hands. 


LANDLINE BY RAINBOW ROWELL

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Marriage. It's not a topic I usually find interesting in novels. Especially because they usually revolve around situations I have no experience with or desire to know about. But Landline... it was different. I knew I would like it because I like the author. But Landline put the topic of marriage and twisted it into a unique perspective and for the first time, I found a book about marriage that I related to. That I found more than interesting. That spoke to me. I love the way Rowell can take the subject and break your heart with it without even having a major controversy. She explores things like: having a dream and working on that dream when your partner has other dreams and aspiration and those two start to diverge. How do you chase WHAT you love when you feel like WHO you love is holding you back? Growing old together and taking advantage of the things you think you know about them only to find out, there's still SO much to learn and love about your partner. Whenever I see a new couple getting married - I write in their guestbooks that they should buy this book. 


THE FAULT IN OUR STARS BY JOHN GREEN

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This is the book that I'm sure is on a lot of lists. It's a book that touched in me in ways I will never be able to adequately describe. It's a love story. A tragedy. A coming-of-age. It's everything all at once, and done so seamlessly that you don't even know what's happening. Earlier, I described how much I fell in love with John Green and his writing - and it absolutely shines through in this novel more than any other. The truth is - I have very little experience with having a young family member with cancer. A good family friend died when he was twenty-two from cancer, but other than that - I thankfully have not had to deal with young family members with cancer. As you can imagine - it's one of the hardest things to go through... and this book shows you so many different angles of that. It rips your heart in two when you fall in love with the characters and realize that they FEEL just like your friends. And when something happens to one of them, you FEEL the pain they do. There is no purer love than that of someone who knows death is imminent. Who knows they don't have long to enjoy the luxuries of life and love. So they fall completely and honestly and purely. And it's beautiful. It's beautiful and heartbreaking and TRUE. That's what I love about this book... is that it feels so honest, to the very core. I re-read this book days after reading it the first time and have re-read it several times since then, discovering new things about the story and the love between Hazel and Augustus. This book changed my life and I thank John Green for such a poignant story that I call one of my favorites. 


There you have it folks. The list of the most life-changing books for me. I'm sure there are some missing from this list that had an impact on me, but to be honest, the list is already pretty damn long. I'm sure you don't want to sit through anymore ;P If you take away ANYTHING from this post - it's that words have the power to change people's lives. You never know WHY or HOW the things you write/say will impact someone, but rest assured - they have the power to do so. And maybe try one of the books on the list if you haven't -- see if it changes YOUR life, too. 

Thanks for reading. 

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What I LOVE About NaNoWriMo

I remember the day I found out about NaNoWriMo. I was in my first year of college, working for IOWA Public Radio and manning the third shift by myself. During those nights - there was A LOT of time to do "me" things. Research, read, do homework, etc. It comes as no surprise that even then, I wanted to be a writer. So when I stumbled upon this magical thing called National Novel Writing Month - I was interested. The more I read about it - the more intrigued I became. Write an entire novel in 30 days? 50,000 words? That's crazy! There's no way... I thought. But I couldn't stop reading the forums and people who had done it and by the end of the night, I was convinced I was going to do it. 

And I did - and never looked back. 

I had documented it all on a blog that is now defunct and long-gone. How I wish I'd kept it (or at least kept the posts) so I could look back. But *spoiler alert* I did not win the first two years I did NaNo. I failed miserably. But at least I tried. It wasn't until 2009 (when miraculously, my book blog was started and I have Facebook posts to honor the memory) that I put my foot to the ground and said - I'm going to do this thing, no matter what it takes. This was when I moved to a new city - started a new University, a new job and a full schedule. And you know what?

I rocked the shit out of NaNo. Here's a little glimpse into that crazy month of NaNo in 2009:

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And here's an excerpt from my blog from that same day:

I DID IT! I fucking did it. How in the hell did I do it is what I want to know. I can't believe I'm sitting here and I actually did it. I'm freaking out here... and its like 2 in the morning so I can't exactly scream or jump around because everyone's sleeping. I'd have a celebratory drink except I cant find my parents liquor closet. Plus...again its 2 am..probably not the best idea.

LOL - so you get it, right? Why discovering NaNo was such an amazing thing for me? In the years following, there were many celebratory status updates and posts like this, but the first time is always the best. 

Now, you might think that everyone would be on board with this awesome thing, right? But that's not the case. There are a lot of people who vehemently detest NaNoWriMo for various reasons. Even my mentor doesn't love it. But I'm a huge supporter of NaNo, obviously. And I decided to break down my reasons.

1. Camaraderie - there is nothing quite like a group of people gathering around a topic/theme they are super passionate about. There's just this... vibe that surrounds the month. There's a sense of "belonging" that many writers often don't feel. The first year I did it - I found out that people gathered at the local library to write. It was a sense of community I hadn't found elsewhere. 

2. Developing habits - Due to the nature of the time constraints and word count - it FORCES you to write consistently. While I don't always prescribe to the thought that you should write every single day, I do think there's validity to the theory. But more than anything, I truly believe that habit begets momentum and momentum begets progress and progress = a finished novel. When you set a goal and work toward that goal every day, you begin developing habits and soon it becomes a part of your everyday routine. And I can't think of a better habit to pick up than carving out time to write everyday. Sometimes people just need a little nudge, or accountability and I think in a way NaNo does just that for writers. 

3. A sense of accomplishment - not everyone wants to be a writer who gets a book deal and becomes famous. Sometimes, someone just has a dream of writing a book, plain and simple (I know, it's hard to imagine for those of who do write TO be read). And even if a writer DOES write to be read - there's something to be said for wanting that, dreaming that and haven't yet been able to accomplish it. But with NaNo - even when you don't "win" - there IS a sense of accomplishment. Of finishing. Of seeing 50,000 words you wrote on the page. They don't have to be great (and most likely they won't be) but when you hit that 50,000 mark and it's the end of November - I'm telling you - nothing feels as great as looking at what you created and saying, "I did it!" I'm a fan of ANYTHING that puts you in motion toward your dreams/goals.  

4. Helps to silence the inner critic - When I'm NOT in NaNo mode - I tend to let my inner critic take root and my progress becomes stalled and sometimes even stops. But because of forward motion of NaNo, it kind of forces you to silence that inner critic and just keep going. Because you know what? You may have 50,000 words of crap, but that's what revisions, rewrites and additional drafts are for. You can't edit a blank page (said by so many people, I don't even know who to attribute it to). I know SO many writers who want to have a clean, near perfect draft... but I don't think that's reality. And it's definitely NOT my reality. No matter how fast/slow I go with my writing - I always have additional revisions/drafts I need to complete. So for me, NaNo is a way to get the story on the page faster and focus on revisions afterward. 

5.  You have a book you want to write - and there's no better time to start than with NaNoWriMo. Whether your a plotter, panster, first time writer or seasoned pro - there's no discrimination when it comes to NaNo. There's no age limit. NOW is the perfect time to bust out your idea or your dream to write a book and just start. You may surprise yourself with what you're able to accomplish.

So I hope if you were on the fence about NaNoWriMo - you read this post and find yourself excited to try something new. And if you're a veteran writer and haven't done it - why not try it, too? 

Me? I'll be attached to the keyboard this month, pumping out the first draft to my next novel. See ya on the flip side ;)

 

 

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The Fascination with Horror

I have always openly admitted how much I love October, Halloween, the horror genre, and generally anything to do with the macabre. Why? I don't know! But I'm not alone. One Google search sent me to thousands (literally, THOUSANDS) of articles about why people are attracted to horror, true crime and documentaries about killers (both those rightly convicted and those not). I found this one to be particularly enlightening and this one, too. 

I've heard from various family members that they think it's "weird" that I'm so fascinated by this topic, especially since it stemmed from such an early age. I remember my father sitting me down when I was younger and we'd watched IT or Chuckie from Child's Play. When I was a young teenager, me and my sisters favorite thing would be when Friday rolled around and my dad came home with a handful of rented scary movies. In High School, I won a speech tournament using serial killers as my topic. You could say that I've been obsessed for a while. 

This love of the dark and disturbing has served me well in several of my novel/short stories - but oddly enough, I haven't ever written straight horror. Possibly for the same reason that I have never written Dystopian (another genre I love to read/watch). I'm intimidated by it. 

But with horror - I'm more scared of what it would say about myself. I imagine that the people involved in thinking up the horrific things that happened in the Saw movies are probably not exactly proud of themselves (well, maybe they are) - I, for one, would be a little embarrassed to admit that my mind is that warped. Possibly, I've never tried to write horror because I don't want to admit that I find pleasure/joy in writing about such dark themes. To be a witness, a voyeur is one thing. To dream it up, create it, write it -- that's something else entirely. 

I think that someday, I'll give writing horror a try. I have a million pieces of inspiration all around me - so why not? 

Would YOU write horror (if you don't already)? Could you? Do you read it?

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Monthly Writing Prompt #3

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Monthly Writing Prompt #3

Let's face it - most of the time when we read something by an author, it has been through rounds of critiquing, beta-reading and editing. What you see as a finished product is often VERY VERY far from where it started. And I bet you didn't know that many authors do a lot of "practice" or "method" writing inbetween working on their drafts or editing. I thought it would be fun to show my readers what honest, in-the-moment writing looks like. No editing. Misspelling and plenty of errors abound. But it's often raw and honest and on-point. Sometimes, it's not. Sometimes, all it is is just a nice little exercise to jolt the muses awake for the "real thing." So once a month, I'll be a hosting a "writing prompt" post where I take on a new prompt and give it all I got. Feel free to jump in with your own version of the prompt in the comments or your blog!

PROMPT SOURCE:

How Writers Write Fiction: Storied Women MOOC

THE PROMPT:

Write a scene or short story in which your main character is a female child. 


My father closes the comic book and sets it on the bedside table. "So, you see, Crescent City is a little like Gotham." 

"Like we have a Batman and a Catwoman?" I ask excitedly. 

His laugh shakes the bed. "No, darling. I wish, but what I mean is that even though lots of bad things happen here, it's our city and we love it. We protect it. We fight to make it better and expose the truth."

I think about the dark alleys we pass by at night when my father picks me up from Ruthie's apartment and how the police cars are usually squished between the buildings, yelling up at someone. Or the way the old wrinkly man on Belvedier Avenue is always in the same spot, with the same tin can, shaking it about, asking for money. I just give him a sad smile. If I had my own money, I'd give it to him! He's just sad. I wonder if this is what my father means.

"So we should save that old man who asks us for money, right?" 

He looks down at me, his eyes squinting, his brow rising. He does this when he's confused I think.

"Yeah, baby," he says, softly. "We probably should."

"But why can't we?"

My father is quiet for a moment. When he talks, his voice is so small I can barely hear him. "Because we're just ordinary people. We don't have special powers and sometimes staying out of the way is helping."

He tucks the blankets under me like a cocoon of warmth and kisses my forehead. "Goodnight, love."

My father walks to the door and shuts off the light, but I'm still thinking about what he said. And I don't like it. Not one bit. 

"Daddy?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm gonna be Batman someday. I'll be the one to tell the truth."

I don't have to see him to know that he's smiling.


Special Note: This exercise is EXACTLY why I wanted to start doing this - because in taking on this prompt - I've written a scene of backstory for my upcoming NaNoWriMo project. Even this itty bitty, tiny exercise sparked BIG ideas and gave me insight into my characters. There's always a good reason to practice your writing - even when you don't think you'll need it. You may end up surprised. 

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Why I Write Short Stories

I've long heard over and over from readers and writers alike "I hate short stories... they're not long enough. They're not worth it. They don't make money. They leave you wanting more. Waste of time." And you know what? It makes me really sad. I LOVE short stories. Both as a reader AND a writer. Sometimes, I really want to quench my reading thirst - but I just don't have time to read a novel. Sometimes, I am really jonesing for a certain theme and find an anthology of short stories that is filled with stories on that theme. And sometimes, my favorite authors throw out a few short stories to fill the void between their next book. Whatever the reason is, I love it!

But as I writer - I love writing short stories! Here are few articles I've found that boil down the most basic reasons quite succinctly:

But for me, personally, it's a mixture of both of those articles. And I guess the biggest thing is this: I'm good at them. I don't say that in arrogance or to boast. I say that because you know when you're good at something, and you FEEL good doing it and when you finish, you have a sense of contentedness and accomplishment? It can be coloring or painting, singing or heck, cleaning the house! Whatever you're good at - you do it because you're good at it, you enjoy doing it and it fills you with a sense of joy.

That's writing short stories for me. 

When I was a teenager and started to take writing seriously - I honestly didn't think I'd ever write short stories. I thought it was for MFA students who were "super prickly and stuffy" and for those who didn't have the "chops" to write a novel. But the truth is that writing short stories is actually a lot harder than people think. Which is another reason why I do it. 

You have to do in a short story, what writers are allowed to do in a full length novel. All the elements still have to be there - a beginning, middle and end. A compelling first line. Three-dimensional characters. Conflict. Tension. Climax. It ALL needs to be in a short story and you don't have a lot of room to make all those things happen which is why if you can master the short story, you are actually strengthening your skills as a storyteller. 

My short stories have always been challenges to me. To make my characters sharper, more distinct. To make the plot tight and all-encompassing. To make the depth of the story and character arcs enough within the timeframe allotted. 

I have to be honest and say that some of my FAVORITE characters and stories have come from writing short stories. If I had never taken a chance on diving into my craft and taken the challenge of trying to write a short story, I wouldn't have come up with the stories that my readers love (despite them being short stories!). 

I really do urge you to try reading a short story if you haven't (a few of mine are FREE and/or .99!). And if you're a writer - I urge you to try and challenge yourself with a short story. You might surprise yourself with how much you learn from the process!

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Is New Adult dead or did it even have a chance to live?

When I was in college and shortly after, there was something I desperately needed. Books that represented my life. I yearned for books that had main characters that were my age and who were going through similar situations. I also looked to books to see how others my age were exploring their new-found freedom. How they were navigating the decisions that seemed so hard to make. 

When I realized that there weren't many that existed - I was determined to write one of my own. It just happened to come right before the whole "New Adult" category craze. This category promised to be so much of what I was looking for. What I needed. And what so many other readers wanted. It promised to feature characters of "New Adult" age - 18ish to 25. It promised to touch on so many of the life choices a new adult has to face during that age range. 

But then something weird happened (and to be honest, it was mostly due to the evolution happening in self-publishing) - the category seemed to shift radically from all of the above things to one thing: sex. 

Now don't get me wrong - sex and finding your sexuality and exploring sexual relationships is a HUGE part of being a "new adult." But let's be honest here (I mean, REALLY honest), it's not ALL of what being that age is about. All of a sudden, the category I so desperatedly needed and wanted was tainted by sex, sex, and more sex. And there exceptions, for sure. And even some of those books that were sex, sex, sex were very good. But the truth remains: New Adult was doomed before it ever got off the ground. It was ruined with sex and angst and gave readers a very clear definition of the category so that when someone didn't write a sexy, angsty book with characters that age - it wasn't deemed a "New Adult" it was deemed another category featuring protagonists of that age. Which is a huge shame. And it leads to my next point.

The whole yearning and desire for relatable books with characters my age hasn't gone away. It's increased and per the usual, there are very few book out there to satiate my desire. Why? I don't know. Let's look at the facts here for a second.

There are Middle Grade books for Middle Grade age range (8-12) and they often explore themes/topics/issues that happen at that age. 

There are Young Adult books for Young Adults (13-18) and they often explore themes/topics/issues that happen at that age. 

In Adult books - it's very tricky because you can have a book that is definitely FOR an adult, with adult themes but features a young adult protagonist. There are many, many books out there with protagonists who are my age - but they NEVER deal with much of what I'm going through. They focus on a bit older topics/themes or the book is focused on plot centered issues. 

Let me give you an example. At any one time - there are thousands of books about marriage, divorce, infertility, grief, cheating, etc. And those are great topics and many are great books. But what about this:

Where are the books about young women in a generation where marriage and babies CAN be less important than the career they are passionate about? What about when the time comes when society is telling that young woman that she is a selfish person for putting her desires ahead of what society thinks she should do? 

Where are the books about couples who are starting their lives on a shoestring budget because they're both paying off student loans and can't seem to find jobs in their designated career fields and feel as if they are failures? About the blossoming adults that feel betrayed on the broken promises left by the previous generation. 

What about the young man who busted his ass in college to get a degree he and his parents are proud of - just to end up living in their basement because the job market is impossible? 

You may see those topics and think, "whoa, how boring is that?!" and maybe that's why people haven't been more forthcoming in writing them. But I don't find them boring. They are what some of us are living through every day. Why do all other age categories get to be explored and not this one little gap of time? 

I realize that there are exceptions. There ALWAYS are. So for those that ARE writing about this age range and the topics and themes - I commend you. 

But the truth of the publishing industry is this: it's not so much defined by what the authors are writing -- but by what the readers are buying. What they're asking for. Craving. It's true that authors that stand up and write what they believe in make a difference, but when authors, publishers and agents see what the readers are buying -- they will shift the market that way.  So this is to say that a reader's voice MATTERS more than you think and when you start to talk loud enough - people start to listen. I encourage anyone who has passion for this age range and this category to raise your voice. Ask for what you want to read. WRITE what you want to read and put it out there. Champion it voraciously. Speak your mind. Support the limited authors who are writing FOR you. 

Just like any great zombie apocalypse -- nothing dead has to STAY that way ;) 

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Great Books I've Read #1

This is one of my favorite posts to write because I get to talk about the thing that inspires me most: Books! I don't have a lot of time these days so when I pick up a book, I do not waste my time. Life is too short for bad books! Lately, I've had a run of really good luck in reading some great books and I wanted to share a bit of them with you. 


Young Adult books are one of my favorite genres to read, but I'm VERY picky about them. I used to read them all the time and truth be told, got burnt out on them. For me to really love a YA book these days is rare, so when I went into Red Rising, I was understandably a little hesitant. But this book BLEW. ME. AWAY. I love love love the world Pierce Brown built. I love that it was sci-fi and dystopian with a gritty male character. This book reminded me of Hunger Games (in a good way) and I appreciated that the author didn't shy away from the violence that would naturally occur in the world. And I just loved the whole premise. I haven't gotten around to reading the rest of the trilogy but it's on my winter break list!


One of my favorite parts of being an author is that I get to read advance reader copies of books and I get to read books by authors that I actually KNOW and LOVE. Whitney Barbetti is one of my dearest friends, but she is also a fantastic writer and I loved Into the Tomorrows. It was actually JUST the book I needed at the time when I read it. I had been reading lots of cheery romance and mystery... I needed a palate cleanser and this was perfect. Whitney writes books that seem to reach inside your chest and squeeze your heart. You FEEL all the THINGS with her books and this was no exception. I loved Trista because she was so realistic in her sadness. In her desire to become untangled from the girl she thought she was. The girl everyone else thought she was. I loved watching her come to life again after her tragedies. If you love deep, thought-provoking books - this is one you should try!


This is another author and book that are dear to my heart because Emerald O'Brien is one of my best friends and I'm always in awe of the stories she writes. She weaves suspense, mystery and heart together so seamlessly and I have to say that Closer is by far my favorite of all her novels. I love it when authors branch out and try something a little different and I love when they stretch their writing muscles which is so evident in Closer. There's always a great theme that underlies all of Emerald's books and everything is not always what it seems. I love trying to figure out the mystery because she does such a great job with it (and those twists)! If you're a fan of mystery/suspense and even a little romance - I urge you to try this one, I think you'll love it!


This one should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me and my obsession with Harry Potter. I ordered it the day it came out and I was admittedly a little nervous to read it knowing that it wasn't going to be exactly as I imagined since it wasn't actually written by J.K. Rowling. But after a few pages, I was thrust back into magical world with my favorite cast of characters and it felt as if I'd never left. I think going into it with lower expectations actually helped me enjoy it more. I found myself whizzing through it and really enjoying the way the author took some liberties but kept so much of the characters the same. All in all - I was impressed with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and I would recommend that any Harry Potter lover read it.


I'll admit it - my favorite kind of book is a psychological mind-fuck kind of book and I'm telling you -- I haven't read one quite like this since You & Gone Girl. This book! Ugh. It was perfection to me. I love how the main character is 50 shades of messed up and you know it right from the beginning. You know from the very first chapter that you're in for a creepy ride with the main character, but still, you cannot prepare for the kind of cray-cray he is. I loved it. Each mistep breeds another mistep until you're on the edge of your seat wondering (and for me, slightly hoping) that something big is going to happen to the main character. His psychopathic tendencies were written so well, I literally felt my skin itch at times. If you love psychological thrillers that turn you inside-out - this is the one you absolutely HAVE to read. 


This was one of those weird reads for me where I loved 90% of the book but even though 10% wasn't great -- the good far outweighed the bad. I found the narrative of the main character (once you figure out who it actually is...) compelling but her background is even more compelling. And the depictions of domestic abuse were SO well done, I commend the author on it. It's one thing I strived for when I wrote Whiskey and a Gun and to have found another author who did it so well made me fall a bit in love with her. Plus, she wrote from the POV of the domestic abuser which is brave and hard to do (I would know.. LOL). So I found her depiction of the abuser so well done that I cringed and winced at some of the passages. It was painful and heartbreaking to read, but the overall story is one of hope and redemption. If you like a good mystery/thriller with a bit deeper of a story line - this one is for you!


So there you have it! Six of the great books I've read recently. I love sharing what I've read and why I loved it - so you can expect to see more of these down the line (you know, once I actually have more than a few to share with you!) Let me know in the comments what books you've read and loved lately!

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Monthly Writing Prompt #2

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Monthly Writing Prompt #2

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: 

After last week's blog post and a lot of internal ruminating - I decided to do a THING. A thing that meant fighting for my book's life. I won't take up space here to talk about it - instead - you can follow the journey by clicking HERE. Because everything that's happening is pretty awesome. And I'm excited. Anyway, back to the post for today!


Let's face it - most of the time when we read something by an author, it has been through rounds of critiquing, beta-reading and editing. What you see as a finished product is often VERY VERY far from where it started. And I bet you didn't know that many authors do a lot of "practice" or "method" writing inbetween working on their drafts or editing. I thought it would be fun to show my readers what honest, in-the-moment writing looks like. No editing. Misspelling and plenty of errors abound. But it's often raw and honest and on-point. Sometimes, it's not. Sometimes, all it is is just a nice little exercise to jolt the muses awake for the "real thing." So once a month, I'll be a hosting a "writing prompt" post where I take on a new prompt and give it all I got. Feel free to jump in with your own version of the prompt in the comments or your blog!

 

 

PROMPT SOURCE: 

642 Things to Write About by The San Francisco Writers' Grotto

PROMPT:

What is the sound of silence, and when did you last hear it? What was missing? 

 

 

 

One might think the sound of silence is nothingness. But it's the loudest sound you'll ever hear. Because when you take away something that can be so easily created (noise and meaningless words), you're left with all the things that are harder to say.

She tells you, "No, I didn't do it. I swear," but as she takes off her makeup and breaks down in front of the mirror before she knows your watching -- you know what she's telling you. She hadn't needed to say a word. You heard everything in her silence. 

Silence is so often avoided because of the realities you must face, but I invite it in. Every day. I beckon for it to come to me in the small moments where I'm paying attention. Those are the moments where truth is at it's highest form and inspiration always hides beneath truth. Find the truth, find the inspiration. 

Like life, silence is often planned to go one way, but rarely goes the way you want it. That one golden hour when the kids are asleep and no ones home and you are blissfully surrounded by silence. But it's never really silent, is it? It's punctuated by the silence telling you what needs done next. What errands must be run. What dinner choice you must make. 

Silence is only as powerful as you let it. Take a chance and let it whisper truths to you. You might be surprised by what you discover. 

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The Struggle is Real

I didn't want to write this post, to be honest. I thought if I did - it would mean admitting my failures. Admitting that there's something wrong. But you see, there is something wrong. I am struggling right now. Conventional advice is that you should not air your "dirty laundry." That you shouldn't talk about "hard" or "bad" stuff. Because it depresses people. Because it shows your vulnerability. Because then you look like you want sympathy. I call bullshit. This is why we have depressed individuals who feel like they have to go through drastic measures rather than talk about it. But honestly? That's not really what this post is about. Sure, we'll talk about my depression and anxiety (as I've done herehere and here) but since this is my writing blog, I want to talk about the struggle of writing. The struggle you may not hear from writers today. Because again, who likes to admit that writing isn't always sunshine and rainbows and glittery ideas that flow from your fingertips?

WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU STRUGGLING WITH?!

Good question! I am struggling with a particularly nasty case of writing blues. I don't call it a block - because I don't really think I am blocked. I think I have reverted back in time to where I was ages and ages ago when I first started writing - fumbling around with not knowing what the hell I'm doing and doing more reading/talking about writing than actually writing. Why is this? Because I put other people and other things before myself and stopped writing for so long. I let the world close in around me and I bowed to it instead of pushing back like a badass and saying, "No. I deserve to write." And even though writing is like riding a bike, it's hard to get that momentum back. Especially when you've lost your confidence. When the industry has literally gone topsy-turvy on you since you left. The sad fact is that for a writer, even when you're not writing, you're thinking about writing. You're dreaming about it. You're missing it. 

And this is terrible when you feel like you can't write. You start to get resentful and jealous and the insidious thoughts creep into your skull, "you're not good enough anyway," "the market sucks right now," "you'd probably just fail, so why try," "the book you want to write is too hard." Man those thoughts just bash and bash at your brain until it's the only words you hear drowning out everything else. 

I let those words get to me. I let them sear into me until I literally wanted to give up. But I knew I couldn't. I know that I can't. I am a writer and no matter how terrifying these periods are for me, I know that there are better days ahead. But it doesn't change the fact that once I got back on the proverbial horse, that everything would be peachy keen. Because it's not. 

I started off with a small goal: write a 10k word short story for an anthology. When the anthology fell through, my next goal was: publish said short story on your own. So while I managed to do both of those things, I always knew what was up on the horizon. I used to lovingly (and sometimes resentfully) refer to it as "the plague book" because no matter how many times I tried to rework, rewrite, revisit it - it would fall to pieces and inevitably... so would I. It was the first book I wrote and finished. Realistically, I know that I should leave well enough alone and shelve it. It's what most authors do. I, like many others, did not publish the first book I wrote. I wasn't prideful enough to think that the first thing I wrote would be good enough. It wasn't. It still isn't. But I did something stupid during my second year of publishing. I promised it to my readers. I got a cover made, wrote a synopsis. Shared it with the world. 

But when I went to rework it - I couldn't do it. It fell to pieces... again. So I pushed it off until I could look at it again. During a particularly good run of writing, I decided - I'm going to try something new! I'm going to use this book as an experiment. And I decided to rewrite it using the "chapter in a newsletter" method. I would write a chapter, put it in my newsletter unedited and deal with it from there. I got 13 chapters in before everything fell to pieces...you guessed it... again. 

This point was starting to coincide with my busy schedule, my depression and I threw in the towel. I gave up on "the plague book" once again.

Here's the BIG thing you should know about "the plague book," though - I love the premise of it. I deeply deeply love the idea of exploring the themes in this novel. Aside from Whiskey and a Gun - this is the only other book I've ever felt drawn to in a way that I can't get out of my head. 

So yeah, giving up on it always feels like a big deal, because I feel like I'm giving up on a part of me. 

Earlier this year, I thought I'd found a magic pill in the form of a workshop I was helping build. It was by a renowned story coach and my own mentor. The method seemed amazing and I thought to myself, "This is it, Jade. You're finally going to write the book the RIGHT way."

Do you think that happened? No. The same thing as always happened and I was devastated by it. Crippled by the feeling of failure again. Of giving up.

That was the last try before another bout of deep, dark depression. Another couple months of bashing myself and my inability to write a word. And then when I DID write - I bashed myself for not being good enough. Clever enough. Lyrical enough. 

So it makes sense that when I looked at my writing life as of late and saw that the common denominator was "the plague book" I would think of shelving it for good, right? I have to tell you - I was (am?) this close. I spent hours last week letting the tears fall down my cheek as I tried (and failed) to put together another plot. To try and think of character arcs. Goals. Motivation. I shut down my computer and I thought, "This is it, Jade. You're done with this story for good."

Some people might be sitting here thinking, "what's the big deal? It's just an idea." But it's not just an idea to me. This book... this story... it represents the last twelve years of my life as I started writing. It represents an idea that I'm still so very much in love with. Putting it away for good is not an easy task - I would have to mourn and grieve it's death and move on. 

But then I picked up a book called Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield. You may have heard of him - I certainly had which is why I picked up his book. And while it's filled with many great tips, tricks and anecdotes. There was something in particular that stuck out to me. Something that I read over and over and over again until it was burned into my memory:

When faced with the question “what idea should I work on?” the answer is always the same: Write your White Whale.
Here’s how you know what it is: You’re scared to death of it. Mediocre ideas never elevate the heart rate. Great ones make you break out in a sweat. The whale is your unwritten book, your unsung song, your calling as an artist. You die grappling with this thing, lashed to it, battling it even as it takes you under. You’ll know the whale by these qualities: It’s accomplishment will seem beyond your resources. Your pursuit of it will bear you into waters where no one before you has sailed. To hunt this beast will require everything you’ve got. 

Whoa. That's some intense shit right there. And I thought, "Hmm. Maybe "the plague book" is actually my "white whale." And instead of being scared of it - it filled me with a newly refreshed vigor to figure. my. shit. out. 

So "the plague book" is now my "white whale book" and I'm thinking of pulling on my big girl panties and trying once again. 

But when is enough is enough? 

IS GIVING UP REALLY THAT BAD?

My mentor Jennie Nash wrote a blog post called "Is It Time to Quit Writing  Your Book?" where she interviews our shared client Tracey Cleantis. I remember reading it and thinking, "Oh my gosh. No! There is no dream too big to give up on." Last week, when I was struggling with what to do about "the plague book" aka "the white whale book" - I took the "Dreams - Let it Go or No" quiz on Tracey's website and I was stunned with the answer: 

If you have 4-7 True answers: you may want to consider calling it quits. Your expectations for the dream are likely not realistic, and too much of your self-esteem and self-worth are riding on it. It is time to take a hard look at the consequences of the dream and be honest about what it is costing you.

Crap. I thought I would sail through the quiz and it would remind me that my dreams are important and I should follow them. But this dream? Could it be killing me secretly?

TO MOVE FORWARD OR NOT?

Here's the truth. I can't give up just yet. I have to give it one more honest go. One more guns 'ablazin, hooting and hollering go. Because if it's time to let it go. To bury the hatchet - I need to know that I did EVERYTHING and I really mean EVERYTHING to make it happen. To truly put it to death means knowing that I don't regret moving on. And that's the hardest thing in my opinion. 

WHAT WAS THE POINT OF THIS POST?

The pure struggle and gut-aching confusion of it is the point. THIS is what it means to be a writer. To struggle and cry over an idea. To write, rewrite, replot and then toss it all away to attempt a better version. To want to give up every time. To HAVE to give up sometimes. 

Writing is not easy. And ANYONE who says that it is easy is lying. Direct them to me so I can have a little 1:1 chat with them. Because they are not telling the truth. Writing also isn't all hot abs on covers and "Zomg, I hit 12k words today! #coffeebreak!" Yes, some rare times, it is like that. But mostly? It's heartache. It's loneliness. It's insecurity. It's pain. It's longing. 

It's wanting to be heard when you feel you don't have a voice. It's crying out to the void and listening as nothing comes back to you. 

But it's also inspiration and love and therapy. It's rewarding and triumphant and miraculous. There is nothing (and I truly mean nothing) better than the feeling of a writing high. When you've felt the words come together and your story takes shape. 

So we don't give up because of the darkness... we keep fighting because of the light. 

I guess the point of this post is to show you what it looks like to be a REAL writer outside of the glamorized social media lens. Because without the struggles and the darkness... we'd never be able to see the light.

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My Love Affair with Audiobooks

I'm not too proud to admit that I'm a converted audiobook lover. As in, I didn't always love them. To be completely honest, my prejudice and own silly beliefs had me thinking about audiobooks in a negative way. Why?

Because I thought it was cheating. 

As someone who has been a voracious reader of physical books my entire life, I couldn't imagine that audiobooks could touch the magic that is reading. Some will use the argument that the same could be said for ebooks -- but I don't agree. I think reading, whether it's on paper or a screen is relatively the same (at least for me and in my opinion). But audiobook? Well, just lump those in with movies, I thought. It can't possibly be the same! I would chuckle when I heard family or friends say that they were listening to an audiobook and enjoying it. I thought, hmm okay, maybe for a long drive where you have no choice BUT to listen to something... 

I know, I know. It was terrible of me. I did tell you I would always be honest, right? So this is me admitting that I was wrong. That I was naive and silly for thinking those things. But I'm not the only one! 

I recently read an article (which you can find HERE) that says that many voracious readers have felt the same way, but that actual studies have been done to show that not only is audiobook listening almost identical to reading, but that in some cases, it actually gives you a more enjoyable experience than physically reading text. Say what?!?!

I understand this now. It's funny, because before I left my corporate day job to write full time and build my business, I had the PERFECT excuse to listen to audiobooks - a long commute. But because of said above reasons, I never did. But it's incredible what time you can find to listen to audiobook - when you don't think you have time to pick up a physical book. When I'm working on something that requires less attention - I turn on an audiobook. Folding laundry? Yup. Taking a hot bath? Yup. Trying to fall asleep at night? Yup. 

I've discovered that I can "double dip" and not get confused when I'm reading a physical book and listening to an audiobook. I can get double the fun without having to do extra work? Yes please!

Something else happened when I started listening to audiobooks - it deepened my experience and love of the written word. Sometimes, when we read (especially if we're in a binge-reading session) we forget the language because we're wrapped up in the story (and that's exactly what's SUPPOSED to happen, mind you), but when you're listening to an audiobook - those beautiful lines stop you cold. I've paused and had to rewind just to listen to it over again because it was heaven to my ears. You know when a book gets adapted to film and you have a line from the book you REALLY love and can't wait to hear it said in the movie? That's how it is with audiobooks, too. 

The other thing I discovered is listening to an audiobook when you've already read the book is an amazing experience. You pick up on SO many things you didn't while reading and if the audiobook has a great narrartor, it transports your experience to another dimension. I did this with the Harry Potter series. Listened to them all on audio after reading them a bajillion times - and I can't even begin to describe how magical it felt to hear the stories come alive in a different way than reading the book and watching the movies. 

So obviously I've waxed poetic about my love of audiobooks. There are some cons to listening, though I feel that there aren't enough to outweigh the pros. So if you're hestitant... if you're thinking that it might be cheating... I urge you to not make the same mistake I did. Try one (you can try them for free you know!) and give yourself the chance to fall in love with literature in a new way. You will be glad you did!

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Why I Write

I recently took some time to dust off some of the craft-writing books sitting on my shelf and as I'm coming back to writing after taking a few months off - I figured it would be a great way to refresh myself with why I started writing in the first place. One of the books, The Writer's Guide to Persistence was one I hadn't even cracked open, but boy am I glad that I decided to. It was SO full of great advice and ways to come back to the core question of: why. Why do you want to write? What does it mean to you? I did the exercises and while they are really personal, I figured that this would be the perfect way to share a little piece of me. So here it goes.

GETTING TO KNOW YOUR "WHY"

Why do you write?

I write to explore questions or what-if’s that I have. I write because I think I’m good at it. I write because it’s what makes sense to me. I write because I want to feel THINGS the way I feel them when I read. I write because I have all these ideas/voices in my head and this is the best way I know to get them out. I write because at times it feels therapeutic. I write because sometimes it’s hard and I like a challenge. I write because I want to be heard – I want someone to read what I write and say, “yes! I feel that way too.” I write because I want validation that I’m a good writer, that I’m worthy, that what I say has merit and value. I write because I don’t know how NOT to write. I write because it feels natural. I write because sometimes it’s how I make sense of some things.

 
Top 5 Reasons You Specifically write:

  1. I write to explore questions or what-ifs
  2. I write because I want to be heard
  3. I write because I have voices/ideas in my head
  4. I write because I want validation
  5. I write because I want to FEEL things like I do when I read.

What stands in the way of my writing?

The fear of failure often stands in the way. The fear of not finishing the story. The fear of it not being like it is in my head. The fear of finishing and it’s complete crap. The fear of everyone not just everyone hating it – but thinking I’m a shitty writer and I should just stop. The fear of not making any money off of it. The fear that my writing is never improving – that I’ve plateaued as a writer. The fear that I’ll never write a book that makes me feel the way Whiskey & a Gun did. 

 

DEVELOPING YOUR WRITER'S CODE

1. Know the value of your writing - When you explore in depth why you write - it will lead you to your values

I write to explore questions or what-ifs:

Sometimes, I get these questions or what-if’s in my head and there’s no answer (or at least, no GOOD answer) to them and it makes me want to write about it. Or if it’s a question/what-if that has been answered, how would I answer/respond to it. A great example of this is when I wrote Whiskey and a Gun. I, like many other people wondered “why do women stay with men that hurt them?” I knew the answer wasn’t simple and since I personally hadn’t had the experience to answer it, I thought maybe I could get the answer through research and exploring it in my writing. And I did find somewhat of an answer. At least enough to satisfy me. This deep longing to know more, to find out answers dovetails with my love of learning. So it makes sense that this is one of the deepest drivers of my writing. 


I write because I want to be heard:

This seems self-explanatory but it’s actually hard to answer. Why do I want to be heard? Doesn’t everyone? But in this case, when I found that I loved writing and then someone responded favorably to it, I  wanted to do it over and over again. I wanted people to hear what I had to say. Maybe because I’m not a great public speaker and I trip over my words and I’m not the greatest at explaining my thoughts/opinions. But when I have time to percolate, when I can formulate them in sentences, I feel much more confident. I suppose I write to be heard for the same reason people speak in conversations – they have something to say and they want someone to hear it. 


I write because I have voices/ideas in my head:

People laugh when writers say, “there’s this voice in my head and it just won’t shut up.” But it’s true. There have been nights when I can’t fall asleep because a character keeps talking, or I get visions of a certain scene in a certain place with certain dialogue. This is not me thinking about it. This is them inserting themselves into my head. It’s as if I have no volition of when they come or how or why. They just do. The same thing with ideas. Once an idea pops in my head, it’s like my brain decides to fixate on that idea and there’s no letting it go until it decides to leave on it’s own. Luckily for me, I don’t think my “well” of ideas will ever go away and that’s a huge part of why I write because I just have SO. MANY. IDEAS. 


I write because I want validation:

This has changed so dramatically for me in who I seek validation from – but the core of it has always stayed the same – that I simply seek it. I realized that I could never be one of those writers who writes quietly just for themselves. When I was younger and someone would read something I wrote and tell me how good it was, I wanted more. I craved it. I believe we all crave validation/praise when we do something right or good. Especially when it comes from a place where we started the project without expecting validation. I used to seek validation from everyone, but as I’ve grown more cynical in my worldview and my views of the publishing/writing industry as a whole, I seek validation from other sources. Don’t get me wrong – it hurts just as much when I don’t get that validation, but it also helps me focus in a little bit. I think this falls in line with a quote (that I will not appropriately phrase) from Stephen King, “write for yourself and ONE person. That one person is who you are trying to impress, captivate, encapsulate. They’re who matters.”

 
I write because I want to feel things like I do when reading:

Only other readers and writers understand that magical moment you get when you’re reading a book and you’re transported into a different world. Not necessarily in the sci-fi/fantasy sense but in the way that you feel what the character is going through. You experience the pain, the joy, the sadness and hope that they do. You cry for them, as if you knew them in real life. From the first time I experienced this (maybe it was Old Yeller? I don’t remember…) I craved that feeling from reading and as I grew older and into my love of writing, I desperately wanted to recreate those feelings in my own writing. I want people to read my writing and cry or yell or scream or be hopeful. I want to give them the same feelings I feel when reading. 

Would it be nice to have money and fame from writing? Sure. But in addition to my wanting to explore the what-if's - the biggest driver for me is the desire to leave someone with intense emotions when they read my words. That's what I strive for when I'm writing.


2. Know your writing rhythm

This one is really hard for me because I don’t feel like I have a peak time. I’ve done lots of data mining, and while the data shows that evening to late evening seems to be my peak time, I also know that’s when my brain is most fried from the day. And I have to wonder if even though that’s when I’m most “alive” for writing, if I need to force myself to shift to a time that may work better for my schedule. I do have the luxury to switch up when I write and perhaps I need to experiment again, under the new circumstances of my life situation to see which “session” produces the best results. In the last year, I’ve been very lax in the time and scheduling of when I write. I’ll say “oh I’m going to write today,” without setting a time or length to the session. Then it often doesn’t get done. I’m aware of this behavior and know I need to change it.


3. Know what you’re willing to risk

This is an interesting thought because it’s much different now than when I first started. I think that I’ve risked and conquered much since I began writing seriously. But I know that there are greater things ahead and risks I’ll have to take to get there. Although I’m very weary and cautious about traditional publishing, there is some interest brewing there. The risks seem much greater there in many ways. Risk of loss of control. Risk of loss of time (because it takes so long). Risk of rejection. Risk of not finding an agent/publisher. Risk of disappointment. Would taking this risk allow me to stretch and grow? I don’t know. That’s what’s so hard about it – not knowing if it’s something that would benefit me long-term thus making the risk something that’s up in the air.  

I do know that the next logical steps for me are two-fold. Producing more books and getting better at the craft. They sort of go hand-in-hand. I believe the risks for either of those are well-worth the outcome. To get better at craft, I know that I have to continue to write and put myself out there. I may even need to risk setting aside time to work 1:1 with a coach or editor or course to better my craft. 


4. Know who your creative support team is

While I whole-heartedly agree with having a creative support team, I also think that they are only as good as you let them be. Meaning, sometimes, they are exactly what you need – they say and do the right things, they respect the place that you’re at and lend a helpful ear or advice – but if you’re not in a place to receive it… it won’t matter. I have learned the hard way that my creative support team works only if I let them. Sometimes, I can’t see further than my own thoughts enough to let them help me, which in turn, seems like they’re not helping. Or they’re making me feel worse. That’s not the case. It’s me standing in my own way. 

5. Know what prevents you from writing

Outside of the other things I mentioned above that are standing in my way, I think it's excuses, really. I’m the worst at this. I do become the “Martyr” to avoid writing sometimes. “Oh, I need to finish X’s formatting before I get to writing this scene.” “Ugh the house is SO dirty. I need to clean it and then I’ll just be ready to start writing.” I am SO fortunate and lucky to have a business and a career that is so intimately intertwined with the writing world, but I also use it as an excuse. I do spend a good portion of my day talking, working and helping writers -- sometimes I feel like I need a moment to NOT be around it, even when it's something I love to do. But that's me putting everyone else before myself and something I need to work on. 

•••

So there you have it. A little looky-look inside of my personal thoughts about my writing. I think it's important for writers to do this sort of introspective work every now and again. It really puts into perspective where you're at in the process and showcases the holes in your thinking. After doing this exercise, I realized how many excuses I use to not get writing done when it's so important to me. But revisiting WHY I write gave me little jolts of inspiration and warm fuzzies. Hope you enjoyed getting to know me a little bit more!

 

 

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Monthly Writing Prompt #1

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Monthly Writing Prompt #1

Let's face it - most of the time when we read something by an author, it has been through rounds of critiquing, beta-reading and editing. What you see as a finished product is often VERY VERY far from where it started. And I bet you didn't know that many authors do a lot of "practice" or "method" writing inbetween working on their drafts or editing. I thought it would be fun to show my readers what honest, in-the-moment writing looks like. No editing. Misspelling and plenty of errors abound. But it's often raw and honest and on-point. Sometimes, it's not. Sometimes, all it is is just a nice little exercise to jolt the muses awake for the "real thing." So once a month, I'll be a hosting a "writing prompt" post where I take on a new prompt and give it all I got. Feel free to jump in with your own version of the prompt in the comments or your blog!

 

 

PROMPT SOURCE:

The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspiration for Writing by Monica Wood

PROMPT:

Write the following in the voice of a fifty-two year old man:

I could have avoided all that trouble if only I had remembered to...

 

My father, adorned in a black suit sat back in his leather chair, the ice in his bourbon chinking as he set it down on the side-table. He closed his eyes and said, "son, let me tell you a story..."  

Cherry Walker was a spit-fire through and through. She waltzed around that hillbilly town of ours like she owned it and didn't give a damn. She was the girl that men wanted to be with and the girl other girls loved to hate. She was a force to be reckoned with, that one. 

She could have chosen any one of us wayward boys, desperate for her attention, our hormones out of control. But you know what? She chose me. 

And it wasn't easy, kid. No, it wasn't. She was restless and moody. Impatient and hard to please. And her Daddy was as mean as the devil to her and anyone else he encountered.

We had our moments, your mother and I. But I wouldn't trade it for anything else in the world. 

I guess looking back, I could have avoided all that trouble if I had remembered to not fall in love with her. But that was about as easy as not breathing. Not eating. It wasn't going to happen. You know why? Because your mother lit up my whole world like the loud-ass Fourth of July fireworks. All blazing hot and spectacular. She made me want to a better man and a better father for you and your sister. 

That's the kind of love you want to find, kid. One that makes you realize you coulda avoided all the trouble, all the pain, but you chose not to.

The End

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