Digging into the Past, Writing into the Future

This past summer, my mother and I drove from our small town in Missouri all the way to the top of Newfoundland where Leif Erikson landed. The journey was absolutely an adventure, encompassing  over six thousand miles of driving and three weeks of camping in the rain. 

While we were there, I read the Vinland sagas alongside the book written by the woman who was the archaeologist who discovered the Viking site at L’Anse Aux Meadows which was their headquarters while they explored the land they called Vinland. 
Since my return, I’ve been fascinated to learn more about this exploration, and have been gathering and reading several books to help me in that quest. 

The map of Vinland has been something of a contentious quandary among historians and experts, but the controversy surrounding the manuscript doesn’t change the irrefutable evidence that the Vikings did indeed come to this continent in search of land and perhaps even to satisfy an innate curiousity about the world as well. 

My studies also made me curious about the women who went along in this voyage as well, and so I’ve been learning about them also. 

Is there a book in all this? You betcha. 

The landscape is beautiful, wild, and vast. It’s hard to capture the sweeping magesty of all that we saw, but I can easily understand how the Greenlanders, coming here on their longships, would turn it into a place of myth and legend. 

I am not yet sure what shape the book will take, or even if there will only be one. What I do know is that I am inspired, and writing is soon to follow. 

“What If….” Generating Story Ideas

One of the most common questions I get asked when people find out I’m a writer is “Where do you get your story ideas?” It sounds like a straightforward question, but answering it is much more complex, however, than I think most people realize.

The simple answer is “They just come to me,” but that makes it sound like some sort of mystical dreamlike process involving fairies or a magic spell or something.

Honestly, sometimes they do come in dreams, but the majority of them don’t, and I don’t know anyone who’s tried to write who didn’t struggle with this issue when they first began.

For me, every story begins with daydreaming about a “what if” scenario.

  • What if vampires were real and one sat down and told his life story to a reporter?
  • What if young medical student found a way to bring the dead back to life?
  • What if on the other side of the mirror, there was another world?
  • What if a poor girl meets a rich guy at a party and they hate each other right away because of bad first impressions?

All of those are the basic premises of books that went on to become wildly successful, but each started from a simple “what if” situation.

The vampire series I wrote began as “What if Marie Antoinette was a vampire and was still alive?” Everything else in the plot developed out of that with a series of reporter’s questions – who, what, when, where, why, how.

  • If she’s a vampire, where is she living now?
  • Why did she move there?
  • How did she adapt to the modern world?
  • What does she do for a living?
  • How did she escape the guillotine?
  • Who helped her?

Once I answered those questions, I  continued asking more “what if” questions to keep searching for a plot.

Asking “What if she still has enemies?” led to more reporter’s questions.

  • Who are they?
  • Why do they hate her?
  • What do they want?
  • Where did she meet them?
  • How long have they been searching for her?

My plot grew out of those questions/answers.

Whenever I find myself stuck, I return to asking myself questions to think through the next scene or plot point.

I keep multiple notebooks where I write down these ideas whenever they come to me. But I find that just waiting around for a muse to arrive doesn’t work. I have to give it a push. My muse is lazy, and she doesn’t seem to bring me story ideas in some magical way. For me, it comes from consciously seeking out story. Allowing myself time to daydream. Actively encouraging daydreaming, in fact.

If I wake up from a dream with an idea for a story, it’s because I’ve been asking myself those what if questions before bed, and my brain worked on the problem while I was sleeping. There’s nothing mystical about it.

There isn’t a trick to suddenly having good ideas for stories. You can’t just sit with blank paper and wait for the story to arrive. Generating them takes effort and practice. Not every idea is going to work, and not every story will become successful. But the more you actively train your brain to daydream in a productive way, the more you learn how to generate interesting stories.


Would you like to be interviewed on this blog? Let me know!

Interview with Kari Anne Kilgore

When I heard that my friend and colleague, indie author Kari Anne Kilgore, had three books coming out at the end of October 2016, I was both amazed by her productivity and excited to add them to my collection.

Kari and I first got to know one another a couple of years ago at a writer’s retreat. In addition to my good fortune in getting to know both her and her husband, Jason Adams, I had the opportunity to read some of her work and fell in love with her creative mind and her amazing characters.

I’m very happy she allowed me to interview her, and I hope you’ll enjoy learning more about her work, her process, and her life.

[Book descriptions and links for purchase are below the interview.]


First of all, congratulations on all your recent publications! I know you have three books that just came out, and there are more on the way. What was your inspiration for each of them?

Thank you, Delia! This has certainly been an interesting autumn. Until Death started out as a writing exercise during a horror writers workshop in Transylvania, believe it or not. Richard Thomas was the instructor, and if I remember correctly, he asked us to write a scene drawing from our surroundings. The dogs had been barking outside the night before, so I started with that.

For The Dream Thief, I was a backer for a project called Fiction Unboxed back in 2014. Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant (and a bit of Dave Wright), all from the Self Publishing Podcast, had a goal of writing a novel from scratch in 30 days with the doors wide open. I listened in every day, and before they were even finished, I had a dream about the story. I woke up with the title and everything. I love it when that happens!

Songs in the Mountain started with scanning through the anthology calls listed in the Duotrope newsletter. My writer mind combined two of them, and I started with my own time spent scanning a bunch of glass plate photo negatives for a non-fiction publishing project. A couple of photos and stories from our postcard and photography book ended up in the story, too.

My main guidance for myself and other writers when it comes to ideas is you never know where and when the spark will come. I try to pay attention, stay curious, and never smother that idea before it has time to take root and grow. One of the Self Publishing Podcast laws of writing is there are no bad ideas. It’s what we do with the idea that matters!

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

These three are unrelated, but I’m absolutely a series sort of writer. My brain just goes there almost every time. Until Death and The Dream Thief will each have at least one more novel. I have three other series partly written, with ideas for several more.

Who knows? The characters from Songs in the Mountain may even end up with more stories in the future!

What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your books?

Until Death is the best example, so many things. From the inn we stayed in, the rooms themselves, the countryside, even a few characters that folks who attended the first workshop will definitely realize. That one was so much from that amazing trip.

Songs in the Mountain is set very close to home for me in every way. The main character starts out doing a lot of the same work I do, and the setting is a combination of a couple of towns close by. The coalfields of Appalachia is as close to my heart as you can get.

For a big contrast, The Dream Thief is set in a world someone else created. That was so much fun to play with. I got to read Sean and Johnny’s books as research, too. Talk about a nerdy avid reader’s dream come true! But then I was writing in areas of the shared world that no one else has written in yet. We consulted a little bit at the end, but mainly I had a fantastic time striking out on my own and fitting into the existing world at the same time.

In general, I use, add, subtract, twist, and adjust elements from the world around me all the time. An easy example is another novella that took root at the Stanley Hotel last year. I took strange occurrences in that creepy elevator and set it in a building in Manhattan. So much fun!

Tell me about your writing process. Did you work on these projects one at a time, or do you prefer to write on all of them simultaneously, going from one to the other as your muse dictates?

I generally like to work on one thing at a time, though NaNoWriMo months can be an exception. For a long time, I would start a project, then work on that until it was finished before moving on to the next thing. Last year when we had a family member in the last stages of Alzheimer’s, I would start a project, work on it for a while, then start something new. I’m sure that was a stress reaction of some kind. I’m truly pleased I was able to write at all with that going on. So this year has been a lot of wrapping up the half-finished stories from last year.

I hope to return to going straight through like I used to, but if not, I’ll adjust and keep moving.

I have heard you describe yourself as a “pantser” rather than a “planner,” letting the work develop organically as you write. Explain a little more about how that process worked with these projects.

It’s funny, I do consider myself a pantser, in that I write by the seat of my pants without knowing what’s next. The first two novels I published were written differently, though. Until Death had no plan or plotting whatsoever, like the vast majority of my writing. The Dream Thief is the only novel I’ve ever written from any kind of an outline. It was pretty loose, dictated into my phone on a long road trip to Maine, but it was an outline. I then proceeded to put it away and ignore it while I wrote during NaNoWriMo. Much to my surprise, it matched up pretty well at the end.

I may do another loose outline for the sequel to The Dream Thief because it worked so well the first time. And I’ve created loose outlines as homework for several writing workshops, so it’s not like I hate the idea of it. I do prefer the adventure of writing into the unknown, though. That feels like reading the story for the first time while I’m writing it.

I think one thing that scares writers about writing without an outline is worry that they’ll write themselves into a corner and have to back up and start over. The experience for me and every other pantser I talk to is that’s the exciting part. I love it when I have to stop and think “Huh. What are we going to do now?” It may take me a little while of pondering, but the solution is always there. Every single time, and usually very clearly hinted at earlier in the story. I may have to go back and do a bit of seeding here and there, but never more than a few minutes.

We all have our own process, of course, and that’s wonderful! When I’ve tried to do a strict outline, that shuts the story engine in my head down cold. For me at least, the time I’d have to spend creating an outline is far better spent just writing and telling myself the story for the first time.

What genre do you consider your books? Have you considered writing in another genre?

Oh, this is a big question! I deliberately chose to publish in different genres within a few weeks. Until Death is horror/dark fantasy. The Dream Thief has darker elements, but it’s steampunk for sure. Then Songs in the Mountain really is a romantic suspense story with more than a little supernatural twist.

I love writing in various genres, and I plan to keep doing just that. There are only a few that I can’t see doing. Regency romance would involve too much research for me, and my writing is too strange and often dark for cozy mysteries, for example. I write like I read, I suppose, and like I think. All over the place, and always wanting to try something new.

How long does it take you to write a book?

This varies about as much as my genres do, but I’m generally a pretty fast writer once the story gets going. I’d say on average three months for a novel. I really want to work on being more consistent with this! I’ve hit close to 80,000 words during NaNo before, so I should be able to shorten the time with better habits over time.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I tend to be an evening writer, and I’ve been a night owl my entire life. My mother tells me this has been the case pretty much since birth. I love the dark and the quiet, the easy step from daily life to the half-dream when the writing is going really well. I’ll often get in a couple of hours after my husband has gone to bed.

All that being said, I’ve been trying to get a few writing sprints done during the day when I can. What I’d like to do is get my word count goal done earlier, though I’m just not set up to be a morning writer (unless you mean 2 am). I figure if I get that 1000 or 2000 words in earlier, I’ll be even more motivated and eager to write more during my peak evening hours.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

It really is consistency. That’s been my focus over the last few months, trying to get that habit more established. The way it’s been in the past is when I’m writing, I write a LOT. Then like many folks, I can get into stretches when I don’t write much at all. I don’t feel good during these times, and I’m sure my husband will tell you I can be a bit crabby.

When I’m writing consistently and writing fast, I feel so much more connected to the story. My goal is to stay in that groove of the story telling itself, the characters insisting that I pay attention, more often than not.

I do best when I write from 1000-2000 words per day. I want to get there more often than not.

What is your advice to Indie Authors? On writing? Marketing?

The first thing I always say to myself and to anyone else is write the next thing. I heard Hugh Howey say that back in November of 2014, when I first discovered indie publishing. I took that to heart, and it’s made a tremendous difference for me.

Right now, for example, I have several projects that will be fairly easy to put into the publishing pipeline. I took the time to study and work on my craft, and I got a ton of words under my fingers. That not only built my confidence and my ability to write faster, but it also gave me more than one project to put out. I attacked the fear of publishing the second novel by doing it right away.

As far as writing, I’ll quote Dean Wesley Smith and say have fun! That’s the most important thing, just enjoy yourself and tell yourself a fantastic story. If what you’re writing isn’t fun and you don’t enjoy it, it’s nearly impossible to create something readers will enjoy.

As far as marketing, I feel like I’m barely at the beginning there. The Self Publishing Podcast has been a wealth of information for me, as have their books Write. Publish. Repeat. and Iterate and Optimize. I also loved Susan Kaye Quinn’s Indie Author Survival Guide, and she has another called For Love or Money for folks a bit further down the road. I’m normally a Kindle reader these days, but I have each of those in print so I can take notes!

What formal education have you had in creative writing or publication? How has that training influenced or changed the way you write?

Well, I was an English major for a while, but that was almost exclusively focused on how to go to the library and research things written before we were born. There was no opportunity to write original work, much less fiction.

As for publication, that was SO round about for me. I taught PageMaker classes way back in the 90s, so when my uncle asked if I could put together a book for him back in 2004 I said sure. Little did I know what I was getting into! We essentially indie published years before it was cool, and long before there were any resources for help. I asked an awful lot of questions, and I still do.

From that paperback science textbook for high school kids in our region, we put out another for a different watershed, then moved on to a regional print and online magazine. The big one that forced me to get really good at InDesign (PageMaker’s descendant) was a 320 page postcard and photography book. That had 1100 images and captions for almost every one, so I had no choice other than seriously increasing my skill level.

All of that combined to make page layout for a novel a heck of a lot easier!

The main thing that influenced and continues to influence my writing is reading. Writers must read, as much as we can, and as widely as we can. That’s how we fill the well, along with movies, music, travel, museums, conversation, whatever inspires us and lights up our imaginations.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? If so, what project are you working on?

I am! I’d planned to work on the sequel for Until Death, but as often happens I found myself drawn to another story when midnight rolled around on 11/1. I’m working on one of those half-finished projects, a kind of mystery, kind of steampunk story called Clockwork Voodoo. I thought it would be a novella, but we’re getting pretty close to that magic 50,000 word mark.

Once that’s finished, which should be before the end of the month, I’ll see what’s demanding my attention.

Do you believe in writer’s block?

This is a loaded question! I absolutely believe that from time to time, life simply gets in the way. We can be ill, have someone else we must take care of, have an insanely busy stretch at the day job, have depression, or any number of things that can slow down or stop our writing. I do my best to at least revisit the stories during these times. Write if I can, maybe make notes of what pops into my head, at least think about the work in progress. Anything to keep the connection alive as best I can during a down time.

As far as what most people call writer’s block, this may be an unpopular opinion, but I do not believe in it. The idea that some kind of muse or uncontrollable inspiration has to show up for me to write doesn’t make sense to me at all. When I get to the computer or recorder or page, I plan to be ready to write. Therefore, I am. And if I decide that’s out of my control and in the hands of something I can’t influence or define, I’ll lose the spark altogether. That’s all I’ll say about that.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have? Can you give a sneak peek into what’s coming next?

The finished novel count stands at seven! Two of those are out now, and the others are parts of series that I want to finish before publishing. I have three novellas that are just about ready to go as well, and several short stories I’m submitting to magazines.

Assuming Clockwork Voodoo turns out to be a stand-alone, which I think it will, that will likely be next out for me. Then it’s time to turn my attention to wrapping up the series. One is a post-apocalyptic story set here in the Virginia mountains and in Illinois where I spent my teen years. Another is wrapping up the first series I wrote, with two finished and at least one more underway. Those focus on a geneticist from Scotland who stumbles across a mystery in Wales that affects him, his wife, and their family more deeply than he could have imagined.

I know you have been on several literary pilgrimages. How have those influenced your writing?

That first novel I wrote set in Wales led us to visit there twice, and I’d love to live there for a while. That art definitely influenced my life.

I’ve mentioned Until Death and the two trips to Transylvania. For the second trip, we went through Prague because that will be a setting in the second novel. Then while we were in Budapest, I got the spark for another story that I’m excited to dig into.

The main way is having those experiences and feelings – and lots and lots of photos – stored up for use in ways I can’t imagine. It kind of feels like having an extremely well-stocked pantry, but you can wander in there without any idea what you want to cook and get the idea from what’s on the shelves.

More often than not, though, I’ll be in the middle of a story and one of those past drives or trips or even flights gives me the touch I need to bring a setting to life. A trip I took 10 or 15 years ago may show up in a novel today. Those experiences keep me from being afraid of a new setting, even one that doesn’t exist. A sleeping berth on a spaceship may come from a train trip across the US, or the magical palace in a fantasy world may come from a tour of a castle in Romania.

The open mind and curiosity are key! And again, having fun.

Tell me about the publication process for these books and about Spiral Publishing.

Spiral Publishing really started with those non-fiction print projects going back over ten years. Once I have the books designed, I work with a local printer who does wonderful work for us. Those are specialized print runs, often with a landscape 11 x 8.5 format that isn’t really possible with something like print-on-demand. That layout and proofing and overall experience has been invaluable to me, and I plan to continue that work when the project is one I care about.

Strangely enough for an indie writer, I had a bit learning curve when it came to ebooks! Most indies are reluctant to get into print, which is where I’m perfectly at home. A big lesson with Until Death, the first novel I published, was to do that print version first. That’s my natural instinct anyway. The reason is I will always, ALWAYS, see a typo or word choice problem or something in the print version that I missed in every electronic version. It’s so much easier to get those worked out before I have the ebook completed.

One thing about indie publishing is we get to work with a team that we choose, not one that’s assigned to us. I edit the non-fiction projects, but I’d never edit my own fiction. My husband Jason is a wonderful first reader and editor himself, which is a huge help. I’ve been lucky enough to work with three fantastic editors for these first three books, and I hope to work with all of them again. Richard Thomas, Jason Whited, and Ellen Campbell. We can potentially learn to do layout, design, covers, so many things, but I believe a good editor is essential.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I can’t remember not wanting to be a writer. I read constantly from the time I learned how, and I was always telling myself stories. I specifically remember using my crayons to act out a great drama when we were supposed to be having quiet time in second grade. Even without the crayons, I could use my fingers to act it out. On long hikes during Girl Scout camp or on long car rides, I always had a narrative going in my head. I’m the same way now on the rare occasions when I can’t sleep. That’s prime storytelling time!

I first realized it was possible after I read WOOL by Hugh Howey and discovered indie publishing. I’m not afraid of traditional publishing by any means, but the slow pace and giving up all of my rights for novels doesn’t appeal to me at all. I submit to magazines and will keep doing that, so I’m really a hybrid.

But the excitement of finishing a story, working with an editor, finding cover artwork, designing the book, and getting it out there is so satisfying to me. I’d lose so much of that joy with a traditional publisher, and the tradeoff is not worth it for me. It’s a perfectly viable path for those who want it. I love the adventure and excitement of doing more for myself, and of working with a wonderful team along the way.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Travel is at the top of the list, but I also love being at home with my dogs and my cats, and my husband Jason. I read as much as I can, and I like to sew and bake when I have the time. I love my day job work with page layout and design, though I don’t love having to make websites for those projects.

I also love and am inspired by communicating with other writers. It’s such a delight to realize I’m not the only one who sees the world a bit differently.

Do you have certain apps or websites or gadgets you recommend for other writers?

I’m like you in that I adore Scrivener for writing. I don’t know how I’d manage without it, truly. I tend to write out of sequence, so being able to have those mini-documents for each chapter is a lifesaver. I still use Word for short stories, but anything approaching novella length goes right into Scrivener.

Aeon Timeline is brilliant for keeping track of character ages, events, even fitting stories into historical timelines. As a pantser, I use it to make sure those kinds of things are logical, or to see where gaps may be in the timeline. I’d imagine plotters would get even more use out of the ability to see how events fit together. It can sync with Scrivener, but I haven’t played with that yet.

After struggling with ebook formatting for a while, I bought Vellum, and I could not be happier with that. It’s Mac only, which is just fine with me, and it makes formatting for the different platforms simple. And the ebooks really are gorgeous.

InDesign is a must for me when it comes to print. It can seem intimidating at first, but there are wonderful tutorials on sites like Lynda.com. You can get it a month at a time now from Adobe, so I encourage folks who want to learn to format their own print books to check it out. You don’t have to be an expert to turn out a great looking book!

For distribution of review, giveaway, or advanced reader copies, www.bookfunnel.com is fantastic. You upload your files and create a link, then send those out. Then the recipient can download whatever format they want. So much easier than trying to explain how to side load onto a Kindle or Nook, for writers and readers.

I use my iPhone all the time for recording notes and ideas with voice recognition and notes. I haven’t played with Dragon dictation as much as I’d like to, but it makes all kinds of sense to me. The idea of going for a walk or a hike and writing at the same time sounds fantastic! Monica Leonelle has a wonderful book called Dictate Your Book that I’d recommend to anyone who’s interested in trying that out. Monica’s 8-Minute Writing Habit is another great resource for fitting in your writing time in short bursts and enjoying it.

And one last thing is the book 5000 Words Per Hour by Chris Fox, and the app 5KWH that goes along with it. That’s made sprints so much more effective and fun for me. There are other apps like Wordly that other writers enjoy, too.

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work?  What impact have they had on your writing?

Like so many other writers who get into horror, Stephen King is at the top of my list. I love how while his stories can be suspenseful or even scary, they’re always about the people rather than the monsters. And he crosses genres constantly, so it’s probably no accident that I do too.

Anne McCaffery and her Dragonrider books were another tremendous influence on me. Those worlds are so richly imagined, and I love the way the different series weave together.

Lately I’ve enjoyed Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books and Jeff Linday’s Dexter books just as much as the TV shows they inspired. They both give great examples of not being afraid of your subject matter or your characters! Jason Gurley is another indie I hadn’t mentioned yet. His book Eleanor is amazing, and it did cross over from indie to traditional.

Philip K. Dick’s short stories are some of my favorite reading, and they’re definitely an influence on my writing. He was so good at putting an ordinary character into an extraordinary situation. And the reader believes it because the other characters do. That’s how we know the strange thing is real, how we know it works. And what an imagination!

What writer organizations are you a member of? How have these writing communities helped or changed your work?

I belong to both the Horror Writers Association and the Romance Writers Association, as do quite a few writers I know. RWA in particular has some wonderful online classes, and they welcomed indies almost from the start. I’ve made great connections and friendships at HWA events, including you! Horror writers as a group are incredibly warm and welcoming.

I also belong to ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors, and the IBPA, the Independent Book Publishers Association. Both of those offer training, marketing resources, and support that’s been so helpful as I learn this crazy business.

What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?

I’m working on building these up more over time, but a good place to start is www.karikilgore.com. I plan to keep book listings there, information about signings and such, and eventually sort of a travel journal with pictures. My publishing site is www.spiralpublishing.net. The purchase links will eventually be there for my fiction, Jason’s fiction, and the non-fiction projects. Both have email lists folks can sign up for.

I’m not much of a blogger, but I am on Facebook more than I should be. I’m on Twitter a lot less, but I’d like to get more into that habit (@spiralwriter). I may investigate things like Instagram and Pinterest, especially for the non-fiction projects, but not just yet.

I know you’ve done some book signings already, and you’ve participated in several writing retreats and events. Do you have any other events coming up that you’d like to let people know about?

Not a whole lot after one of the busiest travel years of my life! Jason and I are really excited to be attending a science fiction workshop on the Oregon coast early next year with Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and we’ll go straight from there to the fantastic Smarter Artist Summit in Austin, Texas. After that, we’ll see what comes together.


until-death-ebook-cover-360x570Until Death By Kari Anne Kilgore

Various and Sundry

Ordinarily, I have a theme I focus on as I write my blog entries, but my mind is everywhere all at once this weekend, so I’m just going to give you pieces of that instead.

What I’m writing:

I’m working on additions/changes to Book One of my vampire series. I’m hoping to have those done by the end of October so I can spend November (NaNoWriMo time) finishing Books Two and Three. They’re outlined, and the word totals for the two books add up to 70,000 words, which is the goal for NaNoWriMo. How awesome would it be to enter December with THREE COMPLETE NOVELS in my series done? SO AWESOME.

I’ve also got a werewolf project I’m planning to co-write with a friend, and I’m very excited about seeing that happen. I’m hoping if we can get more done, I can sign us up for Channillo so it can be published in serial form online.

What I’m reading:

I’m working my way through The Memoirs of Casanova. He’s such a fascinating person. I’m really enjoying his storytelling. There’s such a playful energy to his style and a clear intelligent wit. He’s often laughing, it seems, but at himself as much as at the other people he was surrounded by. I can see why so many women found him appealing.

What’s happening around the house:

New screen doors and trim have been installed on our back porch, and before the cold sets in, we’re having the back of the house scraped and repainted. That wall was the first one that was painted back when the renovations were happening, and some of the paint has begun to peel. It’s been several years now, so I suppose that’s not surprising. I can’t wait to see it looking fresh and new again. As for the back porch, I’m very excited to have that finishing touch completed. I’m looking forward to spending three seasons of the year out there, bug free.

The last big job to tackle is the garage, and that will happen hopefully next year.

What I’m making:

Knitting is relaxing for me. I do it in between writing sprints and as a way to relax my mind when gearing up or gearing down for the day. I let my mind drift, and it seems to help me focus better once I get to work.

For the last month, I’ve been making hats and scarves for five of my friends. I have several projects going at the same time, and I move from one to the other depending on my mood and which room I’m in.

I’m hoping to have them all finished and mailed out by Thanksgiving, and then I plan to make knitted animals for the children in my family as well as a few other people I know would enjoy them.

Next spring, I plan to make my first sweater. I’ve always been a little nervous about doing that since it seems so complicated, but I’m going to tackle my fear and just try. After all, that’s the only way to learn, right?

Nerdy things that arrived in the mail:

Stuff I thought was cool:

How’s ’bout you?

  • What’s new with you?
  • Got any new projects/books you’re excited about?
  • What are you working on? Writing? Reading? Doing?
  • Did you find something cool you think I should know about?

Tell me in the comments!

Want to be interviewed on this blog? Let me know! I’m always looking for writers to promote and talk with.

 

Things My Teacher Taught Me: In Memoriam

Yesterday, I received some shocking news that a woman, Nicki Alexopoulos, who had been teacher, mentor, and friend to me was shot and killed by her own son who then shot another family friend (now in hospital recovering from multiple gunshots) who’d been visiting before turning the gun on himself.

There is not a word for how horrific this information was to me and to everyone who ever knew her.

stories-1As Anne Lamott said so eloquently, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”

No one embodied that better than Nicki.

She was in the process of writing about her own pain and heartbreak as a survivor of domestic violence, and in telling her story, she was breathtakingly honest.

But when I think of Nicki, I have nothing but warmth in the memory. I know I am not alone in that.

I’m a writer now, and I believe she is in large part responsible for my willingness to follow that dream.

In English class, she taught me the importance of research and citation. She taught me to think critically. She trained me to look at literature with empathy and to try to understand the actions of people who are nothing like myself. She had high standards and made us all accountable. Yet she was one of the most understanding and kindhearted people I’ve ever known.

Nicki’s lessons weren’t solely about the subject, however. Just as literature itself is an examination of the human condition, her lessons often gave me just as much information about how to be a strong independent human being as they did about the work we were studying.

She taught me to listen to my own voice, to question everything, not to flinch in the face of things that are painful or hard to examine, to speak my truth even if other people didn’t agree, to be discerning and thoughtful and honest in my writing and in my life. She taught me that it’s okay to be different. In fact, difference is strength.

I think she also knew that I had a strong drive for perfection, one that could be detrimental if I let it control me. She showed me the importance of celebrating my accomplishments, but also celebrating every step that lead to it.

This afternoon as I contemplated the enormity of the impact she had on my life, I came upon this video by happenstance, and it really spoke to me in relation to her as well.

These words struck me hardest.

“The whole point of dancing is the dance…We thought of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage which had a serious purpose at the end. And the thing was to get to that end. Success, or whatever it is, or maybe heaven after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.” – Alan Watts

Truly, while the tragedy of her death…the way she died…is shocking in the extreme, I was reminded that her life wasn’t about how she died. It was about how she LIVED.

Nicki’s life was a dance, and she invited everyone to get up and take part.

The best way that I can see to process the loss of her is to celebrate what she gave to so many people, year after year.

nicki-alexopoulous-fbAnd so, Nicki, I’m going to dance.

I’m going to do the things I told you I was going to do back when I was a dorky thirteen year old afraid of my own voice. I’m going to be the person you showed me was possible. And in doing so, I celebrate you and the gifts you gave me. I’m going to live a life I think you would be proud of helping shape.

I am so grateful I had the chance to tell you what you meant to me. I only wish I could tell you all over again. Thank you. The dance you started will continue all my life.

NaNoWriMo Time Again

Though I’ve been writing for the last year, my blogging has fallen off. I’m going to be using it over the next month as a way to stave off my urge to use social media throughout the day. I’ll be saving up the the things I want to say to put into one long post, rather than doing fifteen short ones scattered throughout the day. I’ll just make notes of them as they come to me, rather than getting on Twitter or Facebook which turns a five second post into a forty five minute scan of cat videos and cute baby pics and TV show spoilers.

I spent a couple of days last week setting up a table so I can work away from online distraction, and so far, it’s proved to be very productive. NaNoWriMo will really put my plan to the test. Wish me luck!

My office has become a really comfortable space, and I truly love my ever-growing library. When I moved back from Saint Louis last spring, I had twenty eight big paper boxes full of books (the equivalent of about 5000 volumes), and at last I have all of the books put in order. There is even room for my collection to grow, which I haven’t had in…well…ever. I’ve always had bookshelves that were overflowing. This is a new era in my life. Eventually, I plan to repurpose my garage into a giant office (This room is the smallest of the guestrooms in the house.), but that change is at least a year away, so in the meantime, I’m making this space as functional and useful as possible.

There’s a little spaceheater that looks like a fireplace, and I’m looking forward to keeping this room cozy throughout the long winter days and nights.

In order to keep myself on task, I’ve set up a whiteboard near the door, and I’m going to keep track of my word counts throughout NaNoWriMo. My hope is to finish the last of the additions to Book One by the end of October, then spend November completing Book Two and setting to work on Book Three. In a perfect world, with no distractions or problems, all three novels in the series would be completed by the end of December.

In addition, I’ve begun using Toggl.com as a way to keep track of my time on various tasks and to help me with time management. For instance, so far, I’ve spent forty minutes writing this blog entry. Somehow, if I can see the timer spinning off the minutes and seconds, I stay focused better, and it forces me to be more efficient in my use of time.

I’ll also be using my Scrivener to keep word counts, then recording my progress on NaNoWriMo’s website.

To keep myself from scanning relevant and interesting articles all day long, I’m using Klout.com as an aggregator and to schedule my posts, spacing them out throughout the day, rather than being online all day long or, conversely, dumping them all in a short span of time and overwhelming people with a bunch of links at once. I’ve used Klout in the past, and I find it really helpful. I scan the articles under my chosen topics when I have free time, then let the site take care of the rest. That’s a much better use of my time, and I really like it for that purpose. If I can ever afford to hire an assistant, they can take over some of that sort of work for me, but in the meantime, Klout is the next best thing.

Things I found and posted in the last twenty four hours, include:

My friend Kari Kilgore’s new novel is out, and I highly recommend it!

https://read.amazon.com/kp/card?asin=B01M0MA3MB&preview=inline&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_a88dyb70JC7PZ

Also, my friend Jeff Chacon also has a new book coming out. The second installment in his Zombie series is due out next month, but the first novel, American Badass, is out now and being made into a film. If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, it’s a great read!

https://read.amazon.com/kp/card?asin=B00NK7GL3K&preview=inline&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_M38dybQGRQQKZ

As for my writing, I’m very excited and making good progress.

In the early summer, I made some revisions to Book One based on suggestions from beta readers, and I’m very pleased with that work.

I’ve made some major changes to my overall outline for Books Two and Three (and maybe even Four), based on where the characters have lead me, and those changes are going to be truly fun to write.

To prepare for the scenes I need to write, I’ve been doing a lot of research, and books are arriving daily to give me inspiration. I’ve also surrounded myself with items that will help me when I get fidgety, including more action figures. I now have a Casanova action figure with Carnival mask action to stand next to my beheadable Marie Antoinette. It seemed appropriate since part of the action in Book Two takes place in Venice.

I’ve got a lot to read, but I’m not going to let that bog down my draft. I can always come back and add more details in the revision process. What’s important is to let the story unfold and give life to the characters. I’m letting myself become immersed in their world, and I can’t wait for what happens next.

It’s all right there in my head.

In addition to my vampire series, I have ideas for a few other novels as well. One that’s a collaboration with another writer, and I’m looking forward to seeing that happen.

Exciting things are coming!

Tell me in the comments:

  • What are your upcoming projects? Do you plan to do NaNoWriMo?
  • Do you have books/stories that you recommend or that you’ve recently published?
  • What do you do to balance writing and social media time?
  • How do you keep track of your word counts?

I finished this blog post in an hour and fifteen minutes. Thanks Toggl.com!

Dusting Things Off

12241680_924318637651988_1648210537067023044_nIt’s been over a year since my last blogpost, and a ton of things have happened since then. The biggest change was moving to St. Louis and becoming a professional writer. I worked doing technical writing for about six months, which is part of the reason I fell off the social media train, but life intervened and I’ve switched gears again. I’m writing full time, but not in the same vein, and though it’s going to take a little time, I’m starting my own writing/editing/publishing business and getting that off the ground. I have a non-fiction project with a former student in the works, along with several short stories, and I’m working on a new novel as well. I’m learning InDesign and refreshing my Photoshop skills, and I’m taking some classes online to get myself prepared for the work I intend to do. Huge changes, and I’m thrilled with what the future has in store. It’s going to take a lot of sweat equity, but it’ll be completely worth it.

12227676_924004711016714_4396303318842443354_nI also attended three writer’s retreats this year. I spent a week at the Tuscon Festival of Books, a week in New Orleans, and a week in Estes Park. All three of these experiences were fantastic, and I was really inspired by the people I met and by the locations.

In addition, in December of last year, I traveled to Scotland with my mother, and the two of us spent two weeks wandering the streets of Edinburgh and Inverness. We both loved it there, and I cannot wait to go back.

Currently, I’m in the middle of NaNoWriMo (feel free to add me as a buddy there), and though I’m behind in my word count, I should be able to finish the first draft of the book I have in mind by the end of December.

I fully intend to be back here at least once a week and make it part of my regular activities, along with doggie snuggles, which Layla insists I not neglect.

In the meantime, I leave you with a list of things I think are interesting, in no particular order:

And Then it was October

Fall is always a busy time of year for me. It’s the beginning of a new semester at my regular job, but this year has been a hectic one in it’s own right. I’m writing a couple of short stories as well as trying to make progress on my second novel.
OfficeBookshelvesI’m also in the process of moving my office to a new, much bigger, space in my house. For the last few years while I ran a bed and breakfast, my office has been relegated to the smallest room in the house, other than the laundry room, while the larger bedrooms upstairs were used for guests.

However, now that I’ve had to close up the business for the foreseeable future, that arrangement seems silly. It’s a better use of the space to put the office in the much larger room at the front of the house. There are more windows and better light, and much more space for all of my books.

Therefore, I’ve spent my free time (when not working or writing) moving my books an armful at a time (see photo on the right for a view of my shelves). The books are organized for easy use, and I only have one more shelf to add, and then all of the books will be in place.

Now that it’s nearly complete, I am thrilled, and I can’t believe I didn’t make the move before now. What a wonderful office it’s going to be!

I’m adding an antique library table and chairs, some comfortable leather armchairs for reading, my desk and computer, some wall hangings, and changing the rugs to match the decor. I cannot wait for the finished product! I’m looking forward to many long hours working busily in the new space.

As for the guest room, it’s moving back to the little room. It’ll be smaller, but cozy and much more sensible.

10665663_662544897193145_3479511514688823291_nIn addition to all of that, I am preparing to spend a week at the end of this month at The Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat, October 23-27, hosted by Dark Regions Press. It’s been in the works for several months now, and I could not be more excited. I’ve never gone to anything like it before, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot and getting to know some great people. I’m also very glad to hear it’s going to be an annual event.

RJ Cavender did a fantastic job setting up the whole thing, and I’m looking forward to thanking him in person. We’ll be spending time at the Estes Valley Library, doing readings, signing books, and helping to rebuild their collection after the recent flooding. We’ll also be there at the same time the hotel is hosting the annual Shining Ball and a Mystery Night. There are ghost tours and movie nights. And oh yes, writing.

Did I mention I’m excited?

I’ve been to Estes Park before as a kid, but it’s been a very long time. I’ll be driving myself there, so I’ll have a good solid week of vacation. I’m packing some audiobooks and Twizzlers for the car and trying to prep for possible snowy roads. I’ll be using my Livescribe SmartPen while I’m there, and I can’t wait to be inspired by the surroundings.

When I return from Colorado, I’ll have a few days before November to prep for NaNoWriMo, and I intend to use the time wisely. I’ll be writing up a schedule and outlining my pages so that when November 1st arrives, I can hit the ground running.

What are you doing this fall? Tell me in the comments!

Perfect Fusion

People have asked me how much research I do when I’m working on a story. It’s hard to quantify something like that.

F946771_475886782495178_34019459_nor me, research is useful, but I don’t like to be tied to what I’ve read. For example, some of my characters are based on real people. Do I read their biographies before I write? Yes. I read everything I can get my hands on, especially first hand accounts. Letters and journals. Biographical accounts from contemporaries. If the character is an author, I will read everything that person wrote. I immerse myself in the music, art, and culture of the society of the time. It’s important to me to make the character believable.

However, I don’t like feeling tied to those facts as I create my story. I use that biographical information to help me understand their personalities, their quirks, their motivations. But I always keep in mind that I am not writing non-fiction. My story is just that. A story. It’s fiction. I am using that real person to add verisimilitude to the tale. The appearance of reality, not the absolute truth.

Character is key. I want to understand the person in as much depth as possible.

If I am doing my job well, the reader will be swept along into a believable storyworld inhabited by realistic, fascinating, and relatable characters who seem like people the reader could meet and recognize on the street.

John Keats once said “We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us,” and I think that sentiment is equally true for fiction. I never want my fiction to feel like a history lesson. Instead, I strive to use that historical background to add richness and depth to the story and its characters, rather than to teach the reader about this or that historical figure.

So, yes. I do a great deal of research to prepare for my writing, but I don’t leave the books open and refer to them constantly as I go.

My method once I’ve decided on a subject I want to explore in my story is to read and absorb as much as I can on the topic. I’ve taken a forensic course in order to understand more about crime scenes and forensic procedures, for example. I’ve read through medical textbooks and read through books on folklore and history. I’ve traveled to the locations I know I’m going to describe. I’ve even used Google maps’ street view to check my understanding of the environment I’ll use as my setting. Once I’ve finished my research, I close the books and set them aside on my desk. They are there for reference if I need to add a specific date or name or detail, but otherwise I allow my mind to extrapolate and expand on the facts I have gleaned from my study. I fictionalize where the story requires it.

I try to avoid long passages of factual infodumping. Instead, I layer the facts into the story as it becomes relevant. And I try very hard to reveal information about my characters’ history in much the same way we get to know the real people in our lives. No one comes into our lives and blurts out his or her entire personal history in one go upon first being introduced, and we would be bored to tears if someone tried to. It’s much more interesting, both in real life and in fiction, to keep learning new things that add to our understanding. It keeps us fascinated and engaged, always wanting to know more.

social_media_truth

Livescribe 3 Smartpen

Evernote Camera Roll 20140903 125615

Over the weekend, I ordered a Livescribe 3 Smartpen. I had seen the advertisement from the company:

Then I read some reviews, most of which seemed positive for what I want to do with it. I also saw that the pen is compatible with Evernote, which I already use and am familiar with. At $149, it was worth it to me to try it out.

The setup was easy. It only took a few minutes to set up the pen to work with my iPad. I downloaded the Livescribe+ application, turned on the pen, paired it with my iPad, and it was ready to go as soon as it updated the firmware. Less than five minutes from the time I opened the box until I was writing with it.

The pen didn’t do as well with my script, but the pen had no trouble with my print (see sample below).

Evernote Camera Roll 20140903 131242Evernote Camera Roll 20140903 131320

 

 

 

I’m okay with that! I’m well aware that my handwriting is spidery and sometimes hard to read. But my print is pretty neat, and the pen had no problem reading it.

From there, it was easy to send the writing to my Evernote account, either as a .png image or as a .PDF document. I created a new notebook in Evernote to save my Livescribe work in.

evernote livescribe copy

The thing I love about Evernote is that I can access my information on my phone, my iPad, and my desktop seamlessly across all three devices. The text of any PDFs I create in Evernote can then be copied and pasted directly into my word processor and edited there.

So what does this mean for me?

I prefer to hand write my rough drafts. However, I generally type them because it’s less time consuming to do so rather than to write out my ideas on paper, then stop and type the same thing.

With Livescribe, I can write in the medium that suits me better.

Rough drafts can be handwritten in any location, transformed with a quick touch of my finger by my phone or iPad into typed text via Livescribe/Evernote, and then when I’m back at my desk, I can open the file, add the text to my writing, and edit it. BOOM.

Using Livescribe is going to be an enormous time saver. But it also means that I have much more mobility as well. All I need is my phone, the notebook, and my Livescribe pen in order to have a mobile office. I don’t need to take a laptop with me on long trips, and I’m not tied to having internet service in order to use the product.

My writing can be sent via Bluetooth to my phone or iPad, then synch to Evernote once I have wireless access.

This is HUGE!

I’m attending two writer’s retreats in the coming months, and I’m also planning a vacation overseas during the Christmas holidays. I can participate fully without having to lug around a heavy laptop case or worry about internet access while I’m traveling.

I can do more of what I love in the way I prefer to do it with less hassle and in a shorter amount of time.

Best $149 I’ve spent in a very long time.