Category Archives: writing
I have always been a list maker. From the time I could fit a pencil in my hand and scribble down the thoughts in my head, I loved making lists of things. It began with cataloging things. Books on my shelf. My matchbox cars. Names of all my Barbies.
When I got a little older, I learned the joy of task lists. My mother learned quickly that the way to motivate me to do my chores was to give me a list I could check off with glee. I often would do more than had been written on the paper simply so I could mark those things as done too.
That’s why upon seeing my friend’s bullet journal last year, I realized that I needed to make this ritual a regular part of my life. It was the best decision I ever made.
My bullet journal is more than just a collection of lists. Though that is what it was originally designed to do, there are so many other ways to use it.
My bullet journal is my:
- annual calendar
- event planner
- weekly task list
- day runner schedule
- grocery and errand list
- assignment checklist
- progress chart
- gratitude journal
- habit tracker
- organizational tool for both work and personal goals
- diet success tracker
- reading list
- bingewatch record
- motivational guide
- idea notebook
- creative outlet for calligraphy and doodling, as well as an adult coloring book
- anything else I can imagine it being
Okay, so that’s a lot more than five ways.
I credit my use of the bullet journal for keeping me on task while I published two books last year and participated in a series of writing and book-related events. My bujo is also the way I keep track of my weight loss, manage all my family errands and activities, remember my appointments, know when to expect packages, and maintain a migraine trigger record to share with my doctor.
Though I do a lot of calligraphy and use multicolored markers and washi tape to decorate my pages, that is all embellishment of a truly simple concept. It’s not necessary to do all that in order to use the bullet journal. All you need to start is a good pen and a blank notebook in order to begin. The rest is all up to you.
There are a ton of ideas you can find online by Googling “bullet journal” or by searching Pinterest. Here are a few of my favorite websites that helped me get started:
It’s getting close now. In The Blood comes out July 1st. I’ve been working on this series for so long, and it’s down to the final few days before it comes to fruition.
I suppose I’m like a lot of authors, alternating between extreme excitement and panic attacks.
I go through all the “What Ifs” that plague every introverted creative person. What if no one likes it? What if there’s some horrible error I’ve overlooked? What if my best isn’t good enough? What if it isn’t perfect? What if on the morning after, I feel the way Victor Frankenstein did, looking on his creation not with love but with horror? That is the grown up voice of worry, born of a lifetime of self-doubt.
But then there is the excited childlike part of me that just wants to let it go with joy and wonder at having created something out of nothing, a world born of “what-if,” peopled with characters that leapt out of my brain fully formed. That child in me hopes other people will go along for the ride, suspend their disbelief and play the game of make-believe that I’ve created.
It’s the child in me that daydreamed of being a writer. That inner child is fueled by curiosity and enthusiasm and imagination along with a desire to share and find others who will join in for the love of story.
All my favorite stories were about imperfect people who stumbled and fell and lost their way on their journey. People who suffered and fought and loved hard and took risks, facing danger from overwhelming obstacles and foes. I sometimes felt sorry for the villain, even when I hated their actions. The best stories, for me, were ones that invoked empathy, that brought me to tears, caused me to shout in frustration, made me laugh out loud, and if I didn’t smile at the end, still I felt a sense of completion and satisfaction in the way the story reached completion. I didn’t need happily ever after as long as it brought a sense of closure to the experience.
That’s what books should be, after all. An experience.
There is a give and take between the writer and the reader. A shared collaboration between their imaginations.
When I read Jane Eyre, for example, though nearly two hundred years separate me from Charlotte Bronte, I’m still bringing my imagination to mesh with hers. I’m playing her game of make-believe. Letting her lead me into a world where a naive young governess and a lonely but rich gentleman who’s been disappointed by love and life can find an understanding between them, a kinship of spirit, that transcends the darkness they find in the world around them.
I don’t make any pretense to that sort of greatness. But the same basic rules of the game apply. I, as writer, create the story, while you, as reader, agree to believe the impossible and to care about people who never were.
I hope that I’ve made a good one. I hope you find it entertaining. I hope that when you finish In The Blood, you’ll want more. That’s the best that I can hope, and it’s certainly good enough for me.
So to quiet the negative “what ifs,” I fill my mind with hope and with story, planning for the next adventure and trusting that you’ll follow where I lead.
That’s all any author can hope for.
Book Two, Out For Blood, is being edited with the plan of publishing this winter. Book Three, Trial By Blood, is partly written, and I intend to finish it sometime this summer so it can be published next year. I have several more outlined with ideas and possibilities for all these characters long into the future. But all of that depends on my book finding readers who are ready to join me on the ride.
I hope that you are one such person.
In The Blood
Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-947181-00-7
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-947181-01-4
Available for Pre-order from your favorite online outlet
Autographed Paperbacks can be ordered directly from Eagle Heights Press.
Want to be featured on this blog? Interested in a review or an interview? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!
When my review copy of In The Blood arrived, I was a little overwhelmed by holding it in my hand and seeing it in person, feeling the weight of it, breathing in the new book smell of paper and ink.
Those of you who know me and have followed me for a while know that I was devastated last fall by the loss of my former teacher, Nicki Alexopoulos. I had already intended to mention her in the dedication to one of my novels, but I knew it had to be this one after the events of last year. I hope to present a signed copy to her daughter, and I do hope that she would be proud to see the work I’ve put in to make this book happen.
I started writing the book back in 2012, and in the spring of 2013, I made a first attempt to self publish it. After meeting with an editor at the World Horror Convention, however, I was convinced to take it down and do some major revision. He was right. The book was pretty good, but it wasn’t fully ready to be out there yet. Over the four years since then, I reworked the manuscript and spent time learning about the business side of being an author. I took some online classes, went to some writer’s retreats, and even took a course in forensics so I could bring that knowledge to bear in the novel as well. I also quit my job as a library supervisor and adjunct English professor in order to focus on my writing full time.
Though I could have gone the traditional route with an agent, there are very few who are willing to take a risk on a first time author who approaches them with a series rather than a standalone novel. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever be interested in submitting a manuscript that way, but for this series, starting my own publishing house and doing the work myself was a better choice.
Book Two, Out for Blood, will come out sometime next winter. The book is written and is in the process of being edited. Book Three, Trial by Blood will come out in 2018. I don’t want to make people wait too long for sequels. Those three books finish a story-arch. However, I have ideas and outlines for several more books beyond that, so if this series takes off, then I’ll definitely be working on those stories for a long time to come.
There isn’t room in the book to list everyone who’s helped me along on my journey. I’d like to list a few of them here, though the list is by no means complete.
- My coworkers at Smiley Library – Cindy, Leasa, Carrie, Crystal, and John – who put up with six years of me talking about what I wanted to do and who were supportive throughout the process. They were inspiring, helpful, encouraging, and understanding, and they never made me feel that I was making a mistake when I decided to go pursue my dream. Thank you.
- Crystal appears as a character in my novel, and I mention her in the afterward of the book. She asked to be in the book, and after I made the character and gave her life, it turned out she has some pretty tragic things happen to her. Sorry Crystal! I swear, the characters made me! And I promise, this won’t be the only time she’s mentioned. What happens to her will have a ripple effect in later books.
- The students who became like my children were also a great inspiration and encouragement. John, Stazhia, Cameron, Denise, DaSean, Kelsey, Brenna, Cortney, Thomas, Jordan, Kayla, Jessica, Geofrey, Lindsey, Kelly Jo, Eldar, Megan, Tyler, Bailey, Cecilia, Mariah, Roger, Aubrey, Ginney, Wynter, Dani, Danielle, Shamika, Marco, Vin, Drew, Angelica, Darrell, Jane, Adam, as well as my fabulous student intern assistant Miranda….THANK YOU! I love you all dearly.
- Keith Abernathy taught my forensics course and never failed to come by my desk just to chat and invite me to things. He passed away last month, and I miss him very much. He was so encouraging and helpful and such an inspiration to all his students. I intend to dedicate Book Two to him. I will be forever grateful for the things I learned from him.
- My online friends are completely amazing. Those I met because of True Blood or through writing amazing characters together are truly some of the best people in the world. Thank you to Julie, Jenny, Louise, Emily, Susy, Shanda, Melissa, Mayra, Shawna, Shyanne, Suzanne, Cassy, Sharon, Joie, Jyoti, Michaela, Elizabeth, Sha, Latoya, Catherine, Tammy, Geena, Anitra, Kristie, Frank, Missy, Kim, Cyndi, Dawndela, Holly, Maxine, Misty, Rima, Rachael, Mimi, Sara, Tiffany, Renee, Dawn, Kira, Sarah, CeCe, Jennie, and especially Wendy and Andrea who are gone far too soon and I miss horribly. These are only a few. There are many more on Twitter, but I think they know I adore them. I try to tell them as often as I can.
- My muse and favorite writing partner Bekah who makes me shine and feel inspired all the time, thank you for putting up with me, for supporting me, and for being so completely amazing. You make me look forward to every day.
- My writing friends through conferences, retreats, and FB and Twitter groups, I thank you. You’ve taught me about craft, and you’ve been a constant source of help, inspiration, and encouragement. My writing buddies from Room 217, THANK YOU. I love you guys. You are all completely amazing. And thank you to the Horror Writers Association for being such a great organization. I’ve learned so much from all of you, and I couldn’t have finished this project without the connections I’ve made there.
- My friends Erin and Anthony at Vamped and The Vampirologist, who have known me now for over five years, have been fantastically supportive throughout this journey. Thank you for the laughs, the research material, the help, and the friendship.
- To the friends and family who have known me in the years before the internet and who have backed me up as I tried new things, THANK YOU! Your support means everything.
- And to my parents for whom there are not enough words of thanks. I have been truly lucky in my life to have parents who understood and believed in my dreams. Thank you.
And with that, I’d like to thank you. If you’re reading this, you’re part of my journey too. Even if your name doesn’t appear above, I am no less grateful for you.
If you’re reading it, I’d love to know! Find me on Goodreads!
Want to be interviewed on this blog? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!
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.
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I had planned to spend the entire weekend writing a short story. Unfortunately, my story had other ideas. Turns out that the story idea I’d envisioned isn’t a short story at all. It’s a novella. And while I like the story and think it’s going to be a good one, it doesn’t fit the requirements for the contest I’d been writing for. So…I’m back to square one. I’ll be working this week on finding a more narrowly focused story. Eventually, I’ll come back to my novella idea, but for now it’ll go on the shelf to make room for something new.
In order to switch mental gears, I need to clear my thoughts. Every story for me begins with daydreaming. But in order to daydream about something new, I have to empty my head of the old. Three things are effective ways of accomplishing this. And they sort of need to be done in order. Call it a ritual if you want. I just know this is what works.
- Take several hours to do a repetitive task that you don’t do every day. Knitting. Making jewelry. Woodworking. Gardening. It doesn’t matter what it is, but the more repetitive it is the better. It should be something that doesn’t require a great deal of thought, but which keeps your body and hands occupied and allows room for your mind to wander free.
- Long walks. Outdoors. With music. No talking. Dogs are great for this. Again, it’s rhythmic movement, repetitive, leaving your thoughts open to drift. And by long walks, I mean over an hour.
- Quiet Meditation. Be still. Close your eyes. Count your breathing. Relax your body. Silence your mind. Let go of what occupied your thoughts in the past. Find your stillness.
It’s like cleansing your mental palate. Sweeping away the old to make room for the new. I find that if I do these three things, then get a good night’s sleep, I am much more open and able to generate much better and more creative story ideas.
I write stuff because I don’t know how to not write stuff. It’s just something I have always done. I tell stories. Sometimes, when I think they’re interesting enough, I write them down. I would write for myself even if I thought no one else would ever read it.
However, I’m going to be honest right now. I want other people to read it. Not in an academic sort of way. I don’t care if something I write gets put into a textbook and studied 100 years from now. Well, okay, a teeny part of me would be flattered. But let’s be serious. That’s about as likely as winning the lottery. I just want to write stuff that people like. Things that entertain. And, yes, I would like to be paid for it. Because if I get paid for it, I can afford the time to write more of it.
I don’t care about writing a book that has a “moral” or a “message” for the reader. Frankly, if a writer cares more about a story’s message than about the characters and whether the reader is entertained, I’m not interested in reading it. That doesn’t mean entertaining books can’t teach us something. I’m just saying, I don’t believe that should be the primary goal of fiction.
Keats wrote in his letters about the purpose of poetry, saying that:
We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us—and if we do not agree, seems to put its hand in its breeches pocket. Poetry should be great & unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself but with its subject.—How beautiful are the retired flowers! how would they lose their beauty were they to throng into the highway crying out, ‘admire me I am a violet! dote upon me I am a primrose! (Selections from Keats’s letters, Poetry Foundation)
I think you could substitute the word “fiction” where he says “poetry.” I don’t read fiction to be lectured to. If I gain some sort of insight after reading a story, that’s a bonus. But first and foremost, I want to be caught up by the words. I want to find the book so engaging that I can’t stop reading it. I want to be excited enough to share it with others.
That’s what I aspire to do as a writer. To create something that fascinates the reader. To tell a story that is worth the telling.
Character Questionnaire from The Script Lab – Whenever I get stuck and can’t seem to make forward motion on a story, I work on character. For me, character is where all story comes from. If you know the characters deeply, then every action and reaction flows from that. You can anticipate what they will say, how they will react in given situations, ways that they will challenge other characters, etc. Sometimes, knowing your character means doing research, though it may also mean simply digging deep within to conjure up those details that make the character come alive for the reader.
One last thing about writing that I want to share is this TED talk video with Amy Tan talking about Where Does Creativity Hide, which is a question I find fascinating as well: