On Inspiration

Over the past few years I’ve gone through something of a “dry-spell” with my writing, especially when it comes to being inspired with new projects.  In my younger days, while simply walking down the street, words would come to me, but that seemed to have all stopped in recent years.  Some said it was because I’m busier now, learning how to take care of a new baby (now a toddler) and getting the hang of living in a new place.

But I’ve always been busy.  So I couldn’t make sense of it.

However, over the past few weeks, as I walked the paths of my childhood through the Carolina lowcountry, I felt a whispering within me that I haven’t felt in a long time, an eagerness to put words to paper (we’ve officially got a new work-in-progress, by the way!).  As I walked through the shelter of shady oaks, I felt a level of serenity I still have trouble finding the words to describe.  There, in that place, the words just come to me, into my mind, and I think seriously about becoming one of those people who always have a little notebook with them, crazy hair and ink-stained fingertips. But what does it all mean? Continue reading

Excerpt from Curses Beneath Her Feet!

That moment, right before a kiss–you know what I’m talking about.  🙂

It took her a few moments to realize that she wanted to kiss Benjamin–she wanted it more than she had ever wanted anything.  But–Ben was her best friend, and they never thought of each other that way.  She knew he was handsome, sure, and had even thought it fitting when the other girls at school had taken to calling him “Hot Ben” to differentiate him from all the other Bens in their class.  But she had never seen him as more than a friend. Kissing him was dangerous.

But now, with him standing so close in the darkness as the rain drummed overhead–maybe it was worth the risk. 

He leaned a whisper closer, his lips a breath away from hers.  Her eyes fluttered closed once more and she sighed softly.  For a few, countless seconds she heard nothing but the beating of her own heart, and then–

BANG, BANG, BANG!

The pounding on the door was barely audible over the newest rumble of thunder, and Coralee jumped nearly a foot in the air, so taken aback was she by the sudden interruption.  The electricity that had been flowing between them snapped with anger, making her heart pound in an odd, heavy cadence.

Going Indie?

I’ve been doing some serious thinking lately about looking into the self-publishing route.  I always imagined that once I finished my current manuscript that I’d query, as I’ve done with some past manuscripts, but this time around I’m not so sure.  I have come into contact with some lovely people of late who have chosen different publication routes, from traditional, to small presses, to self-publishing, and most have been very happy with their decisions.  In particular, the woman I met who self-published her novels was in love with her work.  She was realistic when she spoke to me, and wasn’t shy about enumerating the drawbacks, but as she spoke of the various creative projects she was a big part of when it came to the production of her novel, I was just about sold.  Self-publishing is a lot of work if you go about it the right way, yes, but it grants a lot of freedom.

 

And I’m liking the sound of that more and more.  I want to stay in love with my work, the way she is still in love with hers.  

 

I haven’t decided a hundred percent yet, but I thought I’d put the idea out there, and would love any feedback anyone can offer regarding this issue.  Did anyone self-publish and regret it?  Regret the whole agent/big-publisher scene?  Would anyone think twice about going with their small press again?  Or does anyone just LOVE what they’ve got, and think it’s worth the time/risk/work?

 

Is my smartphone hindering my creativity?

I will begin by saying this is not a manifesto enumerating the evils of smartphones.  Though I came late to the game (I got my first smartphone only one year ago), I’m quite pleased with the technology and the many conveniences that come along with it.  But this morning I found myself questioning the way I use my phone, and how it is affecting my personal creativity.

Since moving to Arizona, I’ve come to develop an attachment to hummingbirds.  Sure, we have them back home in South Carolina, but not nearly in as high numbers as there are here.  They’re small, and beautiful, and so incredibly quick, that it’s hard to have a moment to actually look at them in detail, so I mostly just appreciate them from afar as they whiz by.

This morning, however, as my daughter and I were out for a walk (gotta get out early before the heat starts to rise too much), a beautiful, dainty hummingbird crossed our path, not more than three feet in front of us.  It hovered there, for a solid minute, inspecting a shiny puddle of water that lay in the center of the sidewalk.  The moment I saw it, my hand went straight to my pocket to grab my phone and snap a picture–I mean, what are the chances of getting such an awesome picture?!  But I quickly remembered that I’d left my phone at home, charging, and so instead of zooming and snapping several pictures in the tiny window of time that I had, I simply had to stand and watch, and think about what I was seeing.  And wonder about what my daughter might be thinking of it.  And wonder if hummingbirds drink from puddles, or if maybe the little bird thought that perhaps he had stumbled upon a miraculous lake of nectar.  And notice the way the light glinting off the sidewalk reflected against the bird’s beating wings, and how he seemed to move without a care in the world, as though he, too, was enjoying the cool peacefulness of the morning.  And marvel at the grace of something so small.

I’d have missed all that if I’d been taking the pictures, and I wouldn’t even be writing right now.  Instead, I’d be posting a picture to Instagram, maybe, showing off the awesome shot I got of an elusive hummingbird.  Or maybe I’d be scrolling through the 235 pictures I snapped, trying to determine which one was best, only thinking of “how cool” it had been to get such a picture on a very superficial level.  (I know this is what I’d do, because I actually did it two days ago when I snapped a few pictures of a hummingbird that happened to be sitting on a tree branch unaware of me).

How often, when I try to sit down and write, do I pull out my phone and look at pictures, or play a game?  How often do my fingers itch to check Facebook for just a second, or to send a text message ‘real quick’? Am I allowing my smartphone to inhibit my creative process?  I think that I am.  

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not going to pull out an antique typewriter or, heaven forbid, a scroll and parchment–but I am going to have to make a change.  I am resolving right now to make the choice to leave my phone in my pocket more often, and to give all my attention to whatever task I’m doing.  To really be where I am, and to really do what I’m doing.  When I sit down to write, I’ll write–without constantly clicking away from the screen, or pulling out my phone.  And then we’ll see what happens. 🙂

How long should my novel be?

When determining the length of a novel, I’d love to say that the only hard and fast rule is to simply finish the story.

While this is good advice, and in fact vital advice (you do, after all, have to finish the story), if we’re going to be realistic in the agent-hunting, first-time publishing world, there does come a point when enough is enough, word-count-wise, and there is also a point where you might be falling short.  Having an appropriate wordcount for your first novel will do wonders for your chances at landing an agent and eventually getting published.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, on both ends of the spectrum, but I think it helps to at least keep in mind a target word-count.  You might have to push the boundaries, sure, but at least know you’re doing it!  If your novel is abnormally long, it might help you in the editing process to know it’s not a big deal to cut out that huge chunk of monologue you were unsure about.  And, if you still decide to keep that lengthy monologue, at least you won’t look completely clueless when you proudly announce to the agent across from you at the writer’s conference that your simple, YA book is 500,000 words.  You’ll know you need to brace them for it.  And you’ll know how lucky you are if he or she still requests your material!

In any case, at the end of the day, the decision on word count is yours.  But if, like me, it helps to have a target word-range in mind (and mind you, there is already a lot of flexibility built into the word-count ranges), I have found this lovely link to Jennifer Laughran’s blog, in which she outlines the average and best word-counts for several different genres.  And I have to admit, when I did simply finish the story, it landed nicely in the appropriate range.  What luck, eh?

First Love

As a writer, fiction is my first love.  I remember clearly sitting at my father’s old, gargantuan computer monitor, watching as the black screen filled with those golden letters in one of the early versions of MS DOS.  I was a puzzling child; I excelled at running around outside, climbing tress and slithering through marsh mud, climbing to the top of the elementary school’s fire escape, or sometimes plunging into the ocean.  And yet I was equally as content sitting at the computer monitor, writing about adventures in faraway places I had completely imagined in my head.  There were shipwrecks and haunted houses, complexes of underground caves and mysterious spells.  But here’s the puzzling part: I didn’t particularly like to read.  It was painfully boring to me, but I did it because some of my friends did (see, peer pressure can be positive!).  I would much rather have been off having real adventures of my own, or dreaming exciting ones up in my head,than reading about other people’s adventures.  Boooring.

Obviously, that changed.  I think around the fourth or fifth grade I read a book about ancient Egypt, and I was intrigued.  Then, of course, came Sweet Valley Twins and R. L. Stine.  Maybe I had grown up enough to shed a level of juvenile selfishness, and was able to empathize with others.  Or maybe I had just found the right words.

Now, as an adult, however, I feel myself drawn ever more to non-fiction.  I love the power of prose when a person is writing about their own feelings, openly and bravely.  Currently, I’m reading a treasure called Bend, Not Break by Ping Fu, and I am completely absorbed.  There is so much to be gained from taking a moment to engage in someone else’s life.  Even more so, much is to be gained from taking a moment to reflect on instances in your own life.  And that is why the personal essay is my new love; it actually is easier for me than fiction.  Does that mean I simply have a reflective mind?  Or does it simply reveal the challenge it truly is to write a quality fictional novel?  I think maybe a little bit of both.  So, as tempting as it is to dwell on the skill that is both enjoyable and easy for me, I’ll press on with my fiction writing.

Because I haven’t forgotten my first love; no one ever can.

PS: If you do happen to write personal essay pieces and are looking for an outlet, check out this helpful link that I’ve found on Meghan Ward’s blog–20 places to publish essays.  Happy Friday!

The Infamous Nudge

Up until recently, I had a manuscript out with an agent.  Well over the allotted number of weeks had gone by, and I was coming dangerously close to sending that “nudge” email.  In fact, the only reason I didn’t send it was because I wasn’t sure what exactly to say.  “Uh, hey, remember me and my book from a few months ago?  Have you, uh, like, read it yet?  Just wondering!”

I was lucky enough to run across this blog post by Vickie Motter on her blog Navigating the Slushpile.  This isn’t a hard and fast rule, of course, but I think it’s SO useful to see at least one example of a “nudge” email.  It seems simple enough, but goodness knows that during the querying stage we authors are quite afraid of taking a wrong step!  Thanks for the info!  Her blog also is filled with lots of information and tips that are useful to writers!  Check it out!

(Unfortunately for me, before I had to send the “nudge” email, I received a rejection on the manuscript.  But I persevere!)