Deadly Ever After

Archive for the tag “writing”

The Illusion of Routine and the Mad Scientist Mom by Julie

TODAY’S BREW: Pumpkin FacePunch. (This is what I named it because it is SO pumpkiny.)

By Julie

I realized a few minutes ago as I woke up and cleaned the kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee that I reheated from last night’s pot, listening to the kids fight over Matchbox cars as they slam onto the wood floor, that this is not what I usually do.

I also realized that what I usually do is an illusion. I have an ideal of what I want to do every morning, a routine that I like to think of as mine: Make the coffee, clean one chosen thing and make breakfasts while I wait for it to brew, do 20 pushups before I sit down to edit while the kids watch TV before school. But this is not even MY ideal.

This is me, working around a series of non-negotiables and squeezing in time to do what I want to do, which is write 1000 words, edit for clients, drink my coffee in peace and—happens AROUND the non-negotiables.

I also realized that my ideal routine—and I’m not talking about My Perfect Day Routine If I Was Only One Thing and Not Twenty Each Day—my ideal routine that involves the things I need to do and want to do and the incidentals that prevent me from doing them seamlessly DOESN’T WORK.

It’s okay that it doesn’t work. Routines need to change consistently as your non-negotiables grow and real life gets in the way. I’ve always been of the mindset that you need to change your routine or things will always go exactly the same.

I can’t do anything NEW if I do everything the same.

I can’t grow if I don’t implement change.

I can’t be excited about doing if I’m always doing the same things.

If I really change my routine all the time then routine becomes experiment—and experiments fail.

To be clear, I’m happy. My stuff—all my stuff—is working. But it could work better. This is the first month of school drawing to a close. All new routines for everyone in the house. I am the captain of the routines—their routines are dependent upon my implementation. So now that I have found what works for my family, I have to adjust my routine accordingly.

I don’t come first in the planning scenario. That’s okay. I’m going into October with a few new thoughts:

  • MY time and needs are still important and non-negotiable despite being the last to get planned. Timing and importance are not the same thing.
  • Having multiple routines in the house that I am the captain of means that I have a crew. A crew means that everyone has responsibility that I hold them accountable for. The new change that I have to implement is that responsibilities are not favors to me—they’re important to everyone. (Bringing dishes to the sink and navigating your own quiet time are responsibilities to yourselves, kids. Not favors to me.)
  • My time to do necessary things needs to feel less like stolen moments—even if they are. Otherwise my time to do stuff I just feel like doing makes me resentful.
  • Implementing accountability and realization of responsibilities for a whole family takes time. If I don’t take the time to set those up now in light of all the new stuff we’re doing, I will regret it later. Also known as: THE EVOLUTION OF THE CHORE CHART WHICH NEVER WORKED ANYWAY.
  • CHECKLISTS AND CALENDARS AND ROUTINES ARE NOT THE SAME THING. Chew on that one for a while, organization freaks.

I guess at the end of this whole seemingly well-organized ramble, what I’ve realized is that my responsibilities need to be as important to my family as theirs are to me. We’re a crew. While writing, editing, and all the things that contribute to that are MINE and belong to me alone, respecting what each of us does as individuals on the crew has always been part of our routine. Growing how we view each other’s non-negotiables is how we grow our respect for each other and ourselves. It’s that perfect balance of routine and individuality and growing great kids that value themselves and people that I don’t just want and demand, but that I’ve already started. This is the next stage. Life is an experiment and one that almost never seems to totally blow up on me, so I look forward to this next phase of life with a smile on my face and a stack of calendars and lists in my hand.

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The Muse Can Suck So Many Eggs by Julie

TODAY’S BREW: Pumpkin spice. Like you had to ask.

By Julie

I’m a huge Chuck Wendig fan, and one of the greatest reasons I love him is because of his JUST FUCKING WRITE policy. Like this one: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2015/09/15/dear-writers-and-creative-types-you-dont-need-motivation/

I make no bones about how much I hate this elusive goddamn muse everyone talks about.

“I can’t write today, my muse is missing.”

“I have no inspiration to write, my muse is being lazy.”

“I could be writing but the muse wants to watch ten episodes of whatever this tv show is.”

This inspiration that has to punch you in the frigging face in order for you to write your book is an illusion. That broad works for you. You call the shots.

This isn’t a post about how you have to write every day or you’re not a writer. This is a post about how I make the muse show up for work and half the time I send her home because I don’t need her.

“How do you come up with your ideas?” We get this one a lot, right writers? Few of us have an answer. Our brains are built that way, we think in stories. I fuel the brain to make the stories. If you have a tough time finding inspiration, try this stuff. Because getting the inspiration is great—that blast of dream sequence brilliance that suddenly turns into a book? Love it. It’s fun. But writing is my job. So I work for it. I earn that inspiration by searching for it. Here’s some stuff I do to keep the ball rolling:

  • I get a scrapbook. One of my favorite places to get a really beautiful one that begs to be touched is https://www.etsy.com/transaction/1029658438. I fell on the Halloween one pictured and it took my breath away—how perfectly it fit THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS. Now I have a spot to put all the little things that remind me of my characters, and build upon. THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS started with one picture in a magazine. Then I built upon them by asking questions. What’s the relationship between these six girls? What’s different about them? What do they DO? Who’s the strongest, meanest, funniest, etc…? And I gathered things that spoke to me about each of them and putting them together in a scrapbook helped me keep them all distinctly different, but with an overall tone, a feeling that united them.
  • Coincidentally, I didn’t FIND stuff to put in the scrapbook–I SEARCHED for stuff. Celeste is the Witch of Stars. Suddenly I was looking everywhere I was for stars to put in the scrapbook. Then it became that I was looking for the colors associated with her—silver, purple, blue. I’d bribe the kids to let me dig through the clearance bins at the craft store, I’d look through things I’d saved over the years that could fit in. I search eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Pinterest of course….. Things that struck me I’d ask myself why they did, and how it related to the book. Sure, maybe I’d fall for a dinosaur soup ladle and that had nothing to do with anything. But a lot of times I’d come across something I knew would be in Celeste’s bedroom, a lipstick shade I knew one of the Witches would wear, a map, a piece of jewelry, all kinds of things that would be in their world. And the scrapbook filled up. More importantly, I was ALWAYS looking for things to put in it. Every place I went provided an opportunity to add ideas, to thicken the soup. Oh, maybe the ladle had something to add after all.
  • I think about words. No, I’m not kidding. Words that sound good together, pretty poetry, gross words mixed with beautiful words, and I write them down. And I build around them. I heard once that you buy a piece of art and build the room around it. I do this with words. The line, “I swallowed a Hell splinter,” spawned THE HARPY. THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS was a phrase that showed up in my head after seeing the magazine picture that gave me the idea, and I wrote around it. Write all the words down, whether they mean something or not. Then MAKE THEM MEAN SOMETHING IF YOU LOVE THEM.
  • I read magazines LOOKING for something to spark interest. Good interest, bad interest. A phrase, a look in the eye, colors that do or don’t go together, a picture I HATE and ask myself why, then make a character that would hate it too, etc…. But I never read a magazine just to read it. I’m LOOKING.
  • When I can’t think anymore and I do Buzzfeed quizzes? I take them from my characters’ points of view. You’d be shocked at what this does for me.

I have tons of this crap that I do. I won’t go into all of it here, but what I want you to get from it is that if you WANT to write, everything you do, see, think, don’t think, is story fodder. It’s all in the pot. Store shelves, movie theaters, commercials, tourist traps, museums, zoos, the post office, they all offer something. Because I want them to. No minute is wasted, but it doesn’t feel like work even though it is. I want to do it too damn badly. The muse can take notes.

I CAN WRITE THREE BOOKS AT ONCE OR MAYBE NOT by Julie

TODAY’S BREW: Pumpkin anything.

By Julie

SUMMER IS OVER. Also known as The Dark Night of the Writing Soul, at least for me. Our summer was awesome. My little boys were happy most of the time just being home. So wonderful and weird. Last year we had a difficult summer—okay, it was an absolutely torturous summer—and this year it was twice as easy. But tiring. My days were a tumult of park visits, querying THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS, endless games of chess, Uno, Rummy, doctor visits and therapy appointments, playdates, editing for clients, readying for THE HARPY release, maintaining a sort of working household….. so many things.

And also plotting books.

Every summer I say, “By the end of the summer I’ll have X Book’s first draft finished!” I never do. Then I put this wild deadline on myself to finish the project in the first month of the school year. Too hard. So this summer I gave myself a break and didn’t pressure myself to write 1000 words a day. Instead I planned. I planned a lot.

Turns out I planned three books, all of which have equal space in my head. I’ve been trying to figure out which one to write first: the final Shinigami vampire book, the prequel to THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS, or the sequel to THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS. (We need not mention the post-apocalyptic badass character that keeps popping up in my head.)

I tried, and tried to figure out which to write first. They all have a good argument. So guess what?

I’M WRITING ALL THREE AT ONCE.

Yeah, you heard me. A lot of it will probably be on paper, and one will emerge victorious in the race, but right now I’m feeling all three books.

NEVER SLEEP AGAIN.

DON’T YELL AT ME, I HAVE REASONS. HERE:

  • My writing routine changes with every damn book anyway. Why not make MASSIVE CHANGE? I make the damn rules around here.
  • For the first time ever I will have 2 hours five days a week to myself, now that both Sam and Ben will be going to the same school—five minutes from home. This is a luxury for me.
  • Editing business is strong. I’m busy. And the more I edit, the better writer I become. Also, as nuts as it is, the more I have to DO, the more regimented I become. The less likely I am to let free time slide.
  • With three books to work on, my 1000 Word A Day Diet will be easy to achieve. It will probably become 2000 words or more on some occasions. This keeps my mind healthy, and keeps me IN the books. And finally….
  • If it doesn’t work, IT’S OKAY. I will let it be okay. There are no mistakes in creativity. And if I find out there are, well, I’ll make better mistakes tomorrow. And trust me, I know mistakes. I could write a fourth book on HOW TO MAKE PUBLISHING MISTAKES. But there is one indisputable fact: I couldn’t fail unless I try.

On Apologizing For Writing by Julie

TODAY’S BREW: Chocolate Milk Shake. Thank you, Target.

By Julie

“Remember, this is only a first draft.”

“I should have gone over it one more time before giving it to anyone.”

“I can’t believe I wrote that.”

“Reading my first book is so embarrassing.”

These are just a few of the things I hear writers say every single day. I’m guilty, too, but then I shut my damn face because every once in a while something like this happens:

“I followed you on Twitter because you remind me of the character I just wrote in my book, THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS.”

“You wrote a book??? That’s awesome!”

She didn’t say:

  • “WHO IS YOUR AGENT?”
  • “WHAT PUBLISHING HOUSE PICKED YOU UP?”
  • “IS IT A NY TIMES BEST SELLER?”
  • “IS THERE EVEN ONE TYPO IN IT?”
  • “ARE YOUR CHARACTERS ONE DIMENSIONAL?”
  • “WELL, DOES ANYONE ELSE LIKE IT?”

None of these things came up. She just said “you wrote a book? That’s awesome!”

You know what? The book could be about frigging cats that sell hot dogs to the Taliban, and if I wrote it from beginning to end, if I committed to completing it and stuck to that idea enough to make it real, even if it was just for my own eyes, THAT IS AWESOME.

*slaps you* GODDAMMIT YOU LISTEN TO ME.

DO NOT APOLOGIZE FOR THE THING YOU CREATED.

YOU BROUGHT A THING TO LIFE.

A THING THAT DIDN’T EXIST EVEN IN THEORY BEFORE YOU DID IT.

DO NOT APOLOGIZE FOR MAKING THINGS.

DO NOT APOLOGIZE FOR NOT BEING BETTER.

YOU’RE A CREATOR. FEEL AWESOME ABOUT IT.

How to Have Infinite Patience/ Unlimited Coffee with Julie

TODAY’S BREW: Cinnamon Hazelnut. Because it’s always autumn in my cup.

By Julie

I asked Twitter what to blog about and my lovely friend Roselle Kaes (go find her here http://t.co/ZJ1jxwH1IK) said she admires my infinite patience and wants to know how coffee contributes. Because coffee is the thing I cannot live without, and it is THE thing that grounds me. (Get it, grounds me? Coffee grounds.)

Let’s be up front. I am addicted to coffee. No question. I have no problem with it.

I am patient. I’m quick to tell the kids “baby, I love you but if you don’t quiet down I will decapitate you,” but I do it in such a way that they laugh and generally do as I ask. When they don’t I remind them that I support the things they need to do, and they should do the same for me. (Just had this conversation this very moment.) When they still don’t listen I yell really quick and sometimes cry. This is okay. We all have feelings.

Coffee is the way I mentally get started, several different ways. I don’t like writing without a cup. I CAN write without a cup, don’t like it. If the kids and I or life and I have a bad roundabout, I start over with a new cup of coffee. Then it’s over. Time to reboot.

Coffee is also meditative for me. I learned this little meditation trick at a spa in Arizona when I was a fancy Victoria’s Secret employee–not everyone has time for or responds to sitting down with a bunch of incense and meditating. But if you can find something that you do several times a day, or even an hour–back then it was every time I used my manager’s keys–take a deep breath (in through your nose, out through your mouth), close your eyes and say a word that makes you calm in your head. I don’t always say the word, but I do the other stuff. It helps every time. When I’m writing and need a second to regroup, when I feel myself getting tense, when I just need a moment to myself no matter what’s going on around me.

My house is where I do 99% of my writing and everything else, and it’s also small, with 2 wild kids, a needy dog, a tv in front of me most of the time. I can work under these distractions but I remind myself not to be part of the tornado by insisting I have that cup of coffee uninterrupted. Doesn’t always happen. Usually doesn’t happen. But the fact that I say “I just want this one quiet cup of coffee” reminds me that I have this thing I WILL have. I insist upon it. It’s not life or death–for the most part, except for that one guy– but it says “this is my comfort spot and I will not give it up.” That puts me in a mindset where I’m not running in the hamster wheel, I’m stopping it and building a new one.

Also, everything good happens over coffee. A million memories flood to mind when I think of it. And even though I can literally fall asleep with a cup in my hand now, I feel invigorated when I have it. All good things require patience and patience requires effort. Effort requires energy. ENERGY COMES IN A CUP AND MAKES ME A SUPERHERO.

batman coffee

The moral of the story is patience requires a lot of giving, and you need to fill the well. Take something, too. Even if it’s just a cup of coffee.

The Stories Inside the Stories: Research with Julie

TODAY’S BREW: Anything I can get my hands on

By Julie

BIG NEWS at least for me. I finished editing THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS, the young adult novel I’ve been working on for a long, long time. You guys, I’m so ridiculously proud of and in love with this story, I hope you all are too when it finally sees the light of day. Next step, it goes out to a select few readers, I query it to a few places, and I bounce in my seat until I can’t breathe with excitement.

There’s a theme of morning glories in the book. I had a lot of fun doing research on them, their symbolism, how they grow, stories about them. Here is one story that I fell in love with, that felt a lot like my characters, Celeste, the Witch of Stars, and Lux, the Demon Prince of Lust. I had no real opportunity to use this folklore in the novel, but wanted very much to share it.

The Morning Glory in Chinese Art

The star-shaped morning glory is symbolic of a single day each year in which the Chinese lovers, Chien Niu and Chih Neu, are allowed to meet. According to Chinese lore, Chien Niu was a boy start who was entrusted to take care of water buffalo in the heavenly kingdom. A girl star named Chih Neu was put in charge of seamstress duties. They fell in love, and the romance caused them to neglect their duties. In anger, God forced the young lovers to be separated on both sides of the Silver River and allowed then to meet only once during the whole year.

morning glory black

morningGlories1

Between the morning glory growing in the driest dirt, harshest light, against all odds and the star-crossed lover theme that doesn’t quite work for Celeste, who refuses not to grow, and the silver river and silver is ALL OVER THE PLACE in this book, and the star shaped blooms and the colors of the flowers which symbolize love and reaching for the unreachable, and what Celeste has to do with her coven of Witches whose mothers are doing all they can to prevent them from growing AAAAAHHHHHHH INSPIRATION OVERLOAD.

I luck out a lot and things that I’ve already worked into my novels turn out to have these amazing stories behind them that weave right into my story. It happened a lot with RUNNING AWAY, with the stories of Izanagi and Izanami, the mythological creators of Japan. Izanagi, god of death fit right into my needs in the sequel, as did the “shadowy land of the dead,” Yomi, where the god’s wife was trapped, for which Izanagi was much at fault. The end of their terrible story, where Izanami in her fury promises to take a thousand lives every day and Izanagi promises to create fifteen hundred more, gave me all too much material to create a fresh new vampire story in RUNNING AWAY.

Izanagi

Anyway, it just goes to show you how much I overthink my writing and how every goddamn word has probably too much meaning in my books. Enjoy.

Accidental Themes & Being Human: a Guest Post by Cassandra Page

TODAY’S BREW: Whatever Sammy wants. He’s sad school is out.

By Julie

I’m a character writer and editor. I strongly feel that your story’s plot can be the most original and exciting thing to grace the book pages since The Bible and if the character doesn’t drive the story and make you feel, nobody will care. Coincidentally, your plot can be very straightforward and something that’s “been done” a million times, but if the character is complex and rich, that keeps a person reading. Of course, the gold star we all search for is the melding of both things, which requires a lot of research, a lot of editing, and a lot of heart.

This is something our good friend and gifted author, Cass Page, knows a little something about. So I asked her to tell me about how Isla of ISLA’S INHERITANCE came to be such a thoughtful and exciting character. (Also, follow Cass on Twitter https://twitter.com/CassandraPage01 and enter to win an e copy of the book! Tweet #IslasInheritance!)

Accidental themes and being human

by Cassandra Page

I am an unrepentant geek. I play computer games, have a crush on the Doctor and was sorted into Ravenclaw. My geek t-shirt collection is formidable, my coat is kind of a brownish colour, and I role-play—including the bastion of geek awesome that is Dungeons and Dragons. Before I had my son, I used to live action role-play too, dressing up as a vampire or werewolf and physically acting out my characters.

All that role-playing—especially the live-action stuff, which by its nature is immersive—gave me a great foundation on which to build when I sat down to write my first novel, Isla’s Inheritance. Coming up with role-playing characters in games you’re invested in is a lot like coming up with characters for a novel. In both cases, you can spend months or years getting inside the character’s head, thinking about what drives them, living with them through their triumphs and their failures. When my first live-action character died, I cried for days. It was like losing a friend. Like the world’s most epic book hangover.

Of all the characters I’ve created, Isla from my Isla’s Inheritance trilogy is one of my favourites. She’s not as crazy as the berserker teenage vampire I had, and she doesn’t worship dark gods like the Egyptian priestess who wanted to sacrifice the world to Set. She can’t shoot an arrow through someone’s eye at ridiculous distances like my ranger, and she’s never run a brothel while looking like an eighteenth century school mistress.

What Isla has is heart.

I didn’t set out at the beginning of the series with a theme like a compass in my hand, partly because it was my first novel and I was too busy worrying about whether I’d packed water and if my shoes were too tight! I knew I wanted to tell a coming-of-age tale, explore how a sceptical seventeen year old copes with discovering the father she adores has been keeping secrets from her that will change her life.

And I wanted to have fun doing it.

It only slowly dawned on me, after I’d finished the second book in the series and was plotting the third, that the underlying theme to Isla’s story was being human. The discovery reminded me of Stephen King’s observation in On Writing that the story is like a dinosaur’s bones, just waiting to be unearthed.

There are so many books with paranormal protagonists out there; I read a lot of urban fantasy, and I love a good story about people who think the world is normal discovering there is so much more to it. Discovering they have hidden superpowers.

Isla is a half-fae whose powers manifest largely as empathy. Together, she and I got to explore morality, love and what she is willing to sacrifice of herself to save those she cares about. We got to see what makes a person who they are. My books are about people struggling with what it is to be human and other, and to become an adult, all at the same time. And that’s kind of cool.

Although maybe not for my characters. 😉

Three covers together

About Cassandra 

Cassandra

Cassandra Page is a mother, author, editor and geek. She lives in Canberra, Australia’s bush capital, with her son and two Cairn Terriers. She has a serious coffee addiction and a tattoo of a cat. She has loved to read since primary school, when the library was her refuge, and loves many genres—although urban fantasy is her favourite. When she’s not reading or writing, she engages in geekery, from Doctor Who to AD&D. Because who said you need to grow up?

All three books in the ISLA’S INHERITANCE trilogy are now available: http://cassandrapage.com/islas-inheritance/

Worldbuilding: Preparing to Build Your World with Julie

TODAY’S BREW: Fancee coffee from Mistobox because Sam won’t let me go to the store to get cheap stuff, and hasn’t for 3 days.

By Julie

A friend suggested I write a post on worldbuilding. My immediate response was, “I’m not good enough at it yet.” So, this is exactly why I’m writing a post on it.

It would be easy to write only about things I know, just like someone famous said about writing book, actually. If you know it, you have something valuable to add. Well, I think writing about things you’re unsure of is what drives you to become an expert in them. You try harder. You have to, or you’ll look like a jackass.

I didn’t think I built worlds all the time, but I do actually, and have a hell of a process for doing so. I’m going to do a short series of posts on what I do to build a world, because it’s hard work and something anyone can do if they put the work in. This post is about getting ready to build your world.

Even though I forge ahead and dive into my work as if I know exactly what I’m doing, I PREPARE to build a world.

I look to the greats: Chuck Wendig is always the first place I look. http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/09/17/25-things-you-should-know-about-worldbuilding/

I take notes. On important stuff like know the world’s rules to adhere to them, but the reader doesn’t need to know them all. Oh wow, that’s important. You know how you keep reading articles and lists about the things you didn’t know about Hogwarts? Because Rowling knew the rules, but we didn’t have to. You WANT to tell the reader everything…..but it’s “masturbatory,” as Chuck says. I realized that in exposition of a world you’ve made, the same rules still apply….. if it doesn’t move the story forward, it has to go. Not to mention that yeah, it’s cool to have a world where the author has thought of everything and goddamn do you know it, but I want to create worlds that INSPIRE and have tone. I want my worlds to have mystery. There’s a fine line between having mystery and coming across as half-cooked.

How do you not appear to be half-cooked? Chuck also says to know how the real stuff works in your fancy-land. Do your research. I know what vegetables and fruits grow on the mountains in Japan in winter, for instance. Add in the flourishes of realism that make your place real. You can only do that by knowing them.

The other guy I pay attention to is John Scalzi, who said something that I won’t forget. Make sure your world is 2 questions deep. http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/08/21/worldbuilding-briefly/  On every page, if a reader asks why, I should have answers for that, and a backup answer for it. Again, if  the reader asks. I don’t have to give all the answers first. Let their imaginations wander.

I pay attention to video games. I’m not a gamer, but video games have worlds as complex as any novel on a good day. There’s a lot to be learned from video game worlds for a writer:

  • They’re visual. I can see the world. The trick is to look at the game like a writer. Everything is both complex and simply done. Lighting creates a scene. How would I describe the lighting, as a writer? Watch a bunch of YouTube clips of games and ask yourself questions. Just from looking at him, what do I know about that character? How would I say it in my words? That kinda thing.
  • Video games suck you in. So if I jump into a game mid-story, what keeps me there? How can I make my reader feel like they’re already part of a story that’s been going on all along? How can I make my world easily understood, but still deep? Games show you that.
  • Read articles written by gamers and designers. They tell you things.

Stop me if you heard this one, but I read books. Read like you’re looking to learn. This is why I read so strategically–I have an agenda. I read a book looking for something in particular. With THE HUNGER GAMES, I wanted to know how Panem was so convincing and steeped in so much history, without us being hit over the head with backstory. With DIVERGENT I wanted to see how the world shaped the way characters spoke, how mannerisms were a product of their environment. With Valente’s Fairyland series I look for the ways in which the world is painted so richly that I can see it but never feel inundated with description. So on and so forth. Take notes.

Make your world all over you like a cheap sweater. Notebooks forever. For THE WIND BETWEEN WORLDS, I have two 5 subject notebooks PACKED, a 3 subject notebook, a scrapbook, an inspiration board, a million Pinterest boards….. I keep track. I surround myself with the world as much as I can so it’s bursting onto paper when I’m ready.

I make the minutiae central, but only to me. Goddamn do I have fun with this. If my MC wears a piece of jewelry to represent her place in the world, I search for the damn thing. Etsy, Pinterest, Amazon, art shops, craft stores…. until I have the vision of the thing I want so deeply ingrained and have turned down so many options that the one I’ve created in my head is more real than anything I’ve seen. I hunted down a decades old magazine for a photo I saw on some website because the tone of it was exactly what the tone of a particular scene was. I gather up bits and pieces of things that contribute to my vision like a frigging bobcat making a nest or whatever bobcats do. I like to see it all in front of me so I can make it REAL.

Then when I start to write, I boil down the feeling of it all into very careful wording so YOU feel that it’s real. Building a world has purpose: to give the reader someplace they feel they know, or to give them somewhere to escape to. Sometimes both. So take it seriously and get yourself ready. Commit to it so the reader will be committed, too.

What I Read When I Write by the Magnificent Jen Lillis

TODAY’S BREW: It’s Mother’s Day. WHATEVER I DAMN PLEASE.

 By Julie

Jen Lillis is the most unique person I’ve ever met on Twitter. Let that sink in. She sent me stinky vintage cookbooks from a basement complete with her own personal notes. So that’s impossible to top. Want to know what else she’s reading and how it helps her write? WELL HERE GOES.

This was a great idea for a blog series (though honestly, it’s Julie, so I’d have participated even if the topic was METAPHORICALLY COMPARE YOUR NEW BOOK TO THE ZONING LAWS OF YOUR HOME STATE).
I’m so grateful to the books I read during the drafting process. All of them–even the ones I don’t connect with–either teach me something, yank me out of a funk, or help me solve a problem in my WIP.
This one’s been a bear. So I’ve been reading a lot.
My latest YA novel (still untitled) is narrated by Barrie: pop-music obsessive, dogged optimist, and super-ambitious singer-songwriter. Her number-one goal is to win an American Idol-type reality competition called Pop University–but when she’s booted off early in favor of a devious neo-folk chick with tons of natural talent, she comes up with an…ah, unusual Plan B for achieving her dream.
Here are the books that have helped me the most while I spin this weird little story:

Joan Bauer, Squashed

If you’re writing a snarky, cynical YA heroine, there’s no shortage of strong narrators you can turn to for voicespiration. If you’re writing a wildly ambitious optimist, literary role models are harder to come by. I dug deep in my vintage YA archive, bypassing a 7th Heaven novelization called Winter Ball, and decided to revisit this gem from 1992. Joan Bauer proves that goodhearted, glass-half-full narrators can still be goddamn funny, and so many of her books are master classes in writing offbeat heroines with big ambitions. She takes goals that could be perceived as silly–growing a giant pumpkin, for example–and infuses them with gravity and urgency. That’s just what I’m trying to do with Barrie, and I hope I can pull it off as well as Bauer does.

Peter Shaffer, Amadeus
Since I started this book, I’ve been joking that it’s like Amadeus with female singer-songwriters. So I picked up the play again–hadn’t read it since college–and took another tour of Salieri’s jealous heart. Barrie is in kind of a similar position: a musician with noble goals who’s toiled and sacrificed for a shot at greatness, and then gets effortlessly upstaged by a true natural. (The music is probably better in Amadeus. I’m trying.)
David Levithan, Hold Me Closer
It’s tough to write a book about music. If you describe something visual well enough, your reader can see it; if you describe food, readers can almost taste it based on past experience. But it’s harder to make readers “feel” a song they haven’t heard before–even if you quote lyrics, you’re still giving them a skeleton without flesh and blood.
I’ve been looking for good, innovative examples of how to communicate the power of song within a novel, and Hold Me Closer is a book that’s kind of emboldened me. It’s a novel in the form of a musical script, and the story unfolds in the lyrics and sharp, funny stage directions. I’m not sure it completely works, but it definitely opened my mind to creative new ways of weaving music into a narrative and illuminating its significance to a character. Tiny Cooper isn’t just in love with music–he’s practically made of music. That’s what I’m trying to get across with Barrie, and I hope readers will feel that.
A.S. King, Ask the Passengers
This is my first f/f romance, so I’m turning to a master for inspiration. I’d be thrilled if my book turned out half as good as an A.S. King; she’s one of the best YA authors around. Her MC talks to planes and Socrates and it’s awesome instead of annoying. LIKE HOW DOES THAT EVEN HAPPEN.
June Foley, It’s No Crush, I’m In Love
jen lillis post
the FABULOUS, 1982-tastic cover of one of the books I mentioned (photographed in its natural habitat on my vintage YA bookshelf
I have an unreasonable amount of love for this severely underrated treasure from 1982. Describing this book does it a disservice, because it sounds like the B plot of an old Who’s the Boss? episode (young teen girl nurses massive unrequited crush on hot English teacher), but the odd-couple friendship between reserved main character Annie and the candid, uproarious Susanna Siegelbaum is more than worth the price of admission. I reread parts of this every time I need to write snappy banter between my two MCs. It’s my aspirational blueprint. (Seriously, this book is so charming–if you ever see it at a library or garage sale, pick it up. It should have won all the prizes, including Best Cover Mustache.)
Bob Stanley, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyonce 
My two MCs are really well versed in the history of pop music, though they approach it from different angles. So to fill the gaps in my own knowledge, I’ve been slowly digesting this thick, engaging history of pop from 1955 to present. I don’t think Barrie would approve of how cheerfully Stanley lobs spitballs at sacred cows–he describes Talking Heads as “a bunch of male musicians trying to impress Tina Weymouth with their chops”–but she’d certainly like his passion and intellectual engagement with pop in all its forms. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had doing book research.
In the words of my favorite guitarist, the forever-underrated Lindsey Buckingham, that’s all for everyone. Hope you liked this peek at my reading list–stay tuned, ’cause when the book is finally out I’ll probably be back here doing a random interview about jello molds and my favorite hats of 1994. Thanks to Julie for having me over!
Jen Lillis is the YA author of HOW TO REPAIR A MECHANICAL HEART and WE WON’T FEEL A THING. Lover of geeks, robots, villainous queens, haunted dollhouses, & argyle socks. Follow her https://twitter.com/jclillis and http://t.co/v43Zp75D0e.

What I Read When I Write: A Guest Post from Christi Frey

TODAY’S BREW: I have no water due to PIPE ISSUES so anything I can get OUT.

By Julie

After I wrote my post on what I read when I’m writing a buddy of mine wanted to do one, too, and lo and behold, it gives me new ideas on writing. So you should read it too.

What I Read When I Write, and Why 

Okay. So, I’ll try and make this the quick n dirty version (I’m a long-winded windbag some days). The little guy’s almost two now, and over the past couple years I’ve found that (surprise, surprise) kids really drop a time-bomb into your reading habits, and I’ve had to adapt a more targeted strategy: when I’m having writing problems, I want to see what other writers have done in the same situation. I’ve also started using the local library a lot. God bless libraries. I look up a book online, put in a request, walk five blocks to the library, and pick it up off the shelf. So, while I can’t read as much as I used to, I read a really wide variety of stuff – because it’s free, so if something seems even vaguely interesting, why not have a look at it?

I’ve written non-fiction semi-professionally for several years now, mostly niche magazine articles of the educational type, and have also edited a small regional magazine. I tell you this because, in the world of fiction, I’m almost barely qualified to be speaking at you – I have two novels on the go, one in the “shows some semblance to words” stage and the other, Harthorn, in the “nearly ready for an editor to tear it apart” stage.

When I write, I have an idea of the start and the end, but I pretty much pants the middle. This means I write scenes, see if they work, and yank them if they don’t. Sometimes I get stuck. After I’ve been banging my head against the wall for a while, I go looking for inspiration.

I can divide the type of inspiration I find into two categories: overall philosophical, and scene nuts-n-bolts. The philosophical bits are usually things I find by chance that happen to shed some clarity on the overall WHY of the piece. For instance, I came across this quote on Twitter the other day by Ralph Waldo Emmerson: “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” And I thought, man, THAT right there is the essence of Harthorn. I saved it in my manuscript inspiration file so that when I’m re-drafting I can tighten up all the parts of the story that support that theme, polish them, so to speak, really have them sing within the overall text.

Another philosophical bit I came across that I think I’ll be digesting for a while is in Robert Greene’s book MASTERY. Chapter IV talks about social intelligence – the ability to put yourself inside someone else’s head, to imagine their feelings and motivations. Granted, in the book, it’s assumed you’re reading for some type of ulterior world-domination motives (MU HA HA HA *twirls mustache* this is, after all, the guy who wrote the 48 Laws of Power, which is also fascinating reading if you’re crafting bad guys). Ahem. Anyway, anything that helps you get in someone else’s head is a great exercise for a writer.

When I find something useful, whether it’s a few pages in a book or an article on the internet, I make a copy, annotate where it came from, and put it into my writing binder. It’s kind of like a build-your-own-writing-course binder. I highlight relevant bits or make notes for WIPs as appropriate.

The other kind of inspiration I go looking for is scene nuts-n-bolts. For instance, I was recently stuck on a scene where my MC wakes up in a strange place. I’d re-written it two or three times, and it was feeling really flat. Hello, I’ve just woken up and I’m in a strange place – oh gee, there’s a window over there. Ugh. Kill me now.

So I asked myself, what similar scenes can I recall from other books? Well, there’s Frodo waking up in Rivendell in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, one with Hannah near the end of Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road, and there are at least a couple of scenes the beginning of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods where Shadow wakes up disoriented and in a strange place. After reading those scenes, I had a good triangulation on how three other writers had handled the same kind of scene, and was able to go back to my WIP with fresh eyes. And I decided that I needed to write another character into the scene if I was going to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, as all three of the other writers had done.

Obviously, we’re not talking about plagiarism here. PLAGIARISM = BAD. I’d never advise taking another’s writing, changing some words here and there, and passing it off as your own. People who do that deserve to be eternally tortured by Vogons.

But all the best teachers say the way to learn to WRITE fiction is to READ fiction. And what I’ve found is, for me, going back to re-read a scene in a novel I’ve already read is more efficient than diving into a whole new novel – because I tend to lose myself in the story really quickly, and completely forget to dissect the writing.

So now that I’ve babbled long enough, here’s a short list of a few other books I’ve read lately that might be useful to writers:

  • The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley – this book’s a little grimdark for my normal reading habits, but wow, the gender-role-swapping that she does with some of her characters (because that’s what’s normal in their society) is amazing. I’d recommend it for that reason alone. Really well thought out, deliberate character building. Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice is on my radar for the same reason but I haven’t read it yet.
  • The Horse and His Boy by CS Lewis. Yep, I’ve read this one before. Many times, in fact. But Lewis’ narrator’s voice is just so darn personable. I wanted that quality of being able to explain things to the reader, without being patronizing. It also helped me determine that I wanted to write Harthorn in third person, since I wanted an old-fashioned feel to the story (rather than contemporary YA, which is mostly told in first person).
  • WHY Did I Do That? Psychological Defence Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways they Shape our Lives, by Joseph Burgo, PhD. Interesting insights into motivations for less-than-heroic actions. I tend to turn to stuff like this when I need a character to go off the rails in a realistic way – to figure out why someone would be ashamed or scared or angry in certain situations.
  • The Isles of Many Gods: An A to Z of the Pagan Gods & Goddesses worshipped in Ancient Britain during the First Millenium CE through to the Middle Ages by David Rakine & Sorita D’Este. Basic background research for Harthorn. I didn’t want to follow Celtic mythology exactly, but wanted sort of a similar flavor in how the non-human characters flow from the natural world.
  • Vanity Fair’s How a Book is Born: The Making of the Art of Fielding by Keith Gessen Some people may not find this worth reading, depending on your tastes and aspirations, and I totally get that, but it’s my favourite “how I got published” tale. I love reading about other people’s success stories, even if I ultimately end up taking a different path to publication. A girl can dream, right?

Find Christi on Twitter @ChristiFreyCA or follow her blog at http://www.christifrey.ca

The first three chapters of Harthorn can be read here: http://www.harthornstory.com

If you’re interested in reading more Harthorn, please sign up to be a beta reader!

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