Progress Report: I Did a Thing

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Guys, I missed a post last week, and I almost missed another today, because I’m too busy working (and also making dinner, but a girl’s gotta eat.)

What am I working on? Formatting What We Need to Decide. The ebook layout is done, and in another day or two (Elena taps her knuckles on her desk) the print layout will be done as well, then it’s cover time! This is happening, people! Book two!

I’ll do my best to put a real post up Wednesday, and of course I’d never miss reviews on Friday.

Another Writer Q&A

This one comes from Tumblr, where I was tagged for it. It had a lot of interesting questions, so I figured it should get posted here as well!

As for tagging anyone else, if you want to, go for it. I’m not naming names today.

What is your new book about?
What We Need to Decide is another romance, the continuation of Paul and Nina’s story begun in What We Need to Survive, so it’s about love. But deeper than that, it’s about learning self-acceptance, learning what lines shouldn’t be crossed, and how far a person will go to preserve the things meaningful to them.

It’s also about the future, children, and sometimes, dogs, too. That last part surprised me.

What or who inspired it?
The What We Need series comes from a single this-almost-could-have-been-a-love-story moment in the Telltale video game The Walking Dead (season 1, if you played you know exactly what I mean.) It made me realize that in basically all the post-apocalypse media I’ve ever seen, romance is rushed, trivialized, or neglected–it’s much more common that sexual relationships spring up from fear or need or loneliness, and that’s reasonable. But I wanted to see if a real romance had a shot, too.

Apparently it did, because I’ve still got two books’ worth of story to tell.

What was the biggest challenge, writing it?
In a romance, it’s easy to come up with internal emotional struggles, roadblocks to intimacy and happiness. In a post-apocalyptic setting, it’s easy to come up with external challenges to life and limb. What’s been hardest for me is to meld the two disparate genres, making my internal and external conflicts echo each other enough to fit in the same story.

What do you want to achieve with this book?
I always want to grow as a writer, putting out a better book than the one before it. (I only have one book to my name so far, so this will get harder in time.)

What do you hope for your book?
That people will read it, enjoy it, be inspired by it. Romance as a genre often gets dismissed as fluffy, but mine’s pretty damn serious, and I hope readers can look at my work and see that romance doesn’t automatically equal an easy summer beach read.

Are there any parts of it that have special personal significance to you?
Writers draw on themselves for details all the time, and little things about me have snuck into both books. Paul ended up with some of my strengths, Nina a few of my flaws, and the whole thing is informed by my deep and abiding love of music. (There’s a few song titles hidden in the narration, because I’m a nerd like that.)

Do you have a favorite character or one you really enjoyed writing?
I don’t know if I can chose a favorite between my main two squeezes, because they’re both a joy to write, and I’ve put a lot of effort into making sure they play well off each other. But Nina’s the serious one, so whenever I get the chance to write her with her guard down, and she busts out her snarky sense of humor–that’s a blast.

What do you see as the major themes in your book?
Love, survival, personal growth, and hope for the future.

What made you set it in__________?
Post-apocalypse Midwestern USA? I’ve lived all over the Midwest, and I’m familiar with a lot of the places I’m writing about, how the people sound, the countryside, what the weather’s like. Research fills in the gaps (bless you, Google Street View,) but I wasn’t about to set this story somewhere I’d never been.

Did the title come instantly, or did you labour over it?
What We Need to Survive went through five titles before I settled on that one, though I knew the very first was only a placeholder while I typed up the initial scene I had tormenting my brain. Once I’d settled on that, and the name of the series (What We Need) the other two book titles came easily–What We Need to Decide (#2) and What We Need to Rebuild (#3.)

To whom have you dedicated the book and why?
WWNTS is dedicated to my husband, because I’ve been writing for fun my whole life, but he was really the first to help me see I could do more than that, and he’s been supportive throughout the entire process. I could not have done this without him.

WWNTD doesn’t have a dedication yet, I’m still pondering.

Who do you think will enjoy your book?
I’ve gotten positive feedback from romance fans, from PA fans who don’t usually read romance, and from a small handful of people who don’t usually read either genre, but read it because they know me. I won’t say there’s been no criticism, because there has been, but what I’ve heard so far makes me think the only people who won’t enjoy it, for sure, are people completely uninterested in love stories of any genre. (Which is totally fine, I’ll evangelize for romance acceptance, but I’m not here to shove my book down anyone’s throat.)

Do you have a special spot for writing at home?
Nothing special, just a desk with my computer, a Groot bobblehead, and space for a candle or two if I’m feeling fancy.

Do you like silence or music playing while you’re writing?
Rain sounds! They help me shut out distractions, while not actively distracting me like music can, especially if it has lyrics. I will occasionally indulge in classical or other instrumental music if the rain’s getting stale.

When did you start writing?
I literally cannot remember a time I did not write. My first “published” book was a second grade class project, where everyone had to write and illustrate a story on pieces of construction paper that got bound with the school’s shiny-new spiral binding machine. I wrote a story about different snack foods coming to life in my kitchen and becoming friends before they got eaten. And I know I was writing before that, making up things in my diary where I inserted myself into my favorite books and TV shows.

Did you always want to become an author?
Somewhere in the back of my mind, yes. I just never thought I would, because I was only ever encouraged to be creative as a hobby–arts and crafts were wonderful things to do, but you can’t make a living from them. Music is great, yes, learn to sing! But don’t think you’ll ever make any money from it. Creative writing? Fantastic! But do you know how hard it is to actually get published?

So I didn’t try, even if I had never actually stopped writing. Then I buckled down and tried, and I did it.

Tell us a bit about your childhood?
Elena the storyteller began life as a compulsive liar, an unreliable narrator of remarkable daring. I wanted to be the center of attention, the best at everything, so I made up stories where I was, and I told my friends, thinking they understood I was only telling stories.

They didn’t. They told their parents, and their parents told mine, and I got lectured about how wrong it was to tell Stacey I was a professional ballerina dancing in Swan Lake at age 5.

I stopped telling the stories, and started writing them down instead, because then people would understand they weren’t real, and that made them okay.

If you’ve had other jobs outside of writing, what were they?
Libraries, greenhouses, tutoring, and a whole slew of service-industry jobs, which have taught me two very important lessons: 1) The customer is not always right, and 2) You’re getting paid to smile at them anyway, so smile.

If that sounds cynical, well, it is–you’d be amazed at the number of people who think service = servant, or worse, idiot. I’m still a person deserving of basic respect, thank you.

Describe yourself in three words.
Determined, caring, and imaginative.

What Sign are you and are you typical of it?
I am a Gemini, and while I don’t put any stock in astrological symbolism, what little I do know seems to fit me–Geminis are often sharp of wit and mercurial, apparently.

What three things do you dislike?
Excessive humidity, cantaloupes, and hypocrisy.

What three things do you like?
Cool breezes, watermelon, and good listeners.

Let Me Tell You a Story #25: The 29 Rules for Proper Comma Usage

When I was in seventh grade, waaay back in the early ’90s, I had an English teacher who is almost single-handedly responsible for everything I know about commas.

Now, I can’t say I hadn’t noticed the rules of proper comma usage before. I read, and I read a lot. But some of the niceties had undoubtedly been escaping me.

I will never forget that class, because it was the first and only time my tests have been blank sheets of paper.

The teacher was already elderly, nearing retirement, when I had him twenty-odd years ago, so his teaching methods seem antiquated now–even by the time I reached my senior year of high school, teachers were moving away from strict memorization to applied learning.

For the most part, I think that’s great. But I am forever thankful I learned punctuation “the hard way.”

We had spent the week going over the rules for commas in our grammar books. (I’ve tried and tried to remember what textbook it was, and I thought it might be The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation–the teacher called them “your blue books,” and I remember the awful baby-blue cover with ’70s-esque font in darker blue. But quick research turned up that TBBoGaP isn’t old enough to have been my textbook. I’ll probably never know what it truly was.)

On Friday, we sat at our desks, bare except for a single pencil, and waited for the blank sheets of paper to be passed out.

Then we wrote down every rule we’d learned for comma usage, word for word.

I don’t remember exactly how many there were–my mind jumps to 29, but that could be because I’ve been telling this story to my friends over the years, and hyperbole has crept in. It was probably closer to 20 than 30.

Any student who didn’t get them perfect had to take the test again the following Monday, while the rest of the class read the next short story we’d been assigned in our other textbook.

Most of the year went like that–a week of intense focus on a single grammatical concept or the rules of a particular type of punctuation, then a week of reading. (Oh, and we had to do a 500-word “persuasive” essay every week. I laugh to think how hard 500 words was, back then. I’m pretty sure one of mine was “People Should Grow Roses.”)

Fast forward to now. Could I write out all 29 (or however many) rules again, word for word, like I did in seventh grade? I’m sure I couldn’t.

But every time I read a book that never sets off forms of direct address in dialogue with commas (“What are you doing Ted?”) I cringe, and remember how I know doing needs a comma after it, and think of those blank sheets of paper.

Reply Like No One’s Watching (Writer Q&A)

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One of my favorite writer-blogger friends, Eve Messenger, hit me with this one. I’m a sucker for talking about myself, books, and writing, so of course I’m all over this. Thanks, Eve!

The Rules:
1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and link to their blog and Twitter in your post.
2. Answer the questions that the blogger who nominated you has provided.
3. Nominate up to 10 other bloggers or Twitter followers
4. Create ten questions for your nominees and notify them of their nomination.

Eve Messenger’s Questions:

What are three things you do really well as a writer?

I’m character-focused when I write. My scene and story ideas almost always start with me hearing dialogue in my head (insert “she hears voices” jokes here), and I build my characters outward from what they say. So I’m strong with dialogue, personalities, and body language.

When you daydream about “making it” as a writer, what do you visualize?

Quitting (or cutting back on) my day job. I like what I do well enough most of the time, but it was never my dream job.

Do you have a regular writing routine? If so, when?

First thing in the morning, if I can, or as soon as possible during the day. I’m not a night owl, and I won’t sacrifice sleep to write. I will sacrifice just about anything else, so it works okay. As for what I do, I light a scented candle if I know I’ll be at the computer long enough to enjoy it, make some tea or get a glass of water, throw on my headphones and listen to Rainy Cafe, and get down to it.

Dogs or cats?

I like both, I have neither.

What’s directly to the left of where you’re sitting right now?

My husband’s chair. Our desks are right next to each other.

When do most of your plot ideas come to you? In bed, on walks, in the shower, while driving, when reading other books?

Walking and in the shower. Both prime plot-bunny time. Sometimes at work, if my mind’s drifting, but I try to keep that to a minimum–I jot down the idea and get back to business.

What’s your most recent writing breakthrough?

Trying out a new rewriting method that seems to be perfect for me.

Are you able to write in noisy environments?

I write almost exclusively at home, so aside from the occasional police siren or loud trucks on the street, there isn’t much noise. I listen to rain sounds to drown out incidental noise and help me focus, or occasionally, instrumental music. Never anything with vocals, or I’ll start singing along in my head, and then I can’t words. Words no worky.

Have you ever attended a book signing event for an author you admire? If so, what was it like?

Never have, would love to.

Are you better at coming up with titles or elevator pitches?

I’ve never tried to come up with an elevator pitch–the benefit of self-publishing, I don’t have to pitch–so I guess titles win by default. Writing the various promotional materials I’ve used, like my back-cover blurb, was difficult, so I’m sure a pitch would be terrifying.

That wraps up my answers, so it’s time to tag people I want to hear from:

Graham @ loquaciouslyliterate

Tina @ All of These Prompts

And any of my followers who’d like to, just tell me in the comments when you do so I see it!  A lot of the writing blogs I follow are on some sort of hiatus right now, and I don’t want to tag people who aren’t active–hence the short list.

And my questions:

  1. What’s the last book you read, and would you recommend it?
  2. What inspired your current (or most recent) writing project?
  3. Scented candles, yea or nay?
  4. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?
  5. One project at a time, or do you juggle multiples?
  6. Give me your favorite line you’ve written recently.
  7. Tell me five things that are in your fridge right now.
  8. What was the most memorable place you’ve ever traveled to?
  9. What’s your favorite board game? And if it’s not Scrabble, what’s wrong with you?  (Kidding, kidding. I just love trouncing people at Scrabble. Don’t worry, I’m not challenging anyone.)
  10. If there were one more hour in the day, would you use it to sleep, or to write?

Five Things I Love About Winter

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  1. Snuggling under a blanket with a mug of tea and a book.  (Seriously, is anyone surprised that’s #1?)
  2. How quiet a snow shower is.  I like the sound of rain, and I adore thunderstorms, but looking out the window and watching snowflakes drift down in silence is so peaceful.
  3. Christmas and winter-seasonal tea flavors.  I’ve got the full spread this year of Celestial Seasonings’ line: Sugar Plum Spice, Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride, Candy Cane Lane, Gingerbread Spice (my favorite new one!) and Cranberry Vanilla Wonderland. I’m actually trying to use up some of my partial boxes of other flavors to make room, because I don’t usually buy five new boxes of tea at once.  And then a few days after that, my grocery started carrying True Blueberry, an old favorite of mine that I haven’t seen for years, so of course I had to get that too.  I haven’t even opened it yet, I told myself I have to use something else up first!
  4. The way the afternoon sun sparkles on freshly-fallen snow, before anyone mucks it up with their footprints…
  5. …but also the feeling of stepping through that crust of new snow, when it thaws briefly and refreezes overnight, so you get a layer of crunchy snow over the fluffy stuff beneath it.  I really like that feeling.  When I was little, it made me feel like Godzilla crushing a town underfoot, which was fun.  Strange, I’ll grant you, but fun.

What do you love about winter?

The End of the Year Wrap-Up: 2015!

I began the year with a partial draft of a novel that had taken over my waking thoughts and started invading my dreams.  I sat down on January 1st to start a new draft, one that I meant to finish.

I didn’t.  The POV choice I made wasn’t working, and I started over. Again.

Eventually, though (in March) I had a complete draft.

By May, I’d fed it through some lovely beta readers and had started revisions.

On June 15th, I started this blog, beginning my colonization of the Internet as a writer. Since then I’ve written 136 posts, though that five-day-a-week schedule I had in the beginning got difficult to maintain.  The Christmas blogging challenge aside, I think I’ve found my groove with the M/W/F plan and I intend to keep that up in the new year, with the occasional extra post as necessity dictates.

In August, I started keeping a journal, occasionally using prompts and posting the results on Tumblr. They’ve actually been some of my most popular posts, which is awesome, but still sort of strange to me.  But cool.  Strange and cool.

In September, I finished the final edit of the novel and started doing the nuts and bolts of the publishing work.

In October, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo in order to keep writing while I was still doing publishing stuff. In November, I did, and I won, and I plowed through to the end of the draft in the first week of December.

So in a single year, I’ve published one novel and finished the first draft of the next in the series.

Oh, and I’m on vacation right now, working on the first draft of #3. Three chapters in!

Guys, it’s been a hell of a year.

I’m so proud of myself that sometimes I can’t stop smiling.  (Some of that might also be because I got my first reviews, too.  I hadn’t been looking, because everyone says you shouldn’t look or you’ll get obsessed, but then, of all things, my mother told me while I was over for Christmas.  So I had to look.  And I’m thrilled.)

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many more times, but thank you.  Everyone reading this, yes, you.  The support I have received from my blog readers and Tumblr buddies and the occasional Twitter peep has been so encouraging, and I’m grateful for it.

Keep reading, feel free to start conversations with me here or elsewhere (I’m all over the place!), and above all, keep being awesome and supportive people, because the world needs more people like you.

I wish everyone a most excellent New Year.

The Twelve Days of Christmas Blogging, Day 12

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What am I grateful for this Christmas?

My husband, my health, my family and friends.  Those practically go without saying!

But the other big thing I’m grateful for this Christmas is the Internet.  Yes, you read that right, and yes, I mean it.

I could not have become an author without the Internet.  This glorious series of tubes brings 99% of what I need to my fingertips: writing tips, writing friends, research, articles on every aspect of the process from rough draft to published work.  I could not have become an author without the Internet.

It allows me to work at something I love, and it brings my words to you.  Without the Internet, I would have no audience.  (Well, almost none, anyway.)

If you have purchased and read my book, then, you’re awesome, and I’m grateful to you.

If you haven’t, you’re still awesome because you’re reading my blog anyway, and I’m grateful to you as well.

If you’re a friend I’ve made online in the past year through any social media, you’re super awesome, and I hope I can continue to lean on your friendship when I need an ear to bend next year!

I can’t say thank you enough to everyone who’s been with me through any part of this process, and I’ll leave everyone with one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given: Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

I would not be where I am today if I had been.  So I’m grateful for me, too, this version of me that’s braver than the old one, that’s happier than this time last year because of all she’s accomplished, that’s looking forward to learning more and doing more next year.