Thursday, September 21, 2017

The biggest challenge to having a fulfilling creative life is mental clutter that keeps you from being fully present in your creative process. The last two months have for me been pretty much all clutter nearly all the time. Some of this is simply seasonal--summer home improvement projects, back to school shopping, meetings, schedule changes--but a large part of it has been the cumulative effect of poor planning and habits.

In the spirit of the twelve step groups, I admit I have a problem and need change. Specifically, I need to make mental and emotional space in my life to create again.

Of course, identifying the problem is just an early step. Next comes seeking solutions. So today I share some resources I've encountered that look to be pretty useful for overcoming my particular issues, because I suspect others will find them equally helpful

Attention splatter


I first encountered the concept of "attention splatter" through a blogging buddy who had linked an article by Christine Kane, a business coach.

She likens divided attention to a snacking/grazing approach to eating. You repeatedly open the fridge and grab a snack or two, over and over, but never have an actual meal. Along the way, you never, ever feel full, because you haven't truly fed yourself.

Bopping from one thing to another, especially giving little bits of attention to many things spread across hours will have a similar result. You end up feeling unsatisfied, like the day was wasted.

Working to your fullest potential, she argues, requires focused attention on the task at hand. Why?

Your attention ultimately feeds you. It feeds your heart and it feeds your mind. This is why it’s so important to notice what you give your attention to. This is also why splattered attention leaves you feeling strung out and unfulfilled. You never actually feed yourself.   ~Christine Kane

It's very easy to get distracted in our noisy world, but especially so if you are a woman with a family who expects you to carry a lion's share of the "mental load" of running a household. The creative tasks that feed you--writing and honing your fiction--can be pushed to the margins.

Kane recommends first identifying key sources of "splatter"--places where you get diverted by choice or circumstance.

Some common culprits:
~e-mail
~social media
~cell phones
~clutter/household messes
~YouTube
~TV
~magazines and newspapers
~video and phone games
~random Google searches
~obsession with metrics and stats
~calendar maintenance

Once you've figured out what things are stealing your hours a few minutes at a time, you need to eliminate them or  schedule them in discrete blocks. For example, if you check e-mail constantly all day, it will gobble up all your time. Instead, plan to deal with e-mail at certain times of day only for short periods, for example from 8:30 - 9:00. 1:00 - 1:30 and 4:20 - 4:50.

Another way to deal with splattering activities is to leverage small windows of time. Say you have 40 minutes before you need to pick up the kids from school. You might be tempted to poke around aimlessly on social media. Instead, tackle a few specific tasks, such as paying some bills and tidying high-traffic areas of your house.

Side note: if household clutter is your biggest foe to creativity, I recommend you check out the advice and tools available from FlyLady. She has lots of great ideas to get your home in shape using leveraged time in small, discrete blocks you schedule.

Plan your larger blocks. Try to be as specific as you can about what you want to work on. Rather than simply "write something today," you might instead plan to "write scenes two and three in chapter eight." Or if revising, "review chapters 10-14 for craft concerns" (see my helpful three-tier revision review process HERE for more on this.)

During your work blocks, isolate yourself from distractions: turn off the WiFi, mute the phone, notify disruptive people that you will be unavailable during certain hours (call it a "work meeting"). Let phone calls got to voice mail and return the calls at a scheduled time. If distracting sub-tasks come to your attention during your work session, jot them down on a list, then let them go until later, to be scheduled for one of your windows for this type of task.

You might find it helpful to have an accountability partner to whom you report when you're working, then how you spent your work block. For example, tweet or text "I'm working on chapter 8 from noon to 3:30." Then at 3:35, "drafted 800 words, planned out scenes 4 and 5."

To reward your efforts further, create an "I did it" list. Each day, simply list what you accomplished. This will become an ongoing source of encouragement as you give attention to what you did, noticing finished projects, not merely unfinished ones.

When you have down time, be fully present to it. This is one of my big struggles--never really resting. If you need a nap, actually sleep, don't beta read, clean out your e-mail box, or have a phone conversation. Do those tasks in their planned slots.

What things steal too much of your mental space? What techniques have most helped you to be fully present to your writing time?

Thursday, September 21, 2017 Laurel Garver
The biggest challenge to having a fulfilling creative life is mental clutter that keeps you from being fully present in your creative process. The last two months have for me been pretty much all clutter nearly all the time. Some of this is simply seasonal--summer home improvement projects, back to school shopping, meetings, schedule changes--but a large part of it has been the cumulative effect of poor planning and habits.

In the spirit of the twelve step groups, I admit I have a problem and need change. Specifically, I need to make mental and emotional space in my life to create again.

Of course, identifying the problem is just an early step. Next comes seeking solutions. So today I share some resources I've encountered that look to be pretty useful for overcoming my particular issues, because I suspect others will find them equally helpful

Attention splatter


I first encountered the concept of "attention splatter" through a blogging buddy who had linked an article by Christine Kane, a business coach.

She likens divided attention to a snacking/grazing approach to eating. You repeatedly open the fridge and grab a snack or two, over and over, but never have an actual meal. Along the way, you never, ever feel full, because you haven't truly fed yourself.

Bopping from one thing to another, especially giving little bits of attention to many things spread across hours will have a similar result. You end up feeling unsatisfied, like the day was wasted.

Working to your fullest potential, she argues, requires focused attention on the task at hand. Why?

Your attention ultimately feeds you. It feeds your heart and it feeds your mind. This is why it’s so important to notice what you give your attention to. This is also why splattered attention leaves you feeling strung out and unfulfilled. You never actually feed yourself.   ~Christine Kane

It's very easy to get distracted in our noisy world, but especially so if you are a woman with a family who expects you to carry a lion's share of the "mental load" of running a household. The creative tasks that feed you--writing and honing your fiction--can be pushed to the margins.

Kane recommends first identifying key sources of "splatter"--places where you get diverted by choice or circumstance.

Some common culprits:
~e-mail
~social media
~cell phones
~clutter/household messes
~YouTube
~TV
~magazines and newspapers
~video and phone games
~random Google searches
~obsession with metrics and stats
~calendar maintenance

Once you've figured out what things are stealing your hours a few minutes at a time, you need to eliminate them or  schedule them in discrete blocks. For example, if you check e-mail constantly all day, it will gobble up all your time. Instead, plan to deal with e-mail at certain times of day only for short periods, for example from 8:30 - 9:00. 1:00 - 1:30 and 4:20 - 4:50.

Another way to deal with splattering activities is to leverage small windows of time. Say you have 40 minutes before you need to pick up the kids from school. You might be tempted to poke around aimlessly on social media. Instead, tackle a few specific tasks, such as paying some bills and tidying high-traffic areas of your house.

Side note: if household clutter is your biggest foe to creativity, I recommend you check out the advice and tools available from FlyLady. She has lots of great ideas to get your home in shape using leveraged time in small, discrete blocks you schedule.

Plan your larger blocks. Try to be as specific as you can about what you want to work on. Rather than simply "write something today," you might instead plan to "write scenes two and three in chapter eight." Or if revising, "review chapters 10-14 for craft concerns" (see my helpful three-tier revision review process HERE for more on this.)

During your work blocks, isolate yourself from distractions: turn off the WiFi, mute the phone, notify disruptive people that you will be unavailable during certain hours (call it a "work meeting"). Let phone calls got to voice mail and return the calls at a scheduled time. If distracting sub-tasks come to your attention during your work session, jot them down on a list, then let them go until later, to be scheduled for one of your windows for this type of task.

You might find it helpful to have an accountability partner to whom you report when you're working, then how you spent your work block. For example, tweet or text "I'm working on chapter 8 from noon to 3:30." Then at 3:35, "drafted 800 words, planned out scenes 4 and 5."

To reward your efforts further, create an "I did it" list. Each day, simply list what you accomplished. This will become an ongoing source of encouragement as you give attention to what you did, noticing finished projects, not merely unfinished ones.

When you have down time, be fully present to it. This is one of my big struggles--never really resting. If you need a nap, actually sleep, don't beta read, clean out your e-mail box, or have a phone conversation. Do those tasks in their planned slots.

What things steal too much of your mental space? What techniques have most helped you to be fully present to your writing time?

Friday, August 25, 2017

by guest author J. Grace Pennington

I chose science-fiction as my primary genre for many reasons, but one among many was the delightful fact that it limits the need for research.

Of course, ideally, if I wanted to do the most minimal amount of research, I would have gone with fantasy.  Fantasy is, by nature, supernatural.  As long as you stick to your own rules, you can do pretty much anything you want.  Since sci-fi is scientific, it does require a certain degree of knowledge—how things work in general—so that you can have at least some plausible basis for your technological advances.  But still, who's to say what the world will or won't be like in three hundred years?  Who can tell what the landscape of other planets may be?  You can't prove that we won't have starships in the twenty-fourth century, nor can anyone predict how exactly they will be run!

So for the first four books in my Firmament series, I blithely wrote along, amusing myself with the occasional scientific and medical research I needed to write with at least some believability.  After all, I love physiology, and all science is pretty cool, so it was something I could live with.

Then came book five, Gestern.

I want to keep the series moving—keep things fresh, keep the characters growing, force them outside their comfort zones.  Books one, three, and four all take place on the ship.  In book two, I did let them explore an alien planet, but for this installment, I decided to take them to the strangest new world of all:  Earth.

And in the first draft I went about things as usual, writing along my merry way.  Very minimal research.  They're out in the woods and in cities, not on a starship!

Then I started to look at the book for its second draft and realized I'd made a huge mistake.  I had set this story on Earth.  Which meant there were actual things I had to study.  Because Earth is real.  The geography and topography of Austria aren't theoretical—anyone can go there, or even just pull up a map and prove me wrong.

Enter Google Earth and Wikipedia.

I had to dive headfirst into calculating just how long it would take Andi and August to get from A to B.  I had to figure out just what locations A and B were.  And then I had to fit all of that into the plot somehow.  Google Earth became my best friend during this time.  I spent hours perusing the Austrian forests, cities, and fields via satellite images, finding new places for my characters to go.  I found an actual castle to base my castle ruins on, and I learned as much about it as the internet would show me.  I learned what kinds of animals would be native to the places they go and incorporated some into the story.  And then to top it all off, I realized I would have to calculate time zones between where they were, and where their friends were back in the United States!

And all of it had to be fit into the story.  I had to mold the plot and timelines to match what I learned.  I had to move people from one location to another several times.

And in the midst of it, I subconsciously went on the same journey I sent Andi on—a voyage outside of my comfort zone.  Away from easy daydreams and pure imagination and down to the ground to meet hard, unmoving facts.

And in the process, I learned.  I grew.  I'm a little less afraid of research and of the limitations on my creativity—and Andi is a little less afraid of growing up.

About the author


J. Grace Pennington has been telling stories since she could talk and writing them down since age five.  Now she lives in the great state of Texas, where she writes as much as adult life permits.  When she's not writing she enjoys reading good books, having adventures with her husband, and looking up at the stars.

About the book


Gestern
science fiction

You never escape your past

Andi Lloyd is more comfortable than most with interstellar travel, but she's not prepared for the perils and peculiarities of a world she has all but forgotten—the planet Earth. As the Surveyor undergoes repairs, her brother August receives a message with news that will send both of them across the world to a place he never wanted to visit again.

Neither of them are prepared to be thrust into a world of political intrigue amid the tangled forests and crumbling ruins of Austria. They aren't prepared to encounter wild animals and endure cross-country hikes.  And they definitely aren't prepared to face it all alone.

But despite the dangers they must press on into the unknown to find a way to save Andi's life, to decide the fate of Earth itself—and to rescue a lonely girl who just happens to be their little sister.

Find it on Amazon


Giveaway




J. Grace Pennington is offering three great giveaway prizes! One is the CD she listened to while she wrote Gestern. The other two are a signed paperback of the winner’s choice. You can enter here: 

Tour schedule


August 25
Frances Hoelsma – Excerpt
shout outs – Book Spotlight
Laurel's Leaves – Guest Post
The Destiny of One – Review

August 26
Jaye L. Knight– Excerpt

August 27
Kelsey's Notebook – Book Spotlight
Claire Banschbach– Excerpt

August 28
Rachel Rossano's Words – Guest Post
Rebekah Lyn Books – Character Interview

August 29
Bookish Orchestrations-Giveaway Winner

Q4U: Are there genres or aspects of fiction writing that, like Grace, you've avoided as outside your comfort zone? What encouragement do you take from her example?
Friday, August 25, 2017 Laurel Garver
by guest author J. Grace Pennington

I chose science-fiction as my primary genre for many reasons, but one among many was the delightful fact that it limits the need for research.

Of course, ideally, if I wanted to do the most minimal amount of research, I would have gone with fantasy.  Fantasy is, by nature, supernatural.  As long as you stick to your own rules, you can do pretty much anything you want.  Since sci-fi is scientific, it does require a certain degree of knowledge—how things work in general—so that you can have at least some plausible basis for your technological advances.  But still, who's to say what the world will or won't be like in three hundred years?  Who can tell what the landscape of other planets may be?  You can't prove that we won't have starships in the twenty-fourth century, nor can anyone predict how exactly they will be run!

So for the first four books in my Firmament series, I blithely wrote along, amusing myself with the occasional scientific and medical research I needed to write with at least some believability.  After all, I love physiology, and all science is pretty cool, so it was something I could live with.

Then came book five, Gestern.

I want to keep the series moving—keep things fresh, keep the characters growing, force them outside their comfort zones.  Books one, three, and four all take place on the ship.  In book two, I did let them explore an alien planet, but for this installment, I decided to take them to the strangest new world of all:  Earth.

And in the first draft I went about things as usual, writing along my merry way.  Very minimal research.  They're out in the woods and in cities, not on a starship!

Then I started to look at the book for its second draft and realized I'd made a huge mistake.  I had set this story on Earth.  Which meant there were actual things I had to study.  Because Earth is real.  The geography and topography of Austria aren't theoretical—anyone can go there, or even just pull up a map and prove me wrong.

Enter Google Earth and Wikipedia.

I had to dive headfirst into calculating just how long it would take Andi and August to get from A to B.  I had to figure out just what locations A and B were.  And then I had to fit all of that into the plot somehow.  Google Earth became my best friend during this time.  I spent hours perusing the Austrian forests, cities, and fields via satellite images, finding new places for my characters to go.  I found an actual castle to base my castle ruins on, and I learned as much about it as the internet would show me.  I learned what kinds of animals would be native to the places they go and incorporated some into the story.  And then to top it all off, I realized I would have to calculate time zones between where they were, and where their friends were back in the United States!

And all of it had to be fit into the story.  I had to mold the plot and timelines to match what I learned.  I had to move people from one location to another several times.

And in the midst of it, I subconsciously went on the same journey I sent Andi on—a voyage outside of my comfort zone.  Away from easy daydreams and pure imagination and down to the ground to meet hard, unmoving facts.

And in the process, I learned.  I grew.  I'm a little less afraid of research and of the limitations on my creativity—and Andi is a little less afraid of growing up.

About the author


J. Grace Pennington has been telling stories since she could talk and writing them down since age five.  Now she lives in the great state of Texas, where she writes as much as adult life permits.  When she's not writing she enjoys reading good books, having adventures with her husband, and looking up at the stars.

About the book


Gestern
science fiction

You never escape your past

Andi Lloyd is more comfortable than most with interstellar travel, but she's not prepared for the perils and peculiarities of a world she has all but forgotten—the planet Earth. As the Surveyor undergoes repairs, her brother August receives a message with news that will send both of them across the world to a place he never wanted to visit again.

Neither of them are prepared to be thrust into a world of political intrigue amid the tangled forests and crumbling ruins of Austria. They aren't prepared to encounter wild animals and endure cross-country hikes.  And they definitely aren't prepared to face it all alone.

But despite the dangers they must press on into the unknown to find a way to save Andi's life, to decide the fate of Earth itself—and to rescue a lonely girl who just happens to be their little sister.

Find it on Amazon


Giveaway




J. Grace Pennington is offering three great giveaway prizes! One is the CD she listened to while she wrote Gestern. The other two are a signed paperback of the winner’s choice. You can enter here: 

Tour schedule


August 25
Frances Hoelsma – Excerpt
shout outs – Book Spotlight
Laurel's Leaves – Guest Post
The Destiny of One – Review

August 26
Jaye L. Knight– Excerpt

August 27
Kelsey's Notebook – Book Spotlight
Claire Banschbach– Excerpt

August 28
Rachel Rossano's Words – Guest Post
Rebekah Lyn Books – Character Interview

August 29
Bookish Orchestrations-Giveaway Winner

Q4U: Are there genres or aspects of fiction writing that, like Grace, you've avoided as outside your comfort zone? What encouragement do you take from her example?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

By guest author SM Ford
First drafts are a bit like this...

Your first draft is done. Now what? Here’s what works for me.

  1. I read through the entire manuscript looking for bumps. If anything stops me, something is wrong. It could be awkward phrasing, missing information, unnecessary detail, lack of emotion, etc. I might even realize a scene is unnecessary or that I’ve left out major plot points.
  2. If the bumps are minor, I fix them as I go.
  3. Major bumps will need more thought and time, so I note them down in my story timeline to come back to later. (A story timeline is a mini-outline I create as I write since I am not an outliner. It helps me know when and where things happened in the story.)
  4. I watch my pacing. Shorter sentences help move the story along in tense times. Longer sentences can give a calmer more relaxed feeling. Did events happen too slowly or too quickly?
  5. Once I’ve reached the end, I ask myself, did the story feel satisfying or was something missing? Did my character change and grow? Was the main problem solved by the character? Did I make the character work to reach the solution? If anything felt too easy, it’s time to complicate my character’s life some more.
  6. Next, it’s time to look at my story timeline more closely. Besides looking at any major bumps I’ve noticed in my read through, I look at the order of scenes. Are they logical? Is each scene necessary? I check the subplots. Did any get lost? Are there places I need to expand?
  7. Now I add new scenes, rearrange scenes, expand or cut scenes as required. 
  8. I relook at the beginning of my story. Is my beginning strong? Compelling and believable? Did I start too early or too late?
  9. Is the setting clear in each scene so my characters aren’t standing before a blue screen? Including at least three sensory details will help with this. 
  10. Then I read through the entire manuscript again. Fix and repeat as above until I don’t see anything to fix.

Now it’s on to polishing. 
  1. I use “find” to search for and destroy (or replace) overused words. I know some of my weaknesses include forms of “looking” and “turning” which are filler actions. I consider each case. Is there a stronger action that will include sensory details? Is there a better action that will help establish setting? Often, the answer is yes. Others include: “just,” “very,” “finally,” “so,” “then,” “that,” “well,” and “really.” I ask myself, how can I say it better? My critique group calls me the “as” Nazi as I’m always on the lookout for overuse of that word, too.
  2. I search for adverbs and weak verbs that could be replaced with stronger verbs by searching for “ly.”
  3. I find passive writing by searching for “ing.”
  4. Of course, I’ve run spell check, but do I have the wrong word, such as to instead of too? Or reins instead of rains?
  5. Is my punctuation correct?
  6. Have I used the right adjective for a noun? Or would a more specific noun be better? E.g. A big dog is vague.  A humongous dog is stronger, but still relative. A German Shepard or Great Dane are both big but very different. Or use a metaphor, but not a cliché. E.g. The dog was as big as a horse.
  7. Have I overused my characters’ names in dialogue? 
  8. I check my “said”s. If I have a “said to him” and only two people are in the room, why would I need “to him?” Probably rarely needed even if multiple people are in the room. If I have a “said and” followed by an action, why not just use the action?
  9. Tightening. Are there redundancies that need to be cut? On the sentence level can I say it with less words?
  10. All this done, I reread the entire manuscript again. By now it should be flowing smoothly. If not, I revise some more.

Of course, once the book goes to a publisher, more editing will be done. I like this quote by Linda W. Jackson, “First drafts are paper plates. After many revisions, they become fine china.” Here’s to making china!


About the Author


SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too.

When she was 13 she got hooked on Mary Stewart's romantic suspense books, although she has been a reader as long as she can remember, and is an eclectic reader. Inspirational authors she enjoys include: Francine Rivers, Bodie Thoene, Dee Henderson, Jan Karon, and many more.

SM Ford is a Pacific Northwest gal, but has also lived in the midwest (Colorado and Kansas) and on the east coast (New Jersey). She and her husband have two daughters and two sons-in-law and three grandsons. She can't figure out how she got to be old enough for all that, however.

She loves assisting other writers on their journeys and is a writing teacher, speaker, mentor, and blogger about writing.

Connect with her here: website / blog RSS / Twitter / Facebook /  Goodreads

About the Book


ALONE is an inspirational romantic suspense published by Clean Reads in 2016.

Ready for adventure in the snowy Colorado mountains, Cecelia Gage is thrilled to be employed as the live-in housekeeper for her favorite bestselling author. The twenty-five-year-old doesn’t count on Mark Andrews being so prickly, nor becoming part of the small town gossip centering on the celebrity. Neither does she expect to become involved in Andrews family drama and a relationship with Simon Lindley, Mark’s oh so good-looking best friend. And certainly, Cecelia has no idea she’ll be mixed up in a murder investigation because of this job.
 
Will Cecelia’s faith in God get her through all the trouble that lies ahead?

Available here:  Amazon / Barnes and Noble / iBooks / Kobo / Smashwords

Do you have a revision checklist like this? What parts of revision do you enjoy most? Like least? Any questions for SM?

I'm on the road today and might be delayed checking in on comments. Welcome new visitors!!
Thursday, August 10, 2017 Laurel Garver
By guest author SM Ford
First drafts are a bit like this...

Your first draft is done. Now what? Here’s what works for me.

  1. I read through the entire manuscript looking for bumps. If anything stops me, something is wrong. It could be awkward phrasing, missing information, unnecessary detail, lack of emotion, etc. I might even realize a scene is unnecessary or that I’ve left out major plot points.
  2. If the bumps are minor, I fix them as I go.
  3. Major bumps will need more thought and time, so I note them down in my story timeline to come back to later. (A story timeline is a mini-outline I create as I write since I am not an outliner. It helps me know when and where things happened in the story.)
  4. I watch my pacing. Shorter sentences help move the story along in tense times. Longer sentences can give a calmer more relaxed feeling. Did events happen too slowly or too quickly?
  5. Once I’ve reached the end, I ask myself, did the story feel satisfying or was something missing? Did my character change and grow? Was the main problem solved by the character? Did I make the character work to reach the solution? If anything felt too easy, it’s time to complicate my character’s life some more.
  6. Next, it’s time to look at my story timeline more closely. Besides looking at any major bumps I’ve noticed in my read through, I look at the order of scenes. Are they logical? Is each scene necessary? I check the subplots. Did any get lost? Are there places I need to expand?
  7. Now I add new scenes, rearrange scenes, expand or cut scenes as required. 
  8. I relook at the beginning of my story. Is my beginning strong? Compelling and believable? Did I start too early or too late?
  9. Is the setting clear in each scene so my characters aren’t standing before a blue screen? Including at least three sensory details will help with this. 
  10. Then I read through the entire manuscript again. Fix and repeat as above until I don’t see anything to fix.

Now it’s on to polishing. 
  1. I use “find” to search for and destroy (or replace) overused words. I know some of my weaknesses include forms of “looking” and “turning” which are filler actions. I consider each case. Is there a stronger action that will include sensory details? Is there a better action that will help establish setting? Often, the answer is yes. Others include: “just,” “very,” “finally,” “so,” “then,” “that,” “well,” and “really.” I ask myself, how can I say it better? My critique group calls me the “as” Nazi as I’m always on the lookout for overuse of that word, too.
  2. I search for adverbs and weak verbs that could be replaced with stronger verbs by searching for “ly.”
  3. I find passive writing by searching for “ing.”
  4. Of course, I’ve run spell check, but do I have the wrong word, such as to instead of too? Or reins instead of rains?
  5. Is my punctuation correct?
  6. Have I used the right adjective for a noun? Or would a more specific noun be better? E.g. A big dog is vague.  A humongous dog is stronger, but still relative. A German Shepard or Great Dane are both big but very different. Or use a metaphor, but not a cliché. E.g. The dog was as big as a horse.
  7. Have I overused my characters’ names in dialogue? 
  8. I check my “said”s. If I have a “said to him” and only two people are in the room, why would I need “to him?” Probably rarely needed even if multiple people are in the room. If I have a “said and” followed by an action, why not just use the action?
  9. Tightening. Are there redundancies that need to be cut? On the sentence level can I say it with less words?
  10. All this done, I reread the entire manuscript again. By now it should be flowing smoothly. If not, I revise some more.

Of course, once the book goes to a publisher, more editing will be done. I like this quote by Linda W. Jackson, “First drafts are paper plates. After many revisions, they become fine china.” Here’s to making china!


About the Author


SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too.

When she was 13 she got hooked on Mary Stewart's romantic suspense books, although she has been a reader as long as she can remember, and is an eclectic reader. Inspirational authors she enjoys include: Francine Rivers, Bodie Thoene, Dee Henderson, Jan Karon, and many more.

SM Ford is a Pacific Northwest gal, but has also lived in the midwest (Colorado and Kansas) and on the east coast (New Jersey). She and her husband have two daughters and two sons-in-law and three grandsons. She can't figure out how she got to be old enough for all that, however.

She loves assisting other writers on their journeys and is a writing teacher, speaker, mentor, and blogger about writing.

Connect with her here: website / blog RSS / Twitter / Facebook /  Goodreads

About the Book


ALONE is an inspirational romantic suspense published by Clean Reads in 2016.

Ready for adventure in the snowy Colorado mountains, Cecelia Gage is thrilled to be employed as the live-in housekeeper for her favorite bestselling author. The twenty-five-year-old doesn’t count on Mark Andrews being so prickly, nor becoming part of the small town gossip centering on the celebrity. Neither does she expect to become involved in Andrews family drama and a relationship with Simon Lindley, Mark’s oh so good-looking best friend. And certainly, Cecelia has no idea she’ll be mixed up in a murder investigation because of this job.
 
Will Cecelia’s faith in God get her through all the trouble that lies ahead?

Available here:  Amazon / Barnes and Noble / iBooks / Kobo / Smashwords

Do you have a revision checklist like this? What parts of revision do you enjoy most? Like least? Any questions for SM?

I'm on the road today and might be delayed checking in on comments. Welcome new visitors!!

Thursday, August 03, 2017

How do you go about writing about faith in a way that isn’t off-putting to contemporary teens, but feels like it’s part of normal life?

My approach begins from understanding that a life of faith isn’t lived across a line in the sand, that this spot over here is where I have a spiritual life, and on the other side is where the rest of the world goes about its business. Real faith doesn’t need a sanitized bubble in order to exist. It walks with courage into dark places through the power of the Holy Spirit, and tries to act as Jesus did. He reached out to those who were at the margins, who were hurting. I write what I hope is an invitation to teens of faith to see their purpose in this way.

In my Christian YA series, faith is a piece of the heroine Dani’s framework for understanding the world, just like her artistic ability is. The imagery and stories of her faith weave through her thought world as much as the language of painting and drawing. Like any teen raised in a Christian home, she goes through a coming-of-age process in which she has to decide if she truly believes for herself, rather than believing in a parent’s belief.

Infusing lots of humor into the story where possible is also important. People of faith are often stereotyped as dour, fault-finding folk who take themselves way too seriously. So my heroine has a bit of a sarcastic streak and finds the funny in things, quite often the funny in her own foibles—a self-deprecating kind of humor that makes her approachable.

Most centrally, I wrote my novels as dramatic stories, not handbooks or manuals on “how to grieve well/how to handle a family crisis well.” Readers walk with Dani through sadness, longing, first love, turmoil, broken relationships, confusion, and doubt. The adults in her world sometimes help, sometimes fail her badly. She has to come to grips with what is really real, with who God is, and with how she must grow and change in order to become her best self.

Preachiness in literature comes when characters aren’t given this space to “come to their senses” on their own. Jesus’ example of how to show a transformation well is the prodigal son story. Did someone come and preach at the younger brother, and tell him he had been a selfish jerk and he should just go home and apologize to his family? No, the story events led him to that conclusion. So it is with my characters. They make their mistakes and gradually learn from them. When epiphanies come, they act on them, and test their new understanding. They move from blindness to insight to realized truth.

I don’t think you have to be a Christian to read stories like mine and get something positive out of them. I’m not Jewish, but I really love Chaim Potok’s stories, which give me a glimpse into Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish communities. One of the most lovely things about literature is how it opens a window into other worlds, gives us a chance to understand other perspectives by living inside them for just a little while.

About the books


Never Gone

Sunday school never prepared her for this kind of life after death.

Teen artist Dani Deane feels like the universe has imploded when her photographer father is killed. Days after his death, she sees him leafing through sketches in her room, roaming the halls at church, wandering his own wake. Is grief making her crazy? Or is her dad truly adrift between this world and the next, trying to contact her?

Dani longs for his help as she tries and fails to connect with her workaholic mother. Her pain only deepens when astonishing secrets about her family history come to light. But Dani finds a surprising ally in Theo, the quiet guy lingering in the backstage of her life. He persistently reaches out as Dani’s faith falters, her family relationships unravel, and she withdraws into a dangerous obsession with her father’s ghostly appearances. Will she let her broken, prodigal heart find reason to hope again?

Read an excerpt.
Add it on Goodreads
Purchase the e-book at Amazon.com / Amazon UK / Amazon (Aus) / Amazon (Can)
Barnes and Noble / Apple iTunes
With sneak peek chapters from the sequel, Almost There 

Purchase the paperback at CreateSpace / Amazon (US) / Amazon (Can) / Amazon (UK) /
Barnes and NobleThe Book Depository (free shipping)


Almost There

How do you find hope when a family crisis threatens everything you love?

Paris, the City of Lights. To seventeen-year-old Dani Deane, it’s the Promised Land. There, her widowed mother’s depression will vanish and she will no longer fear losing her only parent, her arty New York life, or her devoted boyfriend.

But shortly before their Paris getaway, Dani’s tyrannical grandfather falls ill, pulling them to rural Pennsylvania to deal with his hoarder horror of a house. Among the piles, Dani finds disturbing truths that could make Mum completely unravel. Desperate to protect her from pain and escape to Paris, Dani hatches a plan with the flirtatious neighbor boy that only threatens the relationships she most wants to save.

Why would God block all paths to Paris? Could real hope for healing be as close as a box tucked in the rafters?

Add it on Goodreads
Read sneak peek scenes for FREE on Wattpad
Purchase the ebook on Amazon (US) / Amazon (UK) / Amazon (Aus) / Amazon (Can)
Barnes and Noble / Smashwords / KoboApple iTunes

Purchase the paperback from Createspace / Amazon (US) / Amazon (Can) / Amazon (UK) /
Barnes and Noble / Book Depository (free shipping)


Do you find characters of faith compelling or off-putting? Why?


Thanks to Cecelia Earl for inviting me to write about this topic for her launch party. I repost it for broader sharing here with her blessing.
Thursday, August 03, 2017 Laurel Garver
How do you go about writing about faith in a way that isn’t off-putting to contemporary teens, but feels like it’s part of normal life?

My approach begins from understanding that a life of faith isn’t lived across a line in the sand, that this spot over here is where I have a spiritual life, and on the other side is where the rest of the world goes about its business. Real faith doesn’t need a sanitized bubble in order to exist. It walks with courage into dark places through the power of the Holy Spirit, and tries to act as Jesus did. He reached out to those who were at the margins, who were hurting. I write what I hope is an invitation to teens of faith to see their purpose in this way.

In my Christian YA series, faith is a piece of the heroine Dani’s framework for understanding the world, just like her artistic ability is. The imagery and stories of her faith weave through her thought world as much as the language of painting and drawing. Like any teen raised in a Christian home, she goes through a coming-of-age process in which she has to decide if she truly believes for herself, rather than believing in a parent’s belief.

Infusing lots of humor into the story where possible is also important. People of faith are often stereotyped as dour, fault-finding folk who take themselves way too seriously. So my heroine has a bit of a sarcastic streak and finds the funny in things, quite often the funny in her own foibles—a self-deprecating kind of humor that makes her approachable.

Most centrally, I wrote my novels as dramatic stories, not handbooks or manuals on “how to grieve well/how to handle a family crisis well.” Readers walk with Dani through sadness, longing, first love, turmoil, broken relationships, confusion, and doubt. The adults in her world sometimes help, sometimes fail her badly. She has to come to grips with what is really real, with who God is, and with how she must grow and change in order to become her best self.

Preachiness in literature comes when characters aren’t given this space to “come to their senses” on their own. Jesus’ example of how to show a transformation well is the prodigal son story. Did someone come and preach at the younger brother, and tell him he had been a selfish jerk and he should just go home and apologize to his family? No, the story events led him to that conclusion. So it is with my characters. They make their mistakes and gradually learn from them. When epiphanies come, they act on them, and test their new understanding. They move from blindness to insight to realized truth.

I don’t think you have to be a Christian to read stories like mine and get something positive out of them. I’m not Jewish, but I really love Chaim Potok’s stories, which give me a glimpse into Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish communities. One of the most lovely things about literature is how it opens a window into other worlds, gives us a chance to understand other perspectives by living inside them for just a little while.

About the books


Never Gone

Sunday school never prepared her for this kind of life after death.

Teen artist Dani Deane feels like the universe has imploded when her photographer father is killed. Days after his death, she sees him leafing through sketches in her room, roaming the halls at church, wandering his own wake. Is grief making her crazy? Or is her dad truly adrift between this world and the next, trying to contact her?

Dani longs for his help as she tries and fails to connect with her workaholic mother. Her pain only deepens when astonishing secrets about her family history come to light. But Dani finds a surprising ally in Theo, the quiet guy lingering in the backstage of her life. He persistently reaches out as Dani’s faith falters, her family relationships unravel, and she withdraws into a dangerous obsession with her father’s ghostly appearances. Will she let her broken, prodigal heart find reason to hope again?

Read an excerpt.
Add it on Goodreads
Purchase the e-book at Amazon.com / Amazon UK / Amazon (Aus) / Amazon (Can)
Barnes and Noble / Apple iTunes
With sneak peek chapters from the sequel, Almost There 

Purchase the paperback at CreateSpace / Amazon (US) / Amazon (Can) / Amazon (UK) /
Barnes and NobleThe Book Depository (free shipping)


Almost There

How do you find hope when a family crisis threatens everything you love?

Paris, the City of Lights. To seventeen-year-old Dani Deane, it’s the Promised Land. There, her widowed mother’s depression will vanish and she will no longer fear losing her only parent, her arty New York life, or her devoted boyfriend.

But shortly before their Paris getaway, Dani’s tyrannical grandfather falls ill, pulling them to rural Pennsylvania to deal with his hoarder horror of a house. Among the piles, Dani finds disturbing truths that could make Mum completely unravel. Desperate to protect her from pain and escape to Paris, Dani hatches a plan with the flirtatious neighbor boy that only threatens the relationships she most wants to save.

Why would God block all paths to Paris? Could real hope for healing be as close as a box tucked in the rafters?

Add it on Goodreads
Read sneak peek scenes for FREE on Wattpad
Purchase the ebook on Amazon (US) / Amazon (UK) / Amazon (Aus) / Amazon (Can)
Barnes and Noble / Smashwords / KoboApple iTunes

Purchase the paperback from Createspace / Amazon (US) / Amazon (Can) / Amazon (UK) /
Barnes and Noble / Book Depository (free shipping)


Do you find characters of faith compelling or off-putting? Why?


Thanks to Cecelia Earl for inviting me to write about this topic for her launch party. I repost it for broader sharing here with her blessing.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Being a guest on someone's blog can be a wonderful way to expand audience. But you won't get much traction with your posts if you can't give the visits proper attention.

I've had lots of guest bloggers here, some of whom did extraordinarily well in terms of page views and gaining new fans, and others who got little attention or engagement.

I've also been on the other side of the table, writing posts for others' blogs, in one-off visits, tours I organized for myself, and in a tour someone else organized. I could definitely see a difference in the experience based on how I behaved as a guest more than how the host did or didn't strive to drive traffic to my post.

Make no mistake, getting a post on a high-traffic blog can be very helpful in expanding your reach. However, "landing the gig" is only the first step. Additional follow up will make the difference in whether blog readers connect with or ignore you.

So how do you make the most of guest posting? Here are some helpful pointers:

1. Create value-added content. Clearly you want to excite potential readers about your new book. But if they only wanted to see a book description, they could simply go to Goodreads or a e-retailer.

So consider how you can share something of value to readers that will also entice them to read your story. Perhaps you tried out a new method of research that was really fruitful for understanding your characters' world. Perhaps you twisted a common trope or created a spectacular mash-up of genres. Share the lessons learned and insights gained, Share best practices, or simply something weird or funny, like how a personal life experience led to a particular plot element or choice of setting.

Give readers the story behind the story and they'll become naturally more invested in continuing to learn more about your work.

2. Think "evergreen" with your content. That is, share information that will be as useful to someone who finds it three years from now as those who find it today. Evergreen posts can be part of your long-term social media strategy--a way to continue delivering good content even when you don't have a new release, provided you re-share and revisit them over time. This method capitalizes on "the long tail" of sales, in which readership grows slowly over time.

OR think trendy, and strive to tap into a controversy-of-the-moment. This method is useful if your goal is to make immediate movement in the sales charts. You will need to do more work up front to keep the post alive within its news cycle, before the content becomes dated.

Either strategy will bring more readers to the blog post. You can probably see varying advantages to each approach.

3. Do your part to drive traffic. You need to be a team player with your host, rather than expecting them to automatically deliver readers. After all, you're an unknown quantity to your host's readers. So make sure you're sharing everywhere that you have great content that your existing connections will want to see.


  • Write a short post with a link on your own blog.
  • Create a series of tweets to post throughout the day, with a graphic if possible
  • Retweet your host's tweets about it
  • Share a link on your Facebook page
  • Share links in any Facebook group you're in that might be interested in your content
  • Include links in your newsletter
  • Visit some of your blogging buddies, and they'll likely return the visit


4. Be available. Don't just post and run, or post, tweet and run. Come back and comment.

Be sure to thank your host for hosting you, not only for the sake of your host, but because it shows blog readers that you value the opportunity of being there. Don't let shyness cause you to gain a reputation of seeming standoffish or even entitled. Not sure what to say? Try: "Thanks so much for having me, Host!" It's really that simple.

Interact with everyone who comments. This may be more difficult that you expect, because not all visitors will be lovely and easy to converse with. Some might throw you for a loop with an odd comment you aren't sure how to respond to.

Some will be itching for a fight, so tread carefully, especially if you chose to tap into a controversy. A helpful maxim from St. Paul: "as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Rom. 12:18). Try to acknowledge their point of view, thank them for their time, even if they seem nutty. If they personally attack you, don't retaliate in kind. Try to be calm and de-escalate the situation. A helpful post on de-escalating arguments; 5 ways to stop an argument. If your de-escalation doesn't work, stop interacting with that individual. Others might more successfully defend you, but take care that you don't inspire or encourage a mean spirited pile-on. Our world needs good examples of how to have adult disagreements that don't devolve into character assassination. As far as it depends on you, be a peacemaker.

5. Remember that your ultimate goal is building new connections. If you happen to sell some books along the way, great. If not, that's okay because you've done something strategic--become a known quantity where you used to be anonymous. In a glutted marketplace, this is essential.

Seek to connect with those who comment well--follow and comment on their blogs, connect on Twitter and elsewhere. Send a brief message in any of these venues along the lines of "it was great to meet you through [host's] blog." Remember the currency of the Internet is attention. Letting visitors know you see them, that you appreciate their attention and plan to repay it, goes a long way in building goodwill for your author brand.

Those connections can also lead to further guest posting opportunities. If a commenter seems like they are part of your target audience and have a blog, too, it makes sense to reach out. Be sure to offer content that is similar in quality to the post they liked, but customized for them.

6. Don't burn bridges. If someone hosted you on their blog and no one commented at all, or worse, it was a troll-a-thon, don't give in to the temptation to cut ties with the blogger. Some or all of these problems may have been entirely out of their control. Emergencies can keep a blogger from being able to help you drive traffic; trollish behavior can be hard to rein in once it takes hold on a site. It's possible that this blogger can be helpful to your journey with a different book, perhaps if you choose a non-controversial topic to write about, their followers will be more receptive.

Learn what you can from the experience and use that knowledge to approach future guest posting opportunities differently.

Any other tips? What have your guest post experiences been, either as a host, guest, or visitor?
Thursday, July 20, 2017 Laurel Garver
Being a guest on someone's blog can be a wonderful way to expand audience. But you won't get much traction with your posts if you can't give the visits proper attention.

I've had lots of guest bloggers here, some of whom did extraordinarily well in terms of page views and gaining new fans, and others who got little attention or engagement.

I've also been on the other side of the table, writing posts for others' blogs, in one-off visits, tours I organized for myself, and in a tour someone else organized. I could definitely see a difference in the experience based on how I behaved as a guest more than how the host did or didn't strive to drive traffic to my post.

Make no mistake, getting a post on a high-traffic blog can be very helpful in expanding your reach. However, "landing the gig" is only the first step. Additional follow up will make the difference in whether blog readers connect with or ignore you.

So how do you make the most of guest posting? Here are some helpful pointers:

1. Create value-added content. Clearly you want to excite potential readers about your new book. But if they only wanted to see a book description, they could simply go to Goodreads or a e-retailer.

So consider how you can share something of value to readers that will also entice them to read your story. Perhaps you tried out a new method of research that was really fruitful for understanding your characters' world. Perhaps you twisted a common trope or created a spectacular mash-up of genres. Share the lessons learned and insights gained, Share best practices, or simply something weird or funny, like how a personal life experience led to a particular plot element or choice of setting.

Give readers the story behind the story and they'll become naturally more invested in continuing to learn more about your work.

2. Think "evergreen" with your content. That is, share information that will be as useful to someone who finds it three years from now as those who find it today. Evergreen posts can be part of your long-term social media strategy--a way to continue delivering good content even when you don't have a new release, provided you re-share and revisit them over time. This method capitalizes on "the long tail" of sales, in which readership grows slowly over time.

OR think trendy, and strive to tap into a controversy-of-the-moment. This method is useful if your goal is to make immediate movement in the sales charts. You will need to do more work up front to keep the post alive within its news cycle, before the content becomes dated.

Either strategy will bring more readers to the blog post. You can probably see varying advantages to each approach.

3. Do your part to drive traffic. You need to be a team player with your host, rather than expecting them to automatically deliver readers. After all, you're an unknown quantity to your host's readers. So make sure you're sharing everywhere that you have great content that your existing connections will want to see.


  • Write a short post with a link on your own blog.
  • Create a series of tweets to post throughout the day, with a graphic if possible
  • Retweet your host's tweets about it
  • Share a link on your Facebook page
  • Share links in any Facebook group you're in that might be interested in your content
  • Include links in your newsletter
  • Visit some of your blogging buddies, and they'll likely return the visit


4. Be available. Don't just post and run, or post, tweet and run. Come back and comment.

Be sure to thank your host for hosting you, not only for the sake of your host, but because it shows blog readers that you value the opportunity of being there. Don't let shyness cause you to gain a reputation of seeming standoffish or even entitled. Not sure what to say? Try: "Thanks so much for having me, Host!" It's really that simple.

Interact with everyone who comments. This may be more difficult that you expect, because not all visitors will be lovely and easy to converse with. Some might throw you for a loop with an odd comment you aren't sure how to respond to.

Some will be itching for a fight, so tread carefully, especially if you chose to tap into a controversy. A helpful maxim from St. Paul: "as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Rom. 12:18). Try to acknowledge their point of view, thank them for their time, even if they seem nutty. If they personally attack you, don't retaliate in kind. Try to be calm and de-escalate the situation. A helpful post on de-escalating arguments; 5 ways to stop an argument. If your de-escalation doesn't work, stop interacting with that individual. Others might more successfully defend you, but take care that you don't inspire or encourage a mean spirited pile-on. Our world needs good examples of how to have adult disagreements that don't devolve into character assassination. As far as it depends on you, be a peacemaker.

5. Remember that your ultimate goal is building new connections. If you happen to sell some books along the way, great. If not, that's okay because you've done something strategic--become a known quantity where you used to be anonymous. In a glutted marketplace, this is essential.

Seek to connect with those who comment well--follow and comment on their blogs, connect on Twitter and elsewhere. Send a brief message in any of these venues along the lines of "it was great to meet you through [host's] blog." Remember the currency of the Internet is attention. Letting visitors know you see them, that you appreciate their attention and plan to repay it, goes a long way in building goodwill for your author brand.

Those connections can also lead to further guest posting opportunities. If a commenter seems like they are part of your target audience and have a blog, too, it makes sense to reach out. Be sure to offer content that is similar in quality to the post they liked, but customized for them.

6. Don't burn bridges. If someone hosted you on their blog and no one commented at all, or worse, it was a troll-a-thon, don't give in to the temptation to cut ties with the blogger. Some or all of these problems may have been entirely out of their control. Emergencies can keep a blogger from being able to help you drive traffic; trollish behavior can be hard to rein in once it takes hold on a site. It's possible that this blogger can be helpful to your journey with a different book, perhaps if you choose a non-controversial topic to write about, their followers will be more receptive.

Learn what you can from the experience and use that knowledge to approach future guest posting opportunities differently.

Any other tips? What have your guest post experiences been, either as a host, guest, or visitor?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Interview with guest DiVoran Lites
Image credit: https://morguefile.com/creative/ranbud

Tell us a little about your story and the story world you've created.

Aldon and Ellie are the main characters of Go West. Aldon lives on a ranch in Colorado. Ellie works at her grandparents’ department store in Chicago. Both are veterans of the First World War, he as a pilot, and she as an ambulance driver. Ellie wants freedom and independence, so her grandfather helps her find a job on a ranch in Colorado. The story opens when Aldon drives the wagon to the train station to meet Ellie and take her back to the ranch. Ellie will have three bosses on the ranch, and Aldon is one of them. Working with him doesn’t seem like independence to her, but as she has little choice she must juggle her jobs and the people she meets the best she can.

Who are your main characters? Tell us a little about what makes them tick.

Aldon has been on the ranch all his life except for when he was in the war. He is a Christian man who has followed his mother’s teaching regarding his treatment of women. Ellie, also, kept to herself except for the young men and women with whom she went to high school. She recently joined the Suffragists who insist that women need more freedom.

What led you to write about the time period between the two world wars? 

My mother always told me stories of our family. They weren’t notable people in any way, except for the individual things they chose to become, but Mother’s stories always fascinated me. I liked the 1920s also, because of the changes from an agricultural, industrial era to a post war era when young people were "ready for anything." I like the music, the clothes, and the tent revivals. It’s an exciting decade.

What surprising things did you discover about this period while researching the story? 

I thought that the Italian family who live at Blue Spruce Ranch might have been mask-makers before they came to America. I discovered, though, that Mardi Gras was banned at the time when I needed to use it. Obviously, if there was no Mardi-Gras there would be no need for masks. I had to let them let them make frames instead.

How did you go about developing the setting(s) for this story?

Living in Colorado as a child, I had always before me the gorgeous Sangre de Cristo Mountains as well as the tiny town where there was no need to lock our doors and where everybody knew everybody else. I wanted Go West to reflect that beauty.

What research methods have been most fruitful for you?

The research I enjoyed most was being in touch with my life-long friend from second grade. She had a deeper knowledge and a better memory than I, and we always thought alike.

Are there particular themes or motifs you wrestle with or address in your story?

According to Siri, one meaning for the word theme is subject. My basic subject is love. First we have the love of God, then we love and are loved by our husbands and wives, then family, and then work, Taking care of ourselves, of course, figures into all of it.

What attracted you to the genre you write in? 

When I was twelve years old, my dad got a new job and we had to move to another state, I enjoy where I live now, but I never got over missing Colorado and my childhood, so in a way I was reliving good times in my life.

What aspects of your creative process do you enjoy most? Which are most challenging?

Because I’m one of those folks who need the mechanical act of writing things down before they can grasp them, I enjoy being at the computer or journaling. I like research, too but I learned early on that I could easily spend too much time on it. My biggest challenge to overcome is procrastination.

What advice would you give to other writers interested in writing historical fiction?

The best advice I ever heard was from a successful romance writer. She said, “Keep your two major characters in each other’s company (or thoughts) for most of the book.”

Laurel, thank you for your delightful questions and for introducing me to your friends.

About the Author


DiVoran Lites has been writing for most of her life. Her first attempt at a story was when she was seven years old and her mother got a new typewriter. DiVoran got to use it and when her dad saw her writing he asked what she was writing about. DiVoran answered that she was writing the story of her life. Her dad’s only comment was, “Well, it’s going to be a very short story.”

After most of a lifetime of writing and helping other writers, DiVoran finally launched her own dream which was to write a novel of her own. She now has her Florida Springs trilogy and her novel, a Christian Western Romance, Go West available on Amazon. When speaking about her road to publication, she gives thanks to the Lord for all the people who helped her grow and learn. She says, “I could never have done it by myself, but when I got going everything fell beautifully into place, and I was glad I had started on my dream.”

About the Book


Go West
Christian historic romance

After duty as an ambulance driver in World War I, Ellie Morgan returns to Chicago to take up her share of the work in her grandparents’ department store. Ellie doesn’t want to alienate her family or disappoint them, but despite a six year effort to settle in, she feels increasingly trapped in store routine. Meanwhile, her grandmother urges her to marry a local politician and help him succeed in his chosen field. Ellie’s grandfather, however, wants to see her happy and independent. “Go West, young woman, go west,” he advises paraphrasing a popular quotation of the day. So with Granddad’s help, Ellie secures a job on a ranch in Colorado and sets out to prove that she has the necessary character to succeed at a third vocation.

When Aldon Leitzinger meets Ellie’s train in Clifton Colorado, he introduces himself as the foreman of the ranch. But the more people Ellie meets in the community, the more apparent it becomes that she is in demand to fill a number of roles for which she is not prepared. Desperate to prove herself, she settles in to please everyone, a task that puts her at risk of failure in every attempt at finding a new and happier life.

Available from  Amazon.


Giveaway


DiVoran has five prizes for five people! First to go will be the beautiful art cards and then we’ll have the two eBooks.


Enter below: a Rafflecopter giveaway

What historic periods and places intrigue you? Any questions for DiVoran?
Thursday, July 13, 2017 Laurel Garver
Interview with guest DiVoran Lites
Image credit: https://morguefile.com/creative/ranbud

Tell us a little about your story and the story world you've created.

Aldon and Ellie are the main characters of Go West. Aldon lives on a ranch in Colorado. Ellie works at her grandparents’ department store in Chicago. Both are veterans of the First World War, he as a pilot, and she as an ambulance driver. Ellie wants freedom and independence, so her grandfather helps her find a job on a ranch in Colorado. The story opens when Aldon drives the wagon to the train station to meet Ellie and take her back to the ranch. Ellie will have three bosses on the ranch, and Aldon is one of them. Working with him doesn’t seem like independence to her, but as she has little choice she must juggle her jobs and the people she meets the best she can.

Who are your main characters? Tell us a little about what makes them tick.

Aldon has been on the ranch all his life except for when he was in the war. He is a Christian man who has followed his mother’s teaching regarding his treatment of women. Ellie, also, kept to herself except for the young men and women with whom she went to high school. She recently joined the Suffragists who insist that women need more freedom.

What led you to write about the time period between the two world wars? 

My mother always told me stories of our family. They weren’t notable people in any way, except for the individual things they chose to become, but Mother’s stories always fascinated me. I liked the 1920s also, because of the changes from an agricultural, industrial era to a post war era when young people were "ready for anything." I like the music, the clothes, and the tent revivals. It’s an exciting decade.

What surprising things did you discover about this period while researching the story? 

I thought that the Italian family who live at Blue Spruce Ranch might have been mask-makers before they came to America. I discovered, though, that Mardi Gras was banned at the time when I needed to use it. Obviously, if there was no Mardi-Gras there would be no need for masks. I had to let them let them make frames instead.

How did you go about developing the setting(s) for this story?

Living in Colorado as a child, I had always before me the gorgeous Sangre de Cristo Mountains as well as the tiny town where there was no need to lock our doors and where everybody knew everybody else. I wanted Go West to reflect that beauty.

What research methods have been most fruitful for you?

The research I enjoyed most was being in touch with my life-long friend from second grade. She had a deeper knowledge and a better memory than I, and we always thought alike.

Are there particular themes or motifs you wrestle with or address in your story?

According to Siri, one meaning for the word theme is subject. My basic subject is love. First we have the love of God, then we love and are loved by our husbands and wives, then family, and then work, Taking care of ourselves, of course, figures into all of it.

What attracted you to the genre you write in? 

When I was twelve years old, my dad got a new job and we had to move to another state, I enjoy where I live now, but I never got over missing Colorado and my childhood, so in a way I was reliving good times in my life.

What aspects of your creative process do you enjoy most? Which are most challenging?

Because I’m one of those folks who need the mechanical act of writing things down before they can grasp them, I enjoy being at the computer or journaling. I like research, too but I learned early on that I could easily spend too much time on it. My biggest challenge to overcome is procrastination.

What advice would you give to other writers interested in writing historical fiction?

The best advice I ever heard was from a successful romance writer. She said, “Keep your two major characters in each other’s company (or thoughts) for most of the book.”

Laurel, thank you for your delightful questions and for introducing me to your friends.

About the Author


DiVoran Lites has been writing for most of her life. Her first attempt at a story was when she was seven years old and her mother got a new typewriter. DiVoran got to use it and when her dad saw her writing he asked what she was writing about. DiVoran answered that she was writing the story of her life. Her dad’s only comment was, “Well, it’s going to be a very short story.”

After most of a lifetime of writing and helping other writers, DiVoran finally launched her own dream which was to write a novel of her own. She now has her Florida Springs trilogy and her novel, a Christian Western Romance, Go West available on Amazon. When speaking about her road to publication, she gives thanks to the Lord for all the people who helped her grow and learn. She says, “I could never have done it by myself, but when I got going everything fell beautifully into place, and I was glad I had started on my dream.”

About the Book


Go West
Christian historic romance

After duty as an ambulance driver in World War I, Ellie Morgan returns to Chicago to take up her share of the work in her grandparents’ department store. Ellie doesn’t want to alienate her family or disappoint them, but despite a six year effort to settle in, she feels increasingly trapped in store routine. Meanwhile, her grandmother urges her to marry a local politician and help him succeed in his chosen field. Ellie’s grandfather, however, wants to see her happy and independent. “Go West, young woman, go west,” he advises paraphrasing a popular quotation of the day. So with Granddad’s help, Ellie secures a job on a ranch in Colorado and sets out to prove that she has the necessary character to succeed at a third vocation.

When Aldon Leitzinger meets Ellie’s train in Clifton Colorado, he introduces himself as the foreman of the ranch. But the more people Ellie meets in the community, the more apparent it becomes that she is in demand to fill a number of roles for which she is not prepared. Desperate to prove herself, she settles in to please everyone, a task that puts her at risk of failure in every attempt at finding a new and happier life.

Available from  Amazon.


Giveaway


DiVoran has five prizes for five people! First to go will be the beautiful art cards and then we’ll have the two eBooks.


Enter below: a Rafflecopter giveaway

What historic periods and places intrigue you? Any questions for DiVoran?

Thursday, July 06, 2017

By guest author Elise Abram

Photo by Talesin for Morguefile
When I was a teenager, my family business had a booth at the Canadian National Exhibition in the Food Building. My brother and I ran the booth during the day and my cousins at night.

I was very insecure as a teenager. I wasn't popular, I didn't like the way I looked, I didn't like who I was, and I didn't date. So when a cute boy approached me to strike up a conversation at the counter one day, I was incredibly flattered. When he left, he said he'd come back a few days later to continue our conversation, which he did, only this time, he started spouting religious dogma in the middle of the conversation, which turned me off.

He told me the name of the organization he worked for and I went to the Coliseum Building to check it out. He wasn't there when I went, so I approached, questioned the people working there, and collected some flyers.

It turns out they were in the business of seeking out teens for the purpose of converting them to their way of thinking. I liken their organization to a cult, because in later years, a number of deprogramming stations for their organization and similar ones, popped up around the GTA.

I was worried, but we came up with a plan:  the next time he came around, if I was in the back, someone would tell him I was busy, and if I was at the counter, someone would call me into the back on some "urgent" business. It just so happened that when he next came, I was in the back room and my brother told him I no longer worked there. He never came back.

When I was brainstorming for THE NEW RECRUIT, I thought about this experience and what might have happened if I hadn't had the support system I did. What if I'd ignored the warning signs and went with the recruiter because I was lonely, or if he had something to offer me that I couldn't find on my own?

THE NEW RECRUIT explores this question. Judith, my protagonist, is sixteen-years-old and she feels like an outsider. She's lonely because her mother has passed away, her father is always at work, and she has only one friend. She desperately wants to find a job so she can help her father with the finances and so he will be around more often.

When she meets Cain at the mall, he strikes up a conversation with her, offers her a job, and eventually recruits her into his cult of ecoterrorists, which he is able to do because he makes her feel special, offers her something she can't find on her own, and she doesn't have a support system in place to protect her from going with him.

THE NEW RECRUIT is timely in that it deals with the question of how a child with a seemingly normal upbringing can easily separated from her family, brainwashed, and coerced into doing something that horrifies the majority of the population.

About the author

Elise Abram is high school teacher of English and Computer Studies, former archaeologist, editor, publisher, award winning author, avid reader of literary and science fiction, and student of the human condition. Everything she does, watches, reads and hears is fodder for her writing. She is passionate about writing and language, cooking, and ABC’s Once Upon a Time. In her spare time, she experiments with paleo cookery, knits badly, and writes. She also bakes. Most of the time it doesn’t burn. Her family doesn’t seem to mind.

Connect with Elise Abram:
Blog /  Facebook / Twitter / Amazon Author Page

About the book

The New Recruit
Genre: YA Contemporary
Pages: 214

Sixteen year old Judith Abraham feels like an outsider. She has just transferred to a new school, has only one friend, and suffers from social anxiety, but when recruiter Cain Barrett offers her a job, her whole life changes. Things are great at first, but the more she learns about Cain's world of climate crusaders, the more she questions his motives behind singling her out. Will Judith find a way out before it's too late?

THE NEW RECRUIT is the first book of a trilogy (followed by Indoctrination) by author Elise Abram, winner of the 2015 A Woman's Write competition for I WAS, AM, WILL BE ALICE. THE NEW RECRUIT is a young adult contemporary romance for the new millennium. In a time when jobs are scarce, politics are unstable, and the future is uncertain, millennials are ripe for recruitment by cults, groups offering a stable world view in exchange for total devotion. THE NEW RECRUIT is meant to be a cautionary tale exploring how, without love and support from those around them, our disenfranchised youth can be so easily misguided.

Buy Links:
Amazon / Google Play /  Apple iBooks / Kobo / Barnes & Noble

Giveaway


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Have you ever had a close scrape with danger and wondered "what if things had gone differently"?
Thursday, July 06, 2017 Laurel Garver
By guest author Elise Abram

Photo by Talesin for Morguefile
When I was a teenager, my family business had a booth at the Canadian National Exhibition in the Food Building. My brother and I ran the booth during the day and my cousins at night.

I was very insecure as a teenager. I wasn't popular, I didn't like the way I looked, I didn't like who I was, and I didn't date. So when a cute boy approached me to strike up a conversation at the counter one day, I was incredibly flattered. When he left, he said he'd come back a few days later to continue our conversation, which he did, only this time, he started spouting religious dogma in the middle of the conversation, which turned me off.

He told me the name of the organization he worked for and I went to the Coliseum Building to check it out. He wasn't there when I went, so I approached, questioned the people working there, and collected some flyers.

It turns out they were in the business of seeking out teens for the purpose of converting them to their way of thinking. I liken their organization to a cult, because in later years, a number of deprogramming stations for their organization and similar ones, popped up around the GTA.

I was worried, but we came up with a plan:  the next time he came around, if I was in the back, someone would tell him I was busy, and if I was at the counter, someone would call me into the back on some "urgent" business. It just so happened that when he next came, I was in the back room and my brother told him I no longer worked there. He never came back.

When I was brainstorming for THE NEW RECRUIT, I thought about this experience and what might have happened if I hadn't had the support system I did. What if I'd ignored the warning signs and went with the recruiter because I was lonely, or if he had something to offer me that I couldn't find on my own?

THE NEW RECRUIT explores this question. Judith, my protagonist, is sixteen-years-old and she feels like an outsider. She's lonely because her mother has passed away, her father is always at work, and she has only one friend. She desperately wants to find a job so she can help her father with the finances and so he will be around more often.

When she meets Cain at the mall, he strikes up a conversation with her, offers her a job, and eventually recruits her into his cult of ecoterrorists, which he is able to do because he makes her feel special, offers her something she can't find on her own, and she doesn't have a support system in place to protect her from going with him.

THE NEW RECRUIT is timely in that it deals with the question of how a child with a seemingly normal upbringing can easily separated from her family, brainwashed, and coerced into doing something that horrifies the majority of the population.

About the author

Elise Abram is high school teacher of English and Computer Studies, former archaeologist, editor, publisher, award winning author, avid reader of literary and science fiction, and student of the human condition. Everything she does, watches, reads and hears is fodder for her writing. She is passionate about writing and language, cooking, and ABC’s Once Upon a Time. In her spare time, she experiments with paleo cookery, knits badly, and writes. She also bakes. Most of the time it doesn’t burn. Her family doesn’t seem to mind.

Connect with Elise Abram:
Blog /  Facebook / Twitter / Amazon Author Page

About the book

The New Recruit
Genre: YA Contemporary
Pages: 214

Sixteen year old Judith Abraham feels like an outsider. She has just transferred to a new school, has only one friend, and suffers from social anxiety, but when recruiter Cain Barrett offers her a job, her whole life changes. Things are great at first, but the more she learns about Cain's world of climate crusaders, the more she questions his motives behind singling her out. Will Judith find a way out before it's too late?

THE NEW RECRUIT is the first book of a trilogy (followed by Indoctrination) by author Elise Abram, winner of the 2015 A Woman's Write competition for I WAS, AM, WILL BE ALICE. THE NEW RECRUIT is a young adult contemporary romance for the new millennium. In a time when jobs are scarce, politics are unstable, and the future is uncertain, millennials are ripe for recruitment by cults, groups offering a stable world view in exchange for total devotion. THE NEW RECRUIT is meant to be a cautionary tale exploring how, without love and support from those around them, our disenfranchised youth can be so easily misguided.

Buy Links:
Amazon / Google Play /  Apple iBooks / Kobo / Barnes & Noble

Giveaway


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Have you ever had a close scrape with danger and wondered "what if things had gone differently"?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (know in the US as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone because publishers assume American readers are too dumb to pick up anything with philosopher in the title, or know anything about medieval history or alchemy...but I digress).

Dumbledore's costume, WB studio tour, London (my photo)
I was first introduced to the series shortly after the first two books became available through Scholastic in the US. A reading specialist in my book group felt we just had to give them a try. She reads heaps of kidlit and knew these books were something special, bringing together tropes from fantasy, mythology, coming of age, and boarding school stories. They're fun and smart and got reluctant readers willing to work through their reading struggles to find out what happens next.

Having my husband read the series aloud to me, so we could enjoy the books together, became one of the defining bonding experiences of my early married years. He has gone on to develop college courses that suss out philosophical themes in the books, and has given a number of conference talks and published books chapters on epistemology and ethics in Rowling's work.

My contribution to Harry Potter fandom has been largely connected with this blog. I've participated in some blog hops, did a series of thematic character analyses, and eventually spun off a short-lived online fan 'zine.

So for your enjoyment, I offer links to my many Harry Potter-themed offerings.

Literary analyses

The Slow Growing Hero (Neville Longbottom)
What Makes a Villain? Part 1: The Dursleys and Malfoys
What Makes a Villain? Part 2: Umbridge and Voldemort
What Makes a Villain? Part 3: A Hero in Villain's Clothing (Severus Snape)

Thestral Gazette


I created this fan-fiction "underground newspaper" with a team, to provide muckraker-style "yellow journalism" pieces about "hidden Hogwarts revealed by those in the know." Pieces are cross-posted HERE.

Mrs. Norris's Secret Identity Revealed
Gilderoy Lockhart's Exciting New Book Release!
Snape's Secret Admirer
Fast, Loose, and Aria-Belting: Professors After Hours
Viktor Krum Reuintes with Former Girlfriend
Discovery: Mer-mating
Umbridge Unmasked
Ask Abby Gabby: Advice for Wizards and Witches (first feature)
Advice for Wizards and Witches (second feature)
Being Bullied? Weasel Your Way Out
Elves Gone Wild
Cauldron Chatter: Cloaked Items (gossip column)
Special Report from Hogwarts Florida Campus

Blog Hop posts

The Benefit of Books First (guest post by the hubs)
Wrock on! About the fandom creation "wizard rock"
Quidditch anyone? About collegiate "muggle quidditch" teams
Spinning New Yarns: Fan Fiction and Fan Art
Ravenclaw Heaven: Harry Potter meets Academia
Who Would Be Your Mates? Create a friend trio with two Hogwarts students

Miscellany

Harry Potter themed party ideas part I and part II
My photos from the Harry Potter WB Studio Tour near London and Hogwarts meme

And for fun, a quick list of my favorites:

Book in series: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Film: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Male character: Neville Longbottom
Female character: Hermione Granger
Professor: Remus Lupin
Scene: Escape from Gringott's in Deathly Hallows
Spell: Accio (summoning spell)
Method of transit: aparation
Magical creature: House elves
Magical event: Yule Ball

How long have you been a Harry Potter fan? What are your favorites from the list above?

Thursday, June 29, 2017 Laurel Garver
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (know in the US as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone because publishers assume American readers are too dumb to pick up anything with philosopher in the title, or know anything about medieval history or alchemy...but I digress).

Dumbledore's costume, WB studio tour, London (my photo)
I was first introduced to the series shortly after the first two books became available through Scholastic in the US. A reading specialist in my book group felt we just had to give them a try. She reads heaps of kidlit and knew these books were something special, bringing together tropes from fantasy, mythology, coming of age, and boarding school stories. They're fun and smart and got reluctant readers willing to work through their reading struggles to find out what happens next.

Having my husband read the series aloud to me, so we could enjoy the books together, became one of the defining bonding experiences of my early married years. He has gone on to develop college courses that suss out philosophical themes in the books, and has given a number of conference talks and published books chapters on epistemology and ethics in Rowling's work.

My contribution to Harry Potter fandom has been largely connected with this blog. I've participated in some blog hops, did a series of thematic character analyses, and eventually spun off a short-lived online fan 'zine.

So for your enjoyment, I offer links to my many Harry Potter-themed offerings.

Literary analyses

The Slow Growing Hero (Neville Longbottom)
What Makes a Villain? Part 1: The Dursleys and Malfoys
What Makes a Villain? Part 2: Umbridge and Voldemort
What Makes a Villain? Part 3: A Hero in Villain's Clothing (Severus Snape)

Thestral Gazette


I created this fan-fiction "underground newspaper" with a team, to provide muckraker-style "yellow journalism" pieces about "hidden Hogwarts revealed by those in the know." Pieces are cross-posted HERE.

Mrs. Norris's Secret Identity Revealed
Gilderoy Lockhart's Exciting New Book Release!
Snape's Secret Admirer
Fast, Loose, and Aria-Belting: Professors After Hours
Viktor Krum Reuintes with Former Girlfriend
Discovery: Mer-mating
Umbridge Unmasked
Ask Abby Gabby: Advice for Wizards and Witches (first feature)
Advice for Wizards and Witches (second feature)
Being Bullied? Weasel Your Way Out
Elves Gone Wild
Cauldron Chatter: Cloaked Items (gossip column)
Special Report from Hogwarts Florida Campus

Blog Hop posts

The Benefit of Books First (guest post by the hubs)
Wrock on! About the fandom creation "wizard rock"
Quidditch anyone? About collegiate "muggle quidditch" teams
Spinning New Yarns: Fan Fiction and Fan Art
Ravenclaw Heaven: Harry Potter meets Academia
Who Would Be Your Mates? Create a friend trio with two Hogwarts students

Miscellany

Harry Potter themed party ideas part I and part II
My photos from the Harry Potter WB Studio Tour near London and Hogwarts meme

And for fun, a quick list of my favorites:

Book in series: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Film: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Male character: Neville Longbottom
Female character: Hermione Granger
Professor: Remus Lupin
Scene: Escape from Gringott's in Deathly Hallows
Spell: Accio (summoning spell)
Method of transit: aparation
Magical creature: House elves
Magical event: Yule Ball

How long have you been a Harry Potter fan? What are your favorites from the list above?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

I write stories about teens facing real-world problems in a today-ish setting. I say today-ish, because the biggest dilemma of writing a contemporary story is this:

The world doesn't stand still while you write. Major changes happen every day, to cultures, to landmarks, to technology.

Those unanticipated changes can make your story absolutely laughable.

I'll give an example from one of my books. I started writing it after a trip to the UK in 2006, and had spent the weeks doing heavy on-the-ground research. But for various reasons I won't go into here, I didn't finally publish that book until 2012.

Guess what happened in the UK in 2012? The London Summer Olympics.

One of my scenes that takes place in a London train station, which I'd blocked out step by step in 2006, couldn't have happened the year I published. Big modifications were made to all rail stations in anticipation of the Olympics that upped the level of security. Yet I knew readers would expect my "contemporary" story published in 2012 to be set in 2012.

So what's a writer to do?

Backdate your story. It's that simple.

I now call my stories "near historical" because they are set in the late-2000s (Never Gone, 2007-08; Almost There, 2009). This enables me to "lock down" particular landmarks, technologies, and character interaction with world history (for example, my protagonist would be old enough to actually remember 9/11). It helped me make decisions about what tech would be available and most likely used, considering my characters' socio-economic backgrounds. The rapid change of tech and trends among teens alone makes "near historical" a good option for YA contemporary authors.

How you add in time markers depends on your story. Here are some ideas:

Dated chapter titles
Dated correspondence (snail mail, e-mail) within the story
News headlines or broadcasts (quoted or paraphrased)
Mentions of historic events
Mentions of time spans
Mentions of birth or death dates
Character participation (direct or indirect) in historic events

What do you think of the "contemporary fiction dilemma"? What other solutions besides writing "near historical" have you seen used effectively?


Thursday, June 22, 2017 Laurel Garver
I write stories about teens facing real-world problems in a today-ish setting. I say today-ish, because the biggest dilemma of writing a contemporary story is this:

The world doesn't stand still while you write. Major changes happen every day, to cultures, to landmarks, to technology.

Those unanticipated changes can make your story absolutely laughable.

I'll give an example from one of my books. I started writing it after a trip to the UK in 2006, and had spent the weeks doing heavy on-the-ground research. But for various reasons I won't go into here, I didn't finally publish that book until 2012.

Guess what happened in the UK in 2012? The London Summer Olympics.

One of my scenes that takes place in a London train station, which I'd blocked out step by step in 2006, couldn't have happened the year I published. Big modifications were made to all rail stations in anticipation of the Olympics that upped the level of security. Yet I knew readers would expect my "contemporary" story published in 2012 to be set in 2012.

So what's a writer to do?

Backdate your story. It's that simple.

I now call my stories "near historical" because they are set in the late-2000s (Never Gone, 2007-08; Almost There, 2009). This enables me to "lock down" particular landmarks, technologies, and character interaction with world history (for example, my protagonist would be old enough to actually remember 9/11). It helped me make decisions about what tech would be available and most likely used, considering my characters' socio-economic backgrounds. The rapid change of tech and trends among teens alone makes "near historical" a good option for YA contemporary authors.

How you add in time markers depends on your story. Here are some ideas:

Dated chapter titles
Dated correspondence (snail mail, e-mail) within the story
News headlines or broadcasts (quoted or paraphrased)
Mentions of historic events
Mentions of time spans
Mentions of birth or death dates
Character participation (direct or indirect) in historic events

What do you think of the "contemporary fiction dilemma"? What other solutions besides writing "near historical" have you seen used effectively?


Thursday, June 08, 2017

When I first started this blog in 2009, blog "awards" were all the rage. I think 2010-11 was a peak period, in which I received and passed along more than a dozen. By 2013 no one was doing them any more, and it made me a little sad. I can see how they might seem like public chain letters, but by golly they are fun. They give you something entertaining to blog about when all your creativity has gone into finishing a fantastic chapter the night before.

So I will not be joining the anti-blog-award brigade. Nope. I'll be having some fun. So here goes....

There are rules to this award, of course…
Rule 1: Put the award logo/image on your blog.

Rule 2: List the rules.

Rule 3: Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.

Big thanks for the nomination to awesome A-Z Blogging challenge co-host J. Lenni Dorner, who I knew on Twitter for some time before becoming blog buddies.

Rule 4: Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well.
About the creator: Okoto Enigma’s blog 
The creator’s name, Enigma, means mystery, thus the title of the award.

Rule 5: Tell your readers three things about yourself.

1) I can identify nearly any early 1980s pop song within five measures or less. I was obsessed with America's Top 40 in my misspent youth. (I could have been memorizing Pi to the 400th decimal place or all the world capitals or something a little less frivolous). My husband sometimes makes me demonstrate my skill for guests.

2) I did props management and set decoration for about a dozen college productions, as well as for some community theatre shows. Once I'm an empty nester, I will likely take it up again. It is so much fun to build the material culture for a play.

3) I'm convinced that one of my childhood homes was haunted. We often heard movement in distant rooms, and one of the bedrooms had a distinct cold spot. I sensed the presence of our ghost more than once, particularly in the daytime when playing alone. My sense was that it was a young woman who'd perhaps died in childbirth and continued going about the business of taking care of her family, as if unaware she was dead.

Rule 6: Nominate other bloggers. (I'm going to cheat a little on this one. Twenty is a bit much).

Faith Hough
Jean Davis
Nick Wilford
Samantha Dunaway Bryant
Tyrean Martinson

Rule 7: Notify those people.

Rule 8: Ask your nominee any five questions of your choice, plus one weird or funny question.

The questions I have for my nominees are:
1) What are three things on your "bucket list"?
2) Which authors have influenced you in terms of genre, style, or theme?
3) What book's milieu (place, time, culture) would you most like to live in?
4) What are your favorite writing resources?
5) What's the best book you've read recently?
Fun/weird bonus:  Have you ever developed a "book crush" on a fictional character? Who and why?


I was asked
1) What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of a fictional book character you’ve read?

Anne Shirley's intense flights of fancy into imaginary worlds (Anne of Green Gables series). I didn't read the books until post-college and felt like L.M. Montgomery could have been writing my girlhood (minus the orphan thing, and living in the 1880s, obvs).

2) What most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

New printed books are a purchase I have to justify because of the space issue and the expense. I have to be convinced I will read it more than once, use it as a resource or model text, or will likely share it. A great sale might also convince me. I'm freer about picking up used books and ebooks--the former aren't as big an expense, the latter less a clutter creator.

3) How do YOU make an educated guess as to if a book by an author you haven’t read before will be “good” BEFORE you read any of it?

The description has to grab me. I can more quickly get past an ugly cover than this. And I never buy or download stuff--even freebies--without reading a sample. Because a great cover blurb of an interesting premise sometimes doesn't translate into style that draws me in. I'm a voice-driven writer and tend to be a voice-driven reader also.

4) What’s your favorite comfort food?

Mashed potatoes. My husband has a killer technique of boiling garlic cloves with the potatoes, then hand-mashing the cooked garlic into the cooked potatoes, along with sour cream, butter, and white pepper.

5) Where do you look for blogging inspiration?

My monthly critique group meetings often provide fodder, as does Twitter--sometimes a random post will catch my eye, sometimes a grammar or spelling error in a tweet will inspire an editing topic.

Weird/funny question: Do you have a celebrity encounter story you can share?

I am almost phobic about rubbing elbows with someone famous and doing something stupid, so I tend to go out of my way to avoid contact, even when given special access, like at comic conventions. So if there's a celebrity around, I will be trying to quietly creep away.


Rule 9: Share a link to my blog’s best post.
Rebel that I am, I'll share two. :-)

One of my analyses of Harry Potter characters continues to get the most hits. It's third in a series

What makes a villain? Part 3: Hero in Villain's Clothing

A newer post with nearly as many page views is this one on my revision process:

How I Do It: Identifying Story Weaknesses

Q4U: Do you miss the "good old days" of writing blogs (before 2012)? 
Answer any (or all) of my six questions listed under "rule 8."
Thursday, June 08, 2017 Laurel Garver
When I first started this blog in 2009, blog "awards" were all the rage. I think 2010-11 was a peak period, in which I received and passed along more than a dozen. By 2013 no one was doing them any more, and it made me a little sad. I can see how they might seem like public chain letters, but by golly they are fun. They give you something entertaining to blog about when all your creativity has gone into finishing a fantastic chapter the night before.

So I will not be joining the anti-blog-award brigade. Nope. I'll be having some fun. So here goes....

There are rules to this award, of course…
Rule 1: Put the award logo/image on your blog.

Rule 2: List the rules.

Rule 3: Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.

Big thanks for the nomination to awesome A-Z Blogging challenge co-host J. Lenni Dorner, who I knew on Twitter for some time before becoming blog buddies.

Rule 4: Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well.
About the creator: Okoto Enigma’s blog 
The creator’s name, Enigma, means mystery, thus the title of the award.

Rule 5: Tell your readers three things about yourself.

1) I can identify nearly any early 1980s pop song within five measures or less. I was obsessed with America's Top 40 in my misspent youth. (I could have been memorizing Pi to the 400th decimal place or all the world capitals or something a little less frivolous). My husband sometimes makes me demonstrate my skill for guests.

2) I did props management and set decoration for about a dozen college productions, as well as for some community theatre shows. Once I'm an empty nester, I will likely take it up again. It is so much fun to build the material culture for a play.

3) I'm convinced that one of my childhood homes was haunted. We often heard movement in distant rooms, and one of the bedrooms had a distinct cold spot. I sensed the presence of our ghost more than once, particularly in the daytime when playing alone. My sense was that it was a young woman who'd perhaps died in childbirth and continued going about the business of taking care of her family, as if unaware she was dead.

Rule 6: Nominate other bloggers. (I'm going to cheat a little on this one. Twenty is a bit much).

Faith Hough
Jean Davis
Nick Wilford
Samantha Dunaway Bryant
Tyrean Martinson

Rule 7: Notify those people.

Rule 8: Ask your nominee any five questions of your choice, plus one weird or funny question.

The questions I have for my nominees are:
1) What are three things on your "bucket list"?
2) Which authors have influenced you in terms of genre, style, or theme?
3) What book's milieu (place, time, culture) would you most like to live in?
4) What are your favorite writing resources?
5) What's the best book you've read recently?
Fun/weird bonus:  Have you ever developed a "book crush" on a fictional character? Who and why?


I was asked
1) What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of a fictional book character you’ve read?

Anne Shirley's intense flights of fancy into imaginary worlds (Anne of Green Gables series). I didn't read the books until post-college and felt like L.M. Montgomery could have been writing my girlhood (minus the orphan thing, and living in the 1880s, obvs).

2) What most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

New printed books are a purchase I have to justify because of the space issue and the expense. I have to be convinced I will read it more than once, use it as a resource or model text, or will likely share it. A great sale might also convince me. I'm freer about picking up used books and ebooks--the former aren't as big an expense, the latter less a clutter creator.

3) How do YOU make an educated guess as to if a book by an author you haven’t read before will be “good” BEFORE you read any of it?

The description has to grab me. I can more quickly get past an ugly cover than this. And I never buy or download stuff--even freebies--without reading a sample. Because a great cover blurb of an interesting premise sometimes doesn't translate into style that draws me in. I'm a voice-driven writer and tend to be a voice-driven reader also.

4) What’s your favorite comfort food?

Mashed potatoes. My husband has a killer technique of boiling garlic cloves with the potatoes, then hand-mashing the cooked garlic into the cooked potatoes, along with sour cream, butter, and white pepper.

5) Where do you look for blogging inspiration?

My monthly critique group meetings often provide fodder, as does Twitter--sometimes a random post will catch my eye, sometimes a grammar or spelling error in a tweet will inspire an editing topic.

Weird/funny question: Do you have a celebrity encounter story you can share?

I am almost phobic about rubbing elbows with someone famous and doing something stupid, so I tend to go out of my way to avoid contact, even when given special access, like at comic conventions. So if there's a celebrity around, I will be trying to quietly creep away.


Rule 9: Share a link to my blog’s best post.
Rebel that I am, I'll share two. :-)

One of my analyses of Harry Potter characters continues to get the most hits. It's third in a series

What makes a villain? Part 3: Hero in Villain's Clothing

A newer post with nearly as many page views is this one on my revision process:

How I Do It: Identifying Story Weaknesses

Q4U: Do you miss the "good old days" of writing blogs (before 2012)? 
Answer any (or all) of my six questions listed under "rule 8."

Thursday, June 01, 2017

True confession. I feel like I ought to like reading romances. I generally prefer a happy ending to a sad one. But each time I've tried one--especially the Kindle First offerings to Prime members--I've been disappointed.

The romance plot model has become so entrenched, it no longer allows room for any genuine surprises. I know there will be some dumb thing that separates heroine and hero at roughly the midpoint and that dumb thing will clear up in a matter of chapters. I know the heroine will be beautiful, as will the hero, though one or both will be clueless about this or insecure in some way. If one of them has a deep, dark secret, the counterpart will have a corresponding one. Even in the hands of a great wordsmith, the formula clunks along as usual, boring me to tears.

I'd love to know if there are established writers out there who have earned a free pass to write plots that don't follow the predictable formula of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl-back-again. I'd like to see some heroines who aren't the usual healthy, educated, white, and beautiful. How about a blind protagonist, or one with a learning disability, or someone biracial or average looking but brainy, or even disfigured (say an amputee veteran)? You find characters like this in literary fiction, women's fiction, romantic comedy, YA and MG. It would be great to see their love stories, and have a departure from the same-old, same-old.


Is there a genre you've tried but just can't connect to? Why do you think that is? 

Is there a romance author doing something unique I might actually enjoy? Do tell. 


Thursday, June 01, 2017 Laurel Garver
True confession. I feel like I ought to like reading romances. I generally prefer a happy ending to a sad one. But each time I've tried one--especially the Kindle First offerings to Prime members--I've been disappointed.

The romance plot model has become so entrenched, it no longer allows room for any genuine surprises. I know there will be some dumb thing that separates heroine and hero at roughly the midpoint and that dumb thing will clear up in a matter of chapters. I know the heroine will be beautiful, as will the hero, though one or both will be clueless about this or insecure in some way. If one of them has a deep, dark secret, the counterpart will have a corresponding one. Even in the hands of a great wordsmith, the formula clunks along as usual, boring me to tears.

I'd love to know if there are established writers out there who have earned a free pass to write plots that don't follow the predictable formula of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl-back-again. I'd like to see some heroines who aren't the usual healthy, educated, white, and beautiful. How about a blind protagonist, or one with a learning disability, or someone biracial or average looking but brainy, or even disfigured (say an amputee veteran)? You find characters like this in literary fiction, women's fiction, romantic comedy, YA and MG. It would be great to see their love stories, and have a departure from the same-old, same-old.


Is there a genre you've tried but just can't connect to? Why do you think that is? 

Is there a romance author doing something unique I might actually enjoy? Do tell. 


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Research often gets a bad rap in fiction-writing circles. Everyone seems to know at least one aspiring author who got lost on the Planet Library, having followed one interesting tidbit after another deep into the stacks, never to return. Never to actually turn the acquired knowledge into a story.

No one wants to become that guy.

One the other extreme, some consider doing any research a waste of time, since fiction is supposed to be "all make believe." But make believe that doesn't have some grounding in researched reality will likely be drawn from your limited experience, or worse, from cliches.

Somewhere between these extremes of no research and nothing but research is the sweet spot of doing some research. As Robert McKee says in Story, “No matter how talented, the ignorant cannot write. Talent must be stimulated by facts and ideas. Do research. Feed your talent. Research not only wins the war on cliché, it’s the key to victory over fear and its cousin, depression.”

Today, I'd like to touch on a few areas of research that will help you build fantastic, memorable characters. When you take the time to know your characters' worlds deeply, you'll be able to develop more dynamic plots and relationships, and you'll be more equipped to develop each character's unique voice in dialogue.

Knowledge base

In order to write realistic characters and create believable plots, you need to know what your characters know—or at least a big enough slice to accurately represent their daily activities and thought patterns.

How educated are your characters? What special areas of knowledge or training do they have?
Read up as much as possible on topics that would interest your character. Educate yourself about the routines and general lifestyle of their particular vocation, whether an elementary school student or astrophysicist, a milkmaid or Baronet. Use written resources to build your general knowledge, develop questions to ask experts, and create lists of things you’d like to observe.

Cultural/historical influences 

If you’re writing a protagonist who isn’t an autobiographical stand-in for yourself, chances are this person has a different history and may be shaped by different cultural influences. She might be from another generation, another socioeconomic class, another geographical region, another subculture.

Familiarize yourself with important historic events that happened during their lifetime, as well as the lifetime of key family members (parents, siblings, grandparents). You might be surprised especially when writing younger characters: events that shaped your life may have no relevance to them at all. Characters from previous generations might have had contact with technology you’ve never heard of, and be deeply shaped by problems long forgotten in our day (are you noticing a pattern here?).

People from other cultures have different sets of stars and heroes. They value different virtues, and overlook (or punish) different vices. They have different ways of interpreting history and their own circumstances than you might looking in from the outside. So dig in. Get to know your character’s cultural world.

Your goal should be to understand your character’s surrounding influences and the choices s/he is likely to make based on those influences.

Family dynamics

No matter what genre you write, it’s helpful to do some reading in the social sciences. Because everyone is typically born or adopted into a family, research on family dynamics can be useful.

Some helpful sub-categories to explore:
Marriage dynamics
Birth order and personality
Sibling dynamics
Intergenerational influence and conflict
Rights and responsibilities of various family roles in history

If you write about a futuristic setting, these works may become jumping-off points for world building. Consider a world in which no middle children exist, or where marital bonds are for a fixed period, say ten years. How would that affect individual families and culture at large? Speculative fiction writers might also find it helpful to read about family dynamics in ages past, such as texts from ancient Rome about family life.

Associations

Associations are “tip of the mind” thoughts that, like icebergs, show only a portion of the whole story. Most of the mass is hidden under the surface, whether it’s a mass of history or emotion. Associations can be a shorthand way of showing what kind of past experiences the character has gone through, what he values, and what forms of culture shape him. Associations show up in the way characters describe things, and especially how they make comparisons, such as similes and metaphors. Here are two examples from my novel Never Gone:

Images burst in my mind like sudden sun through stained glass.

This person is someone who frequents:
a. sport arenas
b. churches
c. suburban malls

“Crikey,” Uncle says. “We’re in Dante’s eighth circle of hell.”

This person is...
a. a man of the soil who works with his hands
b. an Irish dancer who dreams of becoming the next Michael Flatley
c. an educated bloke who has studied Classical literature

The simile and metaphor in each of these examples pours a great deal of back story into the characters without my having to tell you “Dani grew up attending church every Sunday without fail,” or “Uncle Philip took a First in Classics before attending law school.” As a reader, I’d be bored being told these rather dull facts. It’s far more interesting to see how life experiences shape the characters’ minds.

In the second example, I used a particular kind of association, a reference to other literature (or film or music) called an allusion. Allusions can be used strategically to bring themes of the other work to bear on yours. My example alludes to Dante’s Inferno. In it, the eighth circle of hell (ditch nine) is for “sowers of discord”—people who cause conflict and dissension between others—and their fate is to be cut to pieces. This is thematically important to the story, and the uncle’s role especially.

Before you begin researching associations, brainstorm to determine a few key environmental pieces for each character, whether they are career, family of origin, hobby, or other influence. Having more than one will make for an interesting, multi-layered personality, rather than a repetitive, one-note character. These elements should be important for how the character interacts with others and move the plot along, otherwise they will become tangents that muddy the story rather than enhance it.

Research the environmental factor and record key terms, images, events, allusions, etc. that can be worked into your character’s conversations and thought life.

Which of these areas of research intrigues you most? What things do you need to research to make your current project's characters more vibrant and realistic?

Thursday, May 25, 2017 Laurel Garver
Research often gets a bad rap in fiction-writing circles. Everyone seems to know at least one aspiring author who got lost on the Planet Library, having followed one interesting tidbit after another deep into the stacks, never to return. Never to actually turn the acquired knowledge into a story.

No one wants to become that guy.

One the other extreme, some consider doing any research a waste of time, since fiction is supposed to be "all make believe." But make believe that doesn't have some grounding in researched reality will likely be drawn from your limited experience, or worse, from cliches.

Somewhere between these extremes of no research and nothing but research is the sweet spot of doing some research. As Robert McKee says in Story, “No matter how talented, the ignorant cannot write. Talent must be stimulated by facts and ideas. Do research. Feed your talent. Research not only wins the war on cliché, it’s the key to victory over fear and its cousin, depression.”

Today, I'd like to touch on a few areas of research that will help you build fantastic, memorable characters. When you take the time to know your characters' worlds deeply, you'll be able to develop more dynamic plots and relationships, and you'll be more equipped to develop each character's unique voice in dialogue.

Knowledge base

In order to write realistic characters and create believable plots, you need to know what your characters know—or at least a big enough slice to accurately represent their daily activities and thought patterns.

How educated are your characters? What special areas of knowledge or training do they have?
Read up as much as possible on topics that would interest your character. Educate yourself about the routines and general lifestyle of their particular vocation, whether an elementary school student or astrophysicist, a milkmaid or Baronet. Use written resources to build your general knowledge, develop questions to ask experts, and create lists of things you’d like to observe.

Cultural/historical influences 

If you’re writing a protagonist who isn’t an autobiographical stand-in for yourself, chances are this person has a different history and may be shaped by different cultural influences. She might be from another generation, another socioeconomic class, another geographical region, another subculture.

Familiarize yourself with important historic events that happened during their lifetime, as well as the lifetime of key family members (parents, siblings, grandparents). You might be surprised especially when writing younger characters: events that shaped your life may have no relevance to them at all. Characters from previous generations might have had contact with technology you’ve never heard of, and be deeply shaped by problems long forgotten in our day (are you noticing a pattern here?).

People from other cultures have different sets of stars and heroes. They value different virtues, and overlook (or punish) different vices. They have different ways of interpreting history and their own circumstances than you might looking in from the outside. So dig in. Get to know your character’s cultural world.

Your goal should be to understand your character’s surrounding influences and the choices s/he is likely to make based on those influences.

Family dynamics

No matter what genre you write, it’s helpful to do some reading in the social sciences. Because everyone is typically born or adopted into a family, research on family dynamics can be useful.

Some helpful sub-categories to explore:
Marriage dynamics
Birth order and personality
Sibling dynamics
Intergenerational influence and conflict
Rights and responsibilities of various family roles in history

If you write about a futuristic setting, these works may become jumping-off points for world building. Consider a world in which no middle children exist, or where marital bonds are for a fixed period, say ten years. How would that affect individual families and culture at large? Speculative fiction writers might also find it helpful to read about family dynamics in ages past, such as texts from ancient Rome about family life.

Associations

Associations are “tip of the mind” thoughts that, like icebergs, show only a portion of the whole story. Most of the mass is hidden under the surface, whether it’s a mass of history or emotion. Associations can be a shorthand way of showing what kind of past experiences the character has gone through, what he values, and what forms of culture shape him. Associations show up in the way characters describe things, and especially how they make comparisons, such as similes and metaphors. Here are two examples from my novel Never Gone:

Images burst in my mind like sudden sun through stained glass.

This person is someone who frequents:
a. sport arenas
b. churches
c. suburban malls

“Crikey,” Uncle says. “We’re in Dante’s eighth circle of hell.”

This person is...
a. a man of the soil who works with his hands
b. an Irish dancer who dreams of becoming the next Michael Flatley
c. an educated bloke who has studied Classical literature

The simile and metaphor in each of these examples pours a great deal of back story into the characters without my having to tell you “Dani grew up attending church every Sunday without fail,” or “Uncle Philip took a First in Classics before attending law school.” As a reader, I’d be bored being told these rather dull facts. It’s far more interesting to see how life experiences shape the characters’ minds.

In the second example, I used a particular kind of association, a reference to other literature (or film or music) called an allusion. Allusions can be used strategically to bring themes of the other work to bear on yours. My example alludes to Dante’s Inferno. In it, the eighth circle of hell (ditch nine) is for “sowers of discord”—people who cause conflict and dissension between others—and their fate is to be cut to pieces. This is thematically important to the story, and the uncle’s role especially.

Before you begin researching associations, brainstorm to determine a few key environmental pieces for each character, whether they are career, family of origin, hobby, or other influence. Having more than one will make for an interesting, multi-layered personality, rather than a repetitive, one-note character. These elements should be important for how the character interacts with others and move the plot along, otherwise they will become tangents that muddy the story rather than enhance it.

Research the environmental factor and record key terms, images, events, allusions, etc. that can be worked into your character’s conversations and thought life.

Which of these areas of research intrigues you most? What things do you need to research to make your current project's characters more vibrant and realistic?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

image credit: Felicia Santos for morguefile
As the school year enters its final weeks and summer fun is so close around the corner, homework is about the last thing kids feel like doing. I don't know about you other parents out there, but homework battles in my house have gone from bad to worse in my home of late.

Research nerd that I am, I went on the hunt for advice about how to get through the final marking period, ending strong without bloodshed. I tripped across a short e-book by life coach Dennis Bumgarner, Motivating Your Intelligent but Unmotivated Teenager.  What I found most striking in his approach to the whole "movtivating" and "unmotivated" issue is his breakdown of why sticks and carrots rarely work, and also WHEN motivation happens.

Hold onto your hats, because this concept is a game changer:

"Performance precedes motivation." 

Bumgarner argues that beginning a small piece of a task will motivate continued steps. Not cheerleading. Not rewards and punishments. Not lectures or logic.

Doing.

I think this insight has broad applications for nearly every step of the writing, editing, submission, design/formatting, marketing parts of creating written work.

Trying to "get in the mood" to write or chasing one motivational strategy after another is a waste of time. Simply start a little something. You only discover the intrinsic rewards of writing by actually writing, not by dreaming about writing, talking about it with other writers, pinning pithy quotes on Pinterest, or whatever other supposedly motivation-building (but useless) strategy you've attempted.

Write some words, any words. Flow comes when you overcome that initial inertia.

What do you think of the maxim "performance precedes motivation"? Can you think of instances where this idea has proven true for you?
Thursday, May 18, 2017 Laurel Garver
image credit: Felicia Santos for morguefile
As the school year enters its final weeks and summer fun is so close around the corner, homework is about the last thing kids feel like doing. I don't know about you other parents out there, but homework battles in my house have gone from bad to worse in my home of late.

Research nerd that I am, I went on the hunt for advice about how to get through the final marking period, ending strong without bloodshed. I tripped across a short e-book by life coach Dennis Bumgarner, Motivating Your Intelligent but Unmotivated Teenager.  What I found most striking in his approach to the whole "movtivating" and "unmotivated" issue is his breakdown of why sticks and carrots rarely work, and also WHEN motivation happens.

Hold onto your hats, because this concept is a game changer:

"Performance precedes motivation." 

Bumgarner argues that beginning a small piece of a task will motivate continued steps. Not cheerleading. Not rewards and punishments. Not lectures or logic.

Doing.

I think this insight has broad applications for nearly every step of the writing, editing, submission, design/formatting, marketing parts of creating written work.

Trying to "get in the mood" to write or chasing one motivational strategy after another is a waste of time. Simply start a little something. You only discover the intrinsic rewards of writing by actually writing, not by dreaming about writing, talking about it with other writers, pinning pithy quotes on Pinterest, or whatever other supposedly motivation-building (but useless) strategy you've attempted.

Write some words, any words. Flow comes when you overcome that initial inertia.

What do you think of the maxim "performance precedes motivation"? Can you think of instances where this idea has proven true for you?

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Creative slumps can happen to anyone who strives to bring creative works into the world, be they written works, visual art, music, or handicrafts. Slumps can come on slowly or all at once. Often you aren't entirely aware you're in a slump until you've spent some time there, stuck and unmotivated.

Slump thinking sounds like this:

"I'm so stressed out, I can't focus."
"My brain is so full of noise, I can't hear my characters."
"These ideas are just a big mess."
"This project feels rangy and shapeless."
"I can't remember why I ever thought this was a good story idea."
"Why can't I make any progress?"
"I want to write, but feel adrift every time I sit down."
"I used to have things to say. I'm not sure what I believe or care about right now."
"I should be farther along than this. I'm such a hack/poseur/failure."

Slumps tend to happen after you've expended a lot of energy in one direction (say finishing and releasing a new book) and in the midst of crises in your personal life.

Very possibly it's a temperament thing, that some bounce back quickly from burnout and/or crises, and others of us slip into slumps.

If you're one of those bouncy types, I beg you not to douse your slumped friends with buckets of positive thinking mantras. They make us feel worse--inadequate and deeply flawed, rather than simply different from you. Instead, remind us that you care. Listen without dispensing advice. Invite us to join you in some activity we can enjoy together that's not too demanding--taking a hike or walking tour, poking around cute shops, playing cards or board games, visiting an art opening, crafts festival, outdoor concert, or mellow jazz club. Something fun that gets us out of the house--and out of our own heads for a few hours.

Make no mistake, slumps can morph pretty quickly into full blown depression. If you're prone to it, seek professional help. If your slump feels more like creativity blues--you're functioning okay in other areas of your life, but aren't creating at all--some self-care may be your road out of the Slough of Despond.

Here are some ways you can help yourself:

Go someplace new

Get off the couch or out of the desk chair and leave the house--explore someplace new, even if it's a ten minute stroll down a side street in your neighborhood you've never been on before.  Take a slightly different route to work, try a new restaurant, shop at a different market. When "something different" feels beyond your grasp, little forays out of your routine can be a powerful way to prove that mental message wrong--different is ten feet from boring, old, usual, not ten thousand miles. And you can get there in a few steps.

Care for your body

Times of stress can make it difficult to maintain an exercise program or sleep schedule. Stress eating can leave you even more lethargic. Look for small ways to begin giving your body the care it needs, starting with good sleep hygiene, then good food choices, simple exercise (like walking), and a little pampering like a haircut or new outfit. Some change can work from the outside in.

Seek some small accomplishments

Emerging from a slump is a gradual process. Look around for a few small things you've been avoiding and accomplish those things--whether it's making some overdue doctor appointments, weeding that ugly patch in the corner of your yard, or reorganizing a dresser drawer. That sense of pride can energize increasingly larger projects.

Reconnect with old loves

Slumps can feel like a source of joy has taken off, abandoned you. Think about long-lost hobbies or enthusiasms you haven't tried in a while, whether it's going back to earliest memories of finger painting or biking with your elementary pals, playing an instrument you gave up after high school, or a craft you've forgotten about like knitting, sewing, or leather craft, decoupage or beading. Creativity begets creativity.


Draw on sources of strength

Connect with people who love you, like an long-term friend, a sibling, or a grandparent. Chances are after a brief phone call you'll realize how deeply you are valued and valuable to others. Pick up an inspiring book like Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, or Rising Strong by Brene Brown. Resume or take up new spiritual practices, like prayer, meditation, or scripture reading. Talk to a counselor or mentor.


Take baby steps with your dreaded project

In the peak of a slump, you're going to view everything about your unfinished writing project with a jaundiced eye. But once you've begun the process of emerging from it. look for ways to reconnect with it. Glance over your notes, and perhaps organize them. Research some aspect of the story, whether it's details about your hero's job, the psychology of the family dynamic in  your story, floor plans of the buildings in your setting, or cultural influences on your characters. Create an idea board on Pinterest. Brainstorm concepts for the cover design. Interview your characters or write journal entries in their voices. Bit by bit, these fictional people and their world will come alive for you again.

Have you ever suffered a creative slump? What helped you emerge from it?
Thursday, May 04, 2017 Laurel Garver
Creative slumps can happen to anyone who strives to bring creative works into the world, be they written works, visual art, music, or handicrafts. Slumps can come on slowly or all at once. Often you aren't entirely aware you're in a slump until you've spent some time there, stuck and unmotivated.

Slump thinking sounds like this:

"I'm so stressed out, I can't focus."
"My brain is so full of noise, I can't hear my characters."
"These ideas are just a big mess."
"This project feels rangy and shapeless."
"I can't remember why I ever thought this was a good story idea."
"Why can't I make any progress?"
"I want to write, but feel adrift every time I sit down."
"I used to have things to say. I'm not sure what I believe or care about right now."
"I should be farther along than this. I'm such a hack/poseur/failure."

Slumps tend to happen after you've expended a lot of energy in one direction (say finishing and releasing a new book) and in the midst of crises in your personal life.

Very possibly it's a temperament thing, that some bounce back quickly from burnout and/or crises, and others of us slip into slumps.

If you're one of those bouncy types, I beg you not to douse your slumped friends with buckets of positive thinking mantras. They make us feel worse--inadequate and deeply flawed, rather than simply different from you. Instead, remind us that you care. Listen without dispensing advice. Invite us to join you in some activity we can enjoy together that's not too demanding--taking a hike or walking tour, poking around cute shops, playing cards or board games, visiting an art opening, crafts festival, outdoor concert, or mellow jazz club. Something fun that gets us out of the house--and out of our own heads for a few hours.

Make no mistake, slumps can morph pretty quickly into full blown depression. If you're prone to it, seek professional help. If your slump feels more like creativity blues--you're functioning okay in other areas of your life, but aren't creating at all--some self-care may be your road out of the Slough of Despond.

Here are some ways you can help yourself:

Go someplace new

Get off the couch or out of the desk chair and leave the house--explore someplace new, even if it's a ten minute stroll down a side street in your neighborhood you've never been on before.  Take a slightly different route to work, try a new restaurant, shop at a different market. When "something different" feels beyond your grasp, little forays out of your routine can be a powerful way to prove that mental message wrong--different is ten feet from boring, old, usual, not ten thousand miles. And you can get there in a few steps.

Care for your body

Times of stress can make it difficult to maintain an exercise program or sleep schedule. Stress eating can leave you even more lethargic. Look for small ways to begin giving your body the care it needs, starting with good sleep hygiene, then good food choices, simple exercise (like walking), and a little pampering like a haircut or new outfit. Some change can work from the outside in.

Seek some small accomplishments

Emerging from a slump is a gradual process. Look around for a few small things you've been avoiding and accomplish those things--whether it's making some overdue doctor appointments, weeding that ugly patch in the corner of your yard, or reorganizing a dresser drawer. That sense of pride can energize increasingly larger projects.

Reconnect with old loves

Slumps can feel like a source of joy has taken off, abandoned you. Think about long-lost hobbies or enthusiasms you haven't tried in a while, whether it's going back to earliest memories of finger painting or biking with your elementary pals, playing an instrument you gave up after high school, or a craft you've forgotten about like knitting, sewing, or leather craft, decoupage or beading. Creativity begets creativity.


Draw on sources of strength

Connect with people who love you, like an long-term friend, a sibling, or a grandparent. Chances are after a brief phone call you'll realize how deeply you are valued and valuable to others. Pick up an inspiring book like Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, or Rising Strong by Brene Brown. Resume or take up new spiritual practices, like prayer, meditation, or scripture reading. Talk to a counselor or mentor.


Take baby steps with your dreaded project

In the peak of a slump, you're going to view everything about your unfinished writing project with a jaundiced eye. But once you've begun the process of emerging from it. look for ways to reconnect with it. Glance over your notes, and perhaps organize them. Research some aspect of the story, whether it's details about your hero's job, the psychology of the family dynamic in  your story, floor plans of the buildings in your setting, or cultural influences on your characters. Create an idea board on Pinterest. Brainstorm concepts for the cover design. Interview your characters or write journal entries in their voices. Bit by bit, these fictional people and their world will come alive for you again.

Have you ever suffered a creative slump? What helped you emerge from it?