Hello, Sunshine

Today is July 13, 2016 and it is 102 degrees in Austin, Texas. Yes, summer is in full swing. And what better way to beat the heat than to write a blog from the comfort of my 72 degree house? Appropriately and ironically, I was nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award. Appropriate, meaning it’s really sunny outside. Like, burn-your-face-off sunny. Ironic, because I am not much of a ray of sunshine. I’m more like Meredith Grey.

Yep. That’s me.

McDreamy

Awww… Thanks, McDreamy.

Anyway, I thought this would be a fun change of pace, especially since I’m long overdue for a blog entry. I was nominated by my brotha-from-anotha-motha (BFAM), Sci-Fi novelist, Eric Warren. Eric is one of my DFWCon peeps and a valuable member of my tribe of fellow novelists. If you are a writer, having tribe is invaluable and my #writerslife has vastly improved by knowing these people.

So what is the Sunshine Blogger Award?

The Sunshine Blogger Award is given to those who are inspiring and bring sunshine into the lives of their readers and fellow bloggers through their blogspace and/or their social media.”

Yeah! I like the sound of that. So here we go. The rules are as follows:

  • Name drop and link to the blog of the person who nominated you.
  • Answer the eleven questions from the blogger who nominated you.
  • Nominate up to eleven wonderful bloggers and write (or borrow/steal) eleven questions for them to answer.

Here are the questions I was given (this could get pretty wordy):

What is your most embarrassing secret? Haha, no, kidding. If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing with your life?

My most embarrassing secret? Everything embarrassing that’s ever happened to me is so funny that I’ve told everyone about it already. Like that time I got caught by the MP’s with a former boyfriend in a restricted area of Fort Hood. That was hysterical.

Anyway. So, the thing about being a writer is you just are one or you aren’t. It’s one of those things you sort of realize about yourself as you grow up and you just do it. And so it was with my professional life. In my early twenties, I worked as a freelance writer, mostly in the tech sector, doing collateral development. I also spent time writing web copy for every type of industry, from powerboats to Persian rugs. In college part one (read: I dropped out before I could finish and have recently returned), I studied journalism, which is basically functioning as a reporter and getting paid in grades instead of money. So I’ve never not been a writer. But I guess if I wasn’t actively pursuing a career as a novelist, I’d be involved in journalism. Journalism has evolved so much that it’s not just churning out articles anymore. Does that answer the question? I have no idea.

Do you use any special tricks in your writing? Anything you’ve figured out over the years that helps in some way?

I have my own process for starting a novel. Draft an overview of the plot, draw up character profiles–which helps me start to understand the characters and get a feel for what their personalities are like, then outline the plot in greater detail. Pretty typical for any writer. Music is vital to my creative process, so for each book I have a specific Spotify playlist or Pandora station. Each of my books have been inspired by a single song and that’s where everything begins.

I’m also a big fan of Google docs because you can edit and add to them on a web browser or a phone app. Fun fact: my first five novels were all originally written on my phone using the Google docs app, and the majority of them were written in bed, in the dark, in the middle of the night.

What does your ideal writer’s space look like?

My couch. I am a couch writer. I take the word “laptop” quite literally. I can’t sit in a standard chair for too long because my derrière is quite maigre and I have mild scoliosis. It becomes painful, especially if I’m writing all day long, so I need my big, squishy couch. Additionally, I need music, coffee, a clean environment, and scented candles.

Do you enjoy killing off your characters if the mood or circumstance requires? Why or why not?

My sixth novel is the first time I’ve killed main characters (sort of) and it was an experience in itself. Every novelist worth his salt knows the strength of the bond with characters and having to kill the ones you especially love is palpably heartbreaking. I spent three days putting off a major death scene and had to pace around my house when I was writing it. I had shaky hands, cold sweats, nausea, I couldn’t eat. It was awful. And a long time after it was done, one of my beta readers mentioned one of the dead characters and I had a bout with writer’s guilt. To the average person, I sound like a drama queen, but I suspect any writer knows the feeling all too well. Should I quote Frost? No? Well, suffice to say, he was right.

Do you have a routine or something you do when you get writer’s block or get stuck somewhere?

Apparently, I write blogs that my friends nominate me for. Seriously though, if I can’t get anything out I go to the gym. Or I clean my house. I’m a stress-cleaner. It’s less like a chore and more like therapy.

What is your favorite type of book to read? Doesn’t necessarily have to be genre, just something about a book that will always draw you in, no matter what.

I need something character-driven and relationship-driven. Not necessarily romantic relationships, just people dynamics. I love people. People are my favorite topic.

If someone were to ask you: “Should I become a writer?” what do you tell them? Why?

I would say, if you are a writer, nothing will stop you from becoming one. You’ll just do it. Now, if they asked, “Should I write books with the intent to publish them?” Then I would say, “Well, how do you feel about standing naked in front of a crowd and giving them free rein to pick apart every last one of your most vulnerable flaws? Because that’s exactly what it’s like.”

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

A wildlife biologist once measured the inside volume of a typical woodchuck burrow and estimated that — if wood filled the hole instead of dirt — the industrious animal would have chucked about 700 pounds’ worth. Source.

What is your favorite “non-writing” activity?

Gym, pool, rinse and repeat. I’m also a news junkie, particularly national politics and international affairs. I watch a lot of Frontline documentaries. And I read books, but that feels too connected to writing to be a “non-writing” activity. Yes, I’m boring. But I’m an introvert, so it’s acceptable. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

It is 10,000 years in the future. Humanity is a burning husk. Somehow your work has survived and aliens have translated it so they can read it, but they only have enough power to translate one story. Which story would you choose to survive humanity for another civilization to read?

It would definitely be Rise because of the historical aspect of the Syrian Civil War (at least, in 10,000 years all of that will be ancient history–or one can hope.). I don’t think aliens 10,000 years from now would care to read much about cute little love stories.

Hollywood wants to turn your book into a movie, BUT in the process they want the right to rewrite it as they see fit for the screen without your input. What do you do?

It probably depends on the book. Some of them, I think Hollywood could probably improve vastly. Others, not so much.

All right! That was fun! Here’s my list of questions for my chosen ones.

  1. Where can you always find inspiration as a writer?
  2. You’re only allowed to read one book again for the rest of your life; which is it and why?”
  3. If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be and why?
  4. Who is your favorite entertainer (singer, actor, etc.) and why?
  5. Best childhood memory?
  6. Who do you most admire and why?
  7. What is something that is popular now and annoys you?
  8. What would be the perfect weekend for you and why?
  9. If you had intro music what would it be?
  10. What do you feel is the most controversial opinion you have?
  11. Tell us about your current writing project(s).

The rules are to choose eleven people. I don’t even know eleven people and my BFAM already picked a bunch of my peeps. So I am instead nominating three of my favorite writer peeps.

Diana Minot is a dear friend of about 16 years. She holds a legal degree from Northwestern University and is the author of Personal Jurisdiction and Breaking Free. She currently works as a success coach for female entrepreneurs and is not only full of great advice, but also great ideas. Visit Diana.

Sally Hall is a longtime friend and has been an invaluable writing mentor to me. She is a freelance writer and blogger, and has contributed to several published works. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be near the writer I am today without her encouragement and guidance. Visit Sally.

Jessica Shook is a novelist and editor. She is the author of Jade Can’t Be Blue, a powerful book that gives me chills just thinking about it. If I could recommend any book to young women in the dating scene, it would be that one. Visit Jessica.

Well, that was fun! I hope everyone’s having a great summer so far.

 

The EPOCH! | Reflections on DFWCon

I was advised to blog, so here’s a blog. Numero uno. The first ever. The epoch! I am stoked, so you should be too. Or, you know, don’t be. Either way, I’m still going to toss my ramblings into the abyss of cyberspace.

Since it’s fresh in my mind, I think a good topic for this is my experience at the DFW Conference. I had a great time this past weekend, met lots of aspiring and established novelists, and learned some helpful tips about writer life in general.

But allow me to be real with you for a moment–that’s not why I went to this conference.

On December 23, 2015, I started writing my sixth novel. That was approximately eleven months after I started writing my first novel. I wrote five full length novels over the course of 2015, all of which were published with Liquid Silver Books, a romance publisher that deals exclusively in eBooks.

I know what you’re thinking.

“Wow! You got published!”

Or maybe you’re thinking:

“Wow! Five books in one year! That’s amazing!”

I know you may be thinking that because that’s what I thought in the beginning of this journey, but then reality set in. Reality, where your friends leave scathing reviews about your books and where the writers in your family ask you, “When are you going to write something serious?” Or they say, “That publisher is not legit. It’s just a romance mill.”

Among other things.

I’m fortunate to have lots of very supportive people in my life, and it’s important to keep in mind that even the detractors saying these things to me were also very supportive in a tough love kind of way. Nevertheless, it’s hard to not allow such things to get in your head–and get in my head they did.

However, the fact that these detracting words got in my head seemed to benefit me by lighting a fire under my ass to step up my game. And that brings me back to when I started writing novel number six, RISE.

Write something serious, in my mind, meant get the hell out of the contemporary romance genre. This was partially a result of an issue with my publisher that I can’t discuss on a public forum, but suffice to say I learned I’m not really cut out for the romance genre. The natural progression was to women’s fiction, so that’s what I started plotting on December 23, 2015.

As a person preoccupied with politics and current events, as well as having a background in journalism, I decided I wanted write something that touched on the Syrian refugee crisis, but I also wanted it to be something relatable, so I drew from personal experiences and came up with a pretty compelling premise.

About two months into writing this novel, one of my writer friends sent me a link saying, “I saw this and thought of your new book.”

The link was a press release from the DFW Writer’s Workshop announcing that a certain agent would be attending the April Conference and that she was seeking pitches for exactly the type of book that I was writing. I read the agent’s profile and bio, visited her agency’s website, skimmed over the books they represented, and decided this was a good fit for RISE, so I registered for the conference.

This particular agent is–quite literally–the entire reason I went to this conference. But once I started skimming over classes and connecting with other attendees on social media, I realized this conference was a wealth of information and professional connections at my proverbial fingertips.

It’s worth mentioning that the past sixteen months of my life has been more than a bit isolating, because it’s extremely hard for non-novelists to understand how emotionally and mentally taxing it is to write books. Prior to this conference, I only knew two novelists–my sister, Asher Lee, and a friend of mine who lives in San Francisco–and they were the only people I found to whom I could relate about what I was experiencing. That changed the instant I stepped in the line for registration.

The common denominator that drew each person to this conference subsequently drew all of us together. As an introvert, I’m not big on socializing, I’m not very talkative, I prefer to listen, so on and so forth. But I noticed sharing the common of experience of being a novelist helped me to connect with people in a way that I haven’t before. Don’t get me wrong–I am an introvert in the truest sense of the word so merely interacting with too many people for more than a couple of hours at a time causes me physical exhaustion. And I was certainly tired over the course of the two days at the conference, but I was simultaneously quite fulfilled. I remember driving home on Sunday, thinking to myself, “Oh my God. I have found my people.

So what started out as a means to simply get my sixth manuscript into the hands of an agent ended up becoming a defining moment for me as a novelist.

I don’t have to feel isolated, or alone, or like nobody understands what I’m going through,  because there are people out there who do–and now I share a connection with quite a few of them.

Anything and everything in life is better when you have people in your corner–and in the world of attempting to write and sell books, you need those people even more. One of my mottos in life is, “People matter,” meaning that we have to remember the complexities of the human experience is shared by all of us, everywhere. Each of us matter and each of our diverse experiences matter. But last weekend, I learned that people matter because sometimes I need a reminder that I’m human, too, and sometimes I need my fellow humans.