Monday, December 19, 2016

Coffee, Books, and Curse Words

Want to read my flash fiction piece Words in the Library? Great! Go to thestoryshack.com on Aug. 11, 2017. Yep, those guys know how to plan ahead. If you haven’t visited the site before, it features beautiful illustrations with each story, and it’s an honor to have one of my stories selected for publication with them. They also have a neat writing prompt generator that you can customize, so be sure to check that out.

Now on to more important things, like this absolutely perfect mug:



This was one of two gifts that I've already opened because, come on, friends open presents early right? These gifts from my two best friends absolutely kicked the butts of the gifts that I gave them. Did I mention that the book also came with a Starbucks' gift card? Coffee, books, and curse words. I am an incredibly simple person.


Other than work, it's these incredibly simple things that I'll be filling my time with over the upcoming winter break. See, I'm not really a Pinterest mom. I'm more of an oh-my-god-why-are-you-doing-that-please-just-go-outside-because-I-don't-care-if-you're-bored mom. Which is OK, because what I lack in crafts and a desire to lovingly construct elaborate elf scenes throughout December, I make up for with this simple love of books.



After snack and homework, before she jets off to play with her friends in the cul-de-sac or at the park, we have quiet reading time. Sometimes the little guy joins in, sometimes he plays with his rock collection, but it's a chance to have a quiet moment with my kids while we gently ignore each other and enjoy one of the few true joys in life: reading.


Also, do you enjoy YA books? Then visit The Starving Bookworm, who just so happened to give me that book (and homemade treats, because I know ya'll jealous). She recently wrote about The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which you should immediately add to your TBR list.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Why I Run


Years ago I read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. At the time I wasn’t a runner, but Murakami is undoubtedly one of my favorite authors, and so there was no question about whether I would read his running memoir. From what I can remember it was pretty good, but it didn’t have much of an impact on me otherwise.

I was a smoker. Super, duper overweight. Terrified of all things exercise.

Now, I get to call myself a runner. I’m in training for my first half-marathon and it seems like it’s a good time to pull Murakami’s running memoir back out and give it a second go.

But this also got me thinking about my own reasons for running. Health and weight-related issues are the reasons I started, but now they’re only part of why I keep going. Unlike other forms of exercise, like strength training or swimming laps or even yoga (the latter two of which I actually really enjoy), there’s a definitive freedom to running.

There are headphones in my ears. An audio book or maybe a podcast going. Myself. And sometimes this crazy kid:



For me, this is pure, beautiful freedom. Especially coming from my *ahem* very non-athletic background in which running was absolutely never an option. Sometimes I forego the headphones when I really feel as if I need to clear my head or I’m trying to work out a story idea, but for the most part, those earbuds are plunked firmly in there.

My love of running parallels my love of writing. At its most basic there is freedom. All this talk of freedom makes it sound like I’m trying to run away from something, but it’s more than that. Different. It’s freedom to expand my world and push up against its edges, to swallow up everything I see and reincorporate it back into something real and tangible.


Even if sometimes naps sound more fun.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my blogger friends in the U.S., and happy regular Thursday to everyone else.

I'm enjoying spending time with my parents whom I haven't seen for TWO YEARS. My dear, wonderful daughter decided to seize upon the opportunity to display my parenting skills, and leaned over to my dad on the ride home from the airport to tell him, "This song has 'mother fucker' in it."

Also, here's a reminder of how ugly these mother fuckers are before we cook them.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

New Release & Giveaway: Piper Morgan to the Rescue

My daughter recently hit the exciting stage of *dun dun duunnnn* chapter books!

I worried over whether my kids would take after my love of reading, especially with my husband’s deep love of gaming and the easy access to consoles and computers in our house (OK, I like gaming too). So after my daughter was born I did what any parent would do: I read and read and read to her.

Bedtime stories started when she was still an infant, and her brother joined in on the nightly ritual when he was born. When she headed off to kindergarten I started reading chapter books during bedtime, going through one or two chapters a night or even more when the book was especially good. And now?

Now she reads some of those chapters to me. I cling to this nightly ritual, even as she sets off to finish certain chapter books by herself. We’ve read a lot of a Junie B. Jones (who my daughter thinks is extremely naughty), Roald Dahl, and many of the Dragon Master books by Tracey West. There have also been the Monster High and Big Fat Zombie Goldfish books that have taken us in. It’s these nightly chapter books that got me so excited to discover Stephanie Faris’ Piper Morgan books.

As we’re about to start the Piper Morgan series, a new one is hitting the shelves! Piper Morgan to the Rescue is the third book in the series and I already can’t wait to get to it.


Piper Morgan to the Rescue

Piper helps some four-legged friends find the perfect home in the third book of the brand-new Piper Morgan series.

Piper is super excited to help out at Bark Street, a local animal shelter in town. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by adorable puppies and dogs all day? And when Piper sees Taffy, the cutest dog she has ever seen, Piper is determined to find a way to bring Taffy home. But it won’t be easy—especially when she finds out someone else wants to make Taffy a part of their family, too!







The author is a pretty cool person, too.
Stephanie Faris

Stephanie Faris knew she wanted to be an author from a very young age. In fact, her mother often told her to stop reading so much and go outside and play with the other kids. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Science in broadcast journalism, she somehow found herself working in information technology. But she never stopped writing.

Stephanie is the Simon & Schuster author of 30 Days of No Gossip and 25 Roses, as well as the Piper Morgan series. When she isn’t crafting fiction, she writes for a variety of online websites on the topics of business, technology, and her favorite subject of all—fashion. She lives in Nashville with her husband, a sales executive.

Still want to know more about this lovely lady? Find her pretty much everywhere on the Internet.

(Fun story, Stephanie, I used to live just a couple hours away in Memphis!)


Stephanie is also giving a way a free copy of Piper Morgan to the Rescue. What could be better than that? A free copy that also happens to be signed. Don't miss out on the chance to get your hands on this book!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, November 11, 2016

With Great Querying Comes Great Rejections

If there’s any single aspect of being a writer that takes up more time than writing and reading, that aspect is probably querying.

Oh, querying. How optimistic you make me feel before you bangarang back around with a swift defeat. Writing requires resiliency, though. Rather, writing then attempting to be published requires resiliency.

Mostly because you’ll get plenty of non-writer friends saying things like, “JK Rowling was rejected, like, a million times,” or “Doesn’t Stephen King still get rejected? I read that somewhere.” Just pet them on the heads and say, “Shhhh, shush your beautiful mouth."

Rejections used to take a pretty hard toll on me. I’d need a drink, a nap, and then more drinks while I pouted and re-watched Parks & Rec for the hundredth time. How can you not be inspired to keep going when watching Leslie Knope? That woman gets shit done. If Leslie Knope can keep going after being recalled from the Pawnee City Council, I can keep sending out queries after rejections.

I would tally up the number of times the following have been collectively rejected, but that’s depressing so I’ll spare us all that pain. We’ll just put it this way: Rejections. Rejections for days.



Right now I’m not super busy with querying, but it takes up about half as much time as a part-time job. A quarter-time job, if you will. These are what I’m actively querying and submitting right now:

This is Now – novel
[This is totally just a pared down version of my query letter.]
This is Now is an 80,000 word new adult novel that follows Ina Wickham as she grapples with shaving those stubborn inches off of her waist and struggles to find her place in the adult world. 

Twenty-one-year-old Ina has spent most of her life trying to blend into the background. However, saddled with what her mother calls the “perfect birthing hips” and a height that teeters at six feet, standing out is all she’s ever done. Trapped in a sexless relationship, a nearly deadly trip to the emergency room drains Ina’s savings account and tensions rapidly rise in her cramped apartment.

Strapped for cash, Ina finds herself entangled in the world of alternative modeling where hiding is no longer an option. Tattoos and piercings, bright red lipstick, and shady weight loss tricks begin to dominate her life. As the fabric of her old life begins to unravel around her, Ina discovers the true cost of changing her clothes and she begins to wonder, is it worth it?


The Brothers Browne Lost and Found – short story
A quirky museum full of lost items gets just what it wants on its opening night – a visitor testimonial. The story of a lost and found item turns out to be bigger than anyone could have imagined.

The Longest Three Minutes – short story
Three minutes isn't much time, unless a life is on the line. So what happens when those three minutes are over? Not much happens for Gwen, but nothing is ever the same for Keith.

Are you querying or submitting anything right now?


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What I'm Writing + NaNoWriMo Update

It’d be great if someone just plopped down a contract, shelled out a huge advance, and then asked me to spend my time leisurely writing the most spectacular novel ever. You know, if we’re talking about dreams.

But dreams only get you so far. Listen, I’m not knocking dreams. I think that they’re important to have, even when they’re maybe not the most attainable. But when they are? Hello driving force, let’s get to work. For me, that work is writing. And writing. And writing some more. Even if I can’t sit down to work on my novel every day (sorry NaNoWriMo, I’m doing my best!), I still make it a point to journal daily.


This is me multitasking pretty much all of November.

Right now I’m working on my novel, The Articulate Boy, formerly-titled Forgetting Home. It was interesting to watch my WIP title evolve from what was a very fitting name in the beginning to something that turned out to be totally off-base. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I do outline. Thoroughly. Also, I completely admit that it’s a procrastination tool. I eventually hurdle over the fear that keeps me in the planning stage, but I definitely chill there for a while.



Super Awesome Summary
The Articulate Boy follows a family dealing with one life change after another. First Norma, Heather’s mother, moves in with the family after her rapidly developing Alzheimer’s makes it impossible to continue living on her own. David is on the verge of losing his agent because he hasn’t managed to produce a bestseller (or even a mediocre seller) in years. He’s in the process of adopting Josiah, his stepson, and his rocky marriage to Heather has him especially eager to complete the process as quickly as possible. Josiah, still getting over the death of his father, is soon faced with a problem that his whole family must deal with – his girlfriend’s pregnancy and the tension of being biracial in a mostly white community. 
You know what sucks? Writing summaries. #WritingTruths
Back-of-the-book blurbs suck, too.
If I could make a great story that brief, I would just fucking do it.

My short stories have taken a backseat to NaNoWriMo and mynew business venture, but I do have a really fun flash fiction piece in mind for when November wraps up. It involves life and death, who haven’t had sex in a few centuries, but still share a bed and a coffee maker.


What are you writing? If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, how goes the word count?

Current NaNo Word Count: 10,115
Days Left to Pull the Rest of This Novel Out of My Ass: 23

Friday, November 4, 2016

DIY Thanksgiving Centerpiece -- Book-Style

Spending time with family is pretty much the hallmark of every commercial, TV show, and movie that involves the holidays. This reflected reality for my husband, who grew up surrounded by an enormous extended family that got together for not just the holidays, but for any reason to spend time together and eat food.

Me? I grew up in the military. Spending lots of time with extended relatives? That's adorable.

I don't know a single person who actually flies the planes.

My parents trucked us back to Alabama for a few holidays throughout the years, but we spent most Thanksgivings and Christmas’ at home. And you know what?

I still hate going home for the holidays.

It’s not because I don’t want to see loved ones, or because my own family is now so spread out it’s impossible to get us all together at once, it’s because it’s fucking stressful. When you don’t live near family and then go back for a visit, you’re expected to join in on every activity, to stay throughout the entire event, and to generally run yourselves and your kids ragged to make everyone happy. I love our families, but please. Fuck that.

So we do our own military-style holidays at home. None of us have family nearby, so every Thanksgiving I cook up a Turkey and a side or two, then open our doors to friends and anyone else who doesn’t have a place to go. We celebrate potluck style and usually have more sides, desserts, and alcohol than we know what to do with. Christmas is the same. No one to chill with? Come over after we open presents! I’ll make you some fajitas because Jesus Christ, I just made a turkey last month and it’s not happening again.

This Thanksgiving is no exception to my open-door policy, but there’s an added bonus – my parents will be here! I haven’t seen my parents in two years and am counting down the days till their flight lands.


Since I’ll be hosting several of our friends, anyone else who might need a place to go, and my parents, I’m trying to make a bigger effort presentation-wise. OK, OK, it’s mostly for my parents. My dad was the kind of person who vacuumed the ceiling while I was growing up and this is a blatant attempt to impress them. Mom, if you’re reading this, I promise I’ll clean the bathrooms before you get here.

I decided I wanted a book-themed Thanksgiving centerpiece because, well, why not? Honestly I knew I could use it as an excuse to either buy a new book or notebook. It was also the perfect reason to go to Target, because I have a problem and am not ashamed to acknowledge it. I also have no interest in fixing it.

<-- These are the items I used to create my on-a-budget centerpiece, and the price came out to just about $20. I picked up a small basket, a wooden cutting board-style display, a matching notebook (the priciest item on the list), wooden leaves, a set of warm LED lights, and a new table runner. It was important that I went with a color scheme that matched a tablecloth I already owned, because I both yearn to impress my parents and am also cheap as hell.

Therapy let thy will be done. Or, you know, drinking coffee and having late night conversations with the husband. Same thing, right? Too bad insurance won't reimburse our costs for the latter.


Overall, I think it turned out pretty good. I'm clearly not winning any awards here, but it gives the table a focal point and bonus, I got a new notebook.

The LED lights are woven throughout the basket, which is artfully stuffed with white tissue paper,
because tulle was $3.

And before anyone gets the wrong idea and thinks that I'm way more into housework than I actually am, this is what my adjoining kitchen looked like during the process:

Dishes are the worst.

What are your plans for Thanksgiving? Do you have annual family traditions or are do you just go with the flow?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Halloween Wrap-Up + NaNoWriMo

We bid farewell to October with trick-or-treating, a candy-induced headache, and lots of non-food treats that we passed out as part of the Teal Pumpkin Project. The TPP is a way to help include kids with food allergies or disease-related dietary restrictions in the holiday. My son happens to fit both of those categories as he has food allergies and eosinophilic esophagitis.

Shout-out to the Target not-quite-dollar section for the goodies we passed out.



Most of the kids were super thrilled to grab some vampire teeth or a pencil, which my daughter and I handed out while she sat out trick-or-treating with a stomach ache. And then, that kid came.

“Why are you giving us this stuff?”

Because, you little shit, it’s Halloween. Now grab a pencil and get off my porch. Luckily my daughter has more tact than I do, and told him “Happy Halloween.”

Halloween is also more than just a fun holiday. For me, turning off the porch lights and sending the kids to bed marks the beginning of a month-long literary adventure. NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, begins once the clock strikes midnight and the calendar flips over to November.

It’s kind of like a Disney fairytale, but with lots of coffee and telling the prince to fuck off because you need to write.

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000-word novel in a single month, which averages out to about 1,667 words a day. I’ve lost track of how long I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, although I skipped last year due to a fun combination of school + work + husband’s deployment + son’s hospitalization.

I’m being a NaNo rebel this year, as I’m not actually starting a brand-new novel from scratch. Instead, I’m using the crazy motivation that is the month of November to add 50,000 words to an already in-progress novel that I’ve been struggling to finish. The Articulate Boy is sitting at 20,665 words, but I’m starting my word count at 0 for NaNoWriMo to ultimately land at 70,665 words by the beginning of December. On the bright side, it will give me plenty to cut during edits.

How was your Halloween? And are you participating in NaNo, or do you have other literary plans for November? Send me a buddy request if you're on the NaNoWriMo train!

Friday, October 28, 2016

DIY Couple's Costume – Bob and Linda Belcher

Like pretty much every other family in America, we love celebrating Halloween. We’re not the family that basically turns their house into the entire Halloween section at Target (although we lived across from them in Georgia), and my husband and I don’t go out drinking all night while trying to make sure our nipple pasties don't sweat off. Instead we put up fake spider webs and a few dollar store decorations, then have mixed feelings about a much-needed thunderstorm in Tucson. (Come on nature, we just put up those spider webs.) We also happen to rock the DIY couple’s costume scene.

You know, the scene that shows up at the elementary school’s fall festival in full costume.

Last year I rocked it solo in my Pikachu onesie while my husband sported a lively ensemble of camo and then some more camo on his deployment. I wanted to make sure we both got to enjoy fun Halloween costumes this year, but you know how financial disasters tend to strike all at once? And then keep striking? Our budget was looking pretty grim as we headed into October.


There wasn’t a lot of wiggle room, but we budgeted $30 and picked one of the best character couples to dress up as: Bob and Linda Belcher.


Not familiar with Bob’sBurgers? Then jump onto Netflix right now and start catching up. Bob and Linda are the owners of Bob’s Burgers, a fictional burger restaurant that they run with the help of their 3 kids.

Ironically, neither of our own two kids were willing to help us out by doing a family costume, and refused to dress up as any of the Belcher kids.


Making the Costumes

                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

First we compiled what we already had. I decided to wear my navy-blue sweatpants, my husband pulled out his jeans and a white undershirt, and we both just wore the shoes we already own. Remember, we’re not trying to win any costume contests here!

Next, we hit up Amazon. Because everything wonderful that can be delivered for free within two days lives on Amazon. Ultimately we found a Linda-style apron for a little over $8.50, an apron with a pen-pocket like Bob’s for around $5, and a long-sleeve red shirt for just under $13. We spent a little more on the shirt because it’s something I can wear in the future. You know, when we get our two days of winter in the desert.

The grand total? $26.53, squeaking in under budget!



Going all out for costumes can be a lot of fun, and there are even times and places when doing so is expected, but Halloween is just about having fun. Perfect costumes? Fuck that, I want to put gas in my van and have some money leftover to snag a bottle of wine. A DIY couple's costume can be great without costing half of a paycheck.

Do you still dress up for Halloween? And what's your favorite costume you've ever worn? Drop a comment and let me know!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Big Changes (and 3 Reasons Why I Started My Own Business)


This blog has mostly reflected the writing aspect of Growing Up and Becoming a Famous Author, but future posts are going to focus a lot more on the first part. Posts about more than just writing (but that are usually still book or writing-related somehow) are going to start popping up, and I hope that you’re as excited as I am about the evolution of this blog.

It’s not just the blog that is changing. Behind the writing scenes I’ve been telecommuting for several years, and while it was a job that I enjoyed and learned many valuable skills from, it was time for me to step away. My working days are far from over though, and I even still get to work from home. Or Starbucks. Wherever there’s coffee and wi-fi, really.

I’m so excited to share that I’m now in business for myself, doing business as CoffeeMarks Copy. My main focus is helping other small business owners and entrepreneurs create the best possible content for their websites. You can find my website here, and if you want to be supportive and help a girl out, there’s also Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook, where I’ll be posting helpful small business information.

So why the change? I really did enjoy my job, it was a lot of fun creating content and SEO blogs, but there wasn’t much forward movement. I also primarily worked with legal clients while I actually wanted to be helping entrepreneurs and owners of small businesses. So, to recap:

1. There was a lack of room to grow at my last position

2. I wanted to work with a certain community of customers

And we can’t forget:

3. I have a passion for the work I do

Life is a great, big jumble of interests and wants and passions. Yes, I’m truly passionate about fiction writing and continue to pursue publication, but I’m also passionate about website content. It’s not weird, OK.

Copywriting is similar to fiction writing in that I’m not only trying to find readers, but I’m also trying to illicit certain emotions from those readers.

You won’t see much about CoffeeMarks on this blog for a while, but it might crop up in the future on a new post. Until then, you can follow on social media or click that handy button I’ve added at the top of the page.

Friday, October 21, 2016

4 Things I did to Become a Morning Person

Ever look at someone who gets up at the butt crack of dawn to start being productive and think, “Man, fuck that person”? That used to be me. Now? Now people look at me and think, “Man, fuck that person.”

Don’t get me wrong, I still adore sleeping in when possible, but that’s more of a rarity these days.

I used to drag myself out of bed with just enough time to get dressed, grab a cup of coffee, and shove the kids out of the house. That was back when I was still in school, but even when I didn’t have class in the mornings I would struggle with my productivity levels. The end of my days were packed with a sudden onslaught of everything I’d ignored that day.

This didn’t just start after kids, either. Back at 19, I lived a mere 5 minutes from the University of Memphis campus. I signed up for an 8 a.m. class, and then proceeded to show up only twice. It’s OK, I ended up dropping out anyway. (Stay in school, kids.)

Soon after finishing my degree, I was still working from home, and it made financial sense to take my kids out of daycare and the after-school program. My age-old trick of just sliding by in the evenings wasn’t cutting it anymore, and I knew what I had to do – wake up before my already early-rising kids. Which sounded just about as pleasant as receiving a hair cut from a T-Rex. It took some time, but here are the 4 steps I made to make it happen.

My mornings look less like this and more like a hungover zombie.

1. Went to bed early
Look, this one isn’t groundbreaking, I get it. But I used to routinely stay awake until midnight or one in the morning, which generally contributed to my inability to do little else than hit the snooze button for half an hour. So did I just hit the hay with lights out at 9:30 and conk the eff out? Nope.

In order to make going to bed early actually work, I put off reading time until I went to bed. That way I had something to actually look forward to and could easily roll over and go to sleep as soon as I felt ready.

2. Made plans for the morning
The first morning that I rose before the sun and managed to make it downstairs was disorienting. I was up early, but what was I supposed to be doing? Maybe I would eat breakfast first, or get a bit of writing done, maybe take care of a few work assignments. Ultimately, I didn’t get anything done. I sat on the couch watching The Mindy Project while downing cups of coffee. Relaxing, but the complete opposite of productive.

My mornings have routine now. First I get up, wash my face, then enjoy a cup of coffee while I make my daily to-do list. It may not seem like much, but it’s the definitive starting point to my day.

3. Moved my phone
Look I am like queen of the snooze button. I don’t care what time it is or where I have to be, if it is within reach I will slap that little son of a bitch like there’s no tomorrow. Give or take 30 minutes of telling my phone to shut up, and my morning is off to a late start and I have to make my to-do list while my kids are awake and begging to play video games.

My phone now stays plugged up on my dresser, on the other side of the room from my bed. This forces me to actually get out of bed and stumble over there without my glasses to turn it off. By then I can’t fight the “I’ve gotta pee” feeling anymore, so screw it up I’m up.

4. Changed my outlook
This was probably the most difficult step in all of this. It took a tremendous amount of effort to change how I perceived my nighttime habits, which mostly consisted of re-watching TV shows and browsing through social media. Which, FYI, I’m in Mountain Time Zone (Arizona, no daylight savings FTW), so pretty much everyone east of me was already in bed and no longer posting.

These nightly habits were neither worthwhile nor were they healthy. Sure, taking a lazy night every now and then is great, but every night? Not so much. I had to make a conscious decision to look at early mornings as an opportunity to address the issues I was having, and to reconsider just how much I valued my nightly habits.

______________________________________________________________________________________________




Changing an aspect of yourself isn’t easy, and before you decide to change part of who you are, it’s probably a good idea to ask yourself why you’re making this change.

Have you ever made a conscious effort to change a bad habit? How did you do it?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

What I'm Reading (and Why I'm Putting Some Books Down)

Ever read a book that leaves you so completely enamored that you read nothing else but that author’s work for about a month straight?

That was me this past August and September. A friend lent me her copy of It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover, and suddenly I was checking out every available Hoover title at my library and putting the others on hold. There are still a few more of her books I want to read, but you know how it is. Budgets and books don’t always mix, so shout at to my library.

This post wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t also talk about what I’m not reading.

For me, life is too short for bad books. Maybe “bad” is the wrong sentiment here, but the truth wouldn’t fit into a convenient motto. The truth is that some books just aren’t my taste or don’t hold my interest very well. I used to push through these books like I was a child being told I’d get dessert if I would just eat my freaking vegetables. But you know what you get for finishing a book you don’t like?

Nothing. No one cares, and now you’ve wasted your time. So repeat it with me:



I give books until about page 60 to turn things around. If they don’t? I take it back to the library and bring home another stack.

Right now I’m reading The Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen. I’ve enjoyed her novels over the past several years, but I didn’t even realize she had a new book out until I spotted it with a 20% off sticker on its cover at Target. So far, so good (I’m past the 60-page mark, if you’re curious). Each character and her respective family is going through its own crisis, when from the outside they might even seem like the perfect neighbors.


So what are you reading right now? Did it come from the library, the store, a friend, or your own shelves?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Tell Me The Truth

The most useless person you could possibly ask to read and comment on your work is your spouse. Unless you have a spouse who is an editor or a writer themselves, otherwise, bad idea.

To my husband, every word that I tap out at the keyboard is brilliance, pure magic. Realistically, we both know that's not true. I have an Excel spreadsheet of rejected submissions to prove it.

Ideally, I'd like to find a local writing group, but time-wise this isn't really feasible right now.

I hear other writers mentioning beta readers and critique partners, but I've never really picked up the necessary networking or social skills to find any of my own. For years I've convinced myself that having someone else read my work before submitting it isn't really necessary, or that swapping critiques with a partner won't really add much to my writing, but I'm starting to think that I'm wrong.

Do you use beta readers or have a critique partner? More importantly, how did you find them in the first place?

Friday, July 1, 2016

What I've Been Reading

Even if reading wasn't one of the most important aspects of being a writer (does reading time count as working?), much of my day would still be spent stealing minutes here and there to sit down with my nose placed firmly in a book. I've read some truly phenomenal books this year, some good books, and others that I didn't quite finish because life is too short for bad reads. Here are some of my favorites, and for your benefit, I've managed to cut the list down to five.

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
I first fell in love with Backman's writing after reading A Man Called Ove. Britt-Marie is a character that appeared in one of Backman's other books, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, and I definitely suggest reading it before moving on to Britt-Marie Was Here. Backman's insight into the human soul (in a non-religious sort of way) is absolutely stunning.





The Dinner by Herman Koch
This novel takes place over the course of a single evening at a fancy restaurant. Koch has the kind of pacing ability that I strive for, reveals necessary information without spoon feeding it, and depicts the lengths that parents are sometimes willing to go to in order to protect their children.







Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty
Moriarty is easily one of my favorite authors. She has the brilliant ability to weave together multiple story lines and characters, and builds on conflict until explosive climaxes. Three Wishes isn't my favorite Moriarty novel, although it's still quite good, it just happens to be only one of two Moriarty books I've read this year. It follows the lives of three sisters (triplets to be exact) and the mayhem that seems to follow each of them.



Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
I listened to this one as an audio book, and specifically went on longer runs than normal in order to keep listening. First off, Mr. Penumbra's bookstore sounds like the kind of place I need to be (floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, yes please!). Between its weird owner, even weirder customers, and a beautifully designed secret society, this book is definitely one to add to your bookshelf.




The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo
Sinisalo is a master of speculative fiction and this novel is no exception. In the Eusistocratic Republic of Finland, there are two types of women: eloi and morlocks, and only the eloi have the legal right to marry. Defective morlocks are sterilized, drugs and alcohol are contraband, and the black market smuggles chili peppers across the border. This one had a real HG Wells feel to it and I gobbled it up in a few sittings. This was one that I checked out from the library, but I'm certainly adding it to my own collection in the future.





Friday, June 17, 2016

Thirsty, But In The Physical Way

I’ve always been thirsty. Not metaphorically or spiritually, just thirsty. My childhood nightstand always sported a cup of water at bedtime, and even now I can distinctly recall the plastic Pocahontas cup standing ready at the bedside.

Nothing has changed now. Every night, before padding up the stairs but after letting the dog outside for one last pee, I fill up a cup with water and ice to carry to up to bed. On nights that I feel particularly parched, I forego the plastic cup and fill up my two favorite reusable water bottles. And no, I don’t share with my husband.

A few months ago I noticed that I was drinking even more than normal. Even now, a cup of water is always at my side and I fill up several water bottles when leaving the house. So I did what everyone does. I Googled it. And convinced myself that I had diabetes.

I used to be a fairly unhealthy person. I didn’t eat well and exercise wasn’t even part of my vocabulary. After dropping and keeping off about 100 pounds I’m an overall pretty healthy person, but I was terrified that the damage had already been done.

A visit to my doctor ended in bloodwork and a two-week wait, during which I turned my unending thirst and handful of other symptoms over and over in my mind. Every activity was racked with guilt. Why hadn’t I moved more when I was younger? I could hardly eat without wondering how things might have been different if only I had exercised more self-control. And you know what?

It was my fucking anemia.

Iron pills, a bill of clean health, and I was reassured that some people are just thirsty. The dry, Tucson air doesn’t help much either.

The whole ordeal was an unnecessary strain that I put myself through, but I only recently realized how that situation mirrors my writing life. When starting a new story or gearing up to outline an idea I’ve been tossing around in my head for a while, I experience an extraordinary amount of fear. It follows me throughout the day, beating itself against my skull as I run farther and farther from actually writing.

And then when I do start writing? Well, then I learn that the fear was wrong.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Whoops, There Goes Another 2 Months...

I've pretty much accepted the fact that I'm the worst blogger ever. I remember, I forget, then I remember again and panic internally for 3 weeks straight. Maybe it's not a healthy system, but it's my system. Here are the highlights from the past 2 months, and we can move on to more exciting things next time.


My husband came home:


And it was awesome.


I was published.

In 2016's SandScript.
...twice.

You can get it here.


Visited the Grand Canyon for the first time.


They were clearly overwhelmed by its beauty.


And pitched a few tents.



And now I'm writing again, which is what I'm always doing I suppose. Right now I have 2 different short stories that I'm working on and a novel that I'm scared to touch. Something tells me a bottle of wine could help me get over that.


What have you been up to recently? Any trips, new stories in the works, or a new brand of coffee at the grocery store?

Friday, April 8, 2016

Rejected, Accepted, and Still Going

Excel has probably about a million different features and formulas, but honestly I don’t use any of them. My husband set up our budget spreadsheet and is an Excel master, but I’m more of a basic user.

I use Excel to track my submissions. What I submitted, when it was sent off, where I sent it to, if it was an article or short story, and if it was accepted or rejected.

The “Rejected” column has me feeling a little beaten down. As writers, we all know that rejections far outweigh the “yes”s, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to take. For me, it’s not so much the individual rejections, it’s the image of them all combined in a tidy little spreadsheet.

Those few “yes”s, though? They’re the sip of water when I’m trudging through the desert, fighting to get over the next sand dune to that magical land of full-on publication. Recently I’ve had two articles published and not much else, although not for lack of trying and pitching and querying the shit out of myself.

Recently, though, I got a larger drink of water when I found out that my short story I’m Coming, Mary will be published in this year’s SandScript. That acceptance came at just the right time, as I had been struggling with my competence as a writer. I mean come on, you can only have so many people say, “Sorry, not for us,” before you start to question the validity of your chosen career path.

Writing isn’t easy, and it isn’t necessarily the softest on the ego, but I still couldn’t picture myself doing anything else. Which is why I drink through the rejections. You know, sometimes.


How do you deal with rejections?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

4 Ways I Deal with My Depression

Last time that I discussed my struggle with depression I was in the process of seeking help…again. Right now, though, I’m doing OK. It’s work, a surprising amount of work actually, but it’s working.

I still have down days and up days, but in general the vast majority of days are riding comfortably in the middle, neither too or too high. Here is how I manage my depression.

1. Medicine
Look, some people despise the idea of medication. I used to be one of them. When I was a teenager I would sometimes flush my pills down the toilet because I couldn’t bear the thought of taking anything else. No matter what your thoughts might be on overmedicating or treating mental illnesses through pharmaceutical drugs, I thrive while staying on my medication.

There is one downside though – it makes me weirdly sweatier than normal. Silver lining of that downside, if I accidentally forget to take my medicine I become unbearably sweaty, like, to the point that once my daughter crawled into my bed at 3 in the morning and said, “Mommy…why is your bed wet?” No, I did not pee the bed. Also, I don't forget my medication anymore.

2. Exercise
Depending on the week, I average about 4-6 days of exercise. Primarily, I love to run, especially with my dog. I also hit the gym 2 days a week to strength train and I recently started working with a personal trainer. Honestly, the fewer days a week I exercise the more likely it is that I start sliding back into my depression.

I’m not sure what it is about exercising. Maybe it gives me a tangible accomplishment to focus on or maybe all the endorphins are giving my medication a boost, who knows.

3. Eating Well
I am by far not the only person in America who has struggled with dangerous deprivation and binge eating cycles. Fair warning, this will not result in weight loss. While part of my focus right now is to lose weight until I reach a healthier mass for my height, I’m doing it while eating well.

Yep, lots of veggies, no more late-night binges, and actually eating to avoid hunger, which actually helps with those late night binges. This also means coping with difficult or frustrating situations in ways that don’t involve food.


4. Breathing
I forget the actual name for this technique, but whatever. I call it 4-breathing. Closing my eyes, I breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds, breathe out over another 4 seconds, hold it for 4, then start all over again.

Along with my depression and anxiety, I also deal with a lot of anger issues. I know, shocking. But among a number of other techniques, 4-breathing is one of my best tools to battle depression, anger, and anxiety. 


I don't think that there is any magic recipe for treating and handling depression, but there are a lot of tools out there that can be used to make things better. So from me to you, if you're struggling, remember that there is help, and when you're ready, reach out for it.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Writing? Put it on the to-do list

Look, I get it, no one likes to-do lists. They have a bad reputation for being the tools of controlling individuals who have trouble letting go. “No, we can’t do that. It’s not on the list, see?”

But fuck it, I LOVE to-do lists. Mostly because I wouldn’t get anything done without them. Want to know something else? Something that might make you want to throw up in your mouth a little?

I also make to-not-do lists. Like, shit I need to avoid. They mostly look like this:

TO-NOT-DO
  • Dick around on the internet (there's nothing for you there)
  • Nap
  • Watch more than 1 hour of TV
  • Wallow in self-pity

And yes, I re-write my to-not-do list every day in my planner. Why? I’m a writer who works from home, I need a proverbial boss to pass by my non-existent cubicle every now and then to make sure I’m being productive. With my planner positioned right next to my keyboard all I have to do is glance over and, “OH EXCUSE ME SIR NO I WASN’T GETTING ON FACEBOOK OK BYE.”

But my to-do lists are honestly just as effective, even if my kids have been conspiring to keep alternating weeks to get sick while my husband’s deployment drags on for what feels like forever. One of the reasons that to-do lists seem to be shunned by creative people is the constrains that they can place on the creative process. There are many writers and artists who feel as if they can’t get down to work until inspiration strikes.

I’m of a different variety. Basically, force me to sit down and I’ll hammer it all out right then and there. For me, sitting down to the computer or the notebook is my spark of inspiration. Kind of. Look, if I don’t make myself do it, I’ll fall back on the old reliable, “Oh, I’ll get to that when I have a wider open schedule.” I never, ever have a wide open schedule. No one does.


To-do lists haven’t always been my best friend, and to-not-do lists are an even more recent addition to my game plan, but they’ve become invaluable assets to my writing goals and career. I might not mark off every item, especially when someone (not naming names but TOTALLYMYKIDS) is sick again, but the lists keep me focused and moving forward.

What are your feelings on to-do lists?

Friday, February 19, 2016

In Defense of the Notebook

Hands up (and be honest), who has a writer's notebook?

I stopped using a notebook for several years and only recently picked the habit back up last September, but it's already proved to be invaluable. This cute little thing? Yeah, that's mine.



What's not important is the canvas cover (which is totally adorable) or the zippered compartment where I keep a pen. What really matters is found in the scribbles on the pages. I've filled this notebook with everything, including but not limited to:

  • Angry, emotional-fueled rants
  • Lists of cool jobs for characters
  • Lists of possible titles
  • Writing exercises and prompts
  • Dream analyses (Come on, someone getting shot in Kroger parking lot is a crazy recurring theme)
  • Interesting moments in my day
  • Short story ideas

My daily journaling isn't necessarily a play-by-play of that day or even recent events. Sometimes it's fiction, sometimes a list, sometimes it's only 2 sentences, like when I wrote:

10/6/15
     Nicholas leaves on October 14.
     Nicholas is leaving and I can't breathe.

For the record, I did start breathing again. No worries, my lungs going strong.

But other than staying in the habit of daily writing, there is an enormous benefit to keeping a writer's journal. One, your husband might buy you brand new journals for Christmas that you are dying to start using (The Doctor throwing the TARDIS at a dalek? YES PLEASE.), and two, they are literally a little black book of ideas.

I have a short story due in my workshop in a couple weeks that I've been struggling with. On more than one occasion, I sat down at the computer and typed and erased a dozen first lines before giving up.

Later, while flipping through my notebook, I spotted one of the titles I'd jotted down for future use. And jesus fucking christ, BAM, there it was. The idea. The story. The plot. Even the characters!

So hey, if you haven't used it in a while, pull out your notebook and put it to good use. And if you can, put a picture of your notebook in the comments, I want to see yours!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Oh wait, I'm supposed to be running a blog...

You know what I’m pretty much, almost completely, for real just about done with? School.

Last fall I switched my degree from an associate of science to an associate of arts, took 15 credit hours (including my 5-hour physics class, which should have been worth WAY MORE than 5 measly credits), and basically ran on a weird mix of adrenaline, coffee, and late nights that were only appropriate for my early 20s. And I passed. I passed everything. I even got out of physics with a B.

Last fall, my husband deployed and my son later spent a week in the hospital.

Last fall, I had to take a temporary leave of absence from work. And I love my job.

Last fall, I felt like I lost myself.

Bob Ross gets life.
Because guys, last fall fucking sucked. Like, for real. Big time. But it was OK, because I finished my associate degree and was going to start University of Arizona (with a conservative 9 credit hours because fuck anything else). Then I saw the tuition. My husband and I had been saving for a year and a half to avoid taking out student loans that we just can’t take on, and tuition for a single semester was well over $2,000 MORE than we’d managed to save.

What. The. Fuck.

So hey, fun news! I have an associate of arts aaaand that’s about it for the foreseeable future. Sorry creative writing major, more than $10,000 a year is more than anyone can afford, much less a small family with two young kids and childcare bills and, oh you know, the desire to buy groceries and toilet paper.

But all isn’t lost. At least not yet. Instead, I’m sticking around my community college with its deliciously reasonably priced classes. This semester I’m enrolled in the advanced fiction writing workshop so that I can hammer out a few solid short stories complete with feedback and enforced by deadlines.
Next fall? Next fall won’t suck, and here’s why.

I’ll be in the advanced novel writing workshop, I’ll still be at my job, I’ll be writing still, pushing forward with submissions, and my husband will have his adorable ass back home, right where it belongs.

Plus side to saying “Fuck this” to moving on toward a bachelor degree? My reading time has pretty much quadrupled. What do you mean I don’t need to figure out the acceleration needed to safely stop a vehicle from careening into a raging river of death? (Bonus points if you get the move reference.) Oh fuck yes, I’m reading.


And what else? Words are flowing out of me like never before.