Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Girl Gone Mental a.k.a My Writing Process

Since publishing His Dark Ways this last summer, I've received lots of questions regarding my writing process, especially after readers or friends who are asking find out that I homeschool three kiddos, create works of art, and books. Crazy right? Probably. But it all actually works itself out in this bubble I call Organized Chaos. 

I'd like to say that I'm one of those morning people who can rise before the sun and pump out my word count before the day has begun. BUT no, that would unfortunately make me insanely cranky. Yahoo even did a study that "morning people" are more successful in life, so I tried it. And failed miserably. But I'm okay with that because everyone works differently and I truly believe that if you work hard without giving up, success will come, in big ways or small. 

Stephen King once said that he never writes down his ideas because he'd write down all the shit, and the really good stuff he'll remember. For a long time I believed that and didn't write anything down, and then I had an epiphany. He was only talking about the overall idea of a book. And it works. I write one book a year (one is published, but the rest sit on a shelf), and I usually finish one in the early summer. So as my other work goes on submission, I start stewing, usually in my garden. I wait for an idea to overtake my soul (if it's anything's worth writing, it'll do just that). Once it becomes that really good stuff Mr. King talked about, I start jotting down ideas, and more importantly talking with each character. Ellen Hopkins taught me the importance of knowing your characters before any kind of plot takes shape, and once those people are there, it'll all fall into place. Characters are huge, and can either make a walk in the park boring as hell or an adventure. So talking to them is important, as crazy as it sounds, it's a very important part of my writing process. 

I've had a couple of character's that haven't left me alone for years, and I decided that I was going to put them on the page this summer. I had a vague idea of where they lived and what kind of adventure they would go on, so I turned to research and found that the 18th Century would work well for these people. Six months later, I finished researching. But in between this time, I was also experimenting on the page. Where does this book open? So important! What twists and turns will I surprise my reader with? And so much more... 

As a writer they say, you must write everyday because writing is a muscle you must exercise. I do find that somewhat true, but as busy as I am that doesn't always happen. Opening a computer can be full of distractions anyways, so I think, a lot. I find little moments in the day. When I'm washing dishes or doing laundry, I think through plot or character problems and pull out my notebook. A notebook in today's world can be a glorious thing. It's a blank page free of distractions because there aren't any of those pesky internet connections you can easily click on. Notebooks have become the brain of the nights I write. Three to four days out of the week, I grab a coffee, and the moment I open my notebook I'm focused. Those epiphany's I had during the day ground my four hour or so writing session on the computer.

So to sum up this post, my writing process is talking to myself A LOT, and being in solitude--which seems mental, right? But it's all a part of my process and how my days of thinking as life unfolds in busy ways gets words on my pages at night. 

What's your writing process? 

Also, a friend of mine just recommended a wonderful book written by Jeff VanderMeer. It's titled Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. And it's definitely a book you should look into when it comes to the writing process! Happy writing everyone!






Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Writer's Squeeze




As of late, I’ve officially finished my fourth manuscript, which means, I’ve written FOUR novels! It’s taken me ten years to get here, and I’ve loved, hated, but mostly loved every moment of it. Being a writer—a story teller, will never leave me. It’s a part of who I am, and I love that part of me. But being one isn’t always easy. It comes with late nights of staring at a ceiling talking to myself as my husband tries to ignore how insane I'm being because I’m working through plot and talking to characters. The next morning, I try to pretend that I’m not really alone when I’m sitting at my computer. And when I finally get up to grab a cup of coffee, I notice my dirty house and decrepit garden that would fit perfectly on Tales from the Crypt. But the worst part, is knowing the characters in my book better than I know my family at times.

I tell myself I’m going to meet a deadline, edit, revise (repeat ten times), and then send my book out on submission. THEN, yes now, I will get to know my family again, maybe finally force someone to talk to me and be my friend.

Then in between scrubbing those neglected toilets, doing art with my sweet children, and pulling alien-like skeletons out of my garden that the rejections come in. I sighall my blood, sweat, and tears feel wasted.

I sob to my husband (that poor man), watch an awesome season of Downtown Abbey, sob, write (only on social media), and then stick my manuscript in a drawer and wonder where I went wrong. I take some time off. Swear I’ll never write again because the pain reminds me of THAT ONE bad relationship I had that broke my heart and left a scar.

But those ideas keep knocking, and knocking, and knocking, and soon I’m writing again. Why? Because I’m a writer—a story teller, it’s a disease really. But I constantly doubt myself, constantly doubt anything I have to offer, and I think how ridiculous I am. Until some awesome barista makes me a heavenly cup of coffee and tells me how cool they think it is that I WRITE. It puts a twinkle in my eye, for a moment. Then, I get onto social media and see that a friend got a book deal. Or I walk into a book store and say to myself, “Why can’t this be me? I’ve worked hard too?” And I stew, and jealousy spills out—all over the place. It's messy. It spills out into my writing (I’m not good enough); it spills out into my mood because I feel lame. I go home and put on my raggedy comfort sweater, walk around with slouchy shoulders, and eat an entire box of Aunt Something Cookies. 

And this, my friends, is the writer’s squeeze.

It’s the crappy place no writer likes to be and it’s a place no writer should go.

"When you squeeze an orange, orange juice comes out - because that's what's inside. When you are squeezed, what comes out is what is inside." ~Wayne Dyer

As writers we are going to be squeezed, whether it be in the beginning stages, or IF we become a New York Times Bestseller. We need to hold on, keep going, and BE PROUD, heck, throw parties for our friends that have made it because we know how big of a mountain it was for them to climb to get there. And who cares if it took them one year to get to the top and you a lifetime. Its okay, we need to stop comparing ourselves. If we are going to share a work of art with the world—a piece of us, shouldn’t it be at a time when your passion is equal to the love of our friends? And if we never get there, we should be okay with that too because isn’t it true as to what Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem taught us?…

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost 
Than never to have loved at all.

I write for passion, for the love of life. If you place this poem in your heart as you write, then nothing is lost but gained, and when the time comes when you’re squeezed, you will only drip with love. And that my friends, is when the best literature of our time to come will be created.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Winners!!

Before I could count the votes, I had to pull out my handy dandy notebook like this guy...



 And then I was like...


I can't believe how close all the finalists were! You guys are serious rock stars, seriously! And this is how I'm picturing you right now, but maybe with less hair...


And the two winners are...



It shouldn’t have taken a jolt in an electric chair to make me realize I’m not a Bob. You’d think I’d have figured it out before. I’m not stupid. Really. Some people say I’m gifted. I hate that word. They might as well draw a bulls-eye on my forehead with pink glitter paint. Anyway, I’d gotten into the habit of ignoring my name, Fred. It was like background noise. Or, like the jets that flew over our last house ten times a day. They were there, but I didn’t notice them anymore. 

(Shelly will have fifty pages and a synopsis considered by my amazing agent, Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreward Literary!)


India is not the spiritual home of wishy-washy mantras and life affirming experiences. It is the home of more than one billion people, who work their sun-burnt broken backs raw to keep their families fed and alive. Dreams lie dormant in tired eyes that only dare to sparkle and shine in the confines of a cinema, where Bollywood heroes preach the religion of love dishonestly. The nation survives between shots of morning chai and moist parathas, alive on meagre earnings and hopes that are as momentary as electrical impulses between every cell and synapse. But the colours, the red of the tikka, the rainbow of the rangoli patterns, the faded jades of sweaty sarees, the hues of dust on bright orange temples or mint green mosques; yes, the colours were a defiance to the fate that had doomed them to their brown skins and the poverty induced prejudice that came with it. Sakeena Ghulam, wry, young, poor, a basket of heavy washed clothes on one hip and a hand-decorated earthen pot on the other, belonged to those colours. 

(Azra will have a query and ten pages critiqued by none other than super agent, Gordon Warnock of Foreward Literary!)

CONGRATULATIONS! 


Thank you, everyone! You are all AMAZING! I had a blast doing this contest with you! 

Also, if you guys are interested in more contests, the totally awesome Blue Rose Girls are holding a fifty word story contest and the prize is CHOCOLATE, so yeah, you should go enter. And THEE Nathan Bransford is spreading good cheer with the #ThankAWriter Project.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Twelve Finalists!


First, I must MUST say that you all made this INCREDIBLY difficult for me. I’m blown away with the amount of talent that entered this contest. I am so lucky to have read something from each and every one of you!

I know how hard it can be to bare your soul for the world to see, but I assure you, I’m very grateful that you did! I enjoyed all of these. Each paragraph was so different and original. I enjoyed seeing how each of you crafted your words and prose. Thank you for entering!


Now without further ado, I very excitedly introduce to you our twelve finalists and cute kittens!! 


Please read through and PICK TWO paragraphs and place your votes in the comments below.

Happy reading everyone!



It shouldn’t have taken a jolt in an electric chair to make me realize I’m not a Bob. You’d think I’d have figured it out before. I’m not stupid. Really. Some people say I’m gifted. I hate that word. They might as well draw a bulls-eye on my forehead with pink glitter paint. Anyway, I’d gotten into the habit of ignoring my name, Fred. It was like background noise. Or, like the jets that flew over our last house ten times a day. They were there, but I didn’t notice them anymore. 

(Okay, seriously this had me at I'm not a Bob. This is an amazing opening and it stuck with me all week. Awesome work, Shelly! I want to bundle up with a cozy blanket, a cup of tea, and Fred!)



When they gave me away to Uncle Dell he said this forest, this here part of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, is where I’ll meet my future and my past. I told him that made no kind of sense. Told him I didn’t want to be here. Told him I didn’t want to be no traditional Cherokee like him. He crossed his arms.

(This is awesome! I want to pick this book up already and read it with my son. The voice, the opening, everything about this grabbed onto me.)


“What is that smell?” I mumbled, stepping out of my car in front of an old country inn. The beauty of the weathered, three-story house did not match the horrendous odor surrounding it. While I admired the long wrap-around porch, the smell of the cow manure assaulted my senses, making me gag. I couldn’t help but pinch my nose against the stench. Being a city girl, I wasn’t used to it. If being in the middle of the sticks meant that I could finally become a professor at one of the most prestigious universities in the nation, then this was what I had to do. Sticksville was my next big stepping stone - well, more like a hurdle. And a sanctuary from him.

(Right away, I fell in love with this main character. This girl is far away from what she’s used to—all to get away from a man. I want to know more. Fantastic opening!) 


The first thing I thought when I saw Jackson Holmes was, “I hate you and I want to kill your father.”

Thankfully those words didn’t pass my lips.

The second thing I thought was, “My, but you are devilishly handsome.”

Unfortunately those words did pass my lips.

Even more unfortunate, I was disguised as a man which packed an extra layer of humiliation to the whole thing.

(Ha! Who doesn't love a good western with a sassy main character?! And devilishly handsome men? This is a very well crafted opening and it's funny. Great work, Mary!)


Tan’eth lay full length on the sun-warmed hillside, using her gleaning sack as a pillow, and reckoned the distance between her left foot and her right. Surely the chains will be no shorter than this, she thought. She slowly inched her feet apart along the grass. Perhaps this long. Or even this. Tan’eth tried to picture the length of her mother’s chains, the links that bound ankle to ankle, and the rhythm of her gait as the chains went slack and taut, slack and taut, with each step. No, not quite this long. She nudged her heels closer together.

(This felt so new and fresh to me. I want to know why she’s trying to mimic her mother’s chains. This also read like a classic to me, a savory delicious one I’d enjoy reading again and again.)


India is not the spiritual home of wishy-washy mantras and life affirming experiences. It is the home of more than one billion people, who work their sun-burnt broken backs raw to keep their families fed and alive. Dreams lie dormant in tired eyes that only dare to sparkle and shine in the confines of a cinema, where Bollywood heroes preach the religion of love dishonestly. The nation survives between shots of morning chai and moist parathas, alive on meagre earnings and hopes that are as momentary as electrical impulses between every cell and synapse. But the colours, the red of the tikka, the rainbow of the rangoli patterns, the faded jades of sweaty sarees, the hues of dust on bright orange temples or mint green mosques; yes, the colours were a defiance to the fate that had doomed them to their brown skins and the poverty induced prejudice that came with it. Sakeena Ghulam, wry, young, poor, a basket of heavy washed clothes on one hip and a hand-decorated earthen pot on the other, belonged to those colours.

(Wow, this is beautifully written and I love the imagery Azra paints. I’m DYING to know more about Sakeena. In a way, I’m hoping this is a memoir because I would gobble it up.)


Noon was long gone when the first gust of northern wind pressed against the bakery rooftop and squeezed its way down the cramped flue. The embers, brushed to the corner of the great masonry oven, jumped to life as the wind swept past, spitting out several halfhearted flames. Rhona watched from her seat at the bakery counter. The flames twisted and writhed angrily as if to chide the breeze for waking them, and she beheld them enchanted. A moment passed, the flames settled, and the spell broke.

(This was wonderful because Carrie grabbed me into a moment with her main character. It was slow and steady, yet kept me wanting to know more about Rhona and her spells. Well done!)


Want to know why I hate Tuesday, December eighteenth? It’s the day my mother died. You’d think an only child without a father would get a premonition about something as horrendous as her own mother dying. But I didn’t. No goose bumps. No sinking sensation of doom, or being orphaned, not even chills. No idea whatsoever until four-thirty that afternoon. That’s when Mom came home and told me.

(I particularly liked this one because it made me think. I’ve seen lots of stories where the parents are dead or dying, but the last line to this hooked me in. I was like, wait mom’s dead, right?! And now she’s coming home to tell her daughter something. Who doesn’t love a good creepy story?!)


Harrison entered a room where time either stalled or fell into reverse. Dust drifted around him with hardly a ray of sunlight seeping through window slits in the walls. He had been there only once before when he was seven years old. Broken doors hardly stood straight on rusted hinges. Wooden splinters littered the carpeted floor. The shattered remains of chairs crumbled under the weight of his feet. He dragged his heels along the ground disturbing fallen pieces of his past.

(There is so much imagery and story unfolding in this one paragraph. It is crafted beautifully and the very last line made me fall in love with this. I want to read it again, and again.)

(10) Sabrina Marchal

We don’t choose who saves us. Sometimes it’s that one teacher, who never says much, but who catches you smoking in the bathroom and simply opens a window. Sometimes it’s that librarian, who lets you linger after closing while she clears up. Very rarely, it’s someone who intends to kill you.

(The voice here really held onto me and the last line left me more than curious. Great work!) 

(11) Heather

If my Uncle Levi’s car creeps down the driveway, it will mean they’ve found Mom and Dad. Nobody knows where I’m hiding to watch for his car. Even though Nana still calls it the chicken shed, there haven’t been chickens here as long as I can remember. There’s only a dirt floor and Papa’s old car, a big, white Buick with fuzzy dark red seats that spark if you slide across them. Wooden planks on all sides. Darkness and the smell of seeds or hay or corn. Something the chickens used to eat. If I bend down just a little bit, I can see outside through a hole in the wood: the driveway, the apple tree, and the curve of the road with fields on both sides. Green and slippery in the rain. Soon Nana will start calling for me. She will have my blue jacket over her arm. Luke, Luke she will say, stretching out my name. The same way she calls Calico if he hasn’t shown up for his dinner, when the saucer of cream is waiting for him with skin forming over the top. Protection against what’s coming.

(This immediately took me back to some of my favorite authors as a kid, specifically E.B White and Jean Craighead George. The first line builds mystery right away and I want to know why Luke is feeling as though he needs protection from what’s coming. A really great build up here.)


“One shot to the head is all it’ll take.”
Tobin lifted himself slowly to his hands and knees as pain racked through his tired and beaten body. He glared through his one good eye at his attacker, its silhouette inhuman and ominous. Tobin wasn’t afraid of death, and was already all too familiar with its work. “Just do it already.” Ice cold air plumed his words into a thin vapor before him.

(This is full of raw emotions and I felt bruised and beaten alongside Tobin, loved the imagery, especially the inhuman silhouette.)