Counting Down the Clock

Tick-tock goes the clock.

We are surrounded by time in all its various forms, a gentle reminder that we're on a life-clock...and hopefully we'll get many days while we hang out on this third rock from the sun. 

Oh, so many clocks...they surround us on appliances, technology, phones, Darth Vader alarm clocks, and old-fashioned wall clocks (my son learned to tell time via Roman Numerals at the ripe age of 4...he has a thing for clocks and schedules). Time is everywhere.

Oh, so many clocks...they surround us on appliances, technology, phones, Darth Vader alarm clocks, and old-fashioned wall clocks (my son learned to tell time via Roman Numerals at the ripe age of 4...he has a thing for clocks and schedules). Time is everywhere.

Another 365 days have now come to a close as we usher in a new year. Another 31 million seconds (or 525,000 minutes or 8,760 hours) have come...and gone. So what did we do with all of that precious time? Some minutes or hours were lost into an abyss of nothingness. And that's okay. Some were spent on heartache or struggles. That's also okay. Some were invested into careers/parenting. Also good. Some were spent on joyous occasions, travels, or special moments. And that rocks.

What's amazing about each brand new year is that we choose how to spend our time (more or less...). Time is a gift. Time is not infinite.

With the end of the year, we may have our regrets...our wishlist that didn't get completed, goals that seemed to be swept aside by life's unexpected events. All the could's, should's, would's. Yeah, they're there, too. It's okay to have some regrets, so long as we don't dwell on them, right?

We were all given the same 31 million seconds this year. So what did I do besides breathe, eat, and sleep?

My Adventurous Endeavors and Memorable Moments of 2017:

  1. Joined Twitter -- lookout, world!

  2. Countless hugs and love-you's from my children and husband...along with their own special milestones this year.

  3. Published my first book, A Hundred Kisses, (this secretly should be #1)!! [insert happy dance].

  4. Visited Lake Placid and Door County, Wisconsin for writing assignments.

  5. Left a fruitful, demanding job to follow my full-time writing dream (A little more about that).

  6. Ventured through Nova Scotia with my husband.

  7. Celebrated my website's 1-year-anniversary.

  8. Connected with other writers via social media and friends.

  9. Finished my second book in the "Hundred" trilogy (currently my writer buddy is reading the first draft), while I outline the third book...btw, this latest manuscript is my 6th manuscript completed...3 are hidden in a drawer somewhere as a learning experience. Yes, 6th!

  10. Conquered my fear of heights in a fun tree-canopy-ropes course with my family (who am I kidding? I'm still scared.).

  11. Enjoyed so many cherished moments with friends and family.

  12. Appreciated the support and patience of a few close friends while dealing with my own struggles.

My Speed Bumps (Let's call them "Moments to Reflect and Grow") of 2017:

  1. Left a fruitful, demanding job to follow my full-time writing dream (A little more about that) -- yes, it's the same as #5 on my memorable moments, too. A milestone life moment can be both gratifying and terrifying.

  2. Saw the resurgence of a life-long battle with anxiety/depression this fall (and I'm busy digging myself out -- there is light at the end of the tunnel!).

  3. 43 rejections on my newest work (Women's Fiction - a genre jump for this romance author and the 5th novel I've written). 55 if you count the dozen "no responses" I'm waiting on.

  4. The throes of parenthood ('nuff said?).

  5. Losing a few friendships.

Admittedly, I was surprised, given the dark waters I waded through this fall, that I had trouble compiling that speed bump list. No deaths or serious illnesses or huge events plagued our household this year. I am grateful because certainly the bumps list was far longer during other years in my lifelong journey.  

I've spent this year learning, crafting, venturing, taking great leaps of faith, growing...and treasuring the seconds, minutes, and hours. I'm sure I will make a goal/resolution list next week, as I am a goal-driven person. I will check off things as they happen, and there will definitely be some goals not achieved. To be honest, I don't even know what all my goals were for this year! Some lists are fluid and shape shift. Some goals remain on that list for a very long time (it took me 19 years, on and off, to get my first novel published). Some may never reach fruition. And that's all okay.

Life is a journey. Highs and lows. Memorable moments and speed bumps. As you say goodbye to 2017 and hello to 2018 I encourage you to also compile your lists and you may be surprised that the good outweighed the bad if you dig deep enough.

Cheers, and have a safe and happy New Year! I'd also like to thank all my readers, followers, and support team (= friends and family and critique partners = cheerleaders!). You are blessings in my personal and professional life. Thank you!

Jean

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Going Berserk: Research!

This week I delved into the definition of berserk. Sure, I knew that it meant going a little crazy. I guess I never knew that it originated from the Vikings until I happened upon it in a book and online. A few clicks and turns of the page, and I read some fascinating articles by experts in the psychology field.

What does Merriam-Webster define it as?

Berserk(er): an ancient Scandinavian warrior frenzied in battle and held to be invulnerable

Old Norse berserkr, probably from ber-bear + serkr shirt

First known use was 1800. [ahem: I can’t refer to this elite frenzied warrior sect of the Vikings by that name in my circa 1300’s manuscript unless I can verify its use that early]

My research avenues: travel, museums & historic sites, libraries, my bookshelf (and cyberspace), and in-person interviews.

My research avenues: travel, museums & historic sites, libraries, my bookshelf (and cyberspace), and in-person interviews.

While I was on the berserker bandwagon, I also enjoyed (yet again) researching a variety of Scottish and Norse swear words. These are the things research for novels are made of. :) It can be entertaining…and time-consuming. Certainly I do my fair share of research for historicals, but contemporary novels also require a bit of digging for accuracy and authenticity. Writers submerge themselves in their worlds, and research is one powerful way to achieve such immersion. Sometimes I do the research up front, but usually, I find myself veering off the word-count train to look up a medieval remedy for fevers, to figure out if cork or stained glass was available in 1263, to find that perfect curse word, to read about the legends of the Kintail mountains, or to unveil the Norse wolf god Fenrir's story… and, and, and…. :) The list is long. Everything from minor to major…requires some level of research. And I am a bit of a research junkie.

What are my go-to methods for research?

  • Travel! Explore the location if possible. Be it a small seaside Maine town or the grand castles of the Scottish Highlands, nothing replaces being there, breathing the salty air along a bustling fishing dock, listening to the rustle of trees in an ancient wood, touching the crumbling stones of a grand keep, or observing the patterns of guards flowing in an out of an army base.

 

  • Museums: When you can’t get to the location, museums are a great place to find information, see relevant period pieces (furniture, tools, art representing time periods/clothes/culture, weapons, etc.).  Also, museum curators and employees usually LOVE to talk about the displays or may share anecdotes not typically found on the information plaques. A recent museum visit to look at dinosaur fossils and geologic specimens was such a delight (granted, I’m not writing any prehistorical novels) as the curator (I think a geology college student) regaled us with lots of information not found on the displays about the collections. This past spring I visited Mystic, CT where the Draken Harald Hårfagre, a reconstructed authentic Viking ship, was being housed. I walked on it, touched it, and asked questions (like why in heavens are there rocks in the hold below the wooden deck? - Answer: they needed to toss anything in there to give it the weight/balance it needed. Insert my college physics that I aced but still don't understand). It was an amazing experience. Lots of oh's and ah's.

 

  • Merriam-Webster or other etymology websites: Words have different meaning and usages among time periods and cultures. This website also allows me to know when a word first came about, so if it’s too modern, the phrase/word must go if I am writing a historical novel. Researching slang words and idioms is also quite enlightening! 

 

  • Websites: Wikipedia is an okay start but I always expand to other websites since Wikipedia is not always accurate or validated. I recommend starting there and then branching off to other reliable website sources. Double check. Find a fact and you’re unsure about? Hop around on the ‘net and verify it. Find academic articles or primary sources. We all have our favorite websites. I will not lie when I say that Mapquest or Google Earth are close seconds to Merriam-Webster. Again, they are stepping stones to lead me to other more time/area-specific mapping resources.

 

  • Libraries: Ah, books. Nothing can beat a book. I have so many favorites, and even though I’ve been knee deep in medieval Scotland for years and consider myself adequately knowledgeable, I still fall back on books. There is always room in my library for another book on lore, customs, clans, names, or life in a medieval castle. This time around as I write the prequel to A Hundred Kisses, I added in Viking and old Norse books and they are absolutely fascinating! Librarians are a great asset, too. Like the museum curators, they are filled with hidden knowledge.

 

  • In person/interviews or experts: Know somebody from the region you're researching or who has expertise in a specific area? They’d probably be more than happy to answer your questions.  Network. Connect. Put fishing poles out on social media. I bet you have a lot of friends and family who are experts in something you need help on. My graduate school thesis adviser and my editor are both from Scotland, so I asked them a few questions about words/phrases. I have a friend who knows all about horses, so she is my horse expert go-to. My father-in-law is an avid sailor who crossed the Atlantic Ocean solo in a sailboat (at the age of 70...yes, that's a story in its own!). I have friends in recovery who know about addiction (applicable to a character I’ve written). I’m a parent of a special needs child. I have relatives who are/were in the military. I connected with authors who live in an area of the country I’ve never traveled to but need to know about for a novel. The list goes on and on. People are a great resource!

I think that covers it. So what do you say…is it time to roll up your sleeves and go a little berserk on some research?

Sláinte,

Jean

Staring at Page 186…

Here I am, staring at page 186 in my latest manuscript…for the past month. I was moving along at a fast pace, churning out 2000-5000 words a day on this first draft of my latest novel. I had goals! Let’s see: To be done with draft v001 by the end of October. Send it off to my first betas. Get feedback. Revise in November (even though my manuscripts have always taken me months and months to revise and polish…but I had a new method of crafting charts/characters/plots to streamline the revision process). Submit to my editor by December/January.

I had a plan. Then life hit.

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Many artists and creatives struggle with daily mental illness such as depression or anxiety. I’m nearly forty years old and have suffered with both most of my life. I’m still conquering my demons, healing new and old wounds, and working on my inner self-talk. Recently life got “lifey” and my plan—yeah, it crashed and burned. I went from high output to a dead stop. Granted, perhaps I saw this coming as I’ve been going through several life/career transitions and I’ve been grooving in survival mode for a few years. I usually keep myself very busy…so busy that the depression and anxiety can remain hidden, its claws safely shackled behind closed doors. However, that only works for a while. Then it (“life”) all came at once—I jumped into the deep end without the required gulp of air needed when you drop down 12 feet to the bottom of the pool.

Digging into the heart of the issue is tough and can seem impossible. Recently a friend shared the Hilarious World of Depression podcasts with me (and she had no idea what I was currently going through). At first I saw it and thought, “How can depression be funny?” Obviously the podcasts are not angled that way. In fact, I listened to a few and found myself nodding in agreement.

So why am I writing this post? First, to boost my monthly word count. Joking aside, well, I wrote it to show that like many others out there, you are not alone in your struggles. Mental illness is not a light matter.

Please know that there are resources out there for you. Text 741741 or call the Suicide Prevention number 1-800-273-8255 to speak to someone if you are on the ledge. Call a friend, family member, or spiritual mentor.

Seek out friends, professionals, and medicine if needed. Telling a person who’s depressed to just suck it up, get out of the house, exercise, just hop on the horse again, or keep busy…great advice, but we all know that it’s not that simple.

It sounds counter-intuitive but one way for me to help myself is to reach out to others who are in the same boat and help them. (Hence this post). For example, I’ve learned through my own journeys, such as parenting a special needs child, that when I need help, the best thing is to first get help where needed (friends, professionals, etc.) and not keep the pain bottled up, and second, to reach out to others who may also be in need. Just a year ago, I was seeking friends who were walking the same parenting journey, so I created a local Facebook group for just that…and we have over 350 people in the group, from parents to educators, all sharing and supporting.

So recently, as I deal with anxiety, turbulent waters, and transitions, I’ve reached out to friends who I know I can count on…and I’m reaching out to you in the hopes that my words will provide comfort and support if you are struggling as well. You are not alone. You are worthy. You are important. You can get through this.

After a few weeks at the dark bottom of the deep end, I can see the light at the surface. It may be a long swim up, but I soon hope to be no longer staring at page 186…

Bring on page 187 and beyond and hopefully I will burst through the surface of that water and take another gulp of fresh air.

Always with love,

Jean

Two songs that help me get up each day and empower me with the ability to change impossible to possible:

Gym Class Heroes “The Fighter”

Andra Day’s “Rise Up”

 

 

Digging up Diamonds in the Rough: From Outline to Novel

 

(We like geology a lot in this household so bear with my metaphor)

This is a longer blog post but it’s loaded with links and resources for the writer.

Whether you’re a plotter with detailed spreadsheets, GMC charts, character questionnaires, extensive computer documents and files, and a tower of resourceful books…or you’re a pantser, with a cup of java and some scribbled Post-it notes at your side, at some point as an author you need to make sure 2+2+2 = 6 (and no you don’t need to use “new math” with tape diagrams or arrays to do this—ha, can you tell I am a mom dealing with the fun of “new math”?).

All this means is your story needs to be cohesive and hit all the benchmarks.

One look at my desk and you may think I am a free-spirited pantser, but I am a plotter down to my DNA. I envy pantsers a bit. It’s not to say I don’t do my fair share of hopping around in my writing as whims strike me, or I have to make stuff up as I go along. However, since I’m a resource gal, this post will be chock full of my favorite resources for outlining and pre-writing (or if you are a pantser, things to check along the way or during revision).

My favorites sitting on my desk right now.

My favorites sitting on my desk right now.

No matter which method you employ for your creations, there will always come a point in the writing process where you need to make sure all your ducks are lined up in a row. The story needs to make sense and have all the key components:

  • A cohesive plot and story

  • Goals, motivation, and conflict (both internal and external)

  • Stakes and urgency

  • Positive & negative character traits

  • A world the reader wants to get lost in

  • Emotional wounds that drive the character to overcome a lie they tell themselves (aka backstory)

  • Sympathetic characters that we want to keep reading about

  • The character arc

  • Genre-specific needs (e.g. if a Romance, two clear protagonists on their external/internal journeys with all of the above AND a HEA or a HFN, and usually a villain)

MAKE YOUR OWN GMC CHARTS, CHARACTER SHEETS – MY SAMPLE PDF

MAKE YOUR OWN GMC CHARTS, CHARACTER SHEETS – MY SAMPLE DOCX. WORD FILE

Beat sheets – what are they?

I'm new to beat sheets but I found Jami Gold’s website a gem in the rough and a great launching pad. I was already decently-versed on the key points to crafting a story but her beat sheets make outlining (and double-checking as you go along with word counts and pivotal beats) a breeze. I found her romance-specific sheet also helpful. Beat sheets are a writer’s accountability partner. It’s a bullet list or chart that shows the sequence of your story, including the key points of: hook, inciting incident, Acts 1-3 (if you follow that style), pinch points, mid-points, climax, and resolution. Even organically-driven writers need structure to determine the next point in the story. There are many posts about beat sheets aside from this one listed; just Google “beat sheets” and you’ll find a treasure trove! For my latest WIP, I ended up using her beat sheets as a guide and wrote my outline in Word, chapter-by-chapter with key bullet points. Then, I went through that and double-checked it with her sheets to make sure I hit all the beats. Rock on.

Goals, Motivation, and Conflict

I recently wrote a blog post with my abbreviated version explaining GMC. When I read Debra Dixon’s book a few years ago, I fell in love. [btw, the book is out of print and more expensive on Amazon, so I suggest purchasing directly through Gryphon Books. It’s a DIAMOND!] She uses movie and romance examples to clearly lay out what GMC is and how to achieve it. Every single story has GMC. All characters, even secondary and the villain, have goals, reasons to achieve those goals (motivation), and reasons why they can’t (conflict)…and these are both external AND internal (character-driven). I suggest a browse of the web again or purchase her book to acquaint yourself with these building blocks to a successful story.

Who Are These Characters Anyway?

My latest ah-ha moment was falling upon Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s book, The Emotion Thesaurus last year. It helped me polish and clean up my latest novel by fleshing out my characters’ physical signs, internal sensations, and mental responses to events in the story…oh, the broad spectrum of emotion, all in one book!

But wait. There’s more. I was surfing around their very resourceful website and discovered the hidden booty—the pirate’s gold—MORE thesaurus books…all about characters (and setting’s role in building worlds/characters)! I ordered four more right away and I was giddy having stumbled upon these tools. I read through them, rapt….I giggled, I smiled, I gasped. Oh yes, I did. I said “ah ha!” more than once.

The rest of that bullet list above (and in my sample PDF) was compiled from the Positive Trait and Negative Trait Thesaurus books. Although my character sheets list these key character elements in an abbreviated format, I suggest checking out their website or purchasing the books for further explanation. The books are actual thesauruses that you’ll use over and over during writing, and not just in pre-writing/development. They explain the causes, behaviors, and thoughts associated with character traits. I eagerly await the release of The Emotional Wound Thesaurus this fall.

Other Resources

I’d be remiss to not name a few of my other favorites:

1.    I can’t boast enough about Grammar Girl. Several of her books sit on my shelf and whenever in doubt (it happens in every book I write, even as I write manuscript #6), I search the web for her grammar points. Easy Peasy: type in the question (e.g. lay vs lie) and “Grammar Girl.” Score!

2.    Strunk and White’s good ol’ Elements of Style (or your other grammar/style resource).

3.    Eats, Shoots, & Leaves (Lynne Truss) is a punctuation classic. Anyone up for an Oxford comma debate? I need a t-shirt that says I love the Oxford Comma.

4.    For the romance writer or any writer who wants to build up their “descriptive tags,” Jean Kent and Candace Shelton’s The Romance Writers’ Phrase Book is one of my old favorites.

5.    Books and websites about your genre or subgenre.

6.    Books and websites about your topic (I’ve got loads of books on medieval castles and living, Scottish clans, myth, and lore, and Norse Vikings, to name a few). Libraries are a great go-to as well!

7.    Museums, travel excursions galore. Know a person with expertise in something you’re writing about? Interview them or use them as a sensitivity reader. Got the funds? Go visit a castle or museum or fort. I was fortunate to finally visit the dreamy landscape of Scotland a few years back and I recently toured an actual Viking ship in Connecticut.

8.    Podcasts. When you’re not reading or writing, you could be listening to inspirational stories or writing tidbits. My favorite is Brandon Sanderson’s Writing Excuses while I exercise.

9.    Everything else. I followed a Facebook writer’s group that tosses up daily writing pointers: from overused weak words (I have my own list for that), 75 ways to describe anger, 45 ways to avoid using the word “very,” elements of a good scene…the list goes on. So when I see these little nuggets, I print ‘em, hole punch ‘em, and stick them in my master binder that sits next to my GMC Charts, Character Sheets, and Notes Miscellaneous.

Well, there you have it! A glimpse into my treasure trove of diamonds. I’ve had two decades to gather them, and I still keep finding them—writing is a forever journey of learning (and fun!). There is an abundance of resources out there to help you along the journey, be it during pre-writing, mid-writing, or revision. Now, go dig up those gems and write a story!

I’d love to hear about your favorite go-to resources in the comments.

Sláinte,

Jean

 

 

The Ice Cream Truck Isn't Coming Anymore

Okay, well, now that I look at that title, it seems a bit sad. But hang with me here a moment…

September marks a time of transition in most households. The weather grows cooler, prime vacation season ends, children return to school, the days get shorter, and some people start new jobs.

And the ice cream truck doesn’t come anymore.

Certainly many parents are happy to no longer hear that jingle blaring from the truck cruising a little too creepily through the neighborhood. The kids…are maybe not as delighted. (Disclaimer: my children have yet to notice that the truck’s not been coming around) And why must the truck just happen to come at 5:50 p.m. every evening during dinner?

Heedless of the bargain half-gallon of ice cream in the freezer, my children grab their allowance money and rush out the front door to buy overpriced, artificially-colored treats every time the truck comes around our corner. Every darn time. If the AC is on and windows are closed, my husband and I share "the look" when we see the truck and they don't....

Perhaps it’s the thrill of being able to pick what they want from the massive menu or to get to spend their own money. There is this magical novelty about standing on the curb waiting for the truck to pass. There’s something about summer and ice cream trucks. A rite of passage for our youth, maybe? A trigger of fond childhood memories as well?

Alas, as the truck disappears until next year, summer also slips away from us before we know it. No more lazy pool or lake days. No more excursions to the beach, mountain, or beyond. No more lax schedule.

This week marks some big changes in our family, too. After three wonderful years at my current work position (education director for a church), I resigned to write full-time. Like many changes, it has come with both sadness and excitement. I’ll always cherish my time working with the youngest members of our congregation, watching them grow from doe-eyed elementary children to perceptive (and sassy) middle-schoolers. However, as my own children grow through their elementary years and our family life turns into a circus juggling act, I knew I needed to make some changes.

I took a leap of faith and now write from home full-time. I’m exhilarated to step out on this path. And terrified. I’ll admit that. Writing has been in my blood and a part of my life for nearly two decades but it’s taken the backseat to life and career demands. The decision to follow this passion full-time was not an easy one, but I know I won’t regret it. Change is part of life. Change is scary and amazing, filled with triumphs and stumbles. Change is like that ice cream truck. It comes for seasons.

Just as we’ll reminisce about those hot summer days, with ice cream dripping down our wrists as we devour a delicious cone, we’ll remember that each season of the year and each season in our life brings a new experience.

Some goodbyes are only temporary, as we know for sure that truck will be driving its route through my neighborhood next year. What lies ahead this fall? The palette of autumn with apple-picking, new routines, and scenic drives. And a new adventure for this author.

But I will always know, be it a scorching summer day or a blistering cold winter night, there is always room for ice cream.

Ice cream served in a lighthouse in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Ice cream served in a lighthouse in Nova Scotia, Canada.