Wednesday, September 19, 2012

from whence writing ideas come

where do you get your ideas?

i'm not certain, but i believe that most published authors get asked this a lot more than any other question. [this assumption, of course, is based on what i've heard and read as i've relentlessly stalked the lives of my favorite authors, both online and in person.]

well, it's your lucky day because i'm here to tell you where we get our ideas and where you can get them too! they come from a section in target, near the seasonal items, always on the bottom shelf, in boxes labeled "really awesome story ideas".

not amused, huh? okay, seriously, i've heard authors answer this in a lot of ways.

some try to be funny, i think it was steven king who joked with fans that he gets his ideas at walmart. THAT IS JUST ONE MORE REASON NOT TO SHOP THERE, PEEPS.

i've heard authors answer arrogantly: i make them up, duh. my ideas come from my brain. which is totally not helpful.

but those authors are kind of also, annoyingly, right. you need to create ideas. but there's a process i learned to follow for getting those ideas, and it worked really well for the novel i'm working on right now and it starts with making a list.

raise your hand if you like making lists as much as i do. okay, now go grab a notebook or open up a new word doc and start making a list.

think about people who are interesting to you. not people you want to be like, or admire, but people that are in situations or do things that make you think big thoughts. when i did this, i listed people like: homeless bums. (why are they homeless? do they like it? are they ashamed?) people who live double lives (i love the idea of keeping a secret. are they doing it to protect someone? to avoid getting caught?) addicts (the idea of someone who feels so intensely that they must buffer the sensations of the world is so interesting to me).

now make a list of the last ten people who did something to hurt you. go ahead. savor those resentments. ha! no really, don't dwell on past wrongs, but just remember those people. thinking about people who hurt you opens up your heart to pain, but it also opens it up to ideas, i think. when i did this, i could only think of five people who have ever hurt me in my entire life. i don't know what this means. but moving on...

make a list of places that you consider spiritual homes. places you feel the most serene, the most calm, the most in tune with the universe. THERE'S A REASON BOTH MY BOOKS HAVE REFERENCES TO CITRUS GROVES.

now make a list of places that scare you. tall cliffs? dark forests? suffocating small towns? see how this works?

now make a list of themes or concepts that engage your mind. your list could be single words or paragraphs or more. one word or idea may spark more. make yourself continue listing for at least 15 minutes. i especially love the story and themes of THE PRODIGAL SON. on my list i have things like: self loathing, redemption, jealousy, betrayal, secrecy, revenge, vindication. these are the things juicy stories are made of.


if you're like me, or have the heart of a potential writer inside you, by this point characters or places or ideas have coalesced or combined or generated in your own mind the seed of a story idea.

once i have the seed of an idea, i move on to brainstorming, which sparks a future blog post idea. for another day, peeps, another day.

at least that's how it worked for me. i'd love to hear where your ideas come from.

Friday, September 14, 2012

breathe deep

[image source]

hello friends. it's been an interesting couple of weeks. and by interesting i mean it's been horrible and i would just love a redo. too much yelling and anger and unkindness coming from my mouth these last weeks. because, in case you don't already know this about me, i am easily overwhelmed. even something like seeing the peaches from my peach tree smashed on the sidewalk [because i was too sick to pick them and so they fell off and are now infested with earwigs] is enough to make me crumple to the ground and start weeping because this world is all just too much. i am not joking.

friends, you are amazing. i see the kind of things you are dealing with and i am in awe at your courage and strength.

i am floored. stopped frozen in my tracks. friends, this life can be brutal. we suffer with addictions and want to claw out of our own skin. staying sober feels impossible. our fathers abandon us. our mothers get sick and we become their caretakers when we are still babies ourselves. our loved ones are addicts who cannot or will not recover and we watch them kill themselves in slow motion. our mothers--the life of our parties--die too soon. our children get sick or struggle to make friends and are called disgusting because their skin is not the same color as everyone else's. our husbands go crazy, literally. our organs are so messed up that the team of doctors who will be operating on us want to put us in medical journals. and some of us have our innocence stolen from us and carry that unclean feeling with us for a lifetime.


in the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can't see.

i have spent some time these last couple weeks crumpling. i've been grieving life's adversities--mine and yours--as they come, because this is what it means to be me. i cannot swallow things down or shrug them away, much as i have tried. and whether the suffering is mine or yours, i feel it all the same. this is why i would make an excellent addict. i'd be the best freaking addict ever. and yet, when i am like this, i know i'm doing it right. i'm not using drugs or alcohol or reading or food or exercise or religion or work to buffer the pain. i've learned to just open up my heart let it come. because if i can keep my heart open, then the good stuff gets in too. the beautiful things, the blessings, the tender mercies.

and there are many. here is something i know: for every sorrow, every horror, every unjustice we live with in this life, god will make up the difference. he gives us the ability to handle the burdens, he blesses us a hundred fold in other ways and at other times to compensate. there will always be enough love and approval and grace for us in this life because of him. he pours out peace to our hearts, gives us friends to share our sorrows with, and when that is not enough, he gives us sunsets. rainbows.

sometimes even double rainbows. or triple rainbows. of course he does.

and god shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

friends, being a person who feels intensely means that i have the capacity to love ferociously. you are my people and i freaking love you. so, i thought i'd show that love to you using my love languages: quality time and receiving gifts [and please keep that in mind for me in the future]:

i have another playlist to share with you. this one i've taken great care to curate. most of the songs are peaceful and gentle because i think we need that right now. don't you? a few have a little more pep, but mostly, these are songs to sit with and be still.

breathe deep.

and then email me if you'd like me to share the actual mp3 files. otherwise, you can listen to this on spotify here. there are a few more songs on my spotify playlist than listed below, because i only own songs that i paid for. got it?

fall 2012 playlist: for my peeps who face life with courage and strength

1.Always | Digits
2. Ships On The Ocean Floor | The Autumn Film
3. The Stable Song | Gregory Alan Isakov
4. Breezeblocks | Alt-J
5. One Hundred Million Years | M. Ward
6. Catch | The Cure
7. Middle Of June | Noah Gundersen
8. Hear the Noise... | James Vincent McMorrow
9. Kingdom Come | The Autumn Film
10. Heart & Bones | The Pines
11. Lions in Cages | Wolf Gang
12. Mended | The Autumn Film
13. Hurts Like Heaven | Coldplay
14. Cold Feet | Lost Lander
15. Drown | Smashing Pumpkins
16. Beggar In The Morning | The Barr Brothers
17. Blood | Middle East
18. Something Good | Alt-J
19. Weather To Fly | Elbow
20. Animal Life | Shearwater

love you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

how to find a writing group

you guys! i'm really excited about this post. if the exclamation point doesn't convey that to you, then how about all caps? I'M REALLY EXCITED! most people, when they find out i'm writing, and they are thinking about it too, they will inevitably ask how i found my critique group. i often answer that question by saying "tell the universe you are writing and your critique group will just come to you." which leaves them staring, unblinking at me, and me just shrugging my shoulders thinking, well it totally worked for me.

today i have one of my partners, olivia, doing a much better job of explaining how it really works. there's some great advice here, friends!

and to answer your second question, no, you cannot join our writing group. we've found that the number 3 works pretty good for us, just the right number to be efficient, but still allow for more than one opinion. every group is different though. don't panic or feel needy. the universe has enough for you and that means there are enough critique partners for you. they will come along if you do EXACTLY what olivia says.


It started in January 2009. I was ashamed & hid it from everyone I knew. Even my husband. 

I didn’t confess to him for 4 months & I didn’t tell anyone else until well into the end of the year. By that point it had become so all consuming and obvious I just had to admit it out loud.

I had started WRITING…

And that, my friends, is first step to finding support in your shared addiction of writing, or in other words HOW TO FIND AN EXCELLENT WRITING GROUP. 

Because nothing beats the coming together of other like-minded, obsessed, crazy people like yourself. Let alone the leaps and bounds your writing will take for the better.

So, step #1, friends?

To be able to find a writing group you MUST tell people you are writing. You may have NO friends that are writing. I didn’t. But when I finally told them I was writing it led to a friend who knew a friend who was looking for a writing group. Which lead her to introduce me to some of the most kindred spirits I’ve ever known, Rachel & Meagan.

All because I grew a pair and said it out loud.

This is not always easy. My first step was taking a “continuing education” class through a local University. (This is what finally prompted me to tell my husband I had been writing. I couldn’t exactly explain away my missing for 3 hours every Wednesday night). But if a small group like that is intimidating there is also a plethora of writing conferences you could check out. Those usually have a large group of people, great advice, and time to chat & network if you want. And, you’d be surprised, but just writing at Barnes and Noble A LOT of people will come up & ask us if we are writing or what we are writing. Most writing groups I know meet at Barnes & Noble.

I’m not saying go & eavesdrop on neighboring tables, but go ahead & eavesdrop on neighboring tables. Just not ours. 

Like love, a great writing group has to have chemistry. This isn’t something you can really know until you try a group out & see if you have that “je ne sais quoi”. I have tried two other writing groups besides my magical combination of Rachel, Meagan & I. The other ones verged on miserable. But don’t give up.

Because, like love, you might get the perfect match on the first try, but most of us have to search around a little bit before you find your soul mate.

Notice I didn’t say people who are “like” you. Or people who are writing the same thing as you. But people who are “like-minded”. My writing group is half therapy session/half writing. Because we have some similar experiences we can vent about what’s hard/craptastic/lame in life, get it out of our system and out of our brains. That, my friends, makes space for the onslaught of creativity, tinged with insanity that is writing. We are also in similar places writing-wise. Well, not so much me, but I am content with riding the coattails of my more brilliant counterparts for a bit.

And, what I believe is the most important step to finding a writing group is to….

Write your little heart out. Whether you have a support system of writers yet or not. Just keep on plugging the words out. The group & the help will come eventually, but to be ready for them you must have your words down. Your heart all in. Because the biggest thing about writing is that it can be all consuming, all encompassing, all engrossing. You have to throw your chips all in. Go for broke. 

And when you find people who are ready to go for broke along with you, then you will have found that soul mate of a writing group. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

how bob ross gives me the faith to keep writing

“Art glows with faith even in its weakest parts. At every moment, writing is an act of self-confidence – the sheerest, most determined, most stubborn self-belief. You CAN have faith and doubt at the same time; the most insecure writer on the planet has faith that shines just as bright as her doubt, and she deserves props for that. It might be hidden deep, she might not feel it and you might not see it, but it’s in there, or she wouldn’t be able to write.”   - Kristin Cashore


friends let me tell you a little secret.

it takes a lot of courage to say i want to be a writer.

it takes even more courage to say i want to be a writer more than i want to spend time with friends, or organize that drawer, or visit a neighbor, or volunteer at the kids' school, or contribute to my family's finances. when i write, there is a list of a 1,000 other things i could be doing with those hours. i look at that list in my mind's eye every day when i sit down to write. and i have to take fresh courage every day.

do you think when bob ross set up camp in front of his canvas he said, "what will so and so think of me, wasting this time on such an unworthy pursuit?"

no. he said, "i believe we're all creators and that the joy of creation is reason enough to make something. creating brings joy to your heart. come, paint with me for an hour and see what i'm talking about."

or at least that's what i think he said. something like that.

so when i start to doubt myself, and wonder if i'm wasting the days of my life on an empty pursuit, i remember what he said.

believe that you can do it. this is your world. make happy mistakes. you can do anything. you're full of power. you're the creator.

Monday, September 3, 2012

we have a winner

the drawing for my marked-up ARC of RAVEN BOYS is complete. congratulations to Lili who says that maggie stiefvater is one of her favorite authors of all time. yay! me too. enjoy your book, lili and look for an email from me. i'll stick your book in the mail as soon as i have your address.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

milking almonds + super smoothie recipes

"you can milk anything with nipples." -greg focker

i milk my almonds. and by that i mean i make my own almond milk, and this is why:

1. at least one of my kids has a dairy allergy.

2. the boxes of soy/rice/almond etc. are full of things i don't want my kids drinking, just like milk!

3. it's cheaper, about 1/4 the price, than buying the commercially-made almond milk if i buy my nuts in bulk at costco or through green smoothie girl.

the secrets of making really good almond milk:

1. soak 1 cup almonds for at least 24 hours in a bowl covered in water. less time than this and you'll have watery milk. gross. i want it white and rich and creamy. i think you do too.

2. add drained, soaked almonds and 3 cups water to a blender.

3. blend for at least a minute.

4. strain with a fine mesh sieve. you don't need any fancy nut milk bags or cheese cloth. trust me on this, or you will be sorry and cleaning up a big mess.

5. i set the bowl i soaked the almonds in on top of the strainer to press out the liquid. i let it sit while i do another job in the kitchen and then come back to it about 5 minutes later. i only have to press a few times. i've saved the solids sometimes, adding thyme and salt and using it as a topper on a sliced tomato and cucumber. i've also heard you can dehydrate them and grind them into almond meal. that would save a lot of money if you use a lot of almond meal. i have never done this because time is precious and i'll die one day and i'd rather just buy the almond meal. but you could, or i could if i needed to be more frugal. anyway...

6. don't add any sweeteners. it's delicious without it.

7. drink it within two days. it's like manna; it doesn't last.

and now, i want to share two excellent smoothie recipes, both featuring delicious almond milk as the base. around these parts, we have green smoothies most days. we usually stick to water+frozen festival fruit blend+banana+spinach+kale.

but lately i've been branching out, to great success! here are two smoothies that will fill your bellies with loads of superfood nutrition and an added boost of energy that kicks in around afternoon when most people are nodding off on the job.

super power chocolate berry smoothie
serves 1

1 1/2 cups almond milk
4 cups spinach

blend well, then add:

1 to 2 tablespoons raw cacao*
1/4 banana
1 cup frozen blueberries
1/4 teaspoon astralagus powder**
1 teaspoon vanilla

blend again and drink up! my kids call this the "poop smoothie" but they always slurp every last drop. if you're sensitive to physical sensations and medication like i am, you'll notice a buzzing, caffeine-like high that starts just after lunch and continues until bedtime, without any horrible side effects that you'd get with caffeine. i make this when i didn't get enough sleep the night before or when i have a overwhelmingly busy afternoon and it makes me feel like superwoman.

* you could sub cocoa powder. i like my chocolate bitter. use less if you don't.
** used as an energy tonic in chinese medicine for thousands of years. also a great immune system booster

champion cherry limeade smoothie
serves 1

1 cup almond milk
1 1/2 cups frozen cherries
juice and zest of one lime
1/2 teaspoon maca root powder*
1 teaspoon raw honey, optional

*maca root can improve sexual endurance, physical stamina, adaptability to stressful situations and an increase in both the number and activity of spermatazoids (sperm). so you may or may not want to give this to your husbands. i always make enough for the family, pour their servings out, then add the maca to only my smoothie.