Blog Hop 2014: My Writing Process

The lovely Cindy Hale tagged me last week to carry on this blog hop. This post was supposed to go up yesterday, but it was entirely too beautiful outside to be in writing a blog, so I’m a day late. :)

About Cindy:

Cindy Ray Hale is a Young Adult author and a book blogger. She lives in a little slice of wooded heaven near Atlanta, Georgia. She spends way too much time following up-and-coming musicians on YouTube and dreams of joining their ranks one day. She’s a bit of a health food nut and can’t live without her daily green smoothies. She tries to stay sane as she juggles writing with four kids, staying active on social media, and keeping up her book blog. In addition to writing and self-publishing two Young Adult Contemporary novels, she has also written articles for “New Era” magazine and The American Preppers Network.  

Connect with Cindy

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Website | Goodreads

Okay, here we go….

What am I working on?

IncubusfullI talked a few weeks ago about my need to take some time off to recharge and rediscover my passion for writing. So I’ve not been working on much, honestly. I’m slowly, slowly getting back into the Incubus world. (You guys, Episode Three may be my favorite. It takes place mostly at the charity gala, so it’s like writing the drama-filled prom episode of a TV show. Too bad it’s not on a boat.)

I have a formatting job this week, and an editing job coming in very soon that will take much of my time, but I expect to be totally consumed by this story again soon. Maybe it’s the hiatus I took, maybe it’s the gorgeous weather. (I wore flip flops yesterday!!!) I dunno, but it’s coming back, that love for writing, the itch to type until my fingers hurt and my brain is fuzzy with the words its spilled. I’ll keep you updated, but for those of you waiting for the rest of Incubus, just know it’s coming.

In the back of my mind, a new story has been brewing. It’s been there for months, but in the past two weeks, it’s really started to take shape. It occupies me while I’m at the gym, driving around, making dinner. Pretty much any time I’m not totally consumed by something else, these characters are speaking to me. I expect it’ll build to a point that I can’t help but write it soon. I won’t tell you much, but you fans of 99 Days of Laney MacGuire only need one word:

Rory.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is much easier to answer for Incubus. Serials are for sure making a comeback, but they are still a very new format for a lot of readers. Some love them, some hate them. Some have no idea what they even are. But they are different.

99 Days of Laney MacGuire is definitely not the only book to do this, but I think what makes it different is that it is fun and heavy at the same time. There are some serious issues in this book – abuse, rape, suicide, depression – but, while they are very important aspects of the book, I tried really hard to not let them weigh it down too much. Even with those issues, I wrote the book to be, at its core, a semi light-hearted summer romance. I read so many YA books about these issues where it seems like the issue is all there is and the book is so dark and heavy…there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not what I wanted for Laney. I wanted my characters to be able to address their issues in a serious manner, but still be able to have fun and act like a bunch of kids right out of high school. I think (I hope!) I was able to strike that balance in a realistic way.

Why do I write what I do?

Okay. I’m not trying to sound too flippant or glib about this, but:

Because I want to.

It really comes down to that. I don’t study the market; I’m not out to change lives. I love to write, and I want to tell stories. I write the ones that speak to me – the stories I want to read. I write primarily YA because I think it’s such a fun, exciting time of life. The voice is punchy and fast, and all the firsts that teens experience are really fun to write about.

Plus, you get to be young forever if you’re forever writing young, yes?

How does my writing process work?

99DOLMThis differs from book to book.  I have done everything from no plotting at all to such extreme plotting that my outline might as well have been the first draft. My typical process falls somewhere in between.

Usually, I start with a basic idea. It may come from a title, a character, a situation – the ideas come from everywhere. After I have my idea, I let it brew in the back of my mind until I have a better picture of where the story is taking me. Sometimes I jot a few notes down, but usually I just let it simmer in my mind at this point. (I figure if I can’t remember an idea long enough to get a basic working plot, then it’s probably not worth writing.) Once I get to this point, I do one of two things:

  1. If I’m too busy working on something else to work on the new idea, I jot down everything I know about the story so far – character names, basic synopsis, setting, whatever I have. I email that to myself and file it into my “plot bunnies” folder for future use.
  2. I start plotting.

I’ve tried several different methods of plotting, but my favorite by far is the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet from his book Save the Cat. The book is written for those writing screenplays, but the beat sheet translates so well to novels. For reals, reading this book has saved me so much time muddling around my books trying to get the pacing right. I wrote the first draft of 99 Days of Laney MacGuire before I knew of Save the Cat and the beat sheet, and, well…it needed help. Big time.  When I decided to rewrite it for publication, I took the story I tried to tell in that first draft and broke it out into the beat sheet. And you know what? Just doing that – aside from fixing the pacing issue I was working on – gave my book SO MUCH more depth.

After I have the novel broken out on the beat sheet, I set to work writing. I don’t usually have daily goals, but I do find that I do better if I bust out a bunch of words really quickly. I tend to be a binge writer like that. If I write just a little each day, I never fully get into the groove, so the book will get done, but it takes forever and seems really disjointed at the end. If I let myself become consumed by it and bust out thousands of words a day (my record is 16.5k in one day to finish out the rewrite of 99 Days of Laney MacGuirethen the pacing and plot is much better and way more cohesive. Sure, the actual writing is messier, but a strong copy edit is much easier and less time consuming than fixing major plotting and pacing issues.

I try to let my work sit for a while before going back over it, but I’ll be honest, I rarely have the patience for that. I go back to the beginning and start tweaking things pretty much right away. I clean up basic stuff while my fantastic critique partner is reading the book. She always gives suggestions that make my writing about 100 times better. Seriously, if you love my books, it’s likely because of Ashley.

SO. This is how I do my primary project, but I almost always have a fun side-project that I can run off to whenever I get frustrated or burned out on the book I’m working on. This side project is never outlined; I write it totally by the seat of my pants, just to see where it takes me. I would say that these side projects are always just for me, never to be published, but since this is how 99 Days of Laney MacGuire started out…*shrug*

Okay, that’s all from me. Thanks for stopping by and checking out my (slightly rambling) writing process. Be sure to visit these lovely authors next week to see their writing process:

JC Emery

JCEmeryAs a child, JC was fascinated by things that went bump in the night.  As they say, some things never change.  Now, as an adult, she divides her time between the sexy law men, mythical creatures, bad-ass bikers, and kick-ass heroines that live inside her head and her Netflix addiction.  JC is a San Francisco Bay Area native, but has also called both Texas and Louisiana home.  These days she rocks her flip flops year-round in Northern California and can’t imagine a climate more beautiful.  Her dream is to own her own Harley and she feels compelled to tell you that she is team Peeta all the way.

JC is the author of the Men With Badges Line, the Birthright Series, and the Bayonet Scars Series.

Nazarea Andrews

nazareaNazarea Andrews is an avid reader and tends to write the stories she wants to read. She loves chocolate and coffee almost as much as she loves books, but not quite as much as she loves her kids. She lives in south Georgia with her husband, daughters, and overgrown dog

You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Nazarea Andrews is agented, and all inquiries about rights should be directed to Michelle Johsnon of Inklings Literary.

COVER REVEAL!

My lovely friend ST Bende is revealing the new covers for The Elsker Saga today, and they are fantastic! You guys. These books. You can’t even wait for the rerelease, I promise. Ull.

Just, Ull. ;)

TUR-Ebook-04-04-14TUR
The Elsker Saga #0.5 
by ST Bende

Inga Andersson is the envy of every girl in Asgard. On the surface she has it all — great friends, a job as Odin’s personal fight choreographer, and a happy ever after with her realm’s hottest assassin. But when evil invades Asgard, her perfect world comes crashing down. Someone is planning to kill off the gods, and Inga’s best friend Ull is first on their list. With the Norse apocalypse a nanosecond away, Inga has to decide how she’ll spend her final moments of freedom. Because from the moment this battle begins, Inga’s happily ever after will be nothing more than a memory.

Some things are worth fighting for.

 

ELSKER-Ebook-03-31-14ELSKER
The Elsker Saga #1
by ST Bende

You don’t win the heart of an immortal assassin without making a few enemies along the way.

Kristia Tostenson prefers Earl Grey to Grey Goose and book clubs to nightclubs, but when she transfers from her one-stoplight town to Cardiff University in Wales she falls in love with Ull Myhr.  Her new boyfriend isn’t exactly what she was expecting.  He’s an honest to goodness Norse God – an immortal assassin fated to die at Ragnarok, the battle destined to destroy Asgard and Earth.  Kristia’s crazy visions are the only thing that can save their realms.  Her orderly life just got very messy.

 

IMG_4348_4Before finding domestic bliss in suburbia, ST Bende lived in Manhattan Beach (became overly fond of Peet’s Coffee) and Europe… where she became overly fond of the musical Cats. Her love of Scandinavian culture and a very patient Norwegian teacher inspired the ELSKER series. She hopes her characters make you smile and that one day pastries will be considered a health food.

You can follow ST Bende on Twitter @stbende, or send an e-mail to stbende@gmail.com.

Links:

http://stbende.blogspot.com/
https://www.facebook.com/pages/ST-Bende/102116099988944
https://twitter.com/stbende
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6868809.S_T_Bende

In which I am brutally honest

I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time, but have yet to write it because 1) I didn’t want to really take the time, 2) it’s not easy to talk about, really, and 3) well…I guess there’s only two reasons.

But then I read Elana Johnson’s post from last week, and while it’s not the same thing I am talking about, it struck a cord with me. So I figured it was time to lay it all out there and be really honest about my self-publishing journey. The truth?

99 Days of Laney MacGuire has barely sold any copies.

Incubus has sold even fewer.

Despite having one of the best PR teams out there backing me, despite having super super positive reviews, despite having dozens of people telling me how excited they are to buy and read it, despite people who know the industry and market really well saying it’ll sell…it’s not selling.

And you know what? That’s okay.

When I set out to (re)write 99 Days of Laney MacGuire, I knew I would self-publish it. Querying agents with that project was never something I thought about doing, despite the fact that it may have actually done better in a traditional publishing model. While it would be nice (really nice) to make some money with it, I am super thrilled every time I hear of someone reading and enjoying my book. That makes it worth it.

Incubus, I’d originally intended, years ago, to query. But I’ve also wanted to do a serial – have wanted to for a long, long time – and Incubus seemed like the perfect book for that format. Maybe, like Laney, in would do better as a traditionally published novel rather than a self-pubbed serial, but it doesn’t matter. This is what feel right, so it’s what is best for this book, easy as that.

So what’s the point of this post if I’m not lamenting the fact that my books aren’t selling?

It’s about the expectation.

 With few exceptions, to be successful in self-publishing, you need to keep producing and publishing work regularly. There is a build to your career, and the more titles you have out, the better that build. And if you get those titles out quickly, then you build faster. Many indie authors put out several full novels – plus novellas and short stories – each year. It’s not uncommon for an indie to have a new title every 3-4 months. 

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s just not what works for me. (Not for novels, at least. I can do episodes of a serial every month, but novels take much.) I can write fast, but I like to take my time. I’ve been told, multiple times by authors I adore and admire, that I need to worry less about perfecting my book and just tell a good, catching story. That if I do that then readers will come and my sales will climb.

I started to believe them. In their defense, they are right: readers often don’t care if your book is polished and beautiful. Often, they want characters they can connect with and a story they can’t put down. Many readers will forgive pretty much anything else as long as you give them those things. And an author can certainly release books closer together if she’s not taking weeks scrutinizing every chapter, scene, paragraph, and sentence to make them all as beautiful as possible.

Anyway, they told me this, and I bought into it. I made a plan of attack, a release schedule with a ridiculous number of titles on it. Doable – I could write all of them and get them out on schedule…but I would not have the time to really shine them up the way I like to. The way that possibly only matters to me.

And you know what? I was miserable. Part of it, I’m sure, is that I have seasonal affective disorder, so winters are always really hard for me (see Lydia Sharp’s fantastic post about this), but I took a couple weeks to really analyze where these feelings were coming from. I love writing and sharing my books. So why was writing making me so unhappy? Why did I just not enjoy it anymore?

After some serious contemplation, I realized the problem wasn’t with the writing, but with the expectations I put on myself. (Note: that I put on myself. Other authors, despite anything they may have told me, did not cause this problem, and I would never, ever blame them. It works for them.) I became so focused on finding success, on getting my name out there, and on selling more books that I forgot something:

More books and more sales may define success for some, but that’s not how I define success.

To me, success is in producing the best books I can. In telling the stories that are kicking around at the back of my mind. Giving life to the characters I create and writing their lives. That’s what I love about it, and that is what I was leaving behind in my quest to find “success.”

(I would be lying if I said it wouldn’t be nice to get paid well for my stories. It would. But I let the planning and promoting and business side of writing become the goal, and that’s not what I want.)

A couple years ago, a friend of mine was on submission. She’d quit her job a while back to write full-time, and her husband was wonderfully supportive of it. Her book was fantastic - one of my favorite books I’ve ever read. But it wasn’t sticking with agents. There were a lot of almosts, but in the end, it just wasn’t right for any of the agents she queried. She was taking the rejection quite well, but it starts to get to you, yanno? And then her amazing husbands asked her, “Why did you quit your job?”

She replied, “To write a book.”

“Exactly,” he said. “You wrote a book. You didn’t stop working to become a published author. You stopped to write a book, and you did that.”

Obviously, I’m making the dialogue up, because I wasn’t actually there, and she told me the story a long, long time ago, but that’s essentially how it went.

It’s easy to get caught up in the race to publish, to find an agent, to make money, whatever it may be. Authors for whom that’s always been the drive and motivation – great! There’s nothing wrong with that. But for me, it was always about the act of writing a story down and sharing it with people – even if only a handful ever read them. Somehow, I forgot that.

So, point of this long, rambling post:

I’ve not written anything in two weeks. Not a word. (except blog posts, Facebook, Twitter, and my journal, natch. But nothing on any books.) That’s why Incubus, Episode Three isn’t out yet, for the few of you who may be waiting for it. Instead, I’ve spent the last two weeks binge reading. Remembering what it is I love about books. Finding that passion for writing again.

Incubus is still in progress, and you will be seeing episode three soon. I am still working on Forever Last Night, and I have something fun for you fans of 99 Days of Laney MacGuire that should be out later this year. But I’m stepping back and letting myself just love the writing again. The rapid publishing model works well for a lot of authors, but I need to write for myself and remember what about it makes me happy – the writing, not the publishing. I publish because it’s the natural next step for me – sharing my words with others, no matter how many or how few that may be.

That’s where I’m at now. And it’s a good place to be.

(I feel the need to make this totally clear one more time: there is nothing wrong with authors writing and publishing quickly, nor is there anything wrong with working the market to maximize readership and profits. It’s just not for ME. It was a problem that I got caught up in that, not that anyone else does it.)

What’s Up Wednesday

whatsupwednesdayWhat’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme for writers and readers, meant to give us a quick way to touch base with bloggy friends and let them know what’s up.

It’s hosted by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk.

 

 

 

What I’m reading:

After binge-reading a couple books last week, I’ve slowed down a bit. I’ve got Partials by Dan Wells in hardback (signed copy), still working on Dragonfly by Leigh Talbert Moore on the kindle (which I probably would’ve binge-read in one day, but I typically only read on the kindle when I’m going to bed), and Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill on audio. Still. The gym was audiobook time, but now that Geek Husband goes with me, audiobook listening has gone way down.

What I’m writing:

Nothing.

I have projects in the works and projects lined up, but I am taking a few days off from writing. For my sanity.

What inspires me right now:

Sunshine. We are still getting snow frequently, but it’s warming up enough to melt it off fast, and on the in-between days, it’s beautiful (if you ignore the still-dead and barren winter look). And I’m loving it.

What else I’ve been doing:

House hunting, natch. There is bound to be something that we like in this city! We have some promising prospects, so fingers are crossed!

Also, business planning and scheming and general dreaming. ;)

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is:

Top Ten Books On My Spring TBR List

(in no particular order)
  1. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.

  2. It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more; though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was; lovely and amazing and deeply flawed; can she begin to discover her own path.

  3. Josephine Hemlock has spent the last 10 years hiding from the Curse that killed her mother. But when a mysterious man arrives at her ivy-covered, magic-fortified home, it’s clear her mother’s killer has finally come to destroy the rest of the Hemlock bloodline. Before Jo can even think about fighting back, she must figure out who she’s fighting in the first place. The more truth Jo uncovers, the deeper she falls into witchcraft darker than she ever imagined. Trapped and running out of time, she begins to wonder if the very Curse that killed her mother is the only way to save everyone she loves.

  4. Natalya knows a secret.
    A magical Faberge egg glows within the walls of Russia’s Winter Palace.
    It holds a power rooted in the land and stolen from the mystics.
    A power that promises a life of love for her and Alexei Romanov.
    Power, that, in the right hands, can save her way of life.
    But it’s not in the right hands.

    An epic romance with glittering magical elements, TSARINA is swirling with beautiful prose, stark Russian contrasts, and lavish visuals perfect for fans of Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty.
  5. The last person seventeen-year-old Eleanor Livingston wants to see on the elevator—let alone get stuck with—is her ex-boyfriend Travis, the guy she’s been avoiding for five months.

    Plagued with the belief that when she speaks the truth, bad things happen, Elly hasn’t told Trav anything. Not why she broke up with him and cut off all contact. Not what happened the day her father returned from his deployment to Afghanistan. And certainly not that she misses him and still thinks about him everyday.

    But with nowhere to hide and Travis so close it hurts, Elly’s worried she won’t be able to contain her secrets for long. She’s terrified of finally revealing the truth, because she can’t bear to watch a tragedy befall the boy she still loves.

  6. The first year of college is supposed to be about parties, parties, and getting the hell out of Texas. Instead, Milcah Daniels is spending her eighteenth year in and out of Houston’s hospitals. Her hair is falling out, they’ve cut off her boobs, and if she makes it to nineteen, she’ll consider it a personal miracle.

    Breast cancer really has a way of messing with a girl’s social calendar.

    When Milcah’s temporarily discharged from the hospital, she’s determined to get a tattoo for every medical procedure she’s had. Her quest leads her to Skin Stories, a new tattoo parlor a block from her apartment. And to it’s infuriatingly sexy artist, Callum Scott.

    Callum is everything Milcah wants, and everything she shouldn’t have now. A new relationship when the official prognosis is one to five years is a terrible idea. But Callum doesn’t know about the breast cancer, and Milcah’s not running to tell him.

    But when the doctor says things are actually looking positive, her entire life turns upside down. How is she supposed to start living again when she’s finally learned to accept her death?

  7. Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?

    Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan’s life. Having missed her flight, she’s stuck at JFK airport and late to her father’s second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon-to-be stepmother Hadley’s never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport’s cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he’s British, and he’s sitting in her row.

    A long night on the plane passes in the blink of an eye, and Hadley and Oliver lose track of each other in the airport chaos upon arrival. Can fate intervene to bring them together once more?

    Quirks of timing play out in this romantic and cinematic novel about family connections, second chances, and first loves. Set over a twenty-four-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver’s story will make you believe that true love finds you when you’re least expecting it.

  8. Lucy and Owen meet somewhere between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City apartment building, on an elevator rendered useless by a citywide blackout. After they’re rescued, they spend a single night together, wandering the darkened streets and marveling at the rare appearance of stars above Manhattan. But once the power is restored, so is reality. Lucy soon moves to Edinburgh with her parents, while Owen heads out west with his father.

    Lucy and Owen’s relationship plays out across the globe as they stay in touch through postcards, occasional e-mails, and — finally — a reunion in the city where they first met.

    A carefully charted map of a long-distance relationship, Jennifer E. Smith’s new novel shows that the center of the world isn’t necessarily a place. It can be a person, too.

  9. After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own. Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence. This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord’s gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.

  10. He was lost and alone. Then he found her.
    And the future seemed more fragile than ever.

    As a child, Landon Lucas Maxfield believed his life was perfect and looked forward to a future filled with promise — until tragedy tore his family apart and made him doubt everything he ever believed.

    All he wanted was to leave the past behind. When he met Jacqueline Wallace, his desire to be everything she needed came so easy…

    As easy as it could be for a man who learned that the soul is breakable and that everything you hoped for could be ripped away in a heartbeat.

Forever Last Night

I’ve not talked about Forever Last Night much, but if you bought a signed copy of 99 Days of Laney MacGuire from me, you probably got a little postcard teaser about it, saying to was coming out…well, already.

That was the plan. Before Geek Husband got a new job and we had to pack and move to another town and try to find a new house (which we still haven’t done). It was the plan when I had a husband who would be running a farm over winter – who would have plenty of time to stay home with Boy Sprout while I wrote. (I’m not a fan of winter in general – boo to cold! – but I learned to love it when we were farming, because it was the time when my husband wasn’t working around the clock, so I could get way more writing done and actually see him occasionally.)

Now we’ve been back in Montana for two and a half months, and I am just barely getting settled into a good schedule for our new life. Finally figuring out how to work writing back in around everything else. And so I’ve been thinking a lot about Forever Last Night. So, I thought, why not a fun teaser for y’all?

Enjoy.

“How do you put up with it?” I asked.

He shrugged, an attempt at casual, but his eyes squinted slightly, and his mouth formed a hard line. “You get used to it.”

“You don’t look very used to it,” I said.

Asher turned the TV off and put the remote back on the table. “You’re right,” he said, slouching back against the couch. “It blows. Every single time. But it’s just something that happens, and I have to deal with it.”

“Do you ever…” I trailed off and played with the hem of my dress. Asher nudged me with a shoulder and gestured for me to continue. “…wish that, maybe…”

“That I wasn’t famous?” he finished for me with no emotion behind his words. I nodded. Asher sat beside me silently. Had I pissed him off with my question? It wasn’t like I knew him, no matter how many articles and interviews I’d read, and I had no right to ask him that. Just as I was opening my mouth to apologize, he said, “All the damn time.”

“Seriously?”

He pulled a hand through his hair again. “Yeah. I mean”—he paused to pull his legs up under him on the couch, and turned to face me, cross-legged—“I’m grateful, really, but all this shit on the TV? I hate it. I hate when people follow me around with their cameras, and I hate when women press themselves against me in airports—”

“Oh, come on. You don’t really hate that last one,” I teased.

The corners of his mouth ticked upward, but he said, “No, I do. It gets old really fast.”

“There must be something you like about it.”

Now he smiled fully. “There is. I still love the music. There’s nothing quite like running my fingers over my guitar and creating something. Hearing Colin sing my lyrics is a high every time. It’s an amazing rush. It’s just the rest of the shit I hate.”

Asher’s face lit up as he talked about his music, and he seemed to be a completely different man from the one who’d complained about the tabloid reports. His eyes sparkled, and laugh lines formed around them with his deepening smile. His love for the music was infectious—my skin buzzed with it.

His energy was like a magnet, pulling me toward him. I felt myself leaning forward, eyes closing. A small voice in the back of my mind told me what a bad idea this was, but I shut it out.

And kissed Asher James.

I don’t have a new release date for this one yet, but I’ll keep you all in the loop!

Friday Five

1. We have SUNSHINE. And warmth. (At least warmer than the bitter cold we’ve had.) I am not naive enough to think Spring has really sprung here in Montana, but it’s glorious.

2. Remember how I gushed about my Alphasmart? (Come on, y’all. It was only yesterday. You remember.) Well, after writing that, I realized I really should nab up one of the remaining Neo 2 models before it’s too late. So I did. I can’t even wait for it to get here – though, it’s coming from the UK, so it’ll probably take a while. Oh well.

3. Some things have been going on in my writing world. Changes – some good, some bad. Some both good and bad – bittersweet. I’m being cryptic. I know. I’ll write a full post in a bit, once things have settled down some, and let y’all know what’s up. Until then, know that Incubus, Episode Three is still on its way. I’m plugging along, and you guys can read it soon.

4. That shiny new project I was talking about Wednesday is still burning at the back of my mind. Burning, I tell ya. It’s trying to demand all my time. Attention whore.

5. In four months, I get to go back to Seeley Lake, one of my favorite places ever. It’s where I set 99 Days of Laney MacGuire because it is magical. I love it there, and I can’t wait to get back. True story: when we were younger, my sister Brittney and I used to pack for this trip months in advance. Months. And we’d pack all our favorite clothes (because who doesn’t need their best clothes to run around in the sand and dirt and get grass stains and jump in the lake?) so we’d spend all the time between when we packed and when we finally got to go scrounging through the clothes we didn’t like enough to wear the rest of the year. We would also overpack horribly, so we’d get there, spend the full week just wearing what was comfortable, and take back half a suitcase each of clean, unworn clothing.

Now, I’m lucky if I get backed by midnight of the night before I leave. And I only bring the bare essentials, because who has the energy to haul a bunch of crap they won’t use? But the lake is still just as amazing as it was when I was a kid.

I can’t even wait.

Things That Help Me Write

Writing is writing, no matter how or where you do it. No matter if you use Microsoft Word, or if you prefer to scrawl your words out into a notebook long-hand, or if you tap them into your phone while you wait to pick your kids up from school. There is no program or tool that will make you a better writer, but there are things that can help you – have helped me – hone your craft.

My favorite writing tools:

My Alphasmart

This little buddy is the best thing that has ever happened to my writing. I got one when I was writing the very first draft of 99 Days of Laney MacGuire, back in the summer of 2010 when I was still calling the book So97. It is nothing but a keyboard and word processor, no bells and whistles, no frills. But it’ll run something like 700 hours on a couple AA batteries. In fact, unless I’m just forgetting (which is totally possible), I haven’t had to change the batteries in the almost four years I’ve had it. And, since it’s not backlit, it’s great to use outside in bright sunlight, and it doesn’t make me carsick to write on this the way a laptop does.

Pretty much, I am in love with Alphasmart and think it’s a great investment for anyone who does a lot of writing and would like a distraction-free environment. No getting sucked into the interwebs on this baby!

They’ve actually stopped making the version that I like – the other has a rechargeable battery that doesn’t last nearly as long and way more software that I just don’t meet – so I need to snatch one up before they’re gone. Yanno, just in case something happens to my current one. I want a back-up.

These were really popular in schools for a long time as a tool to teach typing, but many schools are phasing them out now, so it’s easy to pick up a used Alphasmart on ebay for cheap. Just make sure the one you buy has a cord to connect to your computer.

Rainymood.com

Sometimes I listen to music while I write. Songs that remind me of my characters or plot. Songs that remind me of certain times of my own life to help me remember my experiences and draw emotion from them. Songs that I just like and can jam to while I write.

Sometimes I write in silence, with nothing to keep me company but the sound of my fingers on the keyboards and the voices in the back of my mind waiting for their story to be told.

Sometimes I write with Dawson’s Creek playing in the background.

(Don’t judge me!)

Sometimes I write with the sounds of Boy Sprout playing next to me. These times usually don’t result in many words.

But when I need to focus - really focus –  and I’m having a hard time doing so, I turn to rainymood.com. I stick my earbuds in, shutting out the world, and let the sounds of rain and thunder fill my head. There is nothing that can get me focused faster. It’s relaxing and fantastic, and I work so much faster when I use it.

*

There are a ton of other things I’ve use that have helped me with my writing, but these are the two I value the most. There’s no magic pill to make you a faster/better/more amazing writer, but I do think the right tools can help. Because the only way to get better is to keep practicing, and these things have helped me in my practice. They may help you as well. Maybe something else works better for you. That’s what is so great about writing – it is not a one-size-fits-all art. Everyone is different, and everyone will like different tools and methods. This is what works for me.

What works for you?

What’s Up Wednesday

whatsupwednesdayWhat’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme for writers and readers, meant to give us a quick way to touch base with bloggy friends and let them know what’s up.
It’s hosted by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk.

 

 

 

What I’m reading:

In paperback, I’ve got This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith. It is exactly what I love in a contemporary YA romance. It makes me swoon and cringe and laugh and want to move to the coast so, so, SO bad. Even if that coast is in Maine.

On my kindle, I’m reading Dragonfly by Leigh Talbert Moore. I always love Leigh’s books, so I knew I would enjoy this one. I actually was trying to wait till the end of the series to read this, so I wouldn’t get through it and the sequel and then have to wait for more. But I suppose if I were to do that successfully, I probably shouldn’t have bought it when it came out so it could sit on my kindle mocking me every time I looked for something new to read. It’s fantastic.

And, finally, in audio, I’m listening to Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. It’s creepy and weird, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

What I’m writing:

I’m getting Incubus, Episode Three ready to give y’all. I’m very excited about this episode.

Also: Shiny. New. Project. Top secret. Only one person besides me knows anything about it, and she knows next to nothing. It’s been a long time since I’ve worked on something that was just my own, that nobody else was anticipating. It’s a rush, and I wonder how long I can hold it in before spilling the secret.

What inspires me right now:

Words.

A while back, I got so busy writing my own books and editing clients’ books and formatting books and being so immersed in the world of books for work that I had nearly lost the ability to just read for fun. To get lost in a book and a new world, let the words and their story wrap around me like a warm blanket. Reading has always been my escape and my relaxation, but I’d gotten so incredibly busy that I felt guilty any time I read a book just for pleasure, because there was always something else lurking in the background that I should be doing. That is the one downside to working for myself – work starts to seep into everything until it’s always on my mind. I had a hard time reading a book just for fun instead of looking at it with an editor’s eye.

So about the time I moved, I cut my work load way back. I make less money now, but I also can just enjoy the magic of words again.

And they are magical.

What else I’ve been doing:

Well, we finally closed on our house last week. Huzzah! And we used part of the money to completely pay off student loans. Double huzzah! It’s pretty much the highlight of the month. :)

Are modesty teachings destroying actual modesty?

This is something that has been on my mind for years, and as I am starting to see the first modesty posts of Spring (so jealous of those who are already getting Spring weather!), I’ve decided it is time for me to share my thoughts on this. (Warning: this is long. And sometimes ranty.)

First, my story about modesty:

I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was 18 years old. (And much of my talk about modesty teaching centers around teachings in that church, though I know other churches and institutions have many of the same teachings and tactics.) Before I joined the church, I never thought about my clothing, really, beyond does this fit well, does this look nice, and is this appropriate to the occasion?

I wore what was comfortable, what helped me feel confident. This means I wore a lot of tank tops. Shorts that ended mid-thigh, sometimes higher. I’ve never been a fan of super short shorts; I have disproportionately long legs, so I think I look awkward if my shorts are too short.  My swimsuits were always two-piece, some bikini but mostly tankini for the same reason – that’s what fit and made me comfortable. Finding a one piece swimsuit that fits both my upper and lower body and isn’t too long for my short torso? Frustrating, at best.

Then I joined the church and got lesson after lesson after lesson after lesson detailing exactly what it means to be modest. Except these lessons focused on exactly how much of your body your clothes covered rather than what modesty really is. I learned that my mid-thigh skirts – the ones I wore to my Presbyterian church to play in the hand bell choir, the ones I felt completely comfortable in, the ones I didn’t obsess over - were suddenly inappropriate and a “stumbling block to others’ salvation.” Tank tops were no longer okay, because somehow shoulders are scandalous. (And I’ve heard the argument about keeping shoulders covered because garments cover shoulders. I think holding non-endowed members to that standard is ridiculous – why should we dress in a way to cover the reminder of covenants we’ve yet to make? But that’s a topic for another post.)

So, here I went from never thinking about how much skin my clothing covered, from living modestly through my thoughts and actions, to suddenly being hyper aware of my clothing. Which, really, is pretty much the opposite of modesty. I became intensely uncomfortable in many church social situations, and I wore clothing that didn’t fit well, didn’t flatter my form, and was uncomfortable…all because it was deemed “modest” so I no longer had church leaders admonishing me to dress more modestly. (Well, they almost stopped that. More below.)

And my modesty from others’ view:

Full disclosure: I am top-heavy. I have narrow hips and very long legs. I used to have an athletic body, with a flat stomach and toned arms. (As I regain my health and exercise more, that is coming back, which has started to illicit the type of comments I used to get.) And I wear a size 34H bra. Yes, that’s an H. Yes, that size exists – I just have to order it from England, because apparently only really large women in America are allowed large breasts. I have never been a fan of my chest – it gets in the way of athletics (in high school drill team, we once wore uniforms that were open back, allowing strapless bras only, so I had to tape my chest down for support), hurts my back, and makes clothes buying difficult. But it wasn’t until I had to sit through the modesty lessons at church and listen to other church members’ comments about my body and my modesty (because apparently that’s anyone’s business but my own?) that I learned to be ashamed of the body I was given. It was something I struggled with for many years, and something that I still have to consciously remind myself is not right. It is my body, and it does amazing things, and it is nothing to be ashamed of, regardless of how others treat it.

Anyway. Outside of the church, I’ve gotten these comments:

There goes my ride!

~Some random dude walking through the mall in Wilmington, NC, directed toward me and my best friend Amy. We were wearing t-shirts – her’s Jem and the Holograms, mine with a picture of James Dean – and mid-thigh swishy skirts.

Big boobies.

~Some random dude walking down the street in Waikiki. It was about ten at night and I was walking alone back to my room. Wearing shorts and a tank top over my tankini.

That’s it.

From other members of the church, however, I’ve gotten:

“Well, what were you wearing?”

~My bishop, after I told him I’d been sexually assaulted by a co-worker. (Not that it matters in the least, but I was wearing a knee-length skirt and a fitted t-shirt. And I never went to that ward again.)

“If I’d never watched porn before being baptized it probably wouldn’t matter, but Chad and I were talking the other day, and we decided you have what we call a porno-perfect body. You know, skinny but with curves. Hot. I dunno. It’s just hard.”

~Some guy I was getting to know. I went to his house after a volleyball game. He was, I think, trying to compliment me, while simultaneously trying to tell me that I was a distraction to the men playing volleyball. Because, you know, my baggy, knee-length men’s gym shorts and oversized t-shirt just screamed sexy.

“Could you please put a shirt over your bathing suit? We need to make sure the young men don’t see too much.”

~A middle-aged woman who was chaperoning our trip to the waterside park. My swimsuit was a Speedo one-piece racerback style – the first one-piece I’d found that actually fit – and I was the only girl on the trip asked to cover up more.

“I’m sorry, but you just have to understand that things that are modest for others just won’t be modest on your body.”

~The man standing next to the women who said the last thing, when I asked what, exactly, was wrong with my very utilitarian swimsuit.

“You should probably leave to do that. The young men might see.”

~A middle-aged woman in my ward, as I was nursing my infant son, modestly – he didn’t have a cover over his head because I don’t like to eat under a blanket and neither did he, but I was covered. To which I replied, “See what? That boobs were made for something other than sex? Let them look.”

I have more. OH MAN do I have more. But these illustrate my point. Random people will make lewd comments. That’s just what happens sometimes. And you know what? Those things aren’t nearly as damaging to a young woman’s self-esteem as well-meaning church members criticizing her clothing choices and telling her that her body – which she has very little control over – is a stumbling block in someone else’s eternal progression.

Immodest, or comfortable and activity-appropriate?  source.

Immodest, or comfortable and activity-appropriate?
source.

So. Moving on.

What does it actually mean to be modest?

I am actually going to pull this definition directly from LDS.org, the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, because it is the modesty teaching of that church that I have a personal problem with. It states:

Modesty is an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves. Instead, we seek to “glorify God in [our] body, and in [our] spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:20; see also 1 Corinthians 6:19).

(YAY for this definition. Of course, it then devolves into micromanaging of hemlines, but I am thrilled with this definition.)

Modesty is about so much more than clothing. When we make our lessons about the length of skirts, shorts, and sleeves, we are distracting from what modesty really is. It is our actions and our thoughts. It is the way we carry ourselves and the way we present ourselves to the Lord. Modesty is a mindset, and that mindset can be displayed in part by the clothing we wear, but the clothing does not make the mindset.

How modesty is being taught:

Young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you.

~Dallin H Oaks

Yup. That’s right. We are teaching our young women that they are, literally, pornographic if they don’t wear the right kinds of clothes. Let’s look real quick at the definition of pornography:

1:  the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement

2:  material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement

3:  the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction
(From Merriam Webster dictionary online)
What is the common thread in all three parts of this definition? Besides sex. INTENDED TO (or “as so to” in the last one, which, let’s face it, means the same thing). By telling girls they are “walking pornography,” we are forcing an intention upon them that they likely do not have. Do some people dress with the attention of evoking sexual or erotic behavior? Sure. But for the most part, that is not happening. Saying things like this places blame for others’ actions squarely on the shoulders of the woman.
Something is not pornography unless its intent is to titillate and arouse. Saying, “Your body arouses me,” to a woman in no way means it was that woman’s intent to arouse you. Women are not walking pornography. No.
(and lest you think this was a one-time statement, I’ve heard it repeated ad nauseam in church meetings and classes)

We tell our young women that they need to cover up so they won’t be stumbling blocks in young men’s path to exaltation. That if a young man has an “impure” thought about a young woman, that is somehow the girl’s fault. Because, you know, girls are totally in charge of boys’ thoughts.

We tell our four-year old primary girls that wearing dresses without sleeves is immodest. Just no.  Primary kids are also taught to sign “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” A room full of itty bitties singing this together. So cute, right? Less so when they are taught to sing it to remember, “Head – if you touch your head, does your shirt lift and show any skin? Shoulders – are your shoulders covered? Knees – skirts and shorts go to the knees. Toes – if you bend over and touch your toes, does your back show or can anyone see down your shirt?” Now this very well may be practical advice (say if you know you are going to be doing a lot of activity and you really don’t want any of those things showing). But we’re teaching it to little children, who should be able to have fun and enjoy themselves and learn how amazing their bodies are without obsessing over how much is covered.

We teach our young men and women that modest is hottest. How are people not seeing that this teaching is the exact opposite of modesty? I get that they are trying to make it “hip” to be modest, to let the young women know that they don’t have to dress like grannies to be modest and that young men will still think they’re cute…but hottest. As in: focus on how attractive you are. As in, NOT MODEST. We are teaching them to dress a certain way for the approval and benefit of others, rather for themselves and God. You know, in the same way that the evil world is teaching them to dress like tiny hookers in order to lure men – for the benefit and approval of someone else. (Please, please note the intense sarcasm in the first half of that last sentence. I do not think the clothing industry is evil, nor do I think they are trying to get us to dress like prostitutes.)

In short, we are teaching that modesty is ALL ABOUT CLOTHING. And also that it is only an issue for the lady folk. Men don’t need any of this silly modesty business. (Except, of course, to tell women to be more modest to protect them from their own thoughts and desires.) Modesty is about so much more than clothes, people!

What I would like to see change:

In fact, I would be willing to argue that our clothes are the smallest piece in the modesty pie.

I would like to see our teaching of modesty shift away from what we are wearing. Young Women’s lesson shouldn’t focus on how long skirts and sleeves have to be. And they certainly shouldn’t be about the young men. The great thing about YW is that it is a place for the girls to be together and learn gospel principles and doctrine. Without the young men. So why do we have to bring the boys into this discussion and make it about them? There is a place for young men and modesty, for sure, but that place is not in teaching young women that they have to be modest for the young men. Let’s talk about respecting ourselves and respecting God. And let’s talk about modesty in thought and deed, not just in how we dress.

I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.

~Joseph Smith, after being asked how he could govern so many people so well, as overheard and reported by John Taylor.

Let’s teach the correct principles. Use scriptures to teach about being modest in word and deed, about leading a humble life. Teach about respecting our bodies and our Heavenly Father. But stop measuring skirts. Just stop.

Stop teaching the young women that the young men’s virtue is in their hands.

A thought about men’s thoughts:

We are taught to be pure in thought, and that is a great thing to aspire to. We are children of God, and I believe he wants us to be pure in thought.

But. We are also human, and I believe Heavenly Father understands the reality of what that means. (How could he not?) We have sexual thoughts. It happens. For a young man to see an attractive young woman and get aroused? That is totally normal. Yet we are teaching our young men that it is something to be ashamed of, something he should never be thinking. We are teaching our young women that they have to prevent young men from having sexual thoughts – an impossible task.

This goes the other way, too. If I’m at the beach and an attractive man walks by in his board shorts…guess what? I get aroused. It’s okay, ladies. I know we’ve been trained to pretend we never have those thoughts and urges, but we do. I am turned-on by men, and there is NOTHING wrong with that. Just like there is nothing wrong with a man having a sexual thought. It becomes a problem, perhaps, when we dwell on these thoughts and urges. And definitely when we blame others for our urges.

We are sexual beings, and God intended it that way. He wouldn’t have given the command to multiply and replenish the earth if he intended us to be asexual creatures. The sexual urges we have? They are God-given urges. We need to be teaching our young man that it is okay to have these feelings and urges. They do not make us bad people. And they do not make us sinners. (Yes, I know Jesus said, “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  I do not believe – cannot believe – that he meant we have sinned just by having a sexual thought. But to dwell on those thoughts? To fantasize about the woman? Perhaps.)

If we teach our young men that it is normal and natural to have sexual urges, rather than focusing so heavily on the potential for sin that they are ashamed of their natural reactions, I believe they will grow into a much healthier attitude of sex, modesty, and the women they encounter.

(finally!) a conclusion:

The way we teach modesty in the church is broken. This hyper sensitivity over hemlines and sleeve lengths is detracting from the beauty of true modesty. It is damaging to young women and young men – their self-esteem and self-worth. Please, please, can we approach modesty as a true, beautiful way of living life, rather than just what is on our bodies?

I’ve worked hard to reverse the self-esteem and body-image issues I’ve encountered since joining the church and being taught such a myopic view of modesty. I’ve spent countless hours studying the correct principles behind modest living, and I’m coming to a place where I am comfortable with it again.

I hope others are able to do the same.