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Like A Boss: Writing Exercises for your Work in Progress

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This was one of the first “appropriate” pictures that came up when I searched for Mistress. I think it’s perfect. She even has a book and writing materials!

I may only be Mistress of Fine Arts, but I am boss (my favorite trendy adjective, by the way) at using writing exercises to maximizing their use on my current work in progress. In almost every workshop or writing group I’ve attended in the past four or five years, my novel Dollhouse Daughter has always been at the forefront of my mind to finish and get it into the hands of my future readers. It’s been a long road and like all masterpieces is still incomplete.

As accomplished as I felt after completing my degree, my novel was in urgent need of structural renovations, character makeovers, and an addition of approximately 100 pages…at least! Add to that a start date of January and a deadline of July, and you have a recipe for confusion, disaster, stress, complete meltdown.

My sweet, beloved minions must be asking, “Mistress, how can you pull that off when you’ve expressed many times how slow your muse works, how you are notoriously slow to get new content written, and how much you procrastinate?”

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Yes, this is what writing exercise looks like!

My answer…drum roll please…WRITING EXERCISES. Now you’re thinking, “Okay, but those are just to help with the fundamentals and they aren’t even fun.”

Except my minions, they are! Character charts filled out like dating profiles, timelines for plots handwritten on notecards and taped to the wall, writing prompts specifically geared toward the book’s subject. When a book requires this much attention to detail or revising, the key is organization and focus.

Take for example my new outline for the revised plot. I have three separate pages of lined paper, draw so that on the left column you have the major points in the plot: obstacles, midpoint, denouement. And on the right side some keep points or summaries of the chapter’s contents.

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This diagram is both easy to outline with and also not too simplified.

The reason I have three? Well, my book has a main character (Cassie), with a subplot and important point of view from her mother (Marge), and a secondary mother-like character (Azalee). In the current version, let’s call it my MFA version, it had a lot of Cassie (as expected) and she was present in all 15 chapters. Marge was present in about 13 chapters. Azalee was only present in only 6 chapters. Thus I had to equalize the distribution of mother and mother-like character in order for the book to be balanced.

So, now that I was organized, I needed to focus. And here’s where my writing exercises came in handy. I needed new content, and a lot of it was for Azalee because she is a catalyst for the change Cassie had been waiting for.

I’m starting by using my monthly prompts (which you can read about here) in reference to write new content about Azalee, and thus add more content to my book. I feel like it’s an kind of art to take seemingly unrelated exercises, like prompts which pose a different story and genre in each one, and write a chapter or scene somehow related to one piece. This month, I chose a prompt about love spells and how someone would ever come to the decision to use magic to make someone love them. And who better to write this scene with than my vodou priestess!

So, I’m going to share my three tips for using writing exercises to benefit your current work in progress.

  1. Most stories beyond their theme or genre are about people, so choosing a character based prompt that focuses on why a character is making decisions or how they’re feeling are best. They are easiest to apply to many story ideas. You could use the love spell one, most obviously, for fantasy, but if you interpret spell differently you can use it as a scientific breakthrough or natural phenomenon in science fiction, or an emotional state for realistic fiction like romances or westerns or mysteries (to clarify: someone’s emotions are so strong, to call it a love spell would be a figurative description of the emotions). The most important part about that prompt is the intention or emotion you’re focusing on about the person willing to use a love “spell” on someone else is quite a character to write.
  2. There are hundreds of prompts out there that you can tailor to what you’re looking for. If you have a character who will soon have a flashback to childhood, but you’re having trouble envisioning that character. A prompt like this would help you find out what details to include with the flashback by creating the child’s setting: Imagine your character’s childhood room. What color are the walls, what kind of toys do they have, what posters hanging on the wall.
  3. Lastly, don’t be afraid to write something completely off topic. Say your work in progress is located in a warm climate. Don’t be afraid to choose a prompt relating to snow or ice because it puts your characters in a completely different environment or situation and can reveal something truly remarkable or unknown for you to use in your actual piece.

Whatever the reason, don’t be afraid to use simple, seemingly unrelated writing exercises to help you and your characters get to know each other. Because getting to know your characters in any situation, no matter how ridiculous, is the most efficient way you can tell your story. Look out for the prompt submission I’ll be posting on 2/22 using my vodou priestess Azalee and how she handles a love spell. If you want to read more about the prompt I used or want to try one of your own. Check out my monthly prompts chosen here.

Happy reading and writing!

 

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Bringing Characters to Life: Your Book As a Movie

Every writer has done it at one point or another. Even without meaning to, we all imagine what it would be like to see our story, our characters, our heart on the big screen. It typically happens after the book is out in the world, published and gathered a following, but for me the daydream came after I shared my completed work with a very trusted friend. With at least 30 books being made into movies just in 2014, it’s not uncommon to consider a book potentially being made into a movie after its completion. IF you climb your way onto the NY Times list or achieve fangirl/fanboy status with a large enough demographic (the two things aren’t mutually exclusive) because both will ultimately lead your book(s) down the path to Hollywood greatness.

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While visiting family for Christmas, some inquired thoughtfully about what plans I had with the manuscript now that I’m nearing the completion of my Master’s degree. Besides asking about the title, subject, etc. of the book, they  were anticipating on my novel being so popular that it could be the next Hunger Games. I’d like to point out here that this is not my goal. The Hunger Games are phenomenal movies, and based off of stellar YA books, but my plans or writing is never in attempt to be the next “whoever”. Sure, Dollhouse Daughter is YA and  it has elements of fantasy much like the book to movie versions making waves in the box office.  However, that wasn’t my original intentional. I wrote Cassie’s story (and Marge’s) because they deserved a chance to be heard.

And yet, the thought of seeing my story on the big screen is thrilling. My characters, my funny bits of dialogue spoken by actors trying to capture the same essence I wrote into the book. It would be an accomplishment beyond my furthest expectations.

Now that the book is nearly finished (pending revisions/epilogue) I want to share my inspirations and casting choices if the powers that be would decide my book should be made into a movie. Please note, some characters will have both inspirational photos and popular actors shown while others have inspirational  photos only. In addition, the choices are almost exclusively made in regards to physical descriptions. So, without further delay, I give you:

 

Left is actress from Newfaces.com and right is Elle Fanning

Left is actress from Newfaces.com and right is Elle Fanning

Cassandra Brooks-13 years old

Inspiration-This was the first picture I found that reminded me of what my brain had conjured for Cassie. It’s nowhere near exact, but the white blonde hair, bright, clear eyes, and a simple beauty of budding pubescence.  The actress was found on New Faces, where most of the “inspirational photos” listed in this post have come from, and provided a foundation for what was cooking in my brain.

Hollywood-Elle Fanning is my choice for Cassie. She has a sweet demeanor and an innocence that fits perfectly for the personality of Cassie. And as fate would have it, I’ve found a photo of her wearing a summer romper similar to the one I imagined Marge dressing Cassie in Chapter 5.

 

From New Faces or Google

From New Faces or Google

Mita Lachman-13 years old

Inspiration- I found this girl, I think on New Faces also, but I’m not sure. She was actually the exact image of who I expected Cassie’s bff to be even down to the red bindi on her brow. I haven’t found a Hollywood comparison, but we’ve got some time considering the book hasn’t even been published. Maybe I should be thinking Bollywood instead of Hollywood for the actress choice. I didn’t want to make her stereotypical for someone of Indian descent, but I absolutely adore the Bollywood and more traditional Persian fashion that it was impossible not to include a character as straightforward as Mita.

 

 

Left is inspiration from New Faces and Right is Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction

Left is inspiration from New Faces and Right is Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction

Marge (Bristler) Brooks-45 years old

Inspiration-This one was difficult. Finding the right look for Marge was a careful blend of strong, feminine features and crazy eyes. The actress found fit most of the description I wanted: strong, angular cheeks with eyes that command attention and wavy light hair that could have easily been teased and out of control when she was younger.

Hollywood-This choice was even more difficult, but my good friend mentioned at the beginning of the post came to my rescue. During our discussion of premium A-list actresses to take on the demands of a narcissistic, obsessive compulsive  mother whose defining moment in her personality was finally beating her mother (both physically and emotionally) into submission. Glenn Close is perfect for the role. After villainous characters such as Cruella De Vil or Claire from The Stepford Wives, Glenn Close is uniquely qualified to play my deranged Marge.

 

henry

Inspiration from New Faces and Jason Bateman on the right

Henry Brooks- 43 years old

Inspiration-This actor from New Faces captures the roughness I was hoping to express with Henry. His history of working in the coal mines hardened him in a way. He even kept the disheveled look even after he was promoted to a project manager position (cozy office job) almost as a physical manifestation of the difficult marriage with Marge. And yet there are times where he is allowed to show emotion when it comes to Cassie and his father. I think the combination of these physical descriptions and emotional experiences will make Henry a pleasing character for the audience.

Hollywood- Jason Bateman.  Good looking, talented, and capable of the hardened, stoic persona that Henry gives off while also managing to be heartfelt and utterly adorable when needed. Other than that, there’s not much else I could ask for. Just put Jason Bateman in some flannel and work boots and give him a slight Pennsylvanian accent and he’s perfect.

 

nathan

Inspiration from New Faces and Matt Kane on the right

Nathan Brooks-21 years old

Inspiration-Like most of the inspirational photos, I found this fellow at New Faces, and for the life of me never wrote down the names. Yet, he captures the gorgeous perfection I wanted for the Brooks golden boy. His hair naturally brown, but dyes it black after meeting girlfriend Miranda who requires a specific “look” for her boyfriends.

Hollywood-From Switched at Birth and Once Upon a Time, Matt Kane is a prime model of male physique to play Nathan. He, in all honesty, doesn’t require much in the way of acting prowess. He’s just a regular 20-something who’s trying to get along with his family while also trying to separate himself and grow up.

 

Now that we’ve covered the main characters before the Brooks move to Georgia (spoilers, I know), I wanted to show case some of the more prominent characters in the rest of the story.

Starting first with my antagonists, Jessica and Clarence O’Donnell. Enter two perfect specimens of Southern grooming, accentuated by lots of money and encouragement from society to be the best out of everyone. And then add one, uncomfortable, slightly introverted, neglected young girl (Cassie) to the mix and you have instant teenage drama.

Bella Thorne for Jessica O'Donnell

Bella Thorne for Jessica O’Donnell

Jessica O’ Donnell- 16 years old

Jessica didn’t have an inspiration to begin with, so I ended up finding her Hollywood match from the start. Bella Thorne is perfect…literally.  Cassie refers to Jessica as a Barbie in her internal dialogue, which can only accentuate Jessica’s perfection. This picture to the left is as close as I could get to what I thought she’d look like. My only change would be to lighten Bella’s hair to a fair, strawberry blonde.  And the eyes. Both Clarence and Jessica have the same shade of blue eyes, so we’d have to affix both Thorne and Brodie-Sangster with different colored pupils. No biggie in the way of movie magic.

 

Clarence O’Donnell- 13 years old

Left is Inspiration from the Googles and Right is Thomas Brodie-Sangster (specifically in his role for Doctor Who)

Left is Inspiration from the Googles and Right is Thomas Brodie-Sangster (specifically in his role for Doctor Who)

Now onto Clarence, who by the picture (above right) was an adorable young boy in my mind, and perfect for my leading lady to fall for, right? Who doesn’t expect a YA book to movie to have a teen heartthrob that the main character struggles with at first and then  grows to love within the confines of the film. And that’s what makes Clarence so clever. Teen heartthrob is a must, and so when it came to choosing the Hollywood actor for my book to movie version, I wanted someone heartthrobby enough to capture the hearts of young movie-goers, but able to crush their hearts with his arrogance (acting). Thomas is perfect for it. His work in Doctor Who as a bratty school boy is an ideal foundation for Clarence.

 

Next is a much more positive character– Jean Abellard. 27 years old. Caretaker. Haitian. Friend. Lover. He’s the kind, Southern man that keeps Cassie grounded and allows her to be herself while at home with people who don’t really know her. My inspiration skipped straight to the actor I’d love to play Jean sans hair in this picture–K.C. Collins from my favorite show, Lost Girl.  He’s a phenomenal Canadian actor who would capture the grace and casual handsomeness that I had hoped for Jean.

jean

 

 

And last, but certainly not least, my favorite character–Azalee Longchamp-26 years old. The short (least spoiler-ridden) description is that Azalee is the shining light in the dreariness of Cassie’s existence. Take the compassion of a mother who lost a child too soon, add a little mystery, a little vodou magic and faith, sprinkle in a bit of spiritual intervention, a dash of calculated recklessness and what do you have. A gorgeous, confident vodou priestess in the market for a young girl to teach the ways of the world and keep her on her toes.

left is inspiration, middle is Kat Graham, and right is hairspiration for Azalee

left is inspiration, middle is Kat Graham, and right is hairspiration for Azalee

We’ll start first with the inspiration. In the prologue I describe the below outfit in what hopefully is an aptly written description that isn’t too specific or too vague (that’s really the dream isn’t it?). And so I direct your attention to the full-figured photo above left for the outfit that first inspired my vodou priestess. Next to that image, in the center, is my Hollywood choice–Kat Graham. She’s currently most notable for playing the witch Bonnie Bennett is The Vampire Diaries, which makes her uniquely equipped to handle supernaturally-based roles. She’s the perfect skin tone, age, temperament. Well, she’s everything. The photo to the right is the hairspiration for Azalee’s beautiful locks. While I’d like to say she would keep Graham’s dark locks, the box braids on the right in that warm caramel shade is exactly what I pictured for Azalee. Granted, there were also little beads and many many more braids, but that is neither here nor there when your imagination can fill in the blanks.

Alas, there was one other actress who could have played Azalee. Angela Bassett would have been brilliant for the role, but I wanted to shy from the current portrayal of Marie Laveau and New Orleans voodoo in American Horror story. It is my most treasured goal for Dollhouse Daughter to highlight the traditional vodou found in Haiti, which can be seen in the different spellings between the Haitian vodou and New Orleans voodoo in this very post. I want to celebrate the wonder and glory of the vodou faith and beliefs, which can get muddled in the theatrics of the New Orleans influence. I love them both, but Azalee and co. come from Haiti and represent a purer form of vodou that has captured my heart in the years I’ve researched and written this book.

In the end, the actors, the photos, the inspiration is simply another way to bring the story and characters to life. I, by no stretch of the imagination, assume that my book will be good enough to make it onto the big screen. But it is a dream. A dream that one day I hope you, my lovely minions, may support and help me achieve. For now, I hope you enjoy this post and look for some excerpts of the novel to come in the near future!

Lastly, I leave you with an adorable kitty selfie. Happy reading/writing!

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The Spotted Writer and her Spotted Inspiration- Nyla. Future book jacket photo? Maybe!

 

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Why I Lost NanoWroMo And Other Exciting News

Before I begin the analysis of my ill-fated attempt at NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I want to congratulate some of my lovely writer-ly friend who did win this year and showed me what Nano can offer every writer if given the right motivation. Both of my friends Denise and Rion are seasoned winners, and Rion has been an ML(Municipal Liason) for multiple regions in the U.S. These phenomenal ladies have many helpful tips and encouragement for any who wish to learn more about Nano or need help throughout the event. So, don’t forget to check out their blogs (linked above).

ATT_1418613029912_CYMERA_20141121_093517December 2014 marks the first failed attempt at NanoWriMo  for the Spotted Writer. While it is only a technical fail since I didn’t write 50,000 new words for the month of November, I knew beforehand that I couldn’t succeed. Well, wouldn’t is a more appropriate word. If I had scheduled and outlined I might have won, but I did none of those things. There was little time for me to prepare when I was finishing Dollhouse right before November began. That on top of the fact that I had never written more than 700 words in a day meant that I was destined to lose.  (For those who don’t know, a daily word count of 1,667 is needed to complete the 50,000).

Don’t worry my lovely minions, I was not discouraged and I’m not upset at the outcome. I knew going in that any amount of new words would be an improvement from my current standing (about 1,500) for the piece tentatively titled The Hawthorne Grove.  I managed a total of 350 words give or take a few, but my mind was still focused on my manuscript.  Which is why I’m hoping the below  tips will be of help for those who also didn’t manage a win at NanowriMo to improve for next year-including me.

#1- Any new words…any at all 1-50,000 is a true win. The simplified goal for National Novel Writing Month is to create an uninhibited habit of writing daily and consistently. That kind of discipline is astronomically helpful for a writer no matter what age or experience level. I still continue to struggle with putting down new words daily, so next year, the plan is to write every day no matter what. Maybe not 1,667, but new words every day is a great achievement.

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#2-Even if you’re not an outlin-er, a basic plot outline makes the goal of reaching 50,000 more manageable. Now in my case I did have an overall idea of  what The Hawthorne Grove could be about. Unfortunately, I hadn’t ironed out any specifics other than some character profiles. For some, that may be enough, but for me I needed more direction if I’m going to write at a faster pace. And thus I say unto you slow writers, plan. Plan for all of October and by the time November arrives, you will have everything in your arsenal ready to go. This is also where I fell short because I was still writing a majority of Dollhouse Daughter even into the first week of November, so I never made time to plan.

#3-Focus on the one idea. This is a good tip in general, and coming from someone who skips between different works frequently this is a challenge in itself. I became so distracted in November (even after I finished Dollhouse) with revisions and my beta reader comments that I never switched my brain to focus on the novel I was supposed to be writing. So, focus on the idea at hand and don’t let revisions clutter your mind and distract you. If necessary, make notes in a separate document or put [] in the place where you want to come back.

This is my advice. I found it all on my own. It’s little, and simple, but good. Yeah, still good. Now onto the phenomenal events that have happened in the last month.

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First and foremost, I finished my first novel. You can view the post  about finally finishing the piece here. It isn’t publishable yet, but Dollhouse Daughter has a completed first-ish draft. I hate say first draft because I’ve revised the overall story and the setting so many times. Ultimately, though, I finished it. Woot!

And then, my minions, I was asked to speak at a creative writing class at the school my boyfriend works at.  The request came as a complete and utter suprise because I assumed that my boyfriend had been whispering awesome compliments about me to his coworkers. In reality, I had a fan in my midst…a.ka. my boyfriend’s boss.  Imagine my further surprise as I had never met his boss and he had never actually read anything of mine.  He was fantastic in his support, especially when I discovered he was an avid reader and huge supporter of local writers.

10703751_10152855200426804_6683006687294229484_nI accepted without question at the opportunity to share what small nuggets of wisdom I can manage to articulate to other. Most of the wisdom I’ve learned from my mentors and guest speakers is currently bumbling around in my brain waiting to be absorbed and utilized at the right moment. So, what I really wanted to focus on was giving them an introduction into writing in the real world. Beyond the classroom assignments and what to expect if they want to pursue higher education (which even to this day and thousands of dollars in debt I still support).  Lucky for me, the class was made up of mostly seniors and some sophomores and underclassmen and the class was an elective, so the students were invested in what I had to say at least in some respect.

I started off the class with Mark Twain’s “what what you know” not in the sense that you must ONLY write what you know. Instead, I wanted to impress upon these writers how import it is not to put more into your story than you’re capable of accomplishing. I had learned first hand that no matter how much I wanted my novel to be in Revolutionary war England, it was going to take my characters and I decades (and a degree in history) to write it. It didn’t fit to try and make the story work in a setting and a time that I knew nothing about when I had all of the knowledge about modern day America already in my arsenal.

My initial fear is that I would sound pretentious and condescendingly repeat the same precepts that are drilled into every beginner’s brain. The students, however, were a blessing. Sure, every speaker would love to have more questions, but out of the eight or nine students there was at least a dozen questions, which was exciting. There is so much promise for these writers to be even if they were just taking the class for fun.

10660214_10152829833841804_7786051364276860172_nOne of the most difficult points to cover during the class was higher education (my Master’s degree included). For the parents of the millennial generation and later, college in general may seem like the obvious next step, but for the students it’s much bigger than that. In 2014, college is the equivalent to the mortgage on an incredibly expensive home without the guarantee of a return on investment (although to be honest depending on where and when the house may not be guaranteed either). And with a liberal arts degree or concentration…forget about it! With the average American having a potential of two to three career changes in their lifetime (source: some article that is probably now outdated by a few years) what room is there for thousands of dollars in debt for an education you may never fully utilize? These are a few of the fears/concerns that make it that much more difficult for students to choose what to do next, especially if their true passion is writing.

Yes, an understanding of the English language and communication is a vital skill set that students, and people in general should be more in tune with, but how does that translate to a well-paid career? With the right choices, it can pay off well. If you push yourself toward an unconventional or non-traditional career path, it could bring you a wealth of success and stability. I guess my main point (and I made this to the class) is being confident in your decision. I knew in high school that English/writing/reading/literature would be my life. I knew that nothing else would do, and I was willing to sacrifice everything I had been taught to achieve it. I was willing to forgo the more traditionally stable positions in the medical field (at the behest of my father) or education (at the request of my mother) in favor of my passion. To this day, I don’t regret that decision. What I regret most is not choosing wisely about which school to ascertain my degree from, allowing my debt to pile higher than Mt. Everest.

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But, I digress. My temporary class had little to no knowledge or advice on what to choose or even if they had a choice. I impressed upon the necessity to fully support their decision and if they had doubts not to make one hastily or at the behest of anyone! I agreed to the possibility of living paycheck to paycheck until I found my place in the work force. I was 100% ready to follow my passion wherever it lead. And I am so incredibly happy with where I’m headed.

I’m sure these students still have their reserves and questions about the craft and especially about how writing fits into their future, but I think…I think…I gave them something to chew on for a little while. They had the opportunity to read some of my novel that I continue to slave over for three+ years, and experience a public reading. It gave me a chance to see how it would be in front of a high school level class as well as a chance for those students to see possibilities for themselves if they are passionate about writing. And even deeper, it provided a continuous flow of information between writers regardless of age, experience, education or amount written. I saw in those students a glimmer of hope for something they enjoyed or the potential for it to grow. The experience has opened me to the phenomenal path ahead, and I cannot wait to share more milestones with you.

I’ll leave you all with some of the pictures from my vacation. I attended Blizzcon in Anaheim and experienced the glory of San Diego. If given the choice to live in a mansion in Pittsburgh, PA or homeless in San Diego, CA- I would choose San Diego in a heartbeat. It is quite the change from being on the east coast and I relish the thought of going back! Look for more updates and maybe even some excerpts from Dollhouse Daughter to come.

Happy reading and writing!

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Not So Trivial Pursuit of the Perfect Novel: Colloquialism and Place

Welcome minions! I’m finally adding another installment to this never-ending blog series. I find myself looking forward to these posts more and more because it gives me a chance to truly reflect on what kind of piece I’m developing and to share what I’ve learned along the way.

Onto the topic at hand—where is my story going? No, I’m not talking about the plot or the character’s movements from room to room. I’m talking about the where. The setting. The place. Whatever you call it, it’s the magic behind the scenes or a character all its own. In the dozens of writing workshops and seminars I’ve attended, place isn’t something you just throw in or use without proper consideration.

Not utilizing the full potential of place is as much of a writing crime as too many adverbs. This may not be a carved-in-stone rule of writing, but hell what rule is carved in stone? Mostly, I just want to express how underutilized place is in a ton of commercial writing. When I say commercial writing, I mean books that are made with the intention of being sold or published on the commercial market i.e. Amazon, Createspace, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Scribd etc. Whether it costs money to read your book or not, never ever forget about place. It represents the where in the all-important foundation of your story (simplified: who, what, when, where, why).

If you simply choose New York for your  alien story because it’s easy—think again! Place can ground readers in history like Anglo Saxon Britain or allow the reader an escape to a faraway galaxy uncharted by humanity. I, for one, have fallen prey to laziness in this department for a few of my unfinished pieces that I dare not share with the world yet. This is especially true for my earlier drafts of Dollhouse Daughter, which was initially set in London during the late 1700’s. Without knowing it, I set myself up for disaster.

I knew nothing about the 1700’s much less London in that period. It was after two pages that I made the switch to a modern London with a few chapters based in modern U.S. The change in period was a fantastic relief because it made my job as the writer so much easier, but I unknowingly still struggled with place. My manuscript, still untitled at that time, had grown to a whopping six chapters before my laziness caught up with me. Eventually, my Irish mentor suggested I write what I know because in the chapters I’d written there was little to nothing about British culture. At that moment, I realized the right place for my story wasn’t in London; it was a town called Warrenton, Georgia.

Step 1–to finding the true place for your story is research. A normal part of every story has at least some research. Outside of realm of “write what you know”, we wordsmiths crawl onto the world wide web searching for delectable bits of information. Now that I’ve found the right setting for Cassie’s story, I had to figure out what it meant to live in the deep South. Being a native Northerner, I had quite the task ahead of me, but research is only useful if you…well, if you use it. So, I studied youtube videos, pictures, and articles in hopes that I could catch the essence of Warrenton. But I couldn’t research too much. I had to put a limit on how much I perused because I’m not writing an essay of the culture of the deep South. I only need to learn enough to keep my story moving. And I hope others can appreciate place a little more after sharing the fundamentals I used in my own novel.

Step 2–Dialect is both the easiest and hardest part of showing place because it can be simple for someone to write a dialect they know, and so easy to create stereotypes or bog the story down with unintelligible dialogue.  Mark Twain is by far the best and most controversial example of how dialect can transform a simple novel ( The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) to a piece of timeless literature. He had a magic formula that made his writing seem realistic without distracting from the story. So my challenge was not only to include accurate, exciting Southern dialect to give the right characters flavor, but my Haitian Kreyòl had to be just as present if I wanted to truly represent the vodou of  Haiti. It was even more thrilling to know that my past French classes were put to good use since it was a major component in the construction of Kreyòl as a language.  Below are just some examples of my own use of dialect in Dollhouse Daughter:

Southern:

“Burn my biscuits, that woman’s nose is up so high in the clouds she could drown in a rainstorm,” Betty said.

“And just to ruffle my feathers, that foul woman had the au-da-city to tell me that Sandy should be having little Samantha baptized in a Lutheran church instead of St. John’s.”

Oh, honey,” Jessica said, flashing her too-bright teeth. “It’s all Coke in Georgia. They mustn’t teach common sense in them Northern schools.”

Haitian:

“No, pitit mwen, it will not hurt.”

“Papi, please hear me.Your LeeLee needs guidance.”

“Bonjou, pitit Brigitte,” he bellowed, his baritone voice thunderous even against the sound of the drums. “You have come to us humble vodouisants on a special evening. Tonight we celebrate the changing of the moon by meeting Mambo Azalee’s nouvo zanmi, Cassandra from the North.”

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Let me know what you think and especially if anything screams out as being inaccurate or unrealistic because I want to make it the best it possibly can be. The next installation of N.S.T.P.P.N. will be coming up shortly with an emphasis still heavily devoted to place. It should be posted within the next few days, so don’t forget to check back. And as always Happy Reading and Writing!

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The Blog Hop Stop: The Spotted Writer Station

Throughout the two and a half years I’ve been building this platform, I’ve received blog awards and surveys that help share who I am as a person and a blogger. It’s reminiscent of a right of passage for bloggers to post at least one of these introspective questionnaires. This survey of sorts is probably the most personal and technical I have had the pleasure to write.

And so I have been invited by my very dear friend Matt from WantonCreation to take part in a themed post about my writing process. Matt and I began our blogging journeys around the same time, and he has been such a phenomenal inspiration to me since we first found each other. His blog is much more versatile than mine including posts about music, interesting sites to check out, and his recent move to Sweden. Matt is both witty and humorous in his posts, so please be sure to check him out!

My lovely writing nook!

My lovely writing nook!

So, this particular blog hop stops at Spotted Writer Station for a look inside my writing process, which up until this post I hadn’t given nearly enough thought. I hope you, my ferocious minions, learn a little bit about me from these questions and the person I’ll be tagging at the end.

What am I working on?

The only answer I should have at this point is my novel Dollhouse Daughter. As most of my writer’s group knows, I have terrible issues with procrastination and focus (hence why I’m typing this post instead of revisions). Dollhouse Daughter is a coming of age story, but also a reaction of how families recycle mistakes across generations. Here is a working book blurb:

Cassie Brooks, a bookish 13-year-old girl from Pennsylvania, must move hundreds of miles from her childhood home when her grandfather falls ill and her parents are left to care for the Brooks Plantation in Warrenton, GA. Cassie has a choice—settle for her narcissistic mother, a passive family, and the unforgiving awkwardness of a new school or give in to the temptation of vodou after meeting a mysterious woman in the forest?

Insert Pudgy kitty picture!

Insert Pudgy kitty picture!

The blurb could use some fine-tuning, but I’m over halfway finished with the novel. It’s taken me two years to get to this point, but I feel confident in my characters and the way my story is told. I think people will enjoy my main protagonist Cassie with her love of Japanese anime and her snarky comments. I also think they will love to hate my antagonist Marge— not necessarily a true villain, but she’s mighty difficult to tolerate in the same room. Eventually, I hope that at least one person will enjoy the finished product and it will lead me to my Master’s degree.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I branch out into a few genres (sci-fi, fantasy, horror, mystery), but if we’re talking about Dollhouse Daughter the genre would definitely fall under YA fantasy. Yes, I know it’s a mega popular genre, especially within the past ten years, but when the characters speak to you—you better damn well listen. Anyways, I think I bring an honesty to the genre that otherwise could be forced or disingenuous. I think me being a 25-year-old lends to a closeness to the suffering in my teen years. I mean, I still haven’t fully processed everything I am and everything I can be. The terror and loneliness that Cassie feels when she’s with her family isn’t something I pulled out of the ether; it’s pulled straight from my heart onto the page. Not only that, but the fantasy element isn’t an escapism like it is typically defined in the genre. I wanted my fantasy to intensify the situations in my stories. Instead of running away from reality, my characters, especially Cassie, must face the harsh facts life has to offer.

Why do I write what I do?

I’ve loved fantasy and science fiction ever since I started reading. It’s really as simple as that. I write the same wonderful ideas that have nurtured me into an avid bibliophile since first grade. Dragons, ghosts, aliens, vampires, zombies—all of my favorites will find their way into my writing not on purpose, but because it has helped shaped me into the writer I am today. My love of fantasy began with Into the Land of the Unicorns by Bruce Coville, and from then on I knew I wanted to write about magic and space for the rest of my life. It allows me to show the truths of humanity without the limitations of what’s “real”. I can choose to make a story about zombies with my imagination and people will learn more about me in the process.

Iz rly comfy like dis!

Iz rly comfy like dis!

How does my writing process work?

That's right I said no kitty. Too much distracting cuteness

That’s right I said no kitty. Too much distracting cuteness

This is the tough question. My process goes against everything that most authors/mentors tell you to do. But hey, whatever works right? I don’t wait to revise until after I’ve finished the first draft. For me, there is no first draft. There’s only the work in progress and the finished manuscript. I keep working at each sentence until it feels right to me. So, it makes me a slower writer and it takes me much longer to finish a piece, but it’s so worth it.

By the time I finish a chapter, it has gone through at least three to four “drafts” and is nearly ready to share with my writer’s group. Sure, there are mistakes, and things that need to be touched up. However, I try to make it count the first time instead of waiting until I’m completely finished to go back and change it.

At the same time, the best place for me to write is actually at lunch during work. No internet, no kitty, no bed—NO DISTRACTIONS! I find myself getting the most work done when I physically have no other distractions or ways to procrastinate. I think the most rewarding part of my process is that the product is well worth the wait. I end up with a fantastic chapter after a few weeks or a month of work.

Who’s Next?

Her authorial name is K Orion Fray, but I know her best as Rion. She is one of the most imaginative, focused writers I’ve ever met. Let me break down how stellar she is:

Maxed out twice during 2013 NaNoWriMo with two novels in progress, one of which is currently being published on her website as a serial. Rion has successfully become an audiobook reader, cosplayer, moderator (not sure about the exact title) for NanoWriMo, blogger, published author, and many more. I could effectively write an entire post about how much I adore my dear friend because well, it’s easy to find great things to say about her. In the workshop where we first met, Rion astounded everyone (especially me) with the sheer amount of quality content she was able to write during our ten minute prompt. It was at least three full-sized pages if I recall. Nay my friends this was no exaggeration or fluke; she is the real deal full of wonder and geekery that blows my mind every time I talk with her. Plus she loves all the cool shows like Doctor Who and Supernatural. I wish her luck on her version of this post, it was a blast! Now you must check her out!

Happy reading and writing!

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Life Rage: This Writer Is Going H.A.M.

Disclaimer: This post contains a heated rant of one extremely repressed writer. If you do not wish to join me on my angry rant, please refer to this adorable video of a Bengal cat playing fetch.

Let me start with the fact that I am naturally an angry person, but a happy angry person. Although that may seem like an oxymoron, it honestly isn’t. You can find me in most situations as an encouraging, optimistic person, who is always will to please others before pleasing herself. But when something angers me, it’s sometimes best to step aside and let the tornado run its course from a safe distance.

My boyfriend is, at times, on the receiving end of my anger, not for something he has done wrong, but by being a spectator in my path of destruction. Sometimes my only healthy source of relieving stress is writing, which leads us to my life rage. From annoying pests to driving in the car, my rage runs deep and true. I welcome any comments: agreeing with the few I’ve listed here, listing some of your own, and even your points for disagreement. All are welcome.

Ants- I want to assure the animal-conscious readers that I don’t willingly loathe any living creature, but ants make it difficult to be humanitarian about the whole “invading my home and bringing diseases onto every surface” situation. Besides the fact that there are 1.5 million ants for each human, a queen can make a million a day. I’m personally not worried about extinction when the below species have made themselves basically invincible.

The bulldog ant will follow you from a meter away, and they’re responsible for deaths every year in Australia. Or how about the Safu or killer ant, who causes elephants to flee before them in addition to having jaws that stay locked into your skin even after the ant is torn off.

These two pale in comparison to the sheer terror I felt last week when I had dozens of big, black carpenter ants swarming my kitchen over night. The physical danger is minimal, I’ll admit. However, the emotional and psychological trauma of finding your home overrun with these invaders is beyond the 1-10 pain scale can categorize.

How did they get in? Why did they chose my home to ransack? And how do I get rid of them? These questions raced through my mind as I ran from one end of the kitchen to the other to catch these greedy, fast-moving pests. The chaos following bordered on apocalyptic proportions. As the lady of the house, I failed miserably inside my head. If I can’t protect my kitchen from these invaders, then how will I make our home, a home? It seems silly to think of a few ants as an invasion, but it angered me to my core. Luckily, the magic of Pintrest allowed me to take back my thunder, restoring my kitchen to its pest-free glory.

Being called Mandy-This one is a simple issue. My name is Amanda. Not Mandy Not Mandie. Amanda. Please don’t call me Mandy because that’s not my name. You can call me Manda, Manders, Manda Panda, Amanda-kiss-n-hug, Manda-lin, etc. It’s less about particularities of my personality, and more about common courtesy. Why do people insist on addressing me by a different version of my name without knowing me or my preferences? It’s like calling someone Bill before they have a chance to tell you they prefer their given William. Just ask if someone has a preferred name before you rudely assume you are best friends and can call people whatever you want.

People who don’t say goodbye on the phone-Another courtesy issue (oh, there are so many) that I’m bothered by at work. As a customer service rep, it is a daily struggle to find common, American etiquette in other people. Please, please, please say good-bye before you hang up the phone. It is the courteous way to let the person on the other line know the conversation is over. Just do it, so I don’t have to wait on the line like a douchebag for another 5+ seconds hoping you’re going to hang up on me. Ugh!

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Writer Rage:

Writers against editors-My only coherent response is—STOP BEING SO PRETENTIOUS! My non-coherent response is rjsdjftjjfdjft.  Translation: I feel an extra special disappointment for all writers who choose to snub an editor. It makes no logical sense to discredit a tried and true aspect of the writing/publishing process. To disregard the input of an editor both in a professional situation and in general conversation is to cheat your characters from reaching their full potential.

Regardless of whether the editor is a friend, stranger, or world-famous, his/her opinions matter. The occupation of editor strives on bringing out the best in the story no matter the cost. It’s not about personal preference or what HAS to be in the book. The editor doesn’t care about the writer’s feelings because it’s not their job to make sure you’re happy. The editor worries about the characters, the overall story and of course, the reader.

Sure, as a writer you should begin every piece writing it for yourself. Yet, if you so choose to publish then it becomes a less selfish act of sharing your personal thoughts and experiences with others. By handing your precious composition off to a trusted source (the editor), you allow your story to be scrutinized and elevated to a level of completeness you couldn’t have imagined. In addition, it helps lend credibility to your work when you don’t have glaring grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, or giant plot holes. Editors are a writer’s friend. They give you the unbiased, critical support your story needs when you get too close. Gah!

So, there is my current life rage. There are many more, which I chose to save for another post, and instead I will show off my newly painted cell phone case, which happens to be modeled after my rather snazzy new domain/brand-The Spotted Writer. I feel like I am on my way towards success with a little piece of merch to go with my blog. Check it out!

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Happy Reading/Writing!

 

 

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June 21, 2014 · 1:23 am

Not So Trivial Pursuit of the Perfect Novel: Finding Your Work Space

Fotor0524173818My week has been a whirlwind of emotions, far too numerous to describe without boring you all in the first sentence. It began like any other week, until I realized that my beloved Bengal is paws deep in liver problems. I will spare anyone the TMI details, but I’m one worried cat momma.
So, here I am, filling my days with tear-laden phone calls and binge-eating caramel popcorn, and there is no better time to write a blog post. One of the most difficult accomplishments of any unpublished and published writer is finding the right work space. At the local library, at Starbucks, in a locked office, or at your lunch break—any place is a good place to write.

What makes it the right place is what I hope to show you on my journey to the perfect novel. Before I reveal this newly-minted work space, I want to express how important the work space can be to your writing. Over the past two years, I have found that the best place to write is at work, where I have a limited amount of time on breaks and fewer distractions. And that is not a permanent fix for a career.

I needed a desk. I needed to completely devote a space to my writing and fast! There has been so much time wasted by my lack of direction, and my deadline is coming up fast. Officially, I have seven months until my final semester. Unofficially,I have one month if I plan to let Alpha readers and a copy writer to tear my novel apart.

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I REALLY needed a desk. And the writing gods did provide. When my brother moved out from the spring college semester, I inherited my grandfather’s oak desk.

While I’m sharing, I thought I’d make a handy guide to what can make or break a work space for anyone who might be setting up their space for the first time or want to refocus it.

1. The ambiance of a workspace provides the most difficulty simply due to each person having scores of distractions and other responsibilities that can alter the atmosphere. Whether it be kids, the internet, or in my case a ailing kitty, they can affect the productiveness of our workspace. It does change based on the individual because while some prefer quiet to concentrate, other may need music or other sounds to get inspiration.
Personally, I like as much quiet as I can get. I can work with music, but it can’t be YouTube or Pandora because I get too involved in picking the right music. As obvious as this sounds, it helps me to have as little Internet time as possible. The more time I spend away from the Scrivner, the less concentrated I am. I’m lucky to have a boyfriend who understands my lack of willpower and threatens to shut off the wifi in order to motivate me.
2. The physical space where you plan to pen or type or brainstorm your new story is just as important as the atmosphere around you. Sure, there are a lucky few that can get their hands on a solid piece of cherry or oak that has been carved with precision into an example of perfect carpentry. For the rest of us, a sturdy desk with enough storage area is enough.

3. The tech (or lack of tech) can make or break a workspace. For example: George R.R. Martin uses WordStar 4.0 on MS-DOS; Virginia Woolf and Lewis Carroll both loved purple ink pens (as well as standing desks); Alexandre Dumas used different colors of paper for different pieces (poetry, fiction, non-fiction. Even something as simple as the paper we write on can shape our stories in a particular way. I keep it simple. Laptop, moderately-sized hard drive with a back-up, the option to turn the Internet off, and the most up-to-date version of Scrivner. There is nothing else I need. Well, maybe a thesaurus. The thesaurus is a must have for a writer of so little vocabulary like myself.

So, now that I have the optimum space to create my novel there are no excuses for meeting my writing goals. I leave you with this advice—make a space that is all yours. Get away from the worries and cares of your life, and lose yourself in your fictional or non-fiction world.

 

Oh, and this super awesome kitty compilation I made! Check it out and Happy reading/writing!

 

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