On Moving and a New Writing Space

Wherever have I been for the last two months (or more)?  Why have I barely gotten any writing done, not to mention have let my email inbox go out of control yet again?

My husband and I just moved into our first house!  (And then turned around and went on a week-long cruise mere days later, but that’s a story for another post.)

While I’m super psyched that we did some hardcore adulting and bought a house (yay for 30 years of debt!), here’s the thing: I hate moving.  Moving is like pulling teeth with me.  I waited until the last possible minute to start packing, and unpacking has been just as infused with procrastination.  I can find any excuse to not deal with the stack of boxes in our back bedroom.  I’m sick, I’m tired, I’m sore from dance rehearsal or working out, it’s just too overwhelming.

(Meanwhile, may I add, Alan unpacked and organized basically the entire finished basement.  He has an unfair advantage in this, though, because he spends part of each day hopped up on steroids for a chronic illness.)

Now I feel I can talk about it and share pictures, though, because things are a little less chaotic in the house, not to mention in my shiny new writing space!

One of the big selling points for the house we chose was the fact that, not only does it have an already-finished basement, but there’s an extra room down there, which means we actually have five bedroom-type spaces.  This means that Alan and I get separate offices.  This is great for two reasons.  First, I no longer have to stare at all of Alan’s piles of computer stuff.  Second, I don’t feel guilty about buying enough bookcases to line almost every wall in my office.  I finally get my library (sort of)!

And while I hate on moving to probably an unfair level, I will give it one benefit: it’s the perfect excuse to reimagine how I want my writing oasis to look.  I can create the space that I want, that will make me most comfortable as I daydream the shenanigans that my characters can get into.

Now, let me forewarn you, the space isn’t done yet.  I need to buy another full-sized bookcase, along with another small one.  But here are the in-progress pictures of my new writing space.

 

My lovely little office!

My lovely little office!

How part of my library looks right now.

How part of my library looks right now.

My writing space.

My writing space.

Why I Write

Yesterday afternoon, after a full day of house hunting, I registered to attend the Write Stuff conference in Allentown, PA next month.  Yes, I waited until the day before the early bird pricing ended before registering.  My procrastination knows no bounds.

Like the last couple of years, the registration form asked a particular question.  Why do you write?  So I typed in a short answer and moved on, wanting to get the process done with.

Blame it on the fact that I’m currently sitting, tired, in a hospital waiting room (don’t worry, just a side effect of having a spouse with a chronic illness that requires tests to check progress), but I find myself thinking of this question again, more than 12 hours after I answered it.

It’s a question that I’ve been asked from time to time as I’ve been growing up.  Why do I write?  What is it that makes me sit down and want to put a story on the page?  Why would I choose to spend four years of college studying writing, and why would I take a part-time job doing just that?

Why do I write?

The answer that I gave on the Write Stuff registration form was just a short and simple, “Writing helps me make sense of the world around me and the human experience.”

Which is, of course, true.  I wouldn’t have given that answer if it wasn’t true.  But it’s so much more of that.

Other times, when I’ve been asked this question, I’ve said that it’s because writing keeps me sane, keeps the characters in my head from getting out of control, lets me release that overactive imagination that makes me think someone’s breaking into our apartment at four in the morning.

Also true, yes.  All of these answers are completely true.

But why I write?  If I’m going to throw out brevity and not give a one-sentence answer, that’s when it gets a little more complicated.

I write to come to terms with the events and people around me.  When something happens in my life or in the world that I can’t fully process, or that I don’t want to fully process, I write about it.  When I read something online, or hear a news story, or see something in a history book…when I see tragedy, that’s when I have to write to understand why.

It’s probably why I don’t always write “nice” things, something that baffles my parents.  I can process butterflies and rainbows.  I get humor.  What I can’t process is why bad things happen.  What I don’t get is what makes people be horrible.  Not until I get inside my characters’ heads and write about it.

This is, I believe, what has drawn me to the Jonestown story — what is it that makes a thousand people follow a crazed man to their deaths?  What kind of world lets that happen?  I can read about it until I go cross-eyed, but I can’t fully understand until I experience it through my characters, as flawed as that may be.

Sometimes I write because a particular character comes into my head and doesn’t leave me along.  That’s what happened with my dystopian trilogy, which is in process.  The main character popped into my head one day and wouldn’t shut up until I wrote.  She had a story that needed to be told, and as I watch the world around me going to hell in a handbasket, I can now understand why.

That’s what writing is for me.  Yes, I have to shut up my characters.  Yes, I have to process the big events that happen around me or to me.  But it comes down to understanding.

I write to understand.

Why Don’t You Ever Write Nice Things?

I don’t remember what exactly triggered that question a few years ago.  I was probably researching something weird or disturbing…maybe it was during the medical dictionary incident…but in any case whatever “not nice” information I was on the hunt for caused one of my parents to ask, “Why don’t you ever write nice things?”

(The medical dictionary incident, for reference, was because I couldn’t find what I needed on Google, so I asked my mom where the medical dictionary was…she asked why I needed it…I explained I needed to look up head injuries for a novel…and she just kind of blinked at me and pointed at the closet.)

Why don’t you ever write nice things?

I can’t remember what exactly my answer was.  Likely I just shrugged.  There’s also a large chance I answered with something like “because nice things are boring.”  And that’s the truth for me.  Nice things are perfectly nice, but they’re also perfectly boring for me to write about.  I’ve tried to write humor before…I’ve tried to write happy little tales…and they never work for me.  I have a lovely, nice life…but that doesn’t mean anyone would want to read a novel about it.

So what made me think of this?  I’m currently doing research and starting to write the first draft of a novel about Jonestown and Peoples Temple — the cult that committed mass suicide by drinking Kool Aid laced with cyanide (and other poisons) on November 18, 1978.

Now…see…while I find this fascinating to research…while I get all nerdy about the psychology behind Peoples Temple, and how Jim Jones managed to convince over 900 people to drink poison, and just cults in general…the whole concept of me reading these things creeps out a lot of other people.

My roommates?  Not so much.  They’re used to me researching weird things.

My boyfriend?  He’s a trooper.  He seems to find it vaguely amusing when I do things like this.

My parents?  I think I’ve desensitized them to the whole Erin’s-Googling-things-that-should-never-be-in-her-search-history-ever by now.  If nothing else, they know it’s just best to smile and nod.

But people who aren’t writers, or who don’t deal with my research oddities on a regular basis are a little more open in their reactions when they see me reading a book written by, say, a Peoples Temple defector.

This is what first happened a few weeks ago.  At dance class, while a performance I wasn’t going to be in was being ran through, I decided to entertain myself for a few moments by reading Six Years with God, a book written by Peoples Temple defector Jeannie Mills.  One of my fellow dancers asked what I was reading, so I showed her the cover, where it said rather prominently that it was about Jim Jones and the Temple.

My fellow dancer’s eyes kind of widened and she just said, “…..Oh,” in a semi-disturbed voice.

Why can’t I write nice things?

And then this past Sunday, in between church services that I was ringing handbells in, I was reading a different book — Seductive Poison, written by Temple defector (and Jonestown survivor) Deborah Layton Blakely.  One of my fellow bell choir members asked what I was reading, and I explained what it was…and she too just kind of took the smile-and-nod approach.

The fact of the matter is, nice things are boring for me to write about.  And in order to write about the not-nice things I prefer to write about, particularly if those not-nice things are based on history or rather complicated psychological manipulations, research must be done.

It’s not my fault that I just get overly excited about the research!  (That’s just my inner Ravenclaw.)

Regardless of what people say, I’m going to write what I want to write, nice or not.  It’s my belief if there’s a story that is begging you to tell it, then you have to give that story a chance.  This story about Jonestown has been brewing in me for several years now, and its only recently that a few characters came along to give the story a voice.

And so their story will be told.

**If you’re interested in reading about the story of Peoples Temple or about life inside Jonestown from the perspective of people who experience it first hand, I highly recommend both of the books I’ve mentioned above: Six Years with God (by Jeannie Mills) and Seductive Poison (by Deborah Layton Blakely).**

Greetings from Write Stuff! (Plus Music…)

I know, I know.  It’s been another while.  But my life has been one chaos after another for the last several weeks to the point where I just blinked and it’s almost April.  Between my grandfather passing away in mid-February (not really unexpectedly), constant business at the day job, my car having a rather large and dramatic temper tantrum (yay for breaking down on the highway while going to writers group), and St. Patrick’s Day (Irish dancer, ya know…), I kind of can’t believe we’re almost done with March already.  Where did time go?!

Now, while I could colorfully elaborate on some of the stuff mentioned above (most namely the car drama, which was the most frustrating thing of late), I’m not going to.  Why?  First of all, some of that stuff was weeks ago and that seems very belated to rant about it.  Second of all, it’s very late and I kind of just want to go to sleep.  But I also wanted to give you an update.

And some music.

Most important update, really–I’m writing this from a hotel room in Allentown, PA rather than from the floor of my bedroom in Dublin, OH.  I’m at the Write Stuff conference, for my second year, and I’ve been having a BLAST!  Today I actually went to a few of the pre-conference workshops, which was something I didn’t participate in last year.  (Remember last year?  That was the trip in which all the things went wrong with my flights.  Yeah.  Gooooood times, guys.  Good times.)  This year, my only flight drama was a bout of airsickness.  And while that’s not fun either, it’s incredibly less anxiety-inducing than finding out your flight was never supposed to exist in the first place.

I’m sure I’ll give you a full and beautiful run-down of the conference either tomorrow night, after it’s over, or Sunday, but for now just know I’m having a great time!

And now, before I go pass out in preparation for another full day of conferencing, have a song.  That’s the other update, really–I’ve started research (and written the opening) for a new project that tells the story of the Jonestown tragedy in 1978.  Yup, you know me and writing all the cheery things.  Anywho, this song below really struck me when I heard it, and it makes me think of that project.  I have no doubt that it’s already become my “theme song” for this currently-untitled WIP.  I hope you like it too (it’s very pretty)!

Good night!

Someone Who Believes

I got cut from the ABNA contest yesterday.  While I was disappointed, obviously, I was relatively okay.  Getting to Round 2 is always something of a long shot, and I was very lucky to make it to that (and beyond) last year.  Getting cut at this juncture hurt a lot worse than getting cut as far into the contest as I did last year, to be honest.  By this morning, I was more or less fine.

However, I happened to stumble upon this quote by Stephen King from his book On Writing today.  And after yesterday, when a lot of people were telling me they were sorry I didn’t make the cut, it spoke something more to me than I originally read it in the book a few years ago.

“Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to makes speeches. Just believing is usually enough.”
 

The thing is, I’m really lucky to have several people who believe in me.  And after yesterday, and all the other rejections they’ve seen me get, I feel like they need to be thanked.  Because I am grateful.  I truly am.  So here are just a few of the people I’m blessed enough to have in my life and who have made it very clear how much they believe in me.

That’s me when I was 2 years old playing with my parents’ typewriter (and that’s my dad with me).

  • My parents.  When I was still too young to read on my own, they read to me nightly and took me on trips to the library to get books.  I firmly believe they’re the reason I have such an active imagination (because of all those stories in my life at such a young age).  And when I told them I wanted to study Creative Writing in college, they didn’t scoff or tell me no or tell me to major in something more likely to get a job quickly–they told me they wanted me to be happy, they wanted me to study something that makes me happy.  And ever since graduating and beginning querying, they’ve cheered me on.
  • My sister, Laura, because she’s a good enough sport to beta read for me when she has the free time.  And then she gets just as excited about some of my stories as I do (the ones she’s read, anyway).
  • Obviously my writers group, the Marysville Writers Group, who welcomed me with open arms a couple of years ago and have been my writerly support system ever since.
  • My friends and my two roommates, all of who are just awesome and who support me in their own special, sometimes sarcastic ways.
  • My boyfriend, Alan, who hung out with me last night after I got cut and seemed to make it his personal mission to get me to smile.  And then when he asked what I do now that ABNA’s over for me, and I told him I’m going back to querying, he seems to have made it his personal mission to make sure I get my querying done.

So I’m pretty lucky when it comes to having a support system for my writing life.  And I’m so glad I have all these people in my life.

LIFE UPDATE: Write Stuff, ABNA 2013, and Revisions

I know.  It’s been forever and a day since I posted here.  On the bright side…I’ve been journaling more since the New Year (and by “more” I mean…more or less once a week…but coming from someone who hasn’t kept a journal in probably a good decade, that’s pretty impressive), so I haven’t been completely idle.

It’s been a rather busy start to the New Year, which is why I haven’t gotten around to writing an update post on this blog until now.  In my non-writing life, it’s been a blur of my day job, family stuff, friend stuff, HPA stuff, hanging out with the boyfriend, Irish dancing, stupid weather, and meetings meetings meetings.  Or that’s what it feels like.  I’ve been on the move practically the entire start of this year, so I’m having a lot of trouble processing the fact that it’s already mid-February.  Time flies.

In my writing life, however, I kind of highlighted the big three things going on in the title, so how about I highlight them down in the actual post as well?  Sound good?  Yes?  Awesome.

Write Stuff

I’m going back to the Write Stuff conference again in March.  This will be my second year attending and I’ll be doing some of the pre-conference stuff this year, so I’m pretty excited about that.  Granted, I haven’t actually gone yet, seeing as how it’s not for another month, so really all the time it’s taken up thus far has to do with me picking out what I wanted to do and then registering…and then booking flights and hotel.  Always an adventure.  If I can just avoid last year’s travel nightmare, I’ll be a happy camper!

ABNA 2013

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m entered in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest for the second year.  In the weekend before entries opened, I was scrambling to clean up my novel more (meaning I reread and did minor tweaks on it for literally six hours the Sunday before entries opened).  However, now we’re in that wonderful stage of waiting.  We’re in limbo.  And all of us are just commiserating with each other over on the ABNA forums and counting down.  The cuts for Round 2 are announced on Wednesday of this week, so the panic has set in pretty effectively by now.  I should probably make sure I have some antacids at home.

Revisions

I’ve been a crazy person and trying to revise multiple projects at a time.  Which might account for the fact that little has gotten done on any of them.  I think of these revisions I should be doing and my brain seizes up and I quickly get distracted by shiny objects.  It’s an entertaining, if highly unproductive, process.  I should probably just focus on one project to revise right now, but they’re all so wonderful.  I can’t choose between my babies.  In any case, the procrastination monkey is mostly what’s been going on on the revisions side of things (and pretty much every other side of things writing-wise too…I’m surrounded by procrastination monkeys).  However, I have novel documents open on my computer at home…so…step in the right direction, yes?

There’s your update for now.  I’ll hopefully update again in the next few days.  But tonight?  Tonight I’m going to a Harry and the Potters concert and will be nerding it out hardcore with my fellow Potterheads.  All is right in the world for tonight.

Stay awesome!

In 8 Days…

…the normal chaos of NaNoWriMo begins again.  This will be my ninth year and I couldn’t be more excited about it!  (I mean, first of all–wow, it’s my ninth year.  And second of all–well, it’s NaNo, I’m always excited for it.)

I’ve been working on my idea for this year’s NaNo novel and I thought I would share what I have thus far.  This general idea has been stewing for several months and I’m very excited to finally start writing it.  Its working title is The Apocalytes and here’s the clarity that has come out of the stew so far.

For years, the group sarcastically nicknamed as the Apocalytes predicted the end of the world every few months. While the first few times started a frenzy, now it’s just gotten old and the group began getting ignored. And it was during one of those predicted apocalypse days, while everyone went about their normal lives, that something finally did happen–explosions, fires, death. Half the country just wiped out with no idea why.

Sixteen-year-old Alissa Carter, by some miracle, happened to survive. The lone person of her family and friends to do so, as far as she knows. She’s one of the only survivors from her small Ohio suburb and, for a few weeks, survives as best she can. And then she’s found by a scouting group of survivors, who convince her to come back to safety within the confines of the city, where a number of survivors have taken up residence, hidden in an underground parking garage. It’s not safe, she’s told, for girls and women to wander around by themselves anymore. The Apocalytes staged their little end of the world for the purpose of starting over, building a new society, and they’re desperate to gain followers, particularly ones that can help them grow their new population.

But Alissa has never been one to hide away. They might not have contact with the other survivors. They might not know what the Apocalytes are planning or when they might strike next. But Alissa plans to help fight back, even if sacrifices have to be made in the process.

Alissa Carter– main character and narrator
 
Kane Thomas

Sarah Hart
 
Cooper Randall– one of the main antagonists

Lauren Randall

Then Please Tell Me What a “Real” Book Is…

Today was an annual event that happens at my day job, where our entire section of the company takes over a high school…and we proceed to have to listen to presentations on how to better ourselves and grow and blah blah blah.

Usually, this particular event is not anything worth me blogging about…or, honestly, talking about after we’re released from it. But something happened at lunch today that I can’t get out of my head.

Here’s an important thing to note about me: I’m basically semi-antisocial when it comes to eating lunch in cafeterias. I prefer to sit alone. And while I sit alone, I read (or write, if I’m actively working on a first draft).

At lunch today, the cafeteria at this high school was super crowded with the 700 people that were crammed into it, so a couple of guys ended up sitting across from me. No big deal. I’m pretty great at tuning out noise and talking and I just kept reading. About fifteen minutes before we were supposed to go to the auditorium for the large group session, I decided it would be a good time to stop by the bathroom, so I started packing up all my stuff.

And then THIS conversation happened between me and one of the random guys sitting across from me.

Random Guy (RG): What are you reading?
Me: Possess.
RG: *confused look*
Me: It’s…a Young Adult paranormal…
RG: *that look that I hate that asks me why the crap I’m reading YA when I’m in my twenties*
Me: …I’m a Young Adult writer.

Now, see. I’m used to that conversation. How that conversation usually ends is with the other person nodding understandingly…because, apparently, it’s only okay that I’m a twenty-something that reads YA because I also write it. (But whatever. Different rant for a different time.) Oh, no. THIS conversation continued.

RG: You know what I don’t understand? Why Young Adult has gotten so big.
Me: *stares*
RG: I mean, it’s all vampires and Harry Potter.
Me: *stares*
RG: They’re just page-turners. Just fast reads. I don’t get why people can’t read real books anymore.

Oh. No. He. Didn’t.

I didn’t even know what to say to this, so I ended up saying something about how they’re more exciting to read. And then I excused myself and left. (Of course, it was ten minutes later that I thought of a better response…about how Stephenie Meyer and JK Rowling are laughing all the way to the bank anyway.)

I just…there were no words. NO WORDS for how annoyed and…angry that comment made me.

I mean, first of all, I had JUST told him that I write YA. What made him think that was a smart thing to say to someone who WRITES YOUNG ADULT?

And, second of all…

“Real” books? “Real” books?

Please, tell me. What on earth makes a “real” book? Because…I mean…maybe I’m wrong, but isn’t a real book one that has characters and a plot and is published in some way, be it epub or traditional or otherwise? Isn’t a real book one that people take the time to read?

So what makes Young Adult stories not “real” books? Because they’re exciting? Because they’re typically pretty quick reads? Because they have a tendency to garner large, passionate followings?

It kills me when people say things like that. When they think that YA isn’t “real” just because they’re page-turners. YA can be just as deep and explore characters just as much as adult fiction. It’s not always “easy” to read and it’s definitely not “easy” to write. It takes emotional turns and curves and explores tough topics. It makes you cry and worry and panic and fear for the characters and just feel ALL THE THINGS. It makes you see the world around you in a different light and it makes you relate to that world differently.

What about all of that isn’t “real” enough for you?