Looking For a Genre Fiction Workshop?

The 2016 In Your Write Mind (IYWM) workshop is hosted by the Writing Popular Fiction program alumni at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA. The genre fiction workshop is a unique opportunity for  writers to gather together on the beautiful campus in western Pennsylvania and learn from publishing industry professionals and participate in fiction-writing craft sessions.
The workshop is from June 24 – 26, 2016.  Guests of honor include:
  • Guest Agent Kimberly Brower, The Rebecca Friedman Literary Agency
  • Guest Agent Eric Ruben, The Ruben Agency
  • Guest Editor Diana M. Pho, Tor Books
  • Guest Author Daniel José Older

The special guests will be available for pitch sessions, lead workshops and participate on a panel discussion for Q&A about the publishing world.

The workshop planners are hosting social events after the daily program, including a book signing and reading, and a wine social where workshop attendees are free to dress up in “Trope Your Genre”-themed costumes.

Register today at: https://alumni.setonhill.edu/wpf2016

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Book Review: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

In the spirit of Halloween weekend, here’s my review of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. 

The level of research and detail that went into Stoker’s portrayal of Count Dracula (aka Vlad the Impaler) took several yearsBram Stokers Dracula cover art and it shows. Stoker’s contemporaries, and a few predecessors, had written vampire novels with its own spin, but none were as popular as his. First of all, the story is written as a collection of letters, audio recordings, memos and diary entries giving the reader the vantage point of several characters: Mina, Lucy, Jonathan Harker, Dr. John Seward, and in some small degree, the infamous Dr. Van Helsing. Although I suspect Van Helsing’s character lacked a diary because Stoker probably thought being described through the eyes of his more passive characters added to the mystique of Van Helsing.

Dracula starts out with young Jonathan Harker being invited by the Count to his Castle in Transylvania to be his solicitor (lawyer), and to help him with purchasing property in England. At first the Count is most gracious and spends hours with Jonathan talking to him about his home country. The Count appears as an old aristocratic man who is interested in one last adventure outside of his home country, but later the reader discovers, through Jonathan, that “the old man has grown young!” Unfortunately for Jonathan, things take a turn for the strange when he realizes that all of the doors in the castle are locked, and he is restricted to his bedroom. Jonathan protests and threatens to leave the castle in the middle of the night, but realizes that the pack of wild wolves that howled every night outside the castle were controlled by the Count.

That brings us to Lucy and Mina, Jonathan’s fiancé back in the United Kingdom, who he tries desperately to get a correspondence to once he realizes he is a prisoner in the Count’s castle. Mina and Lucy are ladies-in-waiting. Mina had already been betrothed to Jonathan Harker before his trip east and Lucy, a fiery redhead, is promised to Arthur, but has two other engagement offers from Quincy and Dr. Seward. This completes the full circle of friends and love quadrangles that drive the “B Story” of Dracula. If it weren’t for these people who were loosely tied together by the two women and Dracula, then there wouldn’t be a Van Helsing to speak of.

It is wonderful to see how Stoker weaves these stories together to bring us to the ultimate climax. Interspersed throughout the story is the teased romance (ah ha! This is when chivalry was alive and well), and the strong female voices of Mina and Lucy, was the imminent threat that is Count Dracula who slowly makes his way to London with the intent to stalk the city and feed. Jonathan Harker knows this and leaves the reader on the edge of their seat wondering how they’ll make it back to London to warn everyone of Dracula’s evil plot! Oh, but that’s when one more brief letter to Mina by way of a Romanian nun (oh what surprises the letters hold!) about Jonathan’s terrible “condition” and that she is to come to him at once and be married.

Here’s where the “B story” takes a turn. One of the very important and central characters is infected, but you get insight into the turning through the character’s diary. Dots are connected and the fantastic world of London is turned upside down when all of the characters converge to track down and kill Dracula before he infects anymore. Throw in some choice settings like Dr. Seward’s insane asylum as a “safe haven” for Mina, and creepy graveyards and you’ve got a perfect picture of Gothic London.

It has been more than one hundred years since the initial printing of Dracula in 1897, and the book is still a classic. It has inspired so many vampire spin-off movies and television shows, created a foundation for bestselling authors like Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyer, and gone through several scholarly reviews. It is very rare that genre fiction stands the test of time, but when it does, it’s not because the conventions lasted, it’s because the writing was above average, and the story itself was unmatched.

Stoker’s mastery of story structure — flashing between POV characters via diary entries, letters, memos and newspaper clippings — was flawless. For the reader, the story was like a case that needed to be solved. Yes, yes, the reader knows how the story ends, but they still don’t know how. It’s an emotional roller coaster ride with each character as the reader puts some of the puzzle pieces together. Even though the reader knows that some characters have the answers to the questions in one character’s head, the reader is still waiting to see when they’d find out where the puzzle piece fits: who is talking to the man, Renfield, in the insane asylum? Who is his “master”? Yes, the reader knows it’s Count Dracula in the form of a mist or a pack of rats, but do we know why Renfield eats insects, wants a cat, or knows details about Mina that he shouldn’t know? Hmm….

This is the joy of reading Dracula one hundred years later. It is like unraveling the mystery of the early genre writer and reexamining the beloved horror story to discover insights into the makeup of a bestseller. Stoker will forever stand tall in the hall of both genre and literary fiction.

#30Skills30Days: Meditation

This blog post is a part of my #30Skills30Days challenge to learn 30 new skills in 30 days. 

You may not think of meditation as a skill, but it is. With all the busyness of everyday life and the constant connection to our social media networks and devices that tether us to work after hours, it’s easy to forget how to relax. Typically people go to yoga class or a Buddhist temple to learn how to meditate, but I’m a social media queen and literally found an app for that. Okay, full disclosure, my gym does offer yoga classes, but 1) I am too lazy to go there,  2) the hours don’t fit my work schedule, and  3) I prefer less human interaction.

In any case, I found this site/app called Headspace which teaches you “mindfulness techniques” or basically how to meditate no matter how much time you have or what your current skill level.

Here are a few quick facts about the online/mobile tool:

  • You can sign up for a free 10-day trial program and subscribe after that.
  • The 10-day trial gives you daily ten minute guided meditations with increasing skill level.
  • Once you get started, you can choose single one-off meditation sessions instead of a progressive level-up option.
  • There are also “SOS” bite-size meditation sessions for those stressful moments.
  • There’s a social network associated with it.
  • There’s a mobile phone app for most of the major mobile platforms.

The guided meditations are narrated (and recorded) by a guy with a British accent. In my first session he guided me through, what I assume, are a few typical rough patches for first-timers who might be easily distracted. He guides you, gently, through different mindfulness techniques to help stay focused on the task at hand: relaxing. There are a few seconds in the meditation session that you are allowed to let your mind run wild without focus, but it is very brief. He also gives you a pep talk at the end and encourages you to do your next level in the freebie series.

The great thing about this type of meditation guidance is that you can meditate anywhere. I chose to stay seated at my desk at home with my palms face-down on my thighs. It was a more relaxing position than the typical yoga meditation pose. Meditation is skill that takes time to master and helps you maintain some balance throughout your day no matter how busy it is. Worth the challenge.

Cost: Free 10-day trial. Monthly and yearly subscriptions are available.

Time commitment: This is an easy `ten minutes every day. Totally worth your time.

Rating: 1 + easy. I’m rating this skill learning activity a “1” because this activity takes little to no level of effort.

#30Skills30Days: How to Write an Action Scene

This blog post is a part of my #30Skills30Days challenge to learn 30 new skills in 30 days. 

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In real life, I am a woman of action, I love action movies, I love watching gratuitous action scenes, but what I am not good at, admittedly, is writing action scenes. Somehow my action scenes always end up being about three sentences long and includes the character picking up their weapon, using it and then surviving without much effort or skill. When I reread my action scenes, there’s not much real conflict or internal dialogue throughout, we don’t get to visually see what’s happening around the characters, it’s just a cut and dry, two-minute street fight. So, needless to say, I’ve been looking to step up my game if I want impress my young adult readers.

For this skill learning activity, I wanted to learn how to write an action scene to improve my current work in progress, Worlds Apart 2.  This book is the second in what I hope to be a three-book series. Somehow I have managed to minimize my action scenes out of fear that I may not be doing it right.

The first place I went to for help was to Writer’s Digest to watch a video on How to Write an Action Scene that featured bestselling author, James Rollins. Rollins shared some good advice on writing the action scene, but the takeaway for me was his advice on adding layers of emotion through the point of view (POV) character.

Emotion was definitely the element that I was missing in my action scenes. To go through an action scene without sharing what at least one of your POV characters is thinking and feeling is an opportunity lost to the reader. How characters react when they’re faced with fear or danger is important to the character’s emotional arc.

Rollins suggests you show emotion in your action scenes by finding ways to make your character more sympathetic. Rollins shares a list of seven ways to do this, but really it could probably be more like six because one of them, I think, is optional. Some good takeaways for young adult (YA) writers like me to explore your POV character’s emotional arc through action scenes are to have established these traits through characterization:

  1. Demonstrate that they’re good at what they do.
  2. Demonstrate their humor.
  3. Show that they treat others well.
  4. Show that the character has undeserved misfortune.
  5. Show that the character has a physical or mental handicap = underdog.
  6. Have one character like another character, but perhaps one character doesn’t return the affection as much as they’d like.

This last tip is especially good for YA writers, because unrequited love is a typical trope we often employ in our stories. I can see how using it would amp up an action scene if, for example, your main POV character is in the fight of her life and also trying to save her unconscious love interest from being bitten by an evil vampire.

I also read a fight scene guide written by my fellow Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction program alum, Troy Bucher, called Ten Fight Scene Techniques for Science Fiction and Fantasy. This 12-page guide to writing fight scenes is a pretty exhaustive list of various fight scenes and includes examples, why each type of fight scene works or doesn’t work, etc. I decided that the fight scene skillset will take a bit more time and energy to do and should be an entirely separate activity that won’t fit on my #30Skills30Days list, but it is definitely worth it to pick up when I’m done with this challenge.

Cost: $4.99 for the How to Write an Action Scene video on Writer’s Digest University.

Time commitment: To actually watch the video is 20 minutes if you fast forward through the introductions and skip the Q&A at the end. It will take additional time to actually practice writing the action scene, but that’s a follow up activity once you’ve taken notes.

Rating: 2 = somewhat easy. I rated this skill learning activity a 2 since the video presentation by James Rollins is very easy to follow and take notes. Writing an action scene is something that takes practice, but once you know and understand all of the building blocks involved, you’re set.

#30Skills30Days Challenge

First, I’d like to apologize for taking nearly three months to write a new blog post. That’s just bad blogger behavior. In the meantime, I’ve lined up lots of new content to share with you over the next few days, months and year. One of those ideas is to create a challenge for myself (and you) called #30Skills30Days. Yes, I will force myself to learn thirty new skills over the next thirty days.

Now these are not skills that require days of research to learn and do them. These are skills that will take one day to learn about them and then commit to actually using what I learned sometime in the near future.

I divided the skills I want to learn into four categories: cooking, life/general, professional development and creative skills. Some categories might have more skills listed than others. That’s because I want to apply the skills I learn in those categories in my everyday life.

In my professional career, I want to stay current on cutting edge technology and thought leadership to remain relevant. In my writing career, the skills I want to learn are a combination of craft and interesting things I can use to develop my characters. For example, one of my characters likes to collect gems and precious stones because her hobby is jewelry making, so I’ve added jewelry making to my creative skills list.

You can do your own #30Skills30Days challenge too. You don’t have to use my categories or even use categories at all. Focus on learning some skills in a short amount of time and commit to doing them in the future. That’s all. Here are some things to think about before you make that list.

Cost: When I did my research, I found that the cheapest way to learn some of these skills is to buy a book, but I’m much more of a visual learner, so I’m taking online courses or video-on-demand lectures like the ones I found on Lynda.com or Writer’s Digest University.  I added up the potential cost of all of my proposed skills learning activities and, with the exception of cooking, each category added up to be between $30-50.

Time commitment:  Realistically, I don’t think I’ll be able to do all of these skills in 30 days’ time, but I can promise you that I will sit down and learn the skill. Even if I don’t try to implement what I learned immediately, I can still share my experience and offer some best practices or lessons learned.

Rating: No, I’m not rating how valuable each skill learning activity is, I’m rating how easy the skill is to learn in one day (in most cases, just a few hours).  The rating range is from 1 – 5 (1 = easy, 2 = somewhat easy, 3 = moderate, 4 = difficult, 5= not possible).  It’s important to know this rating so that you can decide if it’s a skill you want to add to your own list.

Without further ado, here is my #30Skills30Days list.

Creative Skills

  1. Master writing novel openings
  2. Learn how to write good action scenes
  3. Short stories: write and submit
  4. Fundamentals of poetry writing
  5. Weapons: from medieval to modern and beyond
  6. Formatting a manuscript for e-books
  7. Video game writing and design
  8. Jewelry making
  9. Screenplay writing
  10. Submission packages from query letters to book proposals

If time permits…

  1. Writing horror: write and submit a short story
  2. Learn to write an epic war scene

Cooking

  1. Recipe: Kabsa (Middle Eastern dish)
  2. Kuromame (sweet beans, Japanese dish)
  3. Peruvian chicken
  4. Pork shogayaki (Japanese dish)
  5. Slow cooker salsa verde chicken (Latin American dish)

Life Skills

  1. Meditation
  2. Homiletics: the art of preaching or writing sermons
  3. Gardening 101
  4. T25 exercise
  5. Stargazing/Astronomy

Professional Development Skills

  1. Tech Tool: Prezi
  2. iPhone and iPad Photography with iOS8
  3. Tech Tool: Storify
  4. Become a grammar and punctuation master
  5. Project management simplified
  6. Tech Tool: Creative GoPro photography and video techniques
  7. Web analytics fundamentals
  8. Adobe Captivate 8
  9. Grant writing for education
  10. Tech tool: Periscope and Meerkat

If time permits…

  1. Infographics and data visualization
  2. Online production for writers and editors

Choosing Your Genre

When you first make the decision to write, sometimes you have to think long and hard about whether you want to write what you like to read or write what comes natural to you. Read Ron Shannon’s guest blog post on choosing your genre for his perspective. Ron and I both attended Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction program, so I’m delighted that he had the time to  contribute to my blog. Enjoy and please comment below! His novel The Hedgerows in June is on sale on Amazon.com.

Someone once said you don’t choose your genre, it chooses you. Who said it? Does anyone know? Please tell me.

When asked about my genre I want to say action/adventure. You know, characters embarking on perilous journeys. Questioning their motives, their courage or the desires that make them risk their lives for a promise, a cause, or a loyalty with questionable reward. Action results from the adventure.  Events occur in rapid sequences with danger no one could possibly predict, but are consequential to the expedition.

What about romance carefully written to include the required elements of the genre? The love story must be so important that it doesn’t require anything other than the characters’ full knowledge of its existence. I’m convinced such things are part of the human existence, the basis of what creates dreams and fantasies. No, not just for the sexual aspect of a love story. It’s about the fulfillment of our lives and the need, the requirement to share our experiences, our victories and our defeats. When we are faced with challenges and inevitable horror we seek that certain someone waiting for us no matter what qualities or faults we demonstrate.

But I got carried away. The goal is to write adventure, action and romance that powerful. Yet I can’t deny another component. I write outside the contemporary timeframe. Not the future. That is better suited for those who write speculatively, writers who build worlds and predict the product of shortsighted leadership, authors with the imagination to see things as they are and ponder the unconscionable outcome. No, I don’t write such things. Instead, I write about the past. Not the distant past, but stories set in the twentieth century. Well, for the most part I do. I am in the process of writing a story situated in June of 1876. Yeah, I guess you can call it a Western although when I wrote the first draft I wanted to make it more than a Western. I wanted to make it about the character’s journey toward the identification of his true nature. Something I strive for in all of my work, but that is more about theme than genre and I am going off on a tangent.

I’ve taken the long way around to get to the point. The factor that continues to show up in my work is history. When I first thought about my novel The Hedgerows of June I didn’t consider the connection to historical fiction. I knew I wanted to place the story in World War II. I wanted a time conducive to the creation of one challenge after another. I wanted it to be interesting and heartfelt. Getting to World War II and specifically The Battle of the Hedgerows meant answering a series of “what if” questions.

The story started with a writing prompt that went something like: Someone is about to go on an ill-advised journey. Why would the trip be unwise? It had to be personal, but something told me place and time were key. I imagined a man in the woods with a group of young children he had to get safely to a dangerous destination. He needed help. For some reason a nun seemed likely. Not only should the destination be dangerous, but also the journey. What if it’s during a war? I’ll never be able to explain why I immediately thought of Nazi tanks, German soldiers and the American Army. Oh, and the man realizes he’s falling in love with the nun.

Notice how the history ingredient found me? I could’ve made it during a zombie apocalypse. A trip in outer space could’ve been another option. What about an inner city school? Instead I decided to put the story inside one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, The Battle of the Hedgerows and The Battle of Saint Lô that came immediately afterward.

So why am I so reluctant to say my work is historical fiction? Perhaps because what I wrote is not what I consider to be true historical fiction. I wrote about characters I developed to live during a real time in history. I made up the challenges they experience. The story is my creation. The events I describe never happened except in my story. True historical fiction, at least to me, is totally different. To me historical fiction is not only about a real time in history, it is also about real characters of the period. The characters are usually, but not always, the people creating the history. What makes it fiction is how the writer fills in the blanks. There are real documented events. The historical fiction writer imagines what happened during the time that’s not documented and he or she will make it difficult to distinguish between truth and invention. The reader enters into it with that understanding. There are some great writers who do this very well. For instance Sharon Kay Penman writes about England in the twelfth and thirteenth century. A fellow student at Seton Hill, Dawn Gartelhner, also writes historical fiction.

Although historically based, The Hedgerows of June did not follow the recorded time line. It did describe the conditions, the environment and the state of the armies on both sides. The characters are caught in the middle. They must get to Saint Lô. The lives of the children depend on it.

So there it is. I am not writing about real people in a real time period. I am writing about fictional people in a real time period. The events are fictional, but the surroundings are as close to real as I can make them. I am apt to say my genre is action adventure with strong romantic tendencies. I am reluctant to call it historical fiction, but please call it historical fiction if you want. My publisher does.

About Ron

Ron_Shannon

Ron Shannon discovered a passion for storytelling at a very young age: while listening to his teacher read the Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol to the overly-excited members of his sixth grade class. Later, he went on to study at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey and graduated with the unlikely degree combinations of accounting and English. Recently he completed his Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Ron lives, daydreams, and writes at the New Jersey shore.

International cultural connections series: Research your story beyond the Internet

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I’ve traveled to more than 20 countries (some more than once) and lived in Japan for two years. When I visited most of those countries, I either knew people there who could show me around or was on an educational program. For about two or three countries, I cheated and went on a tour. (One of the countries was in the Middle East and too complex to understand and get around without language and deep cultural understanding.)

There are many people who have traveled around the world and have “cheated” and took tours. When you travel on tours you barely scratch the surface of that country’s culture. On these tours you are escorted around and herded like little sheep and you barely have time to negotiate prices in the local language or try something completely new by accident like street food or an awesome little shop where you can buy goods not found online.

In this series of blog posts, I challenge you to explore the culture around you every day and to try your best to travel overseas and engage with “the locals.” Not only is this food for the soul and a heck of a good way to find writing inspiration, but I promise you the experience will set you free and allow you to open up to nuances of cultural interaction that you may have never noticed before. So many of my experiences traveling overseas and getting to know other cultures have influenced me as a science fiction and fantasy writer. There is a whole world out there that is waiting to be explored by you in your own unique way and if you’re a writer, the experience will leave a permanent imprint on you (for good or bad).

I live near a very multicultural city so anytime I want to “travel the world,” I can search for local event listings and find an event (Salsa, African drumming or Japanese tea ceremony anyone?). There are many ways to reach cultures you never knew existed near your “small town.” There’s a social networking site called Meetup.com. You can use the site to either start your own culture or travel “meetup” or join someone else’s. Universities are often a hotbed of intercultural activity and often host many international students. Get to know some students there. Imagine how happy they’d be to share their culture with you! No matter whether you write genre or literary fiction, you will be inspired and the stories you tell will come across more authentic for having done the hands-on research.

I live in the midwest and there are only black and white people here.

So. That’s a terrible reason not to get to know another culture. Perhaps there’s an immigrant black or white family in that group. Have you ever considered that?

I live in Texas and my only neighbors are the tumbleweed.

No excuse. You’re too close to the Mexican border and you’re probably not far from an enclave of Mexican or Mexican-American families.

There are also study abroad programs many colleges and community colleges operate that might give you the opportunity to study abroad if you’re in college. I also just recently learned about the Road Scholar program. Yes, it’s cheating, you’d be going on a tour, but at least it’s educational. My personal favorite tour company is Gate1Travel (very affordable). If you take that route, finds ways to go off the beaten path after your itinerary ends and interact with the locals, even if it’s just to talk to a shopkeeper.

This invitation to travel post is the first in the international cultural connections © series. Please drop a line in the comments section and let me know about your travel adventures and how you’ve used it in writing. Also feel free to ask me questions about how to travel around the world on a budget. Trust me, I’ve done it and I’m not rich! I am rich in experiences though.

Congratulations, you are now a Master of Fine Arts. Now go forth and write!

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So it’s official, I’m a master of fine arts now. I never thought I’d be the master of anything. In fact I’ve always claimed the following: “Jack of all trades, the master of none.” The day that my cohorts and I in the Seton Hill University’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program had all been waiting for has come and gone. Two days later and we’re still sharing pictures on Facebook and patting each other on the back.

But slowly we are realizing that now we have no excuse for not submitting our work. We were all required to complete a genre novel to satisfy our thesis requirement so we have work to submit. Is it the daunting task of finding an agent or is it the fear that the rejection letters will start rolling in? I think it’s a little of both.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from taking the plunge and traveling down “the road not taken” (see Robert Frost). I actually want you to follow your passion. Whether you think you want to use your degree as an opportunity to finally focus on your writing or if you’ll also use the degree to find other careers in the publishing industry.

Why would anyone want to get a master of fine arts degree in creative writing (or for me, Writing Popular Fiction)? Some students in our program had full-time jobs in completely respectable industries (not related to creative writing). Some were bestselling-authors who wanted a terminal degree, some were full-time parents, some were retired and some simply couldn’t resist the urge to follow their passion. (Notice the word “were” could be read by a genre writer as “were” as in were- a prefix before an animal name to indicate a type of lycanthropy and/or shapeshifter). There are many reasons why you might want to get a master’s degree in this field, but it must be your own when it comes time to apply, enroll and start your novel.

For those of you who are seriously thinking about pursuing a master of fine arts degree in creative writing, there are several resources to find the right school for you. I recommend searching Poet & Writer’s magazine MFA database or simply Googling a school that’s close to you or in the most ideal location to write.

I was actually looking for a “low-residency” MFA. A low-residency program allows you to work on your degree from anywhere in the country, but requires you to come to campus throughout the year for residencies (sometimes up to one week at a time). A better description of this type of MFA program can be found on this Creative Writing blog post by Sheila Lamb: http://creative-writing-mfa-handbook.blogspot.com/2011/03/low-residency-mfa-handbook-by-lori-may.html .

I felt it appropriate to share our commencement speech by Patricia Lillie delivered on graduation day, January 14, 2015, at the Seton Hill University. The speech is titled, “We’re all mad here.” (Again, there goes those four letters: were). Enjoy and go forth and start writing your own novels!

Looking back on a year of growth

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As I sit here thinking about the year 2015 creeping up on me, I look back on the year that was and smile. Yes, it was a challenging year. I finally completed my school requirements at the Seton Hill University for my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction and I can look forward to graduation next month.

The year, school-wise, has been an interesting one. I switched from one mentor to the next. I reset my writing goals and I was determined to unravel the plot holes that had been plaguing my story, Worlds Apart, for the past year or so. Finally, I had an epiphany when I revised the entire thesis novel in a second draft with my new mentor. It was as if I had forced myself to hone in on the thing in one sitting in one weekend and think about my manuscript as if I were a reader (instead of just the writer). I could see more clearly why I wouldn’t want to follow or care about certain characters if I were the reader. It was so painful to cut scenes and chunks of the book away, but after I did it, I felt liberated to finally write the story that I needed to write. Not only that, but my story grew to be 85,000 words, still within bounds of YA though.

Another opportunity for growth came when I got my feedback from my mentor about what needed to be changed throughout the entire manuscript before turning in the final version for a grade. She could see where I had made changes to the characters and that I had added in the layers of details and exposition that were needed to make the story easier to follow.

There’s still more work to do before I submit the story to agents early next year, but I feel confident that I have the story planned out through all three books and that I wouldn’t be stuck anymore. With that said, I’m already 10,000 words into the second book in the Worlds Apart series as we speak, thanks to participating in the NaNoWrimo writing contest in November. While I didn’t win it to make it to 50,000 words, I still feel like I spent a lot of time working through the plot of the entire second book. I feel more confident about where the story is going and when I sit down at the computer, I know exactly where I want to go with it.

So, that’s just my example of how I’ve grown this year. What’s yours? Do you plan to write your first novel in 2015? Will you try your hand at poetry? Just try, whatever you decide to do. You never know where life will take you and how much you’ll grow in the process.

Dreams: Where we get our inspiration

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Many authors are ashamed to say they get their story ideas from their dreams. Perhaps they’re afraid someone will say they lack creativity, but I think that’s a crock of horse manure. Although Freud gave us the Interpretation of Dreams and stated that dreams are essentially “wish fulfillment,” it doesn’t mean that all dreams revolve around this interpretation of what dreams mean.

To me, dreams come from a place deep within our subconscious and allow us to playfully imagine worlds and exaggerate our limited powers as human beings. Some of my best story ideas came from my dreams and the only reason I remembered them was because I was so impressed with what my mind came up with while I slept that I simply had to write it down. I have so many story ideas from dreams that I haven’t even had the time to process them all and flesh them out into stories.

Now, for the science fiction and fantasy writer, fantastical dreams about other worlds or amazing superpowers are a goldmine that we can tap into whenever we eat too much ice cream and wine (true story) before bed and fall asleep. For writers of other genres, you might have dreams that may play in your mind like a reality show. Have you ever dreamed that you were there in a dream, but you weren’t? Like you were an observer or a fly on the wall. Don’t dismiss those dreams. Just don’t. That’s almost like delivery POV material. You may have felt like the POV characters in the dream and you might feel like you understand the feelings of all involved.

How do you access this treasure trove of activity your mind delves out in your sleep? No, you don’t have to fry your brain by watching Christopher Nolan’s Inception movie a hundred times to understand the dream within the dream within the dream. Oh no, I’m lost in the dream state! Simply keep a journal next to your bed and capture your dreams as best you can before you fully wake up. I usually don’t turn on the bright lights, it seems to scare away the thoughts that are hanging out right on the edges of my memory. Use a small flashlight or one of those book lights. Poems and songs used to come to me this way and to this day I read that material and can’t believe how deep I sounded. LOL! I’m always in wonder how I came up with those lyrics.

So there you have it. You don’t have to stare at the screen for hours on end trying to come up with good story ideas. You can simply mine your own dreams for awesome ideas that you can totally take credit for…even if you think some alien kidnapped you overnight and gifted you some fantastic story ideas.