When You’re Not Writing…

I imagine writers have other responsibilities outside of perfecting their craft.

It’s a constant tug-and-war game—writing and…life. I try not to feel guilty about being one person, lacking the ability to multiply like gremlins so that I can get more accomplished; though my virtual planner these days looks like some wacky kind of road map. I’ve been busy—all over the place. Will summer break ever come? Oh right, that phenomenon ended after undergrad. To add to this, I’ve just bought a car and a house. And for anyone who’s been through the home buying process, you understand my exhaustion.

As artists, it’s so easy to get lost in our craft. Actually, most of us prefer that space—I know I do. I feel most myself when I’m creating something. I know this comes from my father. He’s a rapper. Growing up, we had a studio in the basement and he spent most of his time there. A little checked-out from the world, but when he returned he’d bring a new song with him.

Now, I completely get that obsessive passion about art. But I’m learning the importance of being present—in the moment. It’s hard to do when I’d prefer to be alone with my characters or plotting a new story. With the help of those I love, I’m learning to do both — achieve my writing goals and enjoy the special moments life offers.

When I’m not writing or reading, these are some of the things that can fill my days.

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1) I’m spending time with students—lots of them.

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2) Being a mom and volunteering at school.

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3) I like taking friends out for yummy desserts. This is Hotcakes Restaurant in

Charlottesville, Virginia and they have wonderful sweets.

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4) I take time to feel nostalgic. This is my high school. In 10th grade I had my Napoleon

Dynamite moment and danced in a talent show.

The audience cheered because they were so surprised this shy girl could break dance.

Now, I’d probably break something if I tried to spin on my head.

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5) I try to witness as many sunsets as possible. I love the sky. This is from my backyard.

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6)And lastly, in light of Fathers’ Day, my hubby got Father Of The Year. We attended a

special banquet where he was honored. So proud of him!

When you’re not writing, what are you up to? 🙂

 

Tough Education

Happy WIPpet Wednesday!

The end of the semester is here—exams are stressing out my students! I don’t envy them. Graduate school nearly broke me—academic hazing is what I called it. However, I am so extremely grateful for my education. The experience inspired me to write a book. So, that makes all the endless, sleepless nights of studying worth it.

For all the exam takers, you'll get through this.

For all the exam takers out there, you’ll get through this.

The Hall Speaks #fallsemester is my début novel and the sequel is my WIPpet. There are several story lines, but today I’m going to share an excerpt from Sage’s. He wears the RA position like a BOSS, making policy enforcement look cool. But the RA job has forced him into a dangerous situation. He gets a tough education—one that has nothing to do with school. I shared about him here.

For the math: May 14, 2014, just 5 sentences for the month.

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#Sage

Early Monday morning before the sun got up, Sage took off for the campus gym. He ran across the lawn as if the water called him. The distinct smell of chlorine hit him as he entered the humid, warm locker room. He went for first locker he saw and opened it, tossing in his blue bag. Alone, with only the steady humming sound of the heater, his thoughts racing just as fast.

*******

Thanks for reading, and comments much appreciated! If you’d like to take part in WIPpet just go here.  Be sure to check out other WIPpets because they are fabulous! 🙂  And thank you K. L. Schwengel for hosting! Happy reading All! Stay beautiful. 

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Simon Says: Writing Tips for Indie Authors

Decide what kind of artist you want to be before entering the industry.

Writers can’t excuse that all artists are screened through consumers’ expectations. Experts in the entertainment industry understand this concept. And yes, more than ever, books are heavy contenders in this, generating amazing movie deals, inspiring songs etc.

Recently, I’ve been catching up on talent completions, specifically X Factor. It’s funny to watch the contestants wait in anticipation for Simon Cowells response. Deep down, his feedback is the only one they really care about (so it seems). Because what Simon says is right. He knows talent, but more importantly he knows the business and the market.

Over the years there is one thing he says repeatedly on American Idol, Some Country Has Talent and X Factor that has stuck with me. Several times, mid-song, he’d ask the person auditioning to sing something different.

Why?

Because their voice wasn’t right for the song, possibly the style didn’t suit them. Basically, it wasn’t working. Then they’d perform something different and it would wow the judges. Choosing the right song is everything. Just because a singer can sing anything, doesn’t mean they should. Think about some of your favorite artist for a minute. Why do you like them? How would you define (categorize) their music? Is their style consistent?

There’s a reason why Taylor Swift, Kings of Leon, Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Muse, Dave Matthews Band, and countless others (really the list could go on), stick with one genre of music. It’s not because their talent has limitations–not at all. But their audience has expectations and, as artists, they understand the value in meeting those expectations.

Leonardo DiCaprio established himself as an actor in similar (type-cast) kind of roles, then blew our minds as we discovered later on the depth of his acting. This is easier to see with comedians. So, Jim Carey stuck with comedy for a while before shocking us with The Truman Show. Proving yourself in one area really pays off. Consumers need some sort of brand recognition–a way to place the artist in their minds.

For indie authors, the same applies. Just because you can write any genre doesn’t mean you should–well, not in the beginning. Build an audience in one genre first, then you can cross into another. And pick the right genre for your writing style. Like Simon says, this makes all the difference. And let me say:

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What are your thoughts on choosing the right genre, building an audience, and brand recognition as an author?

Unusual Jobs

Interview picture

A note a staff member gave me before my interview

For this weeks snippet I’m sharing an RA interview. Another writer interviewed one of their characters last week and I really liked it! The process for the RA position is pretty intense. There’s a long, detailed application, 2-3 personal interviews, then group interviews where candidates do a series of tasks with other candidates. Organizing RA interviews and hiring can take an entire semester. It’s a big deal.

I’ve invited Carly (my character from The Hall Speaks #fallsemester) to sit with us and answer a few questions. These are real questions asked on interviews and I got them here. Hopefully it gives you a little insight into the RA job and my character. Carly wasn’t a girl I liked right away. She’s not mean but she isn’t concerned with trying to be nice. Eventually she grew on me.

The math: It’s May 7 so she will answer that many questions.  🙂

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Carly Arnold (sophomore at VBU, RA candidate)

Carly Arnold (sophomore at VBU, RA candidate)

So, Carly, thanks for meeting with me. I know you just finished interviewing with Landon for the actual RA position.  I’m going to ask you some of the same question he did but feel free to be candid. Nothing you share will get in the way of you getting the job.

1) Well, how are you?

“I’m fine…can’t wait to get out of these clothes, though. A little tight in all the wrong places if you know what I mean.” She’s wearing a lavender button down shirt and a navy skirt.

2) Ok, I won’t keep you long then. So, why do you want to be a RA?

Hm..I didn’t come to school thinking about the RA job—not at all.  My parents believe in working hard and all that, and want me to work through college. I can’t do retail or fast food stuff. No way. Being an RA seems pretty harmless. I get my own room, tell freshmen what to do, and get campus-credit. It’s really cool, when you think about it.”

She looks down at her lap for a moment, then back at me.

“Beside, it’ll be the first thing I do without my boyfriend. We’ve been together for, like– ever. So I want everyone to see that I’m more than Patrick’s girlfriend.  And the money I save my parents on room and board, they promised to give it to me after graduation. Not a bad deal.”

Pride gleams in her smile as she crosses her legs, leaning back in the chair.

3) Not a bad deal at all. And what are some of your strengths?

“I don’t really have a problem confronting people, especially if I’m right. I can keep residents in line. I’m a planner, good with numbers too. I’m an accountant major so I could maximize our RA programming funds.”

4) And what about weaknesses? What would you say those are?

“Weaknesses, Ha! I have plenty of those…like chocolate, margaritas, bakeries. In general when it comes to food I don’t discriminate. But I’ve been dating slim fast for the last 6 years so no one has to worry about me eating all the food at RA programs. But I guess my social weakness is forgetting that people have feelings. I can tend to just focus on my own,” she explains smiling with her eyes.

5) Why should we hire you?

“Because I have moves you’ve never seen.” She laughs and so do I. “I saw the original red-head, Julia Roberts,  say that in a movie once. Sorry—just wanted to see how that sounded. Why should you hire me? Well…I’m pretty awesome. But other than that, I’m reliable and really organized…I don’t stress out. School is fairly easy for me so I can handle those RA responsibilities just fine.  And I’m pretty normal. Alana’s cute if you’re into that Disney princess kind of look, but I caught her cleaning in the bathroom. I mean, who cleans public bathrooms unless it’s their job?  I’m nineteen with no major meltdowns on my record, so that should put me in the top ten on the candidate list.”

6) Carly, tell me what you would do in this situation: You notice that one of your residents doesn’t seem to want to return home for Christmas. When you approach her, she tells you she’s nervous about going home because her step-father molested her in the past. What would you do?

She sighs.“These questions… this makes me sad. I hate that people go through stuff like this—period. What I’d want to tell her is that while her step-dad is riding his broomstick to hell, that she can stay with me for break. My family is crazy-generous to everyone except me. Of course, I gave Landon the more censored, good-RA  answer, but honestly I couldn’t let her go home.”

7) Do you think Landon will hire you?

“Gosh, I sure hope so. He said I needed this job. Which I’m not exactly sure what he meant by that because my parents have money.  But he sounded pretty darn sure that I needed to be an RA on his staff. Yep–totally got that vibe from him.”

Well, maybe he thinks being an RA can help you as a person.

Her brows shift, moving closer together. She looks kind of offended.

I learned so much in the role and grew as a person because of it. Possibly he wants the same thing for you. Best of luck to you, Carly! I’m sure you’ll get the job. Thanks for letting me interview you. It’s nice getting the uncensored, unscripted version.

“Yeah, no problem. See ya around!”  She walks off towards a guy in a suit.

********

Always, thanks for reading! If you’d like to take part in WIPpet just go here.  Be sure to check out other WIPpets, I’ll be doing my rounds later today.  And thank you K. L. Schwengel for hosting! Happy reading all! Stay beautiful. 🙂

Keeping Secrets from Friends

Beautiful Day

Beautiful Day

Today I’ll be brief. Writing, my job, and being a mom is catching up with my hands. Like most of us, I spend a ridiculous amount of time on my cell phone and laptop. And I don’t own a dishwasher so that means I am the dishwasher. Anyway–all this to say, my right hand and wrist are starting to feel tired, like carpel tunnel weak. But no complaints from me! I’m glad to have food to dirty my dishes and fortunate enough to write a story I love. So I’ll just have to incorporate  activities that don’t involve using my hands as much. Since the day is GORGEOUS I think a walk by the lake is long over due. 🙂

Before I do that, I wanted to share. I came across a journal my RAs gave me years ago with quotes and encouraging words. Finding little gems like this as I’m packing to move makes me happy. With the rush of life it’s important to take a moment to reflect, appreciate, and smile. I get the feeling that this RA knew I needed to hear these quotes. I still do.

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Hope these encourage you too!

Onto my WIP, the sequel to The Hall Speaks #fallsemester which, if all goes as planned, will be available in September. If this is your first time stopping by, I write about college life. My first novel is a NA contemporary drama about resident assistants (RAs). In another WIP Wednesday, I shared an excerpt featuring RAs Ethan and Carly. They have a past but are friends, so Carly believes. But Ethan has a secret that would cause irrevocable damage to their friendship. This except is from Ethan’s POV. 🙂

Math: April 23, 2014 comes out to 23 lines or so from blog post 14.

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Keeping Secrets From Friends

#Ethan

“Hey, man,” Ethan greeted the tall, long-haired guy. Their big hands clasped together like cymbals, sending a sharp echo through the lobby.

Ethan could feel his smile spreading across his face. He felt relieved to have friends that weren’t doing the Res-Life thing. And Finn didn’t live on campus which made it even better. He pulled Finn into a hug, arching his back so that Finn’s feet lifted off the tile.

“Guess, I’ll leave you two alone…enjoy the bromance,” Carly teased, wheeling away toward the hallway.

Finn’s eyes followed Carly, paying special attention to her wheelchair. Then he stared at Ethan.

“I know—don’t,” Ethan mumbled, rubbing his shoulder, thinking back to that night.

“I’m not. But you and,” he made a gesture with his hand, pointing to the hallway Carly left down, “…working together. How do you—?” he asked, squinting.

Ethan looked down at his Nike’s, avoiding the question.

“You’re not going to tell her, huh?” Finn didn’t wait for a response. “I don’t blame you,” he finished, catching sight of a girl walking by.

Ethan’s jaw tightened a cue for ‘shut up’ already. He wished a delete button existed. He’d use it, slamming his fist on every detail of that night—the night Kyle crashed into Patrick’s SUV. Ending Patrick’s life and leaving Carly…crippled.

He shook his head, hating that he thought of her that way. Even more he hated knowing  that he could have protected her–protected them both.

*******

Always, thanks for reading! If you’d like to take part in WIPpet just go here.  Be sure to check out other WIPpets, I’ll be doing my rounds later today. I’ve missed all the stories and excerpt shared during this time.  And thank you K. L. Schwengel for hosting! Happy reading All! Stay beautiful. 🙂

NeVer ForgeT

Seven years ago today….

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I sat in my office on a Monday, sorting through an inbox full of emails. I had gotten to work early to get a jump on administrative stuff (my least favorite activity).

The morning was going along nicely. Nothing significant happening inside, but outside the unseasonably cold day was gorgeous. You know that kind of day when the air feels clean and the sun is blazing by 7 am. The bluest sky was visiting, and campus life hadn’t quite awakened from the weekend.

Simply the perfect way for an introvert to start her week.

I was in the lobby chatting it up with a student, when my supervisor approached. He face said nothing in particular. But he stopped by to let me know that two students had been shot at my school.

I remember frowning because I thought that was strange. Probably some accident, I assumed. Working and living on a college campus, few situations shocked me. I continued on with my day as normal. An hour or so passed and students crowded the lobby. They whispered to each other, looking concerned. And that’s when I felt the energy around me change.

After that, honestly, I can’t recall the exact order of events. I knew it was a shooting, but when reports started coming in about fatalities, I couldn’t process that information.

How could that be? Virginia Tech was the safest university ever. My Alma Mater was the safest school, tucked away in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

I had just graduated the previous year and the Hokie  community was family. Literally my family was there, my brother-in-law, cousins, RAs, colleagues, and dear friends. Watching CNN that day, I knew all of them were affected, but I wasn’t sure if they were all still alive.

And here I was at work, on a college campus nearby. I wanted to leave and be with my Tech family. But I needed to stay. The crisis was starting to unfold among the students around me.

VT is the largest university in Virginia and most of my students had friends there. Students in front of me, behind me cried, but I couldn’t. Not yet.

The world changed that day. The sun seemed different. Food didn’t taste the same. My job felt different. Truth is I was different. That day my worldview changed.

A week later I was able to talk with a colleague at VT, and something she said never left me.

I couldn’t fathom what that day was like for her and other Residence life staff there. The first shooting occurred in a dorm I lived in the previous year. Wrapping my mind around such a tragedy was hard enough, being there when as it happened, I couldn’t imagine.

But I wondered how did they handle it? What did the RAs do knowing they had lost a fellow RA and residents?

She paused and said, “We were working. We worked.”

Now, that to me was shocking. But once I let the words sink in, I was inspired. That, in the middle of the biggest tragedy to ever happen on any college campus, RAs and professional staff worked. It was powerful. And I couldn’t have been more proud of the way they pulled together.

Hokie Community at the Memorial VT

Hokie Community at the Memorial VT

Residence Life staff members across the country face several types of issues living the halls. The work they do is irreplaceable and invaluable. Universities need them more than I can explain. I just wanted to write a story to capture the RA experience—the Residence Life experience. And I did.  Because they work when no one is watching, they are always working.

I’ll never forget that day, the heart always remembers. To my dear friends I lost that day, we live for you!

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry,

and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

~Nikki Giovanni

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Get In The Club–No, This Kind Of Club

I lived in Dallas—shout-out to all my Texas writers! I miss Texas.

My writing life flourished there because my support team kept me focused and motivated. I even attended a weekly critique group. I’m still building that writerly support where I live now. It takes time. I’ve only been in DC for a little over a year.

But I’ve found a group, one that helps my writing more than they know.

How I joined was a bit of a coincidence, a friend of a friend sort of invitation. Honestly I didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I read books like most people watch TV, keeping up with several novels at a time, but sitting around talking about them in a casual sense…um, well… I was the blank slate when it came to this sort of thing.

I’m talking about joining a book club. A writer in a book club—how perfect?!

Each time we meet and dissect discuss a book, I get an education. Mostly on how the novel failed miserably or why it’s loved. I mean unable-to-put-novel-down kind of love.

For a writer it’s all pretty enlightening. Especially since their perspective is fresh, unbiased, simple-honest. None of them are writers—just readers. Hungry readers.

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And I love hungry readers.

Their advice is so helpful as I apply it to my writing. So here it is: Book Club Happiness and Helpful Tips for Writers.

  1. Question. Readers like books that keep them turning the pages. Sounds like a no-brainer, but this is the true art. How does one write to keep them reading? I noted all the books that we finished quickly. Each book had a big, intriguing question. The author would write around this topic, not really answering the question until way later. And the question has to be compelling enough that you cannot leave the story alone until it’s answered.
  1. Friends. Books are enjoyed best with friends. Obviously books have become just, if not, more social than the authors that wrote them. I can’t count the number of books I’ve read because they had a following. I only read the Hunger Games because all of my campus students were going completely nuts about it. I just wanted to see what had them so excited.Often times it’s the reader’s curiosity and wanting to belong, that makes them pick up a book. In this book club, word-of-mouth is the number one way we select books. Usually it’s a visit to Goodreads, selecting what’s popular (I’m the exception, I always select books by indie authors that none of them have heard of). So, new authors have to find the right group to build their audience. There’s an audience for every book, but finding them–that’s the real work.
  1. Escapism. I’m not sure if it’s the constant drama in the (bad) news, but we are constantly looking for an escape. Something to keep our mind off the world. Our world at times. So it’s not a surprise that we get excited about summer blockbusters, television shows, and book releases. All present opportunities to escape. Even if it’s just for a few hours, from our to-do-list, homework, or life’s problems, these breaks are so necessary. Readers want to get lost in your novel, to completely forget that they were cooking dinner or waiting for the bus. This goes along with knowing your audience and what’s an ‘escape’ for them. Personally, I’ve known too many friends crushed by cancer that reading, The Fault In Our Stars, is a no-go. I have no doubt it’s amazing but it wouldn’t be much of an escape for me. Thank you—but no thanks, John Green. 😉

If you’re working on a novel or enjoying writing, I highly recommend joining a book club. Remember, everything we do as writers is useful research–yep, even a Book Club. Happy Friday!! 🙂

 

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