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Author Interview – Rachael Sparks

I am so excited to share with you my interview with fellow Spark Press author, Rachael Sparks! She is here to talk about her debut novel Resistant, to be released October 16, 2018. Mark your calendars, you won’t want to miss this one!

Tell us about your novel

Resistant, imagines a world post-antibiotics, which is truly almost upon us. The main character is a woman who has lost her mother to an infection and is getting by with her father but discovers she might hold the cure in her own blood. Because of that, she’s a target of several groups that would like to control that cure. She’s unsure whom to trust and still trying to protect her friends and family while she determines the real answer, and the adventure takes off from there. It’s a little bit sci-fi, adventure, action and romance, so I think it’s going to appeal to many readers.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the publicity steps for Resistant, which releases in mid October. I’m also finishing a work in progress that I love working on. It’s set in 1700s Maine and the present day, with just a dash of science, a pinch of witch, and romance threading through two stories. The two main characters are distant relatives and I’ve really come to adore learning about them—and about lighthouses, Maine, and medicine in colonial Americas.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

I’m certain I was quite a terrible writer in my youth, but I was just writing fun tales for myself. Later in my early 30s, better stories came to me but I wasn’t confident enough to write them. If I could advise younger Rachael, I would say to start practicing and writing down those tales stuck in my brain. It took the confidence of age for me to begin writing seriously, but also the experiences and exposure to different styles of writing. It even took exposure to some poor, yet published, writing that gave me a sense of “Well. If they can, I can.” So maybe I would just buy her a drink, wink, and tell her she’s capable of more than she knows.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you decide to become one?

Very, very secretively, yes. As a kid, I read nonstop. I daydreamed in full, detailed stories that I would revise constantly, as if daydreams needed to have a proper plot. I never actually dreamed it could be a career, though. Michael Crichton was a god to me, and he seemed omniscient in a way I didn’t think I was capable of achieving. But over time I came to see I was an autodidact with obsessive research tendencies.

At some point I realized I’d accrued a lot of these stories, along with a fairly unique knowledge set, and that I could weave many into a full novel, the type I wished someone was writing and publishing: a meal with all my favorite flavors of science, action, thrills, mystery, romance, danger. It had been simmering, then two events made Resistant happen. One, a dream of Rory and Navy in a certain scene that happens at the climax of the novel. And two, my husband and I had a dare between us for who could finish the first step towards our most secret aspiration—either he would finish a small piece of furniture, or I would finish the first five chapters of a novel. We had three months. I finished Resistant nine months later.

Who is your favorite character in your book(s)?

Well, Rory is my main character, so I do adore her. But I think I favor Navy, her co-hero, because I find him difficult to get to know. There’s a lot more to learn about him if one could pry his brain open. Fortunately, that’s my task.

Where do you do most of your writing?

Wherever I can find a quiet moment! Family, work, and trying to have a healthy life can both slow you down and feed your imagination. But usually from nine to midnight, and if I can beat everyone awake, during the blue hours of the morning. I love that color of light and the sense that everyone is dreaming on pillows while I’m dreaming on [digital] paper.

What inspires you?

Learning new information, exercise and music inspire me. I read as many scientific and history articles as fiction work, and am constantly saving them to bookmarks so they can inspire a new plot twist. I have a playlist that is curated to the mood of each WIP. It’s the soundtrack to the movie playing in my mind. If I’m stuck, for me, a hike or a long walk to said soundtrack usually bubbles up a new twist or motivates a stuck character. And when I want historical perspective, I love to dig through the New York Public Library’s Digital Collection– if you haven’t been, go, and I advise putting your vacation responder on.

What else would you like your readers to know about you?

I’d probably want my readers to know that I appreciate them. If we ever meet, I hope they’ll say hello, let me buy them a beer, or even cook them some pasta. For reassurance, I would also want them to know I used to cook professionally. It’ll be good.

Tell us a little about your process. Pantser? Plotter? Mixture of both?

Once I sit to write, the pantser takes over. When I am unable to actually type, I try to record my disparate thoughts and needles of “this character is too likeable and needs faults” or “don’t forget to take that gun off the wall soon”. Thank goodness for Google Keep (tm?), while I continue the search for a plot-mapping app that I like.

What are you reading right now?

I’m ashamed to admit how many books. I’m reading Eliot Peper – 2 of his. Just finished Adrienne Young’s Sky in the Deep. Kelli Clare’s Hidden. Andrew Mayne’s Looking Glass. James Scott’s The Kept. The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry. And re-reading Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, That’s the fiction stuff. Maryn McKenna’s Big Chicken is in progress too. As you might imagine, everything moves pretty slowly with that many going on. It’s a recent problem I’ve developed that I’m not sure how to treat.

If you could spend the day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

AJ, a character who will have a larger role in the sequel, is a fishing captain of her own vessel. I’d love to go on a fishing trip with her off the coast of Woods Hole, MA. Maybe swing into Martha’s Vineyard for a homebrew and pizza at the Offshore Ale Co.

What actor/actress would you like to play the part of your protagonist if your book became a movie/television show?

Rory is in her twenties, so I imagine there are hundreds of talented actors [actresses? Not sure the preferred parlance these days] who could play her. It seems more fun to find an unknown actor with untapped talent! I’m certainly unknown so far. On the other hand, I think Jennifer Lawrence and I share the commonality of a well-educated pirate’s vocabulary and a fondness for a pint.

What are your top 3 favorite books?

So hard to narrow down! I guess I’d say the ones that haunt me most: The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry. Wuthering Heights. Jurassic Park.

But if we’re being honest, I confess to rereading Daddy Long Legs. Though fiction, it’s this historical, literal progression of a poor, uneducated orphan from child to a young woman, told through the letters she writes to her benefactor. While it’s outdated and of course today the story would never be so patriarchal, I still like reading how Jerusha overcomes her insecurities through education and faith in her natural skills. Her college education, her social education, are all relayed through such an honest lens, and her destiny is to be a writer. I daydream of writing the modern adaptation.

Do you have any rituals that you practice before sitting down to write?

Music on. That’s all. When I write, I think it’s wise to read a bit of my last writing as well as a random chapter somewhere else. The former refreshes me of where I was headed, and the latter both cuts editing time in the final product and keeps the mood consistent in the overall story.

What do you like to spend time doing when you aren’t writing?

I love to cook with my daughter, and to feed my family and friends. Pasta occupies a steady 1/8thof my daily thoughts. My dogs appreciate a walk, though I don’t always appreciate their addition to mine. I like to have a glass of anything with my husband, who is charming and hilarious and challenges me. I treasure time with my mother, who at 74 is spry and brilliant, especially when she gets sassy. She leads our hiking adventures. I garden for beauty and food, and try to learn what is edible that we all ignore [latest: look for a plant called lamb’s quarters, it’s a weed but the wilder, nuttier version of spinach]. Ask me on Twitter for my fresh Caesar dressing recipe, or anything about pasta.

Here is more about Resistant

Book Cover Resistant

In the final battle with drug-resistant bacteria, one woman’s blood holds a secret weapon. Rory and her father have survived the antibiotic crisis that has killed millions, including Rory’s mother—but ingenuity and perseverance aren’t their only advantages. When a stoic and scarred young military veteran enters their quiet life, Rory is drawn to him against her better judgment . . . until he exposes the secrets her mother and father kept from her, including the fact that her own blood may hold the cure the world needs. Now she is the target of groups fighting to reach it first. When the government comes after Rory, aiming to use her for a cure it can sell to the highest bidder, she’s forced to flee with her father and their new protector. But can she find the new path of human evolution before the government finds her?

Here is more about Rachael:

Rachael Sparks was born in Waco, Texas. She graduated with a degree in microbiology from Texas A&M University and her first college job was ghostwriting a nonfiction science book. After a decade-long career in Austin, Texas, as a transplant specialist, she joined a startup fighting healthcare-acquired infections. After relocating with her husband, young daughter, and mother to Asheville, North Carolina, she finally put her first novel onto the page. In her free time she serves on the board of the Asheville Museum of Science and loves to cook, brew, garden, and spend time with friends and family in between obsessively researching new science concepts, history, or new recipes.

Connect with Rachael:

 

 

Generating More Ideas for Writing

In my last blog post, I wrote about understanding your gifts, talents, and knowledge for generating ideas for writing. See it here. This week, I am going a bit further to help you with coming up with ideas for your book, or your blog, or even your journal.

People Watching

Do you ever eat out? Go to a coffee shop by yourself? Or to the park?

men at coffee shopI like to do all of the above, and one of my favorite things to do is people-watch. I love to see how people interact with each other. I like to study the expression on their faces, watch their body language. What are they doing? Are they eating with abandon, or are they picking at their food? Why? If someone looks like they are shoveling in their food, are they in a hurry? Are they starving? Or are they trying to avoid something? Same with picking at their food. Are they not hungry, do they not like what they ordered? Are they preoccupied? With what? Write down the possibilities. Make up a story about that person.

It is also fun to watch people interact with animals. Animals can bring out the best in people. Watch how they treat their animal. What is the story behind their relationship? Was the animal from a rescue center? Why did that animal end up in a rescue shelter? Or, has the animal been with the person from birth? Is the animal a service animal? If so, why does that person need a service animal?

Come up with a story about the animal, or the person, and how they ended up together, and what they mean to one another. Or, perhaps you can take the subject of animal/human relationships and write a piece or even a book on that.

Documentaries/Ted Talks/ Movies and Television

Inspiration is all over the internet. Look up documentaries on YouTube about a particular subject, topic, or person that interests you. Ted Talks are full of inspiration and amazing ideas that people have already come up with. You could expand on that.

What are your favorite cable television shows? Longmire? Game of Thrones? Downtown Abbey? Take something from that time period or place and create your own characters and your own stories. Maybe your protagonist is inspired by Mary Crawley of Downton Abbey or Henry Standing Bear from Longmire. You don’t need to copy the character, just take one of their personality traits you find interesting and build your own character with that trait. How many books and novels have been written based on characters, settings, and situations that come from beloved fairytales? Endless numbers.

Magazines and Collage Creation

farming collageLove to flip through your favorite magazines? Or maybe you are interested in a particular topic like horses, or auto mechanics, tiny houses, or fashion. Find magazines on the topic and cut out photos of people, places or things that interest you. On an 8×11 piece of paper or larger poster board, past the photos onto it in an aesthetically pleasing way to you. Or make a collage on Pinterest or Canva. Use that visual inspiration as a springboard for your story, blog post, or article. Make up a story using the information you have in front of you.

For example, if writing fiction, you could create a character who lives on a huge 40-acre ranch with horses, but lives in a tiny house. Why do they live on such a big spread but in a small house? Are they trying to make a simpler life for themselves? Are they running toward something or from something or someone? If I were writing the story, the main character wants a simpler life but loves the great outdoors, or maybe they inherited the land, but can’t afford to build a big house. A murder might happen in a nearby town, or my protagonist would uncover some mystery that has been long forgotten in the town or on the ranch.

For non-fiction, you could write about the importance of simplicity, getting back to nature, or how to build a tiny house or take care of horses. The possibilities are endless.

Your Own Experiences, Information or Imagination

What is your profession? Does anything unusual or interesting happen in your day job? Could it? Think about different authors who use their experiences or ideas in their books. For instance, take Tess Gerritsen a former physician who wrote the Rizzoli and Isles books that co-feature a female cop and female medical examiner. Or John Grisham, a former lawyer who’s written a number of legal thrillers.

In the non-fiction arena, take someone like Brendan Bouchard who has written a number of books on productivity, and living a more productive, fulfilled and successful life. His interests and experiences helped him become one of the leading self-help coaches of all time.

Inspiration is everywhere. On the internet and in nature, in television, film, and books. Get curious. Ask yourself a myriad of questions and the most important question—What if? Write down your ideas. Focus on the one that gets you the most excited. You might be surprised at how many ideas you can come up with. Maybe too many, but that’s a topic for another day!

 

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Author Interview with Mystery Author Chris Asbrey

Today I am interviewing mystery author Chris Asbrey whose novel, The Innocents,  will be released April 19! The book is available for pre-order on Amazon. Get it here. 

About The Author

Chris Asbrey has lived and worked all over the world in the Police Service, Civil Service, and private industry, working for the safety, legal rights, and security of the public. A life-changing injury meant a change of course into contract law and consumer protection for a department attached to the Home Office. She has produced magazine and newspaper articles based on consumer law and written guides for the Consumer Direct Website. She acted as a consultant to the BBC’s One Show and Watchdog and been interviewed on BBC radio answering questions on consumer law to the public.

She lives with her husband and two daft cats in Northamptonshire, England—for now. She’s moving to the beautiful medieval city of York.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I kinda do. I write under my married name and feature on social media under my maiden name for social interactions. I also write under initials. I don’t hide my gender, but it’s not immediately obvious when you look at the book cover.

Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

‘The Innocents’ is most definitely part of a larger body of work. It’s the first of a trilogy, but if people like them there’ plenty of scope to keep them going. I would still continue with each book being a self-contained mystery with the larger universe of the characters providing an over-arching connection between the books. The third book is written and at editing stage, but there are plenty of trials I can still put the characters through yet.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Emotional upset for sure. My last book took me a year to write as I was distracted by my husband being injured in an accident and my mother-in-law passing away from a long illness. I was very lucky to have a lovely mother-in-law. She is sorely missed.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I’ve met many wonderful people on this journey and I’ve found them to be an incredibly generous and open community. I’d really encourage new writers to reach out and make contact. Not only will you find that they share resources, but you’ll probably make all kinds of new friends too. There are too many to mention but Kit Prate and Joanie Chevalier deserve a special mention. Both have been so supportive and inspiring to a brand new writer and have gone the extra mile in helping me cross over so many barriers. Kit introduced me to her publisher after reading my work and helped me out of the slush pile. Joanie helped to point me towards the various groups which help a new writer with marketing and publicity. Not only that but she actually made up some advertising material and told me to ‘get my swag on.’ I was being far too Scottish—reticent and unwilling to look like I was bragging by saying my book was good. Both ladies have been incredible and I can’t thank them enough. Read their books and you’ll soon see how lucky I was to be assisted by them.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

That would be in my work as a young police officer. I learned that talking people down from spiraling emotions is a powerful tool in keeping people safe, and more potent than violence. I also learned that listening to detail is vital too. Noting the small things helped to push cases along in gathering evidence. I also learned the complex and intricate ways people use language to put you down and grab power in a situation. Understanding that really helps you stay in control of a situation.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

That would have to be ‘The Moonstone’ by Wilkie Collins. Not only is it considered the first proper detective novel in the English language, it also shows working class females as rounded characters instead of foils for male attention. It also is the first to introduce many of the elements we take for granted in mysteries such as red herrings, false suspects, the skilled investigator, and a final twist. Collins was actually vastly more popular than Dickens in his day, but is now largely forgotten in comparison.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal? 

Lol, maybe a giant sloth? Or one of those dogs or cats which go viral for bumping into glass doors or falling off things?

How do you select the names of your characters?

As I write 19th-century characters I try to keep them in period and maintain a sense of place. I’ll research popular or unusual names as well as using names of people I know if they’re appropriate. I’ve also been known to add really unusual names to my note as I come across them. Some are too good not to use.

Who is the most famous person you have ever met?

That would be either the Pope or the Queen – on a protection duty. When the Pope visited Scotland I was the police officer at the bottom of the aircraft steps. We then moved with him into the city. As a fun aside, the glass-covered vehicle he used was nicknamed the Pope Mobile by the press. The crowds were all still there when we returned to the airport in the Pope mobile without him. We stood in full uniform waving flowers out the top to cheering crowds as we drove the full length of Prince’s Street in Edinburgh (the big main street in Scotland’s capital city). The crowd cheered us and waved flags as we passed. Only a Scottish crowd could hail a car full of police officers like that. Great fun.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book? 

Copious amounts. ‘The Innocents’ has taken years of research into the work of the early Pinkertons, especially the female agents and the kind of work they did, including their methodologies. I research everything, even the stationary which was in use and the correct codes for the telegraph stations mentioned in the books. The theatrical make up, used as disguises in the book, began to flourish right around the period the books are set in. Lighting had improved and people could see the flaws in the rudimentary stuff previously only lit by candles. The forensics are fascinating to dig into too. You name it I researched it.

What was your hardest scene to write?

The interrogation scene. I had to inject a sense of menace into it to make it work. I know it’s not usual to make your hero do bad things, but he’s a professional criminal and he has to find out who this mysterious woman is and how much danger the heroine poses to him.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been playing with the characters for about ten years, but work and life got in the way. I started writing seriously about two years ago and spent about a year being turned down by everyone. I acted on every bit of feedback and continually got my work reviewed and improved until it was polished enough to be accepted.

What inspires you?

Often fact is stranger than fiction, so I’ll start with real crime or criminals. I‘ll then change it to ensure that even people familiar with that particular crime can’t guess whodunit. The stories are inspired by real crimes and people but they are not a memoir. They are stories where everything is historically possible. It either happened or could have happened.

How did you come to write The Innocents?

My grasp on the methodologies used by law enforcement, when applied the law in day to day enquiries in the days before technology was available, as well as historic weaknesses and blind spots in the both the legal and court systems, make for an authentic backdrop to the characters.

I was always a voracious reader, my mother teaching me with flashcards at the age of two, and graduating to the adult section of the library about the age of ten. I easily finished three books a week for years and was lost without one. Mysteries were a real love and I consumed the works of writers old and new constantly. The one thing I always wanted to do was to write but never had the confidence or time to do more than dream about it.

As a child I loved to run lines with my actor father when he rehearsed, and peeked in on the parties full of creative people singing, dancing, telling jokes, performing and discussing the issues of the day. Childhood taught me that creativity was something you do, not something you passively watch. That carried over to a love of singing, professionally and with choirs, as well as playing some dodgy fiddle music, alongside far better musicians who either made me sound okay or drowned me out entirely. Either way I managed to carry it off for a bit and even bagged a musician husband.

I first became interested in the female pioneers in law enforcement when I joined the police in Scotland. History has always held a draw and the colorful stories of the older officers piqued my interest, making her look even further back.

The very first women in law enforcement had been in France, working for the Sûreté in the early 19th century. They were, however, no more than a network of spies and prostitutes, the most infamous being the notorious ‘Violette’. Now there’s another story which needs to be told!

The first truly professional women in law enforcement worked for the Pinkerton Agency, and they were trained by the first female agent Kate Warne, an ex-actress and an expert in working undercover. Kate Warne was an expert at disguise, adopting roles, and accents. She was said to be daring and able to pass her characters off, even in close quarters. In the only known photograph of her she is dressed as a man. This was a skill set my childhood had prepared her to understand.

These women were fully-fledged agents, with their skills being held in high regard by Alan Pinkerton who once said, “In my service you will serve your country better than on the field. I have several female operatives. If you agree to come aboard you will go in training with the head of my female detectives, Kate Warne. She has never let me down.”

I started to wonder why one of the female agents couldn’t be a Scottish Immigrant. After all, Alan Pinkerton was one. He came from Glasgow. Being a Scot in another land is something I know well. They do say you should write what you know.

My work has taken me all over the world, but working in the USA and visiting the places where these women worked deepened my passion for finding out more about how they lived. I also researched the tools and equipment available to them at the time. Connections to police and Home Office experts allowed me to research the birth of forensics with people who knew their subject intimately.

The topic for ‘The Innocents Mystery Series’ simmered in the background for years, and all the time I was researching more and more deeply into the period. I love the rapid pace of innovation and invention in the 19th century. Nothing pleases me more than finding spy gadgets available at the time which were invented far earlier than most people would think possible.

Work and life got in the way of the books being anything more than an idea until I was suddenly grounded by a serious accident. The enforced leisure time of recuperation focused my mind and the old dream of writing resurfaced. It started as a short story which took on a life of its own when it grew and grew—then grew some more.

Eventually, ‘The Innocents Mysteries’ evolved and I found the perfect home for it at Prairie Rose. This is my first foray into fiction. I have produced magazine and newspaper articles based on consumer law and written guides for the Consumer Direct Website. I was Media Trained by The Rank Organization, and acted as a consultant to the BBC’s One Show and Watchdog. I have also been interviewed on BBC radio answering questions on consumer law to the public.

I run a blog which explores all things strange, mysterious, and unexpected about the 19th century. It was a huge compliment to be told that another writer finds it a great resource. The link can be found below.

I live with my husband and two daft cats in Northamptonshire, England—for now. Another move is on the cards in 2108 to the beautiful city of York.

Link to book (Click here)

Blog which includes things obscure and strange in the Victorian period     http://caasbrey.com/

Twitter  https://twitter.com/CAASBREY

Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/mysteryscrivener/

Facebook group for The Innocents Mystery Series 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/937572179738970/?ref=br_rs

Ignore the Cynics – Be Who You Are

“…I want you to remember this: the world has never been changed by people who are apathetic. It takes ZERO courage to be a cynic. Keep dreaming. Keep creating. Keep leading with your heart.” ~Marie Forleo

I came across this quote in one of the emails I get from Marie Forleo, a personal development and business coach whom I follow.

A cynic is “a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view.”

Marie is right. It does take ZERO courage to be a cynic—to criticize, to judge, to disapprove of people trying to live their dream or make something of or for themselves, while they do nothing. And, “to minimize selfless acts or disinterested points of view?” There is no pleasing these people I tell you.

Have you ever encountered a cynic when it comes to your writing? I’m sure I don’t even have to ask the question because it happens all the time. I’m sure you’ve been faced with the opinions of friends, associates, and even family members who think you are just “indulging yourself” or you are “deluded” into thinking you can make something of your writing.

I say to you dear writer, consider the source.

Most cynics don’t appreciate that writing is hard work; that if the writer doesn’t love writing for writing’s sake, it will be difficult for them to finish anything or make headway with getting an agent, or publisher, or even publishing themselves. Long gone are the days of the glorified “genius” who sits at his or her desk all day long, working on their tome and nothing else. Today, writers must not only write, they must find their own editors, do their own marketing, and find their own audience. Unfortunately, it’s not just about the writing anymore.

Cynical looking manBut, even taking that into account, most writers I’ve come across take on these monumental tasks because writing is part of who they are. They feel most comfortable expressing themselves through the written word. They desire a connection with others through their written message or stories. Whether they write fiction or non-fiction, it is their desire to understand human nature, research what motivates people, touches them, completes them. Most writers are always asking the questions WHY and HOW in order to reach people. I think that makes them extraordinary and compassionate. Not selfish.

If a cynic or two, or three, or more, have ever squashed your writing dreams—don’t give them that kind of power. Remember you are the courageous one, putting yourself out there, asking the hard questions, daring to connect with and help people. Doing the work. Take comfort in knowing your words, your message, and your passion matter.

You may not make a ton of money, or become famous, or be considered a creative “genius” but you are reaching out to people. You can touch people, help people, and influence people with your writing. Let the cynics be cynical and stew in their own negativity. You know the truth about who you are and what you do, while they only think they do.

Like Marie says, “Keep dreaming. Keep creating. Keep leading with your heart.” Your existence will be much happier and much more fulfilled.

 

 

 

Create Your Own Writing Space

Do you have your own writing space? A place dedicated to your writing life?

If not, I suggest you find one or create one. A place that is all your own, where you can sink into your writing self without any disturbances or distractions.

As I wrote about in my article “The Importance of Ritual for Productive Writing,” having a set time and place for your writing is important. Once we have a place and a space physically and emotionally, it will be easier for us to go to that space and place to get some writing done.

I met a woman at a writer’s conference a few years ago who was struggling with her writing. She worked nights, full time, had an adult child and grandchild living at home, and a husband who worked at home. Do you see where I’m going here? The woman had no space to herself, no place where she could retreat from her responsibilities. So, I asked her questions about her house. Was there any place she could go to be alone? She mentioned a small attic room with a window seat. She said when she had time, she would sometimes go sit in that window seat and read. I suggested she put a small table or desk near the window and take her laptop up there and see how it worked.

I got an email from her several months later and she explained how she’d taken up the entire room–painted it, redecorated it, and put a lock on the door. And yes, she’d made incredible progress on her novel. Yay!

So, here’s a photo of my writing space. I thought about cleaning up my desk before taking the photo, but that just wouldn’t be real. This is how I work. I usually have a couple of books on my desk, (note Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach—wonderful for inspiration and to get me in the creative mindset.) I usually have my diffuser going, something to drink sitting on my desk, my teapot at the ready, papers everywhere.

Writing deskYes, my office is quite large but cozy. When we moved last year, I commandeered this room and my husband graciously (and thankfully) agreed. It’s my space, my sanctuary, my happy place. I have no excuse not to write.

If you aren’t able to find a place in your home, then make a ritual of going somewhere. I used to work at a local restaurant/café that had decent internet service. Sometimes it was hard to tune out the conversations going on around me, but I also found the vibe of the place inspiring. I’d get a pot of blueberry tea, find myself a nice cushy booth and settle in for a couple of hours. Sometimes I treated myself to lunch.

For a while, a friend of mine would come and join me. We would catch up for a few minutes, or brainstorm about our projects and then get to work. It was nice to be accountable to someone else. We helped each other keep focused.

To be a writer takes a lot of discipline, and when there are so many distractions in our busy lives, it’s sometimes hard to get motivated. Having a space where you can go and “retreat” can make all the difference. I hope you have a space to call your own for your writing—and if you don’t, maybe it’s time to treat yourself and make one!

 

The Importance of Ritual for Productive Writing

In the age of electronics, computers, social media, technology – life has become a great balancing act. We try to balance our work, our families, our social life, and our hobbies. Often, little time is left for our passion. Sometimes, we have to schedule time for ourselves and our art. In fact, it has become necessary to do so in order to complete or fulfill our passion.

I have had trouble recently with scheduling time for myself due to some family issues. In my life and in my world—as I am sure it is with you—family comes first. But, we also need to make time for ourselves and our passions, or we are not complete, and we are not able to be there as effectively for our other responsibilities.

The best way I have found to make time for my writing is to create rituals around it. I don’t stick to a strict schedule, but I find that using ritual helps me to make time every day for my writing. First thing in the morning, I think about what I am grateful for—it gets me into a pleasant frame of mind and helps me to tackle any of the tasks I don’t like doing. I often do a little meditating and then set an intention for the day. I also read the affirmations that I have created for myself to myself out loud. It’s best to read them to yourself in the mirror, but that isn’t always possible. Then I go on to do the “life” things I need to accomplish.

When it is time for me to sit and write, I get out my essential oils. I’ve been using essential oils for about two years now to settle, inspire, comfort, and focus me. I take a whiff of a couple and try to be open to which one is speaking to me – not literally of course—but which one fills me with good feelings and inspiration. Some of my favorite include Envision, Highest Potential, Joy, and Oola Balance from Young Living Oils. They are all high frequency, emotional oils and they just make me feel good. Grapefruit, Lemon, Peppermint, and Cypress are the single oils I like to use for creativity. Once I’ve picked the “oil of the day” I put some drops in my diffuser, put on some ambient music and sit down to write.

Other rituals I have used  to get the creative juices flowing are:

Freeform journal writing. I’ll write down whatever comes into my head no matter how crazy or disorganized—I just spew.

Write down 10 things I am grateful for. This puts me in a great frame of mind and makes me feel like I can conquer anything.

Read inspirational quotes from other writers.

Brainstorm with a writing friend.

Make a date to write with a friend.

Always write in the same space. I like to write in my office, but for you, it might be your dining room table, Starbucks, or your favorite tea house.

I’ve heard somewhere that to develop a habit, you must do the thing 12 times. Consistency is key. Once you have developed the ritual, you will find that your day is not complete without it–it will magically have worked its way into your daily life, and you will feel odd if you don’t complete the ritual.

Give it a try. Set a ritual around your writing. I hope you find it as comforting, inspiring and enlivening as I have.

 

Guest Blog Post – Rachel Dacus

I am so honored a pleased to bring you a  guest post from author Rachel Dacus, whose time travel romance novel, The Renaissance Club, was released in January!

In this post, Rachel shares with us what got her interested in writing and how reading led her to her dream of becoming an author.

How I Began to Want to Write

Writing is nothing but wanting to tell a story so much you actually learn how to. I had that desire at age ten. I blame my mother, who took me to Acre of Books in downtown Long Beach, California and encouraged me to pick out books. I found my books by color: a row of colorful, clothbound books written by a man named L. Frank Baum. I remember the word “Oz” was stamped in gold on their spines. It was a short hop down the Yellow Brick Road to the Writing Wishing Well, my source of all inspiration and aspiration to tell a good story.

Next came the colored fairytale books, notably the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. The idea of a kingdom under my bed was so appealing that I began to imagine alternate kingdoms everywhere—in my back yard, down the block, in the ravine, over the hill.

Then came Nancy Drew. Mysteries! After all, everything in my world, and every kingdom I could imagine, was mysterious. At the age of ten, eleven, and twelve, there’s so much you notice and don’t understand. And the adults in your life are always telling you they’ll explain it all when you’re older.

My first novel was called The Prisoner of the Locked Room. It was 100 pages long! I can’t imagine what I wrote because I still didn’t understand that a mystery revolved around a murder. I don’t believe at that age I had yet heard of murders. I led a sheltered childhood. So, I wrote all around this mysterious locked room, with its nameless prisoner—why imprisoned? Who? I decided to figure that out later. But I also decided to better Nancy Drew, and devised twin girl sleuths! Double the fun, double the fancy clothes, double the mystery-solving! Now all I needed was an actual mystery.

I trace my love of literature to the lavish amounts of bedtime reading aloud my mother did. I learned to love words and stories so young. Hopefully, every child in the world can be read to. And I not only learned to love words, but to make them. I was the kid who brought a typewriter to fourth grade, so I could write a play for the class to enact. The Westward Expansion may never be the same, but the thrill of hearing my words and story spoken aloud is unforgettable. Thanks, Mom, for reading to me and teaching me touch typing—giving me a love of language and an important tool to write!

The Renaissance Club Media Kit

By Rachel Dacus

Fiery Seas Publishing

January 23, 2018

Time Travel Romance

May Gold, college adjunct, often dreams about the subject of her master’s thesis – Gianlorenzo Bernini. In her fantasies, she’s in his arms, the wildly adored partner of the man who invented the Baroque.

But in reality, May has just landed in Rome with her teaching colleagues and older boyfriend who is paying her way. She yearns to unleash her passion and creative spirit, and when the floor under the gilded dome of St Peter’s basilica rocks under her feet, she gets her chance. Walking through the veil that appears, she finds herself in the year 1624, staring straight into Bernini’s eyes. Their immediate and powerful attraction grows throughout May’s tour of Italy. And as she continues to meet her ethereal partner, even for brief snatches of time, her creativity and confidence blossom. All the doorways to happiness seem blocked for May-all except the shimmering doorway to Bernini’s world.

May has to choose: stay in her safe but stagnant existence or take a risk. Will May’s adventure in time ruin her life or lead to a magical new one?

Buy Links

ISBN: 978-1-946143-41-9  ~  eBook  ~  $6.99

ISBN: 978-1-946143-42-6  ~  Paperback  ~  $16.99

Amazon  ~  Barnes & Noble  ~  Kobo  ~  iBooks 

~  Praise for The Renaissance Club  ~

Enchanting, rich and romantic…a poetic journey through the folds of time. In THE RENAISSANCE CLUB, passion, art, and history come together in this captivating tale of one woman’s quest to discover her true self and the life she’s meant to lead. Rachel Dacus deftly crafts a unique and spellbinding twist to the time-traveling adventure that’s perfect for fans of Susanna Kearsley and Diana Gabaldon. — Kerry Lonsdale, Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author

The Renaissance Club is a beautifully written story about a woman torn between two worlds—the present and the distant past. This time-travel adventure kept me guessing until the end about which world May would choose, and if that choice would be the right one. Highly recommended for lovers of time travel fiction or anyone looking for a compelling story about a woman trying to find happiness. — Annabelle Costa, Author of The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend.

The Renaissance Club shimmers with beauty, poetry, and art. Author Rachel Dacus sweeps her readers away to Italy with her, lifting the senses with the sights, sounds, and tastes of that stunning country; imparting her deep knowledge of Renaissance and Baroque art while immersing the reader in a gorgeously romantic story. This book is time travel at its best! — Georgina Young-Ellis, author of The Time Mistress Series

About the Author:

Rachel Dacus is the daughter of a bipolar rocket engineer who blew up a number of missiles during the race-to-space 1950’s. He was also an accomplished painter. Rachel studied at UC Berkeley and has remained in the San Francisco area. Her most recent book, Gods of Water and Air, combines poetry, prose, and a short play on the afterlife of dogs. Other poetry books are Earth Lessons and Femme au Chapeau.

Her interest in Italy was ignited by a course and tour on the Italian Renaissance. She’s been hooked on Italy ever since. Her essay “Venice and the Passion to Nurture” was anthologized in Italy, A Love Story: Women Write About the Italian Experience. When not writing, she raises funds for nonprofit causes and takes walks with her Silky Terrier. She blogs at Rocket Kid Writing.

Social Media:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

 

 

Fear Series: #3 Fear of Revealing the Human Within

naked woman hiding in dark - fearing exposureFear of self-exposure and fear of rejection go hand in hand. In exposing our innermost thoughts and feelings through our writing, we are risking criticism, ridicule, and rejection.

Is fear of exposing your true self holding you back from writing your message or your story? It’s not an uncommon problem. When we write, we pour ourselves into the work. We leave some, or a lot, of ourselves on the page for all the world to see. This can be intimidating and overwhelming. When we think about who might read our work–our parents, our children, our colleagues etc., and what they might think of the work, or us, after reading it can sometimes prevent us from writing what we are called to write. Here are some things to keep in mind when you fear self-exposure.

1. You have control over what you reveal.

If you are writing a memoir or any other piece of non-fiction that is personal, it is important to know you have complete control over what you reveal. That said, be aware that what you are afraid to write about may resonate with someone else. If it is your aim to help others through your work, in exposing your experiences, good and bad, you may reach someone who is going through or may have experienced the same thing. You can be of service to that person. You can connect with that person in a profound way. Isn’t that what sharing your work is all about?

In fiction, we can “hide behind the curtain” so to speak. We can put ourselves, our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and experiences into the development of a character. We can also recreate experiences we’ve had, and unless we divulge it, the reader will never know if it was our experience or not. Still, if the emotions or experiences are particularly painful, it can often feel as if we are exposing a part of ourselves we don’t want people to see.

In writing my historical mysteries I often use people from my life to portray a character. Many of my antagonists have been crafted from people whom I didn’t like, who have done me or my loved ones harm, or who are just negative, not very nice people. I used to fear that if my work got published that person would recognize themselves and get their feelings hurt. I expressed this fear to a critique group once, and someone said, “they don’t see themselves the way you see them. They would never recognize themselves in the character.” That statement made complete sense to me. It also made me realize the people I used to create my antagonists were not “bad” people, they just exhibit bad behavior because of past wounds or their own negative experiences.

2. You are human and others will relate to what you expose.

We are often not alone in our embarrassments, our bad behavior, our negative thoughts and feelings. When we expose ourselves, either outright or through our characters, we are sharing our human nature. That is how our readers will connect with us. Also, it is important to remember, it’s not about you. When a reader picks up a book, they are looking for an experience for themselves, one they can relate to—the good, the bad and the ugly. You are simply providing the mirror of their own human experiences.

3. You won’t please everyone.

Will someone hate your work? Probably. Will someone love your work? Probably. This is the area where you have NO control. Just like you cannot control what people think of you, you cannot control what they think of your work. Writers and many other creative people often share the trait of wanting to be liked by everyone. Writers and artists are driven to do what they do, and they want people to like and accept what they do. This is something we cannot control, so we shouldn’t try. Do your best, put your words on the page, be proud of what you do. Don’t let the one or two naysayers crush your dream. Sometimes people love to find fault. Remember, this isn’t about you, it’s about them.

4. Look at the negative things people say about your work with objectivity.

Try to view the criticism, and your work, as an observer. Take yourself out of the equation for a few minutes. Ask yourself, is this constructive or destructive criticism? If it is constructive, and you feel your work will improve by listening to the criticism, brush yourself off and learn from the experience. You have control of what you do with this information. If the criticism is destructive and makes you feel ashamed, put down, or threatens to make you quit writing, put it out of your mind. Forget about it and move on. If you can’t do this, distance yourself from the work and the criticism for two weeks. Go back to it and see if you feel any different.

Discerning between harsh, constructive criticism and destructive criticism can be difficult, because neither one feels very good. We all get destructive criticism from time to time. This goes back to tip number 3. Some people live to find fault. Consider the source and then move on.

woman smelling flower - no fear of exposure5. Celebrate the positive things people say about your work.

Take in the positive. Pick the positive flowers of what people say about your work, bundle it all up in a bouquet and water it often! Write those positive affirmations down in a journal, or better yet, write them on a sticky note and place it on your computer, or your bathroom mirror. Keep your rejection letters and highlight the positive remarks. Sometimes when we hear three wonderful comments about our work, and one terrible comment, we focus on the terrible one. Don’t let this play into your fear of self-exposure.

One of the best pieces of advice I have received about fear of self-exposure is to write your book, your essay, your blog post, etc. as if no one will read it. That is called writing your first draft. Then go back and decide what you feel most comfortable revealing, and what you feel the least comfortable revealing, and go from there. Good writing is re-writing. You have the power and control to share what you want.

Fear Series: #2 Overcoming Fear of Rejection

 

Pearl and Oyster - Rejection is the sand in the oyster, the irritant that ultimately produces a pearl. Burke WilkinsonRejection is something all writers hate and fear. When we put our hearts and souls onto the page, we want people to like what we’ve written, and better yet, accept it. Writing is an intimate form of self-expression, and when we are criticized or rejected for something we wrote, it’s painful. Many other writers might say, “it’s not about you as a person, it’s about something you’ve done, or something you do.” While that may be sound advice for some, it never gave me much comfort. Writing is a part of who I am, so yes, when someone rejects or criticizes something I have written, for me, it’s personal. Believe me, I’ve had my share of rejection, and one thing I know to be true; it will happen again, and again.

Writing is a tough business. So how do we overcome this fear that can paralyze us and often debilitate us from expressing ourselves with our words?

#1 Ask yourself the question: Is writing something I must do in order to be happy and fulfilled?

Be honest with yourself. Is writing your passion? If it is, you will find a way to deal with your fear of rejection. If writing is something you are called to, and I think you know if it is, the desire to express yourself in this way will rise above the fear. That doesn’t mean the fear of rejection is diminished, it just means that you are willing to endure the pain of rejection, and find a way to work around it. You will keep getting up after being knocked down, and prepare yourself for the next punch until you are victorious—whatever that means to you.

#2 Understand that rejection can be helpful.

If you’ve submitted to agents and editors, and you find their comments are similar, you might take note of what they say.  At first, you might be hurt, and maybe even angry, but try to look at it the criticism as constructive. Take the emotion out of it and hear what they have said.

One of the best things you can do is to educate yourself. Take online courses, go to writer’s conferences and workshops, join a critique group. Get outside feedback from people other than your mother, best friend, or spouse.

I find that one of the easiest and least painful ways to get feedback is to enter contests. You most likely won’t know the judges, so you can take their criticisms and compliments in a more objective way. Contests provide a nice distance from the criticism. You will also get feedback from three or more judges. This way, you can determine if they are all see the same thing. If they do, you need to do more work. If not, you can decide whose input is more valuable, and what you are going to do with it. You will have a sense of who is on the mark, and who just didn’t get what you wrote.

#3 Know that it may not mean your work is terrible.

Agents and editors are in the business to SELL. If they don’t feel they can sell your work, they won’t accept it. Just like you, they are trying to make money at what they do. For most, it is their livelihood, and if the work doesn’t speak to them, they probably won’t take a chance on it. Do your homework and find out just want kind of work they are looking for. The Manuscript Wish List is a great resource for this. http://www.manuscriptwishlist.com

Still, it is important to note that even if an editor or agent is “in love” with what you have written, they might be answering to powers that be, and cannot take on the project even though they want to.

#4 Find something positive in the rejection.

I know this sounds like an oxymoron, but it is something we all should do more often. You might get a rejection stating that your characters are compelling, your writing is strong, and you have a gift for humor, but the work wasn’t fast paced enough. What do you focus on? Like most of us, the one negative criticism or comment. If you get a rejection like the one I’ve just laid out, you are on the right track. Go you! Take stock of the negative comment, but rejoice in the positive ones. They have value as well.

#5 DON’T GIVE UP.

The writers who truly fail are the writers who don’t get their work out there. Today there are so many options for writers to publish. If you work at your craft, look at your rejections and criticisms as objectively as possible, and keep finding the courage to put yourself out there, you will find success. If you have a story to tell, or a message to impart through writing, share it. Learn from the positive and the negative comments. Rejection will happen. In your writing and in your life. It is never pleasant, but it can help mold who we are and who we will become.

To read last weeks article, “Fear of Writing Emotion” click here.