The Need for Stories

The story of a writer often begins with the story of a reader. It begins with a passion for the written word, a longing for stories. I consumed stories. I was voracious. I read far above my grade level, and below it as well, reading the books on my classroom shelf, my parents’ shelves, and the stuff my younger sister left lying around. At twelve I was reading Stephen King, and the Bailey School Kids, and the Redwall books.

When I read that’s all I do. I disappear. I don’t hear people around me anymore. I read until I have to stop, or until the book is done. I have burnt dinner. I’ve been late for work. I’ve stayed up far past my bedtime. When my son was born I read a lot while nursing. I tried to do this when my daughter was born but realized it wasn’t safe – I’d lose track of my then-two-year-old son. I put books aside almost entirely for a few years, only flipping through a few old favourites to satisfy my need for words, books I could put down easily because I knew what happened in the end.

Often people ask writers where they get their ideas from and I’ve written about inspiration and motivation before. I think before we have ideas for individual stories we have the idea that we can write stories. Something clicks inside of us and we go ‘hey, maybe I could do this’. And then the story ideas start. There’s still time to turn back at this point, still time to say, ‘no, it’s too much trouble, I’ll just keep my nose in this book’, and that’s what many people do.

For me that click very quickly became a need. I realized I had stories to tell, stories that were important to me, ideas I wanted to share. I often feel like I have no choice in this anymore. I must continue to write. The ideas come faster than I can record them. I have projects I will never finish, and more I will never even have time to start. I am driven by a need to reach out to people, to communicate across time and space and reality, just as so many authors were able to do with the books I have read.

I have been inspired to start and continue this journey by so many authors, big name or indie, local or international, best sellers or obscure. I cannot list them all, I cannot remember them all, but here are a few books and authors I recommend:

Misty of Chincoteague: my mother read this to us when we were young and I remember the cover. It was a hardcover edition from the library with this close up of a grey horse face and the mane flowing around it. It was magical and stuck with me even when I couldn’t remember the name of the book. I did find it back again and reread it in high school along with King of the Wind and Cinnabar.

MAUS: A difficult read, one I undertook at thirteen when we did WWII in school. One of my favourite books of all time. It was dark but somehow humourous at times. It was honest, about his father’s life and his own, even his own failings. I think it’s that honesty and the stark black and white style that grabbed me.

Stephen King, Tamora Pierce, David Eddings, Anne Bishop, Patricia Briggs, Mark Leslie, Geralyn Wichers, Marianne Curtis, George RR Martin.

And it wasn’t limited to books – I learned a lot about story telling from television as well. TV can teach you about pacing, character, cliff-hangers, and more, but it cannot teach you about sentences and words and paragraphs, for that you must read.

X-Files, Xena, Andromeda, Sliders, The Lost World (TV show and the movie), Buffy (TV show).

I find it fascinating what inspires people and what pop culture helped shape them and their voice/vision. This is just a part of my list. Which books/movies/TV shows/authors are on your list?

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The Birth of a Story

My story started with an 18×24 inch, three panel, yellow folder.

Each student was given one of these folders in the second grade. On the front it said “Writing Portfolio” and under that, in the impossibly neat printing of an elementary school teacher, it had my name. When you opened it up and set it on your desk or on the floor you were in a private little cubby, like the study desks at the library. Perhaps that’s why I preferred the study desks in the hallway at St Paul’s over the library tables. Perhaps I was remembering this folder.

When open it had three pockets. The left pocket was for ideas, brainstorming, and rough drafts. The middle pocket had our dictionary and our editing materials. And this wasn’t a professionally published dictionary – it was 26 pages, half-sheet size, stapled together and we had to write in the words we had trouble with as we went along. On the right was space for our nearly finished work. Then we would neatly print the story and draw a picture for it and post it on the bulletin board.

This is one of my most vivid memories of elementary school.

When I was young my mother kept one of those school memories journals for me, and one for my sister, and at the end of each school year she’d ask us who our friends were, what our favourite subject was, and what we wanted to be when we grew up.

Kindergarten: Doctor, Artist, Teacher

Grade 1: Storyteller, Writer

Grade 2: Gymnast, Teacher, Writer

Grade 3: Hairdresser, Olympic athlete in soccer or gymnastics

Grade 4: Writer

Grade 5: Author

Grade 6: Author, Piano teacher

In junior high I had an extra binder just for my stories. They were fan-fiction, though I didn’t know what fan-fiction was back then. I knew plagiarism was wrong though so I’d change things and try to make the story my own, but it wasn’t.

In high school my writing became more original but it would be years yet before I became a published author.

Now I’m 30. I’m married with 2 kids. I work from home as a full-time author with nine original books. Seventeen years ago I started writing in earnest, trying to learn this amazing craft. It’s been one heck of a journey so far, and it’s far from over.

Bookish Christmas Blog Hop

On the fourth day of blog hop some writers gave to me a fictional guest list for Christmas dinner!

Okay, it doesn’t rhyme. Sorry. So, I am participating in the Bookish Blog Hop’s Christmas hop.

You can check out the first three stops here:

A book you love so much you want everyone​ ​ to find under their Christmas tree​ this year so they can read ​​it too.

A book cover that has wonderfully Christmas feel to it.

A book you’d like to find in your Christmas ​​stocking this year.

Today’s question is: Which fiction character would you like to have spend Christmas with?

BelindaBekkers

Belinda Bekkers

www.BelindaBekkers.com

It would have to be Gatsby. Could you imagine the grandeur of it? I bet it would have a giant tree covered in fancy decorations.

Jo Linsdell
Jo Linsdell

www.JoLinsdell.com

I’m torn here. Either Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice or Bridget Jones from Bridget Jones’s Diary. Elizabeth is clever, would no doubt make great conversation, and she can hold her own if discussions come up. Bridget Jones is so real all the time, and I think would be a fun and entertaining guest. She’s so wonderfully not-perfect.

Skye Hegyes

Skye Hegyes

www.skyehegyes.com

There are so many characters I wouldn’t mind spending time with any time of the year, but I think the one I’d like to spend Christmas with would be Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter world. She would be fun and entertaining, but I also feel like I could learn a lot from her too, and not just about magic.

 

And me?

I would like to spend Christmas at the Barrelhaven Tavern with Lucien and Grandma Ben. Perhaps Thorn will come down from the capital for a visit, and with a little luck the Bone boys will be around for a long visit, because once winter lands in the valley nothing goes in or out for months. There’s something about a warm rustic tavern full of savory smells and good friends that appeals to me.

What about you? Where would you spend Christmas? And who would you spend it with?

 

Be sure to continue on down the hop!

December 14th – A fictional character you’d​ like to kiss under the mistletoe.

December 15th – A fictional creature to replace Rudolph and meet on the roof.

December 16th – 5 fictional characters you’d invite to your New Year’s Eve party

Empowerment

I am empowered to exist.

I give myself permission to take up space. I am allowed to stand my ground, stay the course, and let others move around me. I do not have to make myself smaller, not by losing weight, not by slouching, not by looking down, to make others feel more comfortable around me. I am allowed embrace my identity, whether it conforms to the current norms of society or not.

I am empowered to exist.

 

I am empowered to speak.

My voice is important. My story, opinions, and experiences are valid and have merit. I do not have to speak more softly, or more politely. I do not have to laugh more softly, or less often. I can share my story, in my own way and in my own time, even if it makes other people uncomfortable.

I am empowered to speak.

 

I am empowered to take care of myself.

Asking for help is not a weakness. I am allowed to close the doors and take quiet time to myself. I am allowed to go out and have fun, just for me. My physical and mental well-being are important. Self-care does not make me conceited.

I am empowered to take care of myself.

 

I am empowered to empower others.

I will stand with you and boost you up when others seek to push you down. I will listen, and demand others listen, when others seek to silence your voice. I will listen and respect your privacy when you open up to me in trust. I will support and validate your experiences, even if they are not the same as mine. I will help you, whatever you ask, whenever you ask, if it is in my power, I will help. I will do these things for you, no matter your gender at birth, the gender you identify as, who you love, where you or your ancestors come from, or what you believe in. Together we can change the world – but only together.

I am empowered to empower others.

 

Review: Tacoma

Tacoma is a first person story based video game. I downloaded a copy on Steam when it was on sale. It’s not too long a game – 10-20 hours tops – but it was enjoyable.

Being story-based the game play was fairly linear. You made your way from module to module in a set order as the game unlocked each area for you. The set-up and setting are:

The lunar transfer station Tacoma has experience a critical life support failure and all crew have abandoned ship. You have been hired by the station’s corporate owners to retrieve any “black box” data from the station’s various computers and then retrieve the station’s AI wetware core.

As you progress through this mission you have the opportunity to view AR ship logs recorded at various times (from 12 months prior to 12 hours prior). In these recordings the crew of Tacoma (4 women, 2 men) are shown as slightly geometric figures, each colour coded so you know who is who. It seemed weird at first but I actually enjoyed it.

The recordings aren’t on screens, they’re full-body projections that are walking around the space around you, talking to each other. You can access various personal terminals and work stations, go through drawers, and look in closets. As you go you’ll find things that don’t add up, as well as details about the crew.

What I enjoyed most about the game, and what prompted me to write this review, was the diversity. You play a female character named  Amitjyoti (Amy) Ferrier, which is a huge step. First of all, you rarely see yourself but from what you do see, you’re dressed in practical clothing, and you’re not a “white” character. While the character has no speech or hearing impairments she interacts with the computer systems using sign language.

The crew is mostly female, including an African-American woman in charge of the station, an East Indian female medical doctor, and two Caucasian women working as the mechanical engineer (she reminds me of Pam from Archer and they call her Bert, short for Roberta) and the network technician (who is Russian and a bit of a bitch by the way, but you get to love her, I swear)

The two men are an Asian botanist (I do apologize, I am not familiar with the Asian nationalities so I can’t be more specific) and a Caucasian HR director (very British).

On top of the obvious national diversity, there are three couples mentioned in the game. First, the station director and the HR director are having a fling with the HR director. Second, Bert and Nat (the mechanical engineer and the network tech) are married. Third, the Botanist has a husband and an 18 year old son back on Earth. So there is that diversity as well.

The story is part human-interest, part corporate thriller. The more time you spend examining papers and terminals, the more sense everything starts to make.

The graphics were simple in texture but the environment was detailed – lots of papers and pens and lights and bits and bobs everywhere. The AI, ODIN, whom you meet in the AR recordings, is serious but seems to care about the crew of his station. The interactions between crew members were interesting and realistic without the boring grind of “hey how are you?” “fine, how are you?” over and over again.

The ending was a bit of a jump and the story was short, but otherwise this game was a lot of fun to play and visually appealing. I give this a 4 out of 5.

Review: No Fire Escape in Hell

No Fire Escape in Hell is part romantic comedy, part comedy of errors, written by Kim Cayer.

I first read this book in the summer of 2016 but we just finished reading it with the Steinbach and Area book club so I thought I would do a review.

The story has a first person female narrator and the character is quite amusing. This isn’t really my type of book but the character was entertaining enough that I finished reading. I liked her daughter as well.

What else I liked was the middle and ending of the book. She’s basically living out of her car and everything goes wrong, constantly, while she struggles to make things go right. The events of the book are interesting, nothing repetitive or annoying. Ends on a decent note.

What I didn’t like was the beginning. I found there were a few things that hurt the believability of the story, and the initial incident that gets her living in her car in the first place, well I just didn’t believe it. I found myself sitting there going “why didn’t she just -” and coming up with a half dozen other things she could have done that would have been more reasonable and really, still in character. I think the set-up could have been thought out better. There were also a few times that I thought “really? is she that naive?”

The other readers at book club had trouble getting through this story. They found it slow and it wasn’t really anyone’s “thing”.

If you enjoy fun, light, romantic comedies, give this book a try. If not, then I’d avoid it. Personally, I give it a 2 out of 5 stars.

The Rose Garden #1: Rose In The Dark by Casia Schreyer

Wow! Writefully Written has reviewed Rose in the Dark.

writefullywritten

The first book in this series follows the story of Princess Rheeya of Stone clan.  Through her story we are introduced to a highly imaginative and complex world where politics and tradition often cause problems. Without giving too much away it is absolutely necessary for Princess Rheeya to find her destined prince or everyone in the land she rules over will be in grave danger. Exploring this facet gives us a great look into the mythology of the world being created as well and which will be vital to know in future books in the series.it seems.

The book really picks up its’ pace though when there is trouble at a mine, and the Princess is determined to personally go to the aid of the miners. In the process, loyalties are tested, larger threats are revealed, and traditions are challenged.

In addition, Princess Rheeya isn’t impressed by any of her…

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Sources of Inspiration

I’m sure it’s not just me. I’m sure every author has been asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” There is no one place, no Shopping Mall of Book Ideas where we can go and simply purchase the recipe or kit for our next book, characters, plot twists, and all. And sometimes there are multiple sources of inspiration for any one project.

Inspiration is the seed, the idea, the brainstorm, the whispers of the muse. Something makes us think “Oh, wouldn’t that be interested” and off we go. Sometimes inspiration sparks the birth of a character, a new setting, a plot or a twist, or a new detail of a project in the works.

Here are some of the places I’ve found inspiration:

Music

Music is a blend of poetry and sound, creating an atmosphere and eliciting emotion – like a tiny story packed into 3 minutes. And my favourite songs are the ones that have complex, tricky, or engaging lyrics, songs that tell a story. (Okay, I have a fondness for instrumental as well and I’ll get to that). I hear these songs and my mind starts to build the story.

Sometimes it’s the mood of the song so it doesn’t matter if it has words or not. The mood of the music will inspire a scene or a setting or help me come to grips with the emotions a character is feeling in a particular scene.

Personal Anecdotes

Something I see, hear, do, or hear about in the real world will often inspire a snippet of conversation, a background character, a minor interaction, or a setting in a book I’m writing. Rarely do these events or stories appear as I saw them, lived them, or heard about them. They change to suit the new setting, to fit the fictional characters I’m writing, and of course, to make them more interesting. Though there is some truth to the old adage: truth is stranger than fiction.

My kids are amazing sources of inspiration – not only the things they say and do, but in the way they see the world. You look outside and see a blustery fall day, they look outside and see all these fine little details that we as adults just gloss over. But it is those details that make a setting rich and realistic.

So to do real places morph to become fictional settings. Shopping malls, coffee shops, billboards on street corners, quiet streets, busy intersections – the whole world is full of inspiration.

Dreams

I think authors are on the fence on this one but for me, I’ve had some amazingly vivid dreams where I’ve been able to record entire sequences upon waking. I store these away and come back to them, much like personal anecdotes, to shift them and morph them to fit a story or scene I am working on.

Movies, Books, and Television

The creative endeavours of others provide a wealth of inspiration. Sometimes it’s for conversation-fodder when I’m writing a contemporary. My characters will discuss current politics, sure, but they also reference TV shows and movies. It adds immediacy, authenticity, and both a sense of time and place.

It is also fun to ask “what if” questions. What if that character was female? What if they didn’t fall in love? What if they were plumbers instead of soldiers? What if you killed that character in chapter 2?

This is a fine line to walk. Inspiration taken from these sources must be heavily edited and twisted into something truly unique.

 

I’m sure I’m missing things but I would love to know where you go for inspiration.

Musical Motivation

This is a common question at launches and panels and such. Do you listen to music when you write? What music inspires you? Well, I’ll talk about music as inspiration in a later post, right now I want to write about music as motivation. I see motivation and inspiration as different things – inspiration is the idea, the spark, the image, the story. Inspiration gives us something to write about. Motivation is what keeps our butts in our chairs and our fingers on the key or pens in our hands.

I wrote previously that part of my motivation comes from seeing all the books on my shelf and knowing that I can do that. It comes from that desire, that drive, to fill a shelf with books that all have my name on the spine. That puts my butt in the chair – but what keeps me there? And what keeps me in the document window tapping out words instead of browsing social media or falling down the click-bait rabbit hole?

Short answer? Food and music. Food is easy. I eat in the pauses between thoughts so my hands are busy and I don’t click away from my document. I try to eat healthy – soup, veggies, fruit, crackers – but sometimes it’s chocolate, chips, or popcorn, especially if I’m on a deadline. Plus I keep a drink on hand – water, milk, or hot chocolate (I don’t drink coffee or tea). But we didn’t come here to talk about food. We came here to talk about music.

I’m an easily distracted writer so I need to keep my mind from wandering and my hands from changing jobs. The food helps my hands in those breaks between bursts of words. The music helps block distracting thoughts in my head and distracting stuff going on around me, like my husband puttering in the kitchen or my kids playing in the living room.

But it can’t be just any music. Well, I mean, it can be anything because my tastes are very broad, but it can’t be just anything at a given moment. The music has to fit my mood, and the mood of the piece I’m writing. When I’m on a deadline, for example, I pull out anything that’s too slow. I need fast-paced music with a driving tempo to keep my fingers and thoughts moving.

When I’m working on something difficult, something that’s moving a little slow, maybe because it’s in the early stages, maybe because I’m having trouble with the plot, and I really need to focus on it, that’s when I listen to instrumental music. I love classical music but I also listen to stuff like the overtures from Broadway musicals, the menu music from the Game of Thrones discs (you can find it online), Session by Linkin Park, and an instrumental techno version of the Japanese folk song “Sakura” (okay, and occasionally Crazy Frog).

When I’m on a deadline I need stuff with that driving beat. I like July Talk, some of Hozier’s quicker stuff, Meatloaf, and some of Evanescence’s quicker pieces. It’s got to have drums and bass and a good tempo, something that pulls my heart rate along with it.

Most of the time it’s just random stuff, like Pentatonix, July Talk, Hozier, Meatloaf, Pink Floyd, Evanescence, Ok Go, soundtracks, classic rock pieces from before I was born (or at least before I started school) or random pieces where I like 1 song by the artist. I keep a random playlist on Youtube and I have a massive 8 hour list on my computer.

Music is so hardwired into me that if I don’t have something playing on the speakers something is playing in my head (Dream On by Aerosmith is playing in my head as I type this). Of course the music playing in my head is usually incomplete or on weird loops so I prefer it on the speakers.

My bookshelf reminds me of my dream, of why I want to write. The snacks keep me from wandering away from my writing. The music keeps me mentally on track to write. That’s my motivation. I’d love to hear what motivates you.

Book Shelf Motivation

I’ve been thinking a lot about inspiration and motivation these last few days. I guess inspiration is that air-fairy feeling of ideas and moods and wanting to write and knowing what to write about while motivation is what makes us put our butts in the chair and our fingers on the keys and makes us write stories instead of Facebook posts. They go hand in hand and one without the other causes all sorts of problems.

I’m a writer who rarely lacks inspiration but who often loses motivation.

Sometimes I’m a distracted writer. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Blogging. Answering emails. Some of it is legit marketing and networking. Some of it, a lot of it, is time wasting. I know this but it’s just so much easier to keep scrolling than to go back to work. And I often tumble down the rabbit-hole of related links and further reading.

And I’m not alone if the Memes out there are anything to go by.

But sometimes it’s not distraction that keeps my fingers from the keys. Sometimes it’s an overwhelming sense of … well, being overwhelmed. Deadlines and word count goals and the whole process of coherent thought and thoughtful story-telling just becomes too much. It’s this huge process and it’s easy to forget that it’s nothing more than one word after another – one letter at a time.

Every writer has that something that motivates them. Rewards are popular. So are editors or agents who stand there demanding deadlines be met. Sometimes I use rewards but I’m my own boss so I find it easy to ignore me.

For me, the greatest motivation I have is my book shelf. I inherited a lot of my mom’s books, like these Stephen King hardcovers:

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This doesn’t even include all the paperbacks I own by Stephen King and there’s a lot of books here. 34 here, plus On Writing which is one shelf up, plus the paperbacks. Mr. King has written a lot of books.

And then there’s these classics, also part of my inheritance:

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17 paperbacks by David Eddings, plus one hardcover a few shelves down.

Now David Eddings and Stephen King are both prolific writers and really, they take up the largest chunks of my book shelf. But here’s another, an author I didn’t inherit:

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I don’t even have this full series, and it’s not her only series.

So why am I showing you these snapshots of my book shelves? Because I walk into my room and I look at these shelves FULL of books by other authors and then I look at this shelf:

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6 books. Okay, the latest 2 are missing. I’m ordering them soon. So 8 books. That’s it. Compared to the other sections of my shelf it is LEAN.

I walk into my room and I see this and I think “I want to take up an entire shelf in someone’s room some day.” This is what puts my butt in the chair. This is what renews me and spurs me to finish the next book. Or one of the things, anyway.

I know I CAN have that many books on the shelf, I just have to write them. I just have to finish them. I just have to ignore the distractions and the doubts and the overwhelming big picture and write the books. They’re there inside me, all these stories just waiting to come out. All I have to do is get them down. And get them edited. And get covers for them. But I’m not thinking about that now or I’ll get overwhelmed again.

Right now I’m thinking about writing.

What motivates you?