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7-7-7

I was tagged, by Mollie, to participate in a game called 7-7-7. The object is to post seven lines from the seventh paragraph on the seventh page or chapter in your current WIP.

From No More Champagne:

“Honey…” Her tone had softened, and I knew she was about to spout religious platitudes I was frankly not in the mood to feign interest in. Or, she was about to say she could tell I had been drinking and blow it way out of proportion. She always seemed to think the worst of me.

“Mom, listen. I’m fine. But, I have to go. John is on his way over. I’ll call you guys soon, okay? I love you and Daddy too.”

She sighed and told me how much they loved me. I couldn’t believe I had successfully pardoned myself from one of her lectures. I celebrated by choking down the rest of the wine in my glass while I feverishly paced my living room floor. The place had gone to hell. My carpet was desperate for a good vacuuming. I needed to clear out the dust bunnies from my bookcase which were growing so large I feared for them during hunting season, and something needed to be done about the two laundry baskets I had been living out of for at least three weeks. With the restaurant gone, I would have no excuses but to get stuff done. “This isn’t happening. It can’t be happening.” I tried to convince myself.

Okay, so I went over a little. Anyway, I am supposed to tag seven people to continue playing so I tag:

Elyne
Barb
David
B.E. Van de Viere
Nicole L’autore
Thomas Jast *can also be found here and here.
Renee

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New Year, New Stuffs.

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“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”
– T.S. Eliot

It’s not uncommon for people to desperately try to shake off the remnants of the year as the promise of a new year and a new start gets closer. I was more than ready for 2014 to end. 2014 was the year I both had to move and search for a new job – two activities which turn me into a creature nobody likes and The Hulk would sulk away from.

I had big plans for 2015. Big, big plans. I was going to go to the gym a reasonable three times a week, I was going to finally end my relationship with chocolate, and I was either going to get a promotion at work or I was going to look for a better job.

Thankfully, because job hunting sucks the life-blood out of me faster than most anything, I got my promotion… and I celebrated with chocolate. I did go to the gym three days a week for about four months, and then I got confused and broke up with the gym and my mouth made sweet, sweet love to a brownie. Whoops. But, something amazing happened: 2015 didn’t suck.

I’m not finding myself counting down the days until a new year begins so I can fill the first few weeks with promises to myself I won’t likely keep. In fact, I find myself sitting here thinking about all the amazing things I hope I never forget about this year. 2015 was the year I rediscovered something I loved – writing – and I wrote my first full-length novel. 2015 was the year I fell in love with my 9-5 job; yes, it was a good year.

So what are my goals for 2016? I’m not going down the rabbit hole with the gym again. Instead, I hope to go hiking more. I want to read more. I definitely want to write more but, more importantly, I want to write better… so I want to become even more active in my creative writer’s group, and maybe I’ll even look into some writing classes.

I hope you have good memories of 2015, and I hope you have a spectacular, creative, productive, successful new year. What are some of your goals for the new year? Do you have any writing-specific goals?

Speaking of writing – I mentioned I plan on reading more in 2015, and to elaborate on that a little bit, I intend on making a large percentage of the books I read to be from indie/new authors. So, if you have a book out on the interwebs share it in the comments! I look forward to spending 2016 with you!

Writing Prompt Wednesday

Writing Prompt Wednesday

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Last week a whopping zero people participated in the writing prompt, and I’m not surprised.

Why, you ask? Well, it was our first one, silly. So, here is our second writing prompt picture:

Miserable Pug

Is this dog loving life, or hating every moment of it? Perhaps the poor little thing is plotting some crazy scheme to seek revenge. What is going on in this pup’s mind?

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A graphic love affair.

It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and
whosoever loves much performs much, and can
accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.
Vincent van Gogh

Take a cold bath, buddy. I’m not talking about a scandalous affair with x-rated photographs. I’m talking about my obsession fascination with Canva.

It is important for me to note that I am not affiliated with Canva in any way, other than an avid user, and this review is not sponsored. [Why would it be? I have about three followers thus far…] These thoughts and opinions are all my own.

CUPCAKE

If you haven’t yet heard of Canva, I am excited to introduce it to you. Canva is a powerful online tool that can generate amazing graphics to use pretty much anywhere and for any reason. When you first visit their website you’ll find they’ve already done a lot of the work for you and have several size options to choose from: Facebook and twitter graphics sized perfectly, resumes, menu covers, Pinterest posts… even Kindle covers! Of course, if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can always generate a graphic of any size you wish with custom dimensions.

Here are three of my favorite things about Canva:

One million+ images! Once you’re designing your graphic, you’ll find a near-endless library of images to choose from (or you can upload your own). What I find fabulous about Canva is there is no deciphering how much an image is going to cost you – they’re all $1.00 each. ONE DOLLAR. Wait. Sorry, that’s a lie. There are a ton of free images as well, dispersed within the $1.00 images.

Whether you want to use one of the super-sexy templates they’re kind enough to provide for you, or you want to go it alone, Canva makes it easy-peasy-lemon-squeasy.

They understand the compulsive need to edit, edit, edit! So, you’ve made your graphic. *cue applause* You download it, and after staring at it for thirty minutes, examining every pixel (what, I can’t be the only one who does that…), you decide your font choice could’ve been better. You’re desperate to edit it. But, you don’t really want to pay another $5 for the pay-images you’ve used… Never fear! You get 24 hours to play around with your graphic before you have to pay for those images again. This comes in very handy for OCD individuals… or so I’m told. 😉

Design school! Don’t feel comfortable? Canva has design tutorials, thirty to be exact, to turn any novice into a graphic-designing guru. These tutorials take you through color choices, font usage, etc… but beyond those tutorials Canva is ready to teach you how to garner more engagement on twitter using graphics, beefing up your blog headers, and more. Do not, do not, miss out on their design school blog.

As with pretty much everything in life, Canva is not without flaw. There are a few things I would like to see improved, but nothing so serious I would ever consider abandoning them. I should also point out that most of what I’m about to list has been addressed with Canva’s paid subscription service: Canva for Work. I have not yet used this service, but I do plan on starting the free trial in the near future and I’ll do a whole other post on that when I do. But without further adieu, the [slight] problems with Canva:

Searching for images could be better. Right now you search by keyword only. I would love to see more search functions like landscape vs. portrait. I am fairly positive we won’t see a search filter for free vs. paid images because they want you to see and fall in love with the $1.00 images, and I’m fine with that. But landscape vs. portrait seems like an easy enough filter they could allow. I also wish when I change my search’s keyword, the previous keyword and its results didn’t muddy up my screen.

There is no app to use on-the-go. I understand that there is one in the works that will be compatible with Canva for Work, but I would like to be able to work on my various images whenever the mood so strikes.

Images are abundant… fonts, not so much. Don’t get me wrong, there are many fonts available on Canva. (As well as several awesome ‘wordart’ templates – all free!) But, I must admit, I still find the font choices a little lacking. To be fair, I am kind of a typeface nerd and this may not be a problem for everyone. On top of the choices, however, is the rather annoying fact you don’t have freedom to size your fonts to any size. I still don’t understand why they restrict the sizes. Now, in Canva for Work you can upload your own fonts; I am not sure about the freedom of sizing, though. (I asked my husband for his take on the sizing thing, and he doesn’t seem bothered by it like I am. He said something about rendering, and then I sort of stopped listening because I was still trying to figure out why it would matter.)

With all that said, I am as in love with Canva as I can be with a website. I have played around with all kinds of design websites, and it is my favorite by far. I use Canva for all of the images I create, which can be seen on this blog as well as my Twitter page. Have you used Canva before? What did you design? I would love to see your favorite work of art you’ve created!

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Fa la la la la

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Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold,
everything is softer and more beautiful.
– Norman Vincent Peale

When I say that last year I wasn’t in the Christmas spirit, I mean I really, really was not in the Christmas spirit. If I could’ve had a conversation with the Grinch last year, he would’ve felt bad and baked gingerbread men for me.

I don’t really know why I wasn’t in the mood to celebrate, but Christmas songs made me cringe, I was sick of Christmas lights and do not get me started on the masses of people in the stores. I could rattle off the rest of my laundry list of things that robbed me of my holiday joy last year, but I won’t. *cough, cough* THE TRAFFIC…

Oh, how things can change in the course of a year. Our tree has been up since Thanksgiving (last year it didn’t make it up until a few days before Christmas), I’ve enjoyed shopping for family and friends, I’m even planning on doing some festive holiday baking. I hope this post finds you in much the same good spirit.

A question was posed recently at work: Is it better to be a kid at Christmas or an adult? The debate that ensued was rather interesting.

One of the first reasons someone claimed in favor of being an adult was the ability to drink alcohol. They pretty much all agreed that drinking may very well be essential to getting through the holidays with family and in-laws.

Then, someone argued that kids get the best stuff. This was highly disputed by most everyone, right before we had the compulsory discussion of what gifts looked like when we were kids versus what kids these days take for granted get. Believe it or not, that segued into a rather nasty little discussion about Santa… I don’t have the stomach to relive it.

Seeing as I am insanely introverted, I participated in the discussion mostly silently, but it did really get me thinking. And my conclusion is… drumroll please… (preferably like the Little Drummer Boy)

Christmas is better as an adult.

I don’t have kids, but I do have nieces and nephews and I am around plenty of kids all the time and it is so much fa-la-la-la-ing fun to watch them as they experience the magic of Christmas.

Apart from watching my bank account dwindle, I also really love Christmas shopping for my family and friends. For me, making the holidays special for people is far better than getting anything under the tree… and if I’m being honest, even the kids who are raised that it is better to give than to receive don’t truly learn that lesson until they become adults.

Which brings me to my last point:

Even though I channeled Scrooge last year, I still bought toys for kids I didn’t even know. I do it every year. Some years I can afford more than others, but I always do something. This is my number one reason for preferring Christmas as an adult.

This year, between myself and a loved one, a little girl (who I know), will not wake up to emptiness under her tree. She was recently abandoned, thrown out to family members she barely knows because… well, the because doesn’t matter… I see this child nearly every day. When she sees the pile of gifts waiting for her under the tree it doesn’t matter to me one iota if she believes they are from Santa, her deadbeat parents, or a stranger. She will have an amazing Christmas.

There is still time to make Christmas special for a kid who desperately needs a little holiday cheer. I challenge you: Strive to make a child’s Christmas sparkle. Make a difference. Too many children wake up every day wondering why they aren’t loved. Be the magic that soften’s their world if only for a day and give them a reason to smile. It’ll cost far less than you might imagine and feel far better than I could ever express.

Merry Christmas!

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Excuse me, I must write.

Excuse me,

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.
Ray Bradbury

The past several days have been particularly difficult at work. I feel really guilty for saying that because I know many people would kill for my schedule, so I have to remind myself that it is okay for me to have off weeks. It is okay to feel frazzled and like I’ve been a victim of the taffy puller and stretched in a hundred directions.

What is hard for me to be okay with is that I haven’t written anything in days. (Alright, it’s been a week and a half.) A fact that the fine folks in my writer’s group would be shocked to hear. Every time we meet someone asks if I’ve written anything since the last time we met and I always respond that I write every day. It’s usually the truth. My fingers feel entirely too rested.

For us newbie writers, or at least for myself, having to take such a pause in writing makes us feel like maybe we can’t hang with the “real” writers, and perhaps we’re staring down a pipe dream and should just give up. These awful thoughts crossed my mind at least 5,902,431,324.67 times in the past week.

I refuse. I refuse to have wasted all the time, energy, love, and passion I’ve put into the pages I’ve carefully constructed. You should refuse, too. If you love to write every day like I do, or if you’re only able to carve out writing time once or twice a month – don’t let a writing lull play tricks on your mind. Put pen to paper or put your fingers on the keys as soon as you get the chance and it’ll all come back to you – you are still a writer. Your thoughts, stories, poetry… all still need to be told in your unique voice from your unique perspective.

We’ve got this. I’m more than ready to get drunk on writing again.

How often do you write? What’s been your longest lull? Do you ever find yourself plagued with crippling writer’s doubt? If so, how do you cope and start putting words on the page again?

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What’s in a name?

Your Name

You never appreciate your anonymity until you don’t have it anymore.
– Jason Priestley

Hello, my name is not Aila Stephens. Not really, anyway. Let’s call Aila my alter ego. My second self. My spiritual doppelganger, if you will.

When I lost my mind decided to pursue writing I knew immediately I would require a pseudonym. The first few people I let in on the secret pretty much all had the same response:

“So, what, you’re trying to write the next Fifty Shades or something?”

Who doesn’t just adore the opinions of others? The response I have for this question is very different in my head than what I actually give, which is just a pleasant, “No, that isn’t exactly what I’m going for.” I know everyone ranging from the casual reader to the esteemed novelist has their opinions on those books, and I will admit I read all of them, but I am not in any way interested in writing erotica. But, my using a pen name shouldn’t be an automatic implication my characters do nothing but rut around in the sheets. [Say hello to Mark Twain, J.K. Rowling, Lewis Carroll…]

Which led them to their next question: “Why don’t you just use your own name?”

Not that I need to justify why I choose to use a nom de plume, but here are my top three reasons for doing so:

1.) It allows me not to shy away from stories my family wouldn’t approve of. This may not be a big deal to some, but it is to me. I don’t want my qualms about upsetting them deter me from writing the words I want to write.

2.) I don’t like my real name. Not for writing, anyway. It’s a perfectly fine name, but it doesn’t really feel very writer-y to me.

3.) I love my day job and I’m pragmatic enough to know writing isn’t going to replace my salary, so I’d like to keep it. I have no desire to introduce my 9-5 to my writing. A pen name feels like a good buffer.

The final question posed to me about choosing to write anonymously:

“So are you ashamed of what you’re writing? You said you don’t want your folks to know…” This question is usually accompanied by another reference to Fifty Shades… *eye roll*

No, I am not ashamed of what I’m writing. If I were, not only would I not share it with the world, I simply would not write it.

What do you write/publish under? What are some of the most ridiculous, aggravating questions/comments your family and friends have said since you told them about your insanity desire to write? If you write with a pen name, how did you choose yours? I went through about four before I finally settled.