Uncategorized

My hat’s off to you!

An excerpt from -What Do You Think--
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Winston Churchill

Confession: I don’t interact as much as I should. Let’s call a spade a spade, here: I am shy. I try not to show it, but it rears its ugly head more often than I’d like to admit.

Over the last few days, I’ve spent a sizeable chunk of my free time procrastinating on my own work. Allow me to pretty it up and say I’ve been stewing over some changes I’m making. So, while stewing, I’ve been basically stalking the Twitter feeds and blogs of my fellow writers, and tonight I’m just compelled to tell you how proud I am of each of you!

You’re all in different places in your writing careers, some just starting to get the very first words of your very first first draft down, others are in the final stretch of another novel in your collection.

Some of you are struggling, sharing your pains and insecurities with the rest of us to help put our own worrying minds at ease, letting us know we are not alone in our writing woes. Thank you for your brave honesty and selflessness.

Some of you are pounding out the pages nearly effortlessly, and that gives me such a thrill, especially when you take a pause to give a word of encouragement to the rest of us, reminding us that writing isn’t something that happens overnight and that with an open mind and hard work, we too can look forward to reaping those emotional rewards.

I am so anxious to see you each achieve your dreams. You’re all amazing people, and I am unbelievably glad and thankful to have met so many people from which I draw inspiration, encouragement, and wisdom.

You’re amazing.

Thank you.

Advertisements
Getting To Know Aila, Uncategorized

Once Upon A Time…

my favorite (1)“A childhood without books – that would be no childhood. That would be like being shut out from the enchanted place where you can go and find the rarest kind of joy.”
Astrid Lindgren

In grades three through five, little Aila was a precocious, passionate little thing. Imagine that, right? I loved recess more than most anything, and it was just as true back then as it is today: I took my fun seriously. I can’t just spontaneously have fun, no. I had my recess routine down pat.

First, I had to run to the swings; not walk, run. I couldn’t risk another kid getting my swing. I would swing until I was so high up I was certain I’d go right over the bar and the chain would start wrapping around the frame. (By that point, my adrenaline rush was deemed sufficient and I moved on.) Then, I’d go to the monkey bars and meet up with my boyfriend. (We were crazy in love for third graders, split in the fourth, and were back on for fifth!) Then, I’d spend time on the merry-go-round, and I’d end my playtime by sitting in the softest patch of grass with my best friend and we’d make hippie jewelry with braided daisies or dandelions.

 Why not play hard until the very end, you ask? Because right after recess was story time, and I didn’t want to be out of breath and unable to focus, or so tired I couldn’t listen.

My favorites probably aligned with most everyone’s at around that age, Where the Wild Things AreThe Hungry, Hungry CaterpillarWhere the Sidewalk Ends… but the first book I remember absolutely falling in love with was one of my first chapter books. After my teacher read it to me, I rushed to the library and checked it out and reread it several times over, each time looking for clues I may’ve missed before, and analyzing symbolism – things I felt pretty advanced for being concerned with as a fifth-grader.

Wait Till Helen Comes - Original
There is a much more sinister cover for recent editions. But, nostalgia!

 

Wait Till Helen Comes had me on the edge of my seat as a child, which wasn’t easy since it was actually a desk, and we weren’t allowed to sit sideways.

The lovely teacher that brought this book into my life was named Ms. Williams; she had a real knack for voices, inflection, and building suspense. I would beg her to read more than one chapter per day. She gave in once, and read an extra one, for my birthday.

While I don’t write in the horror or supernatural genres, I believe this book is what gave me an appreciation for both, and it definitely gave me that first nudge towards reading and writing.

Let’s skip ahead a couple of years. I’m in the seventh grade, my boyfriend from elementary school is now just a friend,(actually, we’re still friends.) and there are no more swing sets, monkey bars, or merry-go-rounds on the playground. In fact, there was no playground. We had a track, and bleachers, and a few picnic tables. People sort of just wandered around aimlessly, keeping to their various cliques and whatnot.

Where was Aila, you ask?

In middle school, I usually traded my books for boys, and I spent mThe Giverost of my free time walking around the track with one, trying not to get caught holding hands, and making ridiculously mature plans for someone who couldn’t yet drive. Ahh, the good ole days.

There was one book, though, which stole my soul and set my imagination on fire. It was considered mandatory reading, and technically it was homework, and there were quizzes and tests, and drudgery – but I’d have read this book regardless. In fact, I have, several times since then. I own a copy as an adult, and may very well pick it up again. I’m not ashamed.

The Giver was the first book, that I can remember, which played like a movie in my head as I read it. It was the first time I really felt immersed into every scene of the book, the first time every idea vividly translated into moving pictures in my mind. I was in awe.

This is how I try to write. Now, don’t take that to mean I feel I am in any way on the same level as Lois Lowry, or that anything I write will ever be as cherished as this work; but, I do attempt to choose words which might help people see my ideas rather than just read them.

The next book from my childhood (and at this point, “childhood” may be debatable) is one that I picked up again rather recently. August of 2015, to be exact.

High school is not an easy time for anyone. Even when it appears that way on the surface, I believeFahrenheit 451 it is rough for all. Trying to figure out who you are, what you want to do for the entirety of your adult life, what kind of person you want to be – that kind of sucks a lot of fun out of life, or at least, it did for me.

Perhaps all the rough things I dealt with during that time were what drew me into Fahrenheit 451. The thought of a society where books were burned and information was a crime was terrifying. I couldn’t put it down, I read it way sooner than the material was required to be finished, and happily reread it again immediately.

This book made me realize the importance of reading and obtaining knowledge, not just for fun, but because it is vital to a functioning society. It truly made me reassess my opinions on the power and magnitude of the written word, which is why the notion of banning books baffles me. Even if the material of the book offends you, it doesn’t mean the work isn’t valid. Think about it, it is just as important to learn what not to do as it is to learn what to do. (I’m kind of waiting on people to show me examples of ultra-offensive work, now.)

What were your favorite books growing up? why? Have you picked any of them up recently? Did they have the same effect on you as they did the first time?

Uncategorized

Let’s Talk Thomas

Thomas Jast.

He’s the guy behind the books Calculated Regrets, Empathetic and Mixed Messages.

Now, if this were a review on Thomas I could ramble on paragraph after paragraph telling you all I’ve learned about him over the course of about a month now. I’d tell you he’s Canadian, he likes beef jerky and is one of the cleverest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting online or otherwise. (Also, he’s not a fan of the Oxford comma, so I am going to try and avoid it in this post.)

But, alas, this isn’t a review on Mr. Jast. I’d like to talk to you about his second book, Mixed Messages.

First, before you read Mixed Messages, you definitely need to start with Calculated Regrets. Both books follow the life of the ever-unique Alex Aberdeen. (Or is it Alix?) A mid-20’s, skirting on sociopathic, hilariously-bad girl recuperating from a recent scheme, and adjusting to a new job and a new set of people.

Honestly, you’d think she would have learned her lesson, but you’ll be glad she hasn’t. See, Alex is not your typical protagonist. She embodies the type of person you don’t usually root for, but against. But, Mr. Jast does something amazing and he makes you love her, her schemes and cringe when things don’t exactly go her way. You’ll be frustrated with yourself because it will feel so wrong – but so right.

I love that Mr. Jast dives even deeper into Alex’s psychology and allows us to experience her dreams and neurosis in a whole new way, but he doesn’t brow beat us with overly complicated terminology.

Mr. Jast’s writing style is easy on the eyes, quirky and addictive. The whole book from cover to cover is a delight to read, the momentum is always on a steady incline and practically defines page-turner. You won’t put it down. You’ll be dying to know what happens next.

The ending, while satisfying, leaves plenty of room for you to wonder what sort of shenanigans that girl will get into next, and since by the end you’ll know her pretty well, you just know there is more in store.

No reading list is complete without the complete works of Thomas Jast.

(Pro Tip: Follow him on Twitter! He’s a riot!)

Uncategorized

Rainy Day Adventure

Carl_Sandburg_NYWTS

It’s going to come out all right—do you know?
The sun, the birds, the grass—they know.
They get along—and we’ll get along.
Carl Sandburg

Yesterday, other than a few tweets, I didn’t write a single word. Actually, my day didn’t go as planned at all yesterday. We set out for a little mountain town where my favorite tea and spice shop is located. I needed some more of their creamy Earl Grey, and some more bourbon smoked black pepper for homemade beef jerky.

They weren’t open.

Never in a million years would I have thought they would still be closed for Christmas, but, there it was: “Thank you for a great 2015! We will reopen on Saturday 1/16/2016!”

Now, usually, I am a day late and a dollar short – but I stood there on the street corner, in the pouring rain, a day early and with plenty of dollars. The happy little sign mocked me, hanging there ever-so-slightly crooked. I looked up and down the street, it’s a remarkably adorable town, Brevard, but I really wasn’t interested in doing anything there except go into one of my favorite places on earth and buy some of my favorite things on earth.

“Let’s go to Asheville,” I said to my husband. He nodded, and we walked back to the truck, both happy we were wearing our waterproof hiking boots – because my God, the rain – and I tried to think of anything in the world we could do in Asheville that I haven’t either done a million times or that we couldn’t just sulk back towards home and do.

I have been to the Biltmore house about 40 or 50 times in my life. I love it there, don’t get me wrong, but it is hard to pay $100 to see something I can basically close my eyes and tour whenever I’d like. I also wasn’t really looking forward to the drive.

I wanted to be outside, despite the rain. Not in a truck.

God, I’m lucky to have grown up spending my summers in those mountains with an aunt and uncle who made it their mission to give me culture and education cloaked in fun. I can’t remember how many times they took me to Carl Sandburg’s home, but all I remembered from back then were the goats.

Goats. Let that sink in. Granted, I was a kid (see what I did there?), but I was in the home of one our most influential thinkers, poets, authors, human beings, and all I really remembered were goats.

Unacceptable.

So, we took off for Flat Rock. It never stopped raining, and it was cold. Not my favorite combination. If I’m going to be outside, trapesing around in the woods, and any precipitation of any kind is going to be falling on me, I’d far prefer it be snow.

The nasty weather did, however, provide a delightfully serene little hike up to the house. (They do provide a sort of shuttle service, but, not for this girl.) We only saw one other soul on the way up. Each step gave me more peace of mind.

I happily paid the $10 admission and watched a couple of introductory videos. I remembered nothing of the house, sadly.

The house, built in 1830-something, was in the throes of restoration and barren, and our tour guide was, at best, in a rush. It was obvious he was ready to finish his shift and touring two people around an empty house wasn’t something he was happy to be doing – but he was still very informative and answered my questions.

(Side note: I would give nearly anything to live in that house. Carl’s wife’s bedroom was the epitome of breathtaking, and I’m fairly certain any future bedroom of my own will always pale in comparison.)

I stood in front of his office, and I tried to inhale extra long and hard, figuring that was the best spot to soak in as much of his residual creative energy as possible. I don’t care if the guide thought I was an idiot, it felt amazing.

After the tour and a mini-shopping spree in the gift shop, we did ramble around the rest of the grounds, visited the goats (who loved me, by the way. I’m like a freaking modern-day Snow White), and for a few minutes, I propped my elbows on a fence post and stared out across the field in the most peacefully envious way possible.

I was sad to leave. I imagined stowing myself away in one of the many buildings that still stood, off-limits to the public, and probably stored decorations. I think, in his own way, Carl would’ve been proud of someone so inspired by him and the written word, that I’d even consider it. After all, he’s the one who said he would be a writer or a bum.

But, that wouldn’t hold water in a courtroom – so I walked back down the hill, still raining, and my mind scattered into pieces, thinking of a thousand things at once, but somehow I felt calm. Connemara, as the place is called, is magical that way.

I’ve already put it on the books to go back in 2018, when the place is again filled with all of his quirky, humble furnishings, to get a better sense of the man.

I’ll post a few links where you can learn more about Sandburg and Connemara, but first I’d like to leave you with another quote of his that I adore:

“Nothing happens unless first a dream.”

Carl Sandburg’s Wikipedia

Visit Connemara

Carl Sandburg’s Poetry

Uncategorized

Write, Erase, Repeat

Write, Erase, and Repeat

“First you have nothing, and then, astonishingly, after ripping out your brain and your heart and betraying your friends and ex-lovers and dreaming like a zombie over the page till you can’t see or hear or smell or taste, you have something.”
-T.C. Boyle

Let’s talk about a little thing called editing. I’m not going to get into hiring an editor. Sure, you should do that, but you shouldn’t use that as a way out of editing your own work. You should polish your work as much as you possibly can before you pay someone else to do it. It’ll save you embarrassment as well as money. Maybe you don’t care about embarrassment, but I’ll never be convinced you don’t care about money.

So, what can you expect from the editing process, otherwise known as those countless hours where a writer screams obscurities, throws pens across the room, and cries when the highlighter runs dry?

Heartache. You can expect a metric ton of that shit.

You birthed those little word babies and now you have to snuff them out. It’s painful. That sentence you spent three days, fourteen hours, and twenty-six minutes obsessing over? It’s gotta go. Imagine erasing so many sentences they become missing paragraphs.

Hell, sometimes even whole entire chapters get scrapped. (This happened in NMC’s sequel not long ago. I wrote an entire chapter and then cut it a few days later. It hurt.) But, nobody needed to know how Brie felt while walking around Hever Castle, and I got insanely carried away… because it’s my favorite castle I’ve visited inside my head.

Let me outline my editing process for you. You’ll need a large cup of coffee or tea, and a picture of a funny cat.

Seriously, don’t forget the cat. It’ll help cheer you up when you consider jumping out of a window. In fact, I recommend two separate pictures of funny cats.

If possible, print your draft. It’s a vastly different experience reading something on a screen versus reading something on a page.

Have a highlighter ready. Have two or three, actually. In different colors. Assign each color a different function. Make yourself a color code because you will forget those functions.

Blue – Cut this completely.
Green – Reword this.
Pink – Research the hell out of this.
Yellow – This doesn’t set well, come back and find out why.

Or something along those lines. You get the drift, anyway.

Read it out loud. There are mistakes your ears will pick up on that your eyes will never see. This happens most often in dialogue. If you don’t ask yourself a thousand times, “Who actually talks that way?” while you’re reading your manuscript, then you need to share it with someone else, because I’m positive they will. You should probably be prepared for a lot of green marks on your page. Seriously. People don’t talk like that.

Get help.  I don’t care how many times you read it, read it out loud, or scribble across it, you will never, ever catch everything. Ask someone else to have a look-see. Bake them a muffin as a thank you. Or buy it. You’re editing, you don’t have time to bake muffins.

These magical people you need in your life are called Beta Readers, or Test Readers. They’re your tag team partners in finding blaring errors, but mostly they’re there to help you find plotholes. They should be willing to chip away at your soul and tell you what sucks just as easily as they’ll build you up and tell you what’s awesome. You need them. Be nice to them. They’re good people.

Get more help. You didn’t think one round of help would be enough, did you? Of course not. You’re in this soul-crushing thing until the very end. I have personally fallen in love with a program that works right inside Microsoft Word called ProWritingAid. So, you’ve used Grammarly and been burned by how absolutely awful it is. I understand. We’ve all been there.

ProWritingAid is nothing like that. It’s actually handy and useful and doesn’t suck. It looks for things like:

-Overused words
-Consistency (Are you using American and British English?)
-Sticky Sentences
-Repeated Sentence Starts
-Abstract and Vague Words
-Hidden Verbs
-Split Infinitives
-A bazillion other things.

It never makes a single change in your document unless you give it the go-ahead first.

The only complaint I have about ProWritingAid is that if you attempt to use it on a large document it may cause Word to freeze up. This is easily fixed by saving each chapter individually and editing one at a time.

You can check it out for free on their website. (Let me insert this here: This is not a sponsored recommendation, these thoughts and opinions are my own. I am a happy customer and that is all.)

Reprint your manuscript. Hopefully you’ve clung to your first draft. Compare. See how much better off your word babies are now.

Now, brace for it. You may need to trade your coffee or tea for a scotch now.

Repeat every single step.

Hopefully you still want to write and you don’t hate me. Too much.

Uncategorized

Playtime is over, suckers.

Untitled design

“Write to amuse? What an appalling suggestion!
I write to make people anxious and miserable and to
worsen their indigestion.”
-Wendy Cope

Now that you’ve all hopefully shaken your NYE hangovers-aren’t those spectacular, by the way-I thought it’d be a fine time to say hi.

Hello.

The holidays are officially over with now that it’s Monday. Aren’t we all happy to be back at work, struggling not to write 2015 on any important documents, and generally hating ourselves after we tally up what we spent on Christmas presents? Oh, come on… I know I’m not the only one.

I’m a little late to the whole writing goal post, but we’re not even a week into the year, so I don’t think I’m too late.

Write Every Day | I actually normally write every day, or at least I did before I was instructed that in order to make it as an indie author I would need a twitter account, facebook account, blog, vlog, the blood of Himalayan yaks, instagram, and the list goes on and on and on. I actually sat down one day, jotted down a list of everything people suggested I needed to be successful, and I just laughed. How on earth anyone thinks you can devote the time and effort into building and maintaining all that while actually writing a novel is still beyond me. I decided to just work on two things, the blog (obviously) and twitter. I may build on something else at some point, but for now, I’m content. I’ll never vlog, by the way. Anonymous, remember?

Instead of getting myself so bogged down in every social media platform one could conceive, I’m far more concerned with actually writing. Now, some days I may not write on my WIP. I actually think it is important to write outside our comfort zones on occasion – express thoughts we wouldn’t normally express, flesh out new, exciting situations which wouldn’t normally occur in our genres, you know – BE CREATIVE. Maybe it’s just me, but that is why I love writing prompts so much. They force us to stretch our imaginations into directions we tend to ignore.

Blog Weekly | At a minimum, anyway. I have so much fun on twitter, but it is awful to be restricted to 140 characters sometimes. I’ll be honest, I have several weeks of my writing prompts queued up, and I’m not going to cancel them. If they don’t garner more interest, that’s fine, I’ll try something else. But I want this to be interactive. The introvert inside me cannot believe I just admitted that.

Publish No More Champagne | This is the one that excites and terrifies me the most. I’ve set myself up with a release date of March 15th. I have an app on my iPhone that counts down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds. Each time I look at that damn app I get goosebumps and want to puke. NMC is my baby. I’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time with it daily. I’ve summoned the courage to ask people to read it, rip it apart, and then I lovingly stitch it back together. I am both scared to death and ecstatic to release it to the world and find out if it’ll flourish or fail. The pragmatic side of me says I’m bias and to expect crippling defeat. The market is so incredibly flooded, even if it isn’t terrible it’ll be difficult to get the necessary exposure. Pragmatism is a blessing and a curse.

Finish No More Excuses | The sequel to No More Champagne is currently about 50% complete. Then my OCDness will pick it apart ruthlessly, shred it, glue it back together, possibly burn it, and start over again. After all, I had originally written NMC in present-tense, and then completely overhauled it into past. The closer I come to finishing the first draft of NME, the sadder I become. I love Briella. I love Liam. I love John. Of course I hope you will love them too, but I loved them first, and I’m going to be sad not to spend time with them every day. They’ll probably be glad when I stop interferring in their ficticious lives and putting them through hell.

May of 2016 may be a difficult month to write, though I will still try to sneak some in every day. Back in 2014, my husband and I picked up and moved to a whole new state and I transitioned into a new career and we settled into an… apartment. This is the first apartment I’ve ever lived in, and truthfully it hasn’t been terrible. Now that we’re sure we’re staying here for the foreseeable future, we’ve decided to buy a home. Yay! But, that means moving. Have I ever mentioned I hate moving? (The answer is yes. In a previous post.) So, my last 2016 writing goal is:

Set Up My Writing Space | Oh, it’ll be beautiful, girly, and subtly nerdy. I’m a mega fan of the three major swoon-worthy shows: Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Supernatural… but I’ve never been one to plaster my walls with memorabilia. I go for a much more subtle approach. I cannot express how excited I am about designing my very own writing space. (I’ll have to use it for sewing, too. (Have I mentioned that I sew? No. Well, I do. I’m awesome, of course.)

That’s it in a nutshell. What are your goals, writing or otherwise? How do you predict your 2016 shaping up? Have you got a book coming out this year? I want to know!

Uncategorized

Writing Sucks.

WritingSucks.

“People talk about books that write themselves, and it’s a lie. Books don’t write themselves. It takes thought and research and backache and notes and more time and more work than you’d believe.”
-Neil Gaiman

I can only imagine the horrified look on your face as you read the title for this post.

“But, Aila… you’re a writer. You LOVE writing…”

I do, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t suck at times. If I had a pie chart that approximated the amount of suckage vs. the amount of awesomeness during the writing process, I’m not even sure that it would be a 50/50 thing.

Writing sucks.

So, you want to write a novel. You have an idea that keeps you up all night. (Sucks.) It sort of makes it hard to eat. (Sucks.) You can’t socialize the way you used to because all you can think about, talk about, and articulate is how awesome your idea is and nobody is listening to you anymore. (Sucks.)

In the beginning, perhaps, your friends and family oohed and ahhed over your idea. (Awesome.) But then, at some point, they stopped. Now you’re left with these options and these options only:

Write your book or don’t. For the sake of the rest of this post, we’re going to say that you decide to write your book.

You sit down at your computer, turn that bad boy on, and open your word processor. You’re staring at a blank page. (Sucks.) You type “Once upon a time…” and erase it. You aren’t writing a fairy tale here. This is a badass tale about a guy who wakes up in a medieval forest and has to battle cyborg rabbits and shit. “Once upon a time…” will not suffice.

An hour later you still have no idea how to start your amazing book. (Sucks.) Let’s say you trudge on. (Awesome!) You can come back to that sweet opener later. Your hero has just slain his first cyborg because he MacGyvered the hell out of the broken limb of a magical tree and in his foe’s dying breath he found out that the cyborg rabbit king has not only your hero’s only chance of going home but also kidnapped his twin sister and is forcing her into marriage.

Now things are really cooking. Words are flying from your brain to your fingertips. (Awesome!) You’re not even stopping to attend to those obnoxious underlined bits suggesting that what you’re producing isn’t sheer gold. (Awesome!)

Your loved ones have to remind you to eat. Sometimes they even have to remind you to do things like pee and sleep. You. Are. In. The. Zone. (Awesome for a few days, then it sucks… because you probably smell and need something besides corn chips and diet soda.)

You’re a genius. You’re convinced that the writers for Games of Thrones will be calling you any day and that you’ve basically just written your ticket to stardom. You’d better start practicing your signature for all those book signings your agent – who will beg to work with you – will set up.

Writing sounds awesome, right?

You’ve showered, passed out, had a meal, and now you’re ready to actually read your masterpiece.

You never did come back and write out an awesome opener. You can come back to that. (Sucks.) You have a hard time reading through the rainbow of squiggly lines decorating the page. (Sucks.) You can’t quite put your finger on it, but for some reason, your hero sounds more like an accountant than someone who would fight cyborg rabbits. (Sucks.) You thought your vocabulary was better than that. (Sucks.) You reach the end and realize that your hero completely forgot all about his twin sister. (Sucks.)

You’re the worst writer in the history of writers. (Sucks.) You realize you don’t even understand the function of a semicolon. (Sucks.) You open up a calendar and count back the days you spent on a pile of garbage and want to weep. (Sucks.)

Writing sounds pretty awful now, right?

Every writer worth their salt thinks they suck at some point. At a lot of points, I would argue. So, what do you do now? Chalk it up as a lost cause? Never write again?

That is certainly an option. But, you still want to be a writer. You still want to share the epic tale of the guy who battled across mystic lands to save his sister, defeat the cyborg rabbit king, and fell in love with a common girl who turned out to be the rightful queen overthrown by those damned rabbits.

So, do it. But, go into it knowing that there is going to be a lot, a lot, more suckage, because now you’re editing and rewriting. Don’t worry, there will be some awesomeness peppered in there as you finally figure out that great opening, and beef up your character development.

The point is, writing is not always fun. At least not if your goal is to write at a level where people will pay to read what you’ve written. If you want for writing to be all peach blossoms and troll kisses, by all means do it as a hobby.

But, if you put in the work… if you subject yourself to the painful process of rewriting and editing, and beta readers, and sometimes public humiliation, you’ll get there. You’ll polish up what was once a word turd. You’ll make something people will want to spend hours reading, then tell their friends all about it.

You will have changed. That’s what the whole writing process will have done to you. You’ll have officially become a writer. (Euphoric.) This is the part where it gets so awesome that you may forget about all the suckage and write something else, starting the whole bipolar writing process all over again.

Here’s to all you fabulous writers who suffer the self-loathing to give others an escape into worlds and people unknown. You’re amazing.