Reading

DNA of a writer: My top 10 books

Ahh, the dreaded question: “What’s your favorite book?”

Rachel Giesel was kind enough to expand it to “What’s your top 5 favorite books?”

I’m taking part in a free online course to figure out my writerly DNA – analyzing who I am, what I read, and what I write to come up with who I am as a writer. #MyWriteDNA if you will. And because I have a website for such a time as this, I thought I’d share with you my favorite books and their themes that contribute to my writing style.

Top 5 favorite books:

  1. The Map of Time (sci-fi series by Felix J Palma)
  2. Arena (speculative fiction by Karen Hancock)
  3. Night Garden (magical realism by Lisa Van Allen)
  4. Then and Always (romantic suspense by Dani Atkins)
  5. Inkheart Trilogy (fantasy YA series by Cornelia Funke)

Because I had a top 10 and somewhat-arbitrarily decided on a top 5 from that list, I give you….

The runners-up:

  1. The 13th Tale (gothic suspense by Diane Setterfield)
  2. Sinner (spiritual thriller by Ted Dekker)
  3. Godmother: the Secret Cinderella Story (modern fairytale retelling by Carolyn Turgeon)
  4. The Shadow Children series (dystopian YA series by Margaret Peterson Haddix)
  5. The Book of Lost Things (fantasy quest by John Connolly)

 

After I picked my favorite books, I analyzed them. I wrote down any elements of the story that immediately popped to mind, be it themes, style, characterization, plot points, etc. These are elements so prevalent that I remembered them off the top of my head, so there may be even more commonalities I’ve forgotten 🙂

 (Note in regard to spoilers: To avoid blatant spoilers, this section will not call out specifically which books have which elements. Of course if you read this section, you will know that any of the above books have some of these elements, but you won’t know which ones. None of these elements are along the lines of “The main character dies at the end” or something hugely spoiler-y. If a main character dies at the end of one of these books, well, I won’t be the one to tell you, muahaha.)

 

The small stuff:

Okay, so this isn’t very small. That more than one of my favoritest of favorite books has these elements probably makes it noteworthy, but it’s still less noteable than what you’ll see in my next blogpost. Anyway, here’s a snapshot of some commonalities:

  • 1 book has an investigative reporter. This is just one book, but that’s a key part of my work-in-progress, so I thought I’d include it in this list 🙂
  • 2 books involve a quest
  • 2 books have the theme of the power of words or story
  • 2 books have a small political change that greatly alters everything
  • 2 books are allegorical, but not preachy
  • 3 books have a noteable narrator – unreliable and/or chats directly with the reader
  • 3 books have romance as a prevalent sideplot – not the main deal, but still a deal
  • 4 books break the 4th wall (haha, 4 & 4)
  • 5 books are of epic proportions, involving an entire world
  • 5 books have changing alliances and deal with the question of who to trust

 

So there’s a snapshot of what I like in my reading and my writing. My blogpost next week will show the top 3 elements that were in over half of the books on my favorites list, and then I also include what that actually looks like in my writing.

Any guesses as to the top 3 common elements? First to guess correctly in the comments gets major kudos from me and a shout-out in next week’s post 🙂

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Work-in-Progress, Writing

When a character stalks an author…

Julia. I have neglected Julia far too long and she’s appearing everywhere. Haunting me in the people I meet, the clothes I wear, the stories I hear.  It’s funny how the pieces of a person just fall into your lap when you’re busy attending to other things.

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Photo courtesy of Maggie Schoepke. You can follow her anime blog at teatimewithsenpai.wordpress.com

 


 

It started with Julia. No, not my character, a real person. She was sitting just a couple rows in front of me and I wanted to take a picture, because it was her, it looked just like my Julia. But it’d be weird to sneak a picture of a stranger in such a small room where it’d be noticed, even weirder to explain my stalkerish tendency. So I resolved to simply catch her full name during introductions and look her up on Facebook or Instagram because all the modern teens have those. And then it happened: she introduced herself as Julia. This really was my girl! Scarless, no blemishes to be seen, but a Julia that looked exactly like my Julia nonetheless.

Then the moment of truth came: Julia had left the building and I went to look at the sign-in sheet (which was available for all attendees to email each other. I wasn’t a total stalker. Others were copying the list as well.) And darn it! this girl’s name may as well have been Julia Smith. I searched Facebook and Twitter fruitlessly, for there were thousands of results and no mutual friends to bump the right one to the top. I’d lost her!

As a side note, I totally hope I encounter her again this year at the same lecture, and then I will fiercely force my friendship on her by taking interest in her work or something. And hope I don’t get a restraining order as I all too quickly ask for a group selfie 😉 I’m not a creeper really!

Sigh. This is what happens when a writer encounters their character in the real world. As if I’m not mad enough without this pull towards insanity…


 

Next came the story. There’s a book already out that sounds scary like my character, only with real life happenings and not paranormal urban fantasy. Some sort of teen angst Julia drama book. And I suddenly worry that I’m losing my chance, that someone will take her story from me and publish it so much faster than I ever could. Sure, every story has been told and it’s just a retelling, but Julia’s story is all mine and I don’t want to share.


 

Then came the Julia. Not my Julia or the Julia lookalike, but another Julia, one looking to join our writer’s group. How would this Julia take it when I read a story about her namesake falling to little bits in front of her? I don’t quite know, but she shockingly seemed okay with it when I summed up the story in forewarning. But with the name Julia semi-regularly on my tongue and referring to someone other than my character, it hearkens me back, back to the Julia I’m supposed to be living life with, or writing life with I suppose. Julia doesn’t like to share my attention, and her name is her name and my lips can’t utter it without regarding her specifically. My stories don’t deal in the most self-denying characters.


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Most recently, it’s shown up in clothes. What would clothes have to do with Julia? But then there was the LuLaRoe craze. The outfits with names of people – Carly, Joy, Irma, Randy, Cassie, Ana, Nicole, Mimi, and – you knew it was coming – Julia. And suddenly the Julia is covering my newsfeed, as if my real-world encounters weren’t enough. Social media brings up Julia like the plague, only a plague of fashionable comfy clothes (Woot woot!).

And once again, I feel the beckoning. I could wear her clothes in honor of her. But I have to sit with her too. I can’t just have her in my everyday life without taking the time to chat and tinker and understand what’s going on in her head and in her world. Her story needs to be out there for the world to see, like all the other Julias that are invading my life. I have to share this space with my Julia, the one and only most important Julia. Characters don’t want to share with the real world. Authors are demanded to live in the fictional universe until the character releases their grip, and balance is not something my characters will understand. Would yours? Does anybody understand balance when it comes to someone else’s life?


 

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So on that note… World, meet Julia. My Julia. You have all your Julia’s out there, and they’re just wonderful and I like encountering them. But there’s my Julia too.

 

She’s a little broken, a little unsure. But she’s got a story she’s ready to tell. And I’m busy writing it.

 

 


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Creatives, Life, Uncategorized

Sometimes to-do lists aren’t boring

I certainly don’t want a boring to-do list. Granted, I do have a to-do list probably similar to yours, piled high with the following:

  • laundry
  • schedule eye exam
  • speak with IRA investment advisor
  • taxes
  • change banking contact info

I know. You don’t want to read anymore of that list. I don’t either 😉 but let’s have more than the boring to-do’s. Let’s liven our lives up with fun to-do’s. Creative to-do’s. Goals and dreams and making life beautiful to live.

I have a FUN to-do list you have forever access to! On my Trello board, you can see what creative projects I’m working on and how I’m tracking with each goal. You can comment and tell me what you wanna see or what I need to move up in priority.

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See what I’ve been up to? 🙂

On your Trello, you can create your own boards, keep them private or public for creative projects or the boring to-do’s. I’m not getting paid to say this unfortunately 😉

Do you use Trello? have a public board to share? I’d love to see how you use it. And drop by my Trello board to join the conversation on my upcoming projects 🙂

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Creatives, Fashion

Superhero divas need a cape

Unless you’re in the Incredibles of course 🙂

When my sister said it was superhero day for my Lil Niece (world, meet niece 1 of 3), it was way past halloween and she was just going to drop by the store and look for a cape the night before. Of course they don’t have a pink batman cape readily available year-round.

Auntie to the rescue! …see, some superheroes don’t wear capes 🙂 hehe.

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We found the following quite quickly:

  • shimmery pink cloth
  • a batman birthday card with a huge batman symbol to stencil
  • fabric glue (I’m not much of a seamstress)
  • black fabric paint

Then it was just a night of cutting, gluing the seams, and painting the batman symbol. Now Lil Niece is off to the rescue!

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She didn’t win for best costume because some girl wore a cop costume and said her daddy was her superhero (yeah, sweet, cheesy, and heroic, but not superheroism…mehh…) Still Lil Niece won life with a determined mama, creative auntie, and rockin’ diva cape!  She swooped around the house to save the day and loved her cape. And I have leftover material to make a matching one for Baby Niece when she gets older. Squeal! 🙂

I love finding a creative solution in everyday life. I’m no seamstress, I’m no painter, but it doesn’t turn out bad if you try.

 

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Anxiety, Life, Work-in-Progress

Arm surgery, anxiety, & the abnormals

 

A lady had broken her arm and the doctor had a quick-fix, something for the interim because of other health complications that prevented a complete fix. This lady no longer could lift so much as a cup of tea with that hand now, halfway helpless, but her bone slowly healed in that wrong way and she grew stronger and found ways to adapt and get around without using her one arm so much.

Months later, the doctor said it was time for the Big Fix – a complete recovery and healing for her arm.

 Does it come as a shock that she didn’t want it?

Thing is, her arm had healed wrong, so her arm would need re-broken to be completely healed. It would be a long painful process and she would have to readjust to new pain and then to this new “normal” life with both arms in relatively perfect condition.

I heard this story and immediately could relate. Can’t you? To that thing you’ve gotten so used to, that wrong thing, but you’re not sure you can live without it?

 

Because being broken is less painful than being fixed.

The novel I’m working on is called “Unfixed” and that’s oddly a safe place for these grotesque characters. But I wonder what would happen if in the end I heal them, if their story heals them.

  • Who would they be then?
  • Would they be themselves anymore, or someone new?
  • What would they have to re-learn, and would they ever like it?

I’ve learned to manage my pain, much like my characters manage theirs. A community of misfits. We’ve created a new normal. And it’s scary to think of leaving it. It’s kinda like arm surgery. And I’m not sure I’m ready to break again.
 
 

The great & terrible light ahead…

As this post is published, I’m in the middle of a month of busy. Me, a social life! So many things I’m doing, and I love them all, but I’m just waiting for anxiety to knock me back down. But it can’t keep me from living, not totally.

And that’s not the end of my story either. Really, I don’t know the end to that lady’s arm surgery story. But I know that the end of mine will be complete healing – in this life or another. Healing isn’t regret – that’s a lie, likely from the very pain that afflicts us. I and my characters are going to learn to be brave, to be the hero of our stories as we go into the terror of the woods and as we emerge into the great & terrible light again.

 

Free, Take 1:
|Normal| |Control| |Courage| |New Name|

I recently read this Hannah Brencher post on keeping your normal. You should read it all, but here’s a snippet that I think reminds of the control and the courage we do have.
 

Here’s the thing: I am not my depression. I am not defined by it or confined by it. It happened to me. It still happens to me. My depression does not, on any day of the week, give me a new name though. It will never have that sort of permission.No mental illness, no horrific tragedy, no person who did you wrong or left you broken is allowed to name you. It does not work that way, no matter what other people tell you. This is your life. These are your lungs. This is your space.

 

 

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Life, Uncategorized

Practical tips for a long-distance relationship

Here’s some tips from my experience with LDR. This is how we survive the distance, things we probably wouldn’t use or do if we lived closeby.

Apps that go the distance:

  • Couple – track anniversaries, draw artwork together even when apart, “thumb kiss” where both phones vibrate when your thumbs touch the same place on your phone screen
  • Final Countdown (Apple or Android) – count down to the day you see each other again
  • Glympse – track their location as they drive to meet up with you

 

Gifts that go the distance:

  • A notebook – Josh got us a notebook last Christmas! I document our life for a few weeks and what we do together & apart, and when we see each other he takes it and has his turn. It’s neat to have it all documented. Maybe don’t bring the notebook on your first date though 😉 wait a bit haha.
  • Travel-size of your cologne/perfume – once again, this is not a first date thing. But it’s nice to spray a pillow or hoodie with your S/O scent when you can’t have them around 🙂
  • Audiobooks or comedy CD’s – for the long commutes
  • Extra car chargers, bluetooth speaker, essential oil car diffuser – anything to make the car a little more ready for that roadtrip
  • Suitcase – because I’m tired of stuffing 3 duffle bags with all my luggage

 

Finally, a reminder that goes the distance:

The long-distance is difficult to the extent that the significant other is so great. It’s one of those mathematical correlation things. See, I put it in graph form so it must be true:

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So take heart! If it’s difficult to be apart for long periods of time, that probably means you’re in a great relationship 🙂

 

Bonus tidbit: I wouldn’t have these ideas without my long-distance boyfriend of course, so I asked him what his tip would be. Answer: “Communicate alot. Talk alot when you’re apart.” We couldn’t decide if that makes it easier to be apart haha, but we definitely agreed it keeps the relationship strong while we’re apart. So do that! 🙂

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Creatives, Guest Post

The story of how I became a storyteller

Today I am stoked to welcome my creative friend Maggie to the blog. Enjoy her post and share your own storyteller journey with us in the comments 🙂 


 

mags2The story of how I became a storyteller goes all the way back to when I was in first grade. Life was easy back then. Days were filled with coloring book pages and thinking blocks, both which helped light way to my passion for creativity. It didn’t take much to amuse me in those younger years. I would sit in front of the doorway of our house, battling harsh sunlight and racking my brain for the perfect solution to an imperfect array of building blocks. It was there where I constructed the first of many masterpieces. And it was there where I used to proudly gather pastors and patrons under the safety of makeshift sanctuaries. When I was not playing church, I could be found scribbling away my free time. Occasionally, if the mood and temperature was just right, drawings of helpless horses and terrifying wolves would come to life.

These are my earliest memories of visual narration. While there inevitably must have been more instances in-between, it was not until my fourth grade year that I really reunited with my roots as a storyteller. In a new town with some new friends, I strung together countless episodes of a recess superhero saga. I was featured as “Ice Princess,” a kick-butt heroine who welded magnificent powers similar to that of Disney’s Snow Queen.

mags1Later that year when my days were not as filled with Frozone imitations, I found myself able to pursue other activities such as jump rope and church picnics. This is how, in short, I met one of my long-term running best friends. We instantly bonded over Littlest Pet Shop, and together configured names for hamsters and lizards alike. It was not long before we decided to take this obsession with small animals to a whole new level. Together, we crafted a story inspired by an episode of Pet Stars, one of the most interesting and entertaining shows at the time. Perhaps even more unique though, was the story we produced as a result of the series. It centered around a dog who could do math and used his abilities to tutor those in need. One of his primary pupils was his owner, the ever-troubled and renowned actor, Josh Hutcherson.

Fast forward a year or so. I had dropped stories of ridiculously cute celebrities and division-doing dogs. I exchanged them for two starkly different twin sisters and a set of handsome, case-cracking brothers. Crime-fighting protagonists and justice-serving plots came easy to me. All-too-easy, if you ask me. Considering my obsession with Franklin W. Dixon at the time, it was really no wonder. His writing was fresh and cool, and I was young and naive and didn’t care much if my stories were just like his.

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With my writing skills in check, I took the liberty to adopt yet another form of storytelling. In the simplest sense, this medium was play acting. My co-writer and I found ourselves continuously drawn to the idea of hashing out different scenarios in real-life. It was through these exercises that we were able to establish most of the credibility for our story as a whole. It felt risky and unnatural to embody the live’s of other characters. However, I found peace in knowing this was exactly the sort of thing the March sisters did in Little Women.

After a while the theatricals lost their touch as did the stories that formed them. Eventually, I let myself venture onto “greener pastures” (if you could call them that). It was here where I allowed myself to experiment with other fables; but they only managed to hold my attention for a small time. I struggled with developing full-on plots and fleshed-out storylines. For this reason I once again turned to a new medium. The philosophy I soon adopted read as follows, “If I couldn’t tell a story with words, I would do so using pictures.” As a result, photography became my new and improved mode of storytelling. Through the medium, I discovered editing as a niche of mine and used that skill to create fantastical images of my little sister performing mundane tasks.

I came out of the phase with a few mentionable awards and direction for my life study, but this was not enough to dampen my desire for the mastery of new things. In the spring of 2014, I put my thoughts online for the first time. Thanks to some pretty effective feedback, I have been an active part of the blogosphere ever since. Over the years, blogging has taught me an enormous amount, but I would argue that storytelling as a whole has taught me even more. If it wasn’t for long afternoons spent with friends on the playground, I would have never learned the value of imagination. If it wasn’t for mishaps in writing, I would have never discovered my love of photography. It was through these experiences that I realized the importance of not limiting yourself to one specialty. With constant experimentation and the desire to learn, one can readily produce items of worth. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t stop trying. Live vigorously. Accept failures. And maybe just, maybe you’ll create something amazing along the way.

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Maggie Schoepke is a Graphic Design Major and bonafide Japan-lover. She spends her time outside, preferably under the shade of a weeping willow and the appeal of a melancholy tale. When not having a good cry, Maggie enjoys pursuing art, writing, and above all, her Divine Creator. When asked what annoys her the most, she will probably reply with the tacky saying, “There are never enough hours in the day, but always too many days before Saturday.”

 

You can find more of Maggie’s musings at https://teatimewithsenpai.wordpress.com/