The Story of My Life

Warning. Introspective post ahead.

My entire life revolves around story. The stories I tell others, and the stories I tell myself. From the time I was little, I was telling myself stories. The settings changed, and the side characters. However I was always the main character, the one setting things in motion and leading the plot forward.

It was, and is, second nature to create a story about my friends and I. Or about strangers. I watched people in the parking lot and made up lives for them, and places for them to go.

When I got older, those stories tended to take a romantic bent. It was not uncommon for me to make up a love story between two friends, two strangers, or more often between a friend and myself. Sometimes those stories were just for fun, an exercise in imagination, sometimes they were more serious. I made up a story because I wanted the story to happen.

All of the stories that I thought up for my life, then and now, they have all been upended. The story I am living out is not the one I dreamed up so long ago.

Still single. Who would have thought? Not me. Perhaps there was a friend who foresaw my lack of romance, but I didn’t. My family didn’t. And now, I don’t know what to think of it. The story writer, surprised by her own story. A year ago I would have laughed at the thought of me being surprised by anything. I found stories and patterns in the ring of a bell, in a robins twitter. Yet I can’t find them in my own life.

What kind of story is being told in my life? I still haven’t decided whether I am living a comedy or a tragedy. Perhaps it is a piece of literary fiction, beautifully written but sitting on a dusty shelf.

I haven’t decided what it is yet. But do I get to decide the story? Or is it merely my circumstances that decide it for me? I can make all the fuss I want, but a relationship is not entirely up to me. Other people will help decide that. (unless I go all psycho and kidnap someone, but that would just be weird.)

Do any of us really know what our story will be beforehand? We can make all the plans we want, but in the end, our story follows along different paths. A death of a family member, a wedding, or an unexpected opportunity all play into our stories. It is not as clear cut as at least I thought it would be when I was young and staring into the night sky.

And it isn’t even over yet. I have the rest of my life in front of me. At least 50 more years of living and laughing and adventuring. I have plans and hopes, but who knows what will happen in that time.

My story is still unwritten, for the most part. I am curious to find out what the rest will be.

Shaina Merrick

Inspiration

First, have any of you seen/noticed the changes around here? Yes, there is a new header, yes, some of the font is blue. I did do that on purpose. Whether it looks good or not remains to be seen I suppose. I also updated the Scribblings page and About Me page (that is a not so subtle hint for you to go look at them).

By the way, if you know how to link your instagram page to your blog, I would love to know. I have worked on it for hours, and followed all the directions, and it still isn’t working! So you will just have to take my word for it that I have instagram.

You know what question I dread the most when I talk about my writing? It is not when I am going to finish my novel, though I dislike that one too. It is not why I am writing.

Where do you get your story ideas?

Cue lots of blinking.

I’m sorry, what now?

I am pretty sure I know I get asked. Some authors have these beautiful stories about why they started writing a particular novel, and where they drew their inspiration from. I love hearing those stories, I hate telling them.

Because mine go something like this.

“Well, I was thinking about something random and then got this phrase in my head. This phrase had a, well, a feeling behind it. I felt what was going on, but it was all a little fuzzy. And then I sat down, picked up a pen, and sort of… Figured it out.”

Real inspiring.

I heard once, or read once, that writers are collage artists. We take bits of ideas and thoughts from everywhere and paste them into our story. Cue me nodding with wide eyes and wondering how the person knew what was going on in my head.

My ideas don’t come from one thing, they come from everywhere. Something someone says, a movie I watched, they swirl around in my brain until it turns into a smoothie. Sometimes a good smoothie, sometimes a nasty orange and green one. (looking at you weird story idea)

Often, I don’t know where I got the idea from. I just know that it appeared one day in my head. And never fully formed. I have never figured out a story from start to finish all at once. Usually, I get the beginning, and then have to start writing to figure out the end.

I wish I was one of those writers who can see the plot laid out before them before they even write one word. I have to go diligently searching for it with pen and ink.

The other reason why I don’t particularly like that question (though I will admit to asking it, sorry) is because I have so many story ideas. I am not kidding. I have notebooks full of nothing by story ideas. None of them are finished, some of them have characters, some of them have a plot, but none of them have everything. They all sit there, whispering bits of their story to me every time I look at them. Do I sound crazy? Probably. Being crazy is an occupational hazard in my line of work.

So where do I get my inspiration from? The long answer is listed above, but the short answer is I have no idea.

Shaina Merrick

Academic Writing vs. Fiction Writing.

Here recently I decided to take a series of college level online classes. Because why not. One of those ended up being English Composition I. Otherwise known as the ‘can I tear my hair out right now’ class.

I spend much of my time in the realm of words. I have a blog, I have an instagram page, I write stories, I journal. Between all of those things one would think that I would know how to write, or at least how to get my thoughts organized.

Yeah right.

Turns out that academic writing, or the infamous essay, is completely different from fictional writing (go figure). It is also different from my usual off the cuff blogging.

For one thing, there is no POV in academic writing. All of it is impersonal and if you ever say ‘you’ in the essay, you are doomed. It is considered unprofessional. In all honesty it is unprofessional, but is professionalism what I am going for in my blog posts? Only sometimes. Anyway, the point is there is no point of view. There are no characters, no plot, no tension to speak of. Unless of course it is an argumentative essay, and then the writer is bringing allll the tension to the table. *cacklesmadly*

I may or may not be writing about an extremely controversial topic for my essay. This is going to be fun.

Also, academic writing is so very, very, structured. Eheh. Yes, in fiction writing there is some structure. A plot is structure, and grammar, and punctuation. But here is the thing, I can break all of those rules in fiction, any time I want. And if I do it well enough, no one is going to care, or perhaps even notice. (looking at you Alexander Dumas)

In academic writing on the other hand, everyone is going to notice. Grammar or convention rules must be followed at all costs. Essays have a specific structure, so do paragraphs, so do sentences. There is enough structure in one 800 word essay to satisfy any outlining soul.

Can I die now? Rebellious writer over here, I find out what the rules are so I can break them.

However, in getting a crash course on paragraphs and essays (I promise did learn all of it in high school, I just promptly forgot it), was like learning to walk again. As I fussed over the way my paragraphs were lined up, it made sense why they were the way they were. There is something in my little brain that loves the organization inherent to academic writing. There is not much writers block, because you already know how things are supposed to be written, and laid out. I had an outline, and I followed it. It made certain things much, much easier.

I have a feeling what I am learning about academic writing will bleed into fiction writing as well. After all, those rules have been around for so long because they work. There is something aesthetically pleasing in having a well laid out essay. And when the paragraph works, there is not so much brain bending to be able to understand what the person is saying. Or trying to say.

So yes, academic writing is completely foreign to fiction writing. All the impersonal structure does not align itself well with good story writing. But writing it does help me to align my thoughts in an organized fashion, one that makes sense to other people besides myself.

Shaina Merrick

Hello World!

Well hey guys! Did you miss me? (for my sake just pretend you did) I didn’t mean to have such a long break. But I went to the virtual Realm Makers, directed Vacation Bible School, and moved. I am still recovering.

But I have my own house! With a gorgeous view of the mountains that already has my imagination stirring. There is nothing like eating dinner with a view of a mountain range to get your story whirring.

Speaking of. I have a New Story Idea. It be amazing. And it has things that are near and dear to my heart. For now, I will be referring to it as COD. For reasons that make me laugh, and unknown to you. For now anyway.

So what is the point of this post? I dunno. To say hello to all my blogging buddies? To tell you all I moved and somehow figured out electric bills and setting up wifi all by myself?

Oh yeah. Realm Makers was amazing! Even though it was virtual, I still felt connected to all my writing friends. The classes were spot on, and the best part is, I get to listen to all of them!! I have the classes for an entire year, so instead of agonizing over which ones to go to and which ones to skip, and I can watch them all!!! Yay!

And because of all I have learned during Realm Makers, there may or may not be changes on the horizon here. Or at the very least a better blogging schedule. (shame on my procrastinating self)

Anyway. I will get out of your hair now.

Shaina Merrick

Pitching, the hardest thing you will ever do.

I am attending the Virtual Realm Makers conference this year. Cue the confetti!! It is really exciting and it will be so awesome to attend all those classes and one of my favorite authors is speaking and… Oh yeah, I signed up for a pitch. *internal scream*

So I have never done one before. Ever. I barely even knew what a pitch was before this. I mean, it is just talking about your book to someone else, right? Not!

Have you ever written a resume? The ones where you are trying to convince the hiring manager that you are the perfect one for the job. Well, a pitch is, in its basic form, the same thing. You are trying to convince the editor or agent that your book is worth publishing. And the pitch is only the beginning. To complete you pitch, it is also a good idea to come up with a one sheet, a synopsis, one, or two, author bio’s (depending on who you ask), and to top it all off, a book proposal. I hate book proposals.

This is not something that was taught, or even mentioned, when I was learning about writing. None of the classes I ever went to discussed the book proposal. That is either because I didn’t go to the right ones, or because no one taught how to write the most important piece of writing you will ever do after your manuscript.

So now to give you a leg up, we are talking about writing a book proposal.

Step One: Like your Book

Are you excited about your book? I hope so, because you are trying to impart that enthusiasm to someone else. A someone who has the power to get your book into the hands of readers. If you aren’t excited about your book, they won’t be either.

Step Two: What is the plot?

This is one of the more important bits of your book proposals, you need to tell that agent/editor the entire plot. The synopsis. Sometime they will ask you for the short synopsis, which is generally what your pitch will be, and for an entire synopsis covering everything from the inciting incident to the conclusion. This is NOT the time to be saying, “But wait, spoilers!” You are spoiling the entire book for them. On purpose. The editor needs to know if you can stick the landing. Can you write a good beginning, middle, and ending? That is what your synopsis will tell them. So make sure all the important plot points are in the synopsis. Give them all of the tid bits that make your story interesting and unique.

Step Three: The author bio

I really struggle with this one. I can talk about my book all day long, but myself? Not so much. In its condensed form it is what would be on the back of a book. A short introduction of you. This is not the time to be cute and funny. Author bio’s are serious matters. The first impression the editor will have of you is that bio. So make sure it shines!

The long form includes your writing experience, any awards you may have won, any previous publishing experience, and why you wrote the book. That latter one may be included in a different spot so check the guidelines for each editor or agent you pitch to.

That is why I struggle with it so much. I don’t have much in the way of experience, and no awards to speak of. But that doesn’t mean I skip it all together or make a joke about it. Like I said earlier, this bio is serious, and so I treat it like I would any other resume. I say the bit I can, mostly about my blog, and that is all. If you are in the same boat as me, I give you the same advice. Do what you can, but don’t make up stuff. Also, it looks a little tacky if you talk about a writing award you got as a ten year old if you are an adult, so keep your experience relevant and fairly recent.

Step Four: Log Line

A log line is the very, very condensed version of your synopsis. A sentence is all it is. Two sentences at the very most. Think of it as the marketing line of your book. The one that goes first in the blurb on the back. This is the phrase that tells people what your story is about, and at the same time makes them want to read more. Sounds hard? You bet! One site I visited recommended writing 15 to 20 of them right off before even deciding which one was the best. No, I didn’t write that many, but I wrote quite a few! After I finally decided which one I wanted, I then refined it to make it as perfect as possible. This one is important, so do the work to make it good!

Step Five: Marketing

This is the part of the show where you tell the editors how you will help to market your book. The market is super saturated with books, if you couldn’t already tell, and the ‘build it and they will come’ mantra no longer works for books. Unfortunately. And while we may despise it, the hard truth is that the publishing companies will not do all the work to market our books. We have to take some of that into our own hands.

You will need to tell the editor what kind of platform you have, and how many followers you have. I did not say the exact number because 1) it is embarrassing and 2) it is changing all the time. So I just said it was small but growing.

It is also a really good idea to tell the editor what kind of contacts you have that you could exploit to get your book out there. (mwahaha…) I have lots of contacts inside the homeschool community, so I mentioned that. You can mention authors you know (as in know personally), business contacts you have, and things like that.

Do not. Do not! Give them your ideas on how to market your book. There are sites that recommend this, and I might be proven wrong, but other sites have said that that is what the marketing team is for. They probably have way better ideas than you have (unless you are amazing at marketing, and if you are, why are you trying to get published?). You are there to show them your platform. Not tell them how to do their job.

Step Six: Details

If your head isn’t already spinning, I commend you. Mine was when I researched all this! But I am not finished yet. Oh no. There is still more you must add in your book proposal!

These are all smaller details that you could have as one lines, or a small paragraph. Things like how many words and how many chapters are your book. Who you book is intended for. Is it middle grade, young adult, or adult? It is important to be specific, but not too small, because the editors are looking for how to market this book as they are reading it. If your intended audience is middle class extraterrestrial immigrants, it will be harder to market than a book for kids in elementary school.

You should also include other books that your book is similar too. Are you writing a book about talking animals? Consider citing Wind in the Willows as a similar book. However, avoid the urge to compare your book with classics, or best sellers. You don’t have the next Lord of the Rings. And when you say that it just sounds proud and pretentious.

When you are writing a book proposal, those are the main things you need to include in every single one. However, do your research. Different editors and agents want different things. One might want a full book proposal, another might want only a synopsis and a one sheet. A one sheet is a book proposal that has been cropped to one page. Don’t send editors pages and pages of things they don’t want! That is the fastest way to end up in the recycling bin.

Also, do not send your full manuscript. Send whatever chapters they want, and that is all. No one has time to sit and read a full manuscript they aren’t sure about. I’m sorry, I wish it wasn’t so, but it is.

As a quick reminder, a pitch is the quick synopsis of your book that is generally not beyond the first act. It is generally spoken directly to the agent or editor. It’s purpose is to pique interest and to promote excitement!

A synopsis is the full overview of a book. Try not to go over one page. It’s purpose is to prove that you can write an interesting plot from start to finish, and to help the editor understand your story.

A one sheet is a short book proposal. It’s purpose is to convince the editor to take your book.

A book proposal is to convince the editor or agent that you are serious about getting this book out there. It is a professional piece of writing that helps you to get your book signed by an agent or editor.

To all those who are jumping into the realm of pitching, good luck!

Shaina Merrick

The Precarious Balance of the Writing Life

Writing. A career path only for those who wish to feel guilty every moment of their life. Every moment of every day becomes a choice between writing, and not writing. If you aren’t writing, you feel guilty because you should be writing. If you are writing, you feel guilty because there is a whole family outside of your novel who could be talked with. Or an email to be sent, or another hobby to be practiced. But if you don’t write at this moment you won’t at all, and you worked an eight hour shift today dang it!

Yup. It kinda sucks.

On the one hand, we know that if we don’t write we will never get better. On the other hand, if we commit to writing for so many hours every day, won’t we become kinda, well, like a hermit? The stereotypical author who spends all of their days writing, and only ventures out into real life when their groceries run low. If they haven’t decided to get all their groceries shipped to them already.

And that was all before the internet. Now, we have Facebook, Instagram, blogs, and countless other ways to be ‘doing the job of writing’, without actually writing. Now there is one more thing to juggle, one more thing to feel guilty over.

And here I almost forgot the infamous day job that every writer slaves away at, all the while hoping to someday break free and only write. Never mind the fact that their day job is the one place they never feel guilty at. They have to be there, and that is that.

The thing is, I am not about to give you some momentous advice about how to balance it all and still keep yourself sane. This is something I am not good at. In fact, you could say I am tremendously, awfully bad at it. Even when I have a schedule.

But sometimes those who are so terrible at it that any step is a step in the right direction, have more to say than those who have done it perfectly their entire lives.

Like this momentous realization that was probably obvious to the rest of you.

Multitasking doesn’t work.

Ever.

I can’t write an interesting scene and write a blog post at the same time, or color and try to teach myself grammar. The best I can do is listen to very, very tame music and write a blog post. But even then I have to pause the music if I really want to concentrate. I realize that some of you are wizards of multitasking. I ain’t. So I keep the tabs low and the projects one at a time lest I overwhelm myself and get nothing done.

The other thing I realized after a long time of trying and failing is that I can’t get everything done in one day. It isn’t possible. Unless of course I decided not to sleep, or eat, or talk with anyone. But that isn’t a good idea (though don’t think I haven’t considered it.).

I have tried to do everything in one day. And at the end of the day I either had a finished to do list and no energy whatsoever to read or be nice, or I had a half completed to do list and loads of guilt to go along with it.

Well. I don’t like feeling guilty, and I also like being able to read. So I stopped trying to do it all. Most of the time.

It’s called a weekly schedule, and I am still trying to figure it out. Turns out they don’t write themselves, and writing down the things you did after you did them doesn’t work. Also, it doesn’t really count if you never look at it during the week.

I still have a long ways to go before I can properly consider myself good at scheduling my days.

Till then, I will muddle through and do my best to have my blog posts done on time.

Shaina Merrick

Since we are one the topic, got any advice for the scheduling writing? Things that worked for you? I’m telling ya, I need all the help I can get!

Favorite Reads of 2019

Fine. Since everyone else is doing it, I will to.

I have been keeping track of what I read, and how much I liked it, since I was… In Middle School? And all of those lists are around here somewhere. Heh. Thankfully, the list for this year is not in the depths of some journal, and easy to get to and finally organized according to month and year. (don’t ask)

I read a bunch of good books this year, so this list is not going to be short. Sorry not sorry.

The Chestnut King by N. D. Wilson

The Chestnut King (100 Cupboards, #3)

The only reason the rest of the 100 cupboards series isn’t on here is because I didn’t read them in 2019, and I had to cut myself off somewhere. This was the finale to end all finales. The perfect wrap up to the series, and a scene at the end that left me crying happy tears. You must read this series. I don’t think I can put into words how much I love all of these characters and the relationships between them. Also, this series is the reason I now like baseball. Thanks Henry.

A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews

A Thousand Perfect Notes

This, this is the book that I will fangirl over with anyone, anywhere. I was not expecting this book to bowl me over, but it did. Every scene left an ache in my heart, every word made me fall in love with the main character even more. Beck was so, so wonderful, all I wanted to do was hug him and give him a cookie. Also, there was piano. My other great love in life. This book combined my two favorite things. The way the author explained playing piano was something I knew. This was an experience I could share with Beck because I have done that. Played the song, had the nerves, hoped the soul I was bleeding over the keys would be liked by others. So yeah. It was great.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater

The Scorpio Races

I will shove this book at almost everyone in existence. I will admit, I avoided it for years because it seemed to be a combination of things I didn’t like. Ha! I was wrong, and I have never been so happy about it in my life. Scorpio Races has the most beautiful prose, and her way of describing left me in awe. All I wanted was to learn how to write like that. Well, I also wanted to figure out what happened next. But ya know, priorities.

Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Romanov

I know I have done a review on this book somewhere on this blog. But I am too lazy to look it up and link to it. Anyway. This is one of the few historical fiction I read this year, and it was also a fantasy. Two of my favorite genres! What I really loved about this book was the way she handled the Romanov family itself. I loved the relationships between them all, and how they were compassionate even in the midst of cruelty. The father showed forgiveness in the face of men who hated him, and even though in the terms of the world he ‘failed’. I think the story showed how such acts of compassion and forgiveness change people, and the world. Go read it! And bring a box of tissues with you.

Fireborne by Rosaria Munda

Fireborne (The Aurelian Cycle, #1)

Enter tears, chills of awe, and a stupid grin. I don’t think my heart will ever recover from the emotions of this book. Up and down, and down some more, and then back up we went as I followed the characters around. I literally stopped in the middle of an intense scene and started trying to figure out why I was feeling so much emotion. (yay logic) I might have figured it out. Sorta. I couldn’t believe all the things this book covered when I stepped back and looked at it. Love, friendship, politics, family, this book covers it all. Yet never feels overly full or preachy or that things are going at a breakneck pace. I adored it.

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Taran Wanderer (The Chronicles of Prydain, #4)

The best word I would give this book is melancholy. The whole book was melancholy. But I loved it. Every melancholic word of it. Somehow, Taran’s journey became a rippled reflection of mine this year. Trying different things and hoping that one of them will work out. Only to realize that the one skill I ache to have may not be within my grasp at all. Can we discuss the ending for a moment? Where everything is answered and yet nothing is at all? There is inward screaming right now. I wish more books could pull off that kind of ending.

The High King by Lloyd Alexander

The High King (The Chronicles of Prydain, #5)

Yes, I am allowed to have a two books by the same author, and both in the same series, in my list. It’s my blog. Anyway, what would a list of 2019 favorites be without the last/best book of the series that made me rethink everything I thought I knew about fantasy? It wouldn’t be a list, that’s what! This book perfectly wrapped up every loose end in the whole entire series, yet still reminding you that there are more adventures to come. Every question was answered, yet there were still questions. But good questions, the ones that make you think about the book long after it has finished. The characters all came to their poetic justice, though mercy was shown to those who didn’t deserve it, yet you were glad they got it anyway. I better stop while I am ahead.

There you have it folks! A by no means complete list of my favorite reads of 2019! What did you read, and love, this year?

Shaina Merrick

Grown Up Christmas List

Since I grew up, it has become harder and harder to find things for my Christmas list. My mom, or grandparents, tend to start asking me around the end of November, and my mind always draws a blank. ‘Um, clothes? Money? I dunno…’ I like what I have, and there isn’t too much that I need or want. Which is good I guess? But it can be hard when all your relatives are staring at you, waiting for you to reply.

Perhaps it is so hard to think of things because the things I truly want for Christmas can’t be bought, by any average income anyway. But if I could write to Santa and ask him for something, this is the list I would give him.

  1. A months worth of gas in my car. Do you know how much money I would save if I didn’t have to fill my car?
  2. A new computer. One that doesn’t die as soon as I unplug it, or warn me about imminent death as soon as I turn it on.
  3. To eat anything I want during the holidays and not gain any weight. I may have had a few too many cookies…
  4. A walk-in closet dedicated to books. My bookshelf is overflowing, and so is the box in the closet.
  5. An unbreakable phone screen. My poor phone, that is all I have to say about that.

A couple of these may happen someday, a couple of them, not so much. (when will someone invent calorie free sweets that still taste good?) But hey, it is always fun to wish!

Shaina Merrick

Know the Novel Linkup: Part Two

This is the story of how I died. Also the story of how I can’t remember much about November except the fact that I have written so, many, words. As of at this moment I am at 30k. Whoo! Not totally sure how I made it, but, hey I’m here so why not have some fun.

Christine has posted the next part of her Know the Novel Link up! You should totally join if you are doing Nano, or if you have a WIP you want to showcase! Go check out the details here!

And now for…

Within Valai

1. How’s the writing going overall?

Bwahaha! You mean how the story is actually going? Or how I am feeling about it? Cause… There have been a few days where I wanted to throw my story out the window and never write again!

Confession, I hate writing beginnings. It isn’t the first line that bothers me so much as the first 20 pages. Yup. Writing those few twenty is like pulling teeth. It is awful and it happens every. Single. Nano. I actually ended up completely stopping one day and going to another project altogether because I hated my story so much.

But I did come back. I did make it through those first twenty pages, and I am enjoying my story again! I am suspiciously thinking that my main problem was that I started my story in the wrong place. Namely way too early. Because now that things are actually happening it is fun!

So, I guess overall it has been good, and I like where the story is going so far.

2. What’s been the most fun aspect about writing this novel so far?

Terrence and Kerina! Their interactions are the absolute best. My favorite scenes are when the two of them are together. I have to work really hard to make sure that my whole book is not just the two of them talking…

Their relationship has begun to take on a life of its own. AND I LOVE IT! It isn’t quite what I expected, but it is more than I had hoped. Terrence loves to spend time with her, but while Kerina likes his company, she also spends every moment terrified that he will learn her terrible secrets. So all the subtext behind what they say and the hidden emotions are just so fun! And their banter, and the way Kerina is like the only person able to make him laugh and… Yeah, I should move on now.

3. What do you think of your characters at this point? Who’s your favorite to write about?

Kerina is finally becoming a regular person! Yay!!! Ever since I started this story sooo many years ago, Kerina has always been my trouble child. I found it hard to latch onto her motivations, her emotions, and basically everything about her. She just always felt so flat. And I couldn’t find a way to bring her to life. Now, that is not to say that I have finally found the perfect piece that totally brings her to life, she is still a little flat and totally angsty and girl would you please lighten up?! But it is getting there. She feels more like a real character than she ever has, and I might actually like her now!

Terrence is a bit different than I expected him to be. A little less preoccupied with stuff and more focused on the here and now. I had created him to be a bit more introspective, but he refuses to spend hours thinking about stuff. Soooo. Yeah. He is still my favorite though! I love spending time in his head, and his chapters are always waaay longer than Kerina’s. (oops.) He is so much easier for me to write. I dunno, the words just flow easier. He has also become more fleshed out in this draft, and is more like a living breathing person than this weird ink and paper doll.

4. Has your novel surprised you in any way?

Considering how much planning I have done for this, one would think that nothing would catch me by surprise. Well. I still was.

They have all been little things though. Little nuances of characters here and there are different then the way I expected them to be (looking at you Kerina). My first plot point may have ended up being something different, and an event I thought would be a huge deal ended up not being such a big deal after all. Ya know, normal writer problems.

5. Have you come across any problem areas?

You mean other than wacky characters, plot holes, and terribly slow beginnings? Um. I am beginning to realize that some of my side characters, and all of my side plots, and not as fleshed out as they should be this far along in my novel. As in they have barely made an appearance. Too many characters, not enough brain space.

I am going to try to give my characters some more screen time, esp. the ones who come more into play later. But I have a feeling that all of those are going to have to be fixed during the editing stage. (sorry future self) Ah well, Nano drafts are supposed to be messy, right?

6. What’s been your biggest victory with writing this novel at this point?

Kerina is not a paper doll! After so long with struggling to find this character, I love that I have begun to see into her character. Though less bubbly than I imagined her, she has become more convoluted and interesting, while still keeping to a more artistic personality.

She is less of a puzzle to me than she was before I started. If that is the only thing that happens during Nano, those thousands of words will be worth it.

7. If you were transported into your novel and became any one of the characters, which one do you think you’d be? Would you take any different actions than they have?

I would be Kerina. Hands down. Though I wouldn’t say we are exactly alike. She is the only girl in the novel so… Yeah. (I am still trying to decide if that is a problem) We also share a rather important trait. We both worry waaay too much. Worry about what other think of us for the most part. She is terrified that if anyone else finds out who and what she is they will hate her. So she has built up a mask to show to the world, hoping that they will accept her.

If I was her, I think I would worry less and do more. But maybe I am just kidding myself and I would still worry too much.

8. Give us the first sentence or paragraph then 2 (or 3!) more favorite snippets!

Phooey. Consider yourselves lucky because I never share my unedited stuff. *deep breath* Here we go! (please excuse any weird grammar, I try but…)

‘If they were lost, then Terrence had failed. Again. Or he was reading the map spread out on the table in front of him wrong. He glanced at Colen and Wizard Gyre. If either of them were confused, it wasn’t showing on their faces. Maybe the squiggles and lines made sense to them, while he was wracking his brain trying to remember map class all those years ago. Was that one of the ones he had skipped?’

‘Terrence scrambled up the hill that guarded the end of the valley. The place where mountains made way for the plains. He couldn’t reach the peak fast enough. The rest of his men were far behind, their steps slowing as they reached the extent of their territory. The moment familiarity ended and the unknown began.

A few more steps. He could see his goal. Stumbling over a rock, Terrence reached the summit. There it was. The sight he had been dreaming of. Stretched out before him was the plains of Sunlight. Nothing but grass reaching out towards the horizon. The horizon. The place sky reached down to touch the land, its blue arc glorious to see.

An unfelt wind swept over the prairie, bending the tall grass to show their golden sides to the sunlight. Sunshine from above meeting sunshine from below.

He sighed, this was home.’

‘“When was the last time you saw the plains?” Kerina asked.

“A week after Torroc came to power,” Terrence replied. He had entered the mountains for the first time with Gyre as a mourning boy who dreamed every night of his sister and of flames. Only the smallest hope of coming back kept him going.

Now he was leaving with a battalion of men at his back, and a way to take back his country. Something he had barely hoped for all those years ago.’

9. Share an interesting tidbit about the writing process so far! (For example: Have you made any hilarious typos? Derailed from your outline? Killed off a character? Changed projects entirely? Anything you want to share!)

I have not actually killed off a character as of yet. I have had a bad habit of that lately, so I am very proud of myself!

So, I think I mentioned earlier that I took a day off because I couldn’t stand the sight of my story anymore. Well, during that day off I went a finished a novella that I have been writing for months. I had tried to finish it before Nano, but it hadn’t worked out. I took that day to finish my novella. Finishing that gave me the momentum I needed to get back into Valai and chop half a chapter so that I could get back to the story I wanted to write. Let me just say that there were many, many words written in those two days.

‘Valai’ isn’t actually the title of my story. It doesn’t have one. But since I needed to call it something I decided to give the name of the country the book is set in to the novel. Because to be perfectly honest, the only thing I hate more than beginnings is having to title things. So until further notice, my story is called Valai.

10. Take us on a tour of what a normal writing day for this novel looks like. Where do you write? What time of day? Alone or with others? Is a lot of coffee (or some other drink) consumed? Do you light candles? Play music? Get distracted by social media (*cough, cough*)? Tell all!

I work every morning from 8:00 to 1:30 so needless to say, I don’t write in the mornings. I try to write as soon as I can in the afternoons. But lunch comes first. Then a couple life things like do laundry or something like that. So often I don’t get started until 4ish. (awful I know) I also have to work myself up to a writing session so sometimes I procrastinate a little too much.

I will write for a while, have dinner, then sit down and write some more! I try to finish writing by about 9:00, 9:30. Well, I tend to run out of ideas by then and am ready to wrap up so I can go to bed. Like I said, I work in the mornings so a good nights sleep is really helpful!

I have my water bottle nearby and music going most of the time. Though I might try writing without music today, because sometimes I get more done if I don’t have that distraction. Other than that… I write alone, with my sister, I write at the dining room table, on the couch, on my bed, wherever the mood strikes me that day! I will say that some of the best writing times have come at the dining room table. (don’t ask why I don’t know)

Phew! That was more than you probably wanted to know about my trial and tribulations while trying to write 50,000 words in a month. Unfortunately, I will not be finished with this novel by then. It has decided to turn into a monstrosity that will most likely be around 100k by the time it is finally done. (somebody help me)

How are you all’s Nano’s going? Or if you aren’t doing Nano, how is your lovely stress free November going? 🙂

Shaina Merrick

Writing Prompt Contest Winners!

Remember that contest I told you about a while back? You know, the one with writing prompts? Well, the results are in, and I am pleased to announce the winners!

I had a super fun time helping to judge this contest along with Cassandra Hamm. The lovely lady who hosted the contest. We met at the Realm Makers conference a few months ago, and bonded over deep conversations and pizza. She is a great writer, and I loved judging the contest alongside her!

Cassandra Hamm is a writer who has always been fascinated by the inner workings of the human mind. She received her B.S. in psychology and continues to apply her knowledge to her characters. In case the reader is wondering, no, she does not psychoanalyze everyone she meets. One of her passions is helping other writers, and she does so through her work as a Community Assistant for the Young Writers Workshop and a teacher for Young Writer Lessons, both of which are affiliated with The Young Writer. She can be found online at https://cassandrahamm.com, where she posts prompt-based stories meant to entertain, encourage, and inspire; on Instagram at @cassandrahammwrites; and on Facebook as Cassandra Hamm, Author. 

In fact, this contest was to celebrate the fact that one of her own stories got second place in a Story Embers writing contest! Check out ‘The Will of the Sky’ here! It is pretty awesome! *nudge nudge*

It was so cool to see how each person came up with a completely different story for the prompts! No two stories were alike, and I was blown away by the creativity. Let me tell you, it was so hard to choose a winner! Everyone’s stories were so amazing. Decisions decisions…

But we did come to a conclusion, but before I reveal the winners, here are the prompts if you want to go read all the entries for yourself!

The Instagram entries:

Prompt 1

Prompt 2

Prompt 3

The Facebook entries:

Prompt 1

Prompt 2

Prompt 3

And now, for the prompts winners. Drum roll please…

Prompt #1

Image taken from Pinterest

Our Instagram winner was…

‘The tormenting heat of the sun beats against the barren kingdom. Thin gusts of wind sweep over the sand of ancient stones, bones of the dead peeking into sulfurous air. The faint thrust of his leathery wings and the shifting of his every bone echoes over the muteness of the ghosts. Slit eyes bore into the souls of every dark crevice, ripping exotic shadows of the past into the foreboding silence of the present. For in the heart of the reapers’ kingdom, memories of life bow to the carcass of death. ‘

~Kaylee Clay

This beautiful entry by Kaylee (@kk_the_bookdragon) is full of scary mystery. I love the descriptions in this story. It pulls you in and doesn’t let go until the end.

Our Facebook winner was…

‘It had been just another noise in the desert, probably a creature dying in unfamiliar, hostile surroundings. But after the bone beast had flown over, no one could unhear that desperate, aching sound. It echoed in the mind, raising memories of sorrows and lost dreams, like spectres called from the beyond. So the towns fled to the deep subterranean caverns in an attempt to dampen the cries and to bury themselves from hauntings created in their heads.

Only little Keili understood the cry, understood why the beast screamed as it flew. It wanted to die but couldn’t.’

~Ariel Jackson

Wow, what a story! Ariel Jackson spins a tale of heartache. A creature who is seeking something it can not find. Death eludes him, and the bone beast’s cry brings others into it’s despair.

Prompt #2

This picture has been used with permission from Purple Dragon Prompts

Our Instagram winner was…

‘ “It’s the center of the universe,” the sage had whispered to me, as he indicated a tattered map of the desert.

Not the literal center, of course. The gravity at the center of one galaxy would instantly crush my frail, mortal body.

Then again, the villagers in this area didn’t understand gravity. They didn’t even understand what it truly was: the place where all worlds converged. From there, I could go anywhere. Find anyone. Find HER.

“It’s the center of the universe,” he had said.

“Perhaps,” I whisper, with a strained, hopeful smile, “it can find the center of mine.” ‘

~Carrie-Anne Thomas

Excuse me while I go blow my nose. How did Carrie-Anne (carrie_anne.thomas) create such sadness in only one hundred words? Even though it is heart breaking, I love this story and the tiny bit of hope at the end. I truly hope that he is able to find the woman he is searching for.

Our Facebook winner was…

‘She could see nothing.

Well, that wasn’t quite true. There was dust. There was wind.

There was more dust.

Senra clutched the gauzy veil closer, her parched breathing shallow through the thin material.

Somewhere, the green lands still existed. Water and grass and men with glittering swords and greedy eyes.

She turned her back to the wind. A slight veiled figure clutched their cave entrance. “M-mother?”

Senra wrapped her daughter in an embrace. “You’re safe here.”

“But…”

“Hush.” She buried her face in her daughter’s hair. /You’re the center of everything. And I won’t let them touch you./’

~Hope Ann Schmidt

Such a beautiful depiction of motherly love! This mother will do literally anything for her child, even cross the world to a place where they can be safe. Congrats Hope Ann, this is a lovely story!

Prompt #3

Image taken from Pinterest

Our Instagram winner was…

‘Some say it means dire things for any who walk beneath its shadow.

Some say that signs can be read in the cracks of its sun-brittled bones.

Some say it is a gateway to the spirit lands.

But it is none of these; only the lonely remains of a great earth-shaker who lay down and died before my father’s fathers were born. I have seen more like it, in the clefts of the great mountains, and fed them with my hands. Their lips are gentle.

So I listen to the foreigner ramble on and on beside me, and I smile.’

~ Verity A. Buchanan

Verity (@verityb.writes) wrote a vivid tale that leaves me wanting to know more! Earth shakers, legends, and foreigners all come together to create a story world that I would be happy to get lost in! I hope I can learn more about it someday!

Our Facebook winner was…

“Yo yo, gangsta.”

“Yo, wassup.”

“Been a few hundred years. Felt a breeze lately?”

“Nah, this sand hasn’t moved in weeks.”

“You can still see?”

“Sure!”

“Sure. Tell me what’s over the horizon, then.”

“An old man.”

“Out here?”

“Don’t scoff. I see an old man walking in the lightning.”

“Sure, that checks out.”

“Don’t believe me, then.”

“… What else is happening?”

“The bones are shaking off the sand.”

“Ressurectin’?

“‘Course.”

“What about us?”

“We’ll fly again. No more stone birds perched on an old man’s spine.”

~ Hannah Brown

From the first word, this story made me laugh. Hannah did such a great job with the characters voices. The bounce right off the page and into your ears. Those familiar with the Bible may recognize an allusion to Ezekial 37 and the story of dry bones.

Weren’t those stories awesome? This contest was so much fun! If you would like to join in the fun, I am pretty sure Cassie is planning another contest for November 6th-ish. Keep an eye out for that! I hope to see your story!

Shaina Merrick