The Elusive Nature of Inspiration

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“Where do you get your ideas?” is a question I often get when I’m discussing the nature of my latest story, usually with a person who does not write. Any writer knows that writers don’t know where their ideas come from. In his writing book/memoir “On Writing,” Stephen King said, “There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

It’s true. We have no idea. However, we often remember our line of thinking when we’ve come up with some of our ideas. So where have some of mine come from? How different are their origins? Do some story elements come from different places? Let’s talk.

I’ve had stories arise from concepts I wanted to explore. The Order of the Key was about me trying to create a strong female hero from a geek who has been raised loving superhero media. Lucy Dies in the End was really solely about that concept–I literally just thought about the title and how cool it would be if Lucy herself was the one to say it. I’ve always been drawn to Greek mythology and Aphrodite in particular, which led to Never Say Never. My interest in past lives played into my ideas for the mystery behind Living in the Past.

I’ve had stories arise from dreams. Often when I have these, they play out before me like movies. Legally Insane was about a dream I had about a hidden relationship in a workplace. The present day tale in Living in the Past comes from a very vivid dream I had about a woman strongly connecting with a man and coming home with him, only to stumble into a mystery involving his son.

I’ve had stories arise from mundane reality. Like the lead character in The Order of the Key and Legally Insane, I am a geek. Legally Insane is largely about work in a law firm, which happens to be my day job. The concept of Lucy as Lady Justice in Lucy Dies in the End came from staring at Lady Justice during various court case searches at my job. My parents’ divorce heavily inspires some of the debates on long term relationships in Never Say Never. Dating experiences of my friends helped inspire other portions. And the characters work in an ice cream shop. My first job was at a Carvel. Choosing to Stand Still was a sort of wish fulfillment, regarding a pair of best friends I knew that I thought belonged together–if you’ve read that one, writing it made me realized they were right never to pursue that route.

17760096_1325475264199099_8399109544035762431_nI’ve had stories arise from conversations. The backbone of Legally Insane involves the main character visualizing a character from her favorite television series prodding her to be strong in the face of a major life change. This came from a joke that was made when chatting with fandom friends about Jack O’Neill, a wise-cracking character from Stargate SG-1. My friend said, “I wish I could take him around in my pocket to smack some sense into me.” From there, the idea was born.

I’ve had stories arise from fears. Without spoilers, the fear of losing a child played into The Keys & Guardians series plan heavily. Things You Can Create arose from the fear of the kinds of torture I could carelessly visit upon my characters. It is, unsurprisingly, my first short story.

I’ve had stories that arise from past trauma. One Percent is an exploration of my descent into anxiety prior to spinal surgery. One Headlight was born of the death of a friend, one who died in a car accident on the way to college. Tunneling dealt with my experiences with dealing with alcoholics. The Peace of Completion and Release dealt with some wish fulfillment regarding the aftermath of my sexual assault. Blue Ice dealt with the issue of domestic violence, handled by a third party, looking in.

What does this tell you? Stories come from so many different places. Some of the things on this list were planned. Some were things that spilled out of me once I began to write. But all of it were things I drew upon to create stories that meant a lot to me.

What does this mean for you? It means inspiration can come from anything. It can be a mix of many things. So collect writing prompts. Collect interesting factoids. File away tidbits about the people you meet. But most of all, experience. Live your life with a keen, attentive eye and look at all you see around you. Every bit of your life experience, even the bad things can be weaved into the fabric of a story.

So how do you find the elusive creature known as inspiration? The answer is simple. Live.

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2014 Year In Review

Happy New Year!  I hope you can look back at last year with happiness in your heart, and look forward to a year filled with new and interesting possibilities.

2014 has been a bit crazy for me, personally. I’ve faced some trials, some family illnesses, some coping with awful life things from my past. I’ve also made new friends, solidified old relationships, and adopted to the new rigors of having a school-aged child. It can be a lot, but every year is a gem in its own way. We have been blessed. Our family continues to float on.

As this year kicks into gear, it is easy to look back and think of all of the things you didn’t get to do, or the things you have yet to do – which is why it is so important for us to take a second to examine what has been accomplished in this bygone year. So, that’s what I’m going to do – I’m going to look at what I’ve accomplished in 2014 and discuss where I’d like to go in 2015.

Writing Steps in 2014

  • Last year, I was celebrating the publication of one of my first short story. This year, I am celebrating the publication of three new stories! My writing life has absolutely been blessed this year. Forward momentum for the win! Tunneling, which also happened to be my first piece of flash fiction, One Percent, which I mentioned in my 2013 year in review as a story that I struggled with rewriting, and Choosing to Stand Still, which was the first short story I brought before the writing critique group I was just joining at the end of last year, all found permanent homes and made me a proud mama.
  • I went to my first writing convention, the Writer’s Digest Conference 2014, and did my first ever pitch session. Chronicled in a two part blog post in August, I got to pursue this particular first in time with my son’s 5th birthday weekend, which left me in an insane tizzy. Though two out of three of my pitch requests ended in rejection, and one is still pending, I still count this as a victory on two fronts. I had never gone out into the world to discuss one of my books before. I very rarely went out into the world and declared myself a writer. That weekend, I got to do that, and not only that, but I got to prove to myself that, while it may tire me out, I can be a mother, and a writer, and have a day job, without everything falling apart. This was the first test.
  • Not only did I start pitching The Order of the Key in person, but I also started to send out query letters to agents, enter twitter contests, and just generally get my first full length novel out into the world. This was a huge step, as a writer can sit in edit, rinse, repeat hell forever if allowed.
  • While I have read my work publicly in the past, I read my work for the first time, professionally, this year. It was a great time, only slightly nerve wracking and helped quite a bit by the presence of several incredible people at my side while I geared up. I will say, that one of the ways I have been very lucky, and there are many, is that I have an intensely supportive and loving group of people that would follow my writing and me anywhere and the feeling is mutual. These are the moments when you see that in living color – whether it’s the people who watch my son for me while I go and participate in writing related activities, the people who listen to me practice read, the people who ask me about my work, or the people who come out and attend readings – I have an awesome group of people surrounding me.
  • This year I wrote my first guest blog post, about writing superstitions. I enjoyed putting it together. I also enjoyed the opportunity to get to know a bit about fellow YA Fantasy writer Scarlett Van Dijk’s work.
  • I completed another round of NaNoWriMo! Which means I’m over halfway through my rewrite of Legally Insane. It is almost complete and I am excited about it. It’s an oddly sweet little story about a girl who hallucinates, and I can’t wait to finish it and get it to you guys so you can read it.
  • I wrote a fanfic, my first in a long time, on a totally different topic than usual. It was, as most fanfic is to me, an experiment in writing a different kind of voice than I’m used to. I enjoyed it.
  • I  wrote yet another short story prequel to my Keys and Guardians series, titled “Love is Sacrifice”. I’m not sure if I can do anything with it as a stand alone (I have the first, “Fuel and Fire”, out for submissions as mentioned below) but I am getting the feeling there will definitely be some kind of anthology one day.

Plans for 2015

  • I’ve got two short stories out in the world waiting to be published by somebody. I am hoping they find placement out there somewhere. They also happen to be my two favorite short stories, which makes their prolonged lack of publication particularly sad.  I’m hoping 2015 will find them a home.
  • The Order of the Key is still out in limbo with a couple of agents and publishers. I am hoping that by the end of 2015 I will know the fate of the Keys and Guardians series. Hopefully, much sooner than that.
  • I definitely want to finish Legally Insane and complete the edit on the book by the end of 2015.
  • If The Order of the Key is picked up for publication, my NaNoWriMo book for next year will be Book 2, The Lost Key. If it is not, and I’m still figuring it out or still in the process of editing Book 1, I will be going forward with The Broken Hearts Club, my ironically (and possibly temporarily) titled story about the continued tale of Tunneling. I still have a couple of characters to really figure out from that story, so we’ll see.
  • I’m taking on a reading challenge for 2015 to get me to read more and different books (in case you noticed that list from last week was a little…Kelley Armstrong heavy…). I will be tracking that, to some extent, here.
  • Just more. Of everything. I’d love to look into more networking opportunities. I’d love to take more classes. I’d love to try some more new experiences that I can maybe use in my writing. I’d love to travel a bit. I’d love to do another reading. I’d love to do more guest blog posts. I’d love to have people do guest posts on my blog. I’d love to grow as a writer. And I can’t wait to start doing it.

2014 was an amazing year. I published one story when 2014 began. By the end of 2014, I’ve published four. I don’t want to lose this momentum. So here’s to another wonderful year of getting out there and being a writer.

And here’s to another wonderful year of you pursuing your dreams!  What have you accomplished in 2014? What do you have planned for 2015? Post it in the comments below.

 

Post-Publication Syndrome

Writing about your successes can sometimes make you feel like a braggart. But anybody who knows that a writer can work for years on that one story, can spend months sending and sending and sending that story, revising and re-sending that same story, only to rack up a three page contact list of places that have rejected your work, will understand that we need to brag and promote a little, just to keep ourselves in a place where we actually want to continue doing this.

I am very grateful to be able to say that I’ve been published four times. This is a great honor and I am, by no means, complaining. As a matter of fact, I have high hopes of maintaining this trend. I hope to keep posting about successes. I hope to remain as excited about those as I am about these.

Still, despite the exhilarating feeling of getting that acceptance letter, the space after the publication can be a weird place in a writer’s life. Here are the two strange post-publication experiences I have had.

1 – Sudden Stroke of Genius! You’ve opened the same word document for weeks, sometimes months, sometimes years. You’ve read, made changes, asked other people to read, made edits, reread, put it aside, reread, until you are honestly too sick of the document’s name to ever consider opening it again. That’s when you know it’s time to send it out. It goes out over and over and over and suddenly someone opts to publish it. They read your work and say “I appreciate this vision, I like the way this person sees the world and I think it should be put out there for the world to see. I think this signal should be amplified.”

They publish it. And there, in the print of another person’s website, on a printed page, in a strange land, you see it.

NO! That isn’t what I was trying to SAY! That wasn’t my message! That character would have said that differently! That word choice is just…UGH!

Suddenly, you are a literary genius who could have done this story a million times better, all because it is now immortalized elsewhere and you can no longer change it, can no longer better it.

Artistry can sometimes have the unexpected twists of a Twilight Zone episode. Very funny, universe.

2 – You’re An Alcoholic! And other such musings: When Tunneling was published, I was on cloud 9…for about five minutes. And then, instead, I got sorely depressed. Why? Writing triumphs are few and far between, right?

Right. But I was battening down the hatches for a shit storm. Tunneling is about a recovering alcoholic who falls off the wagon. I’ve known three alcoholics in my life, two of which are still either a part of my life, or tangentially related to my life. I’m also very close to all three families. I had initially felt that the piece was a sympathetically painted picture I’ve seen many times, painted in colors that I hoped people who generally hold contempt for addicts could better understand. Suddenly, I felt like what I was actually doing was profiting off of a lot of pain and I felt horrible. I knew that hadn’t been my intention, but how could people affected by it not see me that way after reading it?

It turned out, that was not a problem at all. Instead, my problem came from a much weirder place. Many people – MANY PEOPLE – pulled me aside or messaged me online and asked me if I had struggled with addiction in my life. I could say this was a testament to my writing skill, but I give much more credit to the depth of my experience with the subject.

Then, the questions got a little weirder. A few people started playing an odd sort of ‘Pin the Tail on the Alcoholic’ game with the list of people they knew were important in my life. I understood what these people were doing – they were trying to understand the nature of creativity. But it’s a strange thing to put somebody’s life and thought process under a microscope. Despite having less than a millionth of her popularity, I got what it must feel like for Taylor Swift when In Touch magazine tries to dissect her latest song to see who it is about.

Art is art. Yes there are many personal threads in every story I write. But for every “Grayson is an alcoholic,” there is also a “Jacklyn is a monster hunter”. The beautiful thing about storytelling is that it allows you to take what you know about the world and spin it out into something else – maybe the way you wish it would have been, maybe the way you’re glad it didn’t go.

That’s the beauty of creativity.

Either way, being published is a blessing. I’m mostly stating these things because I think it’s funny what our writer brains do to themselves after we finally succeed. Can we never be completely happy? If you have experienced this or anything like this, please share in the comments below so people know that they are not alone in their weirdness.

Fall into News and Links!

The puns that start off these link/news collection posts are really starting to get awful. I’ll admit that. Hell, I’ll own that.

News, In Case You Missed It

My short story, “Choosing to Stand Still” has been published at The Holiday Cafe!

My reading of “Tunneling” is on video. Check out one of these two links:
Link 1
Link 2

Please check out my guest post on YA Fantasy writer Scarlett Van Dijk’s blog. The post discusses the superstitions of writers and the way they slow us down.

I may or may not have written a fanfic. Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t.

Friends of the Blog

My little sister, Megan Manzano, got published again! Check out her creepy piece of sci fi flash fiction!

By this point, my character blog hop was a while ago, but if you missed the different steps in my section, you can start with Hannah R. Goodman’s post. Hannah is the creator of Sucker Literary and she writes YA novels. Check out her blog post introducing her character, Maddie. Hannah tagged me, which led to me tagging others.

Check out their entries below to meet a bevy of new and interesting characters!
Scarlett Van Dijk
Kay Kauffman
Kimberly McKenzie
Julaina Kleist-Corwin

Fantasy writer, fellow geek, and good friend of mine, Louis Santiago takes on sexism in nerddom in a two part series that is honest, a bit sad, and oh so true.

Part 1
Part 2

Info

Just finished reading Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro. It is a very good book and is very informative regarding the writing life. However, I found I disagreed with huge chunks of it which, I suppose, goes to show that every writer’s experience is very different. Either way, the book was an interesting read.

Links

Lucienne Diver is a literary agent at The Knight Agency and I love this blog post she posted about how to tell if your manuscript is Young Adult or if it falls into another closely related category. I particularly love her view on why so many adults love YA.

Grammar lesson: How do you use each other and one another?

So you want to write about medieval fighting sword and are having trouble with the terminology? This video will help you.

While I search for an agent, I have come across many different types. Those I have submitted to have been open, with full communication, as I have chosen them for this reason. However, there are some interactions that can be…frustrating. Check out this wonderful tongue-in-cheek article containing the dos and don’ts of being an agent.

Post-Reading Round Up

Hello all!

On Wednesday, September 24th, I participated in a reading for The NYU Village Writers Group at the Jefferson Market Branch of the New York Public Library.

I had a great time being around other artists and the members of my family and friends who were able to make it on a Wednesday evening after work to listen to us read. There was a great turnout and I enjoyed the selection of fiction and poetry from the many talented writers involved.

I have been asked by those who were unable to attend, for a video of my reading. I have two, actually. One has good picture quality and questionable sound. The other has the opposite problem. So, I’m going to post them both here for your viewing (maybe) pleasure.

I hope you enjoy listening to “Tunneling”. The story holds a very important place in my heart.

Video 1

Video 2 

I hope you enjoy!

Reading of “Tunneling”

Hello all,

For those of you who will be in New York on September 24th, The New York Public Library is holding a reading in their Jefferson Market Branch. I will be reading Tunneling there, and there will be many other talented writers reading their chosen work.

The information for the reading follows below.

Selected Readings by The NYU-Village Writers Group

Dr. V. Conejero, Founder and Editor-in-Chief

ADMISSION: FREE

September 24, 2014 – 6-8 PM

Authors (in order of appearance)
Dr. V. Conejero
Ann Ormsby
Bill Kahn
Malik Sullivan
Richard Merli
Meagan Horvath
Justine Manzano
Emily Duncan
John McCullagh
Robert J. Cooney
Dr. V. Conejero, Closing Remarks

Hosted by the New York Public Library – Jefferson Market Branch – 425 Avenue of the Americas at 10th Street, Manhattan

Stay tuned for my blog post at the end of this month, which will discuss my experience.

Hope to see you there!

Summer Linkin’

It’s that time again! This time I have a collection of news and links in three distinct categories. Post in the comments if you find something particularly enlightening or if you have fun links of your own! I love new discoveries.

News!

If you haven’t already seen this posted a zillion times at my social networking sites, my short story “One Percent” got published! Check it out here

You can find my review of the Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness here

My flash fiction piece, “Tunneling,” has been chosen to be read at a public reading at the New York Public Library on September 24th. More details will follow!

Friends of the Blog!

As many of you already know from this post, I tend to be quite the little social justice warrior. Because of this, I need to share a new blog I have discovered. An examination of race and ignorance, “The Influence of Ignorance” speaks from a privileged point of view, about discrimination in our supposedly more enlightened age.

What can George Lucas teach you about editing? Actually, quite a lot. Check out my buddy Louis Santiago’s blog post

I completely forgot that this existed. When discussing my writing, I stumbled upon this short piece of non-fiction written by my father, John Minners. I had to include this because I was kind of blown away. I think I just figured out where the drive for writing that me and my siblings have came from. 

Informative Gems!

What is the difference between “Awhile” and “A while”? Check this out here

Get confused when you hear people discuss narrative and exposition? Have a little bit of trouble telling the difference? Check this blog post out

As I finish up my final edits to Order and begin considering shopping out my manuscript to agents, this article has been very helpful! 

That’s all for now!  Stay tuned for my post at the end of the month, where I talk about my somewhat insane addiction to technology.