Don’t Make Me Pick! – My Favorite Recipes!

An MFRW Author Post – And check out the other blogs on the hop!

 

I love to bake. I love to cook too, and I’ve made some pretty killer crockpot meals, but where cooking is my portraits, baking is my African Masks, the art in which I both excel and create, an activity that, like writing, drives something strong and creative from deep inside.

I’m not allowed to bake often. I’m a full cream and sugar kind of gal. Even still, I’ve found a few recipes over the years that I’ll continue to return to time and again. And, because hey, everyone loves pictures of cakes, you can check out a few more of my designs at the bottom, or follow my scrapbook, rarely-updated baking Instagram. But I digress. I don’t make my own recipes, I steal them, but I do decorate and design on my own–that’s the best part. Still, everyone deserves credit for their work, so I’ve linked all the recipes I used for these delicacies and I highly recommend you check them out.


Vegan Peanut Butter Cookies

IMG_0927 2I know. I was skeptical too. Vegan, by design, is a limiting diet and taking eggs, milk, and butter out of baking seems a little like taking the air out of a balloon. But I had promised a vegan friend cookies and I found a simple recipe that didn’t include any artificial substitutes.

And oh my God. I’m hooked on these cookies. They’re super easy to make and surprisingly healthy, soft, delicious and better than many non-vegan cookies I’ve both made and eaten. You’d be remiss to skip out on these babies!

Shortbread Bites

IMG_6733This is one of my all-time favorite recipes. It’s simple but admittedly takes a long time, since you’re making a gigantic batch of cookies. And that’s part of the fun! If you’re bringing something to a party or giving cookies as gifts, these are a delicious and festive treat.

Plus, you can pop ‘em like candy while you bake. And who doesn’t love shortbread?

Bailey’s Irish Cream Chocolate Layer Cake

IMG_7488This cake is decadent. I’ll certainly admit, I freaking loved decorating it – it was a birthday cake for my mom and I wanted to go with a cool spring vibe – and it’s way easy to make the nest design. Easier than making the cake itself.

Normally I’m all for the easy recipe with the complicated decoration, but this cake is Bailey’s Irish Cream and the frosting is Bailey’s infused buttercream and it’s a lot of work. But oh my god, it’s worth it.

Orange and Cranberry Naked Cake

IMG_6042The prettiest? Nah. I mean, it’s definitely pretty, but I’ve made prettier. But this orange and cranberry naked cake with orange-infused buttercream frosting is a goddamn culinary miracle. I mean, have you ever tasted something you wanted to live inside? Have you ever taken a bite of a cloud or drifted off on a tasting exploration of divine holiness? Add in a splash of citrus and you have this cake.

It’s seasonal for winter, with cranberry and citrus, and baby, it ain’t good for ya, but if you need someone to eat their fruit, this cake will get the job done. In fact, I’d happily live out the rest of my life never eating anything else.

Baking is a release for me. As a writer, I often get frustrated by what I perceive as a lack of progress. After all, there’s nothing tangible about my manuscript until I’m very nearly done with the book, and holding my computer in my hands just doesn’t do it. But baking does all that. I plug in my favorite audiobook, tie my elephant apron tight and delve right in. It’s the tastiest therapy yet.

 

For more of my designs, check out my Instagram

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I got to sit down with Mary Catherine Gebhard to talk classic skateboarding, hot bullies and her new release, Heartless Hero! 

Author Interview 

unnamedWhen did you realize or decide you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember! I have boxes in my attic of my earliest “novels”—which are basically just me rehashing my fave Nancy Drew novels, and replacing the main characters with Brad Pitt. The day I knew this was it for me, like, this is it, this is my dream, was in ninth grade. It just clicked. After that, I focused all my energy on writing and being a writer.
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What has been your best experience as an author so far?
Oh wow, so many! I think getting deep into the book community, and meeting all the readers and authors and bloggers. 
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What sort of challenges have you faced as a writer? How did you overcome them?
Self-doubt, definitely. Pushing through the little voice in your head that says you’re not enough and what you’re doing isn’t good enough. I don’t think you can ever overcome that, and if you can…hey, let me know. For me, I just push through it, ignore it, and don’t let it stop me. 
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How do you research and plan your books? Do you find outlining helps or hinders your process?
It depends on the story, honesty. Sometimes a story needs to be plotted, and sometimes I have to pants the thing.
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Have you learned anything really cool or interesting while researching your books? What’s been the weirdest research you’ve ever had to do?
I go big into research! With Beast, I read a ton about mafias and watched a lot of documentaries. With Skater Boy, I researched a lot about skateboarding in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, and punk houses, because Patchwork House is based on punk houses. I don’t know if I can narrow down one thing I learned that was really cool! I read about skaters stealing wood from wherever they could find it in their towns and using that to build their ramps and I thought that was funny, so I hinted at that in my story. 
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What advice would you give to new writers in the field?
ASK. FOR. HELP!!! I was so afraid to ask for help in the beginning, and it really hindered me. 
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Tell us a little about your writing nook! Favorite tea/coffee/writing snack?
I like to say my writing nook has a “six-year-old girl’s bedroom aesthetic” because there’s a lot of lace and sparkles and fairy lights. I always have some kind of tea!
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Of all of your own characters, who would you most want to date? 
Ohhh man. I want to date them all!! 
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What project are you currently working on?
The next book in the Crowne Point universe, so the one coming after Heartless Hero.
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Find Mary at –
Her Reader GroupGoodreads Instagram or
MaryGebhard.com

Or Subscribe to her newsletter HERE for freebies and first looks at her upcoming releases! 

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About the Book! 

Tell us a little about your new release: Heartless Hero
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Portait of a sensual, young couple relaxing in a luxurious apartmentWhere did your inspiration for the book come from?
I had this idea for a bully deep in my heart. I love, love, love bully romances and mean boys in general, and I really wanted to explore the why of that. Why do I like mean boys, when you’re really not supposed to, right? Then the idea for a bodyguard who is a bully came to me—the antithesis of someone who should be a bully—and it all spiraled from there.
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Did you outline the story, or dive right in?
I outlined it! 
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What was your favorite part of working on this story? What was the most challenging?
Both Theo and Abigail were so beautifully broken and as opposite as they were, their opposites somehow…matched. In a dark, perfect way. I loved writing that, but it was also so hard. I so much writing this story.
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What’s next for this story – is it part of a series? 
I’d like to write the other characters of Crowne Point. There’s so much depth, heartache, and love there waiting to be explored! 
It’s part of series of standalones 🙂
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When does it come out? 
2020!
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Excerpt:
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“I’m not like your other guards, Reject, you can’t scare me away. Your secrets are mine.” He took another step. “Your mind is mine.” My back bit into the wood. “Your body is mine. How else could I protect you?”
A moment passed forever, all too aware of his body pressed into mine. I tried to control my face, not let on how unnerved I was. Protect me? More like destroy me.
I gave myself away with a hard swallow, and Theo stepped back, a cruel smirk on his lips.
“Get dressed,” he said.
“So you can make mom hate me even more? No thanks. I’ll stay here.” Today was one of my most favorite days in the entire world, but if Theo wanted me dressed, instinct said I should do the opposite.
A cruel smile passed his lips. “Scared?”
“No. I’m just not in the habit of listening to my bodyguards.”
“Get dressed, or I’ll dress you.”
A ripple of excitement raced up my spine, one I quickly disregarded as shock. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“Want to test me, Reject?”

Read more on

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Family Effort

An MFRW Author Post – And check out the other blogs on the hop!

 

It’s funny that this prompt should show up in November. Years ago, when I was a young lassie of fifteen (Okay, but I was joking and then I did the math and it’s not so funny…) I was embarking upon National Novel Writing Month. National Novel Writing Month, for those who don’t know, is when writers try to complete a 50,000-word manuscript or section of a manuscript in just 30 days. It is now a fairly well-known element of the writing world, but more than a decade ago, my attempt predated Facebook frames and cool t-shirts and a general knowledge of what NaNoWriMo was. 

For historical context, I was completing my masterpiece on an orange Apple laptop. Yeah, you remember them.

It was the end of the month, maybe a week until December, and I was very, very behind on my word count. Instead of holing up for the night, however, my parents decided it would be great fun for us to traipse down to Asbury Park and see a woman’s roller derby competition. (Yes, I know my folks are cool now, at the time I didn’t know that.)

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Suffice to say, I was all teenage angst and writer angst rolled into one lump of surly blonde. Asbury Park was a far drive, hours in both directions, and it was cold as a witch’s tit outside on the beach in November. In fact, one of the distinct memories I have of the night–other than working on my book on my shared family laptop in a Jersey diner booth–was standing on the rocks near the edge of the water, with a darkness so acute stretching out before me that I felt like I could have fallen right off the edge of the world.

Somehow, someway, my whole family survived that night and I completed National Novel Writing Month with, perhaps, minutes to spare. Year after year, my parents learned to let me be at the end of November and we all lived happily ever after.

I come from a family of artists–visual artists, performing artists, writers, designers, creatives of every ilk. In my family, a simple, “let’s talk about this later, I’m working” is a sufficient way to get time alone to complete whatever project may be on deck–and I’m very lucky for it.

laptop-691208_960_720But it goes deeper than that. Because my family doesn’t just put up with my writing, as they were forced to do all those years ago in Asbury Park. They are an invaluable aid in finding the very best story, character or setting possible. I’m the type of person who has to talk through my plots. Sometimes I do this with my cat or dog and sometimes I’ll bounce ideas off my folks or my partner. (I’m told that in coding this is referred to as rubber ducking, working through your problems out loud until you find the solution.)

family-591581_960_720And the same in return. I had the honor of editing my mom’s last collection of poetry, which was a fun and unique experience. Because I know her voice and her intentions so well, I was able to help her communicate them clearly, while never losing sight of the meaning of the work. (Poetry is super hard to edit and I probably wouldn’t do it for anyone else, but she’s my mom!) My dad and I actually have a company together, and there’s nothing so exciting as when we get together to discuss big ideas and changes. In fact, he’s responsible for my business cards, freebies and a lot of other artwork.

I’m incredibly lucky to have this support system and I know it. My family has been there for me at every step of the way and, while I do believe I could have done it regardless, I’m damn glad they’re here by my side. Writing is a solitary sport, but it feels so good when there’s someone to share the joy with.

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Social Media (n.) ??

An MFRW Author Post

Check out the other great blogs on the hop! 

 

networks-1987215_1920Social Media is a buzzword. It evokes some millennial-run silver bullet of marketing that includes terms like stream, feed, content, and post – nothing words that have been appropriated to explain a totally inexplicable form of communication that has been boggling our minds for the last two decades. I am 27 and have been working in social media for over ten years and for a variety of companies, museums, websites and, naturally, my author personas, so I should know.

Don’t get me wrong – social is remarkable. It has cracked open the world of communication, allowing for everything from free author marketing to a better understanding of police brutality, as the spread of information is no longer in the hands of the few and powerful. Social media helps keep us alert and aware of the world well outside our own spectrum, introduces first-person stories of those in war-ravaged countries and argues against the narrative often disseminated by mainstream media. My respect for the growth, influence, and creativity involved in social media is immeasurable. It’s just that, well, it’s a lot of freaking work.

social-media-1233873_1920Between two author pen names, the museum, my start-up company, and my own online presence for my role as a journalist, I run five Twitter accounts, five Facebook pages, four Pinterest profiles, and three Instagram feeds. Additionally, I regularly update three blogs and one news site, as well as sending out two separate emails a week. I run a Periscope account, a YouTube account and two LinkedIn accounts, and two GoodReads author profiles. Most of this work is free.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy it. When I do photography for the Bookstagram (a book-themed Instagram) account I run under Gemma Snow, I have a great time taking photos and sharing my creative skills. But it takes hours for enough photos to last me the month. Every single morning, I get up and immediately run Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Every single week, I schedule Twitter and Facebook –  after first compiling an outline of questions, news, articles, and photos. 

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But is it worth it – you bet your ass. As I have told bosses in the past – Social has a twofold impact. On the obvious side of the spectrum, it orders the traffic to your site, your store or your news department in the form of traditional marketing.

Secondly, and far less tangibly, social has intrinsic value. If you don’t exist on Facebook, and correctly, you don’t exist at all. For a while, I was doing some freelance social consulting and one of the perpetual challenges I faced was that many companies didn’t know the difference between a Facebook account and a Facebook page. A simple matter like that will turn away a huge section of your audience who wants you to connect with them on their platform.

keyboard-1804296_1920I sound like a cranky old witch right now and I don’t mean to. When I do the day to day of it, social media is a frustrating and eternal mistress. Every time I complete my social, it seems to pop right back up again, a never, ever, ever ending project.

Because it’s not going to end.

One of the frustrating and ultimately amazing elements of social media is that it’s real-time communication. If something crazy happens in my industry – an executive gets arrested, a new book hits the best sellers, etc, I can respond to it immediately. Social allows me to interact with people I would normally never be able to approach. It gives us the chance to see the world from a million perspective, as events are happening in real-time, and that’s pretty amazing.

Sometimes, I think it’s important for me to take a step back see exactly how creative, innovative and exciting social media can be. Sure, it’s exhausting, and it often feels like being stuck on a treadmill, but it forces me to come up with new ideas, stay in tune with industry news and explore exciting ways of reaching my audiences. Social media doesn’t need to be tiresome, but it can be challenging – challenging your skills as a marketer, promoter and communicator. When put that way, I feel lucky to be working in a time when we have such access to the world at large – hey, maybe I should Tweet that. ♦

Author’s Note – If you’re interested in talking social tips or promo swap, drop me a line!

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So You Want to Do NaNo

This post was originally published on November 7, 2017.


Tips from a successful NaNo-er on how to keep sane, write well, and make your month count!

First of all, congrats! Your interest in doing National Novel Writing Month shows an excitement for writing and storytelling and a willingness to rise to the challenge of writing a whole book in a month!

NaNo is definitely a challenge, but whether or not you meet your personal word count goal, the experience is a great teacher and the camaraderie and excitement that come along with a month dedicated to writing are inspirational enough to make you want to continue all year long! I’ve completed NaNo four years in high school and three years in college. My senior year I came in at 46,500 and I’m still kicking myself, but that’s okay.

For those of you curious about what National Novel Writing Month is, the goal is simple. Try to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Follow-through is a little more challenging, so I’ve cobbled together some of my tips and tricks from years of successfully and not-so-successfully embarking upon the challenge.

I haven’t attempted NaNo in three years, but I’ll be doing it with you this year! My NaNo project is the third book in a current series, and I look forward to trying the challenge again, especially after all that I’ve learned as a writer and NaNo-er!

PLAN YOUR STORY:

There’s still time to get this step completed before the challenge begins, but I have to add that this piece of advice is relevant to anyone looking to binge write a story, or if you want to take a step back and try an outline now. While many authors consider themselves ‘pantsers’ – as in ‘fly by the seat of your pants’, it absolutely makes the challenge more difficult.

Startup Stock Photo

Without a general understand of your story, it’s definitely harder to achieve word count. More importantly, you’re less likely to end up with a project you actually like and feels complete.

Even a simple knowledge of where your book is supposed to end up and how you’re going to get there is helpful in ensuring a good finished first draft and a more enjoyable NaNo experience.

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE WORD COUNT:

Lies! I hear you shout, as you jump from the chair. Conspiracy, blasphemy, lies! Lies! Lies! Okay, part yes and part no. It’s up to you to decide if you’re doing NaNo as a way of completing a challenge (and totally gaining bragging rights!) or if you actually plan to send the book out after it’s done – with edits, of course!

If it’s all about the WC, then that’s fine! Hit your 1667 a day and enjoy the ride, but if you’re trying to make a book – and eventually turn that into a book then it’s better to think of NaNo as a tool to reach that end, rather than the be-all and end-all.

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There’s a lot to be said for a rapid first draft – there’s far less room to get caught up in particulars, and we all know the editing process is really where the magic is done. But you should be taking this November to write the book you want to write and be held accountable for it. I have to confess, I’ve never done a damn thing with any of my NaNo stories. But! That doesn’t mean you can’t – determine what NaNo is about for you and then go from there.

For instance, this year is about completing book three in my series, which will give me a different perspective and motivation to get my project completed, beyond bragging rights. (Bragging rights are great, though!) Find out what drives you, because that will influence your approach to the challenge.

TELL YOUR FRIENDS!

Tell your friends. Tell your family. Tell your neighbors, your pets, your mailman. Tell everyone. The more people you tell, the more people you have watching you and cheering you on. In my opinion, the greatest and most special element of NaNo is that it holds writers accountable for their writing. It says, you have a story to tell and you better damn well tell it. Post your updates on Facebook or Twitter, start a NaNo blog, literally comment under this article when you reach your word goals.

Whatever it takes to spread the word of your endeavors will help to keep you on track and give you an even greater audience to celebrate with! (Plus, you can prove all the haters wrong!)

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AND MAKE NEW ONES!

I am so excited about Facebook frames! When I first started doing the NaNo challenges, people looked at me like I had two heads. 50,000 words in a month? Why? 

The site and the challenge have come a long way, with the social media presence and more. Even without all the merch and fun stuff, however, the site itself does a great job to help connect authors and participants locally and online. Joining other NaNo writers in their journey, either in person or in online forums and social media, is a great way to give and gain support for your challenge and to potentially make long-term writer friends. While the goal is ultimately to reach 50,000, remember that this month is all about the writer – you! And that includes joining communities that inspire and help you on your journey.

KEEP UP WITH WC:

I know I just said that it’s not all about the word count, and I stand by it! But obviously, word count is a part of the bigger picture – fine, the main focus of the bigger picture. Everyone has different ways of reaching their word count, but I will say from personal experience: Do not fall behind. Anyone who falls behind gets left behind. Have I spent the last weekend of November holed up in my room furiously pounding out 20,000 words in three days? You bet your ass I have. It got so bad that towards the end of high school my parents would stop talking to me during the last week of November. I was a rabid monster – a shell of a writer who had lost her way, and evil to boot.

Of course, there will be days when you can’t write – and days when you write more than you mean to! It’s not going to be the same for thirty straight days in a row, and that’s fine. But always remember to check what your daily word count is supposed to, and do your best to keep up with it. Otherwise, you’re in for a really lonely Thanksgiving. Which brings me to my next point…

DON’T FORGET THANKSGIVING:

I know that not succeeding in my final run at NaNo three years ago was my own fault. I do honestly think that the fun wore off and I was ready to be done before the project was. That being said, Thanksgiving had something to do with. That year the holiday fell right at the end of the month. I’m talking 28, 29, 30. These are the days you’re supposed to be cracking your knuckles and happily sprinting past the finish line, not sneaking peeks at the laptop from behind your plate of stuffing and feeling guilty about it. (Come on, there are way more things to feel guilty about on Thanksgiving…)

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Of course, it’s just one day, but most of the time it includes travel, family, preparation and school breaks. It’s so easy to lose track of time and find yourself ten or twelve thousand words behind just at the end of the month. Prepare for it. If you’re traveling home, write on the bus ride. If you’re cooking for the whole family, essentially write ten thousand words extra the week before, because you just won’t have the time. Thanksgiving has felled many a valiant NaNo-er. Don’t let it get you too.

THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN, DAMN IT:

Oh, baby. There is a point. You won’t see it for a while. Hell, I’ve been there time and again and I forget the harsh sting of the rougher days. Still fresh-faced and excited, to us at the starting line, NaNo still has the shine of a brand new challenge. But give it a week, maybe 10 days, and you’ll feel the strain. Your head hurts. Your inspiration has all dried up and everyone you’ve ever met has staunchly refused to speak to you about your book until the month is over. This is this 20-mile mark in your writing marathon. The finish is close, and you can hold the hell on. It will happen more than once, and time and again, you’ll just need to hold the hell on.

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But in all truth, be nice to yourself. If you feel as though the walls of life are closing in around you, set a different goal. If you get sick or a big project comes in or you need to do major renovations on the house, give yourself a break. NaNo isn’t do or die. It’s a way to help you achieve better writing habits and reach for higher writing goals, but it doesn’t help at all if you burn out. You need to find the happy medium of determination and kindness to keep yourself on track but continue to enjoy the challenge. It is supposed to be fun, though it doesn’t always feel that way.

AFTER NANO:

There are two things to keep in mind after you’ve completed your challenge, whether hitting your personal goals or setting yourself up for more success in the future.

EDITING IS SO HOT RIGHT NOW:

Someone once told me about the incredible amount of submissions they get as an editor during December, and how they’re all awful. Well, obviously. You just wrote a goddamned book in the amount of time it takes most people to read one. The first draft is pretty much guaranteed to be shit, in fact, it’s kind of the point. But before sending out your beloved child into the cruel waters of rejection-landia, by God, you have to edit it.

Not only will seriously digging in and making major and minor changes help your chances of actually getting accepted by an over-exhausted submissions editor, but it will make you want to keep working on the book. For the most part, once we finish NaNo, we never want to look at the damn thing again, and that’s a shame. Start the editing process right away – if your ultimate goal is a book – and keep up with it. Your story – and you – should be celebrated!

NANOWRI-LIFE:

Forgive me for that title. The point I want to make here is that National Novel Writing Month doesn’t require a fancy word counter and a Facebook banner and the support of a social media nation. You can do NaNo on your own time – literally whenever and however you want. If your goal is a short story and you want it written quickly, maybe make a Personal Short Story Writing Week. If you know December is a lot quieter than November, write your 50,000-word story then, instead. NaNo inspires us to create and pushes us to our limits, but it certainly doesn’t ask us to stay within the lines. Find the best way to make NaNo work for you, so you can continue to love writing and hopefully find the kind of success you’re looking for.

If this is your first year doing NaNo or your tenth, whether you’re going to hit 50,000 your first week or you’ll modify your word count to fit your daily schedule, I am so incredibly proud of you. National Novel Writing Month is a challenge. It is so much harder than you ever think it’s going to be, no matter how many times you’ve done it in the past. Committing and opening your mind to the wonderful world of other writers and supporters that make the NaNo community what it is is reason enough to be proud of yourself.

So chin high and computer charged. You’ve got two days before it’s time to kick some story ass. I can’t wait to see where you end up.

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From Prologue to Fin

An MFRW Author Post – And check out the other blogs on the hop!

 

When it comes to the writing process, every writer is going to be different, but I also find that I write differently and follow unique paths depending on the book. For instance, some of my books have turned out quite well after National Novel Writing Month. Others have taken me significantly longer. Each book follows its own journey and that’s okay. As long as I still arrive at the final product, I’m pleased.

That being said, there are still a few rituals I follow for all of my stories, no matter the genre, length or series.

Let It Simmer

glasses-1246611_960_720This ritual is largely in part due to the fact that I have too many stories to work on all at once. (And I’m not complaining about it!) But before I delve into writing a new book or a new series, I like to let it marinate, until I have a better understanding of the aesthetic, themes and characters. In fact, by the time I actually sit down to write the outline for the book, I already know a great deal about it.

Plotter, Outliner, Organizer

Oh yeah, when it comes to keeping my books on the right track, I’m a type-A tough-love kind of writer. I’ve written without outlines in the past and the book often ends up with something fundamental missing, which only makes it harder in the editing process. My outlines may change, but at least I have a clear plan of attack.

I Pin

Sometimes I pin literally. With our recent move to Nashville, my bulletin board is now right above my desk, making it easy to pin or stick notes so I don’t forget them later. I’m also a huge fan of Pinterest for character inspiration and storyboarding, so I have several secret boards chock full of Montana ranches and royal estates, in case I ever need to return to the aesthetic for my story.

I Plan the Series

This goes along with the outlining but shows even more definitively what kind of writer I am. I love series. When I write series, I write better books. Outlining those books in advance allows me to introduce characters, explore personalities and generally prepare for the next books from the start.

 

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In Which Excitement Abounds

It’s easy to forget why we do this when the edits are piling up, continuity issues abound and publishers haven’t responded. So I let myself return to the elements of the series that got me so excited in the first place. Do I love the characters? Is the dynamic unique and interesting? How cool are those outfits? These simple details put me back into the right headspace for finishing the book I want to read.

 

I’m sure there are a dozen more rituals and ways of approaching our stories, but these are just a few of the ones that work so well for me. Oh, and chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

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You Know Nothing, Gemma Snow

An MFRW Author Post — and check out the other blogs on the hop! 

 

It’s true. In the great spectrum of history and the universe, my Bachelor’s degree does not hold up to the onslaught of information, facts, figures, and theories that make up all of humanity, nature, and what we do not know.

And that’s awesome.

I have only recently started delving into the depths of necessary research to make a book feel real in the space it occupies. In the past, my stories have been shorter, among other things, and the need for in-depth research both wasn’t as pressing and wasn’t as enticing. As of late, my interest in the things I do not know, or would like to know more about, has increased rapidly, inspiring me to work on new books in topics I might have otherwise never touched – or never touched properly.

Research is a tricky subject for writers, not helped by the age-old adage, write what you know, that, in my opinion, is often wrongly shared. Write what you know, yes. Write the way it feels to have your heartbroken by the one person who you always thought you could trust. Write the way spring rain feels on your cheeks. Write the burst of incredible joy at seeing an old friend, at kissing a new lover, at tasting a chocolate pie.

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We are often told that phrase in a much more literal sense. But I am not a duchess (yet…) I am a not a Special Forces Operative, a Boston detective, a cat burglar or a virologist. I am not a teacher, advertising wizard or, and I regret this with my whole self, pirate queen. The point is, I am not any of these heroes or heroines I write about, most of us aren’t.

rijksmuseum_iamsterdamBut the truth is, I like writing about both what I do know and what I don’t. My art thief book draws on a lifelong love of art history education, much of which was done in the story’s setting of Amsterdam. Still, throughout the course of writing, I learned about new artists, specific movements, and the history of a city I loved spending time in, addendums to a working knowledge base.

By contrast, the next book in the series stars my virologist heroine – a career path I can honestly say I would be less equipped to follow than art theft. When I realized I was in over my head, I contacted an old professor, a working biologist, who helped me figure out the larger picture and the important details that would have stuck out to any scientist reading. (For instance, did you know that viruses can’t go through the water cycle. I did not. Plot change!) 

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Writers are, on the whole, curious creatures. We like telling stories, exploring worlds, creating people from thin air. That curiosity is powerful and capable of doing much. As a writer who used to shy away from deep research, I now understand exactly how important good information is to a book, how much richer a story can be, if the dates are factual, the recipes are real and the city’s geography is accurate. Even if I don’t use a single detail from what I’ve gathered, I am far better equipped to deal with my characters and my circumstances for simply having the knowledge.

I’m a giant nerd, always have been. Learning is a fun and exciting experience for me and, as a writer, it makes me feel more confident that I can do justice to my characters. There are many things that are my favorite about being a writer, but I have to say that research has a permanent space at the top. Making up stories, living the lives we always wanted to live, exploring the cities we only dream about and learning a thousand new things along the way – is there a better job in the world? ♥

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The Beauty of the Epilogue

(Or Why I Just Can’t Help Myself)

 

An MFRW Author Post – And check out the other blogs on the hop! 

 

I spent this weekend at a writing retreat with some incredible presenters, and during one of the classes on GMC (goal, motivation, and conflict) I realized that I wasn’t making my characters’ lives nearly hard enough. Adding a larger external threat to my current work in progress is relatively easy, and I can say from looking at the updated outline that the book is far better for this much darker black moment. 

couple-498457_960_720I almost feel bad.

But I know in the end that my characters will have their time, have their happily ever after, and so piling one terrible thing on top of another, taking away their choices and their options, pulling them as far apart from each other as the rubber band will allow, is simply a way to get them to appreciate that happy ending more. 

There are several reasons I love writing epilogues. Here are just a few. 

 

I Can Torture My Characters More

When I know that life is going to be as easy and wonderful and hopeful as possible, it means I can push things further and make the climatic elements of the book larger and more intense. We all know how romance novels end and it’s my job to make my readers believe that happy ending won’t happen, which comes from darkening the dark moments. It’s easy to go low low when I know that a high high is coming around the bend. 

I Get to Hang Out With My Characters

drinks-2578446_960_720For me, epilogues are a little like the best filler episodes on dramatic television shows. I know how these characters act under pressure, I know their desires and their hindrances. But now that everyone is doing alright, we’ve caught the bad guy, admitted our love, survived the hurricane, we can just hang out and have fun–secondary characters included!

It’s a Nice Cool Down

people-2564416_960_720Do you ever read a book without an epilogue and it just sort of…ends in the scene? Like, yay, love you too, end. That’s like finishing a five-mile run by just sitting down on the track. I want to take my cool-down lap, get my breathing back to normal and enjoy this workout now that it’s over. 

I Trust They Stay Happy

I know it’s the cardinal rule of romance that everything has to end happy. That’s the entire point. But we’ve already seen these characters go through so much, especially when we really thought they weren’t going to make it as a couple. I want to have the pretty pink bow on top saying ‘yes, they survived the main plot, but also here’s proof they’re in it for the long haul’. Is that always a home and baby? Definitely not. But I want to see how happy they continue to be after the story is over. 

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I Like to Read Them 

Epilogues are my dessert. The book is meat and potatoes–and lots of veggies. We’ve watched out favorite characters suffer and struggler for several hundred pages. Now I just want to sit back with my tub of ice cream and enjoy a little sticky-sweet love without anything going wrong. 

 

Do you like epilogues in your stories? Here are just a few reasons I write them into all of mine, but share your thoughts about epilogues below! 

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The Winner Takes It Null

An MFRW Author Post – And check out the other blogs on the hop!

 

And now I’m going to have ABBA stuck in my head for the rest of my given days. (But you will too, so ha!)

Contests are a funny thing. Unlike the traditional route to the publisher, you’re not set against a certain standard or the editor’s discretion. You’re competing against the other authors who have entered, which might be a very good thing or a very scary one. To start, side-by-side comparisons tend to put each specimen under a harsher light, but the other side of that is, if your competition is bad, you may win by default.

book-2550169_960_720Recently, I won a contest.

It was a big contest too. There was pomp and circumstance and flowers and a big prize package to work with a self-publishing house. My first instinct was this is amazing. My second instinct was, what did I just get myself into.

I’ve been in this industry for over four years. In that time, I’ve had two presses shut down and one press change management, all to the great detriment of their authors and artists. I have fallen short in the self-publishing industry and worked with professional marketers, publishers, editors and artists, and some not-so-professional versions of each of them too. I have studied Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors, and I have learned to always, always check a place’s reputation, because someone else’s unfortunate story, may be enough to prevent mine.

And so, when this super duper awesome prize package was offered to me by Company A, I was a little skeptical. Enough to start digging around.

And I didn’t find anything. Anything recent, at least. There was an article from about four years back, warning people off the company, but nothing since – not a good sign. So I asked friends, I asked chapter mates, I dug into the industry to see if I was missing something. I had a gut feeling ™ and I wanted to figure out why.

So I spoke on the phone with the company, and the more we connected, the more I began to feel like their priorities were slightly misaligned. It’s one thing to hear you have a good book, a winning book, but it’s another thing for the company to repeat that it’s so good, it doesn’t even need editing, several times in a half hour phone call. By the time the call ended, I had practically made my mind up. I knew the company was more interested in hooking me for book one and then having me to return to pay for packages to produce the others in the series than they were for helping me produce the best book possible.

Recently, a chapter mate sent around a newly published blog on how Company A has predatory business practices and wants nothing more than to take money from naive authors. I will admit, I felt just a little bit of pride in knowing I had gotten the right read and trusted my instinct.

book-2587254_960_720I don’t make a habit of entering contests. They’re expensive and I’d rather put money into marketing and surefire endeavors. Still, I did submit three entries to the RITAs, romance’s largest contest of the year, in the erotic romance category last year and I did it again this year too.

Winners go live on Wednesday and I’ve already planned a night in with Carvel and Amanda Bynes movies. The potential is great, but so is the disappointment.

Still, after my experience with Company A, I can say that I’ve learned contests aren’t the be-all and end-all. The more they try to court you, the warier you should be, and if it all goes to hell in a handbasket, always trust your gut instinct. My last contest didn’t work out so hot and I have major high hopes for the next one. (Probably too high!) My RITAs scores have been all over the place, as have the scores from a few other contests I’ve entered, some great, some…not great. But I’ll survive. Hell, I survived the last contest I entered. ♦

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Prioritizing Work–Prioritizing Me

An MFRW Author Post – And check out the other blogs on the hop! 

 

I don’t love cleaning out my cat’s litter box. I’d rather toss the trash and do the laundry than wash another dish, and I’m way too lax with scrubbing the shower floor, though I’m perfectly happy to yank my hair from the drain so it doesn’t clog. 

I’m still in the honeymoon stage of keeping my own home after years of living with my parents–and my boyfriend, brother, grandma, full circus troop… cooking, cleaning, lighting a nice fall candle, it all holds that fresh fun I get to do this in my own home! appeal. Most of the time. 

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Because while I don’t mind keeping house–and I take great pleasure in watering my planets, dicing fresh peppers from the gardens and creating all manner of crockpot dishes, these tasks are a distraction from writing books. 

What would I pay to never have to do again? 

I honestly have no idea. I enjoy a good workout and I like the challenge of sweating out a sticky plot problem or character arc. Keeping my home is nice, a chance to feel like maybe I do have something together. My knee jerk reaction says I can do life, at least from where I’m looking right now. 

But if I had more time…

desktop-3820634__340Those small tasks, those are rewarding. I have cleaned the kitchen! The shower is shiny! I don’t have to turn my underpants inside out because it’s been two weeks since I’ve done laundry. A successful writing day is rewarding in its own way, a building of a far bigger project, something that one day will be in my hand, will be in someone else’s hand, but if I’m looking for instant satisfaction, well, that’s not it. 

What would I pay to never have to do again? Doubt myself. Wonder if I chose the right path for my career and my life. Allow my anxiety and fear to keep me from starting or finishing or just fucking working on a new project.

I would pay to never have to do laundry in an apartment basement with dryers I have to run twice and never enough quarters. I would pay to never lose another pet. I would pay to keep everyone I love as close as possible and to never worry about America’s–or any nation’s– vulnerability to hatred and violence. I would definitely pay never to be as hungover as I was that one time before winter break my junior year of college when they made our last final on a Saturday night. 

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These are things out of my control. But cleaning and cooking, taking time to keep my home and myself, those are not. I have the ability–the resources, support, and opportunity–to make writing my priority, my number one task, goal, and intention for the day. I am capable of putting my career at the top of the list–before dinner, before an empty sink, before a fresh load of laundry. 

If there was ever a truth I struggled with, it was this. Being busy doesn’t necessarily mean being productive. Balance is important. It’s fundamental to success. But I have found over the years of doing this that the perfect balance can change. And right now, it’s time for me to tip the scales away from the perfect home and toward this next book.

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