Writing Tuesday: A state of being

I've decided to revive the original purpose of this blog, which was to write about writing. Because I'm a writing nerd, and that's what writing nerds do: we nerd out about writing. OK, now that I've gotten that terrible sentence out of the way, on to the blog! I'll probably still use this site for random political thoughts or God-Thoughts or even, sometimes, a few depression-thoughts, but those won't be super easy to count on.

What you can, however, count on is Writing Tuesdays and Fab Book Fridays.

Basically, every Tuesday I'll post some ruminations on writing; these could be either profiles like I've done in the past (although I'm also publishing those elsewhere), or thoughts about good writing I've read recently, or thoughts about how hard writing is. So come here on Tuesdays if you're looking for my thoughts on writing!

And on Fridays I'm going to choose one book I've read in the past week or month, and I'm literally just going to rave about it. Why? Because I believe all people should read books, and because I believe in supporting and fan-girling like a cheerleader which I always aspired to be but never was.

Today's Writing Tuesday is going to be fairly short, on account of I've already written 200 words about how I'm going to write about things.

Also the fact that I still don't know what I'm going to write about.

Ahhh...

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I dunno. I just want to say that writing is...writing is something that has saved my life. And not just my writing: others' writing as well. The consumption of excellent stories has often-times pulled me out of the mire. These stories include the SIX OF CROWS duology by Leigh Bardugo and the two books that have so far been published in the Ember quartet by Sabaa Tahir.

I was so depressed around this time last year that I stopped feeling things. And yet I was able to read. I have this memory of bursting into tears or laughter while reading these books, and it just...it reminded me that I was alive.

And then, when I started writing again...it was like I was alive. It was like I finally remembered that I had a beating heart and emotions, and the ability to translate those emotions into reality.

Writing is not just something that I do; it's almost something that I am. And if that resonates with you, on any level, I want to encourage you to keep doing it.

Even if you never get published, even if you only write in a journal. There's a world of benefit and worth to that. If writing at any level, for any amount of time, in any capacity, helps you as a person...then do it.

Write.

Express.

Emote.

Be.

Kendare Blake, story channeler extraordinaire

Kendare Blake, author of ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD and THREE DARK CROWNS, among other titles, told me the most rewarding thing about writing is just that: writing. Literally, physically writing and feeling a story flow through you. Of course, she also said the hardest part of writing is the middle of the first draft, when it feels like you're lost in a writing sea, so perhaps it's safe to say the relationship of writer to writing is more love-hate than love-love.

"In the middle of a first draft you'll find me bereft on the floor, with a plate of pasta on my belly and my head resting atop a pizza box," Kendare said. "I'm tired by then, and the end's nowhere in sight."

So why does she persist through the first-draft doldrums?

"I find the act of writing to be supremely rewarding," she explained. "That story channeling through you, and it doesn't feel like creating, or making it up so much as finding it. Discovering it. It's the biggest rush, when it's going well."

She added to this idea of writing as discovery, saying one of her greatest writerly challenges is "serving the story rather than my perceived expectations of the story. I try not to get in the book's way, for the most part."

According to her childhood friend Susan Murray, Kendare has been a talented writer since middle and high school.

"In school, everyone in our grade appreciated being in her English or speech class because the girl knew how to write like none of us did," Susan said. "It seemed effortless...her work stood out to us all."

Susan, whom Kendare called her "resident serial killer expert," added that Kendare's writing stands out to readers at large because of her unique ability to engage the audience.

"Whenever I go to events where she is one of the many authors, when it is all over, the audience is talking about her," Susan said. "She is/was memorable. Even if she doesn’t mention her books themselves...when she is done, we all want to read her books because she engaged us and we want to continue to be engaged by her."

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Kendare was born in South Korea and adopted by American parents who raised her on a hobby farm in central Minnesota.

"Two dogs, many cats, three misbehaving horses," she described. "I shoveled a lot of doody, is what I'm saying."

In addition to farm chores, Kendare spent a lot of time reading, or being read to by her mother. The public library was a very important resource for the family, offering free books, and Kendare learned to read when she was still four. She said she imagines that her love of writing came as a direct result of her reading.

"Developing early reading confidence is key," she said. "And if you read enough, maybe it stimulates that writing part of the creative process. I just know I always had stories."

She said she writes because she has to, in a way. Not simply because it's how she gets paid, but because it's a soul-necessity.

"If I go too long without working I get very irritable," she said. "And the things I write won't let me rest until I get them down on paper."

Books are a sort of magic, to Kendare, and reading them leads to writing them.

"I don't remember a time without them, or anything else at that age that gave me the same safe feeling of wonder," she said. "They were and are a thing of comfort so why wouldn't I want to surround myself in them? Make my life in them?"

So as much as she believes in writing, Kendare also believes in reading.

"Reading helps everybody," she said. "Read when you're young and read for the rest of your life and your soul will be so much more colorful when it's over. I never want to sound like I look down on people who don't read. I just sincerely believe their lives would be more interesting if they did. And it's never too late to start."

She gave a few suggestions on good books to read if you're not a huge reader; for instance, she named "Jane Eyre" as the most accessible of the classics, or suggested that someone who loves horses read something to speak to that love.

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"I also suggest reading a book that makes you feel smart," she added. "Philosophy, maybe. Or something historical. For those first reads it might be less about the book than about how the act of reading makes you feel. And feeling smart is a pretty good feeling."

Speaking of smart — according to Dylan Zoerb, Kendare's husband, she herself is smart as can be. When asked what makes her stand out among others, that was one thing he emphasized.

"Everyone always asks me how I married someone so smart," Dylan said. "I'd like to argue, but it's a valid question. She seems to know a lot about a lot, and what she doesn't know she learns."

Dylan added that her writing stands out because "she does great work making her characters have their own voices and sense of humor. Her books can be dark and full of horror, and then she'll drop in a joke."

Kendare is releasing ONE DARK THRONE, the sequel to THREE DARK CROWNS, later this year. (This is the part in the profile where I say, "GO BUY THE BOOK" because it's so good and so worth it and you can do that here or also here.) She said one of her favorite things about the writing process for this series was simply inhabiting the world of Fennbirn, one she created from scratch.

"I like learning about it as I go," she said. "For instance, I just mocked up a timeline of queens for the last thousand years, and it revealed so many interesting historical tidbits...Construction on the Volroy castle fortress was completed during [The Mad Oracle Queen's] reign so they could lock her inside it for her last ten years. I never knew that."

Spoken like a true channeler of stories, one who is discovering all the intricacies as she works. It's the best way to write.

If you'd like to follow Kendare on her writing journey (which you should), you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter or even her website. And "like" the Facebook page for the THREE DARK CROWNS series for all sorts of fun updates.

 

 

 

COVER REVEAL: "Solomon's Bell" by Michelle Lowery Combs, lover of YA

If you've ever wanted to read a book about a strong teenage girl with magical powers who fights off her enemies using her own wits and abilities, well...you need to read Michelle Lowery Combs' Genie Chronicles! Hello, hello, and welcome to Living Life the Write Way's very first COVER REVEAL for World Weaver Press! Today, I'm revealing the cover for Solomon's Bell, the second installment in Michelle's young adult fantasy series, the Genie Chronicles.

According to WWP's website, "Ginn thinks she has problems at home until she magically lands herself in 16th Century Prague."

A bit of backstory: Ginn is a regular teenager until she discovers she's actually a genie. Solomon's Bell picks up where the first book, Heir to the Lamp, left off, and takes Ginn all the way to Prague in the 16th century.

Below, you'll find the cover, revealed today for the first time (and I'm lucky enough to be a blog participating in the reveal!) as well as a profile on Michelle, who, through her responses to my questions, has inspired and amused me greatly. I hope I someday get to meet this woman in person!

Are you ready to see the cover?

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Michelle grew up in a series of small towns in central Alabama, bouncing about after her parents' divorce from each other and subsequent splits from various other partners. One such home was close to a public library, and the family's financial situation made it such that buying books was impractical, so they walked to the library to borrow them.

"My mother read aloud to my sister and me: The Boxcar Children, The House at Pooh Corner, a children’s illustrated Bible. We loved each of the stories, and experiencing them made me an avid reader," Michelle said.

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As happens so often with writers, the love of reading and stories bled easily into a love of writing and telling stories. Michelle's first experience was with writing fanfiction of Jim Henson's Muppet story, Pigs in Space.

"I was intrigued by the idea of characters that I loved so much in an unexpected setting. If Miss Piggy could be a space traveler, anything seemed possible," Michelle said. "I wrote about it at length—phonetically, I should add, because I used words I had no idea how to spell as a second grader."

For a few years in middle school, she graduated to writing and reading publicly, but says those experiences were awkward and uncomfortable. "Teenage me then retreated from writing for any kind of notoriety," she said. "I was more awkward than talented, and I knew it."

So it wasn't until 2012, when she was trying to place her first novel, that Michelle again entered the world of writing for the public. She won a national contest (!!), First Place for Best First Chapter of a Novel, had the piece published in a literary magazine, and that helped lead to the publication of the Genie Chronicles.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetThe second book in the series, Solomon's Bell, is the result of research Michelle completed for the first one, Heir to the Lamp.

She hit on the idea of genies because she was exploring the concept of otherness through the supernatural, and, finding an under-representation of genies in YA literature, created Ginn, a teenage genie.

A rabbit hole of research stemming from grimoires (ancient books of magic) and meandering through the Italian Renaissance and King Solomon's ancient temple led her, eventually, to a synagogue in Prague.

"I decided, pretty early on while writing Heir to the Lamp, that my second book would introduce a new, more ancient and possibly more dangerous adversary for Ginn..." Michelle said, "and that this adversary would take them on an adventure to 16th Century Prague."

In her pursuit of setting a novel in Prague, Michelle had to again embark on that quest that can set a writer to pulling out their hair: research. However, she now has a wealth of knowledge about the capital of the Czech Republic.

"I can tell you the kinds of trees that grew in Prague’s public spaces in the 16th century: poplars;" she said. "The number of steps leading up to Prague Castle: 247; and just about anything you’d ever care to know about the Orloj, Prague’s astronomical clock tower."

She described the process of writing Solomon's Bell as very fun, and the thing she loves the most about her book is her main character's perseverance.

"She isn’t a damsel in distress by any means, and while she is smart enough to utilize the talents of the young men (and djinni) in her life, it’s ultimately her that works through solving her own predicaments," Michelle said.

Michelle's aunt (and a youth librarian), Gwen Rollins, says that Solomon's Bell will appeal to readers of all ages, and attributes this to Michelle's skill as a writer as well as the intriguing nature of the story itself.

In addition, she said, "The characters are lively, well-developed personalities who, while colorful, are unquestionably believable. Young readers are bound to find the characters relatable since they are, for the most part, ordinary kids in anything-but-ordinary circumstances."

Mary Furlow, a friend of Michelle's through a local writing group in Alabama, said, "[Michelle] blends her easygoing humor with a heartfelt style that is very appealing to readers. I think people can easily identify with her."

Gwen, who says she has known Michelle "since her red-faced, clinch-fisted, and very vocal debut onto life’s stage," added that her niece is a special person as well as a talented writer. "She has the ability to spark excitement in others no matter the topic, and brings an energy to bear that is irresistible."

Michelle described her childhood as one of upheaval — her parents divorced and remarried a combined total of nine times, which, incidentally, is the number of schools she attended before reaching seventh grade.

Nonetheless, despite commotion in her early life, Michelle has overcome obstacles in pursuit of writing and storytelling.

She landed upon YA as a genre because she ran out of books for young readers at her local library and wanted to add to the list of books available for youth. She had an 11-year-old daughter at the time, one who put much emphasis on her approaching 13th birthday as a day when things would magically change, and that is why Ginn, protagonist of the Genie Chronicles, is 13 when her life changes.

Turns out, I could have wished for the moon for my birthday and it would have fallen from the sky into my back yard. Oblivious to my awesome moon-falling-from-the-sky potential...

— Excerpt from Heir to the Lamp, by Michelle Lowery Combs, published by World Weaver Press

And because writing a book can change a life, I had to ask Michelle how the Genie Chronicles have positively affected her life. She cited the embrace of sci-fi/fantasy communities in the South, and the renewal of her own fan-girl persona, as positive changes.

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"I’ve had the distinct privilege of meeting some of the most friendly and inclusive people in the whole world at some truly fantastic [conventions]," she said. "I’ve begun to entertain the notion of participating as a cosplayer at some events in 2017. I think I’d make a convincing Professor Sprout from Harry Potter, if I do say so myself."

Michelle's writing can be found on her blog, Through the Wormhole: Confessions of a Book Worm, where you can find stories about her life with five children ranging in age from 21 to nine, as well as the writing process and what books she's loving. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook for more updates.

Solomon's Bell releases March 7, 2017, which means you've got just enough time to order Heir to the Lamp and read it before it comes out!