The ABCs of My Awesome Life

I totally stole this idea from The Magic Violinist. She has a great blog, so pop on over there (after you’re done reading my blog, of course!) So in this post, I reveal many deep secrets (or not) about myself, in alphabetical order.

Ambition: My ambition is to be a successful author. What makes a successful author? Having ten loyal fans? A hundred? A bazillion? Dunno. But I’ll start my journey of success by getting published first (hopefully by the end of this year/early next year).

Bad Habits: Sleeping late. Personally, I don’t consider this a bad habit unto itself—except that the world is run by morning people, so I wind up looking lazy by trying to sleep in till a decent hour.

Celebrity Crushes: That guy who played Hawkeye in Avengers. And the guy who played Thor. I don’t keep up with celebrities, and I’m too lazy to go look up the actors’ names. But who doesn’t like hunky superheroes?

Drink: XS Energy drink. I’m not an energy drink fan, really, but since XS is more of a nutritional drink than a standard “energy” drink, I’m all about it. Lots of flavors to chose from, too. Which is good, because I like variety.

Education: Always. I have a college degree, but I don’t think that education should be defined by the number of schools attended or the certificates on your wall. If you read, or connect with new people, or basically live life with your eyes open, you’re learning (or you should be). My education is increasing every day.

Food: Chocolate. Peanut butter. Chocolate and peanut butter. I also like fresh fruits and veggies, and hotdogs that have been cooked over an open fire and are all crispy and burnt on the outside.

Guilty Pleasures: I’ve never been quite sure what this is supposed to mean. I try not to do things that I will feel guilty about later. With the possible exception of eating cheese or ice cream. I’m lactose intolerant, but man, I love dairy. Sigh.

Hometown: Richmond, VA

Ice Cream: Love it. Except, as I just mentioned, I can’t have diary. Sigh.

Jonesing for: Ice cream, since I’ve been writing about it. Sigh.

Kryptonite: Bunny rabbits. And music. If I’m out in public and a song I like is on the muzak, then I’m pretty much ignoring my shopping or my lunch partner till it’s over.

Lookalike: Periodically, I’m informed by random strangers that I look like Meg Ryan. And a friend recently said that I look like Eivør, which I find flattering beyond words. When I grow up, I want to be as pretty and talented and famous as Eivør is…

Movies: Lord of the Rings (all of Peter Jackson’s thus far to date). Star Wars (all of them, but mostly the original trilogy). Miss Potter. Clue (y’know, that 80s movie based on the board game). August Rush. Most anything starring Will Smith.

Nickname: Don’t really have one. Some people call me “Gracie,” which is fine.

Obsessions: Music. Writing fantasy stories. And those forbidden dairy products. Sigh.

Perfume: I don’t use it.

Quirk: Which one? I’m rather quirky (aren’t all writers, really?) I’d be happy to live every day and go everywhere in sock feet. I’m borderline neurotic about checking my notifications on my phone, Facebook, etc. It bugs me to have a bunch of little icons or red flags in my notification bar.

Regret: I don’t do regrets. Sure, there are some things in the past that I wish I’d done or hadn’t done. But since I can’t change the past, I’d rather devote my mental energy to making sure that I don’t do or neglect to do something in the future.

Starbucks: Nope. I don’t like coffee. And there are cheaper places to get tea or giant cookies.

The Last Book You Read: I’m always reading 2-4 books at once. Some recent reads I enjoyed: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Wisdom by Bonnie Watson. You can always stalk me on Goodreads if you really want to know what I’m currently reading.

Vacation: I went to England and Norway a couple of years ago, and I’m hoping to go to Iceland later this year.

Wine: Don’t drink it much—maybe one glass a month. I prefer red over white.

X: X-Men. I spent my college years and most of my 20s reading nearly every X-Men comic in existence.

Years: I’ve lived a few, and I intend to live many many more.

Zen: I guess this means what brings me bliss or peace? Music. Long walks in the woods. Scratching my rabbits’ ears.

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Overcoming Writer’s Block

I don’t believe in writer’s block. Yes, I believe that writers can get stuck, frustrated with, disillusioned by, and tired of their writing projects. I believe this because I’ve experienced all of these things.

However, “writer’s block” to me sounds permanent and insurmountable. And it is most certainly neither of these. So whether you’re experiencing writer’s block, writer’s pause, frustration with your characters, or uninspired by your plot, there is a way out. Here are three tips that I use when I get stuck.

Go for a walk.

Or a run, or a swim, or vacuum your house. In other words, do something besides sitting there staring at the blank page. Physical movement helps—it gets blood flowing, and distracts you. And if you haven’t cleaned in a while, well, then you’re killing two birds with one stone. Double your productivity! But seriously, I do some of my best thinking while I’m doing physical tasks that require very little conscious thought, such as vacuuming or talking a long walk.

Recently I’ve been stuck on my current WIP (work in progress). Not blocked, just not sure how to proceed. I know the ending of the story, and a few key events that I want to have happen—I just didn’t know what the next few scenes needed to be. Going for several longs walks helped me to sort out ideas; sometimes I purposefully brainstormed, other times I just let my mind wander.  But it helped, and I now have a clearer picture of where I need to go.

Write a future scene, or one that won’t be in the book.

If you’re stuck like I was, knowing some of the future of the book but just not where to go next, then write a scene out of order. I do this periodically, whether I’m stuck or not, usually if I’m hit with an idea for scene or event.

But it’s also a good exercise to try to keep your mind on your characters and your WIP, while letting your mind get away from that part that’s got you stuck. Whether the scene is a complete scene or not, or ends up in the final draft of the book or not, doesn’t matter. Sometimes, it’s the very act of writing that will loosen things up and get your creative juices going again.

Read a book or watch a movie.

Sometimes I read a favorite scene from a book or watch a favorite movie to get myself inspired, and sometimes just for a plain distraction. This is not to say that you should just spend all of your allotted writing time reading or vegging in front of the TV, but viewing someone else’s creativity can help you with your own.

For me, my go-to things to watch when I get stuck or am feeling particularly uninspired are the Lord of the Rings movies or The Chronicles of Narnia. These are my favorites in both the book and the movie realms, and—especially with Narnia—some of my greatest sources of inspiration ever since childhood.

I don’t take ideas right out of these works, but to me, Tolkien and Lewis were some of the greatest fantasy storytellers ever, and simply witnessing their genius gets me excited. I do have to exercise some discipline, though. I don’t want to spend three nights watching movies I’ve seen before, and feeling very inspired, only to realize that I’m way behind on my writing goals because I’ve been watching movies instead of writing.

Discipline and temperance are key, but don’t be afraid to use someone else’s ideas to break loose that block in your own mind.

Does anyone else have any tried and true techniques for getting past those blocks, getting unstuck, or getting re-inspired? Please share!

Books make good Christmas Gifts

For the month of December, my posts will all be Christmas-themed, just to be festive (or annoying, depending on your point of view). You can love it or hate it, celebrate it with joy or celebrate a different winter-time festival—but either way, Christmas is here and so is its impact on our culture. So I figured it would be appropriate if my blog reflected that.

Since it’s the season for buying lots of stuff to give to other people, I decided to compose a short list in support of buying a book as a gift for your friend, family member, or even co-worker who you don’t really like. In the future, when I have some published works under my belt, this would of course apply to you, dear reader, buying (cough cough hint hint) one of my books. But since I’m not published (yet!), you can go spend your money with other authors for this Christmas.

So here’s my list of Christmas shopping tips, and why I think you should spend your money on books:

-Books are the gifts that keep on giving. A good story, or even a good non-fiction book, can be enjoyed again and again, and can be enjoyed by multiple people for years after the moment of the giving.

-Even if someone doesn’t like to read, there’s a book out there for them. It may not be hard to shop for the teen who’s into YA fantasy novels, but what about those other people? Well, even non-reader Uncle Bob might enjoy a glossy photo-filled book about his favorite wines, or a book of sports cartoons might be the perfect Secret Santa gag gift for your co-worker.

-If you’re buying an e-reader as a gift, it would add that little something extra if you spent a few dollars more and put a book or two on there. Especially if the person receiving the e-reader has never used one before or isn’t especially tech-savvy, having some ready-to-read books on it will make the gift that much more personal and user-friendly.

-Books don’t have to be expensive gifts. Sure, you can buy that $50 glossy hardcover coffee table book. But if your budget (and/or long list of people to shop for) doesn’t work well with that, you can still buy books. Most paperback fiction can still be bought for under $10. And don’t forget e-books, many of which are cheaper than that. And many small press and indie authors have special deals on their own websites with discounts or free gifts at this time of year, so check out author websites.

-Buying a book supports the author, so it’s like two gifts in one. Whether the author is a gajillionaire like J.K. Rowling, or a struggling indie writer you’ve never heard of, every book was lovingly crafted by somebody. Somebody put time, thought, energy, money, and love into every paperback, non-fiction book, and e-book out there. So if you buy a new book for a gift, you’re also giving to that author, and they deserve a merry Christmas too.

How many of you like to give or receive books as gifts?

My Bookshelf

They say that you can tell a lot about a person by the books that they read. If this is true (which I fully believe it is), then I’m about to reveal a large part of myself that my readers and friends may or may not already know.

Here are two pictures of my bookshelf (well, one of my bookshelves). I have several shelves full of books, and several more boxes in the attic of books that I don’t have room for right now. One day I want to display them all in my own library. Anyone remember Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and that enormous library that stretched to the heavens? Yeah, that’s my dream library.

But I digress. Until I’m able to have the Beast’s awesome library and show it off to my friends and readers, then we’ll all have to be content with the skinny shelf that’s next to my closet door.

The top two shelves:

Bibles go on the top shelf. It’s something that’s important to me, so I want them displayed for prominent visibility and easy access, because I use them a lot. And no, I do not equate The Chronicles of Narnia with the Holy Bible (despite its Christian message). There just wasn’t room on any of the other shelves for it. Lame reason, yes, but that’s what I did.

The next shelf down features some books that I deeply enjoyed reading and have gotten a lot of meaning from, and some of them I’ve read many times. It’s a random assortment of books, the arrangement based on a combination of importance in my life and space on the shelf.

The next three shelves:

The first shelf has a lot of my favorite fantasy books on it (Lord of the Rings and Narnia encyclopedias, the Bone series). Other assorted cool books fill up the rest of the space, like the Norwegian collection of  Beatrix Potter’s stories and the picture encyclopedia of musical instruments. This is also the tallest shelf, so again, it’s mostly about space issues.

The next shelf has all the littlest books on it, which conveniently are mostly foreign language dictionaries and other non-English books (some of which I can sort of read, others I’m clueless). Sadly, the tall Norwegian Peter Rabbit book wouldn’t fit on this shelf.

Then there’s the shelf of total randomness. Again, some of my favorite books, and ones that I enjoy looking at or re-reading. It’s everything from a collection of stories about Inuit women to 17th century religious poetry to historical fiction about ancient Egypt. And, of course, another Narnia book.

Not pictured is the very bottom shelf, which houses my atlas, some photo albums, other assorted oddities, and is shielded by a cardboard box to keep my rabbits from chewing on the books.

So there you have it—one of my bookshelves. Interpret this how you like, but it’s me, for better or worse. Hopefully I didn’t hit a TMI level with this.

And what about you—what does your bookshelf say about you?