Sharon L. Clark

Sharon L. Clark, Author

Writing Process: Which Came First?

A friend asked recently how I go about writing my stories. Do I create characters and build the story around them? Or is the plot first, building the characters to fit into the situation?

Every author I know goes about writing differently. One friend starts with a rough idea, builds a music playlist, and then lets it inspire the direction of the plot. Another uses Scrivener and works out each character and scene before she writes a sentence. A couple others create their outlines in a linear order, another uses a snowflake type of format, spiraling out from one point, building on each idea and connecting from one to another.

And they are all perfect, valid ways to write a story.

My upcoming novel, I’ll Call You Mine, started from people-watching and letting my imagination form personalities for various folks who passed by me. One such person kept catching my attention, and I was curious about how he might behave in certain situations.

Another of my stories started from a wandering thought I had as I struggled to fall asleep; how would I react if I were to hear the closet door slide open in a house I knew to be haunted, when I was absolutely not in the mood for any nonsense?

So, a little bit of both for me, it seems.

All of my stories sort of spiral out from a first point, sometimes character-driven, sometimes plot-diven. When you have an inquisitive imagination in overdrive, the stories will be told, no matter how they start. If the character comes first, I need to know what led to them being who they are. If the plot is the initial point, how would different people behave in that situation?

Then I just sit back and go along for the ride. And that is the most fun.

Do you have a formula for story building? How do your ideas manifest for you? Leave a comment or send me an email and let’s talk!

 

Have You Met…Sharon Clark, Author

Okay friends, you’ve signed up to follow me and maybe to receive my newsletter, too. The time has come for you to learn just what you’ve gotten yourselves into.

First of all, thank you for being here. It’s always so surprising to me that anyone would want to read what I write, whether it’s a silly blog post, a short story, or one of my novels. People not only liking something I’ve written but coming back for MORE, well…that’s kind of the dream, isn’t it?

Stay with me a little longer and I’ll tell you a bit about myself, about my writing, and about my upcoming novel. Then I want you to ask me the questions you’re burning to know.

So buckle up and let’s dive in.

Me, In a Nutshell

Image courtesy of www.maggiegphoto.com

I grew up smack-dab in the middle of five girls, two older and two younger, and we got along great. For the most part. As I’m sure you can imagine, things got loud, or eerily silent, and there was always some type of psychological warfare under way.

Report cards bore good grades coupled with phrases like, “Talks too much” or “Needs to apply herself” pretty much throughout my school career. I played the flute, was in show choir and in theater, was a cheerleader and a member of the dance team. What? I got bored easily.

College and I didn’t get along as famously as I’d hoped we would. Don’t get me wrong; I had a GREAT time. I just didn’t get a degree and left, chastened, after only four semesters. When I came home, I floundered a bit before meeting the man who has been my husband for the last thirty years and with whom I have raised three amazing humans. I’m just glad I remembered to feed them, and that they all turned out only slightly damaged.

My Writing Journey

Growing up, I always loved to write. I know that’s how most authors start their origin stories, but I was honestly spinning tales for my sisters and kids I babysat before I was in high school. Mine was a life lived vicariously through the characters in my favorite horror, romance, and adventure novels. An overactive imagination inside the mind of a major drama queen inevitably couldn’t just finish a story. What happens next? Do they really live happily ever after? Does the bad guy get punished? How would this end if I was the author?

Of course, the next logical step was to write out what I wanted to see happen. I took creative writing courses in high school and college, and loved every challenge thrown at me. But as so often happens, life takes precedence and writing became something I did only sporadically and just for fun. When my children were older and had their own lives, I joined a local writing group on a whim, and that changed the trajectory of my life.

It sounds dramatic, but I swear it’s the truth.

Every member of that group was welcoming, encouraging, and willing to share their knowledge freely. Through their friendship and generosity, I learned world building and plotting techniques, I read about and practiced writing, joined critique circles and took their comments to heart. I’m still constantly learning and I hope that my skill continues to grow and change with me, but I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be looking toward having my first novel published in the next year without the help I received along the way.

Three Things You’ll Find in My Book, Call You Mine

  1. Charming, small-town vibes
    The story takes place in a fictional city in central Iowa, full of tree-lined streets, a local pub where everyone knows your name, and a helping hand from your neighbors when you need it most.
  2. Steamy, butterflies-in-the-stomach romance
    Katie literally runs into charming Ben her first night back in town, and sparks fly instantly. Sure, it’s partially from the impact of butting heads, but the electrical charge Katie gets being near Ben proves to be hard to ignore.
  3. Terrifying, heart racing danger
    Katie came home for a reason: to escape a mysterious admirer who had evolved from love letters to desperate, delusional ravings. But her stalker won’t be thwarted by mere distance. He’s followed her to her hometown and comes after her harder than ever, putting everyone she cares about in the crosshairs.

Which Author Would I LOVE to Blurb My Book?

There are many options, of course: Jayne Ann Krentz, Sandra Brown, Simone St James, Jeneva Rose, Riley Sager. But for me, the ultimate dream would be the Queen of Romantic Suspense herself, Nora Roberts. I’ve always loved her writing, found it to be so rich and sensual. Having her read my work and like it enough to write a blurb for it would probably go along way toward making me spontaneously combust. No, seriously. Literal flames.

My Favorite Compliment

Hm, that’s kind of a tough one. I gobble up every kind word and adore them all, hoarding them like a dragon with its cache of jewels and gold. But the one review that sticks out in my mind came from an editor we submitted my manuscript to earlier this year. She confessed to her boss that she knew she was only supposed to read a couple of chapters, but couldn’t stop at the designated point because she needed to know what happened hext. I heard that and floated away on a dreamy cloud, feeding off that praise for weeks. Favorite compliment ever.

Still with me?

So there’s a little snapshot of who I am, how I got to this point, and what you can expect from me moving forward. The year ahead holds some exciting things for me and my writing career, and I hope you’ll stick around for the ride.

Now it’s your turn to ask me questions or to tell me what’s on your mind. Leave a comment below, send me an email, or find me on my social media channels.

Let’s chat!

The Year in Review: My Favorite Reads of 2023

Somehow, while I wasn’t looking, 2023 sped past, and here we are in the final weeks of the year. It’s inevitably time for looking back at what we’ve accomplished, what we’ve learned, and what we can improve upon.

Don’t worry, this isn’t that post.

With a full-time job and a renewed focus on finishing stories that have been languishing on my computer for far too long, my reading goal for the year was modest, to say the least. But I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey I’ve been on during this spin around the sun and thought I’d share some of my favorite reads of the year.

The books I read are, largely, for entertainment. I choose to be drawn into other worlds and to fall in love all over again and to cheer for other (fictional) people. So this certainly isn’t a high-brow list of recommendations, and I fully admit I’ve read far more spice this year than I have in the past.

In no particular order, here are my top book reads of 2023:

Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez

The dialogue is so clever, the love story organic and not forced, the hard stuff handled perfectly, and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard at a scene in a book that revolved around taking a photo! (iykyk)
There were times I had to walk away and give it a few days because I knew there were difficult things coming, and I had to prepare myself for them. That is how invested I got in these characters.

Mr. Wrong Number by Lynn Painter

I was giggling at the banter as soon as the book started and didn’t stop. This was a spicy read that I’ve recommended to many of my friends, and a few strangers as well. The story was engaging, the dialogue hilarious and smart, the characters well-developed, and the sex HOT. One of my top faves.

One Day in December by Josie Silver

This was so delightful and heartwrenching and romantic, and I swear I nearly passed out at the end. These characters and the choices they had to make felt so real that I agonized right along with them. The fact that the story takes place over a decade only adds to the romance and beauty of it as these people grow and mature, come in and out of each others’ lives, and as their relationships change. The longing and love and heartbreak is so well done. I. Loved. This. My hopeless romantic heart grew three sizes after reading this book.

The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

In case you were thinking I read nothing but romance this year, I submit to you The Hacienda. This was so very beautifully written. I read it quickly and didn’t want to put it down, veritably snarling at my coworkers when they interrupted my reading during lunch. The themes in this book are big, regarding racism, misogyny, the casta system, and religion, to name a few. Beatriz was strong, smart, and brave and I loved the way Padre Andrés was able to reconcile and meld together the two parts of himself. This was a wonderful read and I thought the ending was glorious.

The Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

Okay, not going to lie, this was easily my favorite read of the year. I have been pushing this book onto my friends and family like a drug, and they have all fallen in love with it, just as I did. This was an audiobook version and an outstanding listen. The narrator, Rebecca Soler, was very good, and I cried when she cried, my heart raced with her, my anger flared with hers. I can’t think of the last book I was as emotionally invested in! This story was crafted incredibly well with so many compelling storylines, and I bow to Rebecca Yarros and her ability to weave so many threads with such grace. I loved the romantic elements, fully fell in love with the love interest, and the heat between the characters is something that I think about almost daily. Enjoyed this immensely.

What are your favorite reads of the last year? Do you have a particular genre you gravitate toward?

Drop a comment below or send me an email, and let’s talk about BOOKS!

Support Indie Authors This Holiday Season!

Black Friday is only a couple of days away and the holiday season is officially upon us! Are you struggling to find a gift for your coworker, neighbor, sister, nephew, random gift grab bag? Don’t panic!!

Give the gift of BOOKS and support your local and indie authors!

There are a ton of options out there and even looking through various best-seller lists or celebrity recommendations can be overwhelming. How on earth do you find something good by an author you’ve (likely) never heard of before?

You let me make some suggestions.

Following is a collection of books from different genres written by people I personally know who are self-published or independently published and don’t have the marketing clout of one of the major publishing houses. I have read almost all of the books listed – I haven’t finished all the series, unfortunately. Take a look!

Laura A. Barnes is a Des Moines area author I met by doing NaNoWriMo in 2017. (Turns out we were on the same United Nations trip when we were in high school but never met – small world, right?) Laura writes steamy period romances and currently has three series available for purchase. Whether you’re looking for pirates and spies, noble scoundrels, or matchmaking madness, Laura has got the goods to get your pulse racing.

Sarah Latchaw lives near me and is one of the most delightful people I know. Her Hydraulic Series is full of relatable characters, swoon-worthy romantic moments, humor, and a view of mental illness from a place of true love. Her writing style pulls you in and her characters are so real that you can’t help but laugh and cry right along with them. This trilogy isn’t the spicy type, but will get your heart racing.

I met Jethro Weyman through the writing platform Channillo and we became friends via the Twitter #WritingCommunity. I was struck by the amazing prose of his writing and the unique and wickedly clever ways he explores some dark and existential themesBang to Begin is a gorgeously written collection of stories that seem unconnected on the surface. Kind of mind-bendy deep stuff.

Taylor Hohulin is a local radio celebrity and all-around terrific human. the first time I read his writing, I was pulled in and have devoured pretty much everything of his since. I met him through NaNoWriMo, as well, and was lucky enough to get encouragement from him through a small critique group and I learned a lot from him.

  • The Marian Series follows a young man who gets unexpectedly transported to a pirate ship in another world where water is the ultimate prize. This trilogy is kind-of steampunk and has both human and supernatural dangers and lots of terrific science fiction gadgets.
  • TAR is probably my favorite, though. If you like cybernetic body modifications and a dangerous, living infection that ravages anyone it comes in contact with in horrific ways, set in a post-apocalyptic alternate future, you’ll dig this. It’s a tale of a traveling wizard with a shotgun but told through the exploits of a sometimes-likable survivor.
  • Your Best Apocalypse Now will have you chuckling almost immediately. In this humorous light fantasy novel, a struggling author jumps on the bandwagon of best-selling doomsday books, making it up as he goes along. Or so he thinks. When he correctly predicts the end of the world, a group of other-worldly beings take him on a journey that he could never have predicted.

Kelly Fumiko Weiss is another tremendous talent that I discovered through Channillo. I have read two of her books, from vastly different genres.

  • Her science-fiction-esque novel, The Cube, is set in an alternate near future where a mysterious cube has changed the way the world works. The main character and his best friend, Molly, start out on a fun treasure hunt for a series of mysterious symbols, but the fun turns to unexpected romance and danger for them and their friends.
  • Her other novel, The Stories We Choose Not to Tell, is a story of familial relationships and racial identity for a Japanese-American woman who learns about herself and the roots of her strained relationship with her mother by exploring the life story of her late Obachan (grandmother) who lived in a World War II Japanese internment camp on American soil. Well-written characters that had me crying along with them at the end of the book.

I am lucky enough to know many other talented authors with terrific books available, even if I haven’t read them all yet. Inspirational romance, memoir, poetry: If you don’t see something listed here that tickles your fancy, comment below or send me an email with the genre or type of story you’re looking for and I will give you a suggestion based on my own personal knowledge of the book and/or the author.

Do YOU have any recommendations of books written by indie-published or self-published authors? Share them below

Happy Holidays from my family to yours!

Laptop, coffee and diary on autumn landscape as background

October Means Prep Time

It’s fall y’all!

This is my favorite time of year for a slew of different reasons. I love the change in weather, the cool nights and comfortable days, the end of sweltering heat and oppressive humidity, and ‘sweatah weathah’. September also celebrates several of my favorite people: my oldest sister, my daughter-in-law, one of my best friends, my daughter, and my husband.

Now it’s October, and I love it even more.

October is my (and my younger sister’s) birthday month, the leaves are changing color, I can put up my silly Halloween decorations, it’s chilly enough to pull out soup and stew recipes, and it’s time for Preptober.

Never heard of it? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Next month is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and October is the time to start getting ready, to start plotting, and to reconnect with all the friends I’ve made through writing. I get to help organize events for November and to draw more authors into the fold of our local writing group.

The other day I held my first Preptober event of the season and even though I was awkward and weird, I think it went well. The goal of Preptober is to help authors gather the tools, community, and confidence for a successful and fun November. Don’t get me wrong, it is fully self-serving. I need the encouragement and the kick in the pants to get ready to write next month.

And cheering on other writers is the best way I know to cheerlead for myself.

This will be my seventh year participating in NaNoWriMo and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it changed my life. Not only did I meet my best friends through the group, but I can now see a future in which I can have a career as an author, doing something I love for the rest of my life. Every year in the fall I get to meet new people, develop new skills, and draw ever closer to reaching my dreams.

What’s not to love?

Will you be participating in National Novel Writing Month? Do you use October to prepare? Leave a comment, ask me questions about NaNoWriMo, or send me an email and let me know!

How to Build a Whole (Fictional) Human

Think about your favorite books, the stories you’ve read over and over again, that have stayed with you long after you’ve finished them. What is it about them that pulls you in? Why do you keep turning the pages?

Sure, sometimes it’s nothing more than morbid curiosity, a need to just get to the end at all costs. Maybe it’s the setting, somewhere exotic or fantastical that takes you to a different world. Any of those may play a part, but for me, it’s all about one thing:

The characters.

Creating imaginary people that the reader truly cares about is a challenge and a whole lot of fun. The reader has to want the good guys to win, to be happy, to get the thing they want most. The villain also has to have you rooting for them: either to get their comeuppance, or to defeat the protagonist. Building a villain is almost as much fun for me as writing the cinnamon-roll men and strong women in my stories. Plus, it’s a great way to exorcise any personal demons by living vicariously through the bad guy on the page.

Not that I do that.

Every author has their own system that works for them, and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. My personal process is honestly far less organized and rational than it should be (think Jeremy Bearimy). It probably doesn’t even qualify as a ‘process’, but it works for me.

  • Not gonna lie – I usually start with an imaginary conversation I’ve had inside my head. Whether it’s from a real-life encounter or a ‘what-if’ scenario, what the people say to each other is my first step in building the lives I want to be part of. (And then ultimately destroy, before giving them a happily-ever-after.)
  • Once I have the basic, superficial idea, I dive deeper. Why do they do what they do, want what they want? What do they believe in? There are some fantastic templates out there that help build the backstory. I have the best of intentions when I start one of these character sheets, but I never finish them. Partially because I don’t know the characters very well before the story is written. But mostly because I’m just far too impatient.
  • Creating a villain is one of my favorite things and I frequently cackle maniacally while I breathe life into him or her. This is where my True Crime obsession finally pays off; I start with what the villain does and then work backwards, like a BAU team does. Are they villains because they use unreasonable tactics to do what they think is ‘the right thing’? Is it because they want revenge, love, money? Or are they just sociopaths?

    There are so many delicious possibilities.

Some authors will keep a diary from a character’s point of view, create a vision board, build a playlist, or design a wardrobe. I will search for the picture of an actor, musician, or model who most resembles how I see the character in my mind. ALL of these ways are valid, and brilliant, and useful, and will contribute to the creation of an entire sort-of person.

Don’t let anyone tell you that your process is wrong. Who decides that, anyway? I can pretty much guarantee that no two authors create their characters using the same tools. Find what works for you and stick with it!

What is your process? Do you know everything about your characters before you start or, like me, do you let them tell you about themselves along the way?

Comment below or send me an email and lets talk about it!

 

A humanoid robot artist paints a picture in an art workshop.

Artificial Intelligence in Creativity: Blessing or Curse?

Does anyone else miss the days when artificial intelligence was used strictly for goofing around? Those ridiculous scripts created by feeding 100 hours of romcoms into a system definitely cracked me up, and my son generated some serious fever-dream images by inputting weird phrases into a different program. It was all fun and games, right?

Then the programs started ‘learning’.

I do not claim to know much of anything about AI other than it’s an atomic topic. From my understanding, programs pull bits and pieces of existing works of art or literature or academia to create something ‘new’ and shiny. Do I use it? No. Do I think it can be helpful? Sure.

Do I think it’s a dangerous, slippery slope? One hundred percent yes.

On one hand, work created by other people is being copied and used without permission or acknowledgement in something cobbled together by another person who then takes credit and possibly gets paid for the result. Maybe the people using it don’t realize that’s what’s happening, or they have no idea how to find the author/artist to give credit. No matter what, it’s already a difficult world for artists of any kind, where talent isn’t appreciated or rewarded.

‘Starving artist’ is a well-known phrase for a reason.

On another hand, artificial intelligence can be a useful tool for lightning-fast research and putting a concept into visual form. Programs like ChatGPT will find the information you ask for quickly, and will even build something with the word count and topic emphasis you want. Or if you have a rough idea of the image you want for a book cover but can’t draw to save your life or feel like the artist may not understand what you want, an AI image generator can build your idea visually. People who need to output a lot of content would find this gadget to be a lifesaver.

With a few caveats, of course.

There are limits to what a computer can do, even when using the most advanced AI. Using ChatGPT as an example again, it is limited to only what is available through the internet and will never know everything that humans know. Because it has access to only what has been digitally catalogued, the information generated may be outdated and incorrect. AI doesn’t have common sense or emotional intelligence, and can’t decipher sarcasm or humor. It will draw in ‘facts’ from anything and everything available on the internet – and I mean EVERYTHING. We know how reliable that can be. It doesn’t have the capability to differentiate between an article from The Onion or NPR or some delusional manifesto-writing lunatic.

Is it that helpful if you still have to vet every source? You may as well do your own research from the start.

There are a lot of opinions about using AI, and this is only one, only mine, and only that: an opinion. I can’t say whether we are heading toward humanity’s future as depicted in Disney’s Wall-E or in the Terminator franchise; that remains to be seen. What I can say is that I am going to continue creating the best way I know how and hope that it continues to make me happy.

What do you think about Artificial Intelligence? Is it a god-send or a device from hell? Will it make creating easier or render humans obsolete? Share your thoughts in the comments!

NaNoWriMo, novel writing

Snippets and Stuff

My first novel is coming out this fall, and I am working toward finishing the next one – ‘finishing’ as in getting ready to send to editing – by the end of the summer. I’m learning a lot about myself through this endeavor.

Examples include:

  • I do my best writing in the morning, before my brain has a chance to be mushed up by the 1001 other things that will whirl like a cyclone through my mind the rest of the day.
  • My plots are very fluid and will change as I write, necessitating a lot of RE-writes before I even get to the end of the story. It’s frustrating and stressful and most likely the reason I do NOT have another book quite ready yet.
  • Writing snippets from daily prompts is both the BEST and the WORST. I love letting the word marinate for an hour or so before I try to write a 240-character scene around it. But then I have a scene with so much potential for a full novel that I get distracted by the new shiny thing.

It’s a sickness, I tell you.

While I am continuing to plug away on my next book, I wanted to share some of the snippets I’ve written in the past month or so. I created graphics – very rudimentary graphics that I’m sure actual artists will cringe at – for most of the prompts, so I’ve created a little gallery of some of my favorites.

Writing around these words is pretty challenging. And I find it really interesting to see what each one conjures in my mind, what connotation it holds for me, who I envision using it or being described by it. I use these exercises to stretch my brain and keep my creativity from becoming stagnant.

*If there are any that particularly pique your interest, leave a comment or send me an email and let me know; it just might be worked into a short story a future novel if enough people like it!

Book Review: Haunted Ground by Cailyn Lloyd

Thank you NetGalley and Land of Oz LLC for providing me with an advanced reader copy of this book. I am giving this honest review freely. 

 

Cailyn Lloyd, NetGalley, Land of Oz LLCShrewd ex-con Kat Lundquist has made mistakes – big ones – but she’s done her time and takes full responsibility for her poor choices and the followout from them. But she doesn’t feel she should die for them,.So she skips parole and goes on the run from the bloodthirsty cartel she testified against and that wants her dead.
Strange things begin to happen at the abandoned farm where she’s holed up, and she’s no longer sure what is the biggest threat: her old mentor and his new boss? Or the restless spirits and haunted past of the old house itself?

There is a lot to love about this book! Cailyn Lloyd has done an exceptional job of creating believable characters that you want to root for. From the beginning I wanted Kat to win, to survive, and to thrive in a new life. I really liked the way each new character was introduced independent of Kat and how they were slowly woven into the fabric of her story. Ms Lloyd skillfully built suspense and kept me turning the pages to find out what would happen next. It was exciting and well-executed.

I do feel there were a few aspects or plot points that had terriffic potential but that were left hanging without any resolution. Repetition from chapter to chapter made it feel more like a serial that had been cobbled into novel form, like the author was reminding the reader what had happened in the last installment, and the way characters kind of shared knowledge was a bit convenient.

All in all, I really enjoyed the story and hope to read more from Cailyn Lloyd.

Haunted Ground: The Ghosts of Laskin’s Farm is available for preorder and will be released on April 25, 2023.

Book Review: How to Fail at Flirting

How to Fail at FlirtingHow to Fail at Flirting by Denise Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Why yes, yes I DID just read this book in roughly 6 hours.

This was my first – but most definitely not my last – Denise Williams book. I have so many feelings about the story and the characters and I’m not sure where to start. I dig her sense of humor and the things that she finds romantic and the terrible jokes (that I fully laughed at, not gonna lie).

The sex scenes were spicy and plentiful and I am here for it. (Is there much that is sexier than a partner finding pleasure in giving pleasure?) The lack of game-playing and the vulnerability and the goofy puns and jokes all make this MMC so appealing.

Naya’s character growth was wonderful and realistic and, to me, a reminder that we don’t always have to be so tough and so independent that we never ask for help. I adore the strong, intelligent women and the men who are so secure with themselves as to expose their soft underbellies with no fear.

And I admire Denise for shining a light on intimate partner violence and showing that it can – and does – happen to strong, smart, educated women of all ages and backgrounds. Naya’s behavior regarding her trauma – while maybe not the best way to handle things as evidenced throughout her arc – felt true and organic and will resonate with far too many readers. Nothing between those two characters felt gratuitous or over-the-top, either.

If this was her debut novel, I can’t wait to devour the rest of her writing!

View all my reviews

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