Category: Messages From Sharon Page 1 of 2

Book Review: Witches’ Quarters

Stephen King has said it time and time again: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Finally, I took some time to read for fun! I started with a book I purchased six months ago at the DSM Book Festival in downtown Des Moines, Iowa. One of the books I purchased was Witches’ Quarters, the debut novel from Des Moines-based author Laura Snider.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read for me and I hope Laura can turn this into a series, somehow. She made it easy to become invested in the lives and troubles of the characters and I would love to see what happens next!

Siblings Charlotte, Ava, Nolan, and June exist under consistently unpredictable circumstances. They have a violent father who takes his anger out on their detached mother; June, the youngest, lives with epilepsy; and the relationships among the four are tenuous at best, resulting in frequent clashes and arguments.

Their mother’s sister, Aunt Stacie, had given the oldest sibling, Charlotte, a bizarre gift for her 16th birthday: a bag of state quarters and a coin bank in the shape of a creepy, bare tree. In an attempt to distract themselves from the sounds of yet another beating that they are powerless to stop, they decide to examine the bank and slip a quarter from the bag into the slot.

That’s when things get wild.

The siblings are transported to another world that looks much like their own, but things are slightly off. For instance, in Nova animals can talk – and they aren’t happy to see the four children. Before long, they find themselves caught up in a war they know nothing about, June’s seizures are starting up again without her medication, and despite fighting and being separated, they have only each other to rely on.

Laura Snider does an excellent job of establishing the unique personalities of the children and demonstrating how much they change and grow throughout their events of the story. With every chapter, new strengths are revealed for each of the siblings, and they are all forced to make choices and take action in a way none of them thought they ever could.

Witches’ Quarters is full of excitement and danger, laughter and tears. While it could be considered a Young Adult novel, I think it has enough thrills to entertain readers of all ages.

If you’d like to check out this novel for yourself, visit Laura Snider’s website and order your copy today!

Decisions, Decisions

Hello again, friends and followers! I know it’s been a while but I’m hoping to jump back in with a variety of posts coming to you weekly. If you have questions or blog post suggestions, I would love to hear them! Leave a comment or send me an email at [email protected]

My birthday is this month which is pretty anticlimactic anymore – except I get cake! I am not even remotely joking when I tell you I have to do minor math to figure out my age at any time. This year, the day itself is full of activities with my writing group, After Prom planning, and SPOKE business. And that’s okay. As long as I get some kind of cake and I don’t have to make dinner, it’s all good.

But the best thing about October is that it’s almost NaNoWriMo time!

Working under a deadline seems to be a great motivator for me. Knowing I have a goal to reach in a specified period of time lights a fire under me. Turns out I’m a little competitive. The trouble arises this year in the form of an inability to choose a project for the 50,000-word challenge. I’m leaning one way, but haven’t committed to anything. Yet.

My choices are as follows:

  • Finish What I’ve Started: My NaNo project from last year is very close to finished but is, in fact, NOT. It’s a light fantasy novel and a huge departure from what I normally write so my confidence in it is a bit low. I also have a ghost love story that I worked on over the summer that has a lot yet to say. There’s subterfuge, romance, and impossible odds. I’m fairly certain I could surpass 50,000 words between these two projects.
  • Oooh-Shiny! During the Drake Relays, Andrew and I worked out a story line based off a creeper in a pickup truck ogling co-ed runners, even slowing down as each one passed. From that sprang the idea for a crime novel with a middle-aged, worn down female detective who stumbles upon a serial killer. A brand-new novel is almost guaranteed to get me over that finish line.

While it’s very tempting to start an exciting new story, I haven’t done any planning so far this Preptober which is not good. Sitting down to write without a clear idea of where the story should go fills me with anxiety. Perhaps that’s a good thing, though. Pushing at boundaries, stepping outside the box, stretching my skills, and expanding my comfort zone could be beneficial.

If I survive.

 

What should I focus on for NaNoWriMo: Finishing older works or starting something new? Please comment below or email me – I’d love to hear from you!

Dysfunction Takes a Holiday

For as long as I can remember, I have had a big imagination. I can’t think of a time in my life where I wasn’t playacting in some form or another. Sometimes it was Barbies with my sisters, sometimes it was movie reels in my head, sometimes it was me in front of my bedroom mirror. As an adult, it comes in the form of ‘what-if’ scenarios that play out as I clean or drive or, most often, walk the dogs.

The result of this big imagination is that I have a pile of story ideas jostling for attention.

My first story, posted on Channillo in mid-November of 2018 and in a Halloween anthology called Chills Down Your Spine, gave me the confidence to keep writing. After that, I wrote a few other slightly bizarre short stories and started three serials. One of them, The Path of Least Dysfunction, has been shared on this website weekly since it started in January 2019 and I have been so tickled by the responses I’ve received. A couple readers even picked teams, using #TeamJamie and #TeamChris on Twitter. Talk about an ego boost.

That’s why it’s bittersweet for me to say that Chapter 35, which went live on Channillo August 26 and will post here on September 11, is the last chapter of The Path of Least Dysfunction. At least for a while.

I haven’t stopped loving the story or the characters and I certainly adore the people who have been keeping up with it all along. But my attention was fractured and everything I am working on was suffering for it. At the beginning of the summer I sent my first completed novel, I’ll Call You Mine, for editing and haven’t touched it since I got notes back. There are three partial stories that I would still like to finish. November is fast approaching and I have yet another project I want to write for this year’s NaNoWriMo.

The inside of my head is a wild and crazy place and is getting a bit crowded.

For the next month I will be editing I’ll Call You Mine and working on only that. The last thing I want to happen is to leave readers hanging or give them boring stories and sub-par writing. This latest chapter gave me a place I could pause for a while without leaving a cliffhanger. I have loved writing about Alexis and Jamie and their crooked path to wedded bliss. At the beginning of the year I hope to continue their story. After all, they have a lot more story to tell.

Thank you so much for following along! I will continue to write and to post character bios, random thoughts, and story snippets.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below and stay tuned!

Summer Writing Shenanigans

There is a lot to love about the start of summer: the warmer temps, the longer days, vacations. And this year, it seems that spring is going to stretch at least to the first official day! For me, that means there are days that I can take my trusty laptop outside on the back patio to write without fear of drowning the keyboard in sweat.

Summer also brings with it Camp NaNoWriMo in July. Where NaNoWriMo takes place in November and challenges authors to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, Camp NaNo is a little more flexible. Taking place in April and July, Camp lets you build or join a ‘cabin’ of other writers to support and encourage each other. You also can set your own goal, whether that is editing pages, writing lines of poetry, or writing another novel and setting your own word count objective.

I love Camp.

After my first NaNo year, I decided I needed the camaraderie and accountability of a writing group so I’ve created my own Cabin for each Camp for the last two years. It’s so fun to annoy my friends with daily encouragement quotes, to hold virtual meetups, to gather other local authors for donuts and writing on Saturday mornings. I look forward to Camp every spring and summer and kind of can’t wait for July to roll around!

This summer is also a big step for me in my writing journey. I am in the final round of edits for my novel, I’ll Call You Mine, incorporating notes and suggestions from my beta readers. Then, in the middle of July, I will send my baby off to a professional editor to see how I can fully polish it up and get it ready to shop out to agents.

This is a thing that is going to happen and it terrifies me.

It’s one thing to sit down and write for fun, maybe sharing with a friend or two, but with no real plans beyond that. But I have found that I want more than that. I’m realistic, I know it’s not easy to get an agent and even more difficult for that agent to sell an unknown author’s novel to a publisher. Putting myself out there will probably mean hundreds of rejections and stabs at my notoriously thin skin and fragile ego.

But what if…?

My summer is jam-packed with exciting writing, editing, and reading challenges. What are you planning to do this summer to push yourself and reach for your dreams? Comment below and thanks for reading!

procrastination, distractions

Procrastination and Other Editing Tools

Editing is an important and necessary part of writing anything – an essay, a blog post, even an email. It gives the author a chance to fix typos, catch repetitive words, and streamline the flow of what they are trying to convey. These are things I know and understand.

So why can’t I just get on with it?

Now diving into week 18 of editing my novel, it feels like I have made zero progress. April’s Camp NaNoWriMo was going to be the kick in the pants I needed to power through the necessary changes. I had grand designs of finishing 3 rounds of edits and sending my work to some beta readers to catch what I’ve missed and make suggestions. Then, by the time true summer rolled around, that bad boy would be ready for querying so I could get my “big break” and become the esteemed and lauded published author I was born to be.

Who am I kidding?

Apparently, I forgot that I am an expert-level procrastinator when it comes to my own best-laid plans. I have found new and ridiculous ways to put off editing. Some examples:

  • I’ve started two more serials, besides The Path of Least Dysfunction, that are also on Channillo. Because I needed to exponentially increase the self-imposed creative pressure already hanging over my head.
  • I’ve started to flesh out a new novel idea that’s been knocking at the back of my brain, whispering, “Let me in… I’m shiny and new and full of promise instead of fluff words and superfluous story lines that need to be viciously slashed and burned…”
  • I’ve jumped into the Twitter #WritingCommunity with both feet. While I have made some delightful new friends this way, it is also a black hole teeming with unnecessary and time-sucking discussions, tagging games, and polls.
  • I’ve added about 7 books to my reading list and will tell myself, “I’ll just read a couple chapters, maybe half an hour,” and will look up three hours later wondering what century it is.

It’s not all bad, of course. I am, actually, halfway through my second full round of edits, with another two rounds of word-purge behind me as well. There is some backstory that needs to GO, but I have to fill all the holes that will leave so it’s a bit slow-going.

Week 18 starts today, and with the harassment – er, encouragement – of my writing friends, I know I can get back on track.

Drop a note below and ask me questions, share your thoughts on my posts and stories, or just say hi! And if you’re curious about my other writing, check it out with a free trial membership to Channillo HERE.

Have You Met…Alexis

Sooo…It’s been rather a long time since I’ve introduced a character. To be honest, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything but chapters of my serial, The Path of Least Dysfunction. I wish I could tell you that’s because I’ve been deep in the throes of editing. Instead, I’ve been distracting myself with the aforementioned serial…as well as starting two others.

Have I mentioned I’m the queen of procrastination?

Writing Dysfunction is so much fun! I’ve been getting great feedback on this story so I thought I’d introduce you to the star!

Have you met…Alexis?

Alexis is twenty-five, the middle of three sisters, and newly engaged. She adores her fiance, Jamie, but is suddenly overcome with cold feet – not because she doesn’t want to marry Jamie, but because she’s afraid it won’t last.

You see, Alexis is a bit of a control freak. She likes to know exactly what she’s getting into, what to expect every step of the way. Lists are calming for her and she loves to research places and people and experiences before she dives in. The more she knows about any situation ahead of time, the better.

As the wedding planning gets into full swing, the idea of “forever” starts to terrify her. It’s a lot of pressure. She adores Jamie and the idea that their marriage could end at some point, that she could face life without him, weighs heavily on her. Alexis like to borrow trouble and tends to imagine every possible scenario – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Before long, she begins to fixate on the possibility that Jamie could fall out of love with her down the road, and that sends her into a tailspin. Her solution? To contact her previous significant boyfriends to find out what went wrong, why those relationships ended, and how to avoid doing anything that could come between her and the love of her life.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize that by doing that, she may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Writing Alexis has been so much fun! She’s just neurotic enough to make her life interesting without crippling her. The relationships she revisits are a road map of her emotional development and will, hopefully, lead her back to Jamie and her happily-ever-after. To be honest, I have no idea what’s going to happen…Alexis is on her own path and I just follow along!

Feel free to comment below with any thoughts about Alexis, about her story, or anything else you want to know about my writing and writing process! Thanks for coming on this journey with me and I look forward to hearing from you!

The Path of Least Dysfunction chapters are released each Wednesday on this website, or can be followed on my Channillo.com page.

writing motivation

Strength in Numbers

You would think that writing is a fairly solitary endeavor. One person, sitting at a computer – or typewriter, or notebook – creating a new world and new characters. Authors don’t need people around to distract them – do they?

On a whim, I participated in National Novel Writing Month back in 2017, just to see if I could reach that 50,000 word goal in thirty days. It was fun and challenging and I loved every minute of it. By the end of November I had surpassed the word count goal and “won” NaNoWriMo – but that wasn’t the best thing I gained from the experience.

During that time, I attended a number of write-ins where NaNoWriMo participants in the area gathered at a specified location. The municipal liaison, Mary, set timers and challenged each writer to put down as many words as possible. She was encouraging and funny, teasing those she knew and cheering every single writer who showed up.

I needed that.

It was immediately obvious that there was something motivating about being in a room with other creatives. Is there an aura about writers that wafts into the air and encircles everyone nearby, merging with and energizing the other writers in the room? I don’t have any idea, but I sure dig that visual.

What I do know, however, is that this camaraderie between authors is an essential component to my own creativity. I was heartbroken when November ended and I no longer had a reason to meet up with these people – or to write. I hadn’t finished my story but I couldn’t make myself sit down and get to the end.

That is, until I found out about Camp NaNoWriMo.

I gathered my own group, organizing meet-ups throughout the month of April and again in July. We shared our story ideas, asked each other for advice or how to get out of a sticky scene. Over the spring and summer, I not only finished my story but added more than another 90,000 words! Unfortunately, now I am faced with editing that story down to a manageable length.

It’s harder than it sounds…

Now I meet with a group to write every week and I consider these people my good friends, even outside of writing. I continue to plan and organize writing groups for Camps and I find great joy in encouraging others to believe in themselves and in their writing – to an obnoxious extent. When I go more than a week without a writing group, my creativity and my mood suffer. Writing with other creatives helps to keep me motivated and boosts my creativity.

There is definitely strength in numbers.

What creative boost have you discovered that surprised you? Do you prefer to write alone or with other people? Comment below and let me know what keeps you on your creative path!

romance, romantic, Valentine's Day

Sappy Stuff for Valentine’s Day

I have had a love-hate relationship with Valentine’s Day for most of my life. It never seemed to live up to the earth-shattering romantic reputation I was sold as a young girl.

Instead, I lived vicariously through the books and movies I cherished so much –  until I found my very own true love.

To this day, I don’t put much emphasis on the holiday. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate romance. In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are some movies, books, and television moments that really mean Love to me.

  • Somewhere In Time

    This movie was released in 1980 – I was nine – and I was immediately swept away by it. The music, the clothing, the charm and beauty of the whole thing still makes my heart swell. I particularly adore the scene where Richard and Elise share their first kiss, full of anticipation and longing and…well, you can watch it for yourselves here.

  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

    This is, most definitely, NOT what love should be. Heathcliff is wicked and cruel, Catherine is haughty and vain. Together, they are the epitome of a toxic relationship and everyone around them suffers for it. When I saw the 1939 movie, it drew me in and has kept this tragic story in my heart. The romance of this book might be summed up in this quote: “…so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”

  • Love Actually

    Anyone who knows me at all knows this is one of my most cherished movies. It is rife with romantic gestures. While I see many people citing the “To me, you are perfect” scene as the most romantic, I think it’s a bit creepy. Instead, my favorite is the Portuguese restaurant scene in which Jamie butchers the language he has struggled to learn just to profess his love for Aurelia. It is an awkward scene – but also incredibly heartfelt. “…but it’s Christmas so I just wanted to…check.”

  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

    I enjoy the television portrayal of this story, but I LOVE the book. Why does a historical novel that is more than 600 pages rank so high on my list of romance? James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Diana Gabaldon has written, in my opinion, the best fictional male character ever. And it’s not just Jamie that speaks to the nature of true love, but the relationship between him and Claire. Their love slowly builds from necessity, through mutual respect, into implicit trust. They support and challenge each other throughout the story and they are, to me, the embodiment of real love.

  • New Girl: “Pilot”

    Yes, the very first episode. This show is one of my favorites and, having been perusing clips for this post, I will now binge the whole series from the beginning. Again. This scene sets the tone for the entire show and is probably one of the sweetest things ever on television. It is bumbling and embarrassing and hilarious. And I hope everyone, everywhere, gets to feel this special at least once in their lives.

  • Notting Hill

    I don’t know that this movie would have worked as well without this particular cast. The chemistry is phenomenal. There are many adorable, tender moments: the “surreal but nice” scene; the “stay forever” scene; and this one where Anna bears her heart and soul. I will watch this anytime, anywhere.

There are, undoubtedly, many other romantic songs, books, movies, and television moments that should have made this list, but these are near and dear to me. Remember that you don’t need a holiday to fall in love or to tell people how you feel. If you tell them – and show them – every day, then every day will feel like Valentine’s Day.

What are some of your go-to romantic moments? Do you agree with my choices or think there are better examples? Comment below!

The First Twenty-Five Years

Twenty-five years.

It sounds ridiculously long when you say it out loud, but it feels like the blink of an eye. So much has happened since 1994 – not just in my life but in the world. Some notable events from that year include:

  • Nancy Kerrigan’s leg clubbing
  • the Northridge earthquake
  • the deaths of Kurt Cobain, Richard Nixon, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
  • the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman (and the subsequent bizarre car chase through LA)
  • the cancellation of the World Series due to a players’ strike
  • the births of Dakota Fanning, Ansel Elgort, and Andrew Benintendi (go Red Sox!)
  • the debut of Barney, Friends, and ER, the 100th episode of the Simpsons, the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation

I also got married that year.

Andrew and I had a few chance encounters before we officially met. I think fate kept throwing him in my path, waiting for me to catch on. After our first date we were inseparable, and within three months I knew I was going to marry him.

Our wedding took place on a Friday afternoon in the Polk County Courthouse. It was only seven minutes long, but was perfect for us, complete with my nervous giggles and the inability to get Andy’s ring on his finger. Our parents threw us a reception a month or so later with everyone we knew in attendance. The things I remember most clearly: I hated our cake and thought *I* could have done a better job decorating it; one relative got drunk and decided to give a speech on the microphone; and we were surrounded by so much love it was overwhelming at times.

Our first child was born that September and we were thrust into parenthood which we – and our children – miraculously survived. Where I am tightly wound and overreact to almost everything, Andy is relaxed and underreacts to most things. Between the two of us, we managed to raise three adventurous, intelligent, hard-working human beings. Their successes are ALL their own doing and we are beyond proud of them.

This past quarter-century hasn’t always been easy. We have faced career changes, financial strain, an epilepsy diagnosis, the deaths of three parents, depression battles, and a variety of other issues. There were many times I thought I just couldn’t make it, but I had a secret weapon.

My husband, Andrew.

He is truly my “better half” and makes me a better person. I tend to be clinical and practical, but he brings art, beauty, and romance into my life. He is my biggest cheerleader when I lose faith in myself. Our children have grown up with the best role model they could have asked for. There is no one else who gets my humor, understands – and puts up with – my mood swings and idiosyncrasies, or loves me more than I could ever think I deserve.

Today, we are celebrating 25 years of marriage! It’s quite a feat in this day and age, and a rare milestone. The time has flown by and has thrown challenges and blessings in our path. It’s been wild, messy, and imperfect.

But totally worth it.

Happy Anniversary, Andrew. I love you.

Behind The Scenes: Editing Week 1

Every author I have spoken with decries editing as the worst part of writing a novel. They pour their blood, sweat, and tears into writing for weeks (NaNoers) or months (normal people), creating stunning images and weaving fantastical tales with their words. Then they are asked to take this beautiful thing they love and ruthlessly slash and burn until it’s barely recognizable.

Yep. That’s where I am right now.

This is my first time editing a novel. I wrote one years ago, I got feedback on it, then promptly put it on a literal shelf and haven’t looked at it again. The daunting task at hand is to pare down my monstrous 163,000-word giant baby into an entertaining and coherent story. I started editing earlier this week and I have to admit it’s slow going.

I’ve edited 10% so far and am 0% confident that I’ve made it better.

In an attempt to be impartial during editing, I haven’t looked at this project since July or August. This story has been simmering out of sight since then. I wrote another novel in the intervening months (Okay, practically wrote another novel…) but I think I’m still too close to this one and am struggling to edit it objectively.

These are my words and I love them all dearly.

And boy howdy, do I LOVE my words! I pack words into a sentence like I’m padding a fragile item for shipment on a jackhammer. Apparently I find it necessary to describe every single movement from action to action – saying, turning, walking, looking – and I blame my third grade teacher, Mr. Holman, and his “peanut butter and jelly sandwich instructions” exercise. *More information available on request.

And those pesky adverbs, so reviled by Stephen King and many other writers, seem to have multiplied while I wasn’t looking! That makes it marginally easier to make cuts. I’ve had to re-write some clumsy scenes and I’ve deleted others entirely, so maybe I’m not fully in love with ALL the words. Thus far I haven’t chucked my computer out of the window, burst into tears, or curled up into a ball in the corner. Maybe that ambitious end-of-January deadline could happen!

Now, if I could only find my focus…

What editing techniques do you find most helpful? How many rounds of edits do you go through before handing your work off to beta readers? Drop your advice, suggestions, and discussion points below!

 

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