Writing Wisdom Wednesday – Cause and Effect

But also, when we write? Magic happens. We move inside other characters, embody them, become them. That’s part of the reason why writers need to be diligent and build their worlds, piece-by-piece, symbol-by-symbol and word-by-word.

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In her book, What’s Your Story: A Young Person’s Guide to Writing Fiction, Marion Dane Bauer writes, “Every part of your story should be an essential step along the way to the outcome.” (p.53)

Just like in books, we create the story that is our life. We interact. We make decisions. We decide to do one thing and that thing makes something else happen.

There’s a girl in my life who doesn’t understand this concept. She does things – often naughty things – and doesn’t think through to the next step, poor kid. We’re always talking about consequences for behavior. We’re always talking about how you have to think through what you’re doing and go on to the next step.

“When you ran away from the teacher and hid under the stairs, what did you think is going to happen?” we ask.

And the answer is always, “I didn’t really think about it.”

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As authors creating plot, we don’t have that opportunity. We have to think through to the next step and the step after that. The cool thing about this is that it builds our understanding of not just the world of our stories, but the whole world around us.

Authors aren’t likely to become politicians talking about pushing nuclear buttons.

There’s a reason for that.

It’s because as creators of story, we understand all the possibilities of that story – the good and the bad. We know if we hide from the teacher, there is going to be hell to pay. We  know if we threaten other world leaders on Twitter, things might go down that we can’t control.

Most humans who aren’t writers understand cause and effect, too.

Like in my house, in the case of Marsie the Cat, her humans know that smoothing back her ears so she looks like an adorable owl means that she is going to hate us for an hour, hop off our lap, and ignore us.

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See up there? That’s Marsie about to hate us. Fortunately, we also know that we can win back her love with the illegal drug called catnip.

Sorry! Back to writing and the brilliant Marion Dane Bauer.

“You must always be aware of what your main character is thinking, feeling, wanting. You must also know how the world looks, smells, sounds, tastes and feels to the touch,” Bauer writes. “Good writing uses all the sense, all of them. Good fiction uses them from inside your main character.” (93)

When we read, magic happens. We move inside other characters, embody them, become their experience. That’s part of the reason why we need so many stories out there. The more stories, the more experiences, the more magic.

But also, when we write? Magic happens. We move inside other characters, embody them, become them. That’s part of the reason why writers need to be diligent and build their worlds, piece-by-piece, symbol-by-symbol and word-by-word.

That’s especially true when we’re writing for kids and young adults. Kids are smart. They deserve stories built with empathy, precision, and love.

Gabby the Dog’s Writing Exercise of Awesome.

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Write a letter to your friend or the president or somebody. The letter is all about what happens in your story. You’ve got this! Go!

Once you’ve got it done, give yourself a treat. Gabby’s favorite reward-snack is Milk- Bones. She’s a traditionalist.

Random Author Plug

To find out more about me and my books and my blog, check out my website or don’t! It’s totally okay either way. I hope you have a lovely Wednesday.

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Monday Motivation By Marsie, New Year’s Edition

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I am not the kind of person who likes to look back at the year or look forward at the new year.

I’m not sure why that is.

It’s probably because I’m really good at worst-case scenarios and not so awesome at best-case scenarios.

 

Yesterday, the last day of 2017 (the no-good, terrible year), I was in the grocery store line and the cashier said something nice about me making a good meal for my man and how cute we are together and then she said, “You’re best buddies. Best buddies forever. Me and my… ” Her voice caught on grief. “We were like that.”

And my heart broke right there.

And I said, “C–, your breaking my heart and you’re working and I can’t get over there on the other side of the belt and hug you because you’re working.”

The bagger girl looked away. I don’t think she’s good with emotion.

But C– just smiled at me and said, “It’s okay. It’s okay. I have a new man in my life and he’s so sweet to me and he showed up just when I needed him and my J–, I think he sent him to me.”

Her J — is her long-time, forever buddy, her husband who died.

So, I basically emoted all over the place while she rung up my crackers and I was like, “C–! You are killing me. I’m crying because I’m sad. I’m crying because I’m happy for you. I’m crying because you’re so beautiful. And this is all… it’s all so… It’s poignant.”

She laughed.

The bagger kept looking away.

And when I walked out of the grocery store, this person I don’t know, he touched my elbow to make me stop my mad-fast hustle to the car. It was -2 out. It was cold.

The guy who was all bundled up and wearing some Carhartt’s said, “You know. When you have a heart as open as yours, it’s going to hurt sometimes.”

And I said, brilliantly, “Oh.”

“It’s worth it,” he said. “Do good out there, Carrie. Do good.”

I was a little freaked out, but I thanked him, got to my car and sat there and just stared at this parking lot and the people rushing through the cold, and the grayness that seems to sometimes overwhelm everything during winter and my heart got so full that I started emoting everywhere again because that random Carhartt-wearing man took time out of his day to talk to me. He stopped in the cold to talk to me.

This guy knew my name somehow, but bigger than that? This guy knows about hearts.

So, here’s the thing – there are gifts out there (big gifts and little ones) and they can come from the weirdest places. They’re connections. They’re motivations. They are these tiny times where you get to see inside other people’s minds and hearts. Savor them this year. Try to dwell on those good things as much as we all dwell on the bad. And let both the good and the bad inspire you to make a difference in your own life and maybe even other people’s lives (big ways and little ways).

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Thank you all for everything you’ve done for me this year. You’ve listened to me about my Scotty Dog’s death, my daughter’s transition from Harvard graduate to the U.S. Army Second Lt..  You’ve celebrated with me about book stuff and you’ve mourned with me when Don died. You haven’t mocked me too hard because Grover (the muppet) is my internal cheerleader and John Wayne (dead cowboy movie star) is my internal editor. Some of you have bought my books. On social media, so many of you have been so kind over and over. And you haven’t unsubscribed to my newsletter. That’s such a big deal to me.

Thank you.

I really appreciate how kind and giving you’ve all been and if I write any more I’ll start crying. And there’s no random stranger guy here to make me feel better.

Darn.

Happy 2018! Make it yours! Make it ours. Let’s support each other all year long. It’s community that builds strength. Let’s be one together.

Random Writing Stuff

Here are the books I have coming out this year.

The Spy Who Played Baseball

The Spy Who Played Baseball is a nonfiction picture book.

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Escape From the Badlands is the last book in the Time Stoppers series.

And don’t forget about the awesome 6-month-long Writing Barn class that they’ve let me be in charge of!

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Hey! I have epilepsy. Sometimes, so do my characters.

One day I was hanging out in the hallway of the middle school with some other moms, waiting for all the sports practices to be over so we could shuttle our kids home.

These two other moms standing next to me were talking about diets and diabetes. They were both on Weight Watchers. One mom has lost tons of weight. The moms talked about the effect of weight on piercing private places and all this incredibly personal stuff.

Then they started talking about sugar and sugar substitutes (Splenda and aspartame).

One mom goes, “That aspartame. I stay away from that stuff. It makes the back of my throat feel funny. I think it does something to rats.”

So I say, “Aspartame gives me seizures.”

And I add, “So does coffee.”

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I swear both their mouths dropped open and they both actually stopped talking, which was a big deal, because they NEVER stop talking. I love them. I love their talking, but yeah . . . they are super good at it.

And when their mouths dropped open, I realized: You can talk about your diabetes, your husband’s joy stick, your own special piercings, your kids’ bed wetting, but you can’t talk about epilepsy.

And, this just totally sucks.

Because, I’m someone who is really, really lucky. I know what makes me have seizures so I avoid those things (Truth Alert: It does suck to give up beautiful caffinated coffee and gum), but other people aren’t lucky at all.
About one person in every 26 will have epilepsy at some point in his/her life. And they don’t always have the choice of disclosure, and they just have the stigma.

So? What does this have to do with writing?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the choices I made with Belle, the protagonist of Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend. I made her a folk singer for important reasons. I also gave her seizures, the same kind of seizures I have, caused by the same thing.

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Her epilepsy is not a part of the plot. It’s not a part of the character development. But it’s there.

And, no matter how bad my book is, or how good, or if anyone buys it, or doesn’t, or awards it won, I am really, really glad I made that choice for Belle.

Choices are important in our lives and in our books. It’s the choices we make that inform the people we are, and also inform the characters we right. That’s pretty cool.

Like Sparty says, choose to grow, be broad, celebrate your next choices, listen to some awesome tunes. Be the person, the writer, the character you want to be. No matter what stigmas hold you back. You’ve got this.

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Wednesday Writing Wisdom & Being a Woman who is Not Ditzy

A few years ago, I attended the Poinsettia Ball, which was THE main social event in our community. I helped set up the Friday before the event, during which time I learned how to make sure all the flatware is aligned EXACTLY the right way.

It was actually kind of fun… the setting up part.

But, then, at the actual ball, this man comes up to me, and he’s vaguely familiar, but I can’t remember who he is. He’s got a red tie on. He’s a bit stooped over. But I smile anyway when he grabs my hand. I usually get hugged upon greeting instead of a handshake, so I figure it’s okay that I don’t know who he is right away. A handshake means we aren’t on hugging terms.

And he goes to me, “Hi, Carrie. Are you still –zy?”

I lean forward, although trying not to lean too far forward because of the whole breasts-in-gown thing, and I say, “Am I still busy? Yeah, I guess so.”

“No. Are you still –zy?”

He’s shaking his head at me.

I back up, he’s still clutching my hand so I can’t get free. People swarm around us, getting drinks, admiring each other. They are all loud talkers and it’s not easy to hear.

“Busy?” I ask.

“NO!” he yells. “Ditzy!”

Ditzy? Am I still ditzy?” I have finally evacuated my hand. What do I say? I have no idea. And because I just want to get away, I blurt, “Um. I guess so?”

I am immediately angry at myself for this answer, for being so shocked and surprised that I just let this random red-tie-wearing man define me.

Things like this always shock me. I had NO IDEA anyone perceived me as ditzy. Can newspaper editors (which is what I was then) be ditzy? Can former city councilors?

It’s amazing how many different perceptions people can have of you and how many different perceptions you can have of yourself.

Really.

So, after running away from HE WHO CALLS ME DITZY, I bump into a past teacher of the year, marathon runner,and told him the story. He actually gets angry on my behalf, which is SOOOO nice and says, “Carrie, do you want me to take him outside?”

“No,” I tell him. “I just want to know if I’m ditzy.”

“You are not ditzy,” he tells me.

“You swear?”

“Swear.”

Thank God for teachers of the year.

But there are two things that make me come back to this story as both a writer and a woman.

  1. As writers, we need to remember that not everyone always sees our character the same way – defines them the same way. And some people who define them are terribly wrong.  But that’s a good thing to remember when trying to give our characters depth and layers.
  2. As a woman, I keep thinking to myself, “WTF?”  Did I seriously let some random guy tell me I’m ditzy and agree? And then the immediate person I talked to was another man? Yes, second man was awesome. But why was I even so worried about how they defined me? What they thought of me? Why didn’t I go ask a woman instead? But more importantly, why did I ask anyone at all? The only person who should get to define you is you.  I say that to people all the time. Why couldn’t I have said that to me? Why didn’t I think, the only person who gets to define me is me?  

 

 

Rescuing People and the Writing Barn Scholarship

My dog Scotty had the unique ability called UNLOCKING THE DOOR WITH HIS MOUTH AND THEN TURNING THE KNOB OF THE DOOR AND THEN PUSHING IT OPEN SO HE CAN FROLIC OUTSIDE.

In the dog world this made him a superhero.

But, it could be occasionally unnerving to his human (Hint: His human is me) in that I got all stressed out and frazzled about book edits and would suddenly hear him barking…. FROM OUTSIDE! Which is what happened one December.

Dogs here in Maine aren’t supposed to randomly roam around outside, plus it was hunting season, plus Scotty thought one neighbor of ours was the antichrist and he thought the only way to stop this apocalypse involved him running in front of her Toyota truck and barking at her.

So, I would worry about him.

He thought my worrying about him was silly.  He thought his job was to worry about me. He was wrong.

Anyway, this one December day, a couple of years ago, I heard him do the end-the-apocalypse bark, and I threw on some ballet flats and jumped in the MINI, zipped up my driveway hill and there was Scotty barking and protecting the driveway from a car that was not the Toyota. It was a car that had fallen into a ditch and there was a man trying to shovel the car out.

I jumped out of my MINI, put Scotty in the car and said, “Can I help?”

The man was Joe, an older guy who has some major health issues and lived down the street. He was like, “Oh yeah.”

A white-haired lady inside the car looked at me and said, “Please.”

It was a front-wheel drive car. It had no super cool, studded tires like the MINI. And the driver had tried to get up the snow-covered monster hill that is my road and the car then slid all the way down. Her car was tilted at this funky angle.

It was pretty bad.

Joe and I got behind it and pushed. We pushed some more. My ballet flat went in the snow. I fell down. Joe fell down. The car didn’t move. We tried again. We tried again. And again. I lost feeling in my butt because it was so cold. And yeah,  I didn’t put a jacket on or anything and my hair was wet from  the shower.

This whole time that Joe and I were fighting against the wicked machine that was Mrs. Austen’s unbudging car, I was thinking about helping people and books and writing and even politics because let’s face it… you get bored pushing cars that don’t move. It’s sort of like a story that refuses to be revised well.

What I thought…

So a lot of the time when people start to criticize books they get really… um… agitated… if they think the female character gets rescued too much.  And people are sort of SUPER sensitized to it so much that they flip out if anyone helps out the female character ever.

And I get that.
I get that female readers need to know that they can rescue themselves, that they don’t need a boy to do it, and that if girls think that then it makes them dependent. I mean, I think about that all the time when I wrote the NEED books. And Zara (my main character) thought about that all the time. I thought about it when I wrote FLYING and TIME STOPPERS and pretty much everything.

But it also makes me worried. Because the truth is that we all need rescuing constantly. We all need help. Boys need help. Girls need help. Authors who are neurotic about their next book coming out need help. And I want a balance in books and in movies. I want different genders and ages to help each other, to respect help, to be able to receive help. It’s about balance and intention.

And the thing is that in real life? You just do it. You just help (hopefully, unless you’re in a reality show or something and think it’s all about you). I wasn’t about to ignore that older woman in her car because she was:
1. Older
2. Female

I didn’t think, “Hm…. Perhaps, I shouldn’t help her because she should get that car out of the ditch all by herself even though she does have a cane and a fake hip that hasn’t fully healed yet. If I help her I am actually oppressing her.”

And Joe who almost died last year from a heart issue didn’t think that either, I bet.

So, I guess that’s my point. Go help somebody today! And thank somebody who has helped you.

Here are my thank you’s:

Thank you to everyone who has rescued me from writer insecurity this year, who have saved me from sad when Scotty died, when Emily went away. Thank you to the people who have made me laugh. Thank you to the people who reminded me that there are people of hope, people who dream, people who are good. You have totally been my rescuers in a year that should be struck from the canon of years and I owe you! YAY YOU!!! xoxxo

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Writing Barn Class

There is an awesome scholarship being offered at the Writing Barn for Write! Submit! Support! an awesome online class that I’m teaching in 2018. The class is for novelists of all genres, but the scholarship is for middle grade authors. Also, the deadline to sign up is super soon. SO SIGN UP! Give yourself a present for the new year!

DETAILS ABOUT THE AWESOME SCHOLARSHIP

Katherine Applegate, Newbery winning and NYT bestselling author, and good friend of The Writing Barn has created the Mary Carolyn Davies/Wishtree MG Write. Submit. Support. Scholarship to be awarded to:

 

  • either (1) MG writer for the full amount of a Write. Submit. Support. registration ($1800)

OR

  • to be shared by (2) MG writers for half the amount of a Write. Submit. Support. registration ($900)

 

This scholarship honors poet, novelist and playwright Mary Carolyn Davies.

Writing Wisdom Wednesday

So, I’ve been reading a lot about marketing and social media lately, mostly because of my volunteer position at Rotary International, where I’m the public image coordinator for Eastern Canada and a bunch of the Northeast United States.

And it made me think about how much I absolutely fail as a writer and marketer.

Seriously.

I am no John Green.

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Me = Not John Green

Anyways, I found this old interview with Cynsations, a blog run by the incredible Cynthia Leitich Smith where she asked me:

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?

It’s horrible. I grew up in New England and we are the kind of people who gasp and hold up garlic cloves and a cross when we hear the words, “self promotion.” I think M.T. Anderson (author interview) said something about that in an interview once, and it really resonated with me because it’s so ridiculously true.

So, I joined the Class of 2k7, a cross-publishers marketing group of debut authors, because I figured I could at least tell myself that I was promoting other people as well as myself. That made it a more altruistic thing, but it also takes a lot of time because I signed up for too many committees. Note to all other debut authors and my fifth-grade writing self: Sign up for only one committee.

Most of my time is still spent writing. The problem isn’t necessarily balancing the other aspects of the business in terms of time spent, but more keeping my mind from obsessively worrying about the other aspects of the business (the sales, the reviews, the promotion) so much that it affects my ability to write.

I still think this way. A lot of writers LOVE marketing. It makes me nervous. I can sing out the awesome stories of other people all day long? But when it comes to promoting myself or my own book? I shudder. I’m trying to be better about that but even right now, I’m all…. should I put in my website link? There I did it. (Seriously, I stared at it for five minutes).

Should I say, “Hey, there’s all this talk in the New York Times about ufos and the government investigating it and that’s totally what my book FLYING is about?”

It’s weird how hard this is.

But in happier writer news, look what I got at a holiday party this weekend. HANDERPANTS!!!

Yes… yes… I do write in them now.  Many thanks to the awesome Keri Hayes for the present and the photo.

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In that same interview, Cyn also asked: If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

Current Carrie: Hey! You! Writing in that notebook.

Fifth-grade Carrie: Ew! Am I really going to look like that? Where are my bangs?

Current Carrie: At least your glasses are gone.

Fifth-grade Carrie: Cool.

Current Carrie: Okay, listen. I have writing advice. You know how you’re having Captain James T. Kirk fall in love with your banged hair, glasses-wearing heroine?

Fifth-grade Carrie: Yeah.

Current Carrie: And how Mr. Spock is also in love with same heroine…

Fifth-grade Carrie: Uh-huh.

Current Carrie: And how the Dr. McCoy guy is in love with her too?

Fifth-grade Carrie: What’s your point?

Current Carrie: It’s not all that realistic, sweetie.

Fifth-grade Carrie: It isn’t?

Current Carrie: No, honey. I hate to break it to you. It’s just not. My writing advice to you is that not everyone can be in love with your heroine, unless you’re Laurel Hamilton and your heroine has the ardeur or something.

I still think that’s solid.

Monday Motivation by Marsie!

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So, it’s Monday again and Marsie wants you to know that you can do this.

You’ve got this week.

Whatever choices you need to make, whatever actions you have to take?

You can do this.

It’s okay to be the small spoon, to snuggle with a different species, to shout out your story or to hold it close to your chest.

Live like your life is important. It is. You matter. Your words matter.

And if you feel worried, remember Sparty’s got your back.

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Write Your Way Up; Grudges are Ways We Stay Sane

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I was just thinking about how I’ve never been the kind of writer that teachers loved. I mean, even growing up, I was not the writer that teachers praised. I was the writer that the other kids thought was funny.

            Except for one teacher, but he didn’t happen until high school.

            But when I was in middle school, we had these Author of the Month contests. Every month, we’d read our stories in front of the class and there would be two Authors of the Month. One would be the teacher’s choice. That was Kathy A. It was Kathy A. pretty much every month. The other author of the month would be the kids’ choice. That would be me.

            Even before fifth grade, I wanted to be Kathy. She had a house with two floors. Our house had one. She had two parents. I had one at a time. She had a mom who made Swedish meatballs and worked in a library and did arts and crafts and took me to Pioneer Girls at the Calvary Baptist Church every Friday  and this is where I would hope really hard that Jesus had come into my heart finally.

            We’d sit around in a circle, close our eyes and silently ask Jesus into our heart. We’d raise our hands if we wanted help. I was really concerned about Jesus coming into my heart and forgetting to close the door behind him and all the blood rushing out of my heart and into my chest, which is probably what a heart attack was maybe.

            Maybe?

            I didn’t know.

            But I would always silently ask, “Dear Jesus. If you are not in my heart already, could you please come in and also could you please shut the door behind you?”

            I figured that it was a good idea to be polite to Jesus.

            Then I’d ask Jesus to come into my mom’s heart, too, because everyone seemed to think she was headed straight for help because she didn’t go to church because she caught the minister cheating at bowling and when she called him on it, he lied.

            “If someone doesn’t have bowling honor, how are they supposed to be my spiritual support system, huh?” She steamed. “A man who cheats at bowling is not my pathway to Heaven.”

            She never got over it.

            Nobody listened to her.

            Everyone said that my mom held a grudge.

            Here’s the thing though: My mother (and my Avó and my nana) didn’t hold grudges. They held knowledge. They held knowledge of wrongdoings for a long time. They had to remind themselves of the wrongs that had happened because nobody else would listen to their voice. They held that knowledge close to their hearts because that was all they had power to do. They held those grudges to keep themselves safe and sane.

            Anyways, Kathy  had the life I wanted. She had two parents who didn’t hold grudges, Swedish meatballs, knew Jesus was in her heart and didn’t really freak out about Author of the Month contests because she knew she was destined to win.

            I had no idea how that felt.

            How did it feel to know you were destined to win, that you were smart, that you were strong, that you were beloved and loved?

            I wasn’t that kid.

            I was the poor kid who needed to be saved, I guess. This is probably why a lot of the kids in my books are poor kids who want to be saved?

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            But the thing that saved me over and over again was writing. I wrote my way through it when my stepdad died, when men were bad to me, when my best friend died, when my brother died, when my mom died, when my dad died. I wrote my way into college scholarships. I wrote my way out of sleeping in the backseat of my car. I wrote my way out of living in an apartment where the ceiling was caving in. I wrote my way through pain and into triumph over and over again. I’m pretty sure I even wrote my way into political office – yes, it was just city council, but it still counts, right?

            Here’s the thing: Writing gives voice to those who society has silenced.

Here’s the other thing: Writing gives you power when you are absolutely powerless. It gives you hope when all hope is gone.

But reading? Reading is just as important. Reading outside your own experience, helps others to be heard. There is nothing better than hearing, than growing, than knowing about things and experiences outside of yourself. Empathy and knowledge aren’t swear words. They are words that make us all better, lifting us up.

            So, go write even if your teachers or your friends don’t give you an A-plus and you don’t know where the semicolon goes.

            So, go read even if it’s things that other people make fun of.

            Go create. Even if you feel like nobody else will ever listen to you, YOU need to go listen to you.

            Write your way through it.

            Write your way up.

            Be your own author of the month, author of the year, author of your life. You’ve got this.

            We all can’t be Kathys. But we can all be ourselves. And that’s even better.

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Why Write?

A few years ago, I was involved in a podcast with Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Melissa Marr, Janni Lee Simner, & Jennifer Barnes.

This is sort of weird, but cool. Anyway, it was really great talking about books and urban fantasy with them.

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This was during the era of NEED.

But the thing is…

I never get to really express what I feel about writing in those kinds of things. Sure, I can talk about hamster (or hampster) erotica, but I never get to say the reason I write. And I think that it’s easy for me to be quippy when I answer or even trite and those responses are still true (I’ve listed them below):

I write because I want my voice heard.

I write because I don’t know how not to.

I write so kids can have stories where they see themselves.

I write because I want to be part of building empathy, of lifting kids up instead of pushing them down.

I write because nobody can interrupt me. People always interrupt me. Even my dogs interrupt me.
But that’s not the whole truth. It’s not the truth beneath the truth. So, bear with me (or ignore this), the reason I write is this:

I started out as a poet (yes, a bad poet) and to me stories are still poems. When you craft stories to express what you see and you experience in the world (be it good, bad, cruddy, sexy) you are taking a massive amount of observation and imagination and  creating something with meaning… it’s a meaning that should resonate not just with you but with the rest of humanity.

I don’t care what genre you do or you don’t fit into. I think this applies throughout.

It’s the emotion, the search for understanding of people’s (characters’) actions and movement, that helps us make our connections to each other and to the rest of humanity.

That’s why I write.

Why do you?

Monday Motivation by Marsie

Good morning!

Look, people might tell you that you can’t do something.

They might try to define you.

They might even try to convince you that:

  • Cats cannot role-play Godzilla
  • Cats cannot eat gingerbread houses
  • Cats can’t motivate on Mondays

But those people? They are wrong.

Only you get to define you.

Go be Godzilla! Go eat gingerbread! Kick butt this week and this Monday. You’ve got this.

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