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Exhausted, Refreshed . . . INSPIRED!

Published June 30, 2017 by Ashley Townsend

For those of you who think writers’ conferences are dull, professional gatherings . . . Well, you’re doing it wrong!

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I spent last week at the first (of many, I hope!) SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference, held at the gorgeous BIOLA University. This campus is absolutely stunning, the food is fantastic—pizza, corn dogs, healthy food, chewy cookies galore, and the most amazing salad bar in history—and there are so many perfectly serene places to plop down and write. That doesn’t even take into account the incredible classes, friendships, writing inspiration, and encouragement I received during the week.

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I found this gorgeous bench area right outside the library where there was, blessedly, a Starbucks. I laid on the bench, staring up at the canopy of leaves above me, and just enjoyed a time of mental story plotting and sweet conversations with God in the most peaceful setting imaginable. Definitely a refreshing afternoon!

 

 

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Nadine has been like a mentor to me for the past few years, but more than that, she is an incredibly dear friend and encourager. You’ve heard me talk about her mad dancing skills and amazing storytelling ability (follow her shenanigans online), but Nadine has also gotten me over some major humps in my writing and life in general with her optimism and support. She is just one of those people who lifts you up, allows you to be yourself, and encourages you in your walk with God.

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The term “insta-friends” is definitely acceptable when referring to these lovely ladies. I met Kara in the bathroom of all places, both of us trying to scrape mascara onto our exhausted eyes, and we were glued at the hip for the rest of the conference. This girl’s mind blows my own, and I am so excited for her future in writing!

Adria joined our group later on, but we immediately adopted her and had to know everything about this super sweet lady and talented agent. I have to admit we all felt intimidated by her because of her status, but we immediately discovered that she is so relatable, fun, kind, and hilarious, and we only wish we’d had more time with her.

Tessa is quite possibly one of the sweetest human beings you will ever meet! She joined us for shenanigans, boba heists, inspiring classes, and she and I had a wonderfully honest conversation about God’s plan for our lives. This woman has a beautiful heart and a mind for the industry, and I’m so blessed I got to know her. 

Fun fact: The last night of the conference, Nadine, Tessa, Adria, and I made plans to one day fly to Ireland for a writers’ retreat, because . . . why not? Although Nadine and I got them to agree only after we did a dance and sang the “Sisters” song from White Christmas. We’re talented like that. 

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My first experience with boba tea was magical!! Stealing Shannon Dittemore’s car (with her permission, of course) for the Great Boba Hunt of 2017 is definitely a favorite memory. Five girls crammed into a car, three blind to the joys of boba that awaited them, all screaming as we sped away from campus with Nadine at the wheel, driving like she stole it. We even had a boba projectile contest in the parking lot, proving that children of all ages can be writers and professionals. ^_~

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This man is anointed (get The Story of with, it will change your life). Being in Allen Arnold’s class about creating with God rather than for Him was so inspiring and reminded me of the nearness I feel when I write with God at the center of the story. He taught about the idea of kintsugi, which is a tradition—and an art form—in Japan where broken objects are not thrown away, but rather repaired with gold, making them more beautiful than before. It was just the perfect analogy of how God takes our brokenness, makes us whole, and sees the damage done as a beautiful reminder of our past and our value to Him. Needless to stay, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room that night.

 

Call me biased, but writers are a fantastic group of creative, fun-loving introverts and extroverts who help to build each other up. The SoCal Conference was a wonderful means for us to get together, grow, and encourage and inspire one another. Although I was physically exhausted by the end of the week, I came away feeling more refreshed and renewed and inspired to write. I hopped on the train coming back down to San Diego, and my mind was flying as I stared out the window, watching the trees and beach fly by. Writing inspiration, a refreshed spirit, and some of the best friends and memories that a girl could hope for. Definitely an amazing adventure!

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Prepping for a Conference, The Chaos Theory

Published June 21, 2017 by Ashley Townsend

How to Prepare for a Conference, The Chaos Theory

You all know I have procrastinator tendencies and would rather pants an entire novel than plot it out detail-by-grueling-detail. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that I’m the same way when preparing for trips and conferences.

I have been getting excited over attending the First Annual SoCal Christian Writers Conference since Nadine Brandes (check out her blog and links here) and I planned on going together months ago. Seems like plenty of time to prepare, right? Well, the last 36 hours have been a tad chaotic, like The Hunt for Red October or that scene in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls when he wakes strapped to a raft that’s headed over a waterfall. Maybe a bit less dramatic and flashy, and with no A-List actors in sight, but here’s how I decided to prep for a writers’ conference the day before:

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-caffeine . . . would I ever let you or myself down?

-plotted out the closest coffee shop to the train station in L.A. (priorities)

-went to a doctor’s appointment because, sure, I’ve had a year to do it and want to get that off my mind the day before leaving town. Seems smart.

-got sustenance for the trip

-packed my bag (finished about an hour ago)

-started/finished/edited one of the chapters that I will be presenting to publishers, friends, and agents.

-went to Staples to print out copies of the aforementioned chapter (I got back 20 minutes ago)

-realized that I’m running out of space in my bag due to snacks and books. Also, is there room for clothing?

-purchased my train ticket (success!!!)

-figured out what dorm Nadine and I are rooming in after they tried to separate us. You can never break up the team!!

-spent an hour debating if I should use paperclips or staples for my samples of my current work in progress.

-mailed packages

-penned a letter to self reminding self to stop procrastinating.

And did I mention that I’m working on a last-minute blog post about procrastinating everything before my train, which leaves in about an hour? I would like my award for best pantser delivered to my home, thank you very much.

But despite the craziness of the past two days, I am so excited to travel up to L.A., hang with Nadine, eat all the Oreos and drink all the coffee/chai in the cafeteria, and just meet other amazing writers. No matter if I’m up for all hours of the night and wide awake at the crack of dawn, conferences have this amazing way of rejuvenating me and putting that spark of excitement back into my writing. Here’s to the next week of adventuring!

Be sure to follow my Instagram and other accounts during the trip for updates!

Chasing Shadows Has a New Look!

Published June 11, 2017 by Ashley Townsend

At long last!! I am proud and excited to announce that Chasing Shadows has a new look, and there’s also a giveaway for the entire series at the end of this post. *let the medieval flutes and trumpets toot a happy jig*

There’s no cause for alarm—Chasing Shadows is just as beautiful as it has always been. But while I love the cover unconditionally, the book itself was originally printed in a different size and format than the rest of the series, and my OCD would act up every time I saw it towering above the others on my bookshelf. So thanks to Lisa M. (visit her new blog here!), who revamped the cover to include the series title while I burned my eyes with countless hours of editing, the second edition of Chasing Shadows is available, and it’s perfectly uniform!! (get it from Barnes & Noble today)

Revisiting the pages of Chasing Shadows was like having coffee with a best friend—comforting, delightful, and full of deep conversations. . . . And Will and Damien. Yeah, there’s that. ~_^ It was fabulous being reminded of all the adventures these characters have been on and how far they came in the end, and also how fantastic these opposing gentlemen are. *le sigh*

You can find the book anywhere, and Amazon is great, but I love supporting local bookstores and Barnes & Noble, so feel free to use those 20% off coupons and order Chasing Shadows online or request that your favorite local bookstore pick up the series. 

***OR if you love winning free books, because let’s be real, who DOESN’T? Well, you will be entered to win the entire Rising Shadows Trilogy plus swag if you sign up for Mandy Fender’s newsletter (click here to follow the easy instructions). She gives a Christian book box every month to one lucky follower, and if an entire book series and free swag aren’t motivation enough to click the link below, just remember that Mandy is doing an amazing thing by supporting writers AND readers by getting free books into their hands. Sounds awesome? So follow the link above and enter to win!!

http://mandyfender.com/christian-book-box

The Fangirl’s Guide to Navigating Life, Vol. 2

Published May 5, 2017 by Ashley Townsend

The Fangirl’s Guide to Navigating Life, Vol. 2:

Surviving a Series Ender

You’re incredibly excited about a new series, devour every book in the same week it releases, and proudly display every piece of book-swag you received for your dedication. And as you’re shedding joyous tears over the last page of the story and thinking about what new pins to add to your character boards, it suddenly hits you: That’s it, there are no more books left in the series. You’ve read them all like a manic without considering the fact that one day they would come to an end. Now all you’re left with is the memories of the story and a future that stretches out before you like a dark abyss.

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We’ve all been there, although maybe your experience wasn’t quite as dramatic as this. But that’s neither here nor there.

It’s okay to hide in a dark hole for a short time and hope that the author decides to write another book in the series, but let’s be real: YOU NEED SUNLIGHT! And a shower, and food, and to give your cramping hands a break after holding a book for so long (most commonly obtained from books by Cassandra Claire and Sarah J. Maas). To help you overcome the tragedy that is the conclusion of a fabulous series—the pain, the agony, the tears!!—I’ve created a list of a few tried and true techniques to help you move past the crushing disappointment of the end of a book era. Because, seriously, you need emotional support after this.

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-Feast on chocolate and/or (but especially “and”) ice cream

. . . . I’m sorry, is an explanation even necessary? I think not!!!!!

-Buy a shock blanket

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Trust me, you’re going to need this

Drink all the coffee!!

For staying awake to search the online fandom pages and Pinterest boards to feel closer to the characters after it’s over. Better yet, just buy a plantation so you can grow your own beans. It’s a worthy investment.

Find a fandom candle

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In the Wick of Time and Flickering Fandoms make amazing candles inspired by so many different books and characters. You’ll fall in love and be reminded of your favorite characters every time you smell it!

-Music, baby

Accept the fact that “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. and Simon and Gafunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” are a part of life now. (Best paired along with the shock blanket and candle, also tested by me.)

-Create a Pinterest Board

 

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Strange as it seems, searching the web for images that inspire memories of the books-gone-by makes you feel like the characters haven’t left you entirely and helps with the healing process.

And the most important I’ve-lost-my-way technique:

-BUY A NEW BOOK!!!

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Trust me, the best way to get over the end of an amazing series is to wash the tears from your face, swap out those Nutella-stained sweatpants for some jeans, and get back in the bookstore. You never know what magic awaits you! *hums the tune to “Back in the Saddle Again”*

Camp NaNo Update

Published April 26, 2017 by Ashley Townsend
Do you like how I start a blog series, do one post, go on a writers’ retreat, and then post weeks later with a completely different topic? 
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Well, I am down on my knees begging your forgiveness so I can share how Camp NaNo is going so far and give you April updates. I also solemnly swear that I am up to much good and will shortly resume the Fangirl’s Guide to Navigating Life series, and I’ll be sharing some exciting news about the Rising Shadows Trilogy in upcoming posts. There’s a little teaser on this news about four posts back on my Instagram (click here!!!).
Now, onto business!
April has been AMAZING! It was compete craziness at first, prepping for Camp NaNo, working on Jungle Princess, preparing for my writers’ retreat, and remembering to breathe. And caffeinate, definitely caffeinate. But the Realmie Roomie (w)Riting Retreat was the perfect way to kick off Camp NaNo, thanks to my lovely Realmie Roomies, Nadine (follow her inspiring blog here), Tricia (Deliver just released!! *flails*), and Katie (this girl writes approximately 4,786 words per minute. No joke). We had missed each other like crazy since Realm Makers last July and decided to gather together in Michigan for a refreshing time of motivation and inspiration.
Having our writing team together was a huge push for all of us to reach our goals, spending countless hours during the day Word Warring, being startled by terrifying timers when we were in the zone, and hitting some word counts that we had never managed before. I was pretty jazzed to reach over 60,000 words in my current work in progress by the end of the trip, so WIN!! These Three Writing Musketeers are such a constant encouragement and inspiration, and I know I never would have been so motivated to keep writing if it hadn’t been for these amazing friends and writers. 
I feel like I should say that it was nothing but work and that I wrote seven novels during the trip, which is nice and all . . . but we had way more fun than that! 
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“What, precisely, did you have fun doing?” you might ask. A few things that kept us distracted when our eyes were burning from staring at a computer screen for too long were:
-floor swimming and dance-athons (because exercise helps the mind)
-PIZZA!!! 
-CHAI!!!!! (a reward at the end of each night)
-OREOS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!*%$@#@!$ (because exclamations aren’t enough)
-tromping through Tricia’s yard like Hobbits exploring the land with Gandalf
-waking up and writing with Tricia, morning coffee with Katie (after late night writing), and giggling with my soul-sister, Nadine
-Hot Dog Fry Saturday (and S’MORES!!!!)
-book chats/singing all the songs
-running across a rope bridge in heels . . . for book research
-swinging on “vines” (a rope swing) for jungle research
-watching The Legend of Tarzan for *cough* *cough* research ^_~
-laughing until we got abs like Alexander Skarsgard
-giggling until 2 a.m. about dog props and “the smolder,” a conversation inspired by my blind love of Pierce Brown
-turning a disastrous gate change in Chicago into an adventure and the funniest sprint you will ever see three girls make across an airport (after getting pulled over by security because apparently they have a thing against delicious teas and saucepans).
As you can see, our retreat was not only productive, but a total blast and just what we all needed. It definitely helped me to get a jumpstart on my productivity for the month, and as the end of April approaches, I am so close to my NaNo goal that I’m feeling pretty good right now. That’s not to say it hasn’t been hectic lately, but I think we’re going to get there with our sanity intact.
So here’s to the last few days of NaNo, my fellow campers. Whether we win or lose Camp this April, just remember that there will always be Oreos, pizza, great friends, good books, and Tarzan. 
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Prepare the Coffee! Camp NaNo Has Begun

Published April 1, 2017 by Ashley Townsend

 

 

If you are like 90% of Americans, you’ve probably never heard of Camp NaNo, even if you have heard of its terrifying counterpart and older sister, NaNoWriMo *shivers at the memories of sleep deprivation and caffeine abuse*

I’ll lay it out simply for you:

girl writing nature     -There are cabins that you can create or join on the site to “hang” with your buddies or get randomly assigned with new writing friends.

     -Forums allow you to share snippets of your story and offer up encouragement, advice, and fangirling during your cabin mates’ writing process.

     -And the best part is that YOU set your own goals for April!

 

That’s right. During the month-long fest of awesomeness that is Camp NaNo, you decide a realistic word count goal that works for you. Or if you’re better at managing chapters or pages, then use that as your motivational guide. You can work as hard as you want to, and instead of burning yourself out by reaching 50,000 words in 30 days, you can set a goal of 30,000 words (like me!). And the best part of April is the community of writers you get connected with, who are aspiring and struggling to meet goals or connect ideas just like you.

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This picture is so accurate, it hurts.

I have never been to camp and haven’t *cough* successfully participated in Camp NaNo before. I know, the horror! But knowing that my circle of amazing encouragers and beta-readers and writer-friends has grown so much makes me want to dive right in and tackle whatever goal I’ve set for myself. That’s my favorite part of Camp, just understanding a goal and having the support you need to reach it or the Oreos and coffee when you don’t. As cheesy as it sounds, it isn’t about the goals you set but the journey and the people along the way.

So here’s to the next 30 days, friends. I have a feeling it will be epic!

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And stay tuned this month for more Fangirl’s Survival Guide posts and Camp NaNo updates.

 

 

2017 Reading Goals

Published January 31, 2017 by Ashley Townsend

Has it really been SO long since I last visited your homes? *cringe of shame* Apparently, I’ve been a bit consumed lately by working on The Jungle Princess, ironing out some blemishes/going where the story takes me, catching up on the mass amounts of paperwork at the office, planning a trip to Nashville (the heart of country music) to see my bestie, and also—oh, yeah, preparing for this year’s voyage to Realm Makers, the best writer’s conference. In. History. So forgive me, because, honestly, you can’t stay mad at this face.

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I’d like to say I’m coming back online to impart some great writerly wisdom on you, or blow your mind with a snippet from my work in progress (but keep your eyes posted for this, because soon . . .). But alas, I have simply journeyed to the Internet to humbly present an update on my 2017 reading progress. *raises hands to defend self against expected volley of rotten vegetables and fruit*

I set my 2017 Reading Challenge goal on Goodreads at 45, the same as last year, so I’m hoping to do as good as I did in 2016 and exceed my goal. I haven’t read much yet this year, so I figured now would be a good time to share my opinions so far.

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnely ***

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Umm, I think I liked this book?? I’m typically not this confused over my opinion on a story, but there were moments while reading that I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and the setting. But then there was the forced romance that was so cliche it was often painful, and the killer was fairly obvious from the first chapter of the book. There is this fabulously intense scene at the end where the main character (whose name I can’t recall, she was so memorable) gets into a scuffle with her father’s murderer and runs for her life in a mental institution. I wish there had been more exciting moments in the book because the author did it so well. It had a lot of potential and there were a few characters that I liked and wished had been in it more, and the setting of old-time New York was very fun. Overall, though, I feel like this book is a bit forgettable. 

Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman ****

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(really 4.5 stars for cleverness of plot and design of the book itself)

Things I learned from Illuminae:
1. I can now survive the zombie apocalypse, though my hacking skills are seriously lacking.
2. You can fall in love with a person because of their emojis. EZRA!! ❤ ^_^
3. Artificial intelligence is a bad idea.
4. Nukes don’t really makes a sound in the vacuum that is space.
5. You should definitely have Gemina on hand to prevent symptoms of the Phobos virus (i.e. violence, incessant shaking, catatonia).

Wow. Just wow. The plot, the characters, the tears and edge-of-your-seat intensity made me stay up all night to see what would happen. This is the most uniquely designed book I have ever read, and the storyline is fantastic and very involved. The first 100 pages were a little bit dry as I got into the style of the book, but then I couldn’t put it down as I became involved in the story and these characters (and the death toll!!! o.O) The ending was such perfection—so intense and tragic and then your heart leaps in hope—making it one of those books that resonates with you for a long time.

Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman ***

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(3.5 stars)
There were some aspects of this book that I enjoyed more than Illuminae. I felt like the characters were more alive in this story through the way they wrote the scenes to involve more action and surveillance footage, rather than just IM’s back and forth between characters.
That being said, I actually liked Kady and Ezra more as the driving force behind the plot in Illuminae. Also, I didn’t appreciate the casual drug abuse in the book or how the authors made it seem all right for the characters to use “dust” because they know when to stop or because it dulls their senses so they can get through a tough situation. I felt like it was unnecessary and actually sends a terrible message.

Despite my misgivings, I really enjoyed the book and will continue on with the series. Kristoff and Kaufman have crafted an incredible world, and the design of these books is unlike anything you will ever read. 

I’m also currently reading Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken *squeal of pure joy* and have Unblemished by Sara Ella patiently waiting for me on my bookshelf. I got them both on the same day, and there is nothing like that “new book” feeling where fresh hardbacks follow you home. 

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Also, my sister just ordered By Your Side for me by my auto-buy author Kasie West. A thousand yesses. I’ll do an Instagram post when I receive the book, so keep your eyes peeled. 

Lastly on the reading update, I feel like I’ve never had to wait for a sequel to release like I have with the much-anticipated Blacksouls by Nicole Castroman. Those who are also waiting for Book II to come out probably feel like each day just drags on and on. But we’re in this together, guys, and so we have to hold out and lean on each other through these hard times. Hang in there, friends, it will be here soon! 

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