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:
-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.
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!
And stay tuned this month for more Fangirl’s Survival Guide posts and Camp NaNo updates.
As most of you know, I love chatting with other writers and hearing about their stories. I also love doing interviews with fantastic people and adore all-things mermaid (stay tuned for my WIP and you’ll see why!). So when I heard that Lisa M. of The Elegant Stylus was writing a short story about mermaids (!!!), you could say I jumped at the opportunity to interview the incredible artist who designed the covers for Rising Shadows and Defying Shadows.
Lisa typically dwells under the sea, which I imagine is a fantastic place for writing inspiration, but she was kind enough to don her land-legs and answer my questions today. *awaits drum roll crescendo* All right, let’s get to some mermaid action!
(Also, please note that this interview was written in sea foam-green to keep with the theme. *slow clap for cleverness*)
Lisa, where does your creative inspiration come from?
First, I’m going to give the totally uninteresting “mom” answer and say my children—but it’s true! Portraiture is something I enjoy, and my first portrait was of my daughter when she was two years old. Children today are photographed more than any generation in history, yet I’ve found that the simplicity of a line-drawing can sometimes capture the essence of a child even more precisely than a photograph.
(The portrait of my daughter which started it all; silhouette portraits of my daughter and son. Commission your own at www.etsy.com/people/TheElegantStylus )
Thematically, I have a particular love of folklore, weird fiction, and fantasy. I was fascinated by the stories by Edgar Allen Poe as a kid, and my first short story (titled “The Skull Upon the Roof”. . . because what else could it have been called?) was based on his house style. World building has always been a particular passion of mine; anything that hints at belonging to an eerie alternative reality which exists just beyond the fraying edges of our peripheral vision jumpstarts my imagination. Creative inspiration for those types of stories can strike anywhere, any time. Case in point: last summer, my kids and I were stuck in a completely unnecessary traffic jam while trying to leave a Sprout’s parking lot (I’m not going to point fingers, but the driver of a Subaru *may* have been responsible). It was nap time, it was hot, and my beloved children begin to loudly voice their displeasure with the current situation.
In an attempt to distract the kiddos, I made the executive decision to YouTube-up a minor-key, EDM/Dubstep cover of The Little Mermaid’s “Kiss the Girl,” which a Facebook friend (a German-raised Opera singer, to be precise) had recently posted on my wall. You know how it goes….
(See the video here: https://youtu.be/HncGtWcqyV0 )
Now’s your moment
Floating in a blue lagoon
Boy, you better do it soon
No time will be better.
The song is playing, the kids have quieted down, and I’m successfully navigating a “left-turn yields on green” maneuver through the intersection when suddenly, BOOM! The scene unrolls before my mind’s eye like luminous scroll: the singer in this goth dubstepping number is no friendly crab-buddy, narrating the flatteringly-lit rowing scene of romantic tension between our charming protagonists!! No! Indeed, there is an unholy sea sprite lurking in the dark waters, and he has his own Screwtape-esque agenda! The malicious sprite telepathically whispers, taunts, and downright mocks the young man in the boat:
Look at that boy: too shy.
Ain’t gonna kiss the girl.
It’s a shame, too bad.
He’s going to miss the girl.
My physical body may have successfully steered us home, pulled my SUV into our garage and begun unbuckling the kids, but my mind was still in that haunted lagoon, and oh baby, I had a lot of questions. Questions like:
“What deep, dark creature does this taunting voice belong to?”
“Why does he care that the eponymous girl be kissed before the sun sets? (The girl in question being, of course, a zombie-mermaid glamoured to look like a fresh-faced human girl. I know this intuitively.)
“Why is this Disney song very clearly advocating non-consensual culture? Just look at this:
Yes, you want her.
Look at her, you know you do.
It’s possible she wants you too;
there’s one way to ask her.
It don’t take a word, not a single word.
Go on and kiss the girl, kiss the girl!
Seriously??? Another way you can inquire if she, indeed, does want you too kiss her, is to, um. . . oh, I don’t know, maybe ACTUALLY ASK HER if she would be receptive to such intimate contact? Gawd, Disney!
Suffice it to say I had MANY questions. It goes without saying that, at least in my case, inspiration will strike at the most unexpected, and honestly inopportune, moments. I hurried to get my kids out of the car and into their beds so I could scribble a few lines in a notebook and not lose the sneak-peak I’d been given into this dark fairytale world. And then….
Wait….both kids have dirty diapers….SERIOUSLY?!!
Inopportune inspiration . . . Oh, too relatable! Like the shower, the sandy beach with no pen, when your hands are covered in paint, at 2 a.m., etcetera. -_-
Okay, do you have a favorite spot to brainstorm creative concepts and designs?
The majority of my creative work is done via computer, so I guess I’d have to say sitting at my kitchen bar with my laptop is my default go-to creative space. Pinterest is a great place to begin a design process, whether I’m giving a makeover to a piece of furniture, researching silhouette cameo-portrait styles, or designing the covers to your novel covers! When I paint, I always begin by creating a digital mock-up in Photoshop. That’s the origin story of the watercolor painting I did for you, based on your Rising Shadows trilogy.
During the hot summer months, I enjoyed sitting in the shade of my front porch in the evening, writing mermaid-zombie story ideas in a notebook, while keeping a vigilant eye on my kids playing in the yard; I’m trying to embrace the shaggy nature of good ol’ pen and paper writing. If I have to cross out a word, sentence, or, God-forbid, a paragraph … so be it. Writing a story by hand has been an epic triumph for my personal neuroplasticity, and I view it almost as a form of therapy for my super-uptight OCD proclivities. I cannot allow white-out in my vicinity when writing. As a Storm Trooper says in Episode IV: “Move along. Move along.” I’m trying to live according to his advice, and not get hung-up by over thinking things and imperfections.
My creative writing gurus are the brilliant people over at Storywonk.com, and through their podcast, I have been encouraged to keep plugging along. In particular the “Journeyman Writer” podcast has taught me the importance of curating a nest in which to write.
Lately, I have begun writing before bed, nightcap at my side (it helps with the OCD). I feel particularly blessed to get to write my dark faerie tale in the master bedroom of a creepy gothic mansion; I feel the atmosphere adds to my creative process. (Joke.)
(“IRL” and Gothic Photoshop)
*wishes she had the ability to bring Photoshopped pictures into reality* So. Glorious!
I know I always have to have tone-setting music and a fun beverage when I’m writing (*cough* coffee *cough cough*). What are some things that you MUST have in your workspace while exercising you creativity?
As a mom of young kids, I’ve had to learn to be creative in non-ideal situations. Oftentimes, I’m Photoshopping an image while simultaneously stepping in to prevent my two-year-old’s meltdown, and navigating Netflix to find “Octonauts” for my 4- and a half year-old. BUT if I could design the perfect creative environment, it would definitely take place after my kids have gone to bed, with the ‘afore mentioned margarita by my side and a Storywonk podcast playing on my headphones. While I’ve been scribbling my mermaid story, I’ve lately enjoyed listening to ambient ocean wave noises via YouTube on my MPOW Shell Blue Tooth.
Now I’m wishing I had the gift of multitasking while in story-mode, but alas. *sighs* Okay, now for a strange question: I love Monet, Van Gogh, and Pissarro’s works and would love to have watched them create some of their most incredible paintings. If you could bring any artist back from the dead (and possibly put a Mermaid tail on them), who would it be and why?
Definitely weird fiction author H. P. Lovecraft. The contrast between his stuffy, uptight New England personality and the truly wild, disturbing, psychedelic worlds and creatures he created are endlessly fascinating to me. Despite the fact that he was an unrepentant sexist, racist jerk, and overall unpleasant guy, I’d love to have a conversation with him about his Cthulhu Mythos.
(“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”
“In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”)
Though I am an “inferior” woman, I am sure that as soon as he realizes I have not only singlehandedly reanimated his corpse, but ALSO gifted him with a super awesome mer-tail, he will be so overcome by gratitude that he will gladly converse with me about his story-craft. I imagine sitting beside his custom, 600 gallon saltwater tank in a velvet wingback chair, sipping a margarita while chatting about the danger of seeking hidden knowledge and the nature of madness.
(Howard Phillips Lovecraft, formerly of Weird Fiction. Current status: Merman)
*tries to pull self together while still on the throes of laughter over the saltwater tank comment* *at last regains some semblance of composure*
Fascinating response, Lisa. Going with the saltwater theme . . . Now, you’re on a desert island and have a choice between enlisting the help of a mermaid, a sea witch, and a couple of sea turtles roped together (probably with hair from Jack Sparrow’s back). Which do you choose to help you survive?
To paraphrase the late author David Foster Wallace, I have a marrow-level dread of the ocean; it is an endless, corrosive engine of death and chaos chockerblock full of snaggletoothed leviathans that rise from the depths at the rate which a feather falls. Needless to say, I would want to return to the mainland ASAP, so it looks like the sea witch is my gal! Luckily, I just happen to have a nifty H. P. Lovecraft-shaped mer-toy to trade her in exchange for her magical teleporting services! Sorry, Howard! Don’t blame me; Kharma’s a b*ch!
So you’ve given us a little taste of the inspiration behind your current work in progress, but would you share with us a bit about your idea and some scene-inspiring art?
Yes! I’m primarily a visual artist, and have (alas!) finished very few of the stories I’ve attempted in the past. It’s been a bucket-list item to one day complete a short story novella, as well as illustrate it.
As I mentioned before, Chase Holfelder’s Minor Key cover of “Kiss The Girl” from The Little Mermaid planted the seeds for a new story in my mind.
I’ve always loved folktales, their dark origin stories in particular.
(If you’re like me and enjoy learning about spooky folklore, check out the LORE podcast! http://www.lorepodcast.com/ )
Likewise, I’m intrigued by the concept of an unreliable narrator. Rippling out from that crucial moment of the kiss in the lagoon, I’ve created a whole framework of story! The Cliff’s Notes version is that there is a sea sprite who has been the familiar of an incredibly powerful Sea Witch for a millennia. He has loved his Mistress unconditionally (were his feelings reciprocated?….I think not, but don’t tell him that). The Sea Witch gives her life to reanimate the corpse of a drowned young woman, who is resurrected in the form of a voiceless, zombie mermaid.
(Digital paintings I’ve created as illustrations for my story.)
Now that his beloved Sea Witch is dead, the desolate sea sprite determines to win her life back by presenting the Elder Gods (a Lovecraftian shout-out) who live deep under the sea with the perfect gift: a human soul. And, of course, the formerly human mermaid is the perfect vessel to transport that soul to their underwater temple. The familiar devises a plan in which he glamours the mermaid to look like an irresistible maiden. Once on land, the sea sprite (glamoured in human form as well) sets up the meet-cute in the lagoon, gets an unsuspecting man to kiss her . . . aaaaand you’ll have to read the story to see how it all ends. As of this moment, I’m looking forward to seeing how it ends as well!
It’s been amazing having you, Lisa, and thank you so much for stopping by to answer all of my questions! I think it’s safe to say that we’re all on the edge of our seats waiting to see how the rest of this fascinating story comes together. As for the rest of you, if you liked what you read and are interested in commissioning Lisa for a project, she’s always open to new, creative endeavors. Just make sure to message her before she ditches her land-legs and dons her fin once more! (I heard computers don’t work very well under da sea.)
Be sure to follow The Elegant Stylus:
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.
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 ***
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 ****
(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 ***
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.
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!
November is a time of family, autumn leaves, snuggly clothing (I live in San Diego, so . . . . I basically never get to wear my sweaters *cries*), thankfulness, an obsession with the PSL (I had to ask someone—apparently, it’s lingo for Pumpkin Spice Latte *shrugs*). Seems pretty quaint, right?
Well, for writers the month of November is basically a crazed adventure film where people who live a thousand lives and imagine the impossible embark on a journey to the Great Mount Fifty (also know as Mordor). You either make it or die trying. *dramatic music swells*
Don’t know what I’m talking about?
IT’S NANOWRIMO, PEOPLE! A month where authors take on the task of reaching 50,000 words in their work in progress in a meager 30 days. Why not a month that has 31 days to it? . . . . I honestly don’t know, because when you’re strapped to the seemingly innocent task of at least 1,666 words per day, even a few hours can be helpful.
And everyone knows that epic movies and adventures require the proper soundtrack for inspiration. Do you think Captain Ahab wasn’t humming some Journey power-ballad to himself when he attempted to slay Moby Dick, or that literary greats didn’t bob their heads to some intense Mozart tune while penning their poetry? Or that any Marvel film would be as exciting without a score or AC/DC number to guide the scene on?
Negatory, my friends. “Where words fail, music speaks.” Thank you, Hans Christian Andersen. Some of my greatest blocks while writing the Rising Shadows trilogy were overcome by the right tune that sparked my inspiration and set the mood for the scene, unblocking me like some good ol’ Drano for the mind. . . . I think I took it too far.
Anyway, below is my playlist that helped me work past today’s word count goals for The Jungle Princess. It’s basically a compilation of songs that I just love listening to and put me in a great mood to write, but some also fit seamlessly as the inspiration for current chapters in JP. So, this begs the question, what’s on your writing playlist? What music inspires you? Are you hooked by lyrics, the melody, or both? Or are you like me and listen to the same song on repeat for hours until the scene comes together perfectly? Cheers to that! *clanks mugs of coffee, because caffeine means survival*
“Hurt Somebody” – Dierks Bentley
“It’ll All Work Out” – Tom Petty
“Love Someone” – Jason Mraz
“Start of Time” – Gabrielle Aplin
“On My Way Back Home” – Band of Horses
“This Town” – Niall Horan
“Don’t Worry Baby” – The Beach Boys
“Beat the Devil’s Tatto” – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
“Losing My Mind” – Charlie Puth
“Thinking Out Loud” – Ed Sheeran
“Hurricane” – Need to Breathe
“Springsteen” – Eric Church
“Back on the Map” – Kacey Musgraves
“One Day” – Kodaline
“Don’t You (Forget about Me)” – Simple Minds
There comes a time in every writer’s life where they become “that” writer—the one who forgets to put on shoes before going out or wears pajamas to church, who doesn’t remember to pick up Grandma from the airport and forgets that The Flash is returning. *face palm* And then the common, Did I brush my teeth today? We don’t like to admit it, because those writers should have a better grasp on things, but all these semi-disasters can and do happen because our heads sometimes get a teensy bit jumbled with all the crazy thoughts and plotting going on up there. Between author signings, my birthday, a coworker quitting and taking on extra shifts at the office, and trying to reach a deadline for my WIP Jungle Princess, I may or may not have forgotten that my beloved middle child, Chasing Shadows, turned TWO this past Tuesday. Excuse me while I hide in shame….
It was a hard-fought battle to get Chasing Shadows out there in the world because of time constraints, publishing issues, and trying to find a marketing plan that worked for a busy student/office manager. So it was a gift worth squealing over when the second book in the Rising Shadows Trilogy released on October 4th, just a day after my own birthday. Raise a glass to help me celebrate a story that made me accidentally fall in love with a character who wasn’t Will Taylor (Damien … *le sigh*) and that caused me to realize caffeine addiction isn’t “technically” an addiction if you don’t drink after 4pm.
GUYS! Defying Shadows has been nominated for the August Clash!!!
Some of you are familiar with Clash of the Titles and their amazing awards and clashes each month, and I have voted on many a clash for worthy new releases. But for those of you who have yet to obsessively spread the word about your favorite books (shame on you!), COTT is a fantastic site that hosts what they call a “Clash” each month for new releases. Sort of a battle to the end between books where fans vote on a favorite blurb and cover photo, and in the end, there is one book victor.
I am crazy excited and honored because out of however many submissions they received for new July releases, Defying Shadows was selected as one of FOUR to enter the arena (cast your vote here!). I mean, no biggie.
This is a total honor, and the winner of the August Clash not only gets a ton of promotion from COTT (and bragging rights–HUZZAH!), but they are also able to submit their book for the Laurel Award for free, which is a super prestigious award that I’ve only ever dreamed about getting (and have, admittedly, been too intimidated to submit to before). Lisa M. who designed the cover for Defying Shadows (add to Goodreads) and whom you might recognize from my acknowledgements in the book, was crazy excited and created all sorts of new banners for the clash and is spreading the word like crazy (I’ll post the image to grab and share at the end of this post).
This is important, because it’s your votes that will decide which book takes home the victory of the Clash. I understand if another book takes your fancy over Defying Shadows…
… but if DS strikes your interest in any way, then please stop by and vote again and again, and spread the word about the August Clash. If we win—that’s right, it’s a Team Hood effort!—then I’ll host another awesome book and gift card giveaway on my site. Don’t consider it a bribe, just “motivation.”
So what are you waiting for?! Go, vote and spread the word! And keep an eye out everywhere, because I will be promoting the heck out of this thing. Let’s share Sarah’s story and Will’s amazing journey with the world! Now, please excuse me…
If you’re willing to share and encourage people to vote, you can use the image and link below (check out the new cover photo and header pics on Twitter and Facebook, also designed by Lisa M. Man, the girl works fast!). I’ll keep tabs on who shares the most when you tag @TownsendTales, and there might be a gift card involved for the Shadow who does the most social media posting and reblogging. Just sayin’. ^_~