the joys of research

It's pretty easy to get carried away with research. It feels productive, it feels like you are etting somewhere, until you click back on your document and see nothing but that infernal blinking cursor and a mocking, white space.

The internet is an enabler. But the internet is also full of gems. Only recently have I uncovered some pretty amazing information hidden within its nooks and crannies. My book is focused almost entirely upon WWII, which, as luck would have it, was a war covered extensively by all different forms of media.

But still, there are questions to be had. I don't have access to all the books of the world. I wasn't in Berlin in the 1930s. I don't know what brands of products were popular or available; I don't know exactly what information is available to the public. I certainly don't know how to operate artillery. But there are some wonderful gems to be had that have helped me immensely.

YouTube. Weird, right? But films created by the OSS and the US Government are de-classified and, for the most part, available to view. By following a trail of breadcrumbs I was able to learn quite a bit. Some of the more fascinating videos included a training video for US forces highlighting basic German infantry tactics. Another showed how to operate the most common German weapons a GI might happen to come across. There is a video about interrogation techniques, and another that cautions GIs not to spread military information in casual (or any) conversation. One can also find interviews, newsreels, and documentaries to view for free. One of the more interesting videos I found was a tour of Berlin filmed in the '30s.

Newspapers. The Chicago Tribune has a free archive. I was able to search and read through articles printed on a daily basis. In this way I could get a feel for daily life, for how people spoke, what they cared about.

There were lots of small details I was able to use to my advantage, thanks to these sources.

What research gems have you uncovered?



This week I bid "so long!" to the bustling metro hub that is Chicago and said "how do you do?" to the balmy coast of southern Florida. The move still hasn't sunk in just yet. When I wake up in the morning and see palms instead of maples and oaks, when I hear jays instead of house finches--it's weird.

I know it'll take a while for me to get used to it all, but so it goes.

It's a good time to reaffirm my commitment to blogging, and to do better with it.

what customer service has taught me about writing.

I wish I could  write or work with books all day, but I don't. My job and writing don't seem to have much in common. I work with numbers and customers and tiny details. I deal with invoices and receipts, bills, and phone calls instead of diction, plot, and character development. But there are definitely a few lessons I've learned from interacting with customers that I apply to my writing process.

1. Honesty and clarity. I need to be honest and clear with myself about my goals. Having unrealistic expectations of myself just sets me up for a world of disappointment later. I wouldn't make a vague promise to a client and then renege on it later, would I? If I know that it is impossible given my schedule for me to write more than 1,000 words a day, then I shouldn't keep setting that goal.

2. Respect and attention. Obviously there's a human being on the other end of that email or phone line--one that deserves my respect and full attention. Likewise if I am writing, I shouldn't be comparing myself unfairly to others or descend into jealousy. That's not fair, it's not productive, and I won't have anything to show for it at the end of the day.

3. Patience. We live in a world of Amazon Prime 2-Day shipping (and in some cities, same day shipping!). We expect everything to be instantaneous. Patience is key--losing your temper with somebody just sets you back even further than you started. My story probably won't get written in a week, and I shouldn't be impatient with myself for facing that fact.

Just because we can't write full time doesn't mean that we can't put what we learn on the job to work in our writing. Has your career taught you anything? Given you ideas for stories or settings? I'd love to know!


my writing toolbox

There are a few things I like to keep near me at all times as I write.

the workspace on a non-messy day.

the workspace on a non-messy day.

1. My mini notebooks. I love beautiful, larger ones, of course, but I ordered a few of the mini notebooks from Poppin because the color is fun and uplifting, and I like being able to press the spine down and not risk ruining the binding. Not only that, but they will fit anywhere. Score!

2. Multi-colored pens. These are handy for my notes. I tend to have ideas and questions in bursts, and using different colors helps to keep my thoughts in line. Back at school I used different colors for dates, people, treaties, concepts--you get the idea.

3. Coffee or tea. Self-explanatory, right?

4. I know it's not present in the picture below, but I love using a little app called Noisli. It's also available for free to use in your browser. Noisli is a compilation of different relaxing sounds from nature (and elsewhere) that you can mix together to create your own calming/productive track. It makes for a nice break between music, or when you aren't really in the mood for any of your playlists. 

5. iAWriter. This app is great if you are writing and don't want to be distracted. The layout is simple and goes fullscreen to cut out any tempting internet-type things.

What do you use to help you get those words out and organized?

accomplishments & waiting

This past November I successfully completed NaNoWriMo. It's always a huge commitment to write 50,000 words in 30 days, and I am usually happy enough to complete something. But I was disappointed with my result--sure, it was complete, but it wasn't whole. Something big was missing.

I didn't touch any more writing for a few weeks. Then I started talking to a friend of mine, and as we talked about a movie (can't remember which, specifically) I realized that what my book was missing was stakes. And high ones a that. It lacked the excitement that I was going for.  

This self-diagnosis was a little hard to take. In the meantime I had signed up for Swoon Reads, a crowd-sourced publishing imprint for teen romance. And somehow these two points intersected and I decided that not only was I going to completely re-write and re-work the plot, but I was going to do it so it would be ready for the next Swoon deadline--January 30th of 2015.

I had three weeks to write, and roughly three-ish to edit. I changed the ages of all the characters. I changed the POV from third to first, and I turned the clock back. I realized that in order to make the stakes as high as I needed to be, the story needed to be set during the war, instead of after. I created a more solid villain to up the tension, and I was startled by how cohesive the result was in comparison to my NaNo draft.

I spent hours searching for stock photos and playing with designs--and once I hit the submit button on Swoon, I felt like I'd finally taken a huge step in the right direction. I'd put my writing out there for the world to see.

As the days go by I am overjoyed to see people reading my manuscript, and thrilled by how many readers and writers have commented on it. My fingers are crossed as the cut-off date for the next list selection comes closer, and closer. I know the likelihood that I will get selected is slim. But even if I don't get selected, I feel I can finally be proud of this work that I have spent over six years, and five versions, writing.

5 ways to beat some nanowrimo blues

1. Do something with your hands.

No. Not typing. Not outlining. Clear off your desk, write a letter, go outside and take some pictures with your phone, bake a cake, or even start a quick & fun DIY--give yourself a break from that Word document that haunts you in your waking hours. For some fun project ideas, try Pinterest, the creatives' go-to time wasting device. There are a big variety of projects at poppy talk. Try making yourself a watercolor mug or a nifty notebook out of a paper bag.

2. Liven things up.

It seems like we spend most of NaNoWriMo staring at the same things, over and over. If this isn't you, read ahead. You're awesome and are way ahead of the game. Change the way you're sitting. Move a lamp to change the lighting, or maybe find yourself a fun new desktop background. Life isn't all about NaNo, and maybe all you need is a new, inspiring landscape, inspirational words, or fun patterns.

3. Switch up your playlists.

If you don't already use Spotify, you might want to try it. The ad-inclusive version is free, and lets you save albums and create your own playlists with music you don't actually own. Spotify is also a great way to discover new music--hit the Browse section to cruise through some curated radio stations, or start a clicking journey through the "related artists" tab.

4. Read a book.

Hey, aren't I supposed to be writing my own book? Well, yeah. But reading a book is never a waste of time. You might discover new ways to use plot twists or become inspired from an author's writing style. Reading a favorite book will help remind you why you're doing this in the first place!

5. Talk to someone about your book.

Or anything you want. Talking things out helps get your juices flowing in a way that having conversations with yourself about characters or foreshadowing might not.